A Friend In Need
written by Sugarberry

"What a gorgeous day for a picnic," exclaimed Spunky as she bustled around the kitchen. She had just removed a perfectly browned peach pie from the oven and set it on the open windowsill to cool. Now she had to clean up the kitchen and wash the dirty dishes. Just as she stuck her hooves into the hot, sudsy water, the door swung open and a very sad-faced Oakly entered the room.

"Why so glum?" asked Spunky, smiling at her antlered friend.

Oakly groaned. "I had picked a big bunch of sweetcorn early this morning so we could eat it at our picnic. By then I was so warm and sweaty, I took a shower. Now when I went out to the garden to fetch the ears, they were gone!"

"Gone?" questioned Spunky. "Maybe Zig Zag brought it in for you."

"That's what I hoped had happened," sighed Oakly. "But I asked, and she didn't take it."
"Well, let's have another look," said Spunky as she headed out the door. On the way to the garden, they met Zig Zag who was definitely not in a good mood.

"This is disgusting," Zig Zag spat out. "I left my freshly picked strawberries for five minutes to look around the corn patch for Oakly's missing corn, only to find," and here Zig Zag stomped her hoof, "nothing. No corn, and no strawberries when I got back to the berry patch!"

"You've got to be kidding," both Spunky and Oakly exclaimed at the same time.

"I wish I were kidding," Zig Zag angrily answered. "All my back-breaking labor wasted on nothing."

After circling the corn patch and the strawberry patch one more time, the three friends returned to the kitchen.

"Cheer up, everyone," said Spunky. "At least we still have the peach pie to eat at the picnic." And she flourished her hoof toward the windowsill-- toward a very empty windowsill.

"Yikes!" screeched Spunky. "My pie!" She ran to the window, looking down to the ground in hopes of seeing the pie sitting there. But there was no sign of her beautiful pie.

"What's happening around here?" she asked of Oakly and Zig Zag, as a tear slowly slid down her pretty face.

"What are you guys doing standing around on this wonderful picnic day?" asked Kingsley as he arrived with a huge plate full of chocolate-chip cookies. "Let's get the food packed and be on our way."

"Yeah, let's move!" called Edgar from beyond the door. He was carrying an ice-cold jug of lemonade in his trunk.

Cha Cha entered the kitchen carrying a yummy-smelling spicecake with cream cheese frosting, followed by Creamsicle with her flaky crescent rolls, and Cutesaurus with a watermelon shell heaped high with melon balls, green and purple grapes, blueberries, and orange slices.

The newcomers stopped short when they saw the gloomy faces of Spunky, Zig Zag, and Oakly. Kingsley laid a gentle paw across Zig Zag's back and queried, "What's wrong here?"

Oakly was the first to speak. "Someone has taken the strawberries, the corn, and the pie that we had for the picnic." Spunky and Zig Zag nodded in agreement.

Cutesaurus gaped in amazement. "If someone took the food, that means we have a thief about! That can't be possible."

"Well, if it's not a thief, out food disappeared into thin air," Spunky bitterly stated.

"Did you see any signs of who might have done this?" questioned Cha Cha.

"Nothing to see," pouted Zig Zag. "Our food was just gone."

"It won't hurt to look again," philosophized Kingsley. "Where did the theft occur?"

"My pie was on the open windowsill," said Spunky, brightening a bit at the thought that maybe something could be done to solve the mystery. "But you can see that there is no clue to help us."

"Hmm," murmured Kingsley as he peered closely at the windowsill. "There is something here. He turned, holding some short, black hairs. "These were stuck on a nail; any idea what or who they came from?"

"Well, none of us, that's for sure," giggled Cha Cha.

"Let's go down to the corn field," instructed Cutesaurus. "Maybe we will have more luck there."

So the entire group headed to the garden, to search for some sign to help them, but to no avail. There was nothing at either the corn patch or the strawberry bed to point them in the right direction.

"We can't do anything more for now," said Edgar. "Shouldn't we just go on our picnic as planned? We still have a fair amount of food to eat. Can't waste this beautiful weather!"

So with the food in hand and a large picnic basket full of accessories, the Pony Friends headed for their favorite picnic spot-- a level, grassy area along the Shimmering Stream. It was a perfect spot with the creek to swim in, and the grassy area was backed by tall, shady trees. Flowering bushes in pink and purple dotted the landscape; and butterflies bustled from flower to flower, adding their delicate charm to the scene.

Spunky immediately opened the picnic basket and drew out the red and white checkered table cloth which she and Oakly laid on the grass. Creamsicle set out the plates, glasses, and flatware. The food was set on the center of the cloth.

"How about a swim before we eat?" suggested Zig Zag. "Last one in is a rotten egg!"

With screams and peals of laughter, the eight friends headed full-speed for the stream, aptly named for the shimmering ripples reflecting the sunbeams. Creamsicle was the first to jump in and Cutesaurus teasingly argued with Edgar over which of them had been the last to make it into the refreshing water. They all had a rollicking time swimming, splashing, diving, and floating-- enjoying each other's company as the best of friends.

"My stomach's growling," Kingsley finally shouted. "Who's ready to eat?"

It was unanimous that the time had come to enjoy the main purpose for this picnic-- food. So with appetites ready for the best, they headed to the eating area. Edgar was in the front (it was amazing how fast he could move when food was involved) when he suddenly stopped, causing a domino-effect back-up of bodies. Edgar bellowed, "Where's the food?" And everyone stared in amazement. The cloth was still on the ground; so were the plates and the glasses and the flatware. But the food, their tasty meal, was gone!

"I don't believe this," sputtered Spunky. "Who can be behind this?"

At that instant, Kingsley sprang toward the trees. "I'm sure I saw something move over behind those bushes. Let's check it out!"

So as if one unit, they headed to the spot Kingsley indicated. As they looked around the bushes, Cha Cha called out, "Here's a cresent roll! Whoever it was, they came this way!"

Further into the trees, Oakly found another roll. She grinned sheepishly, "Isn't this the way Hansel and Gretel marking their path? I hope we don't run into any witches!"

Kingsley took over the lead. With his acute sense of smell, he could follow the scent of the stolen food. It led them deeper and deeper into the forest; the trees became thicker as they went, and they had to dodge branches and vines.

But unexpectedly, the dense trees opened up into a small, grassy clearing; the Pony Friends spilled out onto it like water from a spout. And then they stopped, wide-eyed in amazement.

At the edge of the clearing loomed a huge, ancient oak tree and under its spreading branches sat a family of racoons surrounded by the missing food. But these were no ordinary raccoons-- everyone knows raccoons are brown with black masks and black tail stripes. And these furry animals did indeed have black masks and stripes, but no brown for them. The daddy racoon was splendid in aqua fur; mommy was elegantly clad in purple. And the three cubs were enough to rival the rainbow (or an Easter egg) for one was pink, one was yellow, and one was blue.

"Well, I'll be..." was all Kingsley could say. The friends stared at the raccoons, and the raccoons stared back.

Finally, Cutesaurus found her voice. "Excuse me, but I think that's our food you're preparing to eat."

All eyes dropped to survey the array of food-- Spunky's pie, Zig Zag's strawberries, Oakly's corn, Cha Cha's cake, Edgar's lemonade, Creamsicle's rolls (what were left), Cutesaurus' fruit, and Kingsley's cookies.

The daddy raccoon stood up and walked bravely to face the friends. "I'm sorry if this food belongs to you and I guess it was wrong to take it without asking, but we are new to these parts and couldn't find food to eat. We just took what we came across."

Mommy raccoon came and stood beside her mate. "Please don't be angry," she pleaded. "We were very hungry; we didn't mean any harm."

By now the three little ones has shyly joined their parents, and Zig Zag reached out slowly to touch the blue baby. "Isn't he precious?" she cooed.

At that Creamsicle sat down by the pink one and touched her fur. "So soft," she whispered.

Oakly gently nuzzled the yellow baby. "I've never seen such fluffy little creatures, except maybe Tabby's cat, Callie," she softly said.

Kingsley cleared his throat. "We are very glad to meet any new family that comes our way, and you certainly are welcome to share our food. However," and here he turned and winked at the Pony Friends, "we should do this up right. Spunky, you and Zig Zag run back and get the picnic cloth and supplies. Edgar and I will get a fire going to roast that corn. We'll have our picnic yet. And five new friends to share it with!"

Mr. and Mrs. Raccoon smiled gratefully and gathered their cubs safely out of range of the campfire. Everyone quickly did his or her part to get this long overdue meal prepared. Before they finally sat down to eat, formal introductions were made (Mr. and Mrs. Raccoon were known as Stripes and Princess; their yellow baby was named Bumble-- he did resemble a fat yellow and black bumblebee; the pink baby was Satin; and the blue baby boy was Rebel-- he had an independent spirit) and thanks was properly given.

"Yes, it was a gorgeous day for a picnic," murmured Spunky contentedly as they finished off the last morsels of food. "What better than five new friends to make it simply perfect."

"Amen," echoed the entire group.

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