Farmer Bruener Has Some Ponies
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Time: 8:05 A.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
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The annoying buzz of her iPhone dragged Claire up from a fuzzy dream involving being violated by an affectionate octopus, only to find it less than a dream. Krystol had her arms thrown over Claire’s shoulder, but her long, thin fingers were not reaching for anything on her body. They were reaching for her pillow, and the wallet concealed inside it.
It had happened before, and even though Claire was upset about her friend’s tendency to steal anything that was not nailed down to feed her habit, she was still a friend. A good friend, well-worth spending a day with her to help clean up before the landlord did an inspection, even though Claire had to provide the cleaning materials, the pizza, and most of the labor.
“Kris!” Claire rolled off the couch, taking the rolled-up pants she had been using as a pillow with her. “What did I tell you about getting into my wallet?”
“I wasn’t!” protested her friend. “I was just… turning off your phone.”
“Yeah, right.” Claire scooped her phone off the charger on the end table, checked her messages, then unrolled her pants with a brisk snap. They had made a good pillow when she fell asleep on Krystol’s couch, with the credit card wallet and cash on the inside where her friend would be unable to steal them, and more particularly, the Sneaky Pete holster and contents.
“Sorry, Krystol. I gotta go. It’s an emergency. Dad says he hit some girl on the swather, and they’re taking her to Memorial. Wants me to run over there. Look, if you need some money…”
Claire paused with her pants half-on to dig into one pocket and pull out her clip, peeling off a pair of twenties that only lasted an instant before the long, dark fingers of her friend plucked them away.
“Just to cover expenses,” said Krystol, stuffing the bills into the waistband of her panties.
As much as she wanted to comment on what drugs those ‘expenses’ covered, Claire kept her mouth shut until her pants were fastened and she had gathered up her stuff. Sparing a quick kiss on the cheek, she darted out the apartment door and unlocked her mountain bike with a few motions, then was pedaling fiercely on her way to the hospital. Thankfully, it was just a few blocks away, barely enough distance to get a good rhythm before she was flinging the bike into the rack and locking it down.
“Excuse me?” Walking in the emergency exit of the hospital, Claire caught the arm of a passing nurse and added, “Do you have a Bridget here? My dad hit her with a swather up in Randolph, and he wanted me to come over and make sure she was okay.”
“Oh!” The nurse held one hand up to her mouth as if Claire were some sort of celebrity. “We’ve got a half-dozen ambulances on the way from Randolph now. I’m not sure what’s going on, but it’s going to get very busy here in a few minutes. You may want to stand out of the way.”
Trying to imagine just how many kids her father could have hit with one piece of haying equipment, Claire countered with, “My father wanted me to see what I could do for the girl. I’ve taken the Introduction to Nursing course offered by Highland, so I could help, if you need me to. Since you’ve got so many ambulances coming in, that is.”
“Ahhh…” Catching the eye of a short Indian doctor, the nurse physically turned Claire and gave her a little push. “We’re really busy right now, but see if Doctor Putt has anyplace you can be helpful at.”
“Doctor Putt?” Turning to the doctor, who only came up to Claire’s admittedly short shoulders in the first place, she put on her best smile and gave him a brief bob of the head instead of shaking hands.
In clipped but precise enunciation, the doctor took her hand in a powerful grip and said, “My name is Doctor Singanluru Puttaswamaya Muthuraju, but I tell everyone just to call me Doctor Putt. It saves time.”
“I’m Claire,” said Claire, “but everybody calls me Claire. I take it Bridget isn’t here on the ambulance yet?”
“She should be here shortly,” said the doctor without stopping his progress toward the emergency room doors. “Nasty wound, from what I’ve heard on the radio. Nearly cut through her wrist, although the paramedics did not specify how much bleeding the injury caused, or what blood type the child had. I’ve got nurses finding the testing kits to cross-match her blood and orderlies scrambling to find more beds for the other patients they told us about, but what I don’t have is somebody to hold her other hand and reassure her. A friend of the family would be useful.”
“I can do that,” volunteered Claire, trying not to think of the babysitting sessions she had where ‘reassuring’ was the last thing her presence did to a screaming toddler. They held position at the doors for several minutes while the doctor passed on instructions to the nurses running by, then the ambulance pulled in, and everything started moving really fast.
The only thing Claire could do was try to stay next to the doctor when the blood-splattered gurney was pulled out of the ambulance and wheeled into the hospital. He was rattling off orders and the nurses were darting in all directions, but one huge thought occupied her head and scrambled her thought process by the time they had all gotten situated in the treatment room.
It’s a pink horse. It’s a sobbing, crying, panicked pink horse who keeps calling out for her mother.
“There, there,” whispered Claire into one of the horse’s ears. She had to hunch her back to bend over the gurney, and the hoof that she was holding had her hand in an unbreakable grip somehow, but the words seemed to calm the horse slightly. “What’s your name?” asked Claire for lack of anything else in her confused brain.
“Widget,” sobbed the little horse.
“I can’t find a vein in all this fur!” protested the nurse, running her fingers up and down the blood-splattered leg that was not bundled up in a gigantic white bandage.
“Horses don’t get IVs in their legs,” said Claire automatically, thinking of the time the veterinarian had visited their farm well over a decade ago. “You have to shave a patch on her neck to put the needle in. And are you sure that’s… horse-friendly?”
“Don’t want needle!” squalled the horse and a horn poking through the blood-matted mane on the front of her head glowed blue, much like the aura surrounding the IV kit the surprised nurse was holding. Claire reached out with one hand and grabbed the glowing horn, feeling a sharp but not unpleasant tingle travel up her arm while the light faded away.
“You have to let them give you an IV, sweetie,” said Claire firmly into the horse’s ear. “You’ve lost a lot of fluids. Just trust me, okay? Don’t be afraid.”
“Not afraid,” whined the little horse. “M’big pony.” The pony’s actions spoke louder than her quiet words when the tight grip she had on Claire’s hand only strengthened.
“Paramedics say they gave her two milligrams of morphine sulphate,” said the nurse who was shaving a patch on the horse’s neck, right back at her job despite the weirdness of the situation. “Doctor, do you think we should give her another milligram?”
“Hurtsss…” whined the little horse.
“It doesn’t seem to have caused an allergic reaction. One for now, be ready with a second if she’s still in pain,” said Doctor Putt. “Let’s get this arm… or leg immobilized so we can cut away the bandages and see what we’re working with.”
“Don’t leave,” moaned Widget, holding onto Claire’s hand with a powerful pinch between her hoof and foreleg. “Please, don’t leave.”
“Don’t worry,” said Claire. “I’ll be right here. I’m not going to leave you.”
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Time: 9:15 A.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
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One of the advantages of retirement was supposed to be more free time and not being called into work on a moment’s notice. The call Lee Killough had gotten from KSU Vet Med pretty much put the end to her lazy Friday morning, and thankful that she still lived fairly close to her former employer, allowed her to pull into the campus parking lot just a few minutes later. She was fairly certain that she was going to get a ticket for parking there without a current permit, but the campus cop directing traffic did not seem bothered at all by it. Instead, he just waved her on into the half-full parking lot, which looked a lot more busy than any normal Friday during summer school. There was even an ambulance parked back in Equine Receiving, but not the large animal transport Vet Med had for moving horses or cows. It could only mean one of the animals had injured a staff member or student, which gave her a cold lump in her stomach due to the morning’s panicked phone call.
Lee had barely parked the car and started up the front steps of the building before being met by a young lady she recognized as a grad student back before her retirement. She was babbling too fast to be understood, but had the strength of the young and obviously knew what was going on by the way she practically dragged Lee through the familiar hallways of the Large Animal section of Mosier Hall. The sound of complaining came from ahead, growing louder when they burst into the Large Animal X-ray room to see a panicked huddle of students and faculty gathered around. The complaining of itself was not unusual, particularly when an animal disagreed with whatever the staff was trying to do and managed to fight back, but the complaining was coming from an equine patient, which seemed to be patently impossible. That is until Lee got a little closer and saw the small green pony, strapped down to a blue backboard with what appeared to be about a mile of white bandages. The little pony glared straight at her and talked.
“Another durned hooman? Ah’m tellin’ you, ah ain’t gonna let you use that durned contraption on mah hip, no way, no how! Get me out of this thing and get mah walker!”
The muddy pony, who was struggling fruitlessly against her bonds, drew Lee’s attention like a magnet. She was talking, actually talking! Lee walked right up to the little horse, violating all of the rules of equine handling, and knelt down beside her with a popping of old joints. “You’re talking,” she said in a near whisper.
“Yeah, it’s getting her to shut up that’s the problem,” mused one of the younger student assists behind her.
“Shut it, kid,” called Lee over her shoulder. Turning back to the pony, Lee said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am. He’s just a mouthy kid who doesn’t know how to treat his elders.”
“Humph!” snorted the wrinkled little pony. “Hoomins and ponies are a lot alike, I guess. So, is you the hoomin in charge of all this foolishness?”
“No, ma’am. I retired a few years ago, and got a call from one of my former students that she had a patient who was right up my alley. I’m Lee Killough, by the way.”
“Granny Smith, of the Ponyville Apples. You gonna get me outta this cocoon or do I need to turn into a butterfly first.”
One of the rattled staff flipped through a few sheets of paper behind Lee. “The paramedics said she supposedly had… Shear fractures on the upper fovea and scratching on her stifle bone, with loose pieces of bone in the area. There’s supposed to be a bunch of other ponies with lesser fractures being sent to hospitals all around the area. The paramedics said something about a….”
The hesitation swept through the surrounding crowd, as if none of them wanted to repeat rumors about their obviously alien guest. Lee rolled her eyes and turned back to Granny Smith.
“Miss Smith, do you know how you came here?”
“In that big ole’ wagon with the nice para-whozie-whatizits, of course. They said Princess Twilight accidentally sent us to this parallel dee-mension where all the cities got weird names, but I ain’t got time to lollygag around. I need you to dig me outta these bandages so I can get back. Princess Twilight’s probably got the return portal set up by now, and I got sewing circle in an hour.”
“Unless you’re not hurt as bad as the vet said, that’s not happening, Miss Smith. We’re going to have to take some pictures of your injury.”
One of the students behind Lee cleared his throat. “The old goat won’t let us get her into the x-ray unit, Miss Killough.”
Lee looked over the well-wrapped elderly pony, who had only one hoof free at the ankle. “You really have the staff terrified, Miss Smith.”
“Call me Granny.” The pony gave a harrumph of frustration, but she did sound more comfortable talking to somebody closer to her own age. “Bunch of crying little foals, if you ask me.”
Unable to keep from smiling, Lee gave the collection of embarrassed students and staff a quelling look. “Well, after we get their diapers changed, how about we get you onto the station and see about getting that hip of yours looked at. If you hold still, I’ll even see if one of the students can run and get you a cold apple juice while you wait. Does that sound acceptable?”
“Send the mouthy one,” responded Granny Smith almost instantly. “He looks like he could use some exercise.” With as little as the pony could shift inside the wrapped bandages, she still winced when trying to get comfortable. “Ah might need just a little something more to take some of the edge off the pain, though.”
It made sense, although this was the first time Lee had dealt with a patient who could talk back. “Okay kids, let’s get Chris in here and see if we can get Miss Smith… I mean Granny a little something to make her more comfortable without knocking her out. While we’re waiting, how about we get you up on the platform and I’ll have them bring the x-ray unit down so I can show you how it works.”
Suppressing a giggle, Lee added, “I’ve published books about alien races for longer than most of them have been alive, so I suppose I’m used to it by now.” She patted the elderly pony gently on the uninjured shoulder. “Welcome to Earth, Granny Smith. We’ll take good care of you.”
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Time: 9:17 A.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
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Claire was tired beyond words, holding her awkward hunched-over position for what seemed like hours even though some friendly nurse had scooted a plastic chair next to her. It was a nice gesture, but she could not both sit down and still hold one arm over the unicorn’s head to brush at her blood-crusted mane, a caring touch which seemed to calm the young pony. Doctors and nurses had come and gone in a long stream, but every time one of the nurses suggested that Claire go somewhere else to get some rest, that desperate pressure on her hand increased and the young unicorn trembled. At some time, the bags of fluids had started to be replaced by red containers of whole blood, and the little gap in the doorway of the exam room that Claire could see out of showed colorful winged ponies hesitantly clattering past, some of which had bright white bandages against their necks indicating just where the blood donations had come from.
“Ah, there you are.” A golden-brown unicorn a little taller than Widget poked his nose into the crowded room, taking in the sight of the two doctors working on her leg with a worried expression. “Doctor Putt, I presume? I’m Doctor Stable. How’s our patient?”
The doctor in question looked back, took a brief moment to get acclimated to the species of the new physician, and responded, “Not good. We’ve managed to get some circulation back, but she needs to get to KU Med for microvascular reconstruction or she’ll lose the leg.”
“And this Kay Who Med is where?” asked the unicorn, seeming hesitant.
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Time:12:05 P.M. Central Standard Time, June 19, 2015
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A LifeStar helicopter could fit four passengers, or five if they were fairly light. Fortunately, Claire’s weight when added to a paramedic and two unicorns, one of whom was the patient, came in under the limit. Unfortunately, Claire had never been on a helicopter ride before, and after over an hour in the air fighting turbulence and a punishing noise that even the provided helmet did nothing but dampen, she never wanted to go flying again.
Still, she was doing better than the other two equine passengers, neither of which had a head the same shape as a human, thus making the helmets provided nearly useless. They did have foam earplugs, and Widget was so wacked out on morphine that Claire thought she could sit through a speed metal concert. She still had a tight grip on Claire’s hand, and whenever she thought her human teddy bear was going to get away, that strange hoof-clench was boosted by whatever stranger thing she was doing with her horn.
The landing at KU Medical was bumpy, but it was solid ground, filled with busy nurses and doctors who escorted their patient and the rumpled young lady still being dragged along at a good clip into the building. Somehow, Claire had managed to retain her backpack, most probably because the injured unicorn had not let go of her hand yet, but there was something very important that was becoming even more important with every step.
“Widget!” hissed Claire. “I gotta pee!”
“Pee?” The unicorn’s tight grip slackened. “You’ll come back, right?”
“Yes, yes! Just— thankyou!” Claire burst out running, following the pointing fingers of several of the nurses and heading down one of the featureless hallways of the hospital. It only took a few frantic minutes to find the aforementioned bathroom, a short time to do what one did in bathrooms, and when she came back out…
You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.
Heading off in the direction she thought was right turned out to be wrong, and asking directions only amplified the wrongness of her location. Eventually, Claire found a map and backtracked to the helipad in the hopes that she could just head in the direction they had last taken and have at least a small chance at finding where Widget had gone.
There was another LifeStar helicopter landing, and Claire stood back to allow the gurney and associated pushers, pullers, and walkers alongsiders to pass at a near jog. This patient appeared to be some sort of green wrinkled pony, like an apple than had been left out in the sun to dry, and to Claire’s amazement, was being followed by a fast-walking dark pony with wings.
Big honking wings.
Admittedly, Claire had not seen many ponies with wings other than brief glances back at Memorial Hospital in Manhattan, but those wings had all seemed undersized for the volume of the pony carrying them. This pony had a full set of membranous bat-like wings that were large enough to poke out behind him as well as cover his shoulders up to the neck. In addition, he was wearing a full set of glossy violet armor like some knight, complete with a helmet that had a darkened visor which must have functioned as sunglasses, topped with an odd, broad-brimmed hat much like a sombrero. Since they were most probably going the same place that Widget was going, Claire picked up her pace to walk alongside the dark pony, trying to ignore the astonished looks from the patients and staff they were passing, and said, “Hey.”
It was the only word she could think of at the time.
“Hey,” replied the pony in a stiff, controlled, and female voice, not slowing her brisk pace by one step. “Are you with the hospital?”
“Not… um… No. I came here with Widget.”
“I need to get a message back to my sergeant,” said the dark, winged pony. “I’m under orders to accompany Missus Smith to the physician’s office, but I’m out of range of the communication spell in the helmet and I’m really a long way away from anything in the manual and was that helicopter flying?”
The last word came out in a squeak barely louder than a mouse, far from the kind of voice that Claire expected. In fact, the pony had a very young voice, and sounded much like Claire imagined she might feel if stuffed through some sort of portal and dropped in the middle of a bunch of aliens.
All of the alien invasion movies she’d seen had terrifying aliens, not terrified ones. It tweaked her compassion, and Claire found herself walking next to the little winged alien horse thing, resting a hand on her trembling back. “Don’t worry,” she murmured. “Did your ship crash by my dad’s farm?”
“It’s not an airship,” said the pony in short, clipped syllables. “It was an evacuation spell that went wrong and dumped us out over the farm. Princess Twilight Sparkle probably has the return portal up by now, but Missus Smith is hurt really bad. Broke her hip in the landing, and I’ve been ordered to stay with her.”
It was a lot for Claire to take in at once, but there was something obvious she could do to help. She dug out her cell phone while walking along with the strange pony, behind the collection of nurses, doctors and whatever else clustered around the hospital gurney. Missus Smith, whoever that was, seemed well attended, and her father’s phone was busy when she called, so an alternative was needed.
“Miss… what is your name?” Claire fumbled with her phone while the dark pony gave her a quick sideways glance from under the brim of her broad sombrero.
“Cadet Goose Down.” Goose gave a nervous flick of her immense wings, which made a stiff breeze move down the hospital corridor before she continued in a rapid patter. “On loan from the Academy to the Household Regiments, assigned to Princess Luna’s personal detachment as her personal command. I was the covering staff member for Hoofmaiden Laminia while she was indisposed due to maternity issues, and have not yet been reassigned.” Goose’s rigid shoulders tensed up more and she glanced from side to side as they passed through a connecting corridor. “Do you think this will reflect badly on my record?”
“D-o-w-n,” said Claire while typing on her phone. “Smile.” She poked the camera button when the dark pegasus looked back, then resumed typing. “I texted mom, and she’ll pass it on to whoever else you’ve got back there, unless mom and dad both forgot about me. Dad didn’t text me once, and nothing’s on voicemail. Now, let’s go find the other ponies in the hospital before Widget freaks out.”