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The Coon Prince

I sat carefully on the roots of a tree beside the river and unzipped my filthy backpack. Once upon a time it had been white. With a sigh of relief I retrieved my cell phone from its protective pocket. Despite the heat, despite the dust, and despite Aunt Sherry's attempts to hide it, my cell phone was pristine. It looked as clean and shiny as the day I'd bought it. With a loving tap I turned it on and scrolled through my texts. I had about a million messages from my friends back home, all of them expressing acute misery at my sudden departure. As I read each one I felt myself descend deeper and deeper into despair. In a sudden violent attempt to expel the sensation I uttered a savage scream, flailed my arms wildly, and stamped my feet against the cool earth.

My consciousness slowed to a near standstill as I felt my fingers lose their grip on my phone. Slick with sweat, my hand clenched at it in vain. All I could do was watch in horror as the phone soared in a graceful arc towards the murky river. It clipped the edge of the bank and tumbled, spinning, towards the water but stopped short, caught by a protruding stone. For a moment I was relieved, thinking it had been saved from certain death. As I moved to retrieve it, my heart sank. There was no way I could climb down to where my phone lay nestled beside the water. The bank was easily five feet high and as sheer and smooth as a glass hill. No friendly roots or rocks provided a ladder down to the river's edge. If I went to get my phone I wouldn't be coming back.

I traipsed back feeling empty and worn. Four days here and I was already more miserable than I had ever been in my entire life.

I barged through the front door and into my room without answering Aunt Sherry's cheerful greeting. I didn't care what she thought. If she hated me maybe she'd make me go home.

That night I was on the verge of restless sleep when I heard a tap at my window. Some vaguely awake portion of my brain became subconsciously convinced that my friends had come to rescue me from my exile. I flopped out of bed and cranked open the window only to find a pair of glistening green eyes staring at me from out the shadows.

"I retrieved your trinket," said a plaintive voice.

Half-awake, I squinted at the bright eyes beyond the windowscreen. "You can just leave it there or whatever," I slurred.

"I mean to return it. Will you invite me in?"

I blinked. "This, like, doesn't come off," I said, poking the screen. "It's glued or something."

"I will meet you at the front entrance." The eyes disappeared.

"What the hell," I moaned, but I trudged down the hallway anyway and opened the front door.

A raccoon came marching in with my cell phone grasped between its grimy fangs. It deposited the phone on the hall rug and then stared up at me as I swung the door slowly shut behind it. It's green eyes were wide and hopeful. "Is this your trinket?" it asked.

"Uh, yeah," I murmured, reaching down to pick up my phone. It was scratched and muddy, but a few taps determined that it was still in working order. I looked down at the raccoon, seated primly at my feet. "You get that this is a really weird dream, right?"

The creature gazed up me with a rapturous expression on its masked face. "I retrieved your trinket," it mewled happily. "Now you must do me a service in return."

I tapped a fingernail against the screen of my phone, looking down at the animal seated on the rug.

"What kind of service, exactly?" I asked, slowly registering its words. "Do you need a veterinarian or something? This girl at my new school, her mom's a vet."

"I am tired and hungry. Will you help me, gentle girl?"

I slapped a hand across my mouth and smothered a snort of laughter. "Oh my god, this is like that story!" I gasped, pointing my phone at the raccoon. "Like, I feed you and you sleep on my pillow and then you turn into a prince or something, right? This is the freaking weirdest dream I've ever had!"

The raccoon sported a skeptical stare. I went down the hall towards the cluttered kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "What do you eat? Fish? There's leftover chicken." I took a tupperwar out of the fridge, removed the top, and placed it on the floor. The raccoon took one look at the chicken and pounced on the tupperware, seizing the morsels of meat with its tiny, human-like paws.

When it had finished gorging itself I led the animal to my room, where it settled itself on a pillow at the foot of my bed. "Kind human," purred the animal as I climbed under the sheets, "you have fed and sheltered me. You have done a kindness that will not be forgotten."

I propped myself up on an elbow and stared at the raccoon as it fell asleep. "Really, really weird dream," I muttered. I tapped the phone on my bedside table one last time to assure myself that it worked before drifing off to sleep.

I woke up to a shrill, bloodcurdling scream. It was answered by a deepthroated yell, and then a cacophony of crashes and clatters and thumps. For a minute I lay in bed with my eyes closed, heart beating thunderously, before gathering the courage to open my eyes.

Aunt Sherry stood in the doorway of my room, her wide girth cloaked in a lavender bathrobe, holding a saucepan in her outstretched hands. Her face was bone-white and she was quivering violently. As soon as I twitched she began to shriek. "What in the name of the Lord is the meaning of this?" she demanded, brandishing the saucepan. "You're here four days, four days, and already you're acting just like your good-for-nothing mother warned that you would. Did you think you could get away with this?"

I blinked, dazed, and lifted my head.

There was a boy crouched in the rocking chair in the corner of my room. He wore a yellow dress that was inside out and backwards, with the tag sticking straight out beneath his chin; the same dress I'd worn to school yesterday. He must have been about my age, with unkempt, shaggy black hair and glistening green eyes.

"Uh." I stared at the boy as he stared at my Aunt Sherry and she stared at me.

"You brought a boy home after only four days at school?" Aunt Sherry questioned in disbelief, her face purple with rage.

"I think..." I cocked my head, peering closely at the boy, who looked utterly petrified. His chest was rising and falling rapidly like he was on the verge of hyperventilation, and his eyes were watery as though he was about to burst into hysterical tears. "I think he's a raccoon. Or a prince. Or... both."




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