Starcross was a small pony of slender frame. Her pale pink coat was marked with five blue stars in the shape of a cross on her rump. Her long yellow-streaked green hair blew across her face. She brushed aside her stray locks as she strode past the cop, as though she hadn’t a care in the world. Truthfully, she was quite concerned since she had committed the crime that the cop was responding to. She grinned as the officer didn’t give her a second glance. Once she rounded the corner, she sped up to a trot. She was only a couple of blocks from the trailer park where her gypsy clan lived.
At the park, she found her cousin Zuggy leaning against a tree, his head hung low. “Hey, Zugg. What’s up?”
“It’s yer pop. He’s dying.”
“Papa? No!” Starcross burst into tears and rushed off to her family’s trailer. “Papa! Papa, where are you?” She ran right into the arms of Sylva, an aunt.
“Be calm, child. Your father is waiting for you in his bedroom. Come.” Sylva led Starcross to her father’s bedside.
“Papa, what happened?”
“Starcross, I’m sorry. I’ve been hiding how sick I’ve become. I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Papa, don’t speak. You need to rest.”
“No, my child. I need to talk to you before I die.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“You need to hear this, my child; or should I say just ‘child’, for you are not truly mine.”
“No, Father. You are ill. You don’t know what you are saying.”
“But I do, child. My wife and I could not have children of our own, so we took you from a park where you played. We were desperate to have a family and were not thinking straight.”
“No! That cannot be! Father, you are ill.”
“Silence, child. The pendant you wear about your neck, your silver teardrop. You were wearing that the day we took you. It will lead you back to your true home.”
“But this is my true home, here, with you.”
“No, child. You must not think like that anymore. You must find your true past, and your true future. Farewell, my child.”
“Papa. Papa! No, Papa! Don’t be gone. Please Papa, don’t die.” Starcross collapsed onto her father’s bed, sobbing.
Sylva layed her forehoof on Starcross’ shoulder. “There, there, child. You should lie down.”
* * *
The next day, Starcross awoke from a troubled sleep. “Papa! Where are you, Papa!” She threw off the sheets and ran to her father’s bedroom. She poked her head through the door. “Papa?” But the room was empty. She wandered toward the living room. “Papa?”
But only Aunt Sylva was present to greet her, a black shawl about her shoulders. “Aunty Sylva, where is Papa?”
Sylva shook her head. “He is gone, child. Don’t you remember?”
Starcross shuddered with the realization that her father was gone. “Oh, aunty, what am I going to do? You can barely support yourself and Zuggy. I’ve no other kin to turn to. Where am I going to go?”
“You will honor your father’s last wish. Return to Dream Valley and find your true family.”
“But you are my family. Even if my blood is from Dream Valley, my family is here.”
“We will always be with you, child. But think of your birth parents. For the past fifteen years they have not known if you were alive or dead, well or ill, happy or sad. Go to them and bring them peace. Then you will be free to live out your life, not as a gypsy or as a settled pony, but as yourself.”
“When is the funeral?”
“The day after tomorrow I will head out for Dream Valley, though I have no money and no friends along the way. It is because Father wished it that I go, not because I hope to find anything about myself. Now, I need to go for a walk, to clear my head.”
Starcross walked slowly across the trailer park, her head hung low. There was no one around, as it was a weekday and most of the ponies that frequented the park were either at work or at school. Starcross had just graduated from high school last spring, but hadn’t been able to find any work. Her father had a good enough job to support them, but now she felt guilty. If she had been able to get a real job rather than just picking pockets, perhaps her father would not have hidden his illness and something could have been done for him. Now it was too late. Her father was gone and in two days she would be bound for Dream Valley, clear across the continent.
As she left the trailer park, not watching where she was going, Starcross bumped into Smokey, a local police officer. “Well well, if it isn’t little Starcross. It’s not like you not to be on the lookout for my kind.”
“I’m not in the mood to play cat and mouse today.” She tried to sidestep the blue-gray stallion.
But Smokey grabbed her but the foreleg. “Well then, it’s too bad I’ve got a warrant for your arrest.”
“What! No, you can’t! Not today!” The filly dropped to her knees. “Please let me go until tomorrow afternoon. I promise I’ll turn myself in then!”
“You shouldn’t have made plans after swiping that money from Mrs. Pear.”
“If I’d have known…” Starcross burst into tears.
“C’mon now. This isn’t gonna work on me. I’ve heard ‘em all.”
“But my papa died last night,” she sobbed.
“I see. I think I should talk to your aunt.” The two ponies walked back into the trailer park. Aunt Sylva met them at the door.
“What trouble have you gotten yourself into now, child?”
“She stole seven jangles from Mrs. Pear. I’m going to have to take her down to the station.”
“But her father passed away last night. Would it be possible to make arrangements for her to attend the funeral tomorrow?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
* * *
Starcross spent the night crying in a cell at the jailhouse.
Chapter 2: The Road
Starcross cried the night away in the jail cell. Her father had died, but not before telling her that he was not her father. And she had let her guard down as a result. Now that she was in jail, she couldn’t make the trip to Dream Valley to find out if what her father had said was true.
* * *
The next morning, Officer Smoky and Starcross’ aunt Sylva came to the cell door. “Good morning, child,” said Sylva. “Officer Smoky has agreed to let you out for the funeral, but he will be chaperoning you.”
“Aunty Sylva, I’m sorry for causing so much trouble. I…I’ll behave myself. I promise.”
“I know you will. Now we’ve got to get you home to get ready for the funeral.”
Office Smoky opened the cell. The three ponies walked to the trailer park.
* * *
The sky was gray as the ponies gathered for the funeral. Starcross, Sylva, Zuggy, Smoky, and most of the ponies from the trailer park looked on as the casket was carried to the grave. There were a few other ponies there who weren’t from the park, mostly business owners who Starcross’ father had worked for; Mrs. Pear was among them. They gathered around the grave to hear the priest’s blessing.
“Guthry was a good pony and we are all better for having known him. He loved our community…”
Starcross was too sad to listen to the priest’s words. Her mind was full of doubt and fear over what her father had told her on his death bed. She wondered what answers awaited her in Dream Valley. She wondered if she would ever have the chance to seek those answers.
And then it was over. Her father’s casket was lowered into the ground. Aunt Sylva cried. Starcross realized that her eyes were dry. She hadn’t cried.
As the crowd dispersed, Mrs. Pear came over to Starcross, Aunt Sylva, and Smokey. “Starcross, I’m sorry about your father, and, well… I’ve decided to forgive you. I’m dropping the charges. Officer Smokey, I know it will take some time to do the paperwork, but do you think you could let her go right now? She’s suffered enough for one day.”
Starcross couldn’t believe what she was hearing. A moment ago her father’s dying wish had been beyond her grasp, but now it seemed easily within her grip. She felt the tears welling up in her eyes.
Smoky shook his head. “I don’t know. I could get in trouble with my boss.”
Aunt Sylva put her forehoof on Smoky’s shoulder. “Everyone on the police force knew and respected Guthry. I’m sure they’d understand.”
“Yeah, I guess. But, Mrs. Pear, you’ll have to come right down to the station with me and take care of that paperwork.”
“Thank you!” Starcross sobbed.
* * *
The cold rain came down hard as Starcross galloped across the field. She was almost to the next town, where she could hopefully find someplace warm and dry to sleep. The streets of the town were deserted. The local ponies were huddled in their homes, waiting for the weather to improve. Starcross skulked through the streets, looking for any shelter from the storm. When she reached the town square, she found a gazebo. It provided little shelter from the wind-borne rain, but it was better than nothing.
Shortly after Starcross had settled into the relative shelter of the gazebo, another pony came galloping up the steps onto the gazebo. He shook the rain from his coat and threw off his hood. Looking around, he noticed Starcross huddled in the corner. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. I didn’t get you wet, did I?”
Starcross smiled shyly. “No, not really. I was already pretty wet.”
“Well that’s good to hear… not that you’re wet, I mean…”
“I think I understand. By the way, my name’s Starcross.”
“I’m Will. Nice to meet you. So, what brings you out on such a fine day?”
“I’m on a trip, to Dream Valley. I’m…going to visit with family.”
“Hey, me too! Well, sort of, and in Friendship Gardens, not Dream Valley. But they’re right next to each other. We could keep each other company on the road.”
“I don’t know. I prefer to fend for myself.”
“Come on, the trip will go faster is you’ve got someone to talk to.”
“I’m not in any hurry. In fact, I’m not really looking forward to this reunion. But my Papa, he wanted…”
“Hey Starcross, are you okay?”
Starcross was huddled into a ball, sobbing. Will sat down next to Starcross and put his forelegs around her and comforted her until the rain stopped.
As the sun came out and began to dry the rain, Starcross, who had fallen asleep, awoke and looked around. Will still held her in his forelegs. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Starcross nodded. “Yes. Thank you. Do you know what time it is?”
“It’s late. The sun will be setting soon. We should find a better place to spend the night than here.”
“You go on, I’ll make my own arrangements.”
“Are you sure? I still think it would be a good idea to travel together.”
“No. I really appreciate what you did for me, but I have to do this on my own. Just like always.” Starcross stood up and trotted off the gazebo and across the square.
Will stood and watched her go, feeling sorry for her and helpless to do anything about it. “Well, maybe we’ll meet again some day!”
Starcross paused and smiled. “I’ll keep an eye out for you.”
* * *
Starcross spent the night in a dry, warm, though not-too-comfortable jail cell. She knew just what to do to get locked up for the night. It was cheaper than staying in a motel, and they usually gave you at least one hot meal. The next morning she set out again for Dream Valley. She didn’t want to start too early so as to give Will plenty of a head start. It wasn’t that she didn’t like him; he was probably the nicest guy she knew. But she just wanted to be left alone for the time being. Maybe after she got to Dream Valley and had met her family, she would feel like talking. Then she could look him up in Friendship Gardens.
She came to a small town shortly after midday. It looked like it would be an easy enough place to get a free room for the night, so she decided not to go any further. It would also give Will more of a lead on her. Then she could move on without worry.
The next day Starcross made good time. By nightfall, she was only half a day from Dream Valley. There was no town in sight; but the weather was nice, so tonight she would sleep under the stars.
Chapter 3: Dream Valley
Starcross stood on the outskirts of the city of Dream Valley. Somewhere in this city she would find her parents; at least, that is what the pony she knew as her father had told her on his deathbed. Now that she was alone, she had no choice but to see if his words were true. But where to look? How could she find her parents in this strange city when she had no idea what they looked like? She didn't even know their names. All she knew is that she had been taken while playing in a park. Also, her silver teardrop pendant that she wore had been hers before she was taken.
She wandered the streets of Dream Valley looking for a park. All she could do was ask if anyone knew of a little girl who had worn a pendant such as hers who had disappeared fourteen years ago. The first park she came to was empty, despite the pleasant weather. She sat down on a park bench to rest and wait to see if anyone might show up. A few children eventually passed by, but they wouldn't even have been born when she had been taken.
The next park she tried was quite crowded, mostly with baby ponies. She asked the adults if they knew anything about the pendant. But none of them knew anything. However, one gave her directions to another park on the other side of town that was frequented by families with young children. Starcross bought some lunch with some money she 'found' at the park and made her way across town. This park was less crowded. Again she asked everyone she came across about the pendant but still no one recognized it.
Starcross was just about ready to give up hope. She sat on a park bench and watched as various families enjoyed a pleasant afternoon together. She sobbed softly.
"Is something wrong?" a kind voice asked.
Starcross looked up at the stallion who had addressed her. There was a gentleness in his eyes, and sadness. She forced a smile. "I'm just a little sad. I came here to meet someone, but they never showed."
"I know what that can be like. I often come here hoping to meet someone, but in fourteen years, she's never showed up. When I saw you sitting there I thought you might be the one I was waiting for, but it's probably just an old stallion's wishful thinking."
"Fourteen years?" Starcross held up her pendant, but before she could say anything, tears welled up in the stallion's eyes and he threw his forelegs around her.
"Christine! Could it really be you?!"
"Pa...Papa? Are you my papa?"
The stallion let her go and looked into her tear-filled eyes. "Yes. That pendant belonged to your mother. When you disappeared from this park fourteen years ago, we thought we'd never see you again."
"I came back, Papa. Now you and me and Mama can be a family again!"
The stallion's head dropped. "Christine, I'm afraid your mother isn't with us anymore. A few years after you disappeared she got very sick and passed away. But not before...Christine, you have a little brother."
Starcross, or Christine, as she learned her name had been, didn't know whether to be happy or sad. She had found her true father only to learn that her mother was gone; but at the same time, she had discovered that she had a little brother. It was all so overwhelming that she collapsed and started to cry. Her father sat down next to her and put his forelegs around her.
"There, there, Christine. I know this is an awful lot to take in, but at least you're back home where you belong."
* * *
Sam, Starcross' father, took her back to his apartment. "I'm afraid we've only got two bedrooms and two beds. But I'll sleep on the couch so you can have my room until we can work out something more permanent."
"I can sleep on the couch, Papa. I'm not used to having much and I don't want to be any bother."
"It's no bother. I'm just happy to have you home."
Starcross looked around the small apartment. It was smaller than the trailer that she had been brought up in, but it was a permanent structure. It didn't look as drafty as the trailer, and probably didn't sway in the strong wind.
Sam went to the kitchenette and began fixing supper. "I don't know anything about you, Christine. What foods do you like? Christine?"
"Oh, Papa, could you call me 'Starcross'? I'm not used to 'Christine' yet."
Sam smiled. "Right. Starcross, what would you like for supper?"
"Chicken noodle soup would be good."
"I hope you don't mind canned soup. With my job, I haven't got time for anything fancy."
"That's fine. By the way, where's my brother?"
"Vega's on his way home from school. Or he should be if he hasn't gotten himself another detention."
Starcross smiled. It sounded like she and her brother were cut from the same cloth. As frightened and confused as she had been since her 'father's' death, she was finally starting to feel at peace. Maybe she was finally home for real.