Rushing into his home back at Woodlawn, Laser expected to find his mother in the kitchen; but the room was empty. "She must be working on that dumb ol' quilt yet," Laser informed his cousin. The long walk back had driven any nervousness about Hood's sudden dismissal of them out of his thoughts, not to mention the gnawing hunger that now engulfed him and begged for his attention.
"Me hungry." Puzzle, too, got down to basics. "Cookie?"
Knowing how famished he himself felt, Laser acquiesced to Puzzle's request. He checked the cookie jar but found it empty; however, he did succeed in finding a bag of candy bars in the snack cupboard. He was pouring milk when the door opened, and the sour-faced mare from next door walked in.
"I've been watching for you two," she declared impatiently as if they had been the source of untold trials. "You're to come to my house." She sighed a deep, all-encompassing sigh that signaled that she was not pleased at the prospect.
Tullybeg had lived in the house next door for as long as Laser could remember, and he had never even once seen her smile. All the foals on the block told stories of how she enticed unsuspecting colts and fillies to come to her house and then forced them to scrub her floors and wash her windows. Her house was said to be the cleanest in Woodlawn because of this odd habit of hers, so the foals avoided her at all costs. Laser felt a chill go up his back at the thought of accompanying her to her place.
"Where's my mom?" he asked futilely, pushing Puzzle protectively behind him.
"Off to the hospital," Tullybeg informed him curtly. "Off to have the foal she's been carrying."
Laser suddenly felt deflated because he had let his mother down by not being here when she needed him. If he had not proven capable of standing by his mother, maybe he deserved to be put through Tullybeg's torture. He took Puzzle's hoof and led him to where Tullybeg waited. Puzzle succeeded in grabbing one last candy bar while he had the chance, his face already covered in gooey chocolate smears.
"Was it a colt or a filly?" Laser remembered to ask as he opened the door and proceeded trance-like across the lawn to Tullybeg's house, pulling Puzzle behind him.
"Haven't heard." Tullybeg did not waste words. She led them to the back door of her house. "Wipe your hooves on the mat before you come in," she directed.
Once inside, Laser looked cautiously around the room. It was indeed very clean, and the windows sparkled. He wondered why anything so spotless would need cleaning again so soon.
His heart sank as Tullybeg went to a metal broom cupboard in the back room. "You boys can help me out while you're here." She came back into the kitchen carrying a mop, a bucket, and a pile of rags.
Laser stared in disbelief-- the stories were true! He looked at Puzzle in dismay, but the foal was busy using his tongue to clean his chocolate-spattered face and seemed undaunted by the events at hoof.
Tullybeg set her supplies down, and commanded Puzzle to follow her. She went to the sink and got a wet cloth; turning, she bent to Puzzle and cleaned his sticky face and hooves until they shone to match the immaculate surroundings of the house.
"You, bring the bucket and mop!" she bid Laser. She led the two youngsters to an enclosed porch at the front of the house. "See up there?" She pointed to a corner of the porch, high up at the ceiling where the walls met.
Puzzle peered at a dark spot on the wall, and jumped when the spot moved.
Tullybeg continued. "That bat got stuck in here somehow and can't get back out. We're going to help him."
She briefly explained her plan. "You," she pointed at Laser, "climb up on that bookshelf with the bucket. I'll pry him off the wall with the mop handle, and hopefully, he'll fall in the bucket."
Stopping, she seemed to be assessing the odds of success. Finding her plan workable, she explained the next move. "Once he's in the bucket, Puzzle will cover him with these rags, and I'll take him outside, across the yard, and let him go."
Feeling relieved that this venture did not involve scrubbing, Laser rose to the occasion and clambered up on the heavy wooden bookcase supported in the front by an antique table with wobbly legs. Lifting the bucket high, Laser waited for Tullybeg to do her part. When the handle got close to the bat, it dropped off the wall-- but it did not drop into the bucket. It took flight.
Tullybeg, losing her composure, screamed a brief but frazzling sound. Laser lowered himself off the furniture as quickly as he could and ran to open the outside door. The bat, sensing the way to freedom, dipped through the doorway and quickly went his way.
"That worked well," Tullybeg said in satisfaction, nodding as if that is how she planned it. "Now let's put this stuff back where it belongs."
When the equipment was restored to the cupboard, Tullybeg opened another cupboard door and got out a checkerboard. "Here's something for the two of you to play with while I fix you a bite to eat."
Puzzle immediately climbed up into a chair and began stacking checkers; he had not yet comprehended the actual purpose of the game, so Laser let him build his pretend houses and walls. It gave Laser time to think.
The colt began to wonder exactly why Uncle Hood was so set on returning to the woods to find the purple butterfly. His uncle enjoyed nature and all its myriad creatures; but he had never been interested in collecting plant species, keeping a list of bird sightings, or even noting the differences between the various kinds of insects. To Uncle Hood, a butterfly was just that-- a butterfly. So why his keen interest suddenly in this elusive purple butterfly?
The tower that Puzzle had just constructed leaned and toppled to the floor in a clatter of wooden disks. Responding to the displeased frown from Tullybeg, Laser and Puzzle began retrieving them, which was much more fun for Puzzle, who was getting bored with quiet play.
"Me goin' outside," he stated when the checkers had been put away.
"Oh no you're not!" Tullybeg informed him, hooves on hips. "You and your cousin are going to go wash up for supper now."
The colts had missed Tullybeg's supper hour, but she had fixed them a nourishing meal of macaroni and cheese with fresh sliced tomatoes and a glass of cold milk. Even with the candy bars they had consumed earlier, both colts ate heartily and found room for chocolate cupcakes that their warden presented them with.
Remembering his manners, Laser thanked Tullybeg for the meal and carried his dirty dishes to the sink. Puzzle, copying his cousin, tried to be helpful, too, but only succeeded in dropping his plate, glass, and utensils on the floor. Luckily, they landed on the throw rug in front of the sink so nothing was broken. Picking up the dishes, Laser volunteered to help with dishes, but Tullybeg–foreseeing more trouble than help-- gave new orders.
"You two run along outside and play a bit before it gets too dark." She peered out the window at the setting sun. "We should be hearing from your folks real soon."
Laser and Puzzle played hide-and-seek and tag until the mosquitoes ganged up on them mercilessly, and they beat a hasty retreat to the house. The sun had slipped below the horizon, and dusk had settled down over the land; the glowing shape of the moon sat in the black sky.
As the two boys entered the house, they found Tullybeg talking on the telephone, and Laser knew it was to his dad. "I'll tell 'em," she ended the conversation and hung up the receiver. "Well, boys, it looks like the three of us might be spending the night together."
"Sure she is," Tullybeg hastened to verify. "But it looks like this foal isn't in any hurry to make his or her entrance into the world. Your dad says to sit tight until he calls again." She bustled off to once again search through the cabinet for something to keep Puzzle occupied.
Laser slumped into a kitchen chair and allowed himself to get lost in self-pity; here he was stuck at Tullybeg's while the real action was at the hospital. Lacewing would lord it over him for the rest of his life that he had missed the birth of the new foal, while she and her cousins had been right on the spot.
And where was Uncle Hood? Maybe he had gone back to the ice cream shop and heard the news about the foal and had gone directly to the hospital. That thought made Laser sink even lower in the pit of despair. He and Puzzle would be the only ones who had missed the big event.
Coming back into the room, Tullybeg had a deck of cards in her hoof. "You two know how to play Go Fish, I would imagine." She noticed the downcast look on Laser's face and handed him the cards. "You deal."
The game, at least, kept Puzzle entertained; and Laser found himself distracted enough that he forgot to feel sorry for himself. Eventually, Tullybeg announced that it was time for a bedtime snack; and if Kaleidoscope hadn't called by the time they finished, the two would have to bed down on the sofa for the night. She got out cookies and milk and sat down at the table with the colts to join them in the repast.
"I remember the night you were born," she said, looking at Laser. "Your dad came home from the hospital so excited and happy that he brought me flowers. And then the same thing when your sister was born." Her face lightened at the recollection, and the thought ran through Laser's mind that she probably had not received many flower bouquets in her life.
"The cookies were really good," he acknowledged.
"And the plate's empty, so that means it's time for bed." The mare got out of her chair and motioned for Puzzle and Laser to follow her. "I'll help you get cleaned up, then you can help me round up some blankets and pillows for the two of you."
The last thing Laser wanted to do was to go to bed, but he went through the motions of settling down so that Puzzle would do likewise. Laser vowed to himself that he would not fall asleep; he wanted to be fully awake when his uncle came with the news of his new brother or sister. But as he lay quietly on the blanket listening to the soft, gentle rhythm of Puzzle's breathing, his eyes grew too heavy to hold open any longer. I'll close them for just a minute, he said to himself, snuggling into a more comfortable position.
He didn't know how long he had slept, but the ringing of the telephone brought him wide awake. He slipped off the couch and headed for the kitchen, following the glow of the light through the doorway. Tullybeg was nodding her head, saying, "Yes. A-huh. Okay," at brief intervals which gave Laser no clue as to the outcome of the birth. When she finally set the receiver down, she turned to Laser and if she was not smiling, she was at least frowning less than normal. "Well, your mom's had a little filly and both are doing fine."
Laser felt a twinge of disappointment at the news, hoping that this new addition to the family would be another colt to add to playtime fun; but he grinned out of sheer relief that the waiting was over.
Tullybeg continued. "Your Uncle Kaleidoscope is coming over to pick the two of you up. We'll wait in the front parlor." She led Laser into the sitting room and motioned for him to sit on the sofa while she sat in a chair and picked up her knitting. It was a pink and white project, and small; Laser wondered if it was something for his new sister; and, if so, how had Tullybeg known it would be a girl.
Tullybeg was silent as she continued her knitting, the clicking of the needles the only sound. Laser himself was having a hard time keeping himself from going back to sleep when a knock finally sounded at the door. His head jerked up spontaneously.
"Go on and get the door," Tullybeg advised, and Laser only too gladly went to let Uncle Kaleidoscope in.
"Hey, Laser!" he greeted his nephew. "Your mom says to tell you she's looking forward to seeing you as soon as we can get back to the hospital; you've got a real live-wire little sister now." He tousled Laser's cherry-red mane.
Laser led Kaleidoscope into the parlor; Tullybeg stayed in her chair, her hooves automatically doing the knitting as she acknowledged the stallion's arrival. "The little one's asleep," she said, nodding in the direction of the living room.
"Thanks for watching the terrors," he replied, and winked at Laser. "I brought you these for all the trouble we put you through." He held forth a dazzling bouquet of peach-colored roses.
The mare laid her knitting aside, and actually blushed as she beamed at Kaleidoscope. "Why, that was a mighty thoughtful thing to do for an old mare like me." She buried her nose in the fragrant blossoms, and breathed deeply.
"You've always been a good neighbor, Tullybeg. And Moonglow says to tell you that you can come over and hold the foal anytime you want to once she's home from the hospital."
"That's a sure thing. Nothing better than rocking a little bundle to sleep." She walked them to the door after Kaleidoscope had picked up the slumbering foal, the bouquet of roses still in her hooves.
Laser shyly touched Tullybeg's foreleg and looked up into her stern face. "Thanks, Tullybeg," he told her. "Your chocolate cake and cookies were the best!"
"Well, well," she briefly smiled as she patted him on the head. "You'll have to come over more often and try some of my other recipes."
Laser grinned at the mare and followed his uncle from the house. Once they were outside and alone in the darkness with the stars twinkling overhead and the moon like a beacon in the sky, Kaleidoscope explained to Laser how his mom had realized it was time for the foal to come while all the girls had been busy on their quilt, and Stardrift had taken the entire crew to the hospital. Crush had met them on the way home from his soccer practice; and because no one knew exactly where to find Hood and the boys, they had just awaited their return.
"By the way," Kaleidoscope asked. "Where did your uncle go when he dropped you off?"
"We came home alone," Laser admitted.
"You mean he went on to his shop?" frowned Kaleidoscope. "Drumstick hasn't seen him."
Laser's stomach knotted up again. "Uncle Hood sent us home alone so he could go back to look for the purple butterfly that Puzzle saw."
"What time was that?" Kaleidoscope questioned quickly, at the same time trying not to let the concern he felt creep into his voice.
Laser had to think about that awhile, but knowing the time he had gotten home, he calculated out a rough estimate.
"I suppose he could have gone home to shower before going back to the shop," pondered Kaleidoscope. "Maybe he will be at the hospital by now."
But when they arrived at Moonglow's room, there was no sign of Hood. As Laser made the acquaintance of his baby sister, Kaleidoscope pulled his wife from the room and informed her of Laser's information.
"A purple butterfly?" Stardrift responded questioningly. "Since when did Hood become a entomologist?"
"Since he found out that the pillaging around here is being done by a stallion with a purple butterfly symbol."
Stardrift looked at her husband sharply. "Checker needs to be told." She stopped for a moment to recollect her thoughts. "While you were picking up Laser and Puzzle, I went to Hood's Place to make sure he hadn't gotten back, and I ran into Dreamy. She wasn't a happy camper. She said she had a date with Hood tonight, and he never showed or called. They've had their differences, but he wouldn't have left her hanging without so much as a phone call unless something serious happened."
She slipped back into her sister's room and discreetly motioned to Checker to go out to Kaleidoscope. Noticing that the newest foal was asleep now lying at her mother's side, Stardrift prodded Laser and the others out the door, too, to allow Moonglow some quiet time to get some rest for herself. "I'll take the foals to my house for the night," she informed Moonglow. "Don't worry about a thing."
Depositing the foals on a couch in the waiting room, she joined Checker and Kaleidoscope across the room, listening in on their conversation.
"I'll contact Searcher and see if he's seen Hood," Checker decided after hearing about Laser and Stardrift's reports. He moved to a deserted corner to radio his officer and soon had him in contact.
"What's it like out there?" Checker demanded.
"All's quiet; no movement away from the farmstead."
"How about visitors to the farmstead?"
Searcher's voice was quiet for a few seconds. "Your brother-in-law passed through on the river trail just before sunset. Is there a problem?"
"He never came back your way?"
"I assumed he continued on and took the loop back to Woodlawn."
"He hasn't come back to town yet. Move in closer to the house and check out what is going on." Checker cast a glance at Stardrift who was hovering at his side. "It's not like your brother to spend a night alone in the woods by choice."
"What do you think happened?" she asked breathlessly.
"Barring a simple accident, I'd say there's a good chance he found what he was searching for."
Checker's radio suddenly activated. "Yeah, Searcher, what is it?"
"The filly just ran into me, looking for help. It seems her brother has been injured in a structural collapse. Hood's with him; he's okay. I'm going to the house with the filly; you get the paramedics out here fast."
Checker immediately notified Sparky to organize a rescue unit.
"I'm coming, too," declared Kaleidoscope when he heard the news.
"Do me a favor and stay here," Checker advised, laying a hoof on his brother-in-law's foreleg. "Stardrift's going to need help with the foals, plus I'd feel better if someone was close by for Moonglow."
So saying, he went back down the hall to check on his wife, and found her fast asleep. He kissed her gently on the cheek, and fondly patted the newborn now lying in the bassinet; she, too, was asleep after the hard work of delivery.
Stardrift and Kaleidoscope went their way with their hooves full: Puzzle was sound asleep again; Lacewing, Crush, and Blush were walking zombies; Laser alone seemed conscious of the current situation. "Uncle Hood's okay, isn't he?" he worried.