h My Little Pony Monthly Issue 44 (November 1, 2000)
My Little Pony Monthly Issue 44 (November 1, 2000)

My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997
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Issue 44
November 2000

Contest Corner

Our winner from last month’s contest to find the hidden horseshoe was cloewen@superpa.net, and he will be receiving a special autographed copy of Chris Platt’s Derby Day book. This was our last autographed Chris Platt book to give away, and all of us here at My Little Pony Monthly would like to thank her again for her generous donation to this newsletter! If you have time, be sure to look at her other books on bn.com or www.amazon.com

Stay tuned in future months for more contests!


The Haunted Shop
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)

Brightblade had spent several weeks cleaning and rearranging the antique store and was preparing for the grand re-opening. It was now nearly dusk on the day before the scheduled event. Medley, who had been helping him prepare for the big day, was hanging a banner above the door. After tying off the banner to the cornices, Medley fluttered lightly to the sidewalk next to Brightblade. “Well, what do ya think, BB?” she asked.

“It looks good. Thanks for the help. Will you be able to give me a hand with the opening tomorrow morning?”

“No, I’m teaching a class tomorrow morning, but I’ll stop by in the afternoon.”

“That would be great.”

“Would you like to go out for some ice cream?”

“Sure. I’ll take one more look around and lock up. I’ll be right back.” Brightblade had already checked the store several times, but he wanted everything to be perfect for the re-opening and didn’t want to take any chances. He had been misplacing things all day; it at times seemed as if things were disappearing or moving about on their own.

Brightblade went into the store and looked around. All looked to be in order– all, that is, except for the crack of light coming from under the storeroom door. “Hmm, I could have sworn I turned that light off.” He made his way through and around the now neatly arranged shelves of antiques to the back of the shop. As he opened the door, the light went out. “This is weird,” the pony mumbled. He flipped the light switch to make sure it was working. The lights came on as normal. He turned the lights off and, as he turned to leave, he heard something. He paused and listened. Nothing. “I must be imagining things.”

Medley was standing just inside the shop. “What’s up?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Brightblade replied. “Probably nothing. I must just be nervous about tomorrow.”

Suddenly there was a loud crash from the storeroom. Medley jumped in start. “What was that?” she asked nervously.

“What’s wrong, you don’t believe in ghosts, do you?” Brightblade asked jokingly. He wished he could say he didn’t believe in ghosts, but having been to the underworld, he couldn’t deny them. He was just trying to calm Medley’s nerves, though he noticed that she didn’t seem to need calming. “You wait here. I’ll check it out.”

The sun had just set and the only illumination in the shop was from the streetlights outside, lending an eerie atmosphere to the small shop. Even though he had no reason to, Brightblade felt a chill run down his spine. “I can’t believe I’m so nervous,” he thought to himself. “Even if it is a ghost, I’ve faced their kind before. Now if it were one of those Fu*by thingys, that would be scary.” He smirked at the silly thought; still, those little furballs were showing up everywhere. Even Medley had one. She had tried to teach it to sing and to play an instrument, but it just tried to eat her flute. Brightblade shook the frivolous thoughts from his mind as he reached the storeroom door.

The flame-maned stallion cautiously opened the door. He thought he saw a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye as he peered into the dark room. A gust of cool air washed over him. He turned on the lights. The room was just as he had left it just minutes ago, except that a pile of junk that he had planned to donate to Goodwill had collapsed, spilling all over the floor. The window opening onto a back alley was open.

“I don’t remember opening any window,” Brightblade mumbled. He went to close it; it was stiff and squeaked loudly as Brightblade pulled it shut. He heard a stifled giggle from the back of the storeroom. “Who’s there?” the pony asked as he spun around. There was a shadowy figure barely visible behind a shelf of antiques. “Okay, come out from there, whoever you are.”

A small yellow pony stepped out from behind the shelf. “I’s jus’ me, Unca’ Bwi’b’ade,” said the baby pony.

“Baby Racer?” Brightblade said in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

“Me’s lookin’ fo’ a ‘alloween costume, unca’.”

Brightblade sighed. “This isn’t a costume shop, Baby Racer, and I’m not your uncle.”

“Bu’ Aunt Medley said you’d me my unca’ when you mawied hew.”

“What! I think you mean she said I’d be your uncle IF I married her.”

“Oh, no, I said ‘when’,” said Medley from the doorway. “I thought you’d understand, being such an optimist and all.”

Brightblade shook his head. “Baby Racer, you can have one thing from that stack,” he said, pointing to the donation pile. “Then we’d better get you home. It’s late and your parents are probably worried about you.”

The baby pony excitedly jumped into the disheveled heap. After a few moments he came up with a brightly-colored Easter egg. “Ooh, cool wacing stwipes,” he said. “But I need somptin’ scawy.” A minute later he came up with a wooden sword. “This pewfict! Me’s gona be Squire! He was hewo jus’ like my unca’ Bwi’b’ade!”

Brightblade shook his head. “Cute kid. But why’d you have to tell him we were getting married?”

“Oh, what’s the harm? He’s only a baby.”

Brightblade sighed in resignation as the trio exited the shop.


How The Unicorns Got Their Horns
A Fairy Tale by the Ponies Grimm

C. Alan Loewen

(Author’s note: This story takes place several months before the events depicted in the 1984 animated My Little Pony video that introduced Dream Castle (TM), Spike, the Sea Ponies (TM) and Megan. Your welcome comments and critiques may be sent to cloewen@superpa.net.)

There is a land that you visit when you are asleep. If you approach the Land of Dreams from the west, your path will lead you to Dream Castle and its ten magical inhabitants. At first glance, you may be surprised to discover the castle is home to a herd of ponies though some have wings and a few have spiral horns on their foreheads.

It is a tradition in Dream Castle that on the first evening of the week, each pony takes its turn and reads a special story for the enjoyment of the others. This evening was very special for Ember, the youngest pony in the castle. Tonight was her first night to ever be given the role of storyteller. In preparation, she had spent days in the castle library pouring over old dusty books of ancient legends looking for the perfect story.

That evening, Cotton Candy, Moondancer, Bubbles, Applejack, Glory, Firefly, Medley, Bowtie, and Twilight made themselves comfortable on the floor of the Grand Hall in front of the great fireplace. Ember nervously paced back and forth, her little hooves click-clacking on the stone floor.

“Oh, Ember, please be at peace,” Glory said finally. “You’re making me dizzy.”

Twilight spoke up. “Ember, we all know you will tell a wonderful story. As we are all here, why don’t you start?”

Ember sighed and looked at the group sprawled on the floor around her, eager to hear her narrate her first tale. “I did memorize the story,” Ember confessed at last, “with all the hard words, but I think I forgot how to tell it. It’s all confused in my head. I don’t know where to start.”

Twilight thought for a moment. “I remember some good advice I read somewhere,” she said after a moment’s pause. “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Ember blinked as she pondered Twilight’s advice, took a deep breath, and said, “This story is about unicorns because Twilight is my best friend and she’s a unicorn. It’s a story about how they got their horns.”

* * *
Long, long ago when the Land of Dreams was young, there were no unicorns. There were no winged ponies either, but that story comes later. But there were earth ponies-- lots of them-- and they lived in the Meadows of Cyll. The peoples of the great City of Dreams and Reverie had not yet discovered them. (“A city,” Ember added, “that I’ve never seen since you all found me here when you came to Dream Castle, but maybe someday I’ll see it?” And she looked wistfully at Twilight.)

In those days, the books say the ponies lived in great herds separated by bloodlines and genealogies. (“That big word,” Ember said with evident pride, “I just learned yesterday. It means knowing who your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents and all the others were going back as far as you can.”)

Anyway, there was one pony herd that had mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and all sorts of first, second, and third cousins; and they were very proud that everybody in their family had hide blacker than midnight when the moon was new. One day a filly was born, which wasn’t so strange because there were new colts and fillies born every season; but this filly was very different. In a family and bloodline of ebony hides, this filly gleamed whiter than snow. In fact, when the sun shone on her, it made a pony’s eyes water to look at her.

Yet after the initial surprise, she was loved even though she was different. She was healthy and a good little filly; and on her second birthday when ponies were named, they called her Snowdrift on White Roses or Snowdrift for short. (“Just like the name you all gave me is Ember on the Hearth,” Ember said, “and Twilight’s full name is Twilight’s Peaceful Glow, and Applejack’s full name ...” Twilight gently cleared her throat. “We know our names, sweetheart. Please continue?”)

All went well until after her fifth birthday. Suddenly, Snowdrift started to grow horns--big thick cow horns--one out of each side of her forehead right above her eyes.

Her family was shocked. No pony had ever seen or heard anything like it, and they could not explain why a pony would suddenly grow thick ugly horns. It was too much for the pony herds, gentle and accepting as they were. What had happened to Snowdrift was too strange even for them to accept, and the other ponies shied away when Snowdrift went to graze. It broke her heart. Even though she had grown horns, she still was the same sweet pony she had always been. Finally, in her loneliness and sorrow, Snowdrift simply left the Meadows of Cyll and went out into the world that no pony had ever seen, up and over the high hills that sheltered the grazing lands that the ponies had known for countless generations.

She walked for days seeing nobody except squirrels, rabbits, and deer that simply ignored her. She lived off bracken and the sparse grasses that grow under the thick forest trees.

One day Snowdrift heard a thin cry. Somebody was weeping as if their very heart was breaking and their strength almost spent. Concerned as well as curious, she followed the sound and came upon an old, thick stump. Inside, she saw the strangest creature she had ever seen in her life.

Today, we call them the Hidden People and humans call them the Fay or fairies, but until Snowdrift looked into that stump, no pony had ever seen one. Something like humans, fairies are very beautiful, very delicate and very magical. (“And,” Ember said interrupting herself, “there are lots of stories that say we ponies may have fairy blood in us too which is why human children like us. Don’t you think?”) A little fairy girl-child lay curled up in the stump weeping, her face streaked with dirt and her once beautiful dress torn and stained.

“Hello?” Snowdrift asked.

The child looked up from her crying. “Who’s there?” she asked. “Momma?”

Snowdrift blinked at the question as she was standing right in front of the fairy child and then suddenly understood. Even though the child’s eyes were crystal green, they looked at her aimlessly. The child was blind.

“No,” Snowdrift replied. “But I’m a friend. What are you doing here?”

“I got lost,” the little creature cried. “Some of the other children took me on a picnic and we all got lost.” At this she sniffled. “They sat me down on a rock and told me to stay while they tried to find their way back. They said that because I couldn’t see I would slow them down; but that was yesterday, and they never came back. I felt around and found this stump and I’ve been here since, but now you’re going to take me home!”

Snowdrift blinked in surprise. “I want to help you and I will, but I don’t know where your home is.”

“But you’re a Fay,” the child said indignantly. “You live in the glade.”

Snowdrift swallowed hard. “I’m not one of your people. I’m different.”

A puzzled look came to the little fairy’s face. She made her way to her feet and fearlessly reached out her hands to Snowdrift’s face. With a touch as delicate as a breeze, the fairy brushed her fingers over Snowdrift’s features. The little pony could see the confused surprise on the fairy’s face. When the soft fingers brushed over her horns, the child gasped.

“You’re a talking cow?” she asked.

Snowdrift laughed in spite of herself. “I don’t know what a cow is, but maybe that’s what I am,” she said.

Taking a firm grip on the pony’s horns, the child stepped out of the hollow stump. Her fingers continued their inquisitive investigation and stopped when they encountered Snowdrift’s mane. “I don’t know what you are,” the fairy said. “You don’t feel like any animal I’ve ever felt before.”

“We call ourselves ponies,” Snowdrift said, “but I’m different even from my own people.” There was an awkward silence. “For some reason, I grew horns,” she said eventually.

“Can you help me get home?” the child asked, changing the subject upon hearing the pain in her new friend’s voice.

Snowdrift sighed. “I don’t know where your home is.”

The fairy thought for a moment. “When we left for our picnic, it was morning; and I could feel the sun on my face. That means we were walking toward the rising sun.”

As it was past noon, Snowdrift knew that if the girl had been walking toward the rising sun in the morning, her village must be in the direction of the setting sun.

“I think I can at least take you in the right direction,” Snowdrift said. The fairy child took a firm grasp on Snowdrift’s mane to walk beside her, but within minutes, the pony knew the pace would be too slow. Blind, the child stumbled over every twig and root.

“Climb up on my back,” Snowdrift said after a moment’s pause. “I can carry you. Hold on tight to my mane and keep your face near my neck so the branches don’t scratch your face.” In a few minutes, the girl was carefully balanced on Snowdrift’s back. Neither knew that it was the first time in all the Land of Dreams that anyone had ever ridden a pony.

Snowdrift hoped beyond hope that she was walking in the right direction. Her ears were sharp and the pony knew that if she just walked within a reasonable distance of the girl’s village, she might be able to hear the everyday activity that was going on.

As they walked, Snowdrift asked her new-found friend her name. “Lothissa” she said. “And yours?”

“Snowdrift on White Roses. My family just calls me Snowdrift.” Here she choked as she suddenly remembered the family she left behind so many days ago. Snowdrift wondered if they might be glad she was gone and once again fell to thinking how unfair it was that horns would suddenly grow from a pony’s head. Coupled with the knowledge that she most likely would never find Lothissa’s home, Snowdrift began to feel quite sad.

In the distance, Snowdrift heard the sound of running water; and minutes later, Lothissa squealed with joy. “I hear the Ramble,” she said. “We’re close to my home!”

The sound grew louder, and Snowdrift could feel the fairy’s hands tighten on her mane. “That doesn’t sound like the Ramble at all.”

Walking out of the trees, they came to the edge of a raging river, its water beaten into foam over massive rocks. The far shore was simply more forest.

“Snowdrift,” Lothissa said, “look far upstream and tell me what you see?”

Snowdrift looked to her right where the sun was now a red globe sinking quickly below the horizon. “I see nothing, but forest,” she said. “Wait. There is a hill very far away. Its top is bare rock.”

“Does the rock have three small peaks?” Lothissa asked excitedly.

“Yes, I think it does.”

Lothissa clapped her hands in joy. “Then this is the Ramble, but we’re far downstream where I’ve been told the boats of my people cannot go. My village is right below that hill. If we go upstream we’ll come to the bridge eventually. It can’t be too far.”

Snowdrift felt a quiver of anxiety. The hill was truly far away and they would not make the journey before night caught them in the woods. Though sleeping on forest loam had not bothered Snowdrift, she didn’t want to disappoint Lothissa by having the child spend another night far from family and hearth. Nonetheless, as the red globe of the sun slipped below the horizon, Snowdrift accepted the inevitable.

“It will soon be too dark for me to see,” she told Lothissa. “We will have to spend at most one night in the woods.”

Lothissa’s lower lip trembled, but she did not cry. Snowdrift carried the fairy child to where the Ramble’s currents slowed safely enough to both have a drink of the cold, clean water. Though the grass that grew alongside the Ramble was fine for Snowdrift, for Lothissa they had to hunt until they found some berries growing in the shade of the old forest.

In the last dying shreds of daylight, they found a large patch of springy moss and they settled down for the night. At Lothissa’s request, Snowdrift told the fairy the story of the Meadows of Cyll and how she left her herd because of the strange horns on her head. When the great pale moon arose, Snowdrift then told the story of the pony in the moon. (“Which,” Ember interrupted, “is going to be my next story to read when it’s my turn for story night. It’s all about ...” “Maybe,” Twilight said gently, “you might want to finish this one first.”)

When Snowdrift had finished her story, Lothissa was fast asleep. Snowdrift tried to stay awake--she really did--but when the sun came up the next morning, she woke up to discover she had fallen asleep in spite of herself.

Once again it was cold water and grass or berries for a meal and Lothissa carefully got on Snowdrift’s back.

Lothissa was singing a silly song about a cow jumping over the moon when suddenly they turned at the sound of a low growl off to the side. They had surprised a bear at its morning breakfast.

Bears are very near-sighted and this one simply stared and blinked at them trying to see if they were friend or foe. Carefully, Snowdrift began to step away from the animal hoping to give it a wide berth. However, bears have minds of their own and many times do the unpredictable.

With a roar, the bear charged; Snowdrift yelled at Lothissa to hold on tight, turned on her hooves, and ran for dear life. The fairy knew enough not to ask distracting questions. Even though blind, she could hear the roars and the crashing of the underbrush behind them. Within moments, the pony and fairy came to the Ramble. With the bear on Snowdrift’s tail, there was no time for thought. The pony leaped into the water; immediately the strong current began to tug her and the child on her back downstream to where the rapids rumbled and roared. With all her strength, Snowdrift swam for the opposite shore that seemed impossibly far away.

Struggling to keep her head above water, Snowdrift shouted encouragement to Lothissa; suddenly they found themselves at the headwaters of the rapids. With a gasp from Snowdrift and a cry of alarm from the fairy-child, they were plunged under the first set of waves. When they finally surfaced for air, Snowdrift miraculously felt the bottom of the river under her hooves. A few lunges and a desperate moment when the river current threatened to sweep them away, pony and rider finally stepped out of the swirling waters to the opposite shore.

“We made it!” Lothissa cried. “What were we running from?”

“A bear,” Snowdrift said, between her gasps for air.

The pony looked upriver and suddenly groaned. The bear had not given up its pursuit. Diving into the water, its great strength allowed it to ignore the pull of the river current. With a roar, it ran up the riverbank and turned toward them.

“It’s still coming!” Snowdrift cried. She reared and spun to run downstream when, caught by surprise, Lothissa fell off Snowdrift’s back to the ground.

“Quickly!” Snowdrift said in a frenzy of fear. “It’s coming! Climb back on my back!”

“Help me!” Lothissa cried.

In moments of crisis, necessary actions become crystal clear and we act on them without hesitation. Snowdrift did the only action open to her. She lowered her head, her horns pointing at the bear only a few paces away, and she charged.

The bear stopped its attack, reared, and swung a huge paw at the charging pony. Its paw struck Snowdrift’s left horn directly on its sharp point and the bear bellowed in pain. However, the strength of the blow was so great that Snowdrift felt herself swatted aside and she tumbled to the ground. Fighting to stand, fighting to see through the growing blackness, the pony’s ears were filled with the cries of Lothissa, the agonized roars of the bear, the sound of the Ramble’s rapids, and, strangely, the approaching sounds of voices yelling Lothissa’s name. Then all was silent.

Snowdrift woke up slowly. First, she was aware that her head and neck hurt very much. Then, she dimly heard the noises and voices that sounded much like the Meadows of Cyll.

“Mother?” she asked faintly. “Father?”

“Nay, little one,” said a strange voice. “We are no kin of yours, but we are friends.”

Slowly, Snowdrift opened her eyes to gaze into the deep blue eyes of a delicate, elderly woman. Snowdrift lay on a simple bed of straw inside a simple hut. Through the open window she heard the voices of many people.

“Lothissa?” Snowdrift asked, unable to even lift her head off the straw where she lay.

The old woman smiled kindly. “Thanks to you, she is well. You must rest now. We have given you strong herbs that will heal your pains, but you need to sleep.”

Satisfied that Lothissa was safe, Snowdrift allowed sleep to take her.

When she woke again later, Snowdrift saw Lothissa sitting next to her pallet, the fairy’s quick, deft fingers embroidering an elaborate pattern on a silky piece of material. In spite of her handicap, the fairy’s sense of touch allowed her to create a beautiful work of art.

“Lothissa?” Snowdrift asked.

Lothissa dropped her embroidery in her lap with a shout of joy. “You’re awake!” she said. “Nana! Snowdrift is awake!”

The same elderly woman Snowdrift had seen the first time she awoke walked through the door, a bright smile on her friendly, wrinkled face. “You are awake, little one!” she said. “How are you feeling?”

Suddenly, Snowdrift realized that the pains that she had felt in her head and neck were completely gone. “I’m fine,” she said with some surprise.

“Wonderful,” the old fairy-woman said. “There are many that wish to meet you and all that wish to thank you.”

Snowdrift got to her hooves and shook the straw from her mane. “There is nothing to thank me for. I am glad that Lothissa is back safe and sound with her people.”

The fairy woman laughed. “Our little pony is humble. No, the search party saw you dive into the river with Lothissa on your back. They saw you brave the rapids as you fled the bear. And they saw you charge the bear with little hope of survival. When they chased the bear away, they were surprised and grateful to see you still lived.”

“You know what I am?” Snowdrift asked. “Lothissa told me she had never heard of ponies.”

The old lady shook her head in agreement. “My granddaughter hasn’t, but the stories I heard when her age talk of ponies. “However,” she said, a puzzled look on her face, “I don’t remember ever hearing of ponies having horns.”

Snowdrift looked down at the ground and shuffled her front hooves. “Ponies don’t. Somehow, I was born with these horns, the only pony ever to grow them.”

The old woman reached out and stroked the nearest horn. “Let’s be grateful then that you wear them. They saved our Lothissa as well as yourself.”

That night the entire village celebrated Lothissa’s return and Snowdrift’s courage. There was feasting with all manner of food. At the head of the feast, Snowdrift sat between Lothissa, Lothissa’s parents, and her grandmother. She watched with wonder as during the meal all the revelers were entertained with jugglers, fire-eaters, magicians, gymnasts, dancers and musicians. The pony’s head swam with all the expressions of gratitude.

Toward the end of the evening, Lothissa’s grandmother stood and raised her hands. Immediately, all were silent.

“People of fairy,” she said to the crowd before her, “we are honored to have a wonderful creature of legend with us. Not only are we blessed with her presence, but she has also returned our Lothissa safely to us at her own great peril.”

Snowdrift pawed nervously at the ground. “It really was nothing special,” she said in a low voice. Lothissa’s grandmother ignored her.

The old woman turned to address Snowdrift. “My friend, there is something special that occurs each year for we are an ancient people who remember the ancient enchantments. Each year, our village can make one wish and one only. We draw lots to see which person will have the privilege to make that wish; then we agree with their heart’s desire and the wish comes true. Because of your bravery and because you returned Lothissa to us, we have decided as a village to allow you to make that wish. You may have anything that your heart desires, and we will be in agreement with it.”

Snowdrift’s jaw dropped in surprise. Any wish she wanted? It seemed too good to be true. She felt the weight of the horns on her head and cried for happiness. “I want these horns to be removed from my head!” she said. “I want to be just like all the other ponies.”

Lothissa’s grandmother smiled. Snowdrift turned and saw Lothissa clap her hands together in delight.

“No!” Snowdrift suddenly cried out. “Wait.” She looked at the old woman. “You’re sure that I can have any wish I want?” she asked.

The old woman nodded her head. “Yes. There are some limits as even wishes must have limits, but we can wish away those horns in a second.”

“Then,” Snowdrift said, “if I can have any wish I want, I want Lothissa to be able to see again.” There was a gasp from the crowd.

“No!” Lothissa cried. “It’s your wish.”

“Yes,” Snowdrift agreed. “It’s my wish. I want Lothissa to see right now.”

The old woman leaned close so only Snowdrift could hear. “That is a great wish that comes from a great heart, but know this my friend. The lot for the wish had fallen to me this year and I, myself, was going to wish for Lothissa to gain her sight. However, since this year we decided as a village to give the wish to you, I will get the wish next year. You can have your horns removed now and Lothissa will see next year.”

Snowdrift closed her eyes. She thought of being like all the other ponies and able to go home from her self-imposed exile. Then she thought of Lothissa, blind for another year.

“No,” she said. “If it’s my wish, I want Lothissa to see right away. A year is a long time to a young child. I wish for Lothissa to have her eyesight now.”

“Then, my little pony,” Lothissa’s grandmother said, ignoring Lothissa’s sudden protests, “it will be so.”

The first thing that Lothissa did with her new eyes was weep with gratitude, her arms hanging tightly to Snowdrift’s neck as the people of fairy broke out in cheers. As for Snowdrift, she felt such happiness she determined in her heart never to complain about her horns again.

That night, Lothissa’s grandmother came to the simple hut where Snowdrift was staying and asked her to come outside and look at the stars.

“You have made this old heart happy,” she told Snowdrift as the stars blazed overhead. “My granddaughter has her sight, but you still have your horns.”

Snowdrift simply smiled. “I’m just glad that Lothissa can see these stars and see her family and doesn’t have to wait another year.”

“Then,” the old woman said, “as you have blessed Lothissa, and you have blessed me, and you have blessed my people, so do I bless you; and though a blessing is not a wish, I thank you and bless you from the very depths of my heart.”

Suddenly Snowdrift cried out as a strange feeling overwhelmed her. It felt as if her horns were moving and twisting. Lothissa’s grandmother gasped in surprise at the wonder occurring before her. Not even a fairy grandmother knew of the enchantment of a blessing that came from a heart overflowing with gratitude.

Weeks later at the Meadows of Cyll, Snowdrift cantered out of the forest with Lothissa riding on her back. All the other ponies gasped in wonder at the spiraled horn that grew from the center of Snowdrift’s forehead, a single horn that glowed brightly in the noonday sun.

Later, Snowdrift’s children also bore spiraled horns as well as their children and their children and their children. Today, the descendants of Snowdrift all carry the beautiful spiraled horn, not as a mark of shame, but in honor of a noble heart that showed both great love and courage.

* * *
The next morning after breakfast, the ponies of Dream Castle reveled in the warm morning sun. Twilight lay in the meadow and little Ember lay against her. Together they enjoyed the pleasance of the morning.

“You did very well last night,” Twilight said. “I’m very proud of you.”

“I told that story for you,” Ember said shyly.

“Thank you,” Twilight said simply. “Snowdrift’s kindness reminds me of yours.”

“Thank you,” Ember replied.

Together they watched the birds chase each other among the trees.


A Wrenching Problem
by Barnacle (KrzdRaptor@aol.com)

Dr. Malcolm Shane was sitting in his underwater cell, pondering his position. He wasn’t free like he should be—free to take over the world and to seek revenge on those miserable ponies that had meddled in his affairs! He would not let them go unpunished. He had to get past the sea ponies.

Suddenly, he saw a change in his cell door. There was no explanation—one second the main beam making up the door had been strong and sturdy as it always had been; and the next second it became a gnarled, twisted board that hardly fit in with the construction of the rest of the door.

Puzzled by this odd occurrence, Shane swam over closer to the entrance. He pulled slightly on the changed piece of wood, and it gave way under the pressure. With that plank removed, the entire door simply began falling apart. In no time, there were only remnants left of the one barrier before Shane and freedom.

Smiling smugly and seeing no Sea Ponies around the deeply-submerged jail cells, he slipped away into the ocean. Now... now... now there was nothing to stop him!

* * *
After Barnacle and his group made it out of the mountains and all the troubles they’d had there with Bouldiers, and Warlords, and caves, and Dakytins, and mazes, and all the rest, they figured it was time for a little break. With that in mind, they stayed in Dream Valley for a few weeks just reveling in the normalness of the place. But for a pirate, normal can quickly change to boring, so it wasn’t very long at all before they moved along to their final destination and their home, Calimidad Island.

But that was about a year ago...

* * *
Barnacle awoke to the sound of a pounding hammer somewhere far below him. He cracked one eye open just a bit and could see right away that it was already getting quite late in the morning. He groaned and rolled over, but the hammer kept up its constant pounding. Finally, the pirate captain jumped out of his hammock and leapt at the railing that circled the platform on which he had been sleeping.

Several of the trees on that side of the clearing had platforms built on them at different heights, and most of these were connected by rope bridges and bamboo walkways. Each of the platforms served as a different room and thus all of them together formed a house of sorts. This was Barnacle’s dwelling.

From his vantage point up in the top of a mighty tree, Barnacle could see the entire forest clearing below him that acted as his home’s courtyard. Running through the middle of this clearing was a wide and deep stream that emptied into the ocean just a bit farther down. At the far end, where the trees gave way to a sandy beach, there was a massive bunk of timbers and planks that were slowly taking the shape of a sailing ship.

“ARR, what ya think y’re doin’ down there!?” Barnacle cried down at the construction site.

From somewhere below decks, Barnacle’s first mate, Kracken, popped his head up and shouted back, “I’m doing what I’ve been doing every day since we got here!”

“But do ya have ta be doin’ it so loud?” Barnacle replied.

“I gotta work when the inspiration strikes!” Kraken said with a smile.

“ARR, I think I’d like ta do a little striking a’ mine own right now...” Barnacle muttered as he turned his back to his over-zealous first mate.

“Huh, did you say something?” Kracken asked, but Barnacle had already disappeared from his “room” and was making his way down a rope ladder to the kitchen platform. Shrugging, Kracken went back to his hammering.

Grinding his teeth, Barnacle set about finding something to eat. He wished there was some other way to finish his new ship, but he knew there wasn’t. At the very least, he wished that there was some faster way or one that didn’t involve so much noise. As it was, Kracken and Pierre had been working on it almost nonstop since they had started. Barnacle found it a little unsettling that the two of them were so caught up in the work that they hardly even took time out to eat and sleep. But that got the pirate captain thinking. “ARR, Kracken, where’s yer partner?”

Pausing in his work but not turning around, Kracken said, “Who? Pierre? He had to go into Port Scurvy to get some more nails.”

“ARR,” Barnacle replied. Now that he thought about it, the place was actually rather quiet for this time of day. Davey and Jones were probably still sleeping in their Bushwoolie holes out on the beach. And without Pierre, the early morning portion of the work was cut in half; but that still didn’t account for Protius and Malteeze.

Those two weren’t officially members of Barnacle’s crew, but they had continued to travel with the pirates since they had first met back in the Kingdom of the Bouldiers. Frankly, Barnacle didn’t mind all that much since Malteeze was a hard worker once he got started on something, and Protius had quite a head on his feathered shoulders. However, they would often wander out into the jungle and disappear for days at a time and finally return with little to no explanation as to were they had been. The pirates expected a certain degree of strangeness from the three-foot-tall enlightened parrot and his powerful feline student; but sitting under a waterfall meditating for a day and a half seemed excessive by any standards. At first Barnacle had questioned them as to the benefits of these exercises, but the cryptic answers he got from the philosophic shaman were usually stranger than not knowing at all. After a while, he had just stopped asking entirely.

On a sunny day like this, Barnacle thought, they’re probably out swimming with sharks or something equally strange.

And speaking of strange...

Barnacle was busy digging through a cabinet when he happened to glance down at the stream, and to his surprise he saw a large grayish shape walking out of the water. As he continued to watch, the thing walked all the way up onto shore and then stopped to have a look around. At that point, Barnacle had a chance to get a good look at the person standing in his front yard. He looked vaguely human, but his skin was a slick grayish-blue and his head had the massive bulbous shape of a whale’s.

Instantly, the pirate was wary of this stranger. Perhaps it was because during his last adventure, Barnacle’s entire house had been looted by the other pirates living on Calimidad. This was nothing strange for an island inhabited entirely by pirates and beach bums, and Barnacle might have even been upset if not for the fact that he had nothing worth stealing. In fact, this act of pilfering from one’s neighbors while they were out on adventures was kind of like a Calimidad tradition; but all it really succeeded in doing was periodically cycling everyone’s possessions around the island.

But no, Barnacle was not wary of this whale-man because of that. There was something else. Maybe it was the small pair of eyeglasses perched on the tip of his nose that made him appear smarter than the average pirate. However, Barnacle was quick to remind himself that there was no such thing as an average pirate.

Apparently, the intruder felt confidant that no one was around and began to walk toward the ship looking intently for something. However, if he had taken the time to look up into the trees he would have seen Barnacle observing his every move. And until Barnacle knew for sure what the whale-man was up to, that was all he was going to do. As the whale-man began to circle around the hull of the ship, he finally caught site of a tool box and went right for it. After a quick inspection of the contents, he picked it up and hurried back toward the water casting a backwards glance over his shoulder.

It was then that Barnacle cried out, “ARR, you there, ya best be puttin’ those back were ya found ‘em if ya want to live to try it again!”

The stranger stopped dead in his tracks and looked up to where the voice had come from. An irritated expression spread across his face as he caught sight of Barnacle amidst the branches.

“My apologies,” the whale-man said. “I did not know that these belonged to you. I believed that they had been abandoned here in the jungle.”

“ARR, abandoned right next ta a construction site?” Barnacle said.

The stranger ground his teeth, obviously bothered, and then sat the tool box down on the ground. “As I said before, my apologies. You see, my name is Dr. Malcolm Shane and I simply needed to borrow a few of your wrenches to finish a little project I’m working on.”

“ARR, I don’t care who ya are or what you’re doin’,” Barnacle replied. “If ya had really wanted ta borrow ‘em ya would’ve asked and not snuck in like a thief!”

“Then perhaps we could come to some understanding,” Shane suggested.

Maybe it was the eyeglasses and maybe it wasn’t; but the longer Barnacle talked to this Malcolm Shane, the more he didn’t like him. “ARR, perhaps you should just crawl back into that river and go back were you came from.”

Shane started to plead his case again, but Barnacle cut him off and pointed to the stream. With an exasperated toothy grin, Shane said, “Very well,” and then slunk back into the water and disappeared somewhere up stream. Barnacle continued to keep an eye on the stream for a while before he was sure Shane was gone, and then he returned to his breakfast.

After he was finished with his small meal, Barnacle crossed over to a different platform that was more isolated from the rest. This was his office were he did most of his planning. Currently the room was strewn with drawings and schematics of the new ship they were building down below. Unfolding one of the papers, Barnacle took a moment to admire the design.

It wouldn’t be nearly as large or grand as his old ship, the Lucas, but it would be a serviceable craft that would allow him and his crew to have some adventures again. After awhile, he went over to his desk and busied himself the rest of the morning making minor changes to the plans and tweaking details. His original scheme for the new ship was to use it just long enough until he could afford something bigger and better. But after spending all this time building it, he wasn’t so sure he’d be able to get rid of it that easily. The ship didn’t even have a name yet, but he and his mates were all growing attached to it.

Barnacle was finally stirred from his musings by Kracken calling his name from somewhere down on the ground.

“ARR, what is it?” Barnacle asked as he made his way to a bridge that led down to the ship. Kracken, however, was no longer working there but standing below him.

“Have you seen the 5/8 inch wrench?” Kracken asked.

“ARR, it’s in the tool box over by the river,” Barnacle replied. “Some slimy sea urchin tried ta make off with it earlier.”

“Are you sure he didn’t succeed?” Kracken asked. “I don’t see it anywhere.”

“Hold on,” Barnacle said as he made his way down to the ground. “It’s right over there...” he was saying as he walked over to Kracken; but to his surprise, the toolbox was not where Shane had left it.

“See what I mean?” Kracken replied.

“ARR, I don’t be likin’ this,” Barnacle said, his eyes narrowing. “I don’t be likin’ this one bit.”

“Ya think the guy might have come back for it?” Kracken asked.

“ARR, maybe,” Barnacle said as he looked into the trees and thought. “I’m gonna go check something out.”

“Do you want me to come along?” his first mate asked.

As Barnacle strapped on his sword belt he said, “No, it’s probably nothing; but if it is, I think I can handle it. Why don’t you see if you can get the rudder working?”

“The rudder,” Kracken said as he took a look at the ship. “Yeah, I’ve been wanting to get around to that for awhile.” And then, as quickly as that, the tools were forgotten and Kracken was back to work.

With one last glance around the area to make sure they hadn’t missed the toolbox, Barnacle set out into the jungle, following the stream inland. He had not gone too far at all when he caught sight of a path on the opposite bank and what looked like tracks coming out of the water. After a short swim, he arrived on the far shore and began to examine the tracks there in the soft mud. At first they looked human, but a closer inspection revealed that they were much too flat and smooth for a human’s foot. They looked more like a flipper.

This was likely where Shane had come out of the water, Barnacle concluded. Since the tracks were still quite fresh and heading further inland, Barnacle decided to follow them. From the edge of the water they took off down a narrow path through the dense jungle and quickly disappeared altogether as the forest floor turned more solid. Barnacle continued to follow the trail, though, because that seemed like the only way to go at the moment.

After following the path for a rather long time, Barnacle came to a short rocky ridge that rose up in front of him. It was a simple matter to climb this ledge since it was no higher than his head, but it meant that he was now starting up the side of the mountain that stood in the center of Calimidad Island. Some people claimed that it had been a volcano at some point but that it was now extinct. Barnacle had never seen Mount Calimidad erupt, but every once in a great while a small tremor would ripple through the island to remind everyone that they had chosen to live on the back of a volcano. And extinct or not, that is something that everyone should never forget.

But today, Barnacle just hoped that he wouldn’t have to climb all the way to the summit. He’d been there on several occasions and knew that it was quite a walk, and especially so just to recover a few tools which might not even be there. But he’d come this far already and had found nothing, so he figured he might as well keep going-- at least for a little while.

The path picked up again on the top of the small ridge and the pirate once again followed it. Only this time, the slope was definitely angling up at the mountain and getting steeper the farther he went. This was beginning to slow Barnacle down considerably when the path suddenly cut to the left along the slope of the mountain. But after not more than a hundred feet, the path turned back up again.

When Barnacle saw this, he was about to take a break at the turn and rethink his plan when he caught sight of a structure of some kind just a little farther up the old volcano. Moving closer, he could now see that there was indeed something built right in the path that looked like a large round building of some kind that curved back into the jungle on both sides. It was apparent immediately that it was very old. The massive stone blocks from which it was built were rough and pitted. Vines and other jungle plants climbed up the sides hoping it would take them into the sun above the massive trees that formed the nearly impenetrable canopy high overhead.

Making his way around to the side of the structure, Barnacle wasn’t long in coming to an opening in the wall. A high arched gate stood hanging open which allowed the pirate to take a look inside. The structure appeared to be a large circular wall that was thick enough to contain a few rooms. On the inside of the wall he found a short cobblestoned court yard and at the very center of the complex stood a short, round, tower-like building. Everywhere he looked Barnacle saw vines and plants growing. Obviously, the place had not been used for quite some time.

But across on the other side of the yard, a door leading into the tower was also hanging open; and as the pirate looked, he thought he caught sight of movement inside. Loosening his sword in its sheath, Barnacle cautiously started out across the courtyard. The wide open space between the outer wall and the tower looked like the perfect place to catch someone off-guard and Barnacle had no intention of that someone being him. He crept forward, constantly scanning the rooftop of the ancient structure for any sign of movement.

Just as he made it a little farther than halfway across the yard, a loud hissing noise sounded off to his right. Quickly he drew his sword and spun to face whatever might challenge him; but to his relief, all he saw was a jet of steam shooting out of an old tarnished copper fitting in the ground. After a moment the steam stopped and everything seemed to return to the way it had been.

Continuing in his advance, Barnacle made it the rest of the way to the tower without incident. Careful not to made too much noise, the pirate stepped through the open door into the tower. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting; but when they finally did, his eyes opened wide in surprise.

Standing before him in the middle of the room was a massive device that stood well over a story tall. At first glance, the design was beyond him; and even as he stood and persisted to look, he only became more mystified. Whatever this thing was, it consisted primarily of three large pillars of machinery and other complex gadgets that connected a platform below to a tangled mass of more intricate devices above. Suddenly, Barnacle tore his eyes from the strange contraption standing before him and shook his head in disbelief. For whatever purpose it had been built, he sensed that it could not be good.

But as he looked around the rest of the room, he suddenly caught sight of a smaller and infinitively simpler object sitting on the floor not far in front of him. It was the tool box that he had come in search of. However, no sooner did he see this than he did also see movement from the direction of the towering machine. Quickly he raised his sword, and the whale-man from earlier stepped out from between the pillars. It was Dr. Malcolm Shane.

Holding up a small wrench, Shane said, “Sorry about the tools, but I really needed to finish my Whale Machine.”

Barnacle didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or just attack. Instead, he simply asked, “Whale Machine?”

“This wonderful device you see standing before you, of course!” Shane exclaimed quite proudly. “Well, in all honesty, the term ‘Whale Machine’ may not be entirely true anymore. You see, the original was designed by the great Atlantean Nur-Ab-Fin to turn men into the most powerful creatures on the planet... whales!” Gesturing to himself, he continued, “As you can see, it worked rather well. However, Nur-Ab-Fin later abandoned his plan and instead decided to concentrate his efforts on the controlling of minds; and thus he incorporated that capacity into the device as well. From my intimate knowledge of the original, I have assembled this replica. I have refined the design so it only controls minds and no longer turns people into whales!”

Again Barnacle didn’t know what to say. He stood there for a moment thinking all this over before he replied, “ARR, so why did ya need ta steal my tools if ya had all this?”

“In my rush to order the proper components needed, I neglected to remember a 5/8 inch wrench.” Holding up the wrench again for Barnacle to see, he added, “I was not about to let my bid for world domination come to a premature end simply because I lacked a 5/8 inch wrench!”

“ARR, world domination?” Barnacle asked. “Ya think that thing is gonna give you the world?”

Shane chuckled to himself. “Yes,” he said. “Not only did I modify the design to remove the Whale Metamorphosis Matrix, but I also boosted the power of the Mind Controlling Assembly! With just a few more parts, I will be able to control the minds of everyone in Ponyland!”

Boldly taking a step forward, Barnacle said, “ARR, I think not.”

“You think you can stop me?” Shane gloated. “You can try but you will fail, I guarantee you that!”

“We’ll see,” Barnacle replied; and then, holding his sword forward, he charged the diabolical fiend. However, before he even got close, from out of nowhere sprang a rather large crab that swatted Barnacle’s sword aside with its massive claws.

“Keep him busy while I finish with the Whale Machine,” Shane told the crab and then ducked behind the machine to finish installing the last few components.

Meanwhile, Barnacle dove across the floor to recover his sword. Just as he got it in hoof, he rolled over onto his back to block a crushing blow from the crab. Parrying that, he then rolled to the side and jumped to his hooves; but the crab was right in front of him, blocking his path to the Whale Machine and Malcolm Shane.

With a heavy snap, the crab swiped its pincer just mere inches from Barnacle’s face, thus forcing the pirate to fall back. There was nothing he could do. His opponent was too heavily armored, and its lethal claws were much too quick and powerful. Yet, he had to stop Shane somehow or else the whole of Ponyland would become nothing more than his slaves.

Suddenly a loud hissing sound sprang up from his side. Both Barnacle and the crab stared in surprise. Another fitting like the one from outside was mounted in the floor here as well. This one, however, was connected to a heavy length of hose that fed into a whirling turbine of some sort. This in turn appeared as though it provided power for the Whale Machine itself.

But just as Barnacle saw this, he heard Shane laughing evilly from the far side of the room. “Now, victory is mine!” he cackled as he snapped the last piece into place.

Without a second thought, Barnacle leapt sideways past the crab and sliced through the steam hose with his sword. A moment later, the Whale Machine went dead and Shane’s troubled howl rose from it’s midst. “NOOOO!!!! I was so close!!!”

The crab, though, was not about to stop its attack just because the power had been cut. It charged Barnacle at full speed with both its pincers snapping wildly in front of it. Rolling quickly forward, Barnacle snatched up the severed end of the steam hose and directed it at the enraged crustacean. A cloud of scalding steam poured out of the end and fully enveloped the crab for a split second before the creature turned and fled from the tower in fear.

“ARR, the only good crab is a steamed one, I always say,” Barnacle declared as he picked himself up off the floor. Turning to Shane he said, “Now what? Can I be havin’ me tools back now?”

Shane looked up at the pirate, fuming and with fire in his eyes. “You’ve ruined everything! I was so close! All those months spent in Atlantis, studying old maps, discovering the perfect place to set up my operations, all of it for nothing! Nothing!!!”

“ARR, Atlantis, sure,” Barnacle said. “Why don’t we go down and see the authorities in Port Scurvy so they can be lockin’ ya up.”

“This time, I think not!” Shane replied and made a dash for the door. “Better to cut my losses and regroup for another day than to rot in prison.”

Barnacle jumped in front of the charging whale-man but it was no use; Shane’s massive size easily pushed the pirate out of the way. By the time he got back to his hooves, the doctor was nowhere to be found.

Returning to the tower building, Barnacle looked over the Whale Machine but could make neither heads nor tails of it. In the end, he figured it would be safest to destroy the whole thing in case Shane decided to return and fix it. A few well-placed slashes with his blade and suddenly the entire device started to shudder violently and long cracks began to split down the lengths of the seems. As hot steam began to spray out, Barnacle ran for the exit. He reached the courtyard not a moment too soon as the Whale Machine exploded behind him, taking the entire tower with it.

As Barnacle got to his hooves and turned to look at the smoldering crater that used to be an Atlantean outpost, he considered the whole situation that had just transpired. A mad scientist building a Whale Machine in the middle of a jungle island to take over everyone’s minds– the concept seemed more than a little strange, and Barnacle found it hard to believe any of what Shane had said.

Picking up the toolbox, Barnacle started back down the mountain side. Unfortunately, Shane had made off with Barnacle’s 5/8 inch wrench in the chaos; even though he had won, he still didn’t get what he had come for. Shaking his head, a smile crossed Barnacle’s lips as he chuckled to himself, “A mind controlling Whale Machine?” Rolling his eyes he added, “ARR, I’m sure.”


The Tamara and Baby Noddins Gossip Hour!
by Tabby and Sugarberry (TabbyMLP@aol.com and Sugrbery@aol.com)

Baby Noddins: Oh. Hewwo, Tamara.

Tamara: You’re here! You’re here! Sit down! You’re late!

Baby Noddins: Where’s Twabby?

Tamara: What do you mean, where’s Tabby?

Baby Noddins: I thought I was gonna gwossip with her.

Tamara: I’m none too happy with the arrangement either.

Baby Noddins: Where’s Twabby?

Tamara: She had to go to some Pokémon convention or something.

Baby Noddins: Aww. Don’t you wike me, Tamara?

Tamara: In a generic sort of way I suppose I do.

Baby Noddins: Oh.

Tamara: So, Baby Noddins. What have you been busy with? Nothing too exciting, I would imagine?

Baby Noddins: Miss Cornstalk gave me a really boring assignment.

Tamara: Are you sure it’s boring, or you just don’t want to do it?

Baby Noddins: I tried, but it was too boring. Miss Hackney was nicer.

Tamara: Well, what is the assignment?

Baby Noddins: Oh... it’s about science and math and stuff.

Tamara: You’re right. That is boring.

Baby Noddins: What’s Twabby up to, Twamara?

Tamara: I told you, she went to a Pokémon convention!

Baby Noddins: I mean, what’s she been doing besides that?

Tamara: She’s been... at the SSSS every evening, not to mention Pony Hut and KFC and the Estate Manor...

Baby Noddins: My mommy doesn’t let me eat out.

Tamara: Lucky for you, your mommy can cook!

Baby Noddins: Twabby can’t?

Tamara: Nope. She’s a menace when it comes to kitchen work.

Baby Noddins: Ooooh. I see. She could hire me as her cook!

Tamara: And just how well do you know how to cook?

Baby Noddins: I know lots! I watch mommy do it all the time.

Tamara: I don’t think Tabby’s that desperate yet.

Baby Noddins: Okay. What happened to Tiffany?

Tamara: Tiffany is in Vulcanopolis. Don’t you read the paper?

Baby Noddins: Didn’t she marry some rich guy or something?

Tamara: A rich guy with a last name!

Baby Noddins: *gasp*

Tamara: Yes, BN, you were born about twenty years too late.

Baby Noddins: Who is it?????

Tamara: Remember the stallion with his head in the punchbowl at Tabby’s reception?

Baby Noddins: Oh yeah! That was fun.

Tamara: Well, that’s him.

Baby Noddins: Guido??? She married Guido???

Tamara: She’s not married yet.

Baby Noddins: She’s not??? You mean I still have a chance at Guido?

Tamara: Well, it would be a long shot, BN.

Baby Noddins: Someday I’ll find somebody with a last name.

Tamara: I’m sure you will.

Baby Noddins: Tabby is sooooo lucky. She’s got two wast names now!

Tamara: And a mansion! Have you been to her mansion, BN?

Baby Noddins: My mommy didn’t want me to visit her.

Tamara: Is your mother afraid she’s a bad influence on you?

Baby Noddins: No... she just doesn’t want me gettin’ in her way. She says that’s what I do.

Tamara: But BN, you were her flower girl! Surely you hold a special place in Tabby’s life.

Baby Noddins: But mommy don’t think so.

Tamara: Maybe you and I could go visit Tabby together sometime.

Baby Noddins: OOOH!!!! Could we?????

Tamara: As long as your mother okays it.

Baby Noddins: She will!!!!!!! She will!!!!!!!!

Tamara: We’ll have to wait ‘till Tabby’s back, of course.

Baby Noddins: How long she gonna be gone?

Tamara: Just three days, I think.

Baby Noddins: That’s forever!

Tamara: If you study hard for those three days, they’ll pass very quickly.

Baby Noddins: Really?

Tamara: Plus your grades will improve!

Baby Noddins: Oh. Well, I don’t like Baby Fallin’ Leaves again.

Tamara: Why would that be?

Baby Noddins: She got cockleburs in my hair.

Tamara: Cockleburs? Oh, I remember those from when I was a foal! They’re a menace!

Baby Noddins: Yes. BFL shoulda told me her yard wasn’t safe when we went out to play.

Tamara: She has cockleburs growing in her yard?

Baby Noddins: In the back, yah know. I ran into them, and then they were stuck all over me.

Tamara: Did your mommy have to cut them out?

Baby Noddins: YES!! She had tah cut my hair!! My poor, poor hair!

Tamara: I thought it was a lot shorter than it used to be.

Baby Noddins: It’s BFL’s fault.

Tamara: Did you know that velcro was designed after cockleburs? That’s how good they stick.

Baby Noddins: Then I don’t like velcro, either.

Tamara: Just remember to stay out of the cockleburs.

Baby Noddins: Toby likes Elaine, don’t he?

Tamara: It would appear that way.

Baby Noddins: I asked him at the SSSS the other night, yah know. He said so himself.

Tamara: You asked Toby if he liked Elaine?

Baby Noddins: Elaine was there, too.

Tamara: Oh, poor, poor Elaine!

Baby Noddins: Why?

Tamara: She’s a very sensitive pony over things like that.

Baby Noddins: Oh. That might explain why she got all red in the face like that.

Tamara: Oh, poor, poor Elaine!

Baby Noddins: Did I upset her? Toby wasn’t upset.

Tamara: You’ve got to understand, Baby Noddins. You don’t just discuss personal things like that in front of other ponies.

Baby Noddins: Ooooooooh.

Tamara: How would you like it if BFL asked Baby Drummer, in front of you, if he liked you?

Baby Noddins: I’d beat her up ‘cause I don’t like Baby Drummer.

Tamara: Okay. Maybe I phrased that wrong. How would you like it if Baby Drummer told you, in front of BFL, that he liked you?

Baby Noddins: Then I’d beat him up.

Tamara: Well, let’s talk about something else, shall we?

Baby Noddins: What were you for Hawoween, Twamara?

Tamara: I don’t engage in such childish ideas.

Baby Noddins: I wanted ta be Twabby, but Mommy wouldn’t let me die my coat and hair.

Tamara: Not to mention that Tabby would have had a few things to say to you if she had found out.

Baby Noddins: In the end I just put on a nurse’s cap and said I was a Pokémon nurse, like Twabby.

Tamara: So basically you went as Tabby, anyway.

Baby Noddins: Yeah.

Tamara: Did you get lots of treats?

Baby Noddins: Yup. Lots of stuff. But Baby Drummer tried to steal all of it.

Tamara: He did?! You whapped him, I hope?

Baby Noddins: Yeah. He tried to take Baby Falling Leaves’, too, and that was a bad move. She beat him up good.

Tamara: Gee, now I feel sorry for Baby Drummer.

Baby Noddins: He don’t deserve your sympathy.

Tamara: Do you have anything else to say, Baby Noddins?

Baby Noddins: Oh yes, I do.

Tamara: Anything important that would interest our readers?

Baby Noddins: I have lots n’ lots of ‘portant stuff!

Tamara: Maybe we should just be signing off now.

Baby Noddins: You mean we’re done talkin’?

Tamara: Yes. I think that would be best for everyone involved.

Baby Noddins: Oh.

Tamara: So, goodnight!!

Baby Noddins: ‘Night everybody!! Wait-wait, I just ‘membered somethin’ really ‘portant ‘bout the new My Little People an’ they’re really limited edition an’ they’re only available at–

–click– And now, a word from our sponsor...


The Dream Quest
Part One
by Moon Lightning (kangamanda@juno.com)


Venture past Dream Valley and further still past the Friendship Gardens. Beyond the constellation Pegasus lies the distant planet of Cerian, a water world dotted with floating glittering isles and full of unexplored wonders and bright dreams. The planet is protected by a water shield surrounding the entire globe making the world’s air pure and free of impurities.

In this world inside the purple mountains by the sea lies a pony community, a small village. Here Dreams and visions from many places seem to come to them in the winds that blow through the mountains. No pony dares to venture out into the vast unexplored world full of new wonders and many other creatures. Only Dreams seemed to travel beyond the mountains.

This is a tale to be sung for generation to generation. Some unicorns dare to venture into the unknown guided by the Dream Gem. Let the gem be their guide, their keeper, their source of dreams... because you know what they say... be careful about what lies within dreams.


Stormy skies seared the pristine beauty of the fiery sunset. The distant thunder was a tell-tale sign of the coming menacing storm. With eagerness, a white unicorn stood poised upon a cliff top while the wind played with her golden-orange hair.

Sounds as if a thousand dolphflitters were flying at once, Misty Moon thought. She smiled when an image of a tiny purple dolphin with butterfly wings came into her mind. She snorted and laughed to herself for ever thinking about dolphflitters at all. “They are just a story, just like those mythic ponies from the place called Dream Valley,” Misty Moon reasoned to herself and smiled again when she remembered the stories her dam, Twinkle Clover, had told her about those ponies in Dream Valley when she was a foal.

Laughing aloud, Misty Moon remembered Wishing Star telling everyone that he actually had seen the mythic ponies; but no one had believed him– except for Misty Moon, who still loved the old stories and thought maybe– just maybe– some of them could be true. She hoped so, anyway.

A strike of lightning lit up the mountain sky and the thunder pounded Misty Moon’s chest. She yelped and wheeled towards the direction of a hidden pathway behind her. I think I better get off this cliff now, Misty Moon thought; but aloud she said, after another flash of lightning lit up the sky, “Yes, down would be good!”

Carefully picking her way down the well-worn path made by her hooves, she stopped by an old sugar maple tree. There, hidden by the dense leaves, she found her hidden hole in the bottom of the tree. Rolling out the round rock in front she got into her “treasure chest”.

Carefully, Misty Moon whipped off her camera’s lenses and placed them in the dry hole along with her memory box, an old lantern, a diary, and a photo book. Tears came to Misty Moon’s eyes when she remembered her mother using the camera. Ever since her mother had died when she was a foal, her father had despised anything that had to do with cameras– including mother’s old snapshots that she had taken and adored. So Misty Moon took the camera and photo book and hid them in her treasure chest without her father knowing about it.

After rolling back the stone and checking her tin can alarms tied to the tree’s branches, she rode off to her home in Wind Mere Valley, a well-secluded place hidden in the sheltering purple mountains– a place so hidden that news or anything hardly reached it. The stories from Dream Valley were myths and stories that seemed to whisper in the Dreams of all ponies at night– perhaps gifts of the dream-sending dolphflitters; but then, they were considered dreams, too.

It was midnight and well after the storm when Misty Moon finally reached her adobe home– or “soddies” as the younger fillies and typical cool colts called them. Adobe brick was the only material that seemed to hold up well in the area, a typical dry but relatively cool-warm climate.

Misty Moon snorted, sick at the sight of her pink adobe house. “Adobe, always adobe,” she mused between clenched teeth as she came to her cobblestone pathway. “You would think they would have found something new to build with by now.” Careful not to make a sound with her hooves on the pathway, she finally decided to walk on the grass instead. She knew that Leaf Whirl, the family gardener, would probably scold her in the morning.

“Where were you?” a young filly cried from an upstairs window.

Sisters! Oh, she will be the end of me yet. You would think she would know when to be quiet. Especially when someone is sneaking home this late. If my father EVER found out! Misty Moon thought and hissed “Quiet! “ through clenched teeth.

Unfortunately, that was not enough for this particular filly. She had been waiting all afternoon and night for her sister, and curiosity was eating at her thoughts. “You’ve been out takin’ pictures haven’t ya?” she sang excitedly. She loved this secret business but did not have the memory to keep quiet about it.

“Sure, Prim Rose! Tell it to the whole world!” Misty Moon said sarcastically to her sister while climbing up the flower terrace and entering her bedroom.

“Oh, okay!” Prim Rose whispered and then yelled out the open window “MISTY MOON HAS A CAMERA AND IS TAK...”

Frantically, Misty Moon grabbed Prim Rose and quietly shut the window so she would not make even more noise that necessary. “Not really!” the older girl yelled; and then when she saw Prim Rose’s lower lip quiver in an attempt to burst forth in a sob, she said quietly, trying to pacify her, “Remember how you like secrets? And how you love waiting to hear about my pictures?” This was said in a silly play voice that she knew her sister loved to hear. It worked.

Laughing, all upsetness gone, Prim Rose added “ ‘Bout the gardewns and the pritty fwowers!” in a quivery voice.

“Yes!” Misty Moon answered, making a stuffed doll say “You like pictures and Adventures!” Prim Rose laughed in delight when Misty Moon made the stuffed Raggedy-Mare-Ann ride on the bed. “Now all Adventurers are sleeping as you should be. I will tell you my stories later.”

While Misty Moon was tucking the little white unicorn in and looking at her sister’s sweet cherub face, she whispered, “Goodnight, you little imp.” She left Prim Rose sucking her hoof in her sleep nestled in with her rag pony. The stuffed pony’s red yarn hair reflected off of Prim Rose’s long silver mane that still had its foal curls in it that the young pony loved to brush.

Misty Moon sighed as she walked to her own bedroom. I seem to be playing “mother” a lot these days, she thought sadly. Oh, mother, we miss you so. After a few moments, she was asleep as well.

The next day was as clear as yesterday had been stormy. No one could tell a thunderstorm had been there the night before... except for Misty Moon, that is. Misty Moon smiled and took a deep breath of the fresh morning air. A great celebration was in full swing today, and Misty couldn’t wait to join in! It was Princess Morning Star’s birthday, and the ponies were rejoicing over the happy event.

“Wait up!! Misty...!” Prim Rose cried as she skipped down the cobblestone path to her sister’s side. Misty Moon winced when she saw her deep muddy hoofprints marring the lawn by the path near her sister’s room. It was only a matter of time until the gardener found out. Luckily, he had left early for the celebration and Misty Moon hastily planned to rake up the lawn to hide it... well, she hoped it would hide it.

“I am not going anywhere,” Misty Moon answered the little excited filly. Prim Rose thought of little else besides the party and couldn’t wait to go. Her excitement for the party was an excellent cover-up for her outburst the night before. Their father, Champion Starr, readily accepted it much to Misty Moon’s relief. Luck was with Misty Moon today because the little filly seemed too excited to remember her sneaking in late and the camera.

As they were walking they met up with Misty Moon’s best friend, Orbit, who was bringing two apple pies to add to the feast. Misty Moon wished sorely that she had remembered to make something for the party. A chocolate cake would of been a nice addition. Unfortunately, though, the only recipe she had was her mother’s; and bringing out her recipe book and making that cake would only upset her father.

Prim Rose smiled as she presented Misty Moon with a large jar of suckers. “Why, Prims, where did you get all of those suckers?” cried Orbit. Misty Moon was surprised as well, but hid her emotions from her little sister.

“I saved them up! You know Candy Sweet always liked to give ‘em to me when I passed her store,” Prim Rose said, looking proud. Candy Sweet was Misty Moon’s age and owned a candy store.

“That candy shop always did her name justice,” laughed Orbit, her purple face turning red from laughing.

“She could never leave that place without smelling like chocolate or something!” added Misty Moon, laughing as well. “There were always dogs following her home.”

“Remember when she fell into that large bowl of caramel she was making?” Prim Rose exclaimed, laughing at the memory of it.

“Yes!” Misty Moon answered. “It was forever before she could get that stuff out of her hair!”

Orbit smiled and looked at Prim Rose. “Is that why she kept giving you those suckers, so that she could finally live that incident down?” Prim Rose blushed. She had been telling everyone she met about the incident, so Candy Sweet gave her a sucker for every day she did not tell someone.

By the time they reached the party, all of them could barely stand up straight without falling over in a fit of laughter. “Goodness!” a voice cried. “What is all of this about?” Blinking, Misty Moon found herself staring in the deep blue eyes of Queen Starica....

To be continued...


Shattered Trust
by Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)

“Mateo wants us to stay sharp, Wigwam. Whatever’s going to happen in Vulcanopolis has to happen before the election on Thursday.”

“It can’t be too soon for me,” Wigwam admitted, then added tersely, “but I’m afraid of the results for everyone involved.”

“You and me both, buddy. You and me both.”

* * *
Thinking ahead to the Thanksgiving feast on Thursday put Sugarberry into a retrospective mood. Agatha and Hubert along with Tabby and Thomas were hosting the dinner at the mansion, and all the guests were excited to be dining in the elegant surroundings of the spacious home.

Preparing supper for Chocolate Chip and Wishbone gave her plenty of time to think; and her deliberations meandered down many paths, some more difficult than others. Her mother and father had invited her to join them for the holiday, along with Raspberry and Driftwood and Gooseberry and Grapevine; but Sugarberry had resisted the idea for purely self-centered reasons.

She stopped for a moment and peered out the window, seeing nothing but a distant impression of a country blue stallion separated from her by an impossible chasm. She shook her head vigorously to bring herself back to reality.. and to the pot of water boiling over on the stove.

Rectifying the cooking problem was a simple task; if only all life’s troubles were that easy! As the Twice-As-Fancy pony put the pealed potatoes into the hot water, she re-assessed her excuse for not joining her family’s Thanksgiving celebration. She simply could not face the happy reunion without Vanguard at her side.

Her reasoning stemmed from a series of givens: Her parents had each other; Raspberry had Driftwood; Gooseberry had Grapevine, not to mention Baby Gooseberry, Huckleberry, and Wineberry. She knew that she by herself would be a depressing influence on an otherwise lighthearted party. Just seeing everyone else secure in their love would do nothing but unravel her sanity. She wasn’t proud of her feelings, but she couldn’t help them; she missed Vanguard desperately.

The opening door accompanied by the chatter of Chocolate Chip and Wishbone forced Sugarberry to leave her temporary melancholy behind. “Hi, you two!” she greeted them with a smile on her face.

“Sug, look at this!” Wishbone handed her several sheets of paper stapled together.

“It’s your math test!” Her eyes moved to the top of the page. “Ninety-one percent... Wishbone! You did great!” She hugged the young stallion and patted his back before facing him. “I knew you could do it.”

“Not too shoddy for a loser, I guess,” he joked.

“And look,” Chocolate Chip pointed to the bottom of the last page, “Giorgio complimented him on the ‘fine work’ he’s been doing.”

“I’m so happy!” enthused the strawberry-patterned mare. “Your hard work has paid off, Wishbone, and I hope you are proud of yourself.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you two,” he murmured. Then, having enough of sentimentality, he asked the age-old question, “What’s for supper?”

It wasn’t long, with the help of many hooves, before the food was on the table and the three sat down to eat. The conversation was steady as they shared their lives.

“I’m getting so excited about Wigwam’s book-signing in a couple of weeks,” Chocolate Chip admitted. “I can’t wait for the books to arrive!”

“Wigwam promised me a complimentary copy with a special autographed message,” grinned Sugarberry. “But I suppose you’ll get that, too, even if you didn’t do all the typing for the manuscript.”

“I’m going to buy one to give to our grandparents for Christmas,” planned Wishbone. “Wigwam will have one sale anyway.” He dropped his fork as Chocolate Chip punched him none too delicately in the foreleg.

“The book is going to be a best seller,” Chocolate Chip reprimanded her brother.

“Yes, because I know for a fact who will buy the second copy.” Sugarberry winked at Wishbone. “I talked Giorgio into coming to the book-signing to get an autographed copy.”

“Giorgio?” Wishbone raised an eyebrow. “He doesn’t seem like the type who’d go for native pony tales.”

“It’s for his mother, to give to her when he goes home at Christmas time.”

“You mentioned once that she’s confined to a wheelchair,” Chocolate Chip interjected.

“Yes,” verified Sugarberry. “I think she’d enjoy being transported via the pages of a book to the early days of Ponyland for a change of pace. Wigwam’s retellings will put her right in the middle of their world.”

The incessant sound of the telephone cut into the chatter. “You two have dessert; I’ll take the call,” Sugarberry stated as she left the room to pick up at the desk phone. “Hello?”

“Sugarberry. It’s me, Giorgio.” The stallion’s voice carried the sound of tragedy in it, and Sugarberry’s heart began to pound.

“What’s wrong?”

Several seconds passed endlessly before she heard his answer. “My mother has been taken seriously ill.”

“Oh, Giorgio. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m at the Dream Valley airport now and will be going home to see her. I won’t be joining you for Thanksgiving. Please give Tabby and Agatha my regrets.”

“Of course I will. And I’ll be praying for your mother, Giorgio.”

“Thanks, Sugarberry.” There was a moment of hesitation. “And whatever happens... please don’t hate me.”

“Why would I hate you?” was cut off as Giorgio’s voice silenced hers. “I’ve got to run; the plane is boarding. Goodbye.” The receiver blurted out the dialtone as Giorgio hung up the phone. Sugarberry stood-- stunned-- feeling his anguish and wondering what he meant by those last oppressive words, Please don’t hate me.

“Sugarberry, what is it?” Wishbone and Chocolate Chip came into the room, their eyes filled with concern upon hearing only one side of the conversation.

“It was Giorgio. His mother has gotten terribly ill, and he has to go to her.”

“That’s too bad,” Chocolate Chip commiserated. “I hope she’ll be okay.”

“Me too,” Sugarberry softly stated. “He is very close to his mother, even if he and his father didn’t get along.”

“It’ll be okay, Sugarberry,” Wishbone tried to cheer the mare. “Things will work out.”

She smiled at the young stallion who could still hold an optimistic viewpoint. “You’re right, of course. It’s in God’s hands now.”

* * *
Wigwam and Tawny met once more after learning from the airport personnel that Giorgio had purchased a ticket to Vulcanopolis. “His leaving Dream Valley seems to be a change of plan,” Wigwam related. “He had been planning to spend the holiday with Sugarberry.”

“And you were comfortable with that arrangement?”

“Short of telling her the truth about Giorgio, what was I to do? She thinks he is a loner that needs watching over; I’m sure he’s leading her on for his own purposes.”

“It looks that way. The family-based plan for Thanksgiving would have given him an excuse to ignore what’s happening in Vulcanopolis on Thursday.”

“Yes, with his dad’s election at stake, he more than likely wanted to put on a cool front so as not to draw suspicion to his part in its intended failure.”

“So what’s happened to send him flying home?” Tawny mused, rubbing his chin with a front hoof. “Or were his disclosed plans just another ruse?”

At that moment, Quizzer came into the room. “It’s an urgent FAX, Chief... in response to your message to Chief Matteo.” The deputy set the paper down on the desk.

After reading the content of the message, Tawny skidded the paper across to Wigwam while verbally telling him what it said. “It appears that Giorgio’s mother has experienced some kind of medical problem that has landed her in the hospital in bad shape.”

“That would explain Giorgio’s sudden departure.”

“Yes. And it’s something even the imperturbable Giorgio couldn’t control.”

“With Giorgio back home, will there be any change to the blackmail that Matteo expects Giorgio, Sr. to receive?”

“There could be some repercussions to his being there; it won’t look good if it breaks right after he gets into town. But he can’t wait too long with the election only a few days away.” The chief tapped his hoof on the desk for a moment before taking action. “Quizzer,” Tawny ordered the deputy who stood silently waiting for instructions. “Signal everyone to keep alert; something is bound to come through soon; then we can pull down this cheating scam in short order... once Matteo gives us the go ahead.”

“I want to be there when Sable is collared,” Wigwam glowered. “He has the makings to become a bigger scoundrel than Giorgio.”

“We’ll get him,” Tawny replied. “He’ll wish he’d stayed at Binks before we’re through with him.”

“It would be helpful if this was all resolved before the students pull out for their Thanksgiving vacation.” The stallion stood up to leave. “Are you sure Matteo is ready to pounce on the blackmailer before any of that mess goes public?”

“He seems confident that they are ready to stop it once a move is made, but he did express some concern that the main player-- this Zaverio that’s running against Giorgio, Sr.-- may be a slippery one to catch. He makes sure all his underlings do the dirtiest work.”

“Interfering with the election process is a rotten enterprise,” Wigwam snarled. “They better catch him.”

“Let’s just concentrate on doing our part here at Pony Pride,” Tawny cautioned. “Matteo will do all in his power to crush Zaverio and his plan, and that includes Giorgio.”

“Crushed... and Sugarberry will be caught in the middle.”

* * *
Why would he tell me not to hate him? Sugarberry had been pondering that statement of Giorgio’s incessantly. Whatever happens, don’t hate me. She could hear those words resounding through her mind whenever she closed her eyes and couldn’t figure out what they meant.

She had to admit that when Giorgio had come to Dream Valley, she had felt something deeply akin to hate for him as she blamed him for taking Vanguard away. And when she had first met the stallion, he had prompted a very uneasy tension that had worried her; discovering her mother’s acquaintance with Giorgio’s father and the telltale picture that had usurped her peace of mind had only strengthened her dislike for him. He personified the turmoil she had suffered as a foal who had been unaware of the less idyllic side of life until the photo had torn at her parents’ precious love; providentially, they had put the incident behind them, and life quickly returned to normal. Unexpectedly, however, Giorgio had re-ignited those smothered anxieties in the sensitive mare.

But over the course of the summer, Sugarberry had tempered; the aura of doom no longer encircled Giorgio, she realized. Discovering that he could be kind and empathetic and amiable had fascinated her; and she allowed the two of them to become friends.

Thinking back to their day spent roaming the Toy Museum caused Sugarberry to smile; they had become foals again for the afternoon, reliving episodes that had been forgotten but were resurrected by the assault of action figures, My Little People dolls, and building blocks. Laughing and joking over their assorted memories, the two had bonded. Giorgio alone in a new town, Sugarberry adrift without her anchor-- the two had filled a mutual need for each other. No, she no longer hated him. Why then the parting entreaty?

Unless... Sugarberry had a moment of panic as she recollected Thomas’ observation that Giorgio’s feelings for her might be stronger than hers for him. Could he have thought that she would take his sudden leaving as some sort of rebuff? But she was sure that he, like herself, had simply gained a friend, nothing more. He was probably just referring to the fact that he had reneged on the Thanksgiving Day plans, the mare finally decided, putting the incident behind her.

Sugarberry calculated the length of time before Giorgio would arrive in Vulcanopolis and the time difference between the two cities, and finally determined when to call Vanguard to inform him of recent happenings. She dialed his number and waited impatiently for the call to go through.

Hearing the receiver pick up on the Italian side caused Sugarberry to smile, but the sound of the voice quickly dampened her spirits for it wasn’t Vanguard’s but the musical one of Clare. “Good evening.”

“C... Clare! Is that you?” Sugarberry stuttered.

“Sugarberry! How nice to hear from you. How is everything back in Dream Valley?”

“Not too bad. But I would like to talk to Vanguard. Is he there?”

“Well, of course he’s here. Just a second. I think I hear him coming down the stairs.”

After a pause and the background sound of muffled voices, Vanguard finally was on the line. “Sugarberry? This is a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to talk with you until Thursday.”

Obviously, the slightly resentful mare whispered silently, never once equating her friendship with Giorgio as a similar menace to Vanguard. What she did say was rather cool. “That was the plan, but something has come up.”

“Nothing’s wrong, I hope.”

“Not here. But Giorgio called to tell me his mother was taken ill, and he grabbed a flight over to be at her bedside.”

“I heard on the radio that something had happened. With the election so close, it’s big news.”

“So what is the latest?” Sugarberry asked fearfully.

“She’s resting comfortably; that’s all they say.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“No. The media doesn’t seem to have much information.”

There was a time of silence which was broken with Sugarberry’s question. “What’s Clare doing at your place?”

“She wanted to have a Thanksgiving dinner for me as I was missing the one back home. Have Rex and his family shown up yet?”

“Not yet. So you and Clare are... dining alone?”

“No, Sugarberry. Clare’s maid, Alda, did the cooking with help from Clare and Angela. You remember my telling you about Angela, don’t you? She and her brother, Pacificus, are here. And we’re just waiting for another couple to arrive before we sit down to eat. Tonight is the only night everyone was free, so our Thanksgiving is a little early.”

Sugarberry had stopped listening at the words “another couple”. So what arrangement of couples was there-- Vanguard and Clare, or Vanguard and Angela? Either way seemed a bitter image for Sugarberry to envision. “It sounds... delightful.” She bit her lip to prevent the truth of her feelings coming out.

“It is rather festive,” Vanguard admitted. “Are you still planning on spending Thanksgiving at Tabby’s?”

“Yes.” That twinge of jealousy that slithered through her emotional jungle suddenly erupted, causing her to disregard anyone’s feelings but her own. “Giorgio was going to accompany me there; but, of course, he won’t be able to now.”

“Giorgio...” Vanguard was taken aback. From her letters, he had known that Giorgio and Sugarberry’s paths were crossing with more frequent regularity, but this was unforeseen; it was like he was already a member of the family. “He was to be your escort?”

Sugarberry weighed her words carefully while the sing-song voice of Clare in the background hardened her heart. “He had nowhere to go, so I asked him to join me; I guess Clare and I were thinking along the same lines-- the lonely stallion in need of companionship.”

The bite in her words did not escape Vanguard. “Sugarberry,” he turned away from the noisy group now welcoming Federigo and Eugenia into the house. “I love you. That’s a fact.”

His pledge stirred remorse quickly to the surface. “I love you, too,” she replied, tears now escaping down her cheeks as a healing balm. “That’s why this is so hard.”

“How many days now? You haven’t stopped counting, have you?” he wheedled her back to a more optimistic frame of mind.

With some effort, Sugarberry was able to control her mute weeping. “Friendly programmed my computer to keep a countdown going,” she sniffed. “It stands at thirty-three now.”

“No time at all, Sugarberry. I’ll be home for Christmas.”

“And I’ll be waiting.”

She stood over the phone after the call was completed imagining the lively group dining at Vanguard’s residence in Vulcanopolis. And try as she might to focus on Vanguard’s face in the crowd, it was always Clare’s that intervened.

* * *
The flight had given Giorgio plenty of time to organize his thoughts about many things; he was not looking forward to showing up in Vulcanopolis at this time, but his mother was one pony whom he would not desert at any cost. If his coming home complicated matters for Zaverio, then so be it. He would handle things somehow.

He fervently hoped that he would find his mother in an improved condition once he arrived; maybe his father had over-reacted to the situation. If all went well, he would be back in Dream Valley when classes resumed after the Thanksgiving holiday.

He grimaced as he imagined Sable handling things unsupervised at Pony Pride; his trust in the young stallion had been seriously shaken because of the matter with Wishbone, and he found himself anticipating some sort of crisis when he returned.

And then there was Sugarberry. What would the mare think of him if his father did not react to the blackmail as expected and a scandal involving Strawberry Shortcake hit the press? Giorgio knew now that there was no truth to the assumptions he had made so many years ago when he had fueled the anger that he felt for his father with concocted ideas of what story was behind the picture he had discovered. In his months at Dream Valley, he had examined the birth records of the time period in question, and he had found all to be in order-- Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Baskets were the parents of both the girls in the picture and of Sugarberry, too.

Turning to look out the window at the expanse of clouds through which the plane traveled, Giorgio saw the incident from his past as clearly as if it had transpired yesterday. He was a young colt at the time, explosive about anything that touched on his father but very committed to the well-being of his mother. When he had walked into the library of the spacious home that the family occupied and had come upon her crying as if her heart would break, he had been bewildered and saddened; he had quietly left his mother to her misery, uncertain as to what to do to comfort her. But he had seen what she held in her hooves, and when she had left the room, he returned to see if he could trace down the cause of her sorrow. It had been a thin book his mother had been clutching-- a thin book with a bright red cover.

He knew where to start his search. His mother had been in her wheelchair close to his father’s desk that commandeered one wall of the library. Walking slowly to the exact spot where his mother had been, he surveyed the desk top but saw no book amidst the folders and papers that lay in neat stacks. With a look at the door to make sure no one would see him, he experimentally tried a drawer to see if it would open; the desk was normally locked, and he was surprised to feel the drawer pull back easily. But there was no red book inside.

The second drawer, on the other hoof, provided him with the object of his venture. The book, titled Poems of Life and Love, lay to the back nearly hidden; Giorgio picked it up hesitantly. Love poems were not something he would choose to read; yet if he wanted to find what had upset his mother, he had to check them out. He slowly opened the pages, and began reading.

Perusing the printed words, he scoffed at their tenderness and sentimentality. Who would write such stuff? he had asked himself of the love poems. But he found that the authors of those poems that touched on life seemed more down to earth, for they, too, found life to be unfair and cruel just as he did. He sat down in his father’s chair and became absorbed with the verses, identifying with each melancholy mood that the poets portrayed in poignant expressions.

The ringing of the telephone had caused him to jump; and in so doing, something dropped from the book to the floor. Ignoring the phone, he reached under the desk to retrieve the paper; he found that the item was a photograph of a happy group of ponies by a pool. He sat back in the chair to look over the faces of the ponies, and found that the only one he recognized was the stallion-- his father. The mare and the two foals were strangers to him.

He studied the picture intently, and it slowly dawned on him that the reason for his mother’s tears could very well have been this photo, not the book at all. He stared at the grouping that the camera had caught, and his questioning mind began its work. He was only remotely aware of the sound of hoofsteps in the hallway, and by the time he recognized his father’s approach, he had to scurry to replace the book in its proper place and move away from the desk to begin nonchalantly reading the book titles available on the shelves as if he was innocently choosing a title to read.

His father, upon entering the room, went straight to the desk with his briefcase without seeing his son; Giorgio cleared his throat to let his father know that he was there. “Giorgio! I didn’t notice you. How was school? You are doing well, I presume?”

“Sure. No problem,” was all the colt responded. He had no difficulty with his studies but he was lonely most of the time. The other fillies and colts seemed to think he was some sort of maverick, and they had no time for him. But there was no sense in confiding that information to his father-- Giorgio, Sr. would have no concern for such a grievance.

The telephone rang again, and this time was answered immediately by the stallion. After a short conversation, he hung up the receiver and informed his son that he was needed at a meeting downtown. “Will you let your mother know that I won’t be home for supper as planned?”

“What else is new?” Giorgio responded with angry furrows creasing his forehead.

“It can’t be helped. I’ll be home as soon as I can break away.” Giorgio heard his father, but remained silent; he let his eyes convey the embittered message for him. “I’ll see you later,” Giorgio, Sr. sighed. But Giorgio knew that his father wouldn’t be home until long after he had gone to bed; he and his mother would eat alone and play a quiet game of cards; then she would kiss him goodnight, and he would be excused to follow his own boring existence in whatever way he pleased.

He watched his father leave the room and stood feeding off his angry feelings for several minutes before returning to the desk and once more opening the drawer that contained the red book. He quickly scooped it up and closed the drawer. Taking the book with him, he beat a hasty retreat to the privacy of his room where he hid the book in his superhero comics before trotting off to join his mother for the evening meal; he would make sure that his mother never had to see the picture and cry like that again.

The stewardess’s voice came through Giorgio’s thoughts. “Sir? Sir? Would you care for your dinner now?” But he only waved her on, and sank back into his reverie.

Later that night, Giorgio had retrieved the book and, sitting on his bed, had taken the picture in hoof and stared at it intently. His father and another mare-- that was obvious enough. And what of the two foals with their Twice-As-Fancy coats? He could not understand what the picture represented, yet he knew it had caused his mother deep pain when she had seen it. His mind began to develop scenarios to fit the circumstances.

In his current black mood, the possibility that most intrigued him was that his father might have been married at some time in the past to this mare, and the two foals would therefore be his daughters. Giorgio contemplated that idea for a long while, and slowly began to believe it to be true, mainly because in his mind it answered so many of the questions he had asked himself over and over throughout his tender years. It explained why his father had never loved him, why he never worried about him, and why he was never home. It made perfect sense; it fit the facts.

Finding the picture and manufacturing its history had almost been a relief for Giorgio. Having a reason for his father’s cold demeanor toward him was more bearable than simply being disliked on no logical grounds. He harbored his imaginings and built on them until he lived in his mind every detail of his father’s second family, as he referred to it. Now when Giorgio, Sr. wasn’t home in the evenings or on the weekend, Giorgio would invent an excuse for him involving one of the pretty little ponies in the picture. It somehow soothed his soul to direct his resentments toward the two foals who stood laughing at the pool side, obviously enjoying the company of his father, while he himself stood alone and unwanted.

Some slight turbulence caused Giorgio to surface to reality, and he checked the time on his watch, finding that he would be better off trying to get some sleep rather than staying awake nursing old wounds. Closing his eyes, he relived that day at Tabby and Spike’s museum when he had felt happier than he had ever thought possible, sharing nonsensical recollections with the white mare decorated in a strawberry pattern who had, reluctantly at first, accepted him into her confidence.

That day, he had been able to put behind him all that was wrong in his life; he had been carefree as he had never been in his youth. He knew that he had come as close as he ever had to falling in love. He wanted to hang on to that memory for moments such as these when he felt so alone and so troubled. And he knew only too well that was all it could ever be-- a memory.

* * *
Leaving the terminal behind him, Giorgio headed straight for the hospital; he had traveled lightly, so had nothing but his backpack and laptop to worry about. It was a bright, mild day and Vulcanopolis would have been a feast of sights and sounds for most visitors, but Giorgio was so concerned about his mother and in what condition he would find her that he was unaware of the city around him. He hurried his stride down the long, slightly curving path that would lead him most directly to his destination.

Arriving at the hospital steps, Giorgio felt his first twinge of apprehension in meeting his father under these conditions-- not only with his mother’s health but also with the impending blackmail. Maybe dad won’t even be here, he rationalized to himself. He will probably be out drumming up votes for the election. The thought put him into a surly mood in which to face his father, and face him he did. Following the nurse’s directions on how to find his mother’s room, he rounded a corner and nearly collided with the stallion that mirrored him in looks-- deep green with dark blue hair.

It was his father who spoke first. “You made good time in getting here, Giorgio. I’m sure your presence will be beneficial to your mother.”

“As a little more of your presence might have prevented this problem?” Giorgio allowed the venom in his voice to cut through.

His father looked at him sharply, but let the question drop. “Your mother’s condition hasn’t changed since I talked to you on the phone; the good news is that it hasn’t gotten worse, at least.”

“Where is she?”

Giorgio, Sr. led his son to the closed door of Room 2l8. “She hasn’t spoken since this happened, except to say the word ‘pitcher’. The one that was on the table next to her when she had this attack was knocked to the floor and shattered. It wasn’t anything special, so I don’t know why she is so worried about it. But when she does become conscious enough to speak, that is all she says.”

Thinking immediately of an old, porcelain pitcher that his mother had always kept fresh flowers in to brighten her sitting room, Giorgio was overwhelmed with remembrances of warm summer days when he would be allowed by the gardener to cut his mother a bouquet of the sweetly scented blooms and her pleased reception of the offerings. She had always personally arranged them in the pitcher even though it tired her out, saying that it reminded her of her own mother who had always used a similar container for the blossoms she gathered from the fence-rows around her country vineyard.

Wishing that he had taken the time to pick up a bouquet of flowers from the gift shop at the front of the hospital, Giorgio walked into the sterile environment of the room. His mother, her fragile body dwarfed by the overpowering whiteness of the bedding, lay in apparent slumber; her shallow breathing was the only movement she made. Giorgio approached the bed and realized the tenuous hold on life that existed for any pony. A tear slid down his left cheek as he gathered his mother’s small hoof into both of his strong ones. “Mother? It’s me... Giorgio.”

He was only remotely aware of his father standing beside him until Giorgio, Sr. pulled up a chair for his use and informed him that he would leave the two of them alone for awhile. When his father had closed the door behind him, Giorgio sat down and brushed the hair from his mother’s eyes. “It’s been awhile, hasn’t it, Mother? But I’m back now for as long as you need me.” He continued to speak to her about things from the past that he knew would interest her if she could indeed hear him. If she couldn’t understand what he was saying, at least the sound of his voice might strike some point of recognition in her.

“Your flowers were spilled, I hear. But don’t worry about that; I’ll buy you a new pitcher and fill it with the most exotic flowers I can find.” To his surprise, he felt a response to his statement in a small but definite jerk of her hoof. “Mother,” he said urgently, “why does the broken pitcher bother you so?”

There was a faint flicker of movement in her eyelids, and slowly as if with great effort she gradually opened her eyes. “Mother, I’m here.” He watched as her eyes torpidly focused him in. “I want you to get better. You can do that for me, can’t you?” He found himself pleading his point like a foal fighting for something much bigger than himself.

“Pich-ure,” the mare was finally able to feebly voice. “Pich...” She closed her eyes again as if the effort had exhausted her.

“I’ve already told you not to worry about that pitcher, Mother. It can be replaced. You just concentrate on getting well.”

Her eyes opened more rapidly the second time. “Fa-ther... ,” was a paramount effort for her to say. She seemed to shrink within herself from the exertion.

“Father?” Giorgio didn’t understand the message, but it opened for him a vent for his total helplessness under the circumstances. If he did something to bring this on her, I’ll... His angry thoughts were brought to an end, however, as a professional looking nurse with her perky white hat entered the room.

“I’m sorry, sir, but you will have to leave while I take care of some things for the patient.” She eyed the stallion curiously, obviously not previously aware of the striking similarity between father and son. Giorgio kissed his mother on the cheek, and left the room.

His father, waiting outside the room, came to him quickly. “Did she respond to you?”

“She was able to mention the pitcher, and one more thing I found interesting... you, Father. I haven’t yet heard the details of this attack that put my mother in the hospital. Maybe its time I did.”

“I was at campaign headquarters at the time it happened,” Giorgio, Sr. admitted. “Emma was the only one in the house with her, so all I have to give you are the facts that she told me.”

“Why am I not surprised that you were not at home?” Giorgio stated the words with such cold anger that his father was temporarily speechless.

“If you’re implying that I was deficient in my responsibilities to your mother, let me say that she and I had lunch together and she was in perfectly fine spirits when I left her in Emma’s capable hooves.”

“So what happened?”

“Emma says that a guest came to the house and asked to see your mother, saying that he was an old college chum of yours. Emma took the message to Enrica and she was delighted to have a visit from someone connected with you. Emma escorted the stallion in to the parlor where your mother sat; and at Enrica’s request, she went to the kitchen to fix coffee and a plate of cookies.”

“Who was this stallion?”

“He gave his name as Peppino; do you remember him?”

Giorgio frowned. He had known no Peppino’s on a personal basis. The information gave him an intuitive warning of danger. “What did this stallion look like?”

“Emma remembers him as being straw-colored with jade-green hair. She didn’t recognize him as anyone she had ever seen before.”

The two stallions moved off to a quieter corner of the hallway as other visitors approached the room across the hall. Giorgio’s mind was working its way down a haunting pathway of its own. “And did this stallion have an eagle as a symbol?”

“Yes. You know him, then?”

There was only one stallion that met the description that Emma had given, and his name was not Peppino; it was Renzo, and he was one of the “employees” that did the bidding of Zaverio when something devious needed to be done. Giorgio was well aware of his talents; he was one of the stallions that Giorgio had sent to Prisca’s house some months back in the thwarted attempt to recover the picture...

In one awful moment, a blinding flash of realization hit Giorgio and took the breath out of him as if he had been physically punched in the stomach. The pitcher his mother was mentioning was not the porcelain pitcher that held flowers but a much more ominous picture that would have the power to do this dastardly thing to her. “What happened after Mother and this Peppino were together?” he asked of his father with sinking hope.

“Emma had returned to the kitchen after serving the refreshments; she said that Enrica was enjoying her conversation with the stallion and seemed to be in good spirits. Peppino had some stories to tell about your days at Leonardo as a student that tickled your mother’s fancy.”

“I would like to hear those stories myself.”

Giorgio, Sr. turned away from his son to stare out a window that looked down into an enclosed courtyard below. “There was a crash, Emma said, and she ran into the parlor to see what had happened. The stallion was gone, and Enrica was on the floor unconscious, the toppled vase and scattered flowers in disarray. Emma called for help immediately, and notified me that the ambulance would be bringing her here.”

“So Emma has no idea as to what took place between Mother and... Peppino?”

“Not a clue. She couldn’t hear their conversation when she was in the kitchen, and she can’t honestly say that Peppino was still there when your mother collapsed. All she knows is that Enrica was fine and enjoying herself when Emma was last in their company.”

The two stallions now stood side by side looking out the window, each lost in private reflection. Giorgio could see only one reason why Renzo would have any interest in his mother, and that reason was something that she was supposed to have been shielded against. His first feeling of helplessness at realizing that it was the picture that had dealt his mother this traumatic setback now turned to uncompromising anger toward the individual whom he saw as the perpetrator of this fiasco.

“I’ve got some things to attend to,” he said suddenly.

His father turned to him in disbelief. “You’ve just gotten home; don’t you think you owe it to your mother to be here for her?”

Giorgio would have enjoyed the irony of the statement if it had been made under different circumstances, but now he only gave his father a withering glance before making his way down the hall to the elevator and out of the hospital to make contact with the one pony who would be able to explain to him what was going on.

It was a long walk to the building that housed the offices of Zaverio; this teal-colored stallion owned a well-known law firm, and he was making a bid for the office of city manager of Vulcanopolis, a position that Giorgio, Sr. had held for a number of years. While he walked, Giorgio paced himself to the thoughts that tumbled again from the past.

As he had grown up, he had stopped believing his imagined stories about his father and his second family as he saw the impossibility of such a set of circumstances. But he had never parted with the snapshot itself as he had begun seeing a purpose for it if he bided his time for the right moment when he could use it against his father. And that moment had come when Zaverio had approached him with his wild scheme to upset his father’s winning streak in the Vulcanopolis election.

Zaverio had done his homework well, and knew of Giorgio’s intense dislike of his father, so he played upon that clash of personalities to entice Giorgio into his game. When Zaverio had explained his well-thought out plan, Giorgio had succumbed to the chance for revenge and had informed Zaverio that when the fall election came, he would be able to provide the leverage to force his father into early retirement from the political arena.

Finding a link to the picture in Dream Valley through the Twice-As-Fancy mare, Sugarberry, had seemed like the perfect coincidence until Ivetta informed him that the photograph he wanted her to retrieve was missing. That complicated his part in Zaverio’s plan, but he was too close to completion of his vendetta to allow anything to stop him. And with Sugarberry’s unwitting help, he had uncovered a new piece of bait.

He trusted in his father’s chivalrous spirit to spare Strawberry Shortcake and her family any unnecessary turmoil and to drop out of the election leaving a clear field for Zaverio. His debt to his father would be paid, and in return-- and this was the part that hurt-- Zaverio would remain silent concerning Giorgio’s cheating scam which he had found out about in his search for dirt on local ponies. Giorgio’s own operation was nothing compared to Zaverio’s network of deception throughout Vulcanopolis, but Zaverio could make it hot for him if he found it to his benefit..

Giorgio entered Zaverio’s office in an assumed calm but the sight of Zaverio smiling at him across the polished desk unleashed the pent-up feelings he had tried to suppress. “What did you do? My mother lies in the hospital, and the one word she can say is picture. Why do I get the sick feeling that you are behind this?”

“I changed plans a bit; that’s all.”

“That’s all? You’ve toyed with my mother’s life!”

“I’m surprised at your reaction; your time away from Vulcanopolis has softened you, Giorgio.”

Giorgio, trying to regain his composure, stepped closer to the desk. “Just tell me what you hoped to accomplish by drawing my mother into this.”

“I think it’s obvious. I had hoped to impress on her to convince her husband to back down. I thought she would be more successful against your father than I ever could have been.”

“But she was not to have known anything about this. My father was the target. He was the one to suffer.”

“It’s too bad what happened. Your mother collapsed before she could tell your father what our demands were,” Zaverio stated in a business-like tone.

“Have you changed those demands as well as the method of seeking them?”

“No, Giorgio. We just have one simple request. Step down, or see this picture plastered all over Vulcanopolis by election day.” Zaverio threw an eight-by-ten glossy on the desk in front of him, sliding it towards Giorgio.

Giorgio looked down at the portrait knowing what he would see, but his face became livid as he took in the images that peered out at him. “That’s not the picture I sent you!” he cried. “How dare you show this fabrication to my mother!” He grabbed the print off the desk and tore it to shreds. The picture had been of Strawberry Shortcake and her three daughters at the August wedding, but the stallion was Giorgio, Sr., not Strawberry Baskets. “Explain this to me!” he demanded as he threw the pieces down in front of Zaverio.

Zaverio smiled an ominous grin. “Computers are wonderful inventions, Giorgio. You can take any photos you want, and combine them into one masterpiece if you know what you’re doing.”

“No wonder Mother reacted as she did! You could have destroyed her!”

“And your father in the bargain. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Giorgio glared menacingly at the stallion behind the desk. “Our deal involved only my father; I was to supply you with the means to get him out of office. I did my part. You had no right to make your own rules.”

“You’ll get that you wanted. You have no reason to complain.”

Giorgio leaned across the desk, both forehooves planted to support his weight. “You don’t understand, do you? We’re talking about a life or death situation here.”

“Okay.” Zaverio threw his hooves into the air. “I’m sorry about that. But what is done is done. I honestly didn’t expect her to react so strongly. If your father is as bad as you say he is, I thought she might be glad to help us.”

Controlling his temper as best he could, Giorgio stood fuming. “You’ve crossed the boundary of good sense, Zaverio. If my mother doesn’t respond soon, I’m going to make you pay for this... and good.”

“Now, Giorgio, what do you think you could do to touch me?”

“I know enough of your operation and the illegal things that you have been involved with and the ponies you have working for you to send you to prison if I should ever decide to take my information to the proper authorities. And from where I stand, the time for that is now.”

Zaverio leaned back in his chair, the disgusting grin on his face again. “That’s the beauty of this set-up, Giorgio. You can’t take me down without you coming down with me.”

The cold stare that Giorgio gave him was harsh. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Giorgio said before crossing the room and opening the door. But Zaverio wasn’t through yet.

“Giorgio!” Zaverio recalled the stallion, making a show of looking at the dial on his wristwatch. “You might be interested in knowing that your father should be viewing this right now.” He held up another copy of the conglomerate photo.

Taking a glance at the picture, Giorgio felt a sudden overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Zaverio was right. There was nothing Giorgio could do to stop the madness he had unleashed. Without another word, he left the office and made his way back to the hospital.

* * *
He found his father once more staring out the second-floor window, a more dejected look about him than Giorgio had ever seen before. I was right about his reaction to the picture anyway, Giorgio appraised to himself, but could find no satisfaction in the verification. He noticed the manila envelope clutched in his father’s hoof and needed no enlightenment to know what it contained.

“So, bad news from the polls?” Giorgio asked as he came up next to his father.

Giorgio, Sr. didn’t look at his son. Nor did he speak. He simply sighed and walked to a grouping of chairs in a quiet corner of the waiting area providently provided for patients and their families. Cheerful paintings of foals at play and magnificent landscapes assured those trapped within that life still continued in normalcy on the outside.

The two stallions sat down, and it was still several minutes before Giorgio, Sr. could speak. “Some ponies have a sick sense of what’s right and what’s wrong,” he finally stated softly.

“Does this have to do with the envelope you’re holding?” Giorgio asked innocently.

Looking at his son directly, Giorgio, Sr., seemed to weigh the propriety of confiding his predicament to a son with whom he had rarely shared even the most ordinary interaction. Yet, the need to get someone else’s perspective on his dilemma was great. And if not a son, who could he communicate this too?

His first words caught Giorgio by surprise. “You’re what now-- twenty-five?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s funny how memories can wash over a pony, released by... by some unexpected occurrence.”

I’ve been experiencing a lot of that recently, Giorgio bitterly thought to himself. To his father, he said nothing.

“Before you were born, I traveled to Ponyland to attend a teacher’s conference. It was a beautiful place and I wished your mother could have been with me. But you were on the way, and she wasn’t able to travel, so I was alone.”

“Did you go to Dream Valley?” asked Giorgio.

“No, it was another town over there, Hayton. Life was somehow slower there, leaving a pony with time to think and enjoy the sights and sounds that surrounded one. I met another family at the hotel I was staying at; he was a farmer of sorts-- grew fruits and vegetables and such. And I thought, ‘What a simple life... to live off the land and not have to worry about the day-to-day turmoil of the city and a calendar of appointments and the constant interruption of the telephone.”

“I’m sure his life had its share of problems,” Giorgio stated, thinking back to Sugarberry’s stories on how devastating a late spring frost could be or how welcome rain after a period of drought was.

“I envied that stallion and his family,” Giorgio, Sr. continued. “During the afternoons when I didn’t have conferences to attend, I was able to spend time with his wife and their two little daughters. Your mother and I were so excited to be expecting our first foal, and here was a couple with years of experience behind them on raising foals; Strawberry Shortcake was expecting again; I hoped your mother and I would be as good of parents as she and her husband seemed to be. And the two foals were Twice-As-Fancy, even thought their parents weren’t; one had a gooseberry pattern and one had raspberries. I often thought that it would be great if the third foal would be a girl and covered in strawberries since her mother and father both had strawberries in their symbol. Today I found...”

It was at this point that Giorgio, Sr. could no longer continue his conversation. He suddenly stood up and strode once more to the window; and his son left him to work through his emotions by himself, calculating that it would be what he would want.

Giorgio took advantage of the opportunity to return to his mother’s room. As he took her hoof in his and slid onto the bedside chair, he felt a slight squeeze of his own hoof from her which he found to be very comforting. Any sign of response on her part was a good thing, and he began talking to her about the times they had shared together when both of them were lonely and unable to reach out beyond each other.

The opening and closing of the door caused Giorgio to end his monologue. His father came across the room to stand opposite him on the far side of the bed. “Any sign of recognition?” His voice was heavy with worry over too many problems to face.

For a second, Giorgio felt sorry for him, but he smothered that tendency. “I’m sure she responded by pressing my hoof in hers.”

“I wish she’d come out of this.”

“That’s what we both want, isn’t it?”

Giorgio, Sr. looked at his son strangely. “Maybe for the first time in our lives, we want the same thing.”

Not looking at his father, Giorgio blinked back a tear. He wanted to run from the room; emotions were beginning to swallow him and he didn’t know how to handle them. He looked upon his mother’s face and begged the Lord to bring her back. Once she could smile at him, he would be strong once more.

His father began talking again of the past. “We were so pleased when we found we were to be parents.” He said the words as much to his wife as to his son. “Enrica, remember how happy we were? So much in love...” He stopped to brush the tears from his own cheeks. He pulled a second chair up by the bed and sat heavily. Giorgio noticed that the manila envelope was still in his hoof and wondered why his father hadn’t done anything with it as of yet. And what would his reaction be when he realized that it was that picture that had put Enrica in this condition?

But a murmur from his mother brought his attention back to the reality before him. “Mother, what is it? Can you hear us? It’s Giorgio; and Father is here, too.” The ashen mare was so quiet that Giorgio grew concerned. “Mother, please look at me!”

With a visible amount of effort, Enrica opened her eyes, slowly focusing on the stallion before her. “Jo-Jo,” she whispered the pet name that she used for him; her lips trembled into a difficult smile.

Giorgio kissed her gently on the cheek. “You’re going to be okay, Mother.”

“Enrica, that’s my girl,” her husband encouraged her as he brushed the mane off her damp forehead.

Turning her head ever so sightly away from her husband, she closed her eyes in dismissal. The motion was so small, yet the meaning was obvious, and Giorgio, Sr. was devastated. “You she has a smile for, and me she sends away.” His patience snapped and he glared at his son. “I’ll be outside.” He left the room more forlorn now than before.

Watching him go, Giorgio noticed that the envelope had been left behind on the bed covers. He looked from it to his mother’s face and saw her sad eyes watching him. His heart ached for her, and if he would allow himself to admit it, for his father, too.

“Mother,” he confided. “I know what upset you so badly. It was a picture, wasn’t it?” He waited as she lay there thinking back to the moment when her world had stopped turning and had exploded into too much pain to endure. Tears came from her eyes, and she whispered, “Yes.”

“The picture was a fake, Mother. It was Zaverio who forged it from other photos that were completely unrelated. Father wasn’t really there; it was all a lie.” He held his mother’s hooves tightly, willing her to believe him.

Enrica shook her head to deny his words. “Years ago,” she said painstakingly, “he knew them. All this time, he knew them.”

The last thing Giorgio had intended to do once he was back in Vulcanopolis was to defend his father, but now he found himself searching for a way to verify to his mother that his father was not guilty of the very thing he was helping Zaverio to use against him.

“Listen to me. The mares in the picture-- in this picture...” and he opened the envelope and pulled out the one Zaverio had put together “...and in that picture many years ago, live far away in Ponyland. Father only met them once at a convention he attended, nothing more.”

He stopped to give his mother a chance to absorb this information; her attention was riveted on the portrait he held.

“It’s not what it looks like. Zaverio only wanted you to think the worst about Father.”

Enrica reached a trembling hoof out to touch the glossy image of the ponies. “You can be so sure?” she asked with a hint of hope returning to her voice.

“I’m sure. See this mare in the picture? Her name’s Sugarberry, and she lives in Dream Valley where I’ve been teaching. She’s a wonderful pony, and she has a mother and father and two sisters-- a picture perfect family. It was Zaverio’s evil plan to combine the original with one of Father; he wanted to knock him out of the election.”

It was then that Giorgio, Sr. returned to the room, and seeing his son holding the picture he had inadvertently left behind did nothing to further calm his spirit. “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked angrily as he came to Giorgio’s side and snatched it from him.

“This is the ‘pitcher’ Mother has been upset about; the pony you described to me works for Zaverio, and I’m sure he engineered the meeting that caused Mother to react as she did. I’ve explained to her that it’s a fraud, but maybe she’d like to hear that from you, too.” So saying, he patted his mother’s hoof, laid his hoof briefly on his father’s shoulder, and left the room. If his father had any questions about where he had gotten his facts, he would have to wait to ask them.

Once in the hallway, Giorgio began pacing the floor until one of the smiling nurses directed him to the waiting area and nearly pushed him down into one of the chairs. “You’ll be much more comfortable here, sir.” And she left him with a magazine in his hoof.

He glared at the retreating figure of the angel of mercy, then threw the magazine down, stood up, and continued the pacing. He was perplexed as he turned during one leg of his march to find a country blue stallion standing in the hallway watching him. “Vanguard! What are you doing here?”

Vanguard took several steps closer before answering. “Sugarberry wanted me to come. How’s your mother?”

“Sugarberry?” Giorgio’s eyes lit up as if the sun had just peaked from behind a cloud, and Vanguard did not fail to take note. “She asked you to come?”

“She was concerned about you and your mother; she was anxious to find out how things were going.”

Giorgio found himself smiling in spite of the circumstances he was submerged in. “I think she’s going to be all right. You can tell Sugarberry that her prayers helped.”

“She’ll be pleased to hear that.” Vanguard stopped, but soon found himself saying, “You will be needing your house back while you’re in town; I can make other arrangements for myself.”

“Yes,” Giorgio replied. “I could use a place to crash, but the town house is big enough for both of us. I’ll sleep in the guest room. You won’t even know I’m there.”

Having discovered the secret of the bookcase in that room, Vanguard was not surprised by Giorgio’s request. “You still have a key?”

“I do. So don’t wait up for me or anything.”

“Oh. These are for your mother...” Vanguard just became aware of the flowers still in his hoof. “...from Sugarberry and me.”

“Thanks. I’m sure Mother will appreciate them,” said Giorgio, accepting the bouquet for her.

The door to Room 218 opened, and Giorgio, Sr. looked out. “Your mother wants to see you,” he related to his son, only faintly aware of the other stallion.

“I’ll say goodnight then, “ Vanguard stated, looking from the elder to the younger Giorgio. He had discovered that the two were not identically colored after all, as the father had a slight streak of white in his mane.

“Tell Sugarberry... tell her thanks,” Giorgio said before disappearing with his father into the hospital room.

The mare that Giorgio found when he walked to the bed was much more animate than she had been earlier. Color had returned to her cheeks and there was spirit in her eyes. A nurse was straightening her pillows after administering her medication; the two stallions waited for her to exit before they approached Enrica.

“You look much better, Mother. The two of you must have had a good talk,” Giorgio beamed.

“I believed what I knew couldn’t be true,” she stated solemnly. “It was my own fault.”

“Enrica!” Giorgio, Sr. said sternly. “None of this was your fault.”

“I should have known better,” she insisted. “I should have torn up the picture and thrown it in the garbage and had Emma show the stallion the way out.” That tirade exhausted her, but she looked pleased with herself for having said it. Catching sight of the bouquet in his hoof, she asked, “For me?”

“Oh, these. Yes, they are for you... from Vanguard, the teacher that I’m exchanging for; and Sugarberry, the strawberry-patterned pony in the picture.” His eyes locked with his father’s as he revealed that information, but they both let it slide in lieu of Enrica’s peace of mind.

“They are lovely.” She sniffed them as Giorgio held them close. “You will thank them for me until I am able to respond myself?”

“Already done.”

Enrica settled her head back in the pillows. “Suddenly, I feel very tired.”

“You sleep, Enrica.” Giorgio, Sr. came to her bedside. “I’m going to sit here with you for awhile yet, but I think Giorgio better get some sleep, too. He and I have some things to discuss in the morning.” The look his father gave him told Giorgio that there were some challenging questions to face in his future. He kissed his mother goodnight and slipped out into the hallway, and from there began a reflective walk home.

* * *
It was late when Vanguard, working at his desk in the second-story den, heard the entrance of Giorgio and the sound of his hoofsteps as he made his way to the kitchen. Some time later, the stallion came up the stairs, and stopped in the arched doorway. “Am I interfering with anything?” He had a sandwich and a glass of milk in his hooves.

“No,” Vanguard stated. “I was just finishing up.”

Giorgio made himself comfortable in one of the padded chairs and viewed the room. “You’ve been taking good care of the place. I can’t tell that I’ve been away.”

“You’re welcome to the master bedroom while you’re here; I can move my things into the guest room easily enough.”

“No. No, I’ll be perfectly comfortable in the little room. It will be a short night irregardless.”

“I called Sugarberry. She said it’s a relief to hear that things are going well.”

“She said nothing else?”

“She mentioned that Agatha says that she will hold you to a dinner party when you return.”

“Yes. We’ll both be missing the big day on Thursday. I was looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with... with Agatha and... everyone.”

“It will be a big day here in Vulcanopolis, too, with your father’s election.”

“He’ll win. He always does,” Giorgio responded, finishing off his snack and standing up. He took a step closer to the desk and picked up the framed photo of Sugarberry and Vanguard. “I could have won her away from you, you know; she’s needed someone to lean on while you’ve been away.” He flashed Vanguard a cocky grin as he handed him the picture and left for his room.

Vanguard stared after him, silently fuming. His confidence had been shaken since Sugarberry had come to terms about her former misgivings over Giorgio, and it didn’t help to have the stallion himself add to his worries with his taunts. Just hearing her name at the hospital had visibly brightened Giorgio’s mood; that in itself was cause for alarm.

But it had been Vanguard whom she had called, and her last words had been, “I love you.” He remembered the ring he had seen in the jeweler’s window and which was now on reserve for him, an exquisite piece that would be a sign to everyone that the two of them were made for each other. That was the one fact he had to cling to.

* * *
Waiting until Vanguard had left the house next morning, Giorgio began his day with a call to Ivetta. “I’m home for a few days, Ivetta,” he told her, “and I have some work for you to do.”

“Wh... what kind of work this time?” Ivetta stuttered, feeling a certain amount of dread knowing that he was suddenly back in her life.

“I want you to copy all the information concerning my business on to a CD, and then I want you to wipe everything that even remotely hinges on what we’ve been doing off your computer. When that’s done, gather up any hard copy, the desk keys you have, the CD’s, and bring them to me here. I’ll be waiting.”

“You want everything copied to a CD and then deleted?” she verified, hardly believing what she had heard.

“Everything, Ivetta. Don’t leave any trace.”

“Okay. I’ll get right on it.”

Giorgio hung up the phone and took some time to go out onto the terrace off the den. He had surprised himself by sleeping soundly once he had gotten to bed; and he felt a new resolve as he faced this day, the day on which his father would certainly put some difficult questions to him. But he had seen his mother’s improvement, and that had given him the courage to forge on, ready to face anything to get the job done. He was no longer being driven by emotions but by a determination to tie this entire affair up as quickly and neatly as possible. He watched a lone goose winging its way across the pale blue sky, and felt the conviction of his actions.

He spent the morning with his laptop composing messages to countless addresses in his file, reserving them for sending at a later time. He expected a visit from his father, but none came. He assumed that he also had many things to catch up on after spending his last few days constantly at his wife’s side. The one phone call he received was from Ivetta who had finished her task and was clarifying that it was safe to enter the house.

Giorgio waited in the spare room for the bookcase to open; it wasn’t long before the unit swung about and Ivetta came into the room carrying the material he had requested.

“This is everything?” he asked as he accepted the contraband from her.

“Everything that I have,” she replied, sensing that something was somehow different with her employer. “The files have been wiped from the memory; I have no record of any of... it.”

“Good. Our association is finished then, Ivetta. I will expect no more collaboration on your part.”

“It’s over?” Ivetta couldn’t keep the look of relief off her face.

“This is your last payment,” the stallion confirmed, handing her an envelope. “And once you are back in your apartment, I am going to permanently disable the secret door. You will no longer need it.”

For the first time in their acquaintance, Ivetta could have hugged this imperious stallion; but she settled for a verbal expression of gratitude. “This is the best news I’ve had since... well, Giles and I are going to have a baby, and I was hoping to get rid of this guilt over doing something that always seemed to me like... like it was wrong... but anyway... thanks Giorgio.” After the rush of words, the young mare turned and beat a hasty retreat as if he might change his mind.

Giorgio grinned as the door locked into place, just now realizing how abominable he must have appeared in Ivetta’s eyes. He got out a set of tools, and began to dismantle the operational functions of the concealed entrance.

* * *
The first thing Ivetta did when she was safely free of Giorgio was to place a call to Marissa. “Please be home,” she pleaded as she waited for the mare to answer. The fifth ring was just sounding when the receiver picked up.


“Marissa, it’s me, Ivetta! Are you free to talk?”

“I can barely hear you, Ivetta. Is something wrong?”

“No. Nothing’s wrong. I just don’t want to talk too loudly.”

“Okay. So slow down so I can make out what you are saying.”

Ivetta took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Giorgio has dismissed me from his cheating scam!”

“What?” Marissa asked in surprise. “How can that be?”

“I don’t know what he’s up to, but he called me this morning from right next door...”

“I’d heard he was back in town.”

“Well, it’s true. He asked me to get all his stuff off my computer and bring it to him, and the keys, too. And get this, Marissa... he said that the secret door wouldn’t be functioning any more!”

“This isn’t making any sense, Ivetta. What are we supposed to do about the answer sheets we were going to prepare tomorrow?”

“I don’t have a part in it anymore, Marissa. Whatever’s going down doesn’t involve me. It’s like a dream come true!”

“I’m happy for you, but something isn’t right about this. Are you sure you can trust him?”

“Never before have I trusted him; but for some reason, I feel I can on this.”

“Okay. Thanks for letting me know. We’ll just have to wait to see what happens.”


Hanging up the telephone, Marissa began sorting through the facts. “This is unexpected. It’s not like Giorgio to get rid of a subordinate in the middle of an operation. The only reason he could do without Ivetta’s help is if...”

Grabbing the telephone once more, Marissa dialed and waited as impatiently as Ivetta had done shortly before. Her wait was not as long, however, as the receiver was picked up almost immediately.

“Matteo here.”

“Chief, something strange just happened. Ivetta called, and it appears that Giorgio is up to something.”

“What do you mean?”

“He asked Ivetta to give him all her records concerning the scam, and he told her that he wouldn’t be needing her help anymore. He’s even going to close off that secret entrance that she always used.

“That can only mean one thing.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. He’s going to make a break for it, taking all his files with him.”

“And we haven’t gotten the evidence we need to implicate Zaverio yet; we can’t do a thing without that.” Matteo ran a hoof despondently through his mane.

“Do you still want me to play my part as the naive college kid?” Marissa asked.

“Yeah, I think that would be best until we know for sure what’s going on. Maybe you could hang out with Ivetta in case something happens there.”

“Okay, Chief. I’ll be in touch.”

Matteo hung up the phone and pounded his hoof into the desk. “Everything is ready,” he bellowed. “Why hasn’t the blackmail attempt against Giorgio, Sr. been made yet?”

A knock came at his office door, and a timid looking officer peered in. “Is there a problem here, sir?”

“Yes, there’s a problem! What we need is a solution!”

“Yes, sir.” The young stallion, Privato, came into the room. “The officer watching Giorgio’s house reports that his father just arrived there.”

Matteo got to his hooves. “Maybe now, then, we’ll get the answers we need.”

* * *
“How’s Mother this morning?” Giorgio asked of his father as he led him to the kitchen where coffee was brewing.

“Much better. She has improved drastically since... since you talked to her about the picture.” He dropped the manila envelope on the table and it slid across the shiny surface, coming to a halt directly in front of Giorgio.

Ignoring it for the time being, Giorgio went to the counter and poured two cups of strong, hot coffee before returning to the table; he motioned for his father to have a chair, and he set the steaming cups at their places. How many times had he wanted the undivided attention of his male parent? Now that he had it, he was a little uncomfortable with it.

“How did you know that the stallion that visited your mother worked for Zaverio?” Giorgio, Sr. asked without further preliminaries. “And, more importantly, how did you know about the photograph?” He spoke calmly and deliberately as if he already knew the answers and was trying at all costs to somehow nullify them.

Stirring some cream into his coffee, Giorgio hesitated in answering. But as his father remained silent, he soon felt compelled to respond. “The stallion’s name is Renzo; I know that he works for Zaverio because... because I do, too, in a way; and I’ve used his services myself.”

A burst of breath escaped from Giorgio, Sr. as if he had been holding it; the two stallions, so much alike in outward appearances, scrutinized one another across the tabletop.

“You admitted last night that you know one of the ponies in the picture; does that mean you know where it came from?”

Giorgio’s gaze at his father faltered only a brief moment before he responded. “Let me start at the beginning.”

“At this point, I think that might be the best thing to do.”

“This goes back a long way, back to when I was just a colt. Mother had found a picture in your desk that had made her cry, and I took possession of it so she wouldn’t have to see it again.”

“I remember the picture you must be referring to-- a snapshot of myself and Strawberry Shortcake and her two little foals.”

“That’s the one. I kept it all these years hoping...” Giorgio’s voice broke; it was one thing to hate your father behind his back, but quite another to tell him of those feelings directly to his face. “You said at the hospital that you and Mother both looked forward to having a foal. What happened? Why couldn’t you love me?”

If the words shocked Giorgio, Sr., it didn’t show. He simply responded, “Maybe I didn’t know how.”

“That’s a politician’s answer,” Giorgio shot back. “But that doesn’t matter now. The truth is that I kept that old picture in the hopes of using it against you somehow and making you suffer just like you had always done with me.”

This time the words hit home. “I never purposely would have made you suffer; surely you know that.”

“The only thing I know for sure is that from the earliest recollections I have about my life you were never involved. You were never there for me.”

“You had your mother. You didn’t need me.”

“But I did need you,” Giorgio nearly cried the words. “And you never had the time to show you cared.”

“Life got busy. But you had your mother, and she adored you. I guess I thought that the two of you were enough for each other.”

“I love my mother, but it would have been much easier growing up to know that you cared... even a little.”

Giorgio, Sr. sat in total confusion. “You certainly never showed any indication that you needed me with your self-willed, independent attitude. I thought you wanted your freedom.”

Eyes filled with defiance as so often throughout his life when he faced his father, Giorgio brought the original topic back on line. He found it easier to discuss the facts rather than the feelings behind them. “Zaverio came to me when he had decided to run against you; he asked if I could supply him with something negative to ruin your chances at re-election.” .

“And you thought of the picture.”

“Yes. But by that time, it had disappeared. Oddly, however, I had the perfect opportunity in Dream Valley to get an updated version that I knew would trigger the same noble response in you as the one from twenty-five years ago.” He withdrew the photo from the envelope. “It was Zaverio’s idea to alter it. I knew nothing of his scheme to put you in this picture, or of his diabolical plan to show it to Mother. You were the only one who ever needed to see it.”

“So that is the bottom line? You detested me so much that you were willing to put an end to my career?”


“You were right about this one thing-- I will drop out rather than have the press run wild with this insane scandal. The one reason I was so drawn to Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Baskets was the simplicity of their lives; I’ll not allow that to be violated. So I guess you have won.” He pushed his chair back, and stood as if to leave.

“It’s not that simple,” Giorgio got to his hooves as well. “Zaverio will not stop at this. If he gets into office, his entire web of injustice will be unleashed. And as I’m the one that caused this situation to develop, I’m the one who must end it.”

“And what do you think you can do now to bring this all back to normal? And why, now, do you even want to?”

“Why? Because seeing what this did to Mother tore my soul; I have to make it up to her. Zaverio did the one thing that could turn me against him; he unwittingly has brought about his own downfall... as well as my own. And as what I can do, I know enough of Zaverio’s illegal dealings to supply Chief Matteo with ample evidence to close him down before the election.”

The implication of what that meant was obvious to Giorgio, Sr. “If you have evidence on him, am I to assume you have been as treacherous as he has?”

For the first time since this discussion had begun, Giorgio smiled. “That, Father, is a long, long story.”

* * *
It was with a heavy heart that Giorgio, Sr. accompanied his son to Chief Matteo’s office. Giorgio’s confession of attempted blackmail of his father set in motion the wheels of justice that had been waiting for this moment when the evidence the police needed to implicate Zaverio was in their hooves. Giorgio was able to supply more than enough to insure a strong case against him.

Matteo also personally notified Chief Tawny in Dream Valley and the other towns involved, and the net dropped over those included in the cheating scandal. Giorgio, Sr. was more dismayed by that disclosure than the previous one; if Giorgio wanted to see his father a broken stallion, he got his wish as he watched Giorgio, Sr. as he sat at his side throughout Matteo’s questioning, sinking lower as each new revelation was uncovered.

Giorgio had been selling answer keys since he was a student; although he didn’t need them himself, he got the thrill of beating the establishment of which his father was a part. The very fact that he could get by with it while his father was involved in the politics of the university and the city made it all worthwhile. Giorgio, Sr. learned a lot about his son this day.

But more importantly, perhaps, Giorgio learned something about his father. As disillusioned and heartbroken as he was, he stayed with his son without making judgement; and when the time came for them to part, Giorgio saw the tears in his father’s eyes and knew that he genuinely did care. That made all the trouble he was now going through worthwhile. He wished he could say something to him to make up for the grief he had caused, but no words came. A lifetime of disillusionment could not be erased overnight.

At the last second when he was about to be led away, Giorgio found his voice long enough to utter, “Tell... tell Mother I love her and that she shouldn’t worry about me.”

“I’ll tell her. And remember, we’ll both be here for you, Giorgio. You can depend on that.”

* * *
When The Vulcanopolis Vent hit the streets, the inhabitants of the city were variably affected. The blackmail of Giorgio, Sr. was not dwelt on and the picture was never revealed. But the cheating scam was broadcast in sweeping detail.

Those who knew and liked Giorgio were astonished by the news; those who had felt his rougher side were relieved. The ones who mistrusted lawyers were happy to see Zaverio fall from his position; the ones who mistrusted politicians assumed that Giorgio had learned his tricks from his father.

Prisca bemoaned the situation with Vanguard; she still respected Giorgio even knowing what part he had in the ransacking of her house. Ivetta, not implicated in the scam by Giorgio, nonetheless confided her part to Giles so that she could be completely free. Marissa, working undercover for the police, knew about Ivetta’s involvement but convinced Matteo to leave her out of it.

Clare showed up on Vanguard’s front step as soon as she could get away from her office, and dug all the details out of him about the affairs as he had experienced them. It was at her insistence that they inspected the secret door and found it no longer operational. No more would clandestine entry be gained through that route.

What Vanguard dreaded the most was his first contact with Sugarberry once she learned of all that had been going on without her knowledge. Wigwam called him once everything was secure in Dream Valley, and Vanguard was able to put through his call and face the outcome of the past six months.

The first words from Sugarberry eased his worry. “Are you okay over there?” There was no condemnation, no anger, no accusations, no mourning, simply concern.

“I’m fine. How’s everything with you?”

“Relieved to finally know why you were so willing to leave me last spring.”

“It wasn’t something I’d have done without a good reason.”

“My computer tells me that we are down to thirty-one days; that can translate into one month which sounds more manageable.”

“Time for me to start packing!”

Sugarberry giggled, but she didn’t say any more; Vanguard knew the reason, and came to her aid. “You know that Giorgio won’t be coming back to finish out the semester.”

“Wigwam explained it all to me.”

He hesitated asking the next question, but he had to know. “How do you feel about that?”

“We had become quite good friends, or so I thought. I don’t know what to think right now.”

“He didn’t go through with his plan; I think that says a lot for him.” Why am I defending the guy? Vanguard wondered to himself.

“His last words to me before he left were ‘Please don’t hate me’. When Wigwam told me today what he had been up to in connection with a picture of my family, it all made sense. If he was just using me to get a copy of that picture, was everything else about him just pretend, too?”

“It seems his main reason for all he did was to hurt his father, but the two of them are working things out. From the gossip going on around here, I’d say that Giorgio’ll come out okay in the end.”

“I hope the same can be said for things around here.”

Vanguard was dismayed by her words. “Sugarberry, what do you mean by that?” The distress in his voice caused Sugarberry to explain quickly.

“It’s Chocolate Chip and Wigwam. When she found out that he knew what Giorgio was up to, and that he himself was actually working for Tawny, and he let Wishbone get caught up in the cheating knowing full well everything behind it, she got really angry with Wigwam and won’t talk it out with him. He’s really depressed and so is she. But she’s not ready to forgive him yet. She maintains that Wigwam has broken their trust.”

“Oh,” Vanguard was relieved to hear that she had not been referring to their own relationship. “I know Wigwam sounded a little down, but I figured it was all the hype over the case catching up with him.”

“He’s really despondent; Chocolate Chip and he were going to celebrate Thanksgiving with Agatha and Tabby’s big party, but Chocolate Chip is going home with Wishbone now for the holiday. I suggested that he could follow her there and maybe by then she’d have cooled down a bit, but he’s too stubborn to consider it-- at least at this point.”

Vanguard did some mental calculating, and came up with a disturbing consideration. Giorgio had been planning on accompanying Sugarberry to the Thanksgiving dinner at Tabby’s, but had suddenly left town. Now Wigwam was without his date to the dinner; would he fill in where Giorgio had left off? “So where do your plans stand in all the shuffling?” he queried. Thirty-one days suddenly seemed like an eternity.

“I’m making the pumpkin pies for the big day,” she offered, not seeing his point. Her thoughts jumped to Christmas. “Your folks will be here for your arrival home as well as mine,” she reminded him, setting his mind at ease once more. “And your brothers and my sisters are going to make the trip on Christmas day.”

“That’s not going to be too much for you, is it?” Vanguard worried.

Sugarberry laughed. “With our mothers on the scene?”

“Okay, so you’ll have plenty of help. But I’m seeing no time there for just you and me.”

“Oh, poor baby!” she teased. “Driftwood’s already thought of that, and he’s offered a dinner out at the Estate Manor whenever we choose. Of course, he did mention something about having to wash the dishes.”

“With you, even that would be fun.”

“By the way, Rex and Nestor arrived last evening. They’re having a problem with one of their poults.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.” Vanguard suddenly heard the sound of Tabby’s voice in the background.

“Oh! Tabby and Thomas just got here for supper so I’ll have to go. And Vanguard, when things quiet down, will you visit Giorgio just to see how he’s doing?”

“It’s funny you should suggest that. Clare thought it would be a good idea if we would check up on him one day. I think she sees the possibility of reforming him as her new mission in life.”

“Hmm... Clare and Giorgio. That has some interesting possibilities...”

Vanguard laughed as he contemplated having both the stallion and the mare out of competition in his and Sugarberry’s life. “It does at that.”


Kyrene, the Further Adventures
by Tabby (TabbyMLP@aol.com)

To most, he seems like an average college student with a close circle of friends, good grades on his report card, and ambitions for the future. But few know the dark side of this student named Sable–

Kyrene frowned at the line she had just typed. Did average college students get good grades? Oh well, she’d think about that later; and so she continued on from where she had left off.

But few know the dark side of this student named Sable. In reality he is a shady character who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, even if it means crossing the law. Sable transferred to Pony Pride University in Dream Valley from Binks University in Rolling Hills earlier this year–

Kyrene’s expression only turned more sour. Her writing didn’t sound that good today. Frustrated, she slammed down on the “Backspace” key until everything was erased. Muttering, she started all over again from a different approach.

When Professor Giorgio transferred to Pony Pride University from Leonardo University in Vulcanopolis earlier this year, he was viewed as a respectable character around town. The citizens of Dream Valley have all been confident in his abilities to keep the math system running smoothly in their college. But the fact of the matter is that Giorgio is a cold-blooded criminal at heart–

Did selling math answer keys make someone cold-blooded? Kyrene wondered. Or is that only for murderers? Oh well...

The professor began this cheating scam several years ago on an exchange program to Binks University in Rolling Hills. By selling answer keys to his struggling students, he was able to have a second steady flow of income aside from that of his actual teaching. And it was from Binks University as well that Giorgio’s right-hand pony originally studied. Sable was given the duty by his boss to sell some of these answer keys; and when Giorgio came to Dream Valley on another exchange he made sure Sable transferred along with him–

Kyrene nodded slowly. It was a little better. Now she could go on and discuss in more depth the stallion she had spent so much time with over the course of the past month-- or rather, how much time Chickpea had spent with him, she smiled to herself.

Sable is a confident young stallion who seems to enjoy pulling a fast one on the establishment. While still in high school, this enterprising student hacked into his school’s computer to register acceptable grades in place of mediocre to failing marks. Having accomplished this, he was accepted into Binks upon graduation–

Kyrene’s glance turned to the clock, and she decided it was time for a break; she started planning for the evening. Since Sable had not set anything up with “Chickpea”, Kyrene had decided to go on to the next phase in her undercover operation. Tonight, Chickpea would pay a visit to Wigwam at his casino in town.

Thus far, Kyrene had been thoroughly enjoying her undercover assignment. Having uncovered news about a cheating scam at the local college, she had gotten in touch with her editor and had gained permission from him to go undercover to gain some interesting details from those involved in the whole operation. Sable had been her first target; and as the flirty southern belle Chickpea, Kyrene had been able to completely win him over. She had been able to get out of him all sorts of juicy details she could use for her article later on... but not all the info had to come from Sable. Kyrene thought she would try someone now who was working for the opposite side, the police. Wigwam would be her next target.

Kyrene giggled once again. This was the most fun she had been having yet in her whole newspaper career!

* * *
Kyrene, her hair freshly curled and decorated with ribbons, sat conspicuously at the refreshment counter in the gambling casino slowly sipping on her soda. In reality, however, her sharp eyes were darting around every which way while she waited for her prey to come into sight.

Wigwam, the owner of the casino, seemed to spend a lot of his time wandering around the establishment and mingling with his customers... unfortunately, he never seemed to come in Kyrene’s direction. She mentally sent messages to him, willing him to turn towards the counter she was at.

Kyrene didn’t generally think of herself as psychic, but it did feel rewarding when Wigwam finally ended his conversation with a mare at the slot machine and started walking up to the refreshment counter. Kyrene did some quick calculations in her head of when precisely to act; and when she felt the time was right, she discreetly pushed back on one ring of the stool she was sitting on and caused it– and herself– to topple to the ground.

The timing was perfect; Kyrene fell right at Wigwam’s hooves. “Ah, mah hoof!” she cried pathetically, adapting her southern belle persona. “Help, ah won’t somebody help!” She pretended to ignore the stallion standing before her.

Wigwam stared at the tangled filly on the floor in front of him; and though doubting that her fall had been genuine, he helped her to her hooves. “There, are you okay now?”

“Ah, kind sir!” Kyrene cried out. “Ah can’t thank yah enough for helpin’ me in mah dire predicament. But, oh, mah hoof– it hurts so bad!”

“Oh,” Wigwam said skeptically.

“Ah think it may be sprained,” Chickpea said, looking at him with wide eyes. “Do yah think you could at least help me over tah one o’ those tables over yonder?”

“Sure,” Wigwam shrugged.

“Ah think they might be safer than these here stools here,” Kyrene prattled on. “Ah never was good on chairs with no backs, y’see.”

“I see,” Wigwam murmured.

“Do yah think yah could get me a glass ah water, too?” Kyrene looked at him imploringly after having been seated with his assistance. “Ah still feel a little weak.”

Wigwam saw that there was no escaping this talkative filly, so he submitted himself to her will for the moment. He returned to the table with two glasses, figuring that if he stayed with her for a little while she might not continue to pester him in the future.

“Ah, I’m so obliged!” Kyrene said emphatically. “Ah can’t thank yah enough, mister... what is your name, anyhow?”

“Wigwam,” the orange stallion said simply. “And you?”

“Ah’m Chickpea,” the aqua unicorn said brightly. “Wigwam... say, you’re the owner of this joint, ain’t yah?”

“Yes,” Wigwam admitted. “I do own it, but Butch has taken over the managing of the place.”

“And Wigwam... ain’t that a Native Pony name?” Kyrene pondered.

“That’s right,” Wigwam said slowly. “My ancestors were Native Ponies in this land.”

“What an excitin’ family history you must have!” Kyrene exclaimed.

“As a matter of fact, I’ve been working on compiling a book of Native Pony tales over the years,” Wigwam remarked. “I found a publisher this summer, and it’s being officially released in several weeks.”

Kyrene looked appropriately impressed. “What an accomplishment, Wigwam! Why, I’m sittin’ here with a real live author! How wonderful! Ah can’t believe it!”

“You can come to the book signing if you’d like,” Wigwam invited.

“That would be simply grand!” Kyrene gushed. “Ah’d love to, Wigwam. Is this the first book you’re doin’ then?”

“Yes, but I’ve been collecting the stories for years,” Wigwam explained. “And there are always more to be found. Who knows, maybe there will be a second volume someday.”

“Ooh!” Kyrene nodded. “So did Native Ponies really live here once? I’d never thought of that before!”

“Well, not in this precise area,” Wigwam admitted. “The Native Pony region is southwest of here. My family moved to Dream Valley when I was five.”

“Ah’m from Magnolia myself, y’see,” Kyrene went on. “Y’ever heard o’ that place? It’s down south, y’know. But I’ve come here for college. Did yah go to Pony Pride here? What do yah think ah the place?”

“Actually, I went to school out in New Pony.”

“New Pony!” Kyrene said in awe. “Oh, they have good stores out there, don’t they?”

“I didn’t do much shopping while I was there,” Wigwam corrected. “I spent most of my time studying, you know, for school.”

“Oh,” Kyrene nodded. “Did yah go for writin’ an’ stuff like that?”

Wigwam coughed, and wondered how much he should say. But, he figured, this girl might be nosey, but she’s harmless. “Actually, I was studying in the field of police science.”

Kyrene let out a gasp. “Yah mean you’re a policeman too?”

“Well, I didn’t exactly get a degree,” Wigwam commented. “But I did learn quite a bit while I was there.”

“Ah think you woulda made a really great policeman, Mr. Wigwam,” Kyrene said earnestly. “How impressive! My, how much you’ve done in life!”

“Uh... yeah...” Wigwam glanced up at the clock. “Well... Chickpea, it was nice meeting you, but I have some things to attend to yet tonight.”

“Oh, I’ve had a grand time with yah,” Kyrene said energetically. “Ah hope to see yah again someday.”

“Maybe at the book signing,” Wigwam muttered as his parting comment.

Kyrene watched him go, nodding quietly to herself. He hadn’t been as pliable as Sable was for her, but she had gotten enough out of him. Exiting the casino and pulling out her notepad, she quickly began scribbling down notes before she forgot.

* * *
“Mah poor baby! Oh, mah poor baby! She’s dahing, ah just know she is!” Kyrene declared hysterically upon making her dramatic entrance at the vet clinic a few days after her encounter with Wigwam. She swung a delicate small animal cage in her hooves. “Oh, you’ve simply gotta help her! Ma’m, ma’m, can yah do anything for her?” She set the cage down on the main counter and looked at the pony behind it with frenzied eyes.

Sugarberry was a bit startled by this abrupt entrance and unsure of how to handle the frantic young mare before her. “What’s wrong with it?” she asked tentatively, peering into the cage.

“She hasn’t eaten for days,” Kyrene practically sobbed. “And I know there’s somethin’ terrible wrong with her. She’s on her last legs, can’t yah see. Oh, can’t yah do anythin’ for her?”

“Well, you see...” Sugarberry stuttered.

“Ain’t this supposed to be the vet place?” Kyrene demanded. “Won’t yah even just look at her?”

“I’m only the receptionist,” Sugarberry explained patiently. “But if you could wait just a little while I’m sure one of the veterinarians can get to you shortly and attend to your... your...”

“Spunky,” Kyrene said breathlessly. “She’s a little ol’ Russian hamstah. But ah don’t think she’s gonna hold out for much longer.”

Sugarberry peered more intently through the bars and made out a patch of brownish-blackish fur. The creature turned its face towards her; to Sugarberry it only looked as if the hamster was in a sour mood from being woken up and nothing more. “I think she can hold on for a little while longer,” she said carefully.

“Ah hope you’re right,” Kyrene said anxiously.

Sugarberry moved to her computer screen. “Have you ever had your hamster in before, Miss... ah...”

“Chickpea,” Kyrene said quickly. “No, mah little Spunky’s always been in such good health she’s never had to see a doctor in her life.”

“I see.” Sugarberry keyed some words into the computer. “Your name was Chickpea?”

“Yes,” Kyrene verified fretfully. “Oh, but is it gonna be much longah?”

“Can I be of assistance here?” a quiet voice asked from behind. Both Sugarberry and Kyrene had been so wrapped-up in the unicorn’s faked drama that they had failed to notice Elaine’s dismissal of her previous patient. “What seems to be the problem?”

Kyrene only broke into tears again. “It’s mah poor li’l Spunky, y’see! She’s dahing, and you’ve gotta save her!”

Sugarberry looked at Elaine and shrugged. Seeing “Chickpea’s” frazzled state, Elaine figured that it would be best to do the inspection alone, and so she took the cage and left Sugarberry to deal with the mare again.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” Sugarberry invited. “I’m sure Elaine will be able to handle everything.”

“Ah do hope so,” Kyrene said nervously. “Ah don’t know what ah’d do if anything happened to that li’l hamstah o’ mine.”

“Have you had her long?” Sugarberry queried, hoping to keep the mare’s mind occupied with conversation. She didn’t relish the idea of having a caterwauling client in the waiting room.

“A few years,” Kyrene sniffled. “She’s been such a friend to me. Yah have any hamstahs of your own? They are such consolin’ creatures.”

Sugarberry shook her head. “No, I just have two cats.”

Kyrene nodded. “Cats are good. Mah li’l sistah back home did love ‘em so. Only two, yah say?”

“Well, one of my boarders actually has one of her own as well.”

“Oh? You run a boardin’ house?” Kyrene pounced on the opportunity.

Sugarberry let out a small laugh. “Not exactly, but I am housing a brother and sister who are attending the college here. Friends of the family, you might say.”

Kyrene mentally calculated the amount of time it would take to bandage a hamster bite before continuing. “Oh, what a coincidence,” she said brightly. “I’m applyin’ at the university here, too. Who are your boarders? Ah’ve met some a the students around campus; maybe ah saw them, too.”

Sugarberry smiled. “Their names are Chocolate Chip and Wishbone.”

“Hmm,” Kyrene considered this. “Ah can’t say that ah’ve heard o’ a Chocolate Chip, but Wishbone... say, that’s right! Silly me! He’s mah Sable’s friend, ain’t he?” She looked at Sugarberry expectantly.

“He does hang out with a Sable,” Sugarberry admitted. “So you’ve met Wishbone?”

“Ah have at that!” Kyrene said brightly. “He’s a nice boy, he and Sable. Is he from around these parts?”

“No, he and his sister are from Neighberry.”

“Ah hear they got a nice university here, so that’s why I came, y’see,” Kyrene prattled. “So Wishbone and... Chocolate Chip, did you say? Are they doin’ good here?”

“Wishbone has had a few problems in math, but he’s doing much better now,” Sugarberry said guardedly.

“Mah Sable’s a real natural at math,” Kyrene gushed. “He gets straight A’s, y’know. I’m hopin’ ah’ll be able to learn some stuff from him when I start.”

Sugarberry glanced discreetly at the clock, wondering what was taking Elaine so long to check over a hamster that clearly was not anywhere near death’s door. “Well, what’s your best subject, Kyrene?” she asked politely.

“English.” Kyrene let out a short giggle. “Ah always had a thing with words.”

I can see that, Sugarberry mused wryly to herself, thinking of the mare’s prying nature.

“And how ‘bout you?” Kyrene smiled brightly.

“I would probably say English as well. I’m an author too, you see.”

Kyrene let out a gasp. “Oh my! Another author! I was over at the casino the other night and met a stallion who was just gettin’ his own book published– Wigwam, I think he was. You know him?”

“Yes, actually, he’s a friend of mine.”

Kyrene tried to veer the subject back onto Wishbone. “So yah said you were a friend of Wishbone’s family. How’d the acquaintance start, with them over in Neighberry?”

Sugarberry was beginning to tire of answering these questions and starting to worry that maybe there was something wrong with the hamster after all. “I got to know Chocolate Chip when she first arrived in Dream Valley last year. Her brother came to college earlier this year, and I met their father then.”

“What’s your impression of the family?” Kyrene asked eagerly.

“It’s sad, actually. Her mother never cared much about Chocolate Chip, because she wasn’t as... bright as she would have liked. Chocky was all alone in life when she came here.”

“Oh,” Kyrene sympathized. “Ah wasn’t the best in my studies either.”

It was Sugarberry’s turn to smile. “Chocky is smart enough, you see... but her physical coloration wasn’t pleasing to her mother.”

“Well, what did they think of Wishbone? He must surely be bright enough for his parents’ expectations.”

“I suppose he wasn’t as prejudiced against as his sister,” Sugarberry said softly.

It was then that Elaine re-emerged, cutting short their conversation. “Your hamster...” she started quietly.

“Oh, you’ve healed him!” Kyrene broke out sobbing immediately, this time from gladness. “Oh, mah dear Spunky! How’m ah evah gonna repay yah for what yah’ve done here, doctah? You’ve fixed hah, yah really have!”

“Well actually I didn’t find anything wrong with her at all,” Elaine fit-in quickly, presenting the cage back to Kyrene. “The only problem I had was when she bit me,” she added, glancing down at her now-bandaged hoof.

“Oh Spunky dear, I’m so glad to have yah back!” Kyrene rejoiced. “Now how much do I owe yah for saving mah dear pet’s life?”

After that was taken care of and Elaine and Sugarberry finally managed to get “Chickpea” to take her hamster and leave, Kyrene trotted triumphantly home. “Good job, Spunky,” she said affectionately to the rodent. “You’re good at buying me some time with those fangs of yours.”

* * *
Let’s take a look at the life of another student who was dragged into this cheating ring. Wishbone, who lived in a split family in Neighberry...

It was several weeks later and, having gathered sufficient information, Kyrene was working feverishly on finishing her article so it would be complete and in its final form by the time the police finally moved in and publicized the whole case. Kyrene was confident that Deadline would be proud of her work– there was no way their rival newspaper office in Dream Valley would have anything better on the ring than what she was writing!

She jumped a little when the phone next to her computer rang. “Hallo?” she answered promptly. She had gotten into the habit of using her southern belle voice for answered the phone, in the case that it was Sable or someone else “Chickpea” was communicating with.

“Yeah, Chickpea.” It was a familiar voice to her on the other end, only he sounded a little nervous about something. “It’s Sable. I was wonderin’ if you’d like to come over to my place.”

“Why, certainly! Ah’d love that!” Kyrene wondered if anything had happened to Sable; he didn’t sound as cool and collected as he had in the past. “When? Right now?”

“Sure. If you could,” Sable mumbled. Kyrene could hear his hooves scuffing the floor.

“Ah’ll be right over, Sable-honey!” Kyrene promised, and she meant it. It felt like something exciting was going to happen soon.

* * *
“Why yah so nervous, Sable?” Kyrene asked of the stallion pacing the living room floor of his modest apartment. “You’re actin’ like a cat in a room full o’ rockin’ chairs!”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Sable replied.

Kyrene knew better. “Now, now. Don’t yah go and hide things from little ol’ Chickpea.”

Sable stopped his restless walking and came to sit beside Kyrene on the sofa. “It’s just that I got an e-mail from Giorgio...”

“Professor Giorgio? But ain’t he over there in Vulcanopolis or someplace foreign like that?”

“I can receive e-mails from anywhere, Chickpea,” Sable countered impatiently.

“Oh, silly me, why I guess yah can at that, Sable-honey. So what did Giorgio’s e-mail have ta tell yah?”

“Not much, but that’s what has me worried.” He looked Kyrene in the eyes, weighing her sincerity, before continuing. “All his message said was, The operation is being dismantled. You’re on your own.

“And what operation might that a been being?”

Sable jumped up to resume the agitated pacing. “Nothing. Just forget that I said anything. Let’s talk about something else.”

Not wanting to press the stallion too hard, Kyrene backed off and began relating light-hearted stories of her days back in Magnolia-- and for am imaginative pony like Kyrene, her make-believe past sounded highly credible.

“...so then I looked at him and said, ‘Well, honey, if it ain’t yours, then whose is it?’ “ Kyrene laughed uproariously at her own retelling. “Ain’t that the funniest thing, Sable-honey?”

“Yeah,” Sable admitted, although still a bit on edge. “Reminds me of the time I got in trouble with my neighbor for borrowing some of his gardening tools. My buddies and I were going to scuff up the school grounds, so then...” He suddenly paused.

“What happened?” Kyrene leaned forward and looked at him intently. “Hey, is somethin’ wrong, Sable-honey?”

“Nah... I just thought I heard something. But I guess not.” Sable tried to shove the worry from his mind and went on with his tale. “So anyway, we did our work at the school, and the next morning–“

Sable was abruptly cut off as the door to his apartment flew open. Two police officers in the company of Wigwam suddenly swarmed into the place. “You’re under arrest, scum!” one of them decreed.

Sable bolted from the living room, disappearing into the bedroom and banging the door shut behind him. Kyrene held a hoof to her heart, so happy that she was here when the bust happened. She decided to keep up her charade for the moment. “Oh, Sable-honey!” she cried in a frightened tone. “Sable-honey, what’s goin’ on? What’re you all doin’ here? Sable–“

Kyrene was jostled out of the way by the officers, who went in search of their victim who had vanished from the room. “The door’s locked,” called Strider, the older of the two officers.

“Then let’s knock it down!” replied Wigwam, rushing the barricade aggressively and sending the door crashing into the bedroom wall. He was followed into the room by Strider and the young officer, Granite.

Kyrene looked on expectantly, waiting for the moment they would emerge with Chickpea’s “Sable-honey”, hoof-cuffed and submissive. But as it was, it never happened.

“He’s disappeared!” Granite lamented.

“Where is the scoundrel?” Strider grumbled.

“You, girl! Where’d your friend go?” Wigwam directed at Kyrene.

Kyrene let out a short laugh. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t got a clue,” she said, dropping her whole Chickpea charade and emerging as the devious Kyrene Cicero she truly was. “I’ll leave that up to you guys. I’m only here as an undercover reporter,” she went on to explain serenely. She wouldn’t need to act as Chickpea any more, and it would be easier to justify herself now than later.

Wigwam eyed her suspiciously but didn’t bother to ask her anything else for the moment, and Kyrene joined them in searching for Sable. The shady stallion had indeed strangely vanished. The only door was the front one through which the police had entered; the few windows didn’t show signs of having been opened in a long time, and they led to a sheer drop-off of several floors anyway. Sable was neither a unicorn nor a pegasus, so flying or winking was out of the question.

Kyrene was eventually ushered out of the apartment as Tawny and Quizzer arrived on the scene, and she was taken to the ground floor where she explained her whole story to those who questioned her. Of course, they didn’t need to know the truth about how she had really found out about the cheating scam in the first place– no, she had accidently overheard a secretive discussion at the university and had decided to looked into it following her editor’s suggestion.

But still Sable had not been found, even with authorities swarming over the whole of the apartment complex. Kyrene wasn’t sure whether to be happy or disappointed by this development; it certainly made her whole adventure more intriguing.

Kyrene couldn’t wait to get a few more last-minute details and then rush her finished article over to the office. The police had left her alone for the moment, so she took the opportunity to do a little more prodding before slipping away quietly.

She sidled over to Granite who was standing on the sidelines and didn’t appear to be doing much. “So, do you think you could fill me in one some of the details of the case?” she said demurely, taking his foreleg in hers companionably.

And so ended the dominating rule of the infamous cheating ring at Pony Pride University. Everyone involved was apprehended that day... everyone but Sable. It was a busy day both in Dream Valley and Vulcanopolis as the evils in their midst were done away with. Life would be able to continue as normal again for many citizens who had long been oppressed by the tyrannical cheating ring– all the citizens who weren’t apprehended, that is. Theirs was a sadder story yet as they would work out their days of community service.

But as Kyrene chatted amiably with Granite, someone was watching them with sharp, intent eyes. It was someone who had been tricked, someone who had been taken in by a pretty face and flirtatious manner. The stallion’s heart hardened as he watched Kyrene... someone whom he had once believed to be one of his few real friends. But the Chickpea he had known had only been a facade over this young and scheming reporter. He did not like being fooled, and the reporter would pay for what she had done... for what she had made him falsely believe.

Yes, the stallion vowed. I will get her someday... someday... and then she’ll regret that she ever messed with me.
So plotted the mind of a young stallion named Sable.


The Adventures of Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet
Chapter 5: The Trip to England
by Baby Steamer (Baby_Steamer@excite.com)

“Oh wow!” Baby North Star exclaimed excitedly. Her favorite game show on television had just started. On the screen, one pony was trying to get his partner to guess a word by using clues. The baby pony giggled. The word he was trying to get his partner to say was “flower”, but none of her answers even came close.

During the commercial break, Baby North Star’s parents walked into the room. “Daddy, Daddy!” Baby North Star said rambunctiously. “You could do that on the game show, with Mommy!”

Steamer exchanged a glance with North Star. Unknown to their children, they were actually planning on getting on that very show. “Well, honey, I don’t know,” Steamer said noncommittally. “I don’t think we’d have the time.”

“Oh,” said Baby North Star, a little disappointed.

North Star winked at her husband. Baby North Star would have a surprise coming that evening!

* * *
That night after dinner, North Star and Steamer told their children that they were going to try out for the game show that Baby North Star was watching earlier, which made both children excited. Baby North Star was even more thrilled when her daddy said she could invite Baby Brother Bright Bouquet along with them, and the night got even better when he got permission to go when Baby North Star called and told him. North Star said they were to leave the following week.

Soon the day arrived when they were to leave. It was general mayhem that morning while they did last minute things, but soon they were on their way. They got to the studio with plenty of time to spare and soon were ushered into the room where they’d try out.

They did quite well; in fact, well enough to get on the show the next day. They all went back to their hotel happy and went to bed early.

The next day everyone went back to the studio for the show. It was a tough game to win, but finally North Stara and Steamer won; and what did they win? Why, a trip to England! They were going on an all-expense-paid trip to England for a week.

Baby North Star was excited to be going to England; she wondered if Baby Brother Bright Bouquet could come along, but Steamer said he’d have to talk to his mommy and daddy first. Well, Baby Brother Bright Bouquet did get permission to go, and soon they were at the airport waiting for their flight.

When their flight to England was called, they all went to get on board. Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet were amazed at the size of the plane; it was huge. They all took their seats, and soon were in the air.

The two babies were tired, so they were asleep most of the trip. The adults slept as well, and soon they were in England. Baby North Star and Baby Brother Bright Bouquet gazed all around them, taking in all the sights. When they got to their hotel, they all went to sleep and woke up a few hours later.

“I have a surprise for everyone” Steamer said. Everyone looked at him and waited for him to go on. “Before we came here, I e-mailed Taffeta and said we were coming, and we’re all going to meet her while we’re here.”

“Oh WOW!” exclaimed the two baby ponies excitedly.

“But, I asked her to wait a few days ‘till we adjust to the change in time,” Steamer explained.

So, the two babies anxiously waited for the day when they would meet their friend from the Internet, and soon the day arrived. Taffeta arrived about ten in the morning, and invited everyone to tour with her, which they accepted.

The end of the day soon came and Taffeta went home. Soon, it was time for Baby North Star, her family, and her friend to go back to the States; but this was one trip that they would remember for a long time.


Ginseng and Sassafras Tea
by Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)

Chapter 15

Running as fast as he possibly could, Hood tried to elude the ponies chasing behind him. Sweat rolled off his face and sides, and his breath came in painful gasps. Following closely on his hooves, the ponies’ speeds converted them into spiraling images of moving color as Hood turned his head to check their progress.

The blur of orange was doubtlessly Dreamy; the red he knew for a fact to be Flame; and the azure blue he could only guess to be Sparky. They were in the forest now, and the three fiends were gaining on Hood as they sped through the green expanse of trees, when suddenly-- immediately ahead of him and blocking his escape-- appeared a large purple butterfly...

Hood’s eyes popped open as his dream burst into reality. A beam of sunlight was shining directly across his bed. Sitting up at the edge of the bed, he groaned and supported his head with his hooves. He was shivering and sweating at the same time; he stood and fumbled his way to the shower.

As he stood in the soothing flow of water, he felt the nightmarish aura melt away from him. By the time he exited the shower, he could even grin over the inflated horror his subconscious had exposed him to.

The grin faded quickly when he caught sight of his bedside clock. “Ten-thirty-five!” he yelped in surprise. “Blast it! I forgot to set the alarm!”

Rushing to the kitchen, he choked down a bowl of cereal, then placed a call to Moonglow’s number. It was Stardrift who answered. “Oh, Hood, I’m glad you called; I was just going to try to reach you,” the mare chimed.

“Is it time for the foal?” Hood’s heartbeat began to race.

“No, no. Moonglow’s fine. Everything’s still a waiting game,” Stardrift calmed her brother. “It’s just that we were wondering if Laser and Puzzle could come spend some time at the shop this afternoon?”

“No problem with that,” agreed Hood. “Send them over any time.”

“Thanks! Was there a reason for your call?”

“Just wondered how things were going with Moonglow... and with Checker’s investigation,” Hood admitted.

“Well, he is still on the trail of that Victor stallion, but he hasn’t been too willing to communicate.”

“Okay, sis. Give my love to Moonglow, and...” Hood hesitated. Should he get into his personal problems now? He was going to be late for opening the shop as it was, yet Drumstick could handle that.

“What is it, baby brother?” Stardrift’s voice became concerned.

“Oh, nothing much,” Hood fibbed. But after a pause, he blurted, “I’m just warning you that I have a dinner date with Dreamy tonight.”

“Well, well. So the two of you have kissed and made up?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, sis. Let’s just say we’re waving the white flag.”

“Hmm. I think I’ll keep this tidbit of information from Moonglow until after the foal is born,” Stardrift reflected. “She may not be too happy with you cavorting with the enemy.”

“Who said anything about cavorting?” mumbled Hood. “I’m having second thoughts about asking her out as it is.”

“Go for it, Hood! Who knows, maybe she’s the mare of your dreams after all.”

Thinking back to his nightmare and the panic he had felt with Dreamy closing in on him, Hood shivered. Not liking the direction this conversation was taking, he changed the subject. “By the way, Stardrift, the stallion of the purple butterfly got that blue spruce the foals and I planted.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Wish I was. But the tree’s gone... Hey, I’m late for work. Gotta go! I’ll be watching for Laser and Puzzle later.”

After hanging up the receiver, Hood dashed out the door and trotted off to Hood’s Place. Drumstick had arrived first and had the shop open and awaiting business.

“Late night, Hood?” speculated Drumstick as his boss appeared fifteen minutes late.

“Someone heisted a tree out of my yard.” Hood filled his helper in on the events of the night before.

“So this stallion is still on the loose,” observed Drumstick. “I’d have thought he’d have been apprehended by now.”

Hearing the door open, the two looked up to see William and several other customers entering the shop. William headed straight to the counter and thrust a newspaper under Hood’s nose.

“I told you that lady reporter was trouble,” he grumbled as he sat down. “She’s meddling in affairs that are none of her business!”

Hood read the lead-in to Free Lance’s article... “Woodlawn library needs revamping to meet the twenty-first century.”

“So?” asked Hood, his eyebrow raised in a questioning manner.

“She wants computers installed!” frowned William. “I hate computers! They are taking over the world and I want no part in them!”

Clucking sympathetically, Hood commiserated. “Change, William. Everything’s changing!”

“You got that right! And its not changing for the better!”

Tapping the newspaper ahead of him, Hood considered William’s dilemma. “You like the newspaper, don’t you, William?”

“Lot’s better than that television news,” William disclosed.

“There are lots of computers over at the newspaper office,” rationalized Hood.

“Humph!” snorted William. He picked up the paper and opened it to the comics, shutting Hood’s face from view.

Hood only snickered and went to help Drumstick serve lunch to the waiting ponies. One in the crowd, Marquee, motioned Hood to his table.

“Dreamy called this morning, Hood, asking for donations to the library to cover the purchase of computerized card catalogs.”

“That sounds like a feasible plan.”

Marquee took a sip of soda. “She’s supposedly calling all the business people in town. Has she approached you yet?”

“On this subject? No.”

“Well, be prepared. That mare comes on strong and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Marquee cautioned.

“Thanks for the warning,” Hood answered. “I’ll keep that in mind.” As he continued his work, he digested Marquee’s news and wondered if Dreamy’s attempt at healing old wounds was directly related to her library fund drive.

Still sulking behind his paper, William remained quiet, finally leaving when the lunchtime crowd thinned out. Hood regretted having betrayed the elderly stallion’s dislike of the electronic age and vowed to be extra sympathetic to his rantings the next time he came in.

It was early afternoon before Laser and his little tag-along cousin arrived at the shop. Hood welcomed them with ice cream cones at the counter. Little Puzzle immediately began swiveling his stool, causing the scoop of chocolate ice cream to fall to the floor; this led to a volley of tears that was only quenched when Hood lifted him over the counter and allowed him to concoct his own ice cream creation-- a caramel-covered scoop of raspberry ice cream. Puzzle was satisfied to sit at a table and lick away.

Shadowing his uncle as Hood continued working, Laser filled Hood in on his boring day. “Lacewing and Blush decided they wanted to make a quilt for the new foal, and Mom and Aunt Stardrift got all caught up in it and decided to make a party of it. They invited Dewdrop and Rosy Bells over.”

“Gee,” lamented Hood. “A whole houseful of mares!”

Laser wrinkled his nose in disgust. “And if that’s not bad enough, Crush and I had to keep Puzzle out of trouble.”

“Where is Crush now, by the way?”

“He got to go to soccer practice.” Laser looked so forlorn that Hood stopped what he was doing and put a question to his nephew. “How about you and Puzzle and I go for a walk later on when Patchwork Petal shows up for work?”

His face lighting up, Laser asked, “You mean it, Uncle Hood.

“Sure I mean it!” Hood tousled Laser’s mane. “In the meantime, how about washing some dishes?”

Even that job sounded like fun knowing that a walk with Uncle Hood was in the near future; Laser was soon in sudsy water up to his elbows. Puzzle joined him and began busily playing with the suds while Laser buckled down to serious work..

Later, Patchwork Petal made her appearance, and Hood beat a hasty retreat with the foals. “Where do you two want to head?”

“More sprite caps!” Puzzle yelped.

“That okay with you, Laser?”

“Sure! Let’s go!” Just to be out on a trek with Uncle Hood was all Laser needed-- the destination didn’t matter.

Leaving the town behind them, the trio was soon enjoying the freedom of the open meadow. Puzzle chased grasshoppers and butterflies. Laser smelled the wildflowers and chattered about the myriad variety of plant life.

“You’ll be a botanist when you grow up,” Hood predicted as he did every time Laser astounded him with his knowledge of all green, growing things. He pointed out the bergamot with its minty smelling purple flowers and the fragrant-leaved yarrow. As they reached the fringe of the woodland, the plant life changed subtly; Laser identified hedge bindweed, nightshade, agrimony, and lopseed.

Soon, Hood and his nephews were in the part of the woods where the trees were dense and the sounds hushed. A snippy little red squirrel chattered his disapproval of strangers in his world. “‘Curl, Uncle Hood!” squealed Puzzle as the hyper little animal danced on the overhead bough. With several shakes of his bushy tail, the squirrel disappeared into a hole in the rough trunk of the shagbark hickory.

Hood led Laser and Puzzle into the timber until he found an opening where the trees thinned out a bit; and more vegetation was able to grow on the forest floor. He lowered himself to the ground at the base of a giant oak tree and leaned against the trunk.

“Okay, troops, here’s the plan.” Hood instructed his loyal followers. “Laser, I want you to locate and identify two species of plant life that you are currently unfamiliar with.”

Laser stood tall and saluted. “Yes, sir.”

“And you, Puzzle, must find and bring me one sprite cap.”

Puzzle saluted and giggled. He turned and ran in the direction of a clump of birch trees off to Hood’s left; Laser rolled his eyes as his little cousin blindly passed over any number of “sprite caps” under the parent oak.

“As long as he’s happy,” Hood apprized lightly.

Watching Laser searching out a new botanic specimen, Hood began to dwell on Sassafras whom William had labeled as at home with plants and animals. Sassafras and Meadow Minder had lived east of Woodlawn. What had Checker said... five miles? Hood wondered how far he and the foals had traveled in their easterly hike from town.

Trying to piece together a picture of Sassafras’ life, Hood imagined her gathering herbs and berries and blossoms which she could use in the care of her family. Had she walked through this very grove of trees where Hood now sat? It struck Hood how nervous Moonglow was over the birth of a foal, whereas Sassafras would have delivered her two offspring in the isolated seclusion of Meadow Minder’s homestead. Somehow, Hood felt Sassafras had chosen the better way.

Hearing Laser’s voice, Hood came back to the here and now. His nephew approached bearing a sprig of green in each front hoof. “See, Uncle Hood?” He held out the plant in his right hoof. “I’ve never seen this for real before, but I’m sure it’s ginseng. This one,” and he thrust forward his left hoof, “I have no idea what it is.”

“It’s not poison ivy, is it?” Hood had a sudden vision of returning an itchy, welt-covered foal to his sister.

Laser scoffed at the suggestion. “I’m not stupid, Uncle Hood.”

Laughing, Hood checked over Laser’s specimens and only then realized that Puzzle was nowhere in sight. “Have you seen Puzzle?” he asked anxiously of Laser while jumping to his hooves.

“No, not since he went over by the birch trees,” Laser responded, unperturbed. “He’s probably still digging under leaves for his sprite cap.” Laser reached down and held up a little acorn cap.

“I’d better find him quickly,” Hood worried. “I’ve got to be at... town by seven.” His date with Dreamy had slipped to the back of his mind as he had relaxed in the comfort of Mother Nature.

He and Laser took off for the white barked trees which had attracted Puzzle, but there was no sign of the mint green foal anywhere. Beyond the birch trees, the bushes and undergrowth formed a dense thicket. “He surely wouldn’t have gone in there, would he?” Hood questioned Laser.

“Who knows?” Laser responded. “He’s just a dumb little foal.”

“Puzzle!” Hood called and waited for a reply.

Laser, too, tried his luck. “Puzzle? Where are you?” A faint whinny reached their ears, the sound coming from within the heart of the coppice. Hood pushed his way into the bramble, Laser following closely behind.

“Puzzle? Are you in here?” Hood’s voice sounded worried.

“Me here,” they heard the little voice reply. Moving quickly to pinpoint the location of the missing foal, Hood found him contentedly digging in the soil under the bushes, his hooves coated in rich humus.

“What are you doing?” Hood none too tenderly asked.

“Me lookin’ for sprite caps, Uncle Hood,” Puzzle replied as if wondering how an adult could be so forgetful.

Laser snickered. “Guess you haven’t found one yet.”

“Nope,” Puzzle verified.

Hood helped the foal to his hooves and led him out into the open area before brushing the dirt from his body. “Your mom’s going to get me for this,” he muttered under his breath.

“She no care,” Puzzle offered helpfully. “Me always dirty.”

Hood grinned at the philosophic little guy. “I’m sorry you didn’t find a sprite cap.”

Puzzle looked up at Hood with big blue eyes. “Me see purple butterfly.”

His attention riveted to his nephew’s words, Hood quizzed him. “You saw what?”

“The purple butterfly.” Puzzle meandered off again still pursuing his quest for the elusive cap.

“Laser,” Hood asked as he stared into the depths of the thicket from which they had just come. “Have you ever seen a purple butterfly?”

“Only in the museum,” Laser answered. “Why?”

“There are no purple butterflies in this area,” Hood responded distantly. “So if Puzzle saw one, it had to be...” Shaking his head, he turned to Laser and told him to round up Puzzle for they had to get home.

Laser groaned, but went off obediently. Hood stood watching the green leaves that covered the bushes. Could Puzzle have stumbled upon the stallion hidden in the bushes and seen only the identifying butterfly pattern that marked him as Sassafras’ son?

“We’re ready,” Laser called, standing hoof in hoof with his cousin.

“Okay. Let’s get going. It’s time for you two to get home for supper.” The three of them walked homeward, and Hood resisted the temptation to look back. He sensed that a pair of eyes was watching them, and his first concern was to get the foals to safety.

Chapter 16

Reaching the edge of the meadowland, Hood stopped and put his hooves on Laser’s shoulders. “Laser, I want you to take Puzzle to your house now, alone. I’ve got something I have to do.”

“What’s that, Uncle Hood?” Laser looked at his uncle in some anxiety.

“I need to search for the mysterious purple butterfly,” Hood stated matter of factly. “But you’ve got to promise me that you’ll go straight home, right now. Do you promise, Laser?’

Feeling a knot begin to form in his stomach, Laser whispered, “Yes, Uncle Hood. I promise.”

Hood gave the foals an encouraging smile. “I’m counting on you two to make record time crossing this meadow. On your mark, get set, go!”

With a bewildered glance at his uncle, Laser grasped Puzzle’s hoof tightly in his own, and started off at a lope across the flower-strewn plain.

Watching until the foals were well on their way, Hood turned his own path in a north easterly direction. “Checker says the river runs across Meadow Minder’s land,” Hood calculated softly to himself, “and the river is north of here. If I can intercept that, I’ll just have to follow the river east.”

He trotted determinedly, progressing diagonally back toward the forest, yet staying on the prairie until he caught sight of a rather lazily-running stream ahead. Upon reaching the bank of the river, Hood began following its melodic run of water away from town.

The stream eventually neared the woodlands, but skirted them to the north. Hood kept one eye on the river and one on the trees to his right. Was the stallion still watching him, or had he moved on to another venture?

Continuing to follow the course of the river, Hood began to question his purpose for this unplanned side-trip. What did he hope to accomplish out in this Arcadian countryside? Would Victor resent his presence so near his childhood home? For a moment, Hood hesitated; but he shook off the feeling of doubt. “I only want to see this old farmstead that Sassafras called home,” he convinced himself and kept on walking.

The scenery was beautiful; Hood made a mental note to bring the foals along this route one day soon. The land closest to the river remained fairly level; but across the pasture the land began to rise, and hollows which were already falling into shadow carved themselves out of the hillsides. Trees rimmed the gently undulating contour of the land.

Rounding a bend in the watercourse, Hood was startled to see a fisherpony casting his line into the stream. Even though Checker had said that this pastoral ground was frequented by hikers and sportsponies, Hood himself had seen no one since he had sent Laser and Puzzle on their way. The whirring of the reel seemed out of place in this serene setting; and as Hood was not inclined to strike up a conversation, he skirted the area of the creek from which the pony was fishing.

Winding his way ever deeper into total isolation, Hood felt more and greater respect for Meadow Minder and Sassafras facing a life together far from the convenience of the town. He admired their ability to survive the hardships that must have made their lives harsh at times and envied their closeness to nature and all it had to offer.

Looking toward an open flat area that lay overlooking the river basin, Hood caught sight of a white-tail deer standing alert, ears stretched and eyes bright. The thin-legged doe retained her statuesque pose, as if mesmerized, as Hood drew closer. It wasn’t until Hood accidentally stepped on a brittle branch across his path, shooting a reverberating snap as it broke, did the reddish-brown animal spring around and leap for cover on the tree-strewn hillside rising behind her. Hood watched, fascinated, as the deer, with white tail flashing, disappeared.

Scanning the tree-enclosed meadow where the deer had stood, Hood was overwhelmed with the variety and magnitude of wildflowers. It was as if all the species common to the Woodlawn area had congregated on this one piece of solitary prairie and taken up residence. Laser’s got to see this, Hood told himself as he walked slowly through the sea of undulating flower blossoms. Some he could identify-- the pink clusters of milkweed, the pale pink bells of dogbane, and the delicate white Queen Anne’s lace-- others he could only wonder at.

Taking a step towards the outside edge of this floral clearing, Hood’s hoof sank into freshly turned soil at the same time that sharp, bristly points scraped across his leg. Looking down, Hood gasped. Unbelievingly, he was staring at the little blue spruce that until last night had been growing in his back lawn. Now, here it was, replanted in this veritable Garden of Eden. Hood lifted his head and searched the sweep of trees, but no movement, no glimmer caught his eye. Why would anyone steal a tree from a yard in Woodlawn and pack it this distance to simply plant it in this wild place?

And then, Hood knew. For standing but a few feet from him, he noticed a cross fashioned from hardwood nearly invisible in the wealth of blooms that encompassed it. “Sassafras is buried here,” he whispered to the wind. The cross, the spruce, the expanse of wildflowers were all a memorial to that brave and self-sufficient mare whose existence revolved around these very gifts of nature.

Sassafras, whom he had never seen, had become very real to Hood. She must have died even before Meadow Minder had moved to the city, and he had buried her where she most loved to be-- with the flowers and the wild things. Now her son was adding his own touch to her earthly resting place. Hood felt himself to be on holy ground.

Wishing to linger in this peaceful spot, Hood had to force himself to continue his journey. It was getting late, and he still had to get back to Woodlawn for his dinner date with Dreamy. The thought of her wrath if he were late induced him on.

“The homestead must be close by,” Hood theorized. He angled his direction to take him through the woods. Trying to think like a woodspony, he envisioned where the best location for a house would be; and to his humble surprise, there it stood-- a once white frame house with green shutters at the windows and a wide, welcoming front porch. The paint was peeling, the shutters were falling, and the porch was sagging. “But this...” Hood breathed, “this was Sassafras’ home.”

He walked around the house which seemed to lean a bit like a tree buffeted in a brisk wind and came across the paths worn by hikers that now crisscrossed what had been a front lawn. An even more dilapidated barn rested tiredly on its foundation; several outbuildings sat forlornly surrounded by wild grasses and burdock. Hood surveyed the place carefully, imaging what it was like when Sassafras and Meadow Minder lived a happy existence here and gave life to two foals. He sensed the sorrow that Meadow Minder must have felt at the loss of his beloved wife and the added tragedy of leaving his farm behind.

What had become of Sassafras’ children? What had driven Victor to come back to haunt Woodlawn with his stealthy deceit? Hood yearned to learn the answers.

Swinging in its western arc, the sun was slanting long, glancing rays down onto this lonesome homestead. Knowing he had to get moving if he expected to pick Dreamy up on time, Hood still couldn’t break away from the captivating effect this place held for him. “I’ve got to see inside the house,” he bartered with himself, “and then I’m out of here.”

Testing each step before applying his weight, Hood gained the porch which was relatively solid. A wooden swing hanging from the porch roof by rusty chains creaked as the breeze fanned it. The front door, drooping open because of a missing hinge, beckoned him, and he entered the haven of Sassafras’ life. The room stood empty; the only accessory was a worn, moth-eaten rug on the floor. Acorns and hickory nuts lay about as if little forest rodents had taken up shelter in this forgotten abode.

The walls and ceiling were pealing to the extent that large sections of plaster were hanging haphazardly as if ready to drop when the next gust of air caught them. Where the ceiling beams were exposed, Hood could see extensive damage to the stability of the framework, and he trod ever more carefully over the rotting floorboards while considering how quickly a house without inhabitants began to disintegrate. It was almost as if the building knew it was no longer loved and needed, and it began a steady decline into oblivion.

“I’m getting way too sentimental,” Hood smiled to himself as much to ease the tension that gripped him as to express any happiness he felt; for as of this moment, he felt no joy, only a sense of emptiness and loss over the family that had found no solution to a problem other than abandoning what must have been a precious home.

The ravages of summer storms and frigid winter temperatures had done their work and would continue to deteriorate the dwelling until nothing remained except for the supporting foundation walls; and someday, they too would crumble and collapse.

Passing into the next room, Hood discovered an antiquated kitchen. This room that had probably been witness to the happiest occurrences in Sassafras’ family had suffered the harshest fate; for here, too, time had not been friendly. A battered ice box still sat heavily in the corner, and a cracked and encrusted sink was watched over by a rusty pump handle. The old cast iron stove dominated the room like an ancient throne.

As Hood peered intently around the shabby space before him, a chipper grey animal stuck his head out of one of the openings in the stove. After sizing-up this alien in his domain, the pert creature climbed into full sight and Hood recognized a larger cousin of the earlier red squirrel. This cavalier fellow did not hesitate to scold and vent his displeasure; but as his sermon got him nowhere, he turned tail and exited through a broken windowpane behind the sink.

The floor was worn and weak, with several spots that were actually broken through. Hood gingerly crossed the room and envisioned Sassafras’ busily preparing meals, preserving produce, churning butter, and washing dishes. It had been a rough life, Hood was sure, but redeemed by the love the family shared.

He stood solemnly for several minutes in his silent contemplation when a clop on the floor in the first room warned him of approaching hooves, followed almost simultaneously by the thundering collapse of a splitting timber somewhere within the house. The floor quivered from the impact, and Hood braced himself for what was to come next.


A Message from Shining

To the readers:

As you may (or may not) have noticed, the Shining series has been coming along very slowly lately. This is due to the fact that I’ve not had a whole lot of time to write recently, and haven’t had much inspiration. Schoolwork, plus preparing for college, doesn’t leave a whole lot of free time.

I’ve seriously been considering as of late ending the series. I have a few ideas left for future stories (plus a whole other “generation”), but it may just not be worth it to you guys if I write them so sporadically.

You’ve always been extremely supportive of the Shining series, so I’d like your opinion. At the MLP Monthly eGroups.com page, I’ve set up a poll. Would you like to see the series continue? I’ve also considered passing the series along to another writer; but #1, I don’t have one in mind as of yet; and #2, the series has been my project all along (with lots of help from Wonder), and I don’t know if it would be the same.

Please take the time to answer the poll if the series has had any importance to you. You can also email me at ddonnell@iserv.net or visit the Shining series webpage at http://www.angelfire.com/mi/shining48/index.html

Hugs and slurps to all!




Punk Poult
by Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)

“I just don’t know what to do about that one,” worried Nestor, the turkey hen who had once again come to Ponyland for the Thanksgiving holiday to escape the carnage over the rainbow. She was sitting on Sugarberry’s front porch with her mate, Rex, and looking across the leaf strewn lawn to where the poults from this spring were playing a game of tag.

As turkeys grow up quickly, these five were nearly as large as their parents, but their actions labeled them as youngsters. Four of the five were running and gobbling excitedly, caught up in the fun of the chase while one, the one Nestor was concerned about, stood leaning against the tree trunk with a bored expression on his face.

“He’s a loner,” Rex clarified, reaching his neck behind himself to straighten one of his bronze tail feathers. “Has been since the day he hatched.”

“He is... unusual,” admitted Sugarberry as she sat in the porch swing on yet another mild autumn day, enjoying time with these annual visitors.

The poult under observation did stand out in a crowd. Not only was his demeanor different from his siblings as he relaxed under the tree, watching his brothers and sister with a sort of sneer on his face as if finding their actions beneath him; but he also looked different from a physical standpoint. For unlike the other turkeys with their naked heads and necks, this young fellow had a row of feathers starting above his eyes and running to the base of his neck rather like a Mohawk-style. It gave him a cool sort of look. In addition, the snood that hung over his beak was pierced and sported a golden ring.

The adults were so deeply lost in thought over the unusual appearance of the poult that no one noticed the approach of the lavender foal until she was nearly to the porch steps. “Hi, everybody! What’s up?”

“Baby Noddins! We didn’t see you coming. But look who’s here... Rex and Nestor and...”

“Me knows who they are. Mommy let me come to see them.”

Sugarberry continued, “... and their family.” She pointed across the grass to where the young turkeys played. “Now, let’s see if I can remember... there’s Titian, Tingle, Tidbit, Tickler, and Tinker.”

“Are they boys or girls?” the foal wanted to know.

“Well, they are all boys except for the smallest one, Tidbit,” Nestor explained.

As Baby Noddins’ gaze swept over the brood running helter-scelter about the yard, her eyes came to rest on the uniquely coifed Tinker who still stood distinctly apart. “Now there’s a turkey,” she breathed.

Nestor audibly sighed. “Sometimes I wonder. Maybe he’s like the ugly duckling who wasn’t really a duck at all.”

“Now, now, Mother,” Rex comforted his mate. “He may look different, but he’s our son all right.”

Sugarberry patted the swing next to her and invited Baby Noddins to sit down. The baby pony climbed up and plopped herself in the seat. “Mommy says I can stay until she comes to get me.”

“Would you like to go over and play with the young turkeys?” Sugarberry queried.

“What are they playing?”

“Tag, I think.”

“Okay.” She climbed off the swing and trotted down the steps and over the grass to where the five were gathered. “Me Baby Noddins. Can me play with you?”

Tidbit looked up at the pony and cringed. “I’ve heard stories about what happened to one of my older brothers last year. You aren’t one of those mean baby ponies, are you?”

“You be thinking about Baby Falling Leaves,” replied Baby Noddins. “No, I’m not mean like her. Can I be ‘it’?” With that, the four poults took off in all directions with Baby Noddins in swift pursuit; to her surprise, the turkeys were able to run quite well, especially with a little flapping of their wings to hurry them along. She fell giggling into the grass as she tagged Titian.

“Not bad for a girl,” he remarked with a grin.

The fifth poult, Tinker, pushed himself away from the tree trunk. “You’re all a bunch of wimps, playing baby games,” he taunted. As he stood apart, his muscular build became more apparent. With a look of contempt, he walked to his parents and asked their permission to go walking on his own throughout the town.

“Only if you’re home at roosting time,” Rex admonished.

“Be careful, dear,” his mother added.

Tinker set off down the front path and through the gate to the street, disappearing from sight. The other poults and Baby Noddins continued their game of tag. Rex, Nestor, and Sugarberry began discussing all the things that had occurred since they had last seen one another a year ago. It had all the makings for a pleasant evening.

* * *
Tinker found Dream Valley to be a very tiresome town. He had come to a rather steep hill on the outskirts of the city and was beginning to think that there was not a single thing of interest happening when he heard a rumbling sound and the excited shrieks of several voices. Around the corner came three ponies approaching him at high speeds on their wheeled sleds. The young turkey was hypnotized and stood riveted to his spot in the center of their path

Never before had he seen anything so stimulating. His entire being wanted to be a part of the action. He was so caught up in the excitement that he failed to realize his danger. With a screeching of hooves on asphalt, the three vehicles came to an abrupt stop inches away from the poult.

Still oblivious to the catastrophe that had nearly overwhelmed him, Tinker walked up to the stallion with ice blue hair and asked, “Can I try that?”

Mogul, the challenge-loving Xtreme Pony, looked down at the feathered creature before him and replied, “Get out of my way, punk.”

But a beautiful dusty-rose mare came to his defense. “Are you looking for something?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“Well, no. Not really. I just saw you guys and your sleds and thought it was my kind of sport.”

“They’re called luges,” the ice blue pony stated forcefully. Then, with a glance at his companions, he called sharply, “Blade! Bungee! Come on! Get on the move!” And with a final withering glance at Tinker, he added, “Beat it, kid!” With that he continued on his route.

The second mare, this one an orangish color with purple hair styled into dreadnaughts, sidled up to Blade and Tinker. “Hey! Nice hair... feathers.”

“My name is Tinker,” Tinker introduced himself.

“My name is Bungee,” the mare giggled. “And this is Blade, and that was Mogul, and we’re going to meet Cliff and Jet and Luge-- like these luges, but not these luges because Luge is a pony, not a luge-- at the salsa shop.”

Tinker smiled at the two mares. “You guys are awesome on those... luges.” He said the word tentatively. “Could I try that?”

“I... I guess you could,” stuttered Blade, and she set her sled on the ground at Tinker’s feet. “Just climb on and follow Bungee.”

“Should I follow Bungee, too?” asked Bungee.

“Maybe you should follow Mogul,” Blade suggested.

“Hey! That’s a good idea!” She jumped on her luge and was gone.

“Just follow her, and I’ll be right behind you on my skates.”

Tinker positioned himself on the luge, and started off. The wind whipping around him was exhilarating and he knew that he finally had found what he had been searching for-- a life of thrills and adventure.

When they arrived at Tex’s Salsa Shop, Bungee came to a perfect stop, jumping off her luge as she did so and allowing her momentum to carry her to a standing position, crying “Wheeeee!”

Mogul was standing outside the shop. “What took you guys so long?”

The answer to that question was fast approaching. Tinker had found that it wasn’t too difficult to drive the luge, but he had neglected to think about stopping. With a crash, he collided with Mogul’s shiny customized sled.

Mogul, wide-eyed and unbelieving, released an ear-shattering scream. “OHHH-NOOO!”

But when he spied who was driving the other luge, he quickly transferred his aggressions to the driver. “You trashed my luge, you... you... turkey!”

“I... I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?! Sorry?” Mogul howled. Sorry isn’t gonna fix my luge! It’s wrecked!”

Blade skated up at that point and joined the group. “Hold up, Mogul. It’s not wrecked; it just looks like he scratched the paint.”

“But that was a custom paint job! It was perfect! It was my luge!”

“Well, maybe if I had hooves like you guys, I could stop!” Tinker retorted.

“Well, maybe if you can’t handle the luge, you shouldn’t ride the luge!”

Tinker’s tail feathers went up in a menacing fashion, the flesh of his head flushed a bright red in rage, and he was just about to come back with another insult when Bungee jumped between them. “Hold up, guys. What’s with all the negative vibes?”

“Yeah, Mogul. It’s not that bad. I let him ride my luge; I’ll fix yours. Calm down,” Blade piped-up.

Mogul seemed like he wanted to fight some more, but after a few deep breaths he simply turned around and-- ignoring the turkey-- said, “He’s too little to bother with. Come on, let’s go.”

“Yippee! Salsa!” Bungee cried as she bounded through the door. “See ya later, little guy!” Mogul stormed in after her, but Blade paused before going in. “Sorry about the trouble. Bye,” she shrugged, and then disappeared.

Tinker stood alone on the sidewalk considering his options. He could either go back to Sugarberry’s, or he could face more of Mogul’s wrath. He remembered the exhilaration of the luge ride, and made up his mind. He wasn’t about to back down from a challenge. He pushed open the door and stepped boldly inside. The door, however, closed quickly behind him and caught him full-force in the back, sending him rolling across the floor where he stopped right in front of the booth where the six Xtreme Ponies were now laughing and having a good time.

Cliff said, “What’s this?”

“Well, lookie what we have here,” Mogul said in a taunting tone. “Come back to get some more, punk, eh?”

“Mogul, chill out,” Blade said quietly.

“Do you guys know this chap?” Luge asked the three latecomers.

Bungee quickly volunteered an answer. “He’s a turkey, and Blade let him use her luge, and then he crashed it and wrecked Mogul’s, and then everyone got mad.”

“He didn’t trash it. He just scratched it a little,” Blade volunteered.

“Duuuuuuude,” Jet said deeply. Tinker was still lying on his back on the floor, slightly stunned from the fall.

“Hmm,” Cliff said, turning to the poult. “So, can we help you with something?” Everyone fell silent waiting for Tinker’s response.

“I saw your friends on their street luges, and wondered if there was room for me in your gang,” Tinker put forward.

“It’s not a gang!” Mogul barked.

“Mogul...” Luge warned.

“Yeah. It’s more of a... state of mind,” Bungee added.

“Dude! It’s not like we have a membership type of thing,” Jet clarified.

“What they’re trying to say is that we’re not any kind of official organization. We just hang out together because we enjoy doing our extreme sports,” Cliff spoke up.

“But it’s what I’ve always dreamed of... being involved with electrifying and daring exploits!” Tinker wailed.

Luge said patiently, “Dreamed of and doing are two different things; it takes a lot of commitment to do these kinds of things.”

“I can learn,” Tinker whined.

“We don’t have the time to teach some punk everything he needs to know,” Mogul stated forcefully; but a withering glance from Luge made him trail off.

“I’d try really hard,” Tinker pleaded. “I could be one of you guys!”

“Which one?” Bungee giggled.

“To get to our level and skill, it takes years of practice and total dedication,” Cliff said intelligently.

“This isn’t just a hobby for us; it’s a life,” Luge added.

And at that moment, Tinker saw a great light; but it went out quickly. “Boy howdy!” Tex cried. “There goes another bulb!”

Anyway, Tinker finally realized what he had to do. He would dedicate his life to learning everything about extreme sports, so that some day these ponies would accept him into their group. Forcefully, he declared to the world, “Well, in that case, I’m gonna devote my life to this, and I am gonna become the greatest extreme sports enthusiast in the world, and I’ll show you all!”

“Check it out,” Luge said, impressed.

“Dial it in,” Blade murmured quietly

Jet jumped up and screamed, “Dude!! Amp it up, dude!”

Bungee, across the table, stood up and cried, “Yeah! Goin’ turbo, dude!”

“Yeah, whatever, punk,” Mogul muttered.

“Yeah. Call me Punk,” the turkey said smugly. “That’s who I’m gonna be from now on.” And with that, he turned on his heel and walked off into the sunset. But for him, this wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning.


Alien Invasion Part III
by Berry Brite (swanson@swnebr.net)

Rayad sat in his ready room drinking a cup of coffee. You know, he thought, I like the culture of this place. Coffee, they call it. Hmm... Suddenly, there was a long, beeping tone. The squid reluctantly reached for his communicator. “He_e_e_ello?” he said.

“Uh, sir? Are you all right?”

“Uh_huh. Now what is it, already!” the irritable commander shouted.

“The mare has escaped!”

“What! Which one?”

“The pink one, sir.”

“Find her! Get her! Find her and we’ll show her who’s in charge!”

* * *
Tabby carefully sneaked through the corridors, looking every which way. She had earlier decided that not another squid would ever put its “slimy little tentacles” on her again. “If,” she added, “it’s the last thing I do!” She ran a corner, and found a dead end. She turned around.

“Tabby,” a voice said. She looked up. Someone, or something, was there. “Tabby,” it said again, only behind her. It was clearly a pony– not a squid– but she couldn’t tell who, exactly. The word “Tabby” began to echo throughout the hallway. Finally, going insane with apprehension, Tabby screamed and bolted down the corridor.

* * *
“You know, Meteor, this is great; but aren’t our girlfriends in SPACE?!” Thomas yelled.

“Hey, man, I never said Trickles was my girlfriend, and Tabby’s your fiancée,” Meteor retorted, looking up from his .22. “I’m only getting my friend back, and your fiancée, okay?”

“Do you really think we can beat a superior race with a .22?!”

“Oh, possibly,” Meteor answered.


“What?” said Thomas.

“I didn’t say anything,” Meteor responded.


“Didn’t you hear that?” Thomas said.

“No. What do you hear?” asked Meteor.

“Help me, Thomas,” the voice said. “He_e_ee_elp me!”

“C’mon! We gotta help them! Now!” Thomas exclaimed.

“Oh, yeah that’s easy. We just go to the nearest space port,” Meteor replied sourly. “We really need to think this thing out before we jump blindly into it, okay?” And even as he said this, Meteor’s heart ached.

* * *
Wishing Well opened her eyes. She had drifted quite a distance from the ship. Feeling weak and helpless in the zero gravity, she clambered around, not really thinking coherently. She began to hear voices. They weren’t really logical words, but more like the whispers of a Borg cube from that incredibly stupid Star Trek show her “big, evil sister” watched.

I was dead, Trickles thought. She could recall everything that had happened to her now. And Trickles probably didn’t care! She hates me!! The broken_hearted filly burst into tears and cried herself to sleep.

* * *
“Summon Trickles, or whatever her name is!” shouted the slimy leader. “Now!!”

Ten squid scattered from the room to retrieved the drugged mare. Returning with Trickles in their tentacles, they saluted Rayad the Great. They set Trickles down.

“I am here, oh Rayad the Great,” she declared.

“Go find your companion, and bring her to me.”

Trickles bobbed her head obediently and left in search of Tabby.

* * *
Tabby, who had collapsed in her frenzy, lay gasping on the floor. She heard footsteps, and they were not “squidian”. Tabby called toward the sound, “Help! Over here!”

Trickles emerged from around the corner. “You give yourself away,” she said smugly, “and now you are under the control of Rayad the Supreme– I mean, the Great.”

I am under no one’s control!!!!” Tabby shrieked.

“You are now,” Trickles flippantly remarked. Grabbing hold of Tabby, she set off for the bridge (with no agreement from Tabby).

* * *
Meteor and Thomas had still not found a way to even think of how to get on the ship where Trickles and Tabby were held in the cruel hostage of Rayad. Suddenly, however, a regiment of squid materialized before them. They ran amok, paying no heed to Thomas nor Meteor, but wreaking havoc on the town. One of the squid ran up and took our “heroes’” only defense. Ponies all around the two dematerialized; and suddenly, they too felt the strange sensation. The next thing they saw was a cargo hold filled with mourning ponies.

“So,” said Thomas. “What do we do now, huh?” But as he said that, the strange voice reached him again, only in a bone chilling scream of terror– because on the upper deck, Tabby was receiving her punishment.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” responded Meteor.

To be continued...


Clever Clover Vs. The Flatlands
Chapter 6: Victory!
by Clever Clover (Swordrat@aol.com)

Clever Clover stood in the cave holding the book that had cursed his people for so many years. It seemed as though he had won, and hopefully that manipulative imp Bic would be out of his life for good now. Of course he still had to get out of the cave and past the dragon and knight, but hopefully they would still be incapacitated. The princely pony moved cautiously toward the chamber of the fire dragon. The flickering of its tail-flame guided Clever Clover through the darkness.

Within the massive chamber, the dragon still slept. Clever Clover quietly tiptoed past the beast, holding his breath out of fear of waking him. Even though the dragon had not cared about his presence earlier, now it might be upset since the curse had been lifted (hopefully). The beast snorted once, but didn’t waken. As he reached the mouth of the cave, the purple pony breathed a sigh of relief, but stifled it for fear of alerting the Green Knight, who was less apathetic than the dragon had been.

When he emerged from the cave, Clever Clover heard the Green Knight’s hissing voice. “Scy, scy-ther scy scy.” Clever Clover froze in fear. If the Green Knight had recovered, it would be difficult to reach the path leading back to the village. The pony ducked back into the cave and inched forward carefully, watching prudently for the knight. The sound of the knight’s mumbling became neither louder or softer. Clever Clover listened, hoping to be able to locate his antagonist by sound. The hissing voice seemed to be coming from the direction of the cliff that led to the path-- and to safety.

The pony prince peeked out of the cave toward the cliff. The Green Knight was there, right where Clever Clover had left him. He lay at the base of the cliff, tossing and turning and lashing out with his blades. The knight was still unconscious, but it seemed he was sword fighting in his sleep. He might be faking it, Clever Clover thought to himself. I’d better be careful. The pony advanced slowly toward the cliff. He searched for a location on the crag that he could scale without getting too near the Green Knight. He found an adequate spot; but, even though the knight showed no sign of noticing, Clever Clover did not relax until he reached the safety of the path.

Once he had passed the challenges, the prince quickly trotted down the trail. The sooner he returned to Malachite Castle and was rid of the cursed book the better. The path seemed longer than it had on the way up. When he finally reached the bottom of the mountain path, Ironwood and the guards were waiting for him.

“Greeting’s my prince!” said Ironwood cheerfully. “Congratulations on your triumphant return.”

Clever Clover nodded. “Thanks, but how do you know I was triumphant?”

“The pall of doom has lifted, our spirits sore, and you have the book.”

“Oh, the book. Did you know about the book?”

Ironwood shrugged. “Not specifically, but many myths speak of such evil books. I simply assumed, when I saw it, that it had been the source of the curse.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the way I figured it,” Clever Clover mumbled. “Let’s get back to the castle.”

The prince and his royal guards marched to the village in high spirits. The guards sang a traditional marching song that echoed off the mountain. As they neared the hamlet, they could hear the sounds of celebration. And when they came into sight of it, they saw the streets full of revelers dancing, singing, eating, and drinking. The villagers flew brightly colored flags and banners. The revelers parted as Clever Clover and the guard approached to let them pass. At the gate to the castle, Enchantment greeted them with a shimmering streak in her main and tail.

“Greetings prince-champion,” she said with a bow. “Preparations are already underway for a victory banquet in your honor.”

Clever Clover didn’t know what to say. “Uh, cool. Listen, I’d like to talk to Raven and Foxglove about this book as soon as possible.”

Enchantment nodded. “Of course. I’ll let them know; meanwhile, you should return to your room to prepare for the festivities.”


* * *
Back in his room, Clever Clover washed up and collapsed onto the bed. “This has been quite a day,” he mumbled. There was a knock on the door. “Come in.”

The door opened; Enchantment and two maids entered. “Raven and Foxglove are occupied with preparations for the banquet,” the young pony explained. “We have come to prepare you for the festivities.”

“What sort of preparations do I need?” Clever Clover asked nervously.

“Nothing to worry yourself about. Just leave it to us,” said one of the maids. They set about combing and styling Clever Clover’s mane and tail. One of the maids produced a can of hair spray and began to disperse a stripe of shimmers in the prince’s hair.

“Is that really necessary?” he asked.

“It is an ancient tradition,” Enchantment explained.

Clever Clover looked confused. “Ancient hair spray?”

“We used to use tree sap and metal shavings. Would you rather do it the old way?”

“Hm, I guess the hair spray will do,” the purple pony conceded.

Enchantment smiled. “By the way, how do you feel about tattoos?”

“WHAT!” cried the prince in shock.

“Oh, don’t worry. Not yet anyway.”

* * *
After Enchantment and the maids left, Clever Clover inspected their handiwork in the mirror. “Hm, I hope this stuff washes out,” he mumbled. There was another knock on the door.

“You requested an audience?” It was Raven’s voice.

“Yeah, come in.”

The imposing pony entered the room. “So, that is the book,” he said as he stepped toward the table where Clever Clover had set the evil tome. The regent flipped through the brittle yellow pages. The book fell open to the pages that had been showing on the cave. “Hm.”

Clever Clover stood on tip-hooves to look over Raven’s shoulder. “So, what do you think?”

“This book is powerful evil, but it is harmless now. As long as we keep it contained, it will cause us no harm. This says there should be a thread?”

“Oh, yeah, here it is.” The prince handed over the silken thread that had bound the book to the stone altar in the cave. Raven closed the book and tied the thread around it.

“Now I shall put this somewhere safe,” said the regent as he turned to leave.

“One more thing, Rave’,” Clever Clover said.

Raven looked crossly at the prince. “Yes?”

“Why don’t you have the sparklies in your hair?”

“That is reserved for those of royal blood,” Raven replied matter of factly and left the prince’s chambers.

* * *
The grand banquet hall of Malachite Castle was alive with music and merriment, something Clever Clover sensed it had not seen in quite some time. He was uncomfortable with the idea that the banquet was to honor him as a prince and hero. Standing in the hallway just outside the hall, Clever Clover contemplated sneaking out of the castle and starting out for home.

“Prince, your people await,” Foxglove said, startling Clever Clover from his fantasies of flight.

“Alright, alright. I’m just not real comfortable with this prince thing yet.”

“Do not worry. With time, you will learn the ways of your position.”

With a sigh, the princely purple pony stepped forward into the hall to face his destiny.


Of Cats and Other Things
by Tabby (TabbyMLP@aol.com)

“Come on, kitty.”

A low growl could be heard from under the couch.

“Won’t you please come out?”

The two luminous yellow eyes narrowed, and the low, menacing sound didn’t stop.

“I’ll play with you, kitten.”

Seeing the pink hoof intruding into her territory, the cat spat and lashed out at the opposing being. She then shot like a lightning bolt from under the couch and promptly leaped to the top, to get on high ground.

You confounded creature!” Tabby shrieked, leaping up into a defensive position in front of the couch. “You could at least show a little respect towards me, for Pete’s sake! It’s not like you’d even be LIVING in this extravagant mansion if it wasn’t for ME! To think that I gave up Callie in favor of YOU!”

The sleek Siamese stared with annoyance at the pink unicorn. The pink unicorn stared back. Their gazes locked. The tension in the room steadily rose, but neither of them moved a muscle.

“Okay guys, let’s break it up,” Thomas stood in the doorway, looking slightly amused by the situation before him. “What seems to be the problem here?”

“That cat of yours is obnoxious,” Tabby said venomously.

“I see.” Thomas turned to the cat. “Sophia, what do you have to say on the matter?”

Mrow,” Sophia said emphatically, equally convincing.

“So you two still refuse to get along.” This was made as a statement rather than a question.

Both the cat and the mare swung their gazes towards the stallion and narrowed their eyes indignantly.

“It’s Sophia’s fault!” Tabby cried.

“MROW!” Sophia argued.

“Sophia, why don’t you run along now?” Thomas patted the cat on the head affectionately. “We need some time alone.”

Sophia jumped down from her perch and cocked her eyebrows at Tabby smugly as she purred loudly and rubbed up against her master’s legs before she sauntered out of the room. Tabby swore that the creature did it on purpose simply to spite her.

“Did you see that? Did you see that?” Tabby shrieked. “She’s out to get me, Thomas! I know she’s plotting something against me! I know it!”

“That’s why you have to make friends with her, Tabby.” Thomas took his wife’s foreleg and led her to be seated. “Now just calm down and we’ll talk about it.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Tabby seethed. “Those cats are obnoxious and they hate me and they won’t change.”

“This is a completely new environment for them,” Thomas said logically. “After they adjust to it, they’ll come around.”

“They don’t have a problem with Elaine, either,” Tabby went on ranting. “But for me, no! They just bite and claw and hiss and growl–“

”They don’t have claws, Tabby,” Thomas interjected reasonably. “They can’t claw.”

It’s the principle of the thing!

“You’ve got to give them time, Tabby.”

“It’s been months!” Tabby protested. “How long will it take, huh?”


“Well?! You’ve used every generic excuse available and none of them work!!”

“You might try controlling yourself more when you’re around them,” Thomas said in a rush. “You’re too unpredictable and rash, and they don’t like to be taken by surprise.”

“Oh.” Tabby knew she was unpredictable and rash and prided herself on it, so this statement was taken as a compliment. “But why can’t they just take me the way I am?”

“You know cats, Tabby. They are obstinate.”

“Not that any of this should be a surprise,” Tabby sighed suddenly. “There’s never been an animal in my life that really liked me.”

“Hey, what makes you say that?” Thomas asked softly.

“It’s the way it’s always been for me, that’s all.” Tabby turned her head away. “But I wish that once– just once–“

”Don’t say that, Tabby,” Thomas said gently. “Of course you get along with animals. You’ve just been working with Pokémon for such a period of time now you’ve somewhat forgotten your knack for dealing with... other creatures.”

“I never had a knack to begin with,” Tabby said sullenly.

“You were a fine veterinarian, Tabby. You couldn’t have done as much as you did if you didn’t have a knack for it... you’re just feeling this way now because you’ve become more used to Pokémon and they are much easier to communicate with.”

“Pokémon always were more cooperative for me,” Tabby scowled.

“That may be true, and it’s very good if it is. But you can still work with animals if you try.”

“Even Sophia and Melinda?”

“Yes, even Sophia and Melinda. As soon as you can find that forgotten talent you’ve hidden, Tabby, I think everything will work out–“
But it was at that moment that Elaine arrived back at the mansion and dropped in to see what was up. (Thomas’ sister was currently residing in the guest cottage of the mansion out back.) Tabby and Thomas’ discussion was cut short, but Tabby’s attention span was also short so she had soon completely forgotten about her problems with the Siamese as Elaine started talking. At this moment, she could care less if Sophia snuck in and slit her throat one night...

Elaine looked rather flustered this evening. “I don’t know how anyone could keep that Baby Noddins under control,” she declared. “How can her mother keep from losing her mind?”

“Oh? What did she do this time?” Tabby asked eagerly.

“Well,” Elaine sighed, “Toby had asked me to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe this evening. I couldn’t really turn him down, you know.”

“Uh-huh,” Tabby urged her on.

“And then...” Elaine’s face started to flush. “...Baby Noddins saw us and came over and– oh, it was so embarrassing!”

“Well, what did she say?”

“Ooh,” Elaine groaned. “She started off talking about My Little People, I think– but then she asked Toby if he liked me, and he said he did; and then she asked me if I liked him, and I said something– I don’t remember what I said– but then Baby Noddins asked Toby if he was going to ask me to marry him, and he said he might if the circumstances were right; and I think he was only joking, but then she asked when the wedding would be and, oh, I thought I’d just die on the spot.” Elaine was babbling hysterically by this point.

“Don’t take it too hard, Elaine,” Thomas said sympathetically. “Everybody knows what Baby Noddins is like.”

“But I don’t know how I can ever face him again after this,” Elaine said frantically.

“Toby?” Thomas questioned. “But you like him, don’t you?”

“I suppose, but what if he was actually serious and–“

”He was just playing along with Baby Noddins,” Thomas said calmly. “I doubt he really meant–“

”But what if he did? That’s the thing. I never want to see him again,” Elaine chattered nervously.

Tabby and Thomas both exchanged a glance. “Elaine,” Tabby said hesitantly, “perhaps if you calmed down–“

”I... I’m sorry,” Elaine said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to– I just– I–“

Tabby stood up and grabbed the younger mare by the hoof, sensing that Elaine was in need of some guidance from a fellow mare. “Would it help to talk about it?” she asked gently.

Elaine met her gaze. “Yes,” she confessed. “I think it would.”

“Come on, then. Let’s go out to your cottage,” Tabby suggested, leading her out of the room. “You can unload your soul to me there.”

“Hey, is there anything I can do?” Thomas called after them.

“Just play with your cats,” Tabby shot back in a lofty tone before disappearing out the door with Elaine.

* * *
“So, Elaine,” Tabby said matter-of-factly, sitting opposite to her at the small table. “What’s up with you and Toby?”

“It’s... it’s... I’m just not sure I want a real relationship with him,” Elaine said helplessly. “I mean, I like him and all, but not like that... I don’t know. Oh, I just don’t know what to do!”

“Have you ever had any boyfriends previously in your life, Elaine?”

“Well... umm...”

“They asked you out but you were nervous and skittish and shy and did everything in your power to avoid them, right?”

“Uh... yeah... I guess you could say that... maybe...”

“I see.” Tabby nodded knowingly. “You thought Toby was only a friend and had no romantic interest in you until Baby Noddins so tastefully brought it up this evening, correct?”

Elaine looked up with surprise. “I... I guess that might be it,” she admitted.

“And now that you’ve been made aware that he might be looking for a deeper friendship from you, you’ve been disturbed again and want to stay as far away as possible from him,” Tabby stated.

“You know more about me than I do, Tabby,” Elaine laughed nervously.

Tabby ignored the statement. “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

“I suppose it’s been quite obvious to everyone that Toby and I have become a ‘couple’, hasn’t it?” Elaine met Tabby’s gaze.

“You might say that.”

“I didn’t mean for things to go this way. I liked Toby’s companionship, and he was so nice, I couldn’t just turn down his invitations,” Elaine confessed. “But now I’m afraid I’m just leading him on.”

“Then why don’t you tell him how you feel?”

“It would disappoint him so!” Elaine said in distress. “I couldn’t stand letting him down, especially after all this time I’ve spent with him. I just couldn’t!”

“Well,” Tabby said thoughtfully, “you have two options: dump him or put up with him.”

“Isn’t there an in between area?” Elaine said nervously.

“Giving him the cold shoulder may be the only way to tell him to slow down,” Tabby advised.


“And it’s not that hard,” Tabby said supportivly. “You just have to... well, turn down his invitations. If he asks you out to dinner, tell him you have other plans. It’s easy, really.”

“It’s easy for you,” Elaine pointed out. “You have an inborn talent for acting cold towards stallions. But I don’t know how I could do it!”

“Why, then we can have a practice session!” Tabby said brightly. “I’ll coach you. Soon you’ll be a pro at turning stallions down!”

“You... think this is the right way to go?” Elaine said slowly.

“Your other two options are continuing to lead him on or to tell him exactly how you feel.”

Elaine didn’t feel particularly comfortable with coming out with her feelings, so she finally accepted Tabby’s suggestion. “Well, how are you going to coach me?”

“I’ll pretend to be Toby, asking you out,” Tabby giggled. “And you’ll just be yourself. Okay?”


“Alright.” Tabby smiled and sat up straight. “So, um, Elaine. Want to come with me over to the Estate Manor after work?” she said in her best imitation-Toby voice, which wasn’t that good at the moment. She felt awkward using voices besides her own.

“Well, Toby,” Elaine said, trying to keep a straight face. “I’d really love to, but I’m afraid there are some other things I wanted to do tonight.”

“You wouldn’t love to,” Tabby corrected. “Just say that there are other things you want to do.”

“Well, Toby,” Elaine started again. “There are some other things I wanted to do tonight, but maybe some other time...”

“Not some other time!” Tabby said forcefully. “That would just be inviting him to call you again.”

Elaine giggled. “Okay. Let me try again.” She paused while thinking about her reply. “Well, Toby, there are some other things I wanted to do tonight. Sorry.” She looked at Tabby expectantly.

“Better,” Tabby grinned. “But what if he came back with...” She paused herself. “Well, what are you doing? Is it anything I can help you with? Packing groceries, perhaps?”

“Umm... I can do it on my own,” Elaine responded after a short time had passed.

“Then how about tomorrow night?” Tabby, as Toby, persisted. “Certainly you won’t be busy then?”

Elaine rolled her eyes at Tabby. “I think I will be.”

“And how about we get married next weekend. You can fit that into your schedule, can’t you?”

Elaine glanced once at Tabby and then burst out laughing. “Tabby!” she protested with mock indignation. “He would not say that!!”

“You have to prepare yourself for every possibility,” Tabby said mischievously before dissolving into a fit of giggles herself. The laughter was contagious, and soon both girls had lost all sense of seriousness.

When they finally regained their senses some moments later and sat trying to regain their breath, Tabby spoke up. “Well, Elaine. Have all your apprehensions melted away? Are you ready to take anything that Toby throws at you?”

“Yes,” Elaine promised. “Thanks, Tabby. I feel a lot better now.” But as she watched her sister-in-law trot out into the darkness and back up to the mansion, she couldn’t guarantee that those apprehensions wouldn’t come back.

* * *
The next afternoon, Tabby got home after a rather boring day at the Pokémon Center. Things had been so slow, and Blue Belle was so eager to prove herself responsible in Tabby’s eyes that the volunteer had suggested that she go home early and that she would take care of anyone who did happen to come in. Tabby readily agreed to this, as getting home early would allow her some time alone with the Siamese.

She found the two sisters, Sophia and Melinda, napping in a sunbeam that stretched across the living room couch. She approached them cautiously so as not to disturb them and sat down in a chair opposite to them.

Sophia had already opened one eye and was scrutinizing Tabby suspiciously. Melinda looked up as well, but it was with more curiosity than suspicion that she glanced at the intruder to their territory. Tabby thought that Melinda would be more accepting of her than Sophia; but Sophia was dominant, and Melinda followed her sister’s orders.

Tabby sat and looked at them from her vantage point. They were beautiful creatures– sleek and elegant seal-point Siamese with piercing blue eyes– that she would sorely like to be friends with. But they hadn’t showed any signs of that happening any time soon.

Sophia jumped emphatically to the floor and headed out of the room. Melinda glanced once more at Tabby but, deciding it best to follow her sister’s council, left the area as well. Tabby scowled at them as they disappeared.

Left alone to consider her situation, Tabby pondered Thomas’ words from last night. Had she lost her knack with animals? She hadn’t even been aware that she had such a thing to begin with. But if it had been lost... how could she regain it?

Tabby picked up her PokéBalls and summoned all her Pokémon out, just to reassure herself that they still understood her. Raichu promptly jumped on her back and urged her forward, as if he were her rider. Vaporeon and Jigglypuff got into a singing competition, and Hitmonlee challenged an unwilling Oddish to a kicking competition while Mr. Mime promptly set to cleaning the whole place.

Tabby carefully set Raichu on the ground and addressed the congregation. “Okay, guys. You all think I’m a good Pokémon trainer, don’t you?”

“Die! Puff! LEE! Oddish, oddish. Mime, mister mime! Vapor,” came the affirmative answers.

“And I’m a good Pokémon nurse, right?”

The consensus showed that she was.

“And I understand Pokémon, don’t I?”

They all agreed.

“But what about regular animals? Shouldn’t they get along with me, too?”

At this, her Pokémon drew a blank. “Regular” animals were a foreign topic to them, and they could give her no definite answer.

“Hmm,” Tabby frowned, and let her Pokémon run free a little while longer before calling them back to their PokéBalls.

At least, she consoled herself, she was still good with Pokémon. But what if she had lost her knack with other creatures? How was she to get it back?

* * *
Elaine entered her cottage later that same afternoon after returning from work to find the phone ringing. She caught it and answered with a breathless “Hello?”

“Hello, Elaine,” Toby’s cheerful voice came over the line.

“Oh...” Elaine said hesitantly. “Who’s calling, please?” Of course she knew who it was, but she thought she’d try using Tabby’s advice to– she gulped– brush him off.

Toby let out a short laugh. “It’s Toby. You remember me, don’t you?”

“Ah... yes,” Elaine stuttered, wondering what to add to that.

“So...” Toby sensed a loss of companionship from the mare. “I’m actually called you with an invitation.”

“What kind of an invitation?” Elaine said briefly.

“There’s a new play being done in town on Saturday. I have tickets... would you like to go with me?”

“I’m... afraid I’m busy that night.” Elaine shut her eyes as she said this.

“I see.” Toby’s mood noticeably dropped. “Well then... perhaps another time.”

“Perhaps,” Elaine echoed.

“Ah... I guess I’ve kept you long enough,” Toby said uncomfortably. Elaine didn’t seem interested in continuing the conversation. “Goodnight, Elaine.”

“Goodnight,” Elaine said shortly, and hung up the phone quickly. Then she collapsed in a nearby chair and thought about what she had just done.

She hated disappointing Toby like that, but she didn’t want to lead him on thinking she was ready for a relationship. But how could she ever say that to him directly? Her cheeks burned at the thought.

This brush-off had been a bit awkward, and she wasn’t sure it was quite what Tabby had in mind. And oh, what would she do if she ran into Toby in person? The whole affair was deeply troubling her; and hoping it would just go away if she kept busy, she headed to the mansion to work on preparing supper.

* * *
“Hewwo, Twabby,” Baby Noddins said cheerfully, staring up at her role-model.

Tabby stared down at the pest in return. “What are you doing here?” she said bluntly.

“Visitin’,” Baby Noddins said innocently, looking behind her into the darkness of the night. “May I come in?”

Tabby threw up her hooves in despair, and Baby Noddins took that as a “yes”. The baby pony trotted inside the mansion curiously. “Is Ewaine here?”

“No, Baby Noddins. She’s out back in her cottage for the evening,” Tabby said shortly.

“Does she really do all the cookin’ for yah?” Baby Noddins looked at her expectantly. “Is that why she lives out in the slave quarters?”

“She is not our slave,” Tabby snapped. “She just happens to do all the cooking.”

“Oh. But I thought she lived in the slave quarters.” Baby Noddins peered around Tabby and down the hallway.

“That is the guest cottage, Baby Noddins.”

“Is that a kitty?” Baby Noddins questioned, pointing behind Tabby at Sophia, who was sitting on the floor watching the two.

Tabby turned around. “Yes, that’s a kitty.”

“Can I play with her?” Not waiting for an answer, Baby Noddins pushed past Tabby and knelt by Sophia. “Oh, she’s nice, ain’t she?” Surprisingly, Sophia permitted the baby pony to pet her without growing agitated.

“Yeah,” Tabby scowled. Sophia was behaving better for the obnoxious brat than she ever had for her! “Baby Noddins, is there anything else you wanted to say while you were here?”

Baby Noddins considered this. “Yes,” she stated. “Toby said I upset Ewaine the other night. Tamara said so, too.”

“You went to visit Tamara, too?”

“She has kitties too, yah know,” Baby Noddins explained. “Ewaine ain’t mad, is she?”

“No, not really,” Tabby sighed. “I don’t suppose. She’s just disturbed.”

“Really?” Baby Noddins abandoned Sophia and peered around the next corner, which led into a huge open room. A grand staircase rose up on each side and led to the second floor. “Ooh, Tabby,” she breathed. “You got a nice house! Anyway... what was I sayin’? Oh, yeah. Well, does Ewaine really like Toby? She didn’t say when I asked ‘em, yah see.”

Tabby rolled her eyes. “Perhaps she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to reveal anything to you.”

Baby Noddins’ eyes lit up. “You mean she really does like him?”

Tabby sighed. “Let’s talk about something else, Baby Noddins.”

“Okay!” she said eagerly. “What you wanna talk about? Say, you and Thomas gonna have a baby yet?”

“Baby Noddins!” Tabby gasped. “Be quiet!”

“Your kids’ll have last names, won’t they?” Baby Noddins realized. “Can I marry one of ‘em, Tabby?”

“Heaven forbid having you as a daughter-in-law,” Tabby muttered.

“You mean you’d be my mommy then?” Baby Noddins looked pleased at the prospect. “Cool!”

Tabby groaned inwardly. Baby Noddins was a menace; there were no two ways about it. “Shouldn’t you be getting home–“

”Nope,” Baby Noddins said confidently. “Can I see the rest a’ the house, Twabby? Pretty pwease? Where’s Thomas, anyway?”

Where was Thomas, indeed! Tabby wondered to herself. Surely he couldn’t expect her to put up with Baby Noddins on her own!

* * *
Baby Noddins was eventually dragged out of the mansion, and life continued on as usual for several days– Tabby was constantly at odds with the cats, and Elaine was trying to mentally justify her intentions of dumping Toby. All-in-all, life was pretty normal.

On this particular occasion, Tabby was trying her best at communicating with Sophia. “Come on,” she said pleadingly, stretching her hoof out a little further towards the cat. “Can’t you be nice for once?”

Sophia began to growl.


Sophia spat and backed away. Tabby sighed. She wasn’t getting anywhere fast, that was for sure.

* * *
It was nearing the end of Elaine’s day at the clinic when an unexpected visitor came for her– Toby. “Hello,” he said cordially. “I haven’t interrupted anything, have I?”

“No, I was just finishing...” The words came out of Elaine’s mouth before she could stop them.

Toby jumped at the opportunity. “Well then, could I have the honor of walking you home?”

Elaine fumbled with the files she was carrying. “Umm... well... actually, I’ve already made an appointment at the Perm Shoppe,” she fibbed.

“I see.” Toby stared at the floor. “You seem to be hard to get a hold of these days, Elaine.”

“Oh... uh... just busy, I guess,” Elaine said nervously. “But, I’ve got to get going, so... bye!” She hurried to the door.

Toby stared after her remorsefully; and Sugarberry, still at the desk, felt terrible for the poor stallion. “Is anything the matter, Toby?” she spoke softly, knowing full well what it was that was troubling him.

Toby didn’t answer directly. “The Perm Shoppe is the other way,” he murmured aloud before exiting himself.

* * *
Elaine blushed furiously as she strode purposefully home. Toby must really care about me, she realized. I really hoped that he didn’t. But... oh... I don’t know what else to do! I wish Mom were here, she added miserably.

Not that she didn’t respect Tabby’s suggestions or anything; but her mother would be the only one she would really trust the most in a matter such as this. Not that Elaine could get through to her very easily, seeing as both her parents had disappeared in a boat wreck several years ago.

Elaine tried to think things out for herself again before she started remembering her mom too much. I’m just too shy for this whole dating thing, she thought remorsefully. Toby’s so awfully nice, but I just can’t think about him actually being in love with me. Oh, and I’m going to break his heart because of it! I don’t know what to do!

Elaine sighed again. She supposed she could go to Tabby again, or even Thomas. But she hardly wanted to bother them with her problems, and she wasn’t even sure she wanted to talk about it herself. Things would work out... somehow.

* * *
Though Elaine pretended that nothing was wrong, Tabby was keenly aware that her problems with Toby had not been resolved. She wondered if she should corner Elaine about it again, but decided against it. Elaine might want to work it out herself now. Thomas knew what was going on as well, and Sugarberry had gleaned some information from Tabby (parts of which she was not particularly happy to know); but they too had decided to stay out of it... for now.

But that still left Tabby and the cats. She had decided to give up on them and submitted herself to the fact that she would have to live with two murderous felines for the rest of her life. But neither side knew that something would happen soon that would greatly change their lives.

After being practically pushed out of the Pokémon Center by Blue Belle early once more, Tabby had the house all to herself... again. But as soon as she stepped through the front door, she sensed that something was amiss.

It seemed unusually quiet. Cats generally did not make a lot of noise, but today there was something wrong. Tabby could feel it... only she couldn’t quite figure out exactly what it was.

It was then that she heard a frantic and steady thumping coming from the second floor. Tabby was immediately alert and dashed up the right side of the grand staircase. She stood at the top and strained to hear exactly where the thumping was coming from.

“MROW!” an anxious voice reached her ears. She looked down, and saw Melinda walking towards her from out of one of the guest bedrooms. “Mrow, mrow,” the cat added urgently.

This in itself was a surprise to Tabby; the Siamese never acknowledged her presence. “What’s wrong, kitty?” she asked softly, kneeling down.

“Mrow,” Melinda said, walking back to the doorway and looking around at Tabby. “Mrow.” She urged the pony to follow.

Tabby realized then the absence of Sophia and was immediately frightened that something dreadful might have happened to Melinda’s sister. She followed the cat quickly into the room, almost afraid of what she would find.

Sophia, as it turned out, was still very much alive and also the source of the thumping. While playing with one of her toys in the room, Sophia had chased it behind a bookcase; and while trying to bat it back out, she had succeeded in trapping her paw between the wall and the back of the case. She was now struggling frantically to free herself. There was a panicked look in her eyes.

Melinda perched herself on top of the bookcase and looked endearingly at Tabby. “Oh, poor Sophia!” Tabby cried out. “You’re gonna be okay, kitty. Just hang on.” She tugged on the bookcase and with a little effort moved it slightly away from the wall. Sophia, finally finding herself free from her entrapment, quickly started to run from the room; but Tabby was quick and, surprisingly, caught her.

“You poor thing!” Tabby said compassionately, holding the struggling cat tightly. “How long were you trapped there? Oh, you poor thing!” The cat’s right front foreleg had a considerable amount of fur rubbed off from the struggle, and red irritated skin now showed. “Let me fix you up, okay?” Tabby murmured while trotting back down the steps with her bundle.

Melinda followed Tabby, still in a state of agitation. She watched with wide eyes as the unicorn washed and dressed her sister’s wound, and then patted her on the head. “There. You’re going to be okay now, you see?” she spoke reassuringly.

Even after the display of kindness, Sophia’s only thought was to get away; and as soon as Tabby set her down, she was off. Melinda ran after, concerned for the well-being of her sibling.

Tabby watched them go and shook her head. “I went through all that for them, and they’ll still hate me,” she mused.

* * *
“Ah... good evening, Tabby,” Toby said hesitantly as he stopped at the bottom of the porch steps.

“Hello, Dr. Toby,” Tabby said rather flatly, perched on the railing while watching her Pokémon eat their dinner.

“You and Thomas are doing fine, I presume?”

“Yes. So what did you come here for?” Tabby did not feel like exchanging small talk.

Toby sighed. “I don’t know. It’s not even your problem. I just...” He trailed off.

“Well, what is it?” Tabby persisted, turning to face him.

“Oh, I just want to know why Elaine doesn’t like me any more!” he burst out suddenly.

“Sure, just come to me for all your problems in romance,” Tabby said sarcastically. “Certainly I know all in that department. Tabby, the one who revels in turning a cute stallion down. Tabby, the one who looks with distaste upon flowers sent to her. Tabby, the one–“

Toby was ignoring her. “We were getting along just fine; but this past week, she’s been giving me the cold shoulder!” He said miserably. “I’d just like to know what I did, but she won’t give me the time of day.”

“Ah, yes. That’s what I told her to do.” Tabby stopped her ranting and looked quite solemnly at him.


“It’s quite simple, really,” Tabby said patiently. “You’ve only scared her out of her wits by paying attention to her.”

“What?” Toby repeated himself as a very confused look crossed his face.

“Her emotions are very fragile, you see. She isn’t comfortable dealing with flattery, especially from interested stallions.” She looked at him pointedly. “It embarrasses her.”

“Oh,” Toby murmured, still not exactly clear.

“So,” Tabby said cheerfully, “I suggested she start turning down your invitations in order to get rid of you.”

“Then it really is my fault,” Toby said glumly.

“Naturally, yes,” Tabby agreed.

“Can I still make it up to her, Tabby.”

“Hmm,” Tabby considered this. “First, you have to learn to be careful not to praise her or to pay special attention to her. That is what drives her away.”

“But... what do you mean, she can’t handle praise or attention?” Toby demanded. “They’re– isn’t it what everyone craves?”

“Yes, but for someone as delicate as Elaine, they also cause squeamishness,” Tabby said solemnly.

“Will she ever talk to me again?”

“Yes, I think she might,” Tabby reflected. “But be careful in what you say to her. Don’t make her uncomfortable. Blushing is a bad sign. Don’t make her blush, whatever you do.”

“Alright,” Toby said a little skeptically. “But how am I even going to get her to listen to me now? Do you think there’s still a chance for me, Tabby?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Tabby slanted her eyes and blinked.

“Oh, Elaine... so gentle, and caring, and kind...” Toby had already slipped out of this dimension and was leaning on the railing, staring off into the darkness ahead of him.

“Hey, I didn’t mention it, but if you want to get a word in with her, I believe she’s taking a stroll up the lane right now,” Tabby said calmly.

Toby blinked and came back into reality. “Really?” he said excitedly. “I mean– should I go to her now?”

“Sure. You can win her over,” Tabby shrugged. “Just remember: don’t make her blush.”

“Okay,” Toby nodded quickly. “I’ll do that... and, uh, thanks, Tabby.”

“Don’t mention it,” Tabby mumbled, calling back her Pokémon who had all been rather quiet that evening. “But that’s a fifty jangle fee you’ve just incurred.”

* * *
“Tabby, what happened to Sophia?” Thomas asked upon Tabby’s entrance back into the house. He was looking at his cat’s bandaged foreleg in bewilderment.

“Oh. I forgot to say anything about that, didn’t I?” Tabby recalled. “Yes. She just very nearly killed herself.”

“Okay, what happened?”

“She,” Tabby said patiently, “got her paw stuck behind a bookcase. I saved her and she doesn’t even care.”

“No wonder she wasn’t around much this evening,” Thomas mused. “And she let you bandage her?”

“No, she didn’t let me, but I did it anyway,” Tabby said flippantly.

“I see.” Thomas looked from Sophia to Tabby. “Perhaps–“

”And no, my knack isn’t returning, because I never had such a thing to begin with,” Tabby said stubbornly before breezing up the stairs to check the auctions she was currently high bidder on.

* * *
By Elaine’s mood the next day, Tabby judged that things had gone well with Toby last night. She supposed that this was probably a good thing, even if she had to put up with Toby staring off into space whenever Elaine was mentioned.

Tabby was having more problems, however, getting increasingly annoyed by Blue Belle’s behavior. You’d think she could be a little more discreet about it, she sulked after virtually being evicted early from the center once again. Blue Belle’s words echoed in her mind: You go on home, Tabby. I can take care of everything here. You’ve been working so much lately as it is.

“She thinks she can just come through and take over the whole place,” Tabby muttered to herself. “I ought to fire her. Except that she’s just a volunteer.” Blue Belle was really only trying to get on Tabby’s good side and wanted to show her superior that she was a capable pony; but all she was succeeding in doing was making Tabby feel that her position was threatened.

Tabby was rather bored, and had nothing to do being home alone. Seeing Sugarberry’s latest novel laying on the coffee table, she picked it up and began to read as there was nothing more appealing to do. Of course, she’d already read the thing about two million times before; she had read over Sugarberry’s shoulder when she was still typing it on the computer and had always harped on her friend to write more.

Getting into the book, Tabby found herself once more rooting for Dreamy. She didn’t think that was what Sugarberry had hoped to inspire in her readers, as this particular reporter was ridiculing the police chief, who just happened to be the brother-in-law of the main character. But, for some reason, Tabby didn’t particularly like the police chief.

Tabby’s mind then began to wander off the actual content of the book. Woodlawn... that was the town Sugarberry was writing about. The real Woodlawn was also Vanguard’s hometown. Of course, Sugarberry had started writing about her Woodlawn long before she’d met Vanguard. Tabby thought it to be rather interesting. Those two must have been destined to be together, or something like that.

The sunbeam she was sitting in began to deaden her senses, and she next began to think about Vanguard’s situation over in Italy. So it was because of a cheating scam he’d run off like that. Couldn’t he still have proposed to Sugarberry before he left? As it was, he’d left Sugarberry as easy prey for stallions such as Wigwam and Giorgio and Toby. Sugarberry was a sucker when it came to stallions with sad stories.

Next on Tabby’s train of thought was how many drastic changes there had been in couples over the past few years and how interesting it all was. First there had been Quarterback and Sugarberry; Tex had always been there pining for Tabby; Thomas came to town, and Tiffany was hung up on him; but then Tiffany fell for Toby, and Tabby got Thomas...

Tabby soon found herself nearly asleep, and the book dropped to the floor as she leaned back into the corner of the couch. And then, she calculated drowsily, Sugarberry met Vanguard and Quarterback got in good with Merry Moments, and Tamara hooked up with Tex...

On the floor, two Siamese were watching her with interest. Sophia looked from her bandaged paw to Tabby; and hesitating for only a moment, she leapt gracefully up onto the couch. Her sister followed soon after. Both made themselves comfortable next to Tabby.

“Nice kitties,” Tabby mumbled incoherently. “Then Tiffany took Guido, and Clare was left with no one but Vanguard which might spell bad news for Sugarberry...” With the relaxing presence of the cats next to her, Tabby could soon no longer keep her eyes open and fell asleep mumbling names to herself.

Sophia looked at her as if she were a lunatic, but a lunatic that perhaps was not so bad as she had thought. She tucked her head back down into the furry coil she made with her body and soaked up more of the life-giving beams of nourishing energy... or sunbeams, as non-felines called them...

And that was how Thomas found them when he arrived home. It was a nice scene and one that he would remember for a long time. “You did find your knack, Tabby,” he said quietly to the room. “I knew you had it in you.” And bending down, he kissed her gently.

Sophia opened her eyes, stretched, and leaped down to the floor, her actions conveying that nothing spectacular had happened. By her feline reasoning, her dominion remained intact.


Early Pony Special

If you submit a chapter of your continuing storyline to me, Tabby, any time before the fifteenth of the month, you will be awarded one point. In future months, whenever you submit new chapters before the fifteenth of the month, you will be awarded one more point for each chapter. (In the case of submitting multiple chapters for one month, a point will be awarded for each chapter.) When you have built up six of these points, you are entitled to receive a free pony!

Once you have your six points, you may head over to my extensive My Little Pony sale list (http://TweegLvr.tripod.com/MLP.htm) and choose one pony (not going over a $5 value). E-mail me your selection, and if that pony hasn’t been sold or traded since the last time I updated, the pony is yours! Supply me with your address, and the pony will be shipped to you promptly. (Ponies cannot be reserved for this purpose beforehand.)

If there are any new writers out there interested in submitting to My Little Pony Monthly, please feel free to send your works to TabbyMLP@aol.com! No matter how new you are to the newsletter, you can still take advantage of this policy. A free pony could be waiting in your future!

Any questions on this policy? Feel free to e-mail me at TabbyMLP@aol.com.

-- Tabby

Running Tally of Points Given Out So Far

Moonjumper (palominos@juno.com)-- 1

Yum Yum (yumyum@twinstarsmail.com)-- 1

Baby Steamer (Baby_Steamer@excite.com)-- 4

Moonstar (alicorn_83@yahoo.com)-- 1

Cinnamon Sugar (stanb@ptbo.igs.net)-- 2

Berry Brite (swanson@swnebr.net)-- 1

Akkima (akkima@hotmail.com)-- 1

Sugarberry (Sugrbery@aol.com)-- 4


**My Little Pony Monthly Policy Statement**

This e-mail newsletter is meant to be read by all ages, and I shall reject any submissions if they contain profanity of any sort. If you have a piece you think would add to the quality of My Little Pony Monthly, feel free to e-mail it to me at TabbyMLP@aol.com. And, remember, it doesn’t have to be a story to be accepted! My Little Pony-related games, contests (please be willing to notify me of the results so I can post them in the next issue), Invento Ponies, and everything else are great as well! However, submissions must be received at least three days prior to the first of the month to be ensured to be posted in that issue. Submissions are subject to being edited by our proofreaders.


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