Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter Eighteen
written by Sugarberry

Hood instinctively reached for the door handle and tried to open the aperture, but it was shut fast. He held unto the handle and closed his eyes, waiting for them to adjust to the dusky darkness of the interior of the shed. How had this happened? Shasta had seemed so gentle and caring that Hood had not expected her involvement with her brother's plans. It had taken him completely by surprise to end up their prisoner.

Leaning his shoulder into the door, Hood pushed with all his might, but the wood was heavy and firm. Remembering how flimsy the building had looked from the outside, he began feeling his way along the rough inside walls. Although he could barely see in the evening darkness, he got the impression that the interior of this building, at least, had seen some repair work in the not too distant past. The lighter color of the new boards was faintly visible against the utter blackness of the old lumber. And the smell of sawdust still clung to the rough edges.

Hood began to theorize. Whatever their plans involved, they needed a sturdy building that wouldn't attract the attention of the passing hikers or of Checker. But what were they trying to accomplish? What did they do with the produce they had taken from innumerable households in Woodlawn?

Hood was growing agitated as his total confinement became more real to him. He pounded on the door and on random areas of the walls, but nothing happened. Reaching as high as he could, he was just barely able to touch the rafters over his head. At one point, his hoof brushed something brittle that rustled at his touch; a release of fragrance reminded him of the lavender cologne his mother wore, and he realized that a dried bunch of that herb was hanging from the wooden beams to dry-- probably some that Shasta had gathered.

Usually these old out buildings are full of junk left behind from the ponies who had made the farm their home. What had become of all those mementos of generations past? Hood pondered. If Bilberry and Shasta had emptied the building for their own use, they had now cleaned out their own things as Hood found absolutely nothing to help him effect an escape.

Then it came to him. If they've cleaned out this shed, they are probably planning to abandon this place entirely. Where does that leave me? Hood felt his way to a dry corner, and slid to the ground. He thought back to his parting with Laser and Puzzle. How he wished he had told them to get in touch with Checker, and alert him to possible trouble. But I didn't expect trouble, Hood rationalized to himself.

Who would miss me? Hood continued to muse. Dreamy, certainly. But she'd just chalk my absence up to my untrustworthy disposition. Rosy Bells wouldn't be too concerned, as she was capable of closing the shop. She'd assume that the foals and I were having an extended escapade. Moonglow might be surprised that I didn't accompany the foals home; but she has enough of her own worries to keep her occupied. I might be in for a long wait, he decided.

He stood up and repeated his useless hammering on the door, followed by nervous pacing across the ten-foot length of his prison. A rustling in the peak of the roof informed him that he was not entirely alone. Some high-pitched squeaks identified his cellmate as a bat, and Hood could make out a hole in one end of the roof through which the winged creature took off in search of supper.

Occasionally, Hood was conscious of a thump from the direction of the farmhouse, and he assumed that Bilberry and Shasta were finishing up details of covering their tracks. They knew that Checker was close to uncovering their secrets. Where would they go from here... to some other unsuspecting town to begin anew their circle of theft?

Hood returned to his corner and made himself comfortable. His hip was still tender and sore, but Shasta's first aid kept the pain to a minimum. By daylight, I'll be able to see the weak spots of this shed and break out. He forced his thoughts onto a positive path.

As he listened to the night sounds around him-- the chirping of the crickets, the hoot of the owl, the gnawing of a rodent-- he relaxed and found his predicament bearable. His mind wandered back to the campouts he and his dad went on when he was a foal Laser's age. Those times had become some of his favorite memories.

He smiled as he recollected the night a skunk had invited itself into his tent. He had thought he would surely end up permeated with the skunk's vile-smelling spray, but the fluffy visitor had only sniffed curiously at the contents of the tent and then had just as suddenly gone on his way.

Remembering times with his dad turned Hood's thoughts to Bilberry and Shasta. If Sassafras had not been with them on their move to Shore Town, then the two would have grown up with their dad. Did Meadow Minder know what the two of them were up to? Or, for that matter, was he actively involved? After all, this was his land; he certainly would have remained tied to it even across the time and distance of his years at Shore Town.

The melody of nature eventually overpowered Hood's senses, and he fell asleep to dream of a simpler time when he was a carefree foal frolicking down a forest path in the company of his father.

The sound of splintering wood crashed through Hood's slumber like a reliving of his earlier encounter with Bilberry, so much so that he thought he was only dreaming. But the scream that followed the crash was definitely real, and Hood jumped to his hooves.

He had no idea how long he had slept, but a portion of the moon was visible through the bat's entrance hole. Hood stood silently, listening intently for some clue as to what was going on outside his place of confinement. It sounded as if more boards had fallen after the original noise that had awaken Hood. As he became more fully aware, he was sure that the commotion had come from the house. Had more flooring fallen through? And the scream... was Shasta the victim this time?

His inability to do anything for Shasta infuriated him worse than being locked up on his own account. He began pacing again, reviewing his options-- which remained zero.

Suddenly, Hood became aware of hoofbeats coming quickly toward the shed, and of a key turning in the lock. As the door opened, Shasta's frantic voice cut through the blackness. "Hood! Hood! You've got to help me!"

The beam from the lantern she held wavered across the space of the shed, and momentarily blinded the stallion. "Shasta! What happened?"

"It's Bilberry!" she cried. "The stairway collapsed! Hurry, Hood! I need your help!" Literally pulling Hood along behind her, Shasta led him to the stairs from which the three of them had exited the basement of the old house just hours before. Now a gaping hole existed halfway down the incline of steps.

"He's buried under boards and stuff," Shasta sobbed as she directed the lantern's light down the hole. "And he hasn't responded to my calls."

Edging his way cautiously down the upper three steps that still remained intact, Hood assessed the situation. The stairway, open to the basement on his right, was supported by one post stretching from the floor to the ceiling. Grasping on to the post, Hood lowered himself to the floor, carefully setting his hooves onto the accumulated debris that now littered this area of the basement.

With Shasta shining the light from above, Hood was just barely able to see glimpses of Bilberry's green body covered in the splintered wood from the stairs and broken mortar that had come loose from the rock wall that edged the left side of the stairwell. Moving as quickly as he could without causing a further collapse onto the unconscious stallion, Hood began moving boards from the motionless body of Bilberry. It's like a life or death game of pick-up sticks, crossed Hood's thoughts.

As he worked, Hood began to realize the seriousness of the case. Bilberry was in dire need of medical assistance, which-- Hood had no doubt here-- Shasta would be able to provide; however, there was no way that he and Shasta could handle Bilberry by themselves to get him out of this dusty, collapsing cellar.

"Is there any other way to get out of here?" Hood yelled to Shasta.

"No, this is the only exit," Shasta groaned in a misery of helplessness.

"We are going to need help."

"Who? Where could I go?" Shasta screamed.

"Head for Woodlawn," Hood instructed her. "I'm sure you know the paths better than I would in the dark. Do you know where the police station is?"

"Yes," Shasta responded, in control of her emotions now that she had a purpose to fulfill.

"Hurry there, Shasta, and tell them what happened. They'll know what to do."

The moon was high in the sky, casting its subdued light over the landscape. "I'll leave you the lantern, "Shasta called. "Can you reach it?"

Shasta laid down on her stomach and stretched her foreleg holding the lantern toward Hood. Bits of sawdust and mortar rained down on Hood, and for a split second he thought he, Shasta, and Bilberry would all three be in the same boat; but he caught hold of the lantern and lowered it to the floor. "You'll need my canteen of water, too," Shasta said, lifting it from its place around her neck and dangling it through the hole. Then Shasta eased herself off the steps and out into the clear.

"I'll be back as soon as I can!" she promised. "Just take good care of Bil-boy." With a broken sob, Shasta set off on the river path to Woodlawn.

Working with renewed fervor as he got closer to the wounded stallion, Hood soon had removed the last of the rubble that had landed on top of Bilberry. Feeling for a pulse, Hood breathed a sigh of relief as he caught the rhythm of a heartbeat.

Focusing the lantern across Bilberry's prone body, Hood observed a nasty bump on the stallion's forehead. Using a scarf that Shasta had tied to the canteen, Hood applied a wet compress to the swollen area. Then he searched for further wounds. Finding a bleeding gash across Bilberry's thigh, Hood tore the scarf in half and used part of it to clean away the dust and dirt. The laceration was still bleeding, and Hood applied pressure to it in hopes of stopping the flow.

Minor scrapes had crisscrossed the green body with scratches, but none seemed more serious than the one on the thigh. Hood wished that Shasta was here to administer first aid, yet he knew her familiarity with the area under the cover of darkness would serve to get the needed personnel to Bilberry's side more quickly than Hood's bumbling steps over the uneven terrain.

He rubbed a hoof over his injured left hip from his collapsing experience earlier in the day. His frenzied activity had aggravated the wound so that now as he sat quietly at Bilberry's side, it throbbed in uneasy spasms of pain.

As he freshened the scarf piece on Bilberry's forehead, the stallion stirred slightly and whispered, "Shasta".

"Bilberry? Can you hear me?" Hood gained hope from this first sign of consciousness. "Shasta is okay. She's gone to get help."

A tremor seemed to race through Bilberry's body. Does 'help' mean trouble to this transgressor of the law? Hood wondered. He bathed cool water across Bilberry's face and down his neck, hoping that Bilberry would not slip back into unconsciousness. Hurry, Shasta, he mentally begged of the young mare. Hurry for Bilberry's sake!

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