Dig in the Flatland
written by Sugarberry

Impatiently pacing back and forth outside the pretty little house in Friendship Gardens, Clever Clover kept his eyes on the lane before him. Finally, his nervous wait came to an end as he sighted Zip, the mail carrier, turn in his direction. Clever Clover pranced eagerly towards Zip.

"Good morning, Zip!" called Clever Clover. "Any mail for me?"

"As a matter of fact," stated Zip as he reached into his mail bag, "I do have a letter for you today. And it's Special Delivery!

"Thanks!" grinned Clever Clover. "It's from Flatland University about my temporary job!"

"Well, good luck!" Zip warmly replied. "I'll miss seeing you around!"

With a wave of his hoof, Clever Clover galloped into the house, slammed the door shut, and tore open the letter. He skimmed over its contents, and let out a loud "All right!" which brought Sky Skimmer and Sundance running into the room.

"What is going on?" asked Sundance. "It sounds like something big!"

"You bet it is," beamed Clever Clover. "I've been accepted to work at the Flatland pre-historic dig site for a month!"

"Wow! Congratulations," smiled Sky Skimmer as she shared in his joy at a dream come true.

"When do you leave?" asked Sundance, already feeling sad to think Clever Clover would be away for four entire weeks.

Clever Clover looked down at the letter and read through the information more slowly. "Let's see," he mumbled as he read. "I have to report by 8 AM Monday morning."

"That's only two days away!" yelped Sundance. "How long will it take you to get there?"

"One day of steady travel should get me there on time," stated Clever Clover. "That gives me today to get packed and ready to go!"

"We'll help!" chimed Sundance and Sky Skimmer in unison.

"Help with what?" asked Morning Glory, Ivy, Petal Blossom, and Berry Bright as they entered the house after a morning at the mall.

After filling in the ponies with the news, Clever Clover sighed. "I've got a million things to do! Where do I start?"

Morning Glory asserted her organizing ability to meet the need, and began assigning responsibilities to each pony. "Ivy, you and Sundance go to the mall and buy the clothes he will need; Berry Bright, bake some healthy food he can pack for the trip; Petal Blossom and Sky Skimmer, you two can dig out his backpack, camping gear, and supplies; I'll go with Clever Clover to the bank to get enough jangles for his expenses. Does that cover it?"

"Sounds good," said Petal Blossom. "Everyone, off you go!" With that, the ponies headed out.

* * *

Later that day, the ponies regrouped to help Clever Clover pack his bags and organize his equipment. When everything was ready and waiting for Clever Clover's departure in the morning, Berry Bright quietly reminded the ponies that it was time to eat. She led the way to the kitchen where a banquet of Clever Clover's favorite foods awaited them: pizza, lasagna, garlic bread, nutcups, and milk.

"Golly, Berry Bright!" whistled Clever Clover. "Where'd you find the time to do all this cooking?"

Berry Bright blushed and shrugged her shoulders. "It was nothing. I just wanted you to enjoy your last meal at home before you leave."

"Thanks, Berry Bright," Clever Clover smiled and tousled her mane. "This meal will prepare me for anything!"

* * *

Early the next morning, with the sun just peeking over the mountains, Clever Clover said farewell to his dear friends, and after hugs all around, donned his battered fedora hat, picked up his blackthorn walking stick, and began his journey to the Flatlands. Sundance and Sky Skimmer walked with him to the base of the mountain.

"We'll miss you," Sundance whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek.

"Be safe!" called Sky Skimmer as Clever Clover moved up the side of the mountain.

Turning around, Clever Clover waved one last goodbye to his friends.

* * *

Clever Clover whistled cheerily as he moved on down the far side of the mountain. He caught an occasional glimpse of wildlife as he descended towards the Flatlands, and when he stopped to eat the lunch Berry Bright had provided, a friendly striped chipmunk perched on a rock near him and shared the crumbs of his blueberry pie. By the time he had re-packed his backpack, Clever Clover realized that the sun had retreated under the clouds. Soon, in the distance, jagged streaks of lightning cut across the dreary sky. Clever Clover quickened his pace.

As he neared the bottom of the mountain and began to cross the huge prairie that gave the Flatlands its name, Clever Clover was pelted by huge, cold drops of rain. He pulled the brim of his fedora low over his face and plodded westward through the falling rain. Picking up strength as it blew across the plains, the wind became wicked, driving the raindrops hard into Clever Clover's body. The bad weather slowed Clever Clover's progress so that he was forced to pitch his tent for the night before reaching the digsite. By the time he had fought the wind and the rain to get his tent set-up, he was too exhausted to eat. He snuggled into his sleeping bag and fell asleep, serenaded by the moaning of the wind and the crashing of thunder. His last thought before falling asleep was of his friends back home in Friendship Gardens.

* * *

Waking early to the steady beat of raindrops on his tent, Clever Clover moaned as he remembered where he was and the miles he yet had to travel to get to his destination before 8 AM. A rumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten since lunchtime yesterday, so he took time to eat one of the granola bars that Berry Bright had so thoughtfully provided. Then he packed up and again headed to the west through the cold falling rain.

As the morning grew lighter, Clever Clover was finally able to see the camp where he was due to report. As he grew closer, he could see a crowd of ponies already gathered, so he hurried to join them only to hear, "So that's your instructions, ponies. Now get to work!"

Clever Clover watched as the group broke up and moved off to different areas of the dig site. The rain was still falling, making plopping noises as it fell into numerous puddles across the muddy terrain. He stood glued to the spot as if his hooves were made of cement. Who should he turn to? Which of these ponies was the crew chief? What should he do? None of the ponies looked in his direction as they plodded through the rain to their assignments.

Suddenly, a voice boomed out, "What are you standing around for?"

Looking to the source of the unfriendly words, Clever Clover's heart sunk at his first glimpse of the boss for this operation. A stocky brown pony with mane and tail of orange was glaring at him. Clever Clover gulped and began explaining. "I'm from Friendship Gardens and was slowed by the rain so I arrived too late for the instructions...."

The stocky pony stamped his hoof impatiently. "Late, were you! That's no excuse! Now I have to waste my time to go over everything again!"

Clever Clover meekly followed the pony, whose hat bore the name SARGE, to an area set aside for living quarters.

"You can set your tent up here when you get time. As for your food, you can purchase it for two grainlets a day. Right now I want you to get to work clearing brush from the north edge of this site. You did bring your own tools?"

"Yes, sir," replied Clever Clover, relieved that he could now get to work. He dug his kit out of his backpack and went to the brushy area Sarge had indicated. Several other ponies were already busy cutting down the bushes and brambles, but the wind and rain made conversation impossible. Clever Clover set to work. "At least," he thought to himself, "some hard work will help warm me up!"

* * *

By lunchtime, all the ponies were more than ready to stop and eat. After washing the mud off his aching body, Clever Clover stood in line for food. When he reached the head of the line, he held out two jangles.

"Sorry, pony!" the cook informed him. "We don't take jangles here."

Clever Clover lowered his head and moved off to the spot where he'd set his equipment. Fortunately, Berry Bright had included a generous supply of granola bars, so Clever Clover munched down one for lunch. By this time the rain was easing up, and Clever Clover hoped the weather would improve.

After clearing more brush throughout the afternoon, Clever Clover was exhausted when quitting time came. He felt very lonely as he moved off to set up his tent. When he was finished with that, he built a campfire to stay warm and nibbled on a granola bar. He wondered what he'd do if they ran out before he received his first pay in grainlets.

Clever Clover had just stood up, planning to crawl into his sleeping bag early, when he heard voices coming his way. Two ponies came up to his campfire and smiled at him. One, a pale green pony with sky blue mane and tail, introduced himself, "Hi! My name is Dandy Digger, and this is my co-worker, Sunflower."

Sunflower was aptly named as she was a brilliant yellow with green mane and tail. She held out a hamburger and a cup of cocoa to Clever Clover.

"My name is Clever Clover and I'm from Friendship Gardens," Clever Clover hastily informed them. "Is this food for me?" He suddenly realized how famished he was for some hot food.

"Sure is," replied Dandy Digger. "Cook told us you didn't have grainlets to purchase food, so we thought you might be hungry."

"You thought right! Thanks!" Clever Clover took the food and started eating. He motioned with a hoof for Dandy Digger and Sunflower to sit down. When he'd finished eating, he offered each of them a granola bar and told them about Berry Bright and his other friends back home. Just talking about them made him feel warm inside and a little less lonely.

After sharing some time around the campfire, Dandy Digger and Sunflower finally took their leave.

"Work starts early in the morning," yawned Dandy Digger. "Oh, and by the way, here's a loan of twelve grainlets for the rest of the week. You can pay me back on pay day."

"Wow! You'd do that for me?" asked Clever Clover.

"Of course," Dandy Digger explained. "Most of us have worked at sites in the Flatland before, but we know it takes some adjusting for a newcomer. See you in the morning."

* * *

When morning came and Clever Clover stuck his head out of the tent, the birds were singing and the sun was rising over the eastern horizon. As he stretched, he thought of Friendship Gardens and the friends he'd left behind. He wouldn't be seeing them for four more weeks. But his heart felt glad because of the warmer day; at least now the work would be more pleasant.

Then Dandy Digger and Sunflower came by on their way to breakfast. "Come join us," called Sunflower. "Pancakes and sausages are on the menu today!"

"Great," smiled Clever Clover, "I'm starving!" And he fell into step with his two new Flatland pony friends.

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