Jack Piper and his bike made their quiet escape from the orphanage, gliding smoothly over the roads, exactly like a cinder block wouldn’t.
Anyone who has ridden alone at night will understand how Jack felt, skimming along through the cool night air wrapped in an envelope of muffled stillness, moving quickly but without effort, flying around corners and parked cars without thinking about them while the moon followed high above him.
Jack’s shadow appeared to sprint past him as he rode beneath each streetlight. Over and over again, he would look back under his arm to see his shadow well behind but gaining on him as he approached a streetlight. Jack’s shadow would draw dead even just as he passed underneath the streetlight and then jump ahead of him by several bike lengths, only to fall behind again as he rode toward the next streetlight.
Jack trusted the instructions Sister Kim had given him. The only problem was that Jack couldn’t quite remember them except for a lot of disorganized notions about magic beans, mountains, and moonlight. The worst part was that Jack wasn’t sure exactly where he was anymore. After so many twists and turns on the dark streets, he had become thoroughly lost.
The street signs were nearly impossible to see, and Jack slowed to a stop at a corner while trying to read one of them. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of movement on a nearby front porch. As Jack watched in amazement, a big raccoon carrying what looked like a Des Moines Register newspaper delivery bag dropped what appeared to be a rolled up copy of the paper on the porch. The raccoon climbed down the steps and waddled down the street to the next house and the next house after that while dragging the delivery bag behind it, tossing a copy of the newspaper on each porch.
The Raccoon (Procyon Iotor) is a widespread, medium-sized, omnivorous mammal native to North America but not known for behaving like a nocturnal paperboy. Curiosity overcame Jack. He carefully hopped off of his bike and crept over to the nearest porch to see if indeed the raccoon was delivering newspapers in the middle of the night. The moment Jack picked up the paper on the porch, he heard a screech and turned just in time to get smacked in the stomach with the delivery bag being swung by the raccoon he had been watching just a few minutes before.
The hit with the delivery bag knocked the wind out of Jack. While he was doubled over, the raccoon jumped on him with such a wild thrashing of claws and teeth that Jack toppled off of the side of the porch and landed on his back in the driveway. The raccoon leaped from the porch and landed on Jack but suddenly froze as the headlights of a minivan swept up into the driveway.
The raccoon paused and stared at Jack’s face, which it could now see clearly in the headlights. For just an instant, a glimmer of recognition seemed to cross the raccoon’s eyes, and then it scurried away through the shrubs, leaving undelivered papers lying all about.
The headlights came closer and then stopped. The doors of the minivan opened, and as he was fading from consciousness Jack heard women’s voices saying things like, “Did you see that?” and, “Is he okay?” One of them said, “Let’s get him in the house.”
These were cougars (Puma Concolor), mammals native to North America, and Jack realized that he might be in even greater danger than ever before.
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]