Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
"Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young."
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
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Time: 7:47 A.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
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The life of an independent reporter in the era of the internet was a crazy thing, with one long hustle after another to get stories written and sold. It also would have involved starving to death if Koni had attempted to survive entirely off the proceeds, so she also had a number of side-jobs, one of which was a Canine Search Specialist. Well, technically Poppy was the employee. Koni was just the chauffeur/chef/medical officer/trainer/entertainment coordinator and best friend to the mixed-breed chocolate labrador who had a mind of his own.
Something must have gotten into Poppy's dog food this morning, because instead of waiting for a reasonable time of day to go on an early-morning run, Koni had been awakened by an enthusiastic licking to the face and that plaintive whine that indicated sudden and immediate failure of bladder control unless somebody got up right now and took him outside to water a bush. The stupid dog ran circles inside the apartment while Koni stumbled out of bed and groped for her clothes, shoes, and the most inconvenient ringing cell phone.
What she heard on the call banished all thoughts of sleep from her head. Five minutes later, her station wagon was peeling out of the driveway with Poppy loaded into the portable kennel in back.
Emergency. Lost kids. Special circumstances. Texting directions. Hurry.
Leaving the navigation to Google Maps, Koni was treating the speed limit as a bottom instead of a top as she roared up Tuttle Creek Boulevard with a brief and succinct curse for whoever decided to get themselves lost out in the outskirts of Tuttle Creek Reservoir without even giving her enough warning to get coffee. An explosion of sparkling red and blue lights in the rearview mirror made her curse again as she pulled over to the side of the road, only to see a RCPD cruiser zip by without even a pause. The same thing happened twice more, only with ambulances, and the cold feeling in the pit of her stomach grew as she tucked in behind one of them and tore up Highway K-77 at a speed that had the old Taurus station wagon straining.
In far too little time, she reached the turnoff Google indicated, but there was an officer there who flagged her down and was bellowing even before she got the window all the way down.
"Sorry, ma'am, but we've got a situation here. You're going to have to—"
"Search and Rescue," she snapped back, holding up her identification from the bugout bag she had thrown into the front seat.
"Ahh…" The cop froze with a glance over the top of her car at more flashing lights headed in their direction. "We're trying to set up a perimeter. Use channel 14 on the radio, give me your phone number and drive up this road until you hit the intersection and turn right. Keep your eyes out for injured ponies and I'll give you a call once we have a better idea where we're going to need you."
"Ponies?" Koni handed over a business card, but the officer waved her on before she could get any more clarification.
There was a farmhouse a short distance up the road, but no signs of activity despite all of the flashing lights in her rearview mirror. The intersection the police officer had seemed to indicate was more of a dry dirt track beside a hedgerow, but it lined up roughly parallel to where the flashing lights were heading. She drove the old Taurus down the track about as far as she was comfortable before parking and opening up the back. Fighting down the habit of taking the keys with her in case somebody would need to move the car while she was out searching, she shouldered her knapsack, checked her phone and radio, and opened the portable kennel with the intent of attaching Poppy's leash. The dog had other ideas, bolting past her and across the pasture at a dead run.
"Wait up, you dumb dog! Heel, Poppy! Heel!"
Whatever had triggered the half-trained labrador's instincts was far too strong and far too fast for Koni to keep up. She cursed the high probability of a stray cat or rabbit while scrambling down the narrow earthen walls of a shallow gully in the pasture, hopped over the stretch of mud at the bottom, and climbed up the other side.
"Poppy, if this is just a rabbit, you're getting dry dog food for a month!" she bellowed at the howling dog. Koni bent over for a moment to catch her breath and to wipe off some of the mud she had not quite been able to jump over, but nearly fell back into the gully at the sound of another voice.
"Excuse me! Have you seen Dinky?"
"Wha?" Koni whirled around, looking for the source of the voice, but it was not until she looked up that she spotted the speaker.
There was one long moment where all she could do was critique its appearance. Over the years, Koni had gotten into several hobbies, one of which was drawing horses. Fantastic horses with horns on their heads or wings on their back, leaping through rainbows or standing in misty forest glades. She had even sold a few of the paintings, but after accounting for the cost of supplies, she would have needed a winning lottery ticket to break even as a painter.
The coat is too pale to be a proper grey, no horses have manes that blonde, the postman's hat and uniform look totally out of place, the saddlebags are overstuffed, the wings are too small to hold it up, the eyes too big and mournful, and they don't even both point the same way.
The excited barking of Poppy broke Koni out of her trance, as well as the small, thin voice of a child crying out, "Mama! There's a dog over here! Mama?"
"I'm coming, Muffin!" The light-grey pegasus zipped away in the direction of the young voice, vanishing into a copse of green trees around the intermittent stream with a crunch and crackle of broken branches and a loud thud, which sent Poppy into a frenzy of barking again.
Koni stumbled as she began to run forward, shaking off the unreality of the hovering pegasus with the realization that the colorful specks she could see in the sky were most certainly not bald eagles from the South Tuttle spillway park. If it was an alien invasion, they were at least cute and harmless looking, although so were gremlins until they were fed after midnight.
She shouldered her way through some thick brush and eased down a cow path over to a tiny muddy puddle, even though it didn't have any cows around it at the moment. Poppy was barking vigorously at the three creatures who were in the small clearing. A few envelopes were scattered around the grey pegasus from before, who had become stuck up to her shoulders in an old hollow tree with various muffled exclamations and a vigorous struggle that indicated she was only inconvenienced for the moment. A much smaller and mud-splattered little violet unicorn was darting back and forth between the stuck pegasus and an elderly green pony, who was draped across the muddy bank and glaring at Koni with a sharp frown.
"Oh, fiddlesticks. You ain't one of them hummans that my granddaughter's been all bent out of shape about, is ya? Hep me out of this dad-blamed mud so I can go give Princess Twilight a piece of my mind."
There was something wrong about the way the elderly mare's rear leg looked, made only worse as she tried to stand and the leg twisted in the wrong direction. Koni splashed through the low water to put a hand on the little horse, calling out, "No! Down! Stay! It looks like you broke your leg. Your back leg. Your…" Swallowing once, Koni pulled out her radio and mashed down the talk button, hoping that she remembered the correct frequency for the police band the deputy had given her.
"This is Koni with Kansas Search and Rescue Dog Associates, approximately a half-mile north north-east from the K-77/Gardiner-Seacrest turnoff. I’ve got an injured patient here with a broken femur… or whatever you call that bone in a horse. She's elderly—"
"I ain’t elderly, I'm old!"
"—and in no condition to be moved without a stretcher."
Koni gave a quick glance to the pegasus, who had managed to pull her head out of the hollow tree and was sitting down, blinking those impossibly large eyes to get the dust out of them. Other than her eyes still pointing in different directions, she did not seem to be severely injured, and Koni added, "I’m in a clearing in the middle of a clump of trees with two other… ponies, neither of which appears severely injured. Tell the ambulance crew to watch their step. The brush is pretty heavy in here, over."
The radio crackled briefly and a female voice responded, "Search and Rescue, this is Captain Rietz. Ahh… You said you’re in a clearing. How is your overhead cover, over."
She glanced up at the open circle of blue sky and keyed the microphone again. "Too small for a helicopter, officer."
"Search and Rescue, please stand by."
Koni stood by as requested, eyeing the elderly green pony, who had stopped struggling against her hand and was just laying on her side while muttering. It was remarkably quiet, although her head was still whirling a mile a minute while she looked around. The little unicorn filly and the pegasus were sitting side-by-side while talking back and forth. Poppy had quit barking in exchange for a considerable amount of petting from both little horses, and Koni decided that if the dog liked them, they could not be too dangerous. Then again, Poppy had tried to make friends with the wrong end of a skunk. Twice.
"Do you want me to go get help?" asked the grey pegasus with a helpful expression just one step away from pitiful begging. "I’ll be right back," she added before Koni could take a breath.
With a whir of grey feathers sounding much like a spooked quail, the pegasus shot straight upwards, somehow managing to clip two tree branches and send a rain of leaves over everybody else in the clearing. There was something else that drifted down too, which took Koni's overloaded mind a few seconds to understand.
"Don't let 'em fall into the water!" called out the wrinkled little horse who Koni was still resting one hand on. "Ma cousin is supposed to been writtin' me for the last week, and I ain't seen none of 'em yet!"
"I'll get them, Granny Smith," declared the little pale-purple pony. The stubby horn that barely stuck out of her mane flickered with golden light, which matched a light around each of the falling letters, making them flutter off to one side and land in the tall grass instead of the water where they had been headed. "Whoops, I'll get them."
"She’s a good kid," whispered the old green pony to Koni as the little pony dived into the tall grass after the letters. "Dinky's a little odd like her mother, but she's smart as a whip." The old pony shifted positions with a pained wince. "I didn't want to make her all nervous or anything, but mah hip hurts like the dickens. I right appreciate you calling for the pegamedics on that fancy gadget of yours, but if I'm gone by the time they get here, make sure she doesn't get all worked up over it."
"Don't say that," whispered Koni over the sound of the little unicorn rustling through the tall grass. "You're going to be fine. I saw more ambulances and firetrucks on the road than I could count. It might take a chainsaw to get them through the brush, but they'll be here in just a few minutes."
The elderly pony's eyes drooped as she smiled up at Koni. They were an odd color, which was saying something for the day so far. The irises were somewhat of a reddish-orange, much like a variety of ripe apple, with a little twinkle to them that age had not dimmed. She placed her head down on the damp gravel at the edge of the small pool and sighed, giving one last futile attempt at getting her hindquarters out of the water before relaxing under Koni's hand. "I've lived a long life and seen a lot more than most ponies half my age. Didn't never think I'd see a hoomin, though."
"Well," started Koni, "I really didn't think I'd ever see a talking pony either."
"Ah really wish we had more time to talk," said the old pony, relaxing a little with a yawn.
"We've got lots of time to talk," said Koni in a rush, suddenly horribly afraid of where the conversation was headed. "I'm a freelance reporter, and I'd love to sit around and talk to you all day. I mean, you must have all kinds of stories, what with as old as you are," she added in order to keep the old mare from fading away in her sleep.
"I may be old, but I ain’t foolish enough to miss you tryin’ to poke mah buttons, you young ‘un." The old and wrinkled pony opened one eye to wink at Koni. "When you get good and into your second century, ah bet you’ll have a few wrinkles too. Lessn’ you hoomins don’t age, or something like that."
"We age," replied Koni, trying to figure out just who was trying to manipulate who in the ongoing conversation. "I’m almost thirty."
"Shucks, you ain’t barely got the yolk licked off yer egg then," said Granny Smith, shifting positions painfully in the mud. "Already got a feller and a house full o’ young ones then?"
"No!" she spluttered. "I’m still looking."
"Look fast, and strike while yer iron’s still hot. Theirs too. I reckon stallions are all the same, hoomin or not."
While waiting on who or whatever would come next, they sat there for a while. Human, dog, old mare and young filly. Dinky sat by the pile of letters, petting Poppi, while Koni sat next to the old mare, trying not to pet her. The radio crackled with police commands, mixed with the call of meadowlarks from the nearby meadow, and the low buzz from Koni’s phone.
She shifted position to get partially out of the sucking mud before pulling her phone out with her unoccupied hand. "Hi, Sheila." Koni glanced at her otherworldly companions. "Yes, I’m out in the field." Pause. "Yes, I found two of their lost ponies already." Pause. "Ponies." Pause. "Po-nees. Little talking multicolored horses." Long pause. "Look, Sheila. I’m a little busy right now. Why don’t you talk with one of them on speakerphone?"
Koni reached out as close to Dinky as she could and held out the phone. "Here you go, kid. Sheila’s with Kansas Search and Rescue Dogs. Talk into that end and listen— Oh, you’ve got it." The golden glow surrounding the android phone tingled her fingers a little as the phone took flight and floated over to the little pony, who promptly began chattering into it. "Smart kid," she remarked to Missus Smith, who had perked up a little at the strange noise.
"Town’s full of ‘em," said Granny Smith proudly. "Mah granddaughter’s the smartest of ‘em all. Her and her little friends just got their cutie marks not long ago, an’ they been so excited about it, they’s been even more active than before."
A chill breeze swept down from the treetops and made Koni suppress a shudder in the humid Kansas summer air. The whisper of wings followed, along with the blonde pegasus who plunged down through the opening in the clearing with a glad cry of, "Here they are! Watch out for the— Whoops!" The pegasus rebounded off the thickest tree surrounding the clearing and ricocheted out of sight, although her progress could be tracked by the crashing of limbs and twigs that followed her path and the ground-shaking thud afterwards.
The little unicorn seemed less than reassured by her mother’s reassurance, and galloped off through the cluster of trees with a barking dog in close pursuit. Almost right behind the crashing pegasus were two more of the flying ponies descending through the clearing, only these pegasi were nearly snow-white with matching blue manes and golden armor. They were carrying a bright blue medical backboard between them, which had been modified for their use by the liberal application of duct tape and two long wooden boards on the sides, sticking out far enough for each pegasus to fit between and hold onto with their forelegs. Almost as if they were angels stepping from heaven and reluctant to set hoof on base soil, the matching pegasi touched gently onto the ground right next to Koni and held very still as the unicorn on the backboard rolled out onto the ground with a soft thud.
Amazed at how quickly she was adapting to flying ponies and unicorns, Koni nodded to the newcomer and cleared her throat. "Excuse me, are you some sort of doctor?"
"Just a guard, Ma’am. Don’t like flying," rasped the dark green unicorn, who was still intently staring at the ground and swallowing as if she were about to be sick. The metal armor on this pony was significantly different than the golden-armored pegasi, more violet shading to black and slightly chased in silver around the edges, with what appeared to be a dark frill on the back of the helmet instead of the bottle-brush horsehair crest like a Roman legionnaire that adorned the helmets of the two pegasi. It really did not appear to be effective as body armor, and left the throat and sides of the little horse vulnerable, but did not appear to impede her movements when the female unicorn staggered up to her hooves.
"Sorry about that, Specialist Grace," said the first of the two identical snow-white pegasi, who was looking between Koni and Missus Smith with an evaluating expression as if he were trying to figure out the ‘hoomin’ diet and if Pony were on it anywhere, although they maintained their hold on the modified backboard. "Granny Smith, your grandson wanted us to ask how are you doing."
“About ready to go kick Princess Twilight Sparkle’s little royal tush," snapped the old mare. "Jus’ as soon as this hoomin lets me get up.”
"She’s got a dislocated hip, at least," explained Koni rather quickly while putting a second hand on the warm pony to hold her down. A faint green glow began to filter out from between her fingers and Koni stared in amazement as the glow began to chase up and down the old mare’s legs and hips.
"Shear fracture on the upper fovea and lacerations on the stifle," said the dark green unicorn as she stared at Granny Smith’s hindquarters as if she could see through the skin to the bones underneath. The glow filtering out from between Koni’s fingers matched the color of the glow around the unicorn’s horn, and made the sensation of tiny insects seem to tickle all of the hairs of her arm as it passed back and forth under her fingers. "There are loose pieces of bone in the area, but nothing seems to have cut through any tendons or arteries. Yet," she added with a firm glance at the older pony. "You need to be securely immobilized for surgery at the very least, Ma’am."
"Oh, horsehocky," scoffed Granny Smith. "Find out where my walker went and I’ll be fine."
"You need surgery," insisted the unicorn again. "Ma’am, if you would step back, please."
Reluctantly, Koni took a step backwards while green light crawled all across the elderly pony, lifting her up into the air and placing her gently on the backboard in exactly the same position as she had been in the muddy puddle. A series of white bandages seemed to just materialize out of thin air and began to tie around Granny Smith’s hindquarters as the unicorn continued to concentrate, eventually leaving the elderly pony tied securely to the backboard and looking a lot like a partial mummy in the process, although still dripping a little mud.
"Ah can’t move!" complained Granny Smith.
"Good," said the unicorn. "Specialists Left and Right, please transport our reluctant patient to one of the human ambulances. Put her at the front of the line and make sure to pass along her condition."
"Shear fractures on the upper fovea and scratching on her stifle bone, with loose pieces of bone in the area," repeated the first identical pegasus. "Are you sure you don’t want us to fly her directly to the hospital, Grace?"
The unicorn eyed both armored pegasi, who somehow seemed to just radiate the same eager attitude that Poppy displayed whenever she spotted a squirrel. "No," she said flatly. "As much as you want to go explore, taking the injured grandmother of the Element of Honesty on a tour of the unfamiliar countryside in an unexplored dimension is not on the agenda for today."
The second pegasus seemed ready to object, but was quickly quashed by a pointed glare from the pointed mare. Together, they ascended into the sky with the subdued muttering of their reluctant passenger fading into inaudibility as they flew off in the direction of the farmhouse and all of the ambulances in the vicinity.
"Thank you for your assistance, ma’am," said Grace as she stood on the driest ground in the muddy clearing and began looking for the nearest cow path out of the copse of trees. "We should be out of your mane shortly, as soon as Princess Twilight realizes what has happened and opens a portal for our return."
"Wait a minute!" blurted out Koni, slogging out of the mud and looking around in the dry grass for where her phone got dropped when the little unicorn went chasing off after her mother. Grabbing the phone and ruthlessly hanging up the call, she flipped it over and punched record. "Where are you from, and who is this ‘Princess Twilight’ that Granny Smith was talking about? And why are you here?"
The forest-green unicorn paused before turning back to Koni. "Equestria, a Princess of Equestria, and Her Highness apparently has made a—" Grace paused, looking at the phone in Koni’s hands. "Is that some sort of weapon?"
"No, it’s an android phone." Seeing no spark of recognition in the unicorn’s expression, Koni elaborated. "It’s a communication and recording device."
"So we’re being recorded?" The unicorn straightened up her shoulders and settled the dark violet armor across her back with a faint green flash from her horn. In a moment, her armor was left looking freshly-polished and her mane brushed back under the violet helmet with only a few small strands of reddish-brown mane still peeking out around the edge.
"Yes," said Koni, putting on her best encouraging smile and thinking about Pulitzer Prizes.
"Pending a resolution of the ongoing investigation into the circumstances of our extradimensional jaunt, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in this regard. If you will leave me your contact information, I will be certain to pass along a copy of the investigation once it has concluded and been reviewed. In the meanwhile, I can assure you that our visit here is totally accidental, and that with the combined efforts of the Royal Princesses, we should be out of your mane shortly. If there are any further questions, I would encourage you to bring them up with our public liaison, who will be glad to answer whatever she can. Will there be anything else before I return to my post, Ma’am?"
I’m not saying Kansas has a relatively low crime rate, but when I started attending K-State, it took forever for me to get used to taking my car keys with me. Summer is an interesting time around a university town. Most of the dorms are empty, with only one kept open for the students, although other groups such as Upward Bound and Boys State use the facilities for their activities. The size of a "Small Town" place like Manhattan always baffles me. If needed, two hundred and fifty ponies could vanish into a small fraction of the dorm space available or just the old Holidome (It’s a Holiday Inn, which is now the Four Points hotel)
Other than the ATA busses, Manhattan does not have a very robust public transportation network compared to many major cities, because just about *everybody* owns a car or sometimes two. We drive everywhere. We drive a block away to get something that would take less time to walk. Had a friend send his kid to college with a truck pulling a trailer with a second car on it, *both* of which would spend the entire year in the dorm ‘archive parking’ area and undriven for nearly the entire school year (because finding a parking place on campus stinks, particularly for dorm residents, who are most likely to find a parking place further away from their target than if they had just left it in the original spot.)