"Skittle, Catkin, give it up!" Boxey groused, turning her back on her classmates and stomping away.
"Aww, Boxey, we're only funnin'," Catkin said, hurrying to overtake the high school junior, Skittle following. "It is April Fool's Day, after all."
"And you're the biggest fools of all," Boxey retorted in a sing-song voice. "Face it, nothing you two tried even came close to tricking me."
The filly accompanying Boxey smiled at Catkin, trying to take the sting out of Boxey's words. "I...I thought the piece of yarn you dropped in the b...bubbler was really a worm," she stated.
Remembering Cozzie's high-pitched scream over that incident, Catkin grimaced. "I can believe that, Cozzie."
"How about the two of you join the two of us for some ice cream?" cajoled Skittle, walking backward ahead of the girls.
Cozzie's face brightened, but Boxey only frowned. "No way. I've had enough of your foalish pranks for one day." With a toss of her head and a twitch of her tail, she left the two young stallions behind.
"S... sorry, guys," Cozzie apologized. "It... it's just that B...Boxey wanted to show me some old building where there might be a nest of b...baby raccoons."
"So that's where you're headed?" Skittle asked with interest. "Well, have fun!" He nudged Cozzie to follow Boxey and waved farewell.
"Why'd you let them go?" complained Catkin. "We still have any number of jokes to try on Boxey."
"I'm not finished with Boxey yet," grinned Skittle. "I have a plan."
* * *
"Clouds are moving in," Cozzie noted, casting a worried look to the dark western sky.
"It's supposed to rain, but not until later," Boxey soothed her friend's worry. The creamy yellow filly lifted her face to catch a warm breeze. "We've been cooped up in school all week while the days have been so mild, and now a cold front is moving through for the weekend. That's why I wanted to take this walk now."
"I guess you're right," agreed Cozzie, "but an ice cream sundae would have tasted good about now." New to the local high school, Cozzie had developed an immediate crush on Skittle; and as much as she appreciated Boxey showing her the ropes at school, she wished that her friend would have opted for a visit to the ice cream shop rather than this rather dirty walk into the countryside.
Boxey, however, was in her element. Happiest when rambling around the fields and forests outside of town, the filly shared an affinity for all the flowers, trees, and animals that she encountered. This chance to watch the blossoming of spring was too much of a temptation for her to be held back by the threat of a thunderstorm.
"I'll mix you up something tasty when we get home," Boxey promised the shy filly at her side. "I just can't wait any longer to check on the mother raccoon to see if she has had her babies yet."
Cozzie flinched as a bright orange streak of lightening tore across the blackening sky, but there was nothing she could do other than abandon Boxey and head back to town herself. Surely, she was not brave enough for that!
* * *
"Sis, all I'm asking you to do is call this number and put your hysterics to work," urged Skittle.
"Why?" queried Trinket, looking from her brother to Catkin with cautious eyes. True, there was no love lost between her and Boxey. Trinket, several years younger, had never been able to discover why the tomboyish Boxey always garnered a cluster of ponies around her while Trinket herself- poised and very pretty... but well aware of it- managed to attract only a smattering of friends.
"If you must know, it's an April Fool's joke to get back at Boxey. Her brother will rush to save her- you know how accident prone she is- and when he finds out that she wasn't in any danger at all, he'll be madder than blazes. That'll teach her to mess with us."
"Oh," Trinket's eyes began to sparkle. "That's okay then."
The three young ponies laughed gleefully.
* * *
Forgetting their college studies for the week, Licorice sat in front of Snapper's computer playing a fast-paced, monster-packed game while Snapper watched the monitor in awe. "I can never get past this point," he said with a sigh.
Licorice leaned back while he waited for a new level to load. "You know where the ogre will be waiting, so attack first," Licorice advised his best friend.
Before Snapper could admit to always being too frightened by the ugly creature's appearance on the monitor- even knowing when to expect it- the telephone rang; he rolled his chair back to answer it. Before he had even finished saying hello, however, a frantic voice met his ear.
"Snapper... your sister! She's in terrible trouble!"
Snapper jumped to his hooves. "What happened? Where is she?"
"The old Crenshaw place! Hurry!" The phone went dead.
"What is it?" asked Licorice, his own face reflecting Snapper's anxiety.
"It's Boxey; she's in some sort of trouble at the old farmstead where that raccoon she adopted always has a litter."
"Drat the girl!" grated Licorice. "How can she get herself into these difficulties on such a regular basis?"
He and Snapper headed for the door like the wind.
* * *
"H...how do you know the r...raccoon will be here?" asked Cozzie, hesitating outside the doorway of a weathered barn that was deteriorated to the point of near collapse. In fact, Cozzie was sure that the only reason it was still standing were the trees that had grown up around its crooked walls.
"Because she's lived here since Cockleburr nursed her back to health and returned her to the wild," explained Boxey. "Her litter last year was born about this time." The filly was just ready to duck under a loose board dangling from the lintel when a flash of lightening severed the sky and a roar of thunder caused the old building to quake. Almost immediately, the wind picked up and large raindrops cascaded earthward.
"Quick! Get inside!" called Boxey, reaching to pull the terror-stricken Cozzie into the ruins. "We'll be soaked!"
The two fillies stumbled into the relative shelter of the old barn and stood hugging one another until their eyes became accustomed to the dreary interior. It was only when she could see clearly in the low light that Boxey exclaimed, "Oh, my! The hay mow's collapsed!"
"We're going to die!" wailed Cozzie.
"It didn't collapse just now," chided Boxey. "Racky used the platform for her nest. I hope she wasn't up there when it did come down." Boxey edged closer to the mangled heap of straw and boards with Cozzie gripping her foreleg as to a lifeline. "Oh! That explains it." Boxey pointed to an angled line in the semidarkness. "It looks like a tree fell over sometime during the winter and crashed through the roof, taking the hay mow with it." She whistled softly. "Racky, are you here?"
Both of the girls listened carefully and only then became conscious of a howling sound in the distance that seemed to be moving closer. The wind seemed to have risen and was battering the flimsy boards that had once been a solid shelter. The rain had now been joined by hail that hit against the shaky structure in a terrifying staccato pattern. Over it all, the howling seemed to be growing louder, more intense.
Boxey's eyes grew huge as awareness dawned. This was not simply a thunderstorm. She tugged the now crying Cozzie toward the tree trunk that cut across their perceived shelter and pulled her underneath just as the keening sound seemed to envelope them.
* * *
"I didn't think the old barn was this far out!" shouted Snapper over the rising wind and the falling rain.
"The wind is slowing us down," returned Licorice, his words caught by a violet gust that left both stallions breathless.
"It's getting dark, too," Snapper panted.
"Too dark," Licorice muttered, feeling uneasy as much because of the storm as for Boxey's current misfortune... whatever it was. The distinctive thud of hailstones hitting the surroundings did nothing to lesson his fear.
A sudden flash of light from the boiling storm clouds momentarily brightened the landscape. The coppice of trees that surrounded the abandoned barn was outlined by the flash, but it also illuminated something much more ominous... a swirling funnel of cloud dipping on a collision course with planet earth.
"Oh my God!" Licorice whispered as he and Snapper were once again plunged into darkness. "It's a tornado, Snapper! Hit the ground!"
Pulling the unsuspecting stallion to earth with him, Licorice rolled the two of them into a shallow ditch as the roar of the funnel encompassed them.
* * *
As suddenly as it had begun, the storm ended, moving onward, taking its fury back to the sky. Licorice and Snapper staggered to their hooves, shaken but uninjured. Brighter sky to the west revealed that some of the trees in the area had not been able to withstand the high winds and now lay quivering on the ground.
"Boxey!" Snapper shouted, setting off in the direction of the copse that had moments ago been silhouetted against the storm clouds. Licorice was close behind him, but his stomach turned over as he realized that the trees and the barn were no longer there.
* * *
Stunned by the ferocity of the storm that had engulfed them, Boxey and Cozzie clung to one another under the shelter of the sturdy tree trunk that had lost its battle with nature during the past winter when rain had turned to ice and weighted the northern half of its double trunk to such an extent that it had toppled onto the unsuspecting building.
"I...I think so," Boxey answered. She stuck her head out from under the tree trunk and looked around in the increasing light slanting from the west. "Cozzie... the walls of the barn are gone."
Cozzie turned her head. "The trees, too."
"But we're still here," Boxey breathed.
The two fillies hugged one another more tightly than ever and tears ran down Cozzie's face. "I...I was s...so s...scared, Boxey."
Lifting her head, Boxey listened to the new sound. "Someone's coming for us!" She released her hold on Cozzie and carefully slithered out from under the sheltering tree.
"Boxey, where are you?"
The despair that Boxey heard in her brother's voice touched her soul. "Snapper! Over here." She waved her hoof high in the air and nearly jumped for joy. "Cozzie, it's Snapper and Licorice! What are they doing out here, I wonder?"
Slowly, Cozzie came out from under the leaning trunk. "I...I'm, just glad they're here 'cause I don't th...think I can wa...walk." She collapsed onto the ground just as Snapper and Licorice reached them.
* * *
"How did you know where to find us?" Boxey asked her brother as he and Licorice guided Cozzie away from what used to be the old barn. Now, the only thing left was the collapsed tree trunk which had remained in position, providing shelter for the fillies because its top had jammed into a crotch of the only other tree of the copse still standing.
"We got a phone call," Snapper said, then looked puzzled. "What kind of trouble were you in before the tornado came through?"
"Trouble? We weren't in trouble," Boxey retorted. "I was looking for Racky."
Licorice looked back toward the spot where the barn had rested. "Was she there?"
"I...I don't know. She didn't respond to my voice."
Still perplexed, Snapper rephrased his question. "Someone called to tell us you were in some terrible trouble, but that was before the tornado moved through. Who knew where you'd be?"
Giving it some serious thought, Boxey finally replied, "No one."
"B...Boxey, I...I told C...Catkin and S...Skittle."
"Was it a guy that called?" Boxey wanted to know.
"No," Snapper informed his sister. "It was a shrill female voice telling me you were in trouble. Whoever it was hung up without identifying herself. "
"Shrill, huh? And the call came before anyone knew about the tornado?" Boxey's face twisted into a smirk. "You know what day it is, right?"
"Friday," Snapper said.
"April first," Licorice supplied.
"Exactly. April Fool's Day. And Catkin and Skittle were trying to get me to fall for one of their lame jokes all day, but they never succeeded. And Skittle just happens to have a sister with a piercingly high voice." She grinned at her friends. "I'll bet you anything they were setting me up so that you two would race out here and find nothing wrong and blame the entire incident on me." She giggled, then frowned. "That means they put the two of you in danger unnecessarily; wait until I get my hooves on the three of them!"
"Hmm... Let's give this some thought," smiled Licorice. "Maybe we can give them some payback they won't be expecting."
* * *
"Skittle, is that you?"
"Boxey? You sound like you've been cryin'."
"Oh, Skittle. I have been crying. It's been so awful."
Skittle turned to Catkin and Trinket and grinned. "Has your brother been on your case again?"
"No!" Boxey wailed. "Snapper and Licorice are missing! You heard about the tornado, didn't you?"
Skittle's face blanched. "T...tornado? What tornado?"
"The one the touched down just south of town."
"Th...the old Crenshaw place is south of town."
"That's where it happened," sobbed Boxey. "Someone saw the two of them running in that direction just before the storm hit."
"Weren't you going there after school?"
"I had planned to, but Cozzie didn't think we should go out of town with the rain clouds moving in. I wish I had gone so I'd be..." A heart-rending sob escaped her. "...missing, too!"
Jumping to his hooves, Skittle covered the receiver and hissed at Catkin and Trinket. "A tornado hit just where we sent Snapper and Licorice and now they're missing!" Trinket's mouth dropped open and Catkin put a hoof to his stomach as if he felt sick.
Turning back to the phone, Skittle asked, "B...Boxey, are you sure that's where they went? Maybe they're just at the ice cream shop... or... or the movies."
"No, Skittle, we've looked everywhere. They're just gone... sucked up in that horrid tornado cloud and heaven only knows where they... Oh, Skittle, this is so awful!!!" the filly blubbered.
"Settle down, Boxey. They can't be gone... they simply can't!"
"I'll never see my brother again!" Boxey wailed into the receiver so loudly that even Catkin and Trinket across the room could hear it. Trinket shivered and Catkin covered his face. Skittle was mortified.
"What do you want us to do, Boxey? How can we help you?"
"J...just a minute," Boxey sniffed, and Skittle heard her blow her nose. Then, in a small voice, she asked, "Is Catkin there? Can he hear me?"
Quickly, Skittle gestured for Catkin to join him at the telephone.
"Catkin? Skittle?" Boxey's voice was drained. "Are you both there?"
"Yes," the two answered simultaneously.
"April Fool's!" four voices boomed through the line, sending the two stallions crashing backwards while from the dropped receiver came the riotous sound of uncontrolled laughter.