• Published 28th Jul 2015
  • 1,413 Views, 6 Comments

Parents of Ponyville - insaneponyauthor


The time has come for parent-teacher conferences. Cheerilee is going to need a lot of cider to get through this.

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The Longest Parent-Teacher Day

Cheerilee dragged a hoof across her face, wiping away the last few drops of the cold water she had just splashed there, and stared into the mirror. She locked eyes with her reflection.

“Alright, Cheerilee, the night you’ve been dreading all year is finally here, but you’re going to get through it. You always do,” she told her reflection. “You will not back down in the face of shame, nor rage. You shall pierce through all pride and excuses alike, and suffer not one iota of guilt.

“You will show no doubt, for doubt is the authority-killer. Ignorance is the little death that brings total obliviousness. You will face their rowdiness, and not permit it to pass over your lesson. And when it has gone past, you will turn the eyes in the back of your head upon them. Where the doubt has gone there will be nothing. Only you will remain.”

Her hooves gripped the edges of the sink like marshmallow vices, and her breath came in big huffs as if she had just galloped all the way from Canterlot. She peered deep into her eyes in the mirror, and still saw a glimmer of fear. Her lips peeled back, revealing gritted teeth.

“You feel great! You can do it! You. Can. Do. It!” she very nearly shouted, ending up with her nose pressed against the cool glass of the mirror by the time she was done… and then she stepped back from the sink with a sigh. Well, it had been worth a try.

She turned around and headed out the bathroom door and into her classroom. She looked at the clock. 6:59 pm. It was time.

She shut her eyes and sighed as she navigated the familiar path to the main door of the schoolhouse, taking one last swing at a pep talk before unleashing the tides of darkness upon herself. “Just power through it, Cheers. Just two hours, and you’ll be home with a bucket of Caramel Swirl, a bottle of Applejack Daniel’s, and the climax of The Sculptor’s Pillar.

She opened her eyes and took the door handles in each hoof. “Just two hours,” she repeated under her breath as she donned her widest, of-course-you’re-not-bothering-me-est smile, and opened the doors.

“Welcome, everypony, to Parent-Teacher Conference Night!”

The words had barely left her mouth when the first order of the night crashed directly into her, snatching her up in a vice-like hug between two pink forelegs and matching wings.

“Oh, Miss Cheerilee! It’s SO good to see you again!” squealed the blue-maned mare. “Oh, but you must think I'm simply the most terrible mother in the whole world, letting a whole year go by without even once making the time to come lend a helping hoof at my darling daughter's school!”

“Not at all, Firefly,” Cherilee said, trying to pry the pegasus mare's vicegrip open while suppressing memories of the last time she had taken Firefly up on her offer to help out around the schoolhouse. She'd shown up with enough homebaked cookies to make Ponyville's dentist the richest mare in town, and left the colts and fillies bouncing off the walls for the rest of the week. The time before that, she'd volunteered to clean the school while the regular janitor was out sick, and it had taken weeks for the colts and fillies to stop slipping on the fresh floor wax. The lingering pine scent was so strong that Cheerilee had brought her garbage from home in with her every morning for two months to help mask the scent.

Cheerilee suppressed a sigh. Sometimes the enthusiastic parents were almost worse than the parents that didn't give a horseapple. Speaking of whom....

“Miss Cheerilee, you just have to see these new photos I took of our little princess!” Firefly's husband, a yellow-coated earth stallion, said as he trotted up to them. “I bought a new camera with a bigger lens and everything!”

“Nice to see you too, Maze,” Cheerilee grunted, her forelegs finally admitting themselves unequal to the task of freeing her from Firefly's embrace. “But there really are so many ponies I need to talk to tonight, so I just don't know if I'll have time to go through the whole album again.”

“Oh, of course! That's why I only brought my wallet tonight,” Maze Huge said, flipping the bitfold open. At least a yard and a half of pictures unfolded from it. “It'll only take a sec!”

“Mom, dad! You're embarrassing me in front of everypony!” Scootaloo hissed, sidling up to her parents with one hoof shielding her face from the other waiting families. “This is exactly why I never go anywhere with you guys!”

“Oh, sweetheart!” Firefly cried, dropping Cheerilee like a sack of apples to sweep her daughter up, despite the little orange filly's struggling and protest. “You know mommy and daddy just want to be part of your life!”

“Mooooooooom! I'm not a yearling anymore! Put me down!”

“Hold that pose a second, honey!” Maze said, whipping his head into his saddlebag and coming back with a camera that looked like it belonged to the kind of wildlife photographer that took close-ups of timberwolves and manticores from a quarter mile away. “Say cheese!”

“Daaaaaaaaaaad! Not n-” Scootaloo paused mid-sentence, pursing her lips and framing her face with her hooves with expert timing to the camera's flash, “-ow!”

“Uh, pardon me for interruptin', but could y'all maybe move this discussion a mite further inside? Yer kinda blockin' the door.”

“Oh, sorry, Applejack!” Firefly said. “You know me, I'd forget my house was on fire if you get me talking about my baby nimbus.” Finally she set Scootaloo down again to trot the rest of the way inside, the Apple family following close behind at the head of a long line of ponies.

“Yeah, I know,” Applejack mumbled. “Still ain’t gotten the smoke smell outta my hat.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Cheerilee watched Applebloom sidle up to Scootaloo with a sly grin.

Scootaloo scowled. “Don't say it.”

“Baby, baby, baby, oh!” Applebloom giggled, inciting Scootaloo to tackle her.

“Off to a great start already, huh?” Big Macintosh whispered knowingly as he helped Cheerilee pull the two struggling fillies apart before Firefly could see them and rush to her little nimbus's rescue.

Cheerilee sighed and rolled her eyes. “Eeyup.”

“Hey, Mac! Come on over here a minute! I've got a great new shot of Scootaloo and Applebloom I haven't shown you yet!”

“He showed me five times while we were waiting outside,” Big Mac muttered. “And the only part of Applebloom in it is a hoof.”

“I'll try to get Filthy Rich to sit between you two,” Cheerilee said. “He carries almost as many pictures of Diamond Tiara. They'll just go back and forth showing them to each other all night if you're lucky.”

“And if I'm not, they'll double up on me,” he sighed.

She gave him a pat on the shoulder. “No plan is risk-free,” she said, and sent her friend off to his seat so she could finish ushering in the remaining ponies.

Once Cheerilee made sure most relevant ponies made it in time, she retreated into a small cabinet with a big glowing signal on the door, saying “NEXT!” in bright red colors. Applejack, Big Mac, and Applebloom beat the other families to it. Upon seeing them Cheerilee locked the door by pressing a red button on her desk, then looked at her list.

“Umm, this is a parent-teacher conference, not a sibling-teacher conference.” she said to them.

“But...” Applebloom raised her hoof, then got shoved aside by Applejack, whose face couldn’t possibly be more nervous.

“Ya see... it’s... eeh...” Applejack mumbled like an Element of Honesty would in such a situation.

“Please!” Big Mac suddenly slammed both of his front hooves at Cheerilee’s desk. “Don’t be so insensitive to the child!”

“Insensitive?” Cheerilee raised her eyebrow.

“Yes! Poor Applebloom’s parents are always hard at work, back at Manehattan! In their heroic valor they work three... no, four... no, SIX jobs just so the little sugarcube here could be fed.”

“But you have a fa...”

“It’s not enough! Not since the dastardly, devious Flim and Flam brothers of evil introduced their newest crime against Equestrian order - the Ultra Rare Apple Neo Ultimate Saturator 30000! It makes their apples so unbelievably smooth and shiny it’s forcing us out of business! The little sugarcube can’t even afford a new teddy. She’s so sad now...”

Big Mac pushed Applebloom closer to Cheerilee.

“LOOK HOW SAD SHE IS!”

Upon witnessing Applebloom’s Equestria-shattering sadness, Cheerilee broke down to tears, which she wiped with the nearest financial report of the month.

“Very well... I’ll allow it.” she said, then everypony sat down in calm silence. Applejack in particular struggled to comprehend Big Mac’s newfound eloquence.

“Now then... your child does fine in all subjects and excels in physical education in particular.” Cheerilee read off a list.

“Yay, physical education cutie mark crusader!” Applebloom jumped.

“Now we shall move on to... behavior.” said Cheerilee, as the overall atmosphere of the room dropped about 20 degrees Celestius and a lone tumbleweed rolled through the room somehow.

“Is there a problem?” Applejack asked.

“Where do I even start? Do you know why we do not have Chemistry classes anymore?” Cheerilee gave them a newspaper report titled: “We’re all doomed!”

“A tad bit honest for news.” said Applejack.

“Eeyup.”

Cheerilee shrugged in total agreement.

“Anyway... there was this research assignment and your... Applebloom decided to put in extra effort to impress us. Hence why we had an exorcist raid the other week.”

Applejack and Big Mac looked at each other, than at Applebloom.

“Ya think that’d warrant a cutie mark or somethin’.” said Applejack.

“Eeyup.”

“That is not the relevant point!” Cheerilee slammed her hooves at the poor desk, which could only dream of revenge one day. “I will not have summoning dark forces from Tartarus in my classroom! Our janitor decided to join the cult of Smooze because that makes more sense to him now.”

“Applejack, what’s a smooze?” asked Applebloom.

“Ya see, sugarcube, when two fruits somewhat tolerate each other...” Applejack spoke with total honesty.

Suddenly, the door bursted right open, shattering all seventeen locks Cheerilee put on it before.

“Did I make it in time, ya’ll?” said Granny Smith from the doorstep.

“Actually, the conference is already underway and...”

“In time it is then.” she closed the door, just short of shattering it to pieces. “So, how’s my little darlin’?”

“We were just talking about that, you see...”

The door opened again, with a poor defeated whine of a sound. And Braeburn.

“My, Cheerilee, you look mighty fine today.” he said, lowering his hat.

“Knock it off.” growled Big Mac.

“Nnope.” extremely satisfied Braeburn entered into the room. “So are we doing this conference or what?

“If nopony else is going to come in, then just. Possibly. Maybe.” Cheerilee just, just kept her cool by thinking of coffee.

“Hey, what about me?” Pinkie Pie wrote herself into the story. “I’m kinda sorta technically probably maybe an Apple! I mean, everypony out there seems to be divided on the issue, so maybe it’s ‘pending’ until our almighty creator issues a definitive statement, but they won’t because ponies don’t take kindly to their personal preconceptions shattered, just ask Daring Do, but I see no reason to deny me a spot over here, also you’re about to inte...”

“Miss.” said Cheerilee in a tone as cold as a Windigo. “Get down. From. The chandelier.”

“Ah, right.” Pinkie jumped down on the floor. “You definitely should keep the door open, there’s a loooot of ponies concerned for Apple Bloom here and they aaaall want in. Just look out of this previously unmentioned window.”

Cheerilee did just that. It granted her the sight of an entire army with apple-themed cutie marks standing outdoors in a perfect, organized line stretching to the horizon.

“Ok. Ok. Ok.” Cheerilee calmly returned to her desk. “I didn’t expect to do this in the very first conference, but you leave me no choice.”

She pressed a button on a wall behind her. The wall opened, revealing a sizable lever with the model of Lord Tirek’s head on its handle.

“First of all, nopony comes in or out. Second of all, I expect complete and total silence from all of you. Otherwise I will have to use this. What it does is...”

At the end of her long explanation of the lever’s effects everypony became as silent as the conceptual matterless void.

“Good. So, now we can focus on the positives of Apple Bloom’s behavior...”

Happily, Cheerilee delivered the rest of her speech to the terrified Apples.

“...and that concludes this conference. Any questions?”

Silence remained golden.

“You can speak for five or so seconds.”

Pinkie raised her hoof first.

“Now can we let the other Apples in?”

A minute later, the “NEXT” signal shined again outside. The room, however, was empty. Except for happily smiling Cheerilee.

Cheerilee’s smile vanished as the next filly entered the room. Well, it didn’t vanish entirely, but it changed from an indicator of genuine happiness and contentment to the token cheerful expression that she was obligated to wear when meeting with parents. Diamond Tiara strode haughtily to the front of the classroom and sat smugly in the chair in front of the desk.

Cheerilee had been dreading this. Diamond Tiara’s parents were generally reasonable, but even so, she had never liked meeting with parents for whom she had little good news. But still, one had to put on a happy face.

“Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Rich,” she said as pleasantly as she could manage. “It’s lovely to see…” Her voice trailed off as she actually got a good look at Diamond Tiara’s parents.

They clearly weren’t.

She didn’t meet with parents often, but she was quite sure that Filthy Rich didn’t normally make a habit of wearing an oversized trench coat or a massive hat that more or less obscured his entire face. Likewise, his wife typically didn’t wear such billowy dresses, and generally tended to be a bit more conservative with her makeup.

What was left of Cheerilee’s smile vanished completely. Apparently Diamond Tiara really really really didn’t want her parents to find out that she had gotten a D in her math class. Then the smile returned, only now it was a smirk.

Under the trenchcoat, Filthy Rich seemed a bit… lankier than usual. Most likely Diamond Tiara had roped Snails into this charade somehow. That was one of the very reasons that she had wanted to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Rich. She turned her attention to Mrs. Rich. The head was almost certainly Silver Spoon. The foofy hair and makeup she was wearing in an attempt to hide her identity just made the deception all the more obvious. Mrs. Rich would never be caught dead in that getup.

“Have you put on weight, Mrs. Rich?” Cheerilee asked.

“W-what?” Silver Spoon squeaked, doing her best not to sound like herself.. “I most certainly have not! Why would you ask that?”

“Well, your rear end is disproportionately large compared to the entire rest of your body.” Cheerilee took the pointer from her desk and gave the dress a poke in the flank. “Isn’t it getting a bit stuffy in there, Snails?”

“Uh, not really.” came a muffled voice.

“Shh!” Diamond Tiara smacked at the voice.

“You know, most fillies wouldn’t smack their mothers like that,” Cheerilee said. “I suppose it’s a good thing she isn’t actually your mother. And I’m quite sure that Snails…” She flicked his hat off, revealing his face. “Isn’t your father.” She turned back to Diamond Tiara. “I must admit that while I find this little attempt amusing, I’m a little insulted that you think I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between your parents and your classmates.”

Diamond Tiara didn’t blush often, but she was now. “It was worth a shot,” she mumbled.

“It really wasn’t,” Cheerilee answered. “I would say that you get an A for effort, but even in that regard it’s perhaps a B minus at best.”

“I told you that this wasn’t going to work!” Silver Spoon grumbled as she began to wriggle her way out of the dress. “We should’ve just told her that your dad was on a business trip. Then we could’ve spent more time on my disguise rather than trying to find a coat that would fit on Snails!”

“Oh shut up! I didn’t even know that we had a parent-teacher conference until yesterday! It’s not like I had a lot of time to plan this out.” She turned back to Cheerilee and smiled nervously. “So, um, Miss Cheerilee… You… you don’t need to tell my parents about this, do you? I mean, it’s not like it worked or anything.”

Cheerilee thought for a moment. Or at least, she pretended to. It was obvious that she couldn’t sweep this under the rug, but there were all sorts of ways to respond.

“No, I suppose not.”

“Pleeeassse? I— wait, you aren’t going to tell my parents?”

“No,” Cheerilee said. “But I will, of course, have to tell Silver Spoon’s parents, Snips’ parents, and Snails’ parents.”

“Oh,” Diamond Tiara said.

“Not to mention that telling them about it really won’t be necessary. While you may not have heard about this conference until yesterday, I sent out the scheduling letters weeks ago. As a matter of fact, I just spoke to your father about it yesterday. Your parents should be here in about, oh…” she glanced at the clock, “five minutes or so. I’m sure they’ll be quite curious about why you and your friends are already here.”

Diamond Tiara made a gagging noise.

“I’ll leave it to you to explain it,” Cheerilee said cheerfully. “I’ll need all the time here to discuss your academic performance, as well as your constant manipulation and treatment of your classmates.”

“Ugh,” Diamond Tiara put her hooves over her face. “Could this possibly get any worse?”

“Of course not. The whole point of this conference is to try to improve your situation.” Cheerilee patted her on the head. “In fact, your parents have already expressed that they would be more than willing to hire a private tutor to help with some of your weaker subjects. I’m sure a few hours of remedial math classes every week will do wonders for your GPA!”

“I don’t even know what a GPA is!” Diamond Tiara snorted. “My math grades are just fine! So what if I can’t do multiply fractals or whatever!”

Silver Spoon snorted.

“Oh shut it! Just because you’ve got a head for numbers doesn’t make you smarter than me! It just makes you a nerd!”

“There is nothing wrong with being a” —Cheerilee made hoof quotes— “nerd. All that means is that they have a particular affinity for academic activities.”

“Hmph. Sounds boring.” She turned to Snips, Snails, and Silver Spoon, who were all sitting by awkwardly. “Why don’t all of you get out of here already? This is just getting embarrassing. And my parents are just about to get—”

“Diamond Tiara!” said a sharp voice from the doorway. “Just what do you think you are doing?”

“...here,” Diamond Tiara finished. “Uh… Hi Dad. Hi Mom.” She weakly waved a hoof at them. “Um, there’s a perfectly logical explanation for this.”

“There is?” Her mother asked. “I would love to hear it.”

Cheerilee grinned. “So would I!”

tick…

tock…

tick…

tock…

“Well?” asked Mrs. Rich, “I’m still waiting for a perfectly logical explanation.”

Diamond Tiara remained silent. This is going to take forever, Cherilee thought. The schedule was packed enough as it was without her least favorite meeting going into overtime. If only there was a way to just skip past it all. And then she remembered the saying. Time flies when you’re singing a song. Well, it was worth a try.


Dear Mr. Rich, Mrs. Rich,

As she started singing, music appeared from nowhere in time with her voice. Gaining confidence, she continued the song that suddenly seemed to pop into her head.

Dear Mr. Rich, Mrs. Rich, I’m afraid I have bad news...
cause Diamond tried to conceal
her math grade’s lack of appeal
with this terrible, perfidious parental dress up
Snips and Snails, Silver Spoon, if you’re offered such a ruse
You need to reject it outright
and explain how it might
harm development, or else she will

Keep on sleeping through all of her math class
even though she really must pass
bullying classmates and making fun of Granny Smiiiiiiiiith

Without
a course correction your daughter is doomed
No doubt
she’s your angel but that is assumed
Hear me out
It is time to become more involved
until Diamond’s school problems are demonstrably solved

Education
Really requires all of us pitch in
Parent, teacher, kid, and everypony

And with that, the conference with Diamond Tiara’s parents was over. How long had it been? It certainly felt like it went a lot faster than normal. But the music was still going and Cherilee decided she might as well try to get through as many meetings as she could while she was at it.

Blossomforth, Bulk Biceps, I’m so glad to see you came
your Featherweight’s doing ok
but it pains me to say
he needs to learn to care for privacy
for when he takes photographs there’s dissension not acclaim
He is quite overly zealous and I’m not being jealous
So talk to him now or else he will

Decide to take one photo too many
lose all his friends when he
reaches for the camera during school

Two down, and how many to go? It seemed about time for a montage. Once you establish the pattern, you can get away with spending barely any time on the rest. Out of the corner of her eye, Cherilee saw coordinated groups of ponies ready to jump in and start dancing during the chorus.

No doubt
They’re your angel and your shining star
And out
of all the kids you think they’ll go far
Throughout
the school year I’ve spared more than a glance
How ‘bout
you listen now and give them a chance
Without
consultation there is no way to know
About
the reasons why your child can’t grow
All out
into the person that they’re meant to be
and fulfill their special great destiny

That’s right your kid’s
Education
Really requires all of us pitch in
Parent, teacher, kid, and everypony

Education
Really requires all of us pitch in
Parent, teacher, kid, and everypony
That’s why I plan to meet with everypony
Yes, today I’ve made time for everypony now

When Applebloom appeared, accompanied by Big Mac, Cherilee suddenly felt hot and distracted. She almost missed a cue, but the song had taken on a life of its own and as soon as she reached the next line, the two vanished to be replaced by a pair of unicorns just as suddenly.

If your mind is addled and your words always come out in song
or if you’re adopted and feel like you never belong
No worries that is nothing that our meeting cannot fix
you just need to learn a thing from my bag of tricks
To turn around completely home environment is key
So take a note of all the notes from any time you’ve met with meeeeeeeee

Education
Really requires all of us pitch in
Parent, teacher, kid, and everypony

Education
Really requires all of us pitch in
Parent, teacher, kid, and everypony

Education
Really requires all of us pitch in
Parent, teacher, kid, and everypony
That’s why I plan to meet with everypony
Yes, today I’ve made time for everypony now
Come on, it’s time, sit down
and listen as I tell you everything that’s so important that you know
right here, right now.

As the last notes faded away, Cherilee woke as if from a trance. Somehow, everything was suddenly dark. Outside, the sun had long since been lowered below the horizon, and now the schoolhouse illuminated only by moonlight and the dim, flickering light of candles she didn’t remember lighting.

Her stomach growled. It would seem that cramming an entire evening into what felt like approximately three minutes and forty three seconds didn’t stop other things from continuing regardless. At least there wouldn’t been any more meetings until tomorrow morning, assuming she counted correctly. She hung up the sign that still read Closed due to cockatrice attack and turned to search her desk in case she had remembered to pack food.

Suddenly, there came a knock at the door.

———

Two days later ...

Inspector Detective tossed the case file onto the table. Pages slid out, some of them almost falling off the edge.

“Now, Mrs. Moquette,” he said as he slid into his chair, “lemme assure you that you are not a suspect in this investigation. Neither is anyone in your family.”

The pale orange unicorn across the table relaxed slightly, but didn’t let her guard down. “Then why bring us here?” she said. “Why interrogate us separately?”

“It’s just a statement, not an interrogation, ma’am.” The Inspector rested his rear hooves on the table and leaned his chair back. “And everypony gots ta give their statements separately because ... well, them’s the rules. And you know how the Constable gets about rules.”

“So ... we’re free to go as soon as we tell what happened at that parent-teacher conference?”

The Inspector nodded.

“Well, as Corduroy and I walked up to the schoolhouse, it was getting dark, and we could hear a musical number finishing up inside. So we knocked, and when the door opened, I asked ...”

———

Two days earlier ...

“We’re not too late?” Moquette stepped in, and Corduroy followed.

“Oh, no problem, no problem at all,” the teacher, Miss Cheerilee, said. But her eyes shifted as she spoke; it was obvious she was lying.

She shook Moquette’s hooves and lied again. “I don’t think I got your names ... ?” Even though Moquette clearly recalled holding a lively conversation with her at a meeting at the very start of the school year.

“Oh, we’re Terry’s parents,” Corduroy said. He was always so much more forgiving—Moquette loved that about him.

Cheerilee stared down her nose at the two of them. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you two belong here.”

Now was not the time to let this slight go unaddressed. “And just what are you implying, Cheerilee?”

Bullies are, as a rule, cowards. Cheerilee immediately backed down once she saw her potential victims would not be cowed so easily. “Of course! How could I have forgotten? Terry’s parents! Ha ha!”

Moquette and Corduroy followed the teacher over to her desk, where Cheerilee made a big show of looking for Terry’s student file. “Yes ... Terry ...” As if she were being so magnanimous by doing her job and holding this conference. “Dear, sweet Terry ...”

This buttering-up was nonsense, and Corduroy cut through it like a knife. “Ha ha, are you sure you’re talking about Terry? That foal wouldn’t know sweet if you rolled her in cane sugar!”

Moquette nudged him in the ribs. “Oh, honey, give Terry some credit.”

“You’re right, mother whose name I can’t be bothered to remember,” Cheerilee said. “You have such a wonderful child. It sure would be a shame if something happened to Terry ...”

She smiled as she tossed Terry’s file atop the desk. Anypony else might have thought it a sincere smile, but Moquette could clearly see the poison dripping behind those pearly whites. She scowled back, as did her husband. It was enough to wipe that grin off the smug teacher’s face.

“Anyway,” Moquette said. It was obvious that this farce of a conference would only get to the point if she dragged it there herself. “We know Terry’s grades could stand to be a little better. What can we do to help our dear, precious child?” Since the teacher obviously wasn’t doing her job...

“Well, um ...” Cheerilee stalled. “Nothing, really. Everypony knows the children of mixed-tribe marriages are bad at math.”

Moquette leaned foward, placing both fore hooves on the desk. She glared, and in a calm, quiet voice, said, “By the time Terry graduates, she’ll have forgotten more math than you’ll ever know. Now why don’t you crawl back to the Dark Ages where you belong, witch.”

“Oooh.” Cheerilee smiled and turned to Corduroy. “Looks like I hit a nerve, don’t you think?”

“Don’t look at me,” he said, contempt dripping from his voice.

“Well, now you’re both boring me.” Cheerilee calmly brushed the file folder off the desk and let it fall to the floor. “This conference is over.”

“Oh boy oh boy, does that mean it’s our turn?” Two bright pink earth ponies stood in the schoolhouse doorway—completely identical. The only difference was that one of them wore a brown, hooded cloak.

The hooded pony said under her breath, in a voice right between speaking and singing, “Kun ol’ kyllin jano juotu, soitettu mailman tuvil’!

“Hissssssssssssssss!” Cheerilee stood on the table, clutching a machete in her tail.

The hooded pony rose into the air and continued speak-singing, “Matkattu pallo halki, poikki. Piot huolella pietty!

Cheerilee leaped at the hooded pony.

Moquette and Corduroy exchanged glances and ran for the door. They didn’t make it.

———

Two days later ...

Detective Inspector looked at the earth pony stallion across the table. Gold eyes, dark blue coat, dark purple (almost black) mane. Detective Inspector looked down at the pages on his own side of the table. Arranged in three stacks, equal numbers of pages. The rightmost stack was two degrees off parallel. He corrected it.

“Well?” the stallion said.

“What?” the Detective said.

“Aren’t you going to ask me some questions? Isn’t that why you brought my whole family here?”

“Oh! Yeah, yeah.”

“And that teacher. The other officers are questioning her, too?”

“I don’t think that’s really any of your business, Mr. Corduroy.”

“Like hay it isn’t! I don’t know what lies Cheerilee is feeding you, but I love my wife! I would never be unfaithful to her.”

“Nopony is implying you would ...”

“And just think how much it would hurt Terry if I did ... that.”

The detective looked back down at his stacks of paper. “Um, you’re not making much sense. Maybe you should start at the beginning.”

Corduroy sighed. “You’re right. Somepony needs to set the record straight. It was parent-teacher conference night at the school, so my wife and I both went to see Terry’s teacher...”

———

Two days earlier ...

“We’re not too late?” Moquette stepped in, and Corduroy followed.

“Oh, no problem, no problem at all,” the teacher, Miss Cheerilee, said. Her eyes shifted as she smiled—she clearly considered their arrival a surprise, but a pleasant one.

She shook Moquette’s hoof and said, “I don’t think I got your names ... ?”

As she shook his hoof, Corduroy answered, “Oh, we’re Terry’s parents.” And Cheerilee continued shaking his hoof. And smiling at him. And shaking his hoof.

Corduroy broke eye contact and pulled his hoof away. I’m just imagining it, he thought. She can’t actually be ...

Cheerilee said, “Are you two sure you both need to be here?” She looked straight at Corduroy. “We could get just as much done ... one-on-one.”

Moquette, his darling, his guardian angel, decided this had gone far enough. “And just what are you implying, Cheerilee?”

Cheerilee made a tactical retreat. “Of course, of course. Your loss, ha ha!”

Moquette and Corduroy followed the teacher over to her desk. Cheerilee bent over to find Terry’s student file in the drawer. “Yes ... Terry ...” It certainly was taking her quite a while to find that file. And she wiggled her haunches back and forth more than was strictly necessary ...

Corduroy blushed and averted his eyes.

“Dear, sweet Terry ...” Cheerilee said. But the way she flicked her tail suggested it wasn’t Terry she was thinking of.

Corduroy laughed nervously. “That ... really doesn’t sound much like Terry?”

Moquette, the North Star in his night sky, gave Corduroy a painful shove in the ribs. “Oh, honey, give Terry some credit.”

“All I’m saying is, our classroom would be greatly diminished without Terry,” Cheerilee said as she tossed Terry’s file atop the desk.

She smiled across the desk, directly at Corduroy—a filthy, lecherous smile. Corduroy recoiled, and Moquette rushed to his defense, shooting the teacher a scowl that could have petrified a cockatrice.

“Anyway,” Moquette said. “We’re here to talk about Terry, remember? What can Corduroy and I, as her happily married parents, do to help Terry’s grades improve?”

“Well ...” Cheerilee licked her lips. “We’re learning about Neighton’s Laws of physics, right now. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You do certain favors for me, and I’ll see to it that Terry gets higher grades ...”

Moquette leaned forward and slammed her fore hooves on the desk. “Just how stupid do you think I am?!” she shouted. “Get back to the nunnery, you brazen trollop!”

“Was it something I said?” Cheerilee smiled and turned to Corduroy. “She’s a feisty one. I’m not normally into mares, but for her I’ll make an exception ...”

“Don’t look at me!” he said, stepping back further.

“Well, then, I guess this conference is over.” Cheerilee smiled as she brushed the file folder off the desk and let it fall to the floor. “I’m going to wash up for the night. If either of you change your mind, you’re welcome to join me ...”

“Oh boy oh boy, does that mean it’s our turn?” Two earth pony mares stood in the schoolhouse doorway, both an arresting shade of pink. One of them wore a brown cloak, with the hood up, but this couldn’t conceal that the two ponies were identical.

The hooded pony chanted, her voice just barely audible, “Kun ol’ kyllin jano juotu, soitettu mailman tuvil’!

“Oh, no you don’t!” Cheerilee leaped onto the desk. “These two are mine! Go find your own playthings!”

The hooded pony stepped forward and began glowing. “Matkattu pallo halki, poikki. Piot huolella pietty!

Cheerilee leaped at the hooded pony.

Moquette and Corduroy exchanged glances and ran for the door.

Minutes later, they were completely tied up.

———

Two days later ...

Deputy Fishen Chips fumbled awkwardly with his files, then read from the top page. “So, subject name... I mean, Miss Cheerilee, were where you ... I mean, where were you on the night of ... March 7th?”

Cheerilee leaned back in her chair. “Holding parent-teacher conferences.”

“And do you have a witness or witnesses who is-slash-are willing to vouch for that alibi?”

“Only the parents of every child at Ponyville Schoolhouse.”

Chips blinked at her.

“And is it really an alibi if you’re interviewing me as a witness, not a suspect?”

“It’s not my job to know that, ma’am.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it is.”

“Aaaargh!” Deputy Chips slapped his forehead several times with his file folder. “My first interrogation ever, and I already screwed it up!”

“Look, would it be easier if I just told the whole story?”

“No!” Startled, the Deputy accidentally threw all his pages into the air. “I mean, yes.”

“Okay,” Cheerilee said. “I thought I had seen all the parents for the night. Then this couple showed up who I’d never seen before ...”

———

Two days earlier ...

A unicorn mare and an earth pony stallion walked into the schoolhouse. “We’re not too late?” the mare asked.

“Oh, no problem, no problem at all,” Cheerilee said. It was something of a fib. She had thought she was already finished, and was a little frustrated to discover otherwise. But in the grand scheme of things, what was one more conference, really?

She shook their hooves. “I don’t think I got your names ... ?”

“Oh, we’re Terry’s parents,” the father said.

Cheerilee blinked. “Are you two sure you’re at the right school?”

The mother got in Cheerilee’s face. “And just what are you implying, Cheerilee?”

Cheerilee backed away and laughed nervously. “Of course! How could I have forgotten? Terry’s parents! Ha ha!”

She walked back to her desk and opened the drawer of student files. “Yes ... Terry ...” she said as she scanned all the labels on the folders. “Dear, sweet Terry ...”

“‘Sweet’?” the father said. “Ha ha, are you sure you’re talking about Terry?”

“Oh, honey, give Terry some credit,” the mother said.

“Oh, I promise you, our classroom would greatly diminished without Terry.” Technically this was accurate, if one less butt in the seats counted as greatly diminished. Cheerilee finished looking through the student file folders, confirming that her memory wasn’t playing tricks on her: there was no file for anypony named Terry.

She pulled a thick folder out of the file cabinet and tossed it atop her desk. It was last year’s budget, but it had no label on the outside, so it could play the role of Terry’s student file. Cheerilee smiled at the father, then at the mother. The mother scowled back. Cheerilee smiled again at the father, hoping for support, but he looked shocked and horrified.

The mother cleared her throat. “Anyway,” she said. “We know Terry’s grades could stand to be a little better. What can we do to help?”

“Well, um ...” Cheerilee racked her brains, and decided the safest bet was the one class nearly all her students were having trouble with. “Well, in math, ever since we started on long division—”

The mother slammed her fore hooves on the desk. “Just how stupid do you think I am? I’ll kill you! I’ll send you back to the Dark Ages, where you belong!”

“But ... what ...” Cheerilee extended a hoof to the father. “What it something I said?”

“Don’t touch me!” he said, recoiling.

“Oh, buck it all!” Cheerilee grabbed the budget folder and threw it across the room. She wanted to flip her desk, but that would have taken too long to clean up, so throwing a single folder would have to suffice. “This nonsense has gone on too long. Conference over!

“Oh boy oh boy, does that mean it’s our turn?”

All three ponies turned to look at the newcomer. Standing in the schoolhouse doorway, bouncing up and down with energy, was a bright pink earth pony. And standing next to her was ... an identical pink pony. This second pony wore a brown, hooded cloak that obscured most of her features, but her pink legs and curly tail were unmistakable.

Cheerilee sighed. “Pinkie Pie, no, it’s not your turn. It will never be your turn.”

The uncloaked Pinkie said, “But ...”

“No, Pinkie, you don’t need to ‘make up’ for lost parent-teacher conferences just because you were home-schooled!”

“Well, duh, I just—”

“And you don’t have any children or dependents—biological or adopted—let alone any in my school!”

“Yes, but—”

“And those Mirror Pool clones don’t count as children!

Pinkie rolled her eyes. “Oh brother. Not this debate again.”

“Speaking of which ...” Cheerilee pointed a hoof at the cloaked Pinkie Pie. “How did that clone escape the culling, anyway?”

“Who?” Pinkie Pie looked at her cloaked counterpart. “Oh, her? This isn’t a Mirror Pool clone, silly. This is Pu—”

The Pinkie with the cloak slapped her hoof over her counterpart’s mouth, silencing her. The two exchanged a glance, then the cloaked one lowered her hoof.

As soon as her mouth was free, the uncloaked Pinkie threw a hoof to her forehead, “Oh, silly me! What I meant to say is, she’s a time tr—” The hoof went over her mouth again.

“She’s the friendly neighborhood cul—”

“She’s my distant an—”

“She’s a master of the—”

“She’s my ... um ... test tube clone?”

The hooded Pinkie shook her head and sighed. “Good enough, I suppose.”

“Darn it, Pinkie. Both of you!” Cheerilee stamped her desk. “I don’t care if she’s Princess Celestia in disguise, again! I’m holding parent-teacher conferences right now, and since neither of you are parents or legal guardians of any students in my school, would you kindly bug off!

“You ponies all disgust me,” the hooded Pinkie said. “All your rules and schedules. Everything here is so boring. Time to make things a little more fun!”

“Uh, oh!” The uncloaked Pinkie glanced back and forth nervously between her cloaked self and Cheerilee. “Sorry for interrupting, Miss Cheerilee!” And she was gone.

Cheerilee sighed, and noticed that Terry’s parents were still right there.

And to think I found them irritating ... she thought.

“I’m very sorry,” she said. “I think we—yes, myself included—started this meeting on the wrong hoof. Why don’t we try again from the beginning?”

Both the mother and father nodded, but kept glancing nervously to the side.

Cheerilee continued, “I think there’s been some miscommunication. Are you absolutely certain that your child, Terry, is in fact—”

The walls and floor of the schoolhouse exploded.

Well, they didn’t completely explode. But as the vines expanded, they blasted huge chunks of the wall and floor inward so forcefully that it certainly seemed like an explosion.

Terry’s parents ran for the door. Cheerilee’s instincts took over: she dove under her desk and retrieved the machete that had been taped to the underside for just this purpose.

Clutching the machete in her tail, Cheerilee climbed atop her desk and surveyed the scene. The vines were growing in, thicker and thicker. They had completely covered all the windows. Terry’s parents were fighting the vines that covered the door—the father smashing them beneath his hooves, and the mother blasting them with raw magic—but not making any progress.

In the center of the school room, a few feet above the desks, the cloaked Pinkie Pie hovered and glowed, singing something under her breath all the while.

“You’re the cause of this,” Cheerilee muttered. She leaped at the pink sorceress, but three vines sprung up to block her path. She sliced and bucked them to pieces, but found there were now six vines blocking her, and more circling behind her. She sliced, ducked, spun, kicked, stabbed, and stomped. She fought the vines with such fury that a reindeer saga teller would have weeped to see her. But for every vine she cut down, two or three more sprang up in its place. She wasn’t getting any closer to the pink pony commanding the vines.

From the corner of her eye, Cheerilee could see that Terry’s parents had been completely overrun—they were tied up and completely helpless. A vine wrapped around her own rear hoof. She sliced the vine off, then realized just how fatigued she was. It was only a matter of time before she, too, would be taken captive—or worse.

Light flared through one window, burning to ash all the vines that had covered it. The glass shattered as a pegasus filly leaped through. “Miss Cheerilee!” she cried. Then she noticed the two ponies by the door. “Mom! Dad!”

No, Cheerilee, thought. It can’t be ...

The two parents exclaimed, “Terry!

———

Two days later ...

“Hey, kid, are you thirsty?” Constable Peeler offered a juice box to the pegasus filly.

“Thank you, sir.” She slurped on the juice and resumed reading her comic book.

Peeler sat down a few seats away from the filly. He glanced around, and it struck him for the first time just how cold and impersonal the color scheme was in the Ponyville Police Department waiting room. At the very least, they needed to repaint the walls.

“Um, Mr. Plod, sir ...” the filly said.

“You can just call me Peeler, if you’d prefer.”

“You’re Pip’s dad, right?”

“Aye, that’s my boy. You’re in the same class?”

She nodded. “He tells all kinds of cool stories about the bad guys you arrested back in Trottingham!”

“Does he now. You know, he tells me cool stories about the acrobatic stunts you’ve pulled.”

The filly beamed. “Really?”

“Indeed. Odd that he never mentioned your name was Terry.”

“Ugh.” She buried her face in the comic book. “Mom and Dad call me Terry.”

“Would you rather I call you Scootaloo, then?”

Please.”

The waiting room was silent for a few seconds. Eventually, Scootaloo slid the comic book off her face and spoke again. “Mr. Peeler, how much trouble are Mom and Dad in?”

“What? No, Scootaloo, your parents aren’t in any trouble.”

“Then why’d they have to come here?”

“Your mom and dad saw something, and it’s very important that they tell the police what they saw. As soon as they’re done, you can all go home.”

“Is this about what happened at the parent-teacher conference?”

Peeler furrowed his brow. “How do you know about that?”

Scootaloo tossed away the book and stood up on her chair. “Because I was there, too!”

“Oh, um ...”

“Man, Mom and Dad probably have no idea what was going on! Let me tell you the whole story ...”

———

Two days earlier ...

In the grim dark of space, there is only awesomeness.

Two diminutive ungulates, an equine and a tragulid, drifted in the ring of space-dust circling planet Kancil. An hour before, that ring had been an enemy armada.

The pegasus filly climbed onto her rocket scooter and revved up the engines. “Well, J-dogg,” she said. “It’s been real, finding the Ten Shards of the Amulets together and using them to save the chevrotain home world. But it looks like my planet needs me, so I gotta jet.”

The mouse-deer nodded. “If you must, then you must, brave traveler Scootaloo. I shall return to my kin and share the saga of your victory—”

Our victory.” Scootaloo smiled and snapped her goggles into place.

“Yes, of course. Fare you well.”

“And you be excellent.”

Scootaloo and the mouse-deer performed a complicated series of hoof- and elbow-bumps and exhorted each other to “Keep it real,” before parting. Then Scootaloo opened the throttle on her rockets and blasted back to Earth.

A space T. rex blocked the space-path home. It roared, but Scootaloo just smirked. She pulled a last-second Ollie and got some unreal air time. She landed on the T. rex head and did a mad nosegrind all the way down its spine, with a 720 spin halfway, then when she ramped its tail she did a flawless Half Truckhook Impossible caught in a No Hoofed 50/50. That trick was so delirious biznasty that it caused a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos® and bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red® to materialize in Scootaloo’s saddlebags.

“Mad product placement, yo!” Scootaloo grinned, until her wristwatch beeped and blinked. “Oh, snap! I gotta boogie or I’ll be gnarly late!”

As she rocketed over the sun, she piggy-backed on a solar flare to pick up some extra speed. She smashed into the Earth’s atmosphere hard enough to catch on fire. It tickled a bit, until she rocketed through a dozen clouds to extinguish herself.

The Ponyville schoolhouse was rapidly growing closer, and it was almost completely overrun by massive green vines. With one hoof, she lifted the Amulet that hung around her neck. It glowed, then fired a beam of light at one schoolhouse window—completely incinerating the vines blocking the window.

Through the window, Scootaloo could just make out a hooded pink pony, hovering in the air and glowing.

Scootaloo pulled off her helmet and threw it forward, shattering the glass. She followed through the open window and flipped backwards off her scooter. She landed, and her scooter smashed into the pink witch’s face.

She stood up and shouted, “Your reign of terror ends now, Puddinghead!”

“Scootaloo?” Miss Cheerilee said. She was to the side, fighting the vines with a machete, like some kind of mad gardener.

Terry?” Mom and Dad were near the front door, both completely tied up by the vines.

Scootaloo resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her parents’ nickname. “Mom, Dad, Miss Cheerilee! Don’t worry, I’ve got everything under control!”

“Do you now?” Puddinghead was back on her hooves. She reared back, and a green Cavagnolo Vedette accordion materialized between her fore legs. “I know the party music of ten thousand years. Your mind can’t handle that much fun, brat! Leave now, or I will destroy you!”

Scootaloo smirked as she rubbed her hoof against her Amulet. “If you’re so confident, why ask me to leave?” The Amulet glowed. Without its brother—currently around the neck of a mouse-deer in another solar system—this Amulet could only unleash half of its full power. This would be a terribly unfair fight ... for Puddinghead.

Scootaloo reared back, and her own instrument appeared between her fore hooves: a Fender Jazzmaster electric guitar, made of lasers.

Puddinghead scowled and began playing. The bellows of her squeezebox pumped furiously. Her hooves were a blur as they worked the melody and bass keys. She sang, “Juodaan viinaa! Tullaan viisaammiksi näin!

Scootaloo put one hoof to the laser frets, and another hoof to the laser strings, and she shredded.

Five miles away, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon heard the distant echo of Scootaloo’s laser guitar solo, and they were so filled with shame that they immediately wetted themselves.

Five miles in the other direction, Rumble also heard Scootaloo’s laser guitar solo. “Dang!” he said to himself. “I wish I could marry whoever’s playing that!”

In the schoolhouse, Puddinghead fell to a crouch and screamed, “Noooooooooooooo!” All around her, the vines burned to ashes under Scootaloo’s laser onslaught.

Scootaloo continued to shred, and her lasers began repairing the damage to the schoolhouse ...

———

Two days later ...

“Beedlybeedlybeedly ...” Scootaloo mimed playing a guitar and sang the appropriate guitar sounds. “Beedlybeedlybeedlybeedlybeedly ...” She was standing atop her chair, on her hind legs, with her head thrown back and her eyes closed.

Constable Peeler stared at her, slack-jawed. Moquette and Corduroy were right behind him, smiling at their daughter.

“Beedlybeedlybeedlybeedlybeedlybeedlybeedlybeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Scootaloo’s solo reached its crescendo and finished. She landed on all four hooves and said, “Then after that, well, everypony already knows what happened then.”

Peeler shook his head. “Well,” he said. “Scootaloo, if you really want to submit your statement to the police, I’ll need your parents’ permission first.”

———

Two days earlier ...

“Thank you so much for coming,” Cheerilee said as she shook Moquette’s hooves. “I’m so glad we could clear up that confusion.”

“Oh, so am I, so am I,” Moquette said. She smiled warmly, as did Corduroy. Scootaloo yawned.

Off in the distance, the hooded Pinkie Pie—the one Scootaloo had called “Puddinghead”—muttered obscenities in some long-forgotten tongue, as Constable Peeler and Deputy Fishen Chips hauled her away.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve got more parents to meet with,” Corduroy said. “So we’d better be on our way.”

As her parents left, Scootaloo lingered. “Miss Cheerilee?” she whispered. “Can you not tell the other kids in the class about ... you know, my nickname?”

Cheerilee crossed her heart, then held one hoof over an eye. “Your secret’s safe with me, Scootaloo.”

“Thanks!” Scootaloo jumped on her scooter and rolled after her parents.

Cheerilee hummed to herself as she trotted back to her desk. She returned Scootaloo’s student file to the drawer, and placed her machete in its place underneath. Then she consulted the schedule to see which parents would arrive next.

Hm, Featherweight’s parents were supposed to be coming in next. Cheerilee wasn’t especially looking forward to this one. But after the fiasco with ‘Puddinghead in the last one, she felt she could handle this one fine.

About a half a minute later, Cheerilee heard someone’s hoof knocking at the schoolhouse door.

“Come in!”

A bit after she said this, two stallions entered the room. One of them seemed to be an Earth Pony who had a brown coat with a black mane, along with a bit of stubble on his chin. He was wearing a white hardhat and an orange vest and was a bit muscular. The other one had a white coat, short blond mane, had red eyes, and wore a golden earring on each ear. He, on the other hand, was muscular to an almost unhealthy degree. They were both shaking slightly and occasionally glancing in seemingly random directions, but keeping their heads in place as if they were looking at her.

Cheerilee gave an awkward smile. She was probably looking forward to this as much as they were, but it needed to be done.

“Um, nice to see you again, Jack and Bulk.”

The stallions shifted uncomfortably before Bulk opened his mouth.

“Uh… yeah!” he said somewhat halfheartedly.

Cheerilee sighed.

“Okay, well, let’s say we get started talking about your son.”

Jack’s eyes darted across the room, looking in every cranny.

Cheerilee gave a nervous look as she watched the ordeal.

“Um… maybe it’d be best to end things off here?”

Bulk Biceps looked over at Jack Hammer, then back at Cheerilee and responded with a semi-emphatic ‘Yeah!’

“Right… then I’ll just… let you two go.”

Bulk put a hoof around Jack and helped to escort him out of the room.

Cheerilee watched the two go and breathed a sigh of relief.

She then took a sip from her coffee mug, emptying the last of it.

At the bottom of the mug, she saw Featherweight’s face, staring at her.

She exclaimed in shock and threw the mug in the air, which made a shattering noise as it hit the floor.

Cheerilee composed herself and looked in the direction the crashing noise came from, but was surprised to see nothing there.

She turned back to her desk and noticed that there was an empty coffee mug there which looked just like the one she knew she threw.

She hesitated a bit, then peered into it.

Inside, there were only coffee remains, not in any particular pattern or shape.

Cheerilee sighed in relief, then went back to absentmindedly tapping her hoof on the floor while waiting.

“Hm… It’s been a while since the last family came in… Is there supposed to be this big break?”

She glanced at the schedule and there did indeed seem to be a long break since the last parents came.

It seemed like the new parents were coming soon, though.

But she could have sworn there were more names on her schedule than this.

Because she was alone at the moment, Cheerilee felt it was safe to let out a groan when she saw who was next. While she didn’t have any problem with Golden Harvest and Written Script as ponies, it was their daughter who was the issue. Dinky Doo, the Matchmaker. Just to be safe, while she had time, she made sure to put away the tickets she had gotten to the Ponytones concert next week. It wouldn’t do to give Dinky any more ammunition than her romance-addled mind cooked up on its own. Sure, there were a few times when she felt like she might consider the idea of truly dating Big Macintosh someday, but she didn’t need a filly like Dinky to even think about that.

“It’s probably those romance novels her father writes,” Cheerilee muttered to herself. She then heard a knock on the door. “Come on in!” she called to whoever was on the other side, trying to sound as cheerful as her name implied. It swung open, revealing the three ponies she was expecting to see next; Golden Harvest, Written Script, and the infamous Dinky Doo, the Matchmaker.

“Hi, Miss Cheerilee! You’re dating Time Turner now, aren’t you?” Dinky blurted out. Cheerliee stared at her, wondering how in Equestria that filly got the idea in her head that Cheerilee and Time Turner were dating.

“Not now, Dinky. Miss Cheerilee is going to talk to us about how you have been doing in school, not about her love life. Why don’t you show us some of the things you’ve learned from her?” Golden Harvest suggested.

“I learned that she’s dating Time Turner! Pretty soon, they’re gonna get married, I just know it!” Dinky exclaimed.

“She means from school lessons. Like, what are you learning about in history class? I saw from your homework the other day that she was teaching you about the ancient society of Dream Valley,” Written Script clarified.

“She taught me that she’s in love with Time Turner! He came to class and I KNEW they were meant to be!” Dinky gushed. Cheerilee rolled her eyes when she remembered the day Time Turner had come to be a guest speaker for history class. As Ponyville’s record keeper and historian, he was a natural choice to come speak to the class. Unfortunately, he had let his own personal obsessive desire to time travel get out of hand, and he had ended up arguing with Cheerilee about whether or not it was possible to build a machine that could allow one to travel back to the past. Cheerilee had argued that even if it was possible, that something like that should not be done, because when you “returned” to your original time, everything would have changed in ways that you might not be able to predict. Time Turner, on the other hand, held with the idea that there might be some changes that would be beneficial, and that the ability to directly experience the past as it was would outweigh any negative consequences one would face from returning to a changed “present”. While that had been an eventful but unproductive lesson, Cheerilee still didn’t know how anypony could have gotten the idea that she was in LOVE with Time Turner because of that incident.

“I was arguing with him, Dinky, and it wasn’t over setting a wedding date,” Cheerilee replied sarcastically, “Just because I brought him in as a guest speaker, it doesn’t mean I’m going to marry him.”

“But you're both smart and you like history! That makes you perfect for each other!” Dinky asserted.

“Dinky, please. This is not a good time to try to set me up with some pony I just happened to bring in as a guest speaker. There are some things I need to tell your parents about right now. While I do that, why don’t you go and find the drawing you made for them?” Cheerilee suggested.

“Aww, I thought he would be perfect for you,” Dinky said, disappointed. She went off to her desk to find the picture Cheerilee had mentioned, leaving Cheerilee a little time to talk to Golden Harvest and Written Script without matchmaking interruptions.

“As you can see, this matchmaking obsession of hers has gotten out of hand. Her grades are average for the most part, as you can see,” Cheerilee said, pausing to set out Dinky’s report card. “She’s doing very well in math, and in her written works, her grammar and spelling are also very good. However, she has the problem of trying to relate EVERYTHING to romance in some fashion, to the point that her history assignments especially get off topic because she spends more time imagining romances between famous ponies from history rather than writing about what they actually did.”

“We know,” Written Script sighed, “Unfortunately, we don’t quite know where she got this idea in her head that everypony needs to be paired up with a special somepony.”

“Here’s my picture! I KNEW what I wanted to draw on the day Time Turner visited his true love!” Dinky called out, popping up right between her parents. She set a piece of paper on the desk, covering up her report card with it. It was a picture she had drawn of Time Turner and Cheerilee getting married and kissing.

“The assignment was for the students to draw something they wished for,” Cheerilee explained, annoyed and embarrassed that the idea of pairing her with the time travel-obsessed historian had come up again.

“Now that you’ve given us Dinky’s report card, is there anything else we need to know?” Golden Harvest asked, trying to change the subject.

“There’s going to be a field trip to Sugarcube Corner soon. Make sure Dinky shows you the permission slip to sign when the time comes,” Cheerilee said.

“Sugarcube Corner?! I can’t wait! Maybe they’ll let me help make a wedding cake!” Dinky squealed excitedly.

“I’ll tell you and everypony else when it gets closer to time,” Cheerilee said.

“Miss Cheerilee still has other appointments to keep, so let’s take your report card and drawing home and we can talk more about it there,” Golden Harvest said. Dinky nodded, and after everypony said goodbye, the three of them left, leaving Cheerilee alone in the classroom once more.

———

The bugs were beginning to crawl off.

Cheerilee could see a few scrabbling into the farther corners of the classroom as the day finally edged into early late afternoon and the descending sun's rays imposed themselves across a wider angle of the floorboards. Never mind that she could have sworn that that window faced east. Much like Dinky and her matrimonial monomania- sweet though Golden and Script's little unicorn was- it felt rather more chipper than anything had a right to at this time of day, these sorts of days especially.

She shook her head vigorously. None of that now, Cheerilee thought, closing her eyes and kneading her forehead with her hooves like she imagined the Cakes might for a new batch of dough. Perked back up, as the little ritual generally did for her, she turned her attention back to the schoolhouse door- "Come on in- ah-" then back to her schedule- “Twist!” It felt far too long since she had had a good talk with the earnest young confectioner-in-training- the afternoon was looking up again.

The door swung open and the filly in question trotted in, and behind her- Cheerilee once again had to remind herself that this was Sweetie Drops, not her thespian twin sister Bon Bon more often seen about the village. “Hello there!” she greeted the pair. “I take it Twist’s father is away on business again?”

“Not that it’s particularly relevant, but yes,” the other mare replied flatly. “I believe the three of us are capable of managing a brief meeting regardless.”

Cheerilee momentarily grimaced in spite of herself, before jerking the corners of her mouth back upward. That attitude was another thing that Drops- she had to mentally distinguish Twist’s mother from Sweetie Belle somehow and the filly seemed a mite more deserving of her given name- infamously had in common with her sibling. “…I quite agree! And-” she turned her smiling attention back to the filly, who responded in kind- “it helps that there’s not too much that needs discussion on my end. Twist has been such a delightful part of our class, and quite studious.”

“Glad to hear you think so,” Drops rejoindered. “From what I’ve heard, the class environment isn’t as good to her as she is to it.”

Cheerilee blinked- Diamond and Silver’s haughtier moments aside, there hadn’t been any major disruptions in some months, and Twist herself generally seemed quite cheerful. Twist herself seemed more embarrassed than anything else. “Mom, I told you-”

“Tell me, Miss Cheerilee,” Drops cut off her daughter, “is the subject of ‘who is worst pony’ something that comes up often during your students’ recreational time?”

“Mom, that wath one time.”

“Twist,” Cheerilee frowned, “has somepony been bothering you? Is this something Diamond Tiara said?”

“No, ma’am!” Twist protested. “”It wath juth thome of uth joking around!”

“Twist, calling somepony something like that is no laughing matter.”

The filly grimaced. “I didn’t think it wath any different than when you called the Printheth a ‘dethpot’.”

Cheerilee’s train of thought found itself forced to downshift rather suddenly, and by the time she recalled the history lesson a few weeks ago where she had brought up the concept of “enlightened despots” and made a rather cavalier reference to some of Celestia’s more… territorial actions over the past few centuries, Drops’s eyes had hardened even further. “This is the kind of material our foals are being exposed to? Subversiveness and erosion of basic equine respect?”

“Mom-”

“Ma’am, I think you may have received a distorted image of-”

“The only distortion I see here is that being applied to my daughter’s morals! I believe a discussion with the other parents of this district will be in order when my husband returns from Fillydelphia.” Drops about-faced and headed back towards the door, haltingly followed by her daughter, who paradoxically handled her hesitant steps and embarrassed looks back with enough grace to indicate that she was not new to this sort of situation. “In the meantime, good day, Ms. Cheerilee.”

“Bye, Mith Cheerilee…”

As the door clicked shut, Cheerilee once again closed her eyes and started massaging her forehead. Well, at least the day can only go up from here.

Cheerilee desperately needed a cup of calming chamomile tea. However, she had little time to recover; almost as soon as Twist and Sweetie Drops walked out the door, the next student appeared in the classroom along with his parents. "Hi, Miss Cheerilee!"

The voice belonged to Truffle, honor student and Twist's best friend. He was joined by his mother, Screwy and father, Claude. Truth be told, though Cheerilee cherished all of her students, she had a soft spot for Truffle, who was always well-behaved aside from his habit of snacking during lectures. She even foalsat the colt from time to time, as his father was a travelling puppeteer who was said to spend more time with puppets than ponies. Truffle may have inherited his stocky build from his father, but he certainly didn't get his sweet and helpful demeanor from him. Claude wasn't a cruel stallion, but he was always frank and rather candid with his opinions, and with his puppets, Frank and Candid. And then there was Screwy. Screwy used to be a kind and cheerful carpenter, on friendly terms with most of the townsponies, though it was rumored that she was always just a smidge eccentric (she had to be, to marry Claude). Tragically, her mental health had gradually deteriorated folowing Princess Luna's return and the series of mishaps that plagued Ponyville thereafter. For many moons, the poor mare was convinced she was a canine, and a rather nasty one at that. Thanks to the patience and care of Nurse Sweetheart and the rest of the staff at the Ponyville Healthy Horse Hospital, she had finally been deemed well enough to return home, as an outpatient.

Cheerilee didn't even have to fake the smile on her face. "Truffle! It's so good to see you! And your parents, of course."

"Hello there, Miss Cheerilee," Claude tilted his top hat and took a seat. His perpetual puppet companions waved their hooves and mimed sitting down in mid-air. "It's great to see you too, Miss Cheerilee. Thank you so much for taking such good care of our son," Screwy grinned and took a seat as well. If her grin involved lolling her tongue out and panting a bit, nopony drew attention to it. She had made such good progress.

Truffle stepped up to Cheerilee's desk. The pudgy little colt pulled a large salad bowl from behind his back. "I-I made you a daisy salad 'cause daisies remind me of you. I figured you might get hungry, havin' to work late and all."

Cheerilee felt a jolt of warmth in her heart. "Why thank you! You're always so generous! Daisy salad happens to be a favorite of mine, and not just because of my cutie mark which is entirely symbolic." Truffle shuffled his hooves in embarrassment, and his rosy cheeks grew a deeper red. As he was an aspiring chef, he often had Cheerilee sample his creations. Since his cutie mark was specifically related to food-tasting, there was probably no need, but Truffle was really a bit of a teacher's pet. In her heart, Cheerilee called him "Truffleupagus."

"Now then, let's get on with this parent-teacher-whatsit. Truffle's been a good student, hasn't he?" demanded Claude.

"Oh, of course he's been perfectly angelic! He always does his homework, does well on tests, and he's friendly with all the other foals. He's a big help on the Foal Free Press as well. It's really a delight to have a student who actually takes school seriously." And he spoils me by bringing treats that he's cooked up, Cheerilee thought to herself.

"I guess we must not have screwed up too badly, to have such a good colt!" Screwy gave a light chuckle and wagged her tail.

" That's about what I expected," Claude, Frank and Candid nodded. On closer inspection, Claude's eyes were sparkling, so he must have been happy.

"That's a given when I have such an awesome teacher! Twist and the others always help me out too."

"Now that that's settled, why don't I grab some bowls from the kitchen so we can all try some of this delicious-looking salad?"

That happened, and they sampled the daisy salad. It really was delish.

NOM NOM NOM UM NUM NUM

"Twuffle...nomph...dis is rilly gud...gulp....such yooniq flabor...wut are deez bloo leefs?"

"Jus sum...nom...herbs I picked near the Everfree Forest."

A look of abject horror warped the adults' faces as it dawned on them that they had just chewed, swallowed, and were currently digesting Poison Joke.

"DEAR CELESTIA! TRUFFLE, THIS IS POISON JOKE!" Claude sagely remarked, before turning into a puppet. The other two puppets fell to the floor on the side of his chair.

"MEOW! NYAN!" Screwy ran at super high speed, jumped into the recycling bin, jumped back out with a ball of crumpled paper in her mouth, and bolted out of the window in pursuit of a butterfly.

Truffle was covered with a coat of fluffy pink fur, which would have made him even cuter if it weren't for the circumstances. "I'm so sorry! I didn't know! I've got to find-PBBBT-Zecora! Ack! Hairball! I'll get this all figured out, so don't you-PBBBT-worry!" He scooped up the puppet that appeared to be his father and galloped towards the exit, tripped over his fur “Unf!” got up, and trotted out the door.

If only Cheerilee's special talent really were related to botany, perhaps this situation could have been avoided. That's it, she inwardly decided, I should really have Zecora come in to give the foals a lecture. Then again, with her students, was it really a good idea to enable them?

Before Cheerilee had time to process the situation or sort out what kind of hilarious effect the Poison Joke had had on her, there was a knock at the door. It must have been the next student with their parents!

Cheerilee started to feel a tad odd due to the poison joke, but she steered to drive on towards the next parent meeting.

“I’m sure everything will be fine. Ahem, Come in!”

The door opened and came in Garter Briefs, one of the more rowdier students. He was accompanied by his mother, Blaze Burst Briefs (AKA, Triple B for short).

“Hello, Mrs. Briefs. Where’s your husband?”

“Oh, he’s off on a mission fixing something. That information’s classified and if you were to figure it out somehow, I’d have to blast you.”

“Heheh, no need for that… Anyways, I’d like a word with you about your son.”

“Oh dear, what did he do this time?”

“He blew up a hole in the schoolyard using watch-thing.”

Cheerilee and Blaze glared at Garter, who was fiddling with his wrist-device.

“... What!?”

“I’m sorry for all the trouble Garter’s caused you recently, Mrs. Cheerilee. He’s always been like this since he was a tiny colt. Kids always used to make fun of his monkey-like tail, that I guess all that pent up anger manifested in his reckless behavior.”

“Hmm, I see. Now, why the high-tech watch then?”

“Oh, that’s for him to keep in contact with his dad. It’s a multi-purpose communicator. It’s kind of like a digital swiss-army knife.”

“Do you think something that can create massive holes in the ground is deemed safe for someone his age?”

“His father said it was safe.”

It was then that a loud noise came out of nowhere. Then a bright light was emanating from the middle of the classroom. The light then bloomed everywhere, as 3 humanoids, a pink gumoid, a white demonoid, a green slugoid and an android appeared in it’s place.

“Oh damn, am I late to the meeting?” Said the violet haired humanoid.

“Um, honey…” Blaze whispered as she was pointing at him.

“What… OH, oh damn! Where’s the construct setting on thing?”

With a little fiddling on his own futuristic high tech watch device, the violet haired humanoid transformed into a violet stallion. The other people he came with him were just as confused as Cheerilee was.

“Mrs. Cheerilee, I am Trunks Briefs, husband of Blaze and father of Garter. These are the agents of my time patrol team. They are Beat, Note, Kabra, Froze, Tsumuri and Nico. Sorry for my tardiness, we were doing a highly classified mission.”

“Captain, what the hell are we doing here?” said Tsumuri.

“Yeah, sorry about that guys, I forgot to tell you I had to go to a parent-teacher’s conference meeting. You all can go outside, maybe have some fun in town while I deal with my son. ” the Captain spattled.

“You can count on us, Briefs!” said Beat.

“... Oh, and don’t freak out the towns folk!”

The classroom was silent for a few moments.

“So… what did our son do this time, Blaze?”

“Made a hole in the schoolyard.”

“Made a hole in the schoolyard?”

“Made a hole in the schoolyard?”

“... Aww, crapbaskets…”

Cheerilee coughed-in to interject back into the conversation.

“So, the whole family is here. Now, as I was saying before, I don’t think giving a high tech device is the best option of communication. That thing is less phone and more of a dangerous weapon. It’s like giving a baby a gun, it might shoot some rich people!”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Cheerilee, we’re gonna punish the little guy when we get back home. Garter’s gonna have a ton of thinking to do, aren’t you Garter?”

“... Yes, dad…”

“That’s good. Now how about we ta-”

“But not before this!!”

“GARTER N-”

~ZZKKZZZKZKKZKKZKKZKZKKZKZKKZKZKKZKKZK~

“I’m sure everything will be fi-uh… Hmm, that was weird... Anyways, Come in!”

The door opened and came in Garter Briefs, one of the more rowdier students. He was accompanied by his mother, Blaze Burst Briefs (AKA, Triple B for short).

“Hello, Mrs. Briefs. Where’s your husband?”

“Oh, he’s off on a mission fixing something. That information’s classified and if you were to figure it out somehow, I’d have to blast you.”

“Heheh, no need for that… Anyways, I’d like a word with you about your son.”

“Oh dear, what did he do this time?”

“He blew up a hole in the schoolyard using watch-thing.”

Cheerilee and Blaze glared at Garter, who was fiddling with his wrist-device.

“... What!?”

“I’m sorry for all the trouble Garter’s caused you recently, Mrs. Cheerilee. He’s always been like this since he was a tiny colt. Kids always used to make fun of his monkey-like tail, that I guess all that pent up anger manifested in his reckless behavior.”

“Hmm, I see. Now, why the high-tech watch then?”

“Oh, that’s for him to keep in contact with his dad. It’s a multi-purpose communicator. It’s kind of like a digital swiss-army knife.”

“Do you think something that can create massive holes in the ground is deemed safe for someone his age?”

“His father said it was safe.”

It was then that a loud noise came out of nowhere. Then a bright light was emanating from the middle of the classroom. The light then bloomed everywhere, as 3 humanoids, a pink gumoid, a white demonoid, a green slugoid and an android appeared in it’s place.

“Oh damn, am I late to the meeting?” Said the violet haired humanoid.

“Um, honey…” Blaze whispered as she was pointing at him.

“What… OH, oh damn! Where’s the construct setting on thing?”

With a little fiddling on his own futuristic high tech watch device, the violet haired humanoid transformed into a violet stallion. The other people he came with him were just as confused as Cheerilee was.

“Mrs. Cheerilee, I am Trunks Briefs, husband of Blaze and father of Garter. These are the agents of my time patrol team. They are Beat, Note, Kabra, Froze, Tsumuri and Nico. Sorry for my tardiness, we were doing a highly classified mission.”

“Captain, what the hell are we doing here?” said Tsumuri.

“Yeah, sorry about that guys, I forgot to tell you I had to go to a parent-teacher’s conference meeting. You all can go outside, maybe have some fun in town while I deal with my son. ” the Captain spattled.

“You can count on us, Briefs!” said Beat.

“... Oh, and don’t freak out the towns folk!”

The classroom was silent for a few moments.

“So… what did our son do this time, Blaze?”

“Made a hole in the schoolyard.”

“Made a hole in the schoolyard?”

“Made a hole in the schoolyard?”

“... Aww, crapbaskets…”

Cheerilee coughed-in to interject back into the conversation.

“So, the whole family is here. Now, as I was saying before, I don’t think giving a high tech device is the best option of communication. That thing is less phone and more of a dangerous weapon. It’s like giving a baby a gun, it might shoot some rich people!”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Cheerilee, we’re gonna punish the little guy when we get back home. Garter’s gonna have a ton of thinking to do, aren’t you Garter?”

“... Yes, dad…”

“That’s good. Now how about we talk about his test scores?”

“Your son has had straight A’s all year! He may be rebellious, but he sure is a smart cookie. Oh, it seems our time here is over, gotta wait for the next parents to come in.”

“It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”

Cheerilee was glad that this particular meeting went well for the most part. And surprisingly enough, the poison joke didn’t kick in yet. Hopefully for her, it won’t kick in for the rest of the day, but everyone knows how unpredictable that stuff is...

The day seemed to wear on for Cheerilee. These meetings were only supposed to last about 15 to 20 minutes, but the last one seemed to go on for an hour. She peeked at the clock. No, only 20 minutes had gone by since the last time she looked. Wait, did Garter Brief’s father say he was the captain of a time patrol?

No, that couldn’t be it, Cheerilee laughed to herself. She blinked in surprise. Why did everything look tilted to the right? Cheerilee shook her head rapidly.

Ah, that’s better. She sighed wearily. “Overworked.” she mumbled.

The Poison Joke continued to churn noisily inside her system. It made her vaguely nauseous, like someone had just made a bad simile in a creative writing exercise. She closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. A quick doze would do her some good.

“Blessings.”

The sudden voice startled Cheerilee awake, causing her to fall off her seat. She scrambled back up, flustered and not a little embarrassed. Before her was a green pony with thick eyebrows, drooping eyelids, and a complacent, dreamy smile. A yellow bandanna held her unruly red dreadlocks in place. Something smelled like... hemp?

“Oh, my apologies, friend. I seem to have upset your inner balance.” The green pony drawled in a singsong tone. “Your aura is totally disturbed. Take a moment and breathe deep the clean air.”

Well, the air wasn’t exactly clean at this point, but a good long breath did seem to help some. Cheerilee felt calm for the first time since the beginning of the story. Or day. Whatever. “Thank you for that. Now, how may I help you? Are you here for a Parent-Teacher meeting?”

“Why yes, friend. My earth name is Tree Hugger. I’m here to meet Ms. Harsh Grade.”

Cheerilee stared blankly.

“Um, I don’t believe anyone here goes by that name. I’m Cheerilee.”

Through the green mare’s hazy eyes, you could just barely catch a hint of surprise.

“Really? This is the Ponyville Schoolhouse, yes?”

“Yes.” Cheerilee replied. “I’ve been here for some years, but I’ve never heard of Ms. Harsh Grade.”

Tree Hugger’s eyes looked blank. Well, blanker than they already did.

“That doesn’t sound right. She told me to meet her here for a pow-wow. She may be off roaming the earth. Allow me a moment to see if I can get in touch with her energy. Silence, if you please. Noise throws off my chakras.”

Tree Hugger got down on the ground and sat cross-legged (somehow). She took a candle from her hemp saddlebag and lit it. A thick incense started to permeate the room. Tree Hugger held her front legs up in a meditative fashion. Her eyes closed and she became quiet. Then, a curious noise began to escape her mouth.

“Ommmmm… Neiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh~”

“Ommmmmm… Neiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh~”

The curious trilling noise echoed in the classroom. Cheerilee felt a chill down her spine and her eyes watering. Was this a spiritual experience? No wait, that was the Poison Joke in her gut and the incense getting in her eyes. Anyway, this went on for some time. Cheerilee tapped impatiently at her desk.

Suddenly, Tree Hugger’s eyes burst open, and you could just about make out the lightbulb going off in her head if you squinted slightly.

“Duuuuuuuude. I totally remember now. It was waaaaay in the past, before we were born. She was the teacher at this school when this town laid its roots into the earth.”

“What.” Cheerilee said flatly.

“No, I see so clearly now. It was one of my many past lives. I was but a little filly. Ms. Harsh Grade caught me copying off another student and she wanted to see mother and other mother - so progressive - but she passed on from this corporeal plane the night before. Her spirit must have led me back here to face my reckoning!”

“I don’t thi-” Cheerilee began. Tree Hugger grabbed her by the shoulders. “No, you must punish me or her spirit will never be at rest. It would upset the balance of the universe! Quick, how would a student get punished for cheating here?”

“Um, a failing grade, I suppose…”

“Then give me a failing grade! The universe depends on it!”

“But you don’t even-”

“The universe!”

“All right, all right! You get an F!”

Tree Hugger sighed in relief. “Yes, the universe is at peace now. Imagine the cosmic consequences if you had not appeased her spirit!”

“Um… no problem, I suppose.” Cheerilee said, a little mystified.

“I am so glad I thumbed a ride with that Gaia Festival Caravan. Their free love and meditation session helped me make contact with the spirit realm and my past selves, which led me to this place.”

“It did?”

“Well, I remember being in a trance and falling off the wagon right outside that apple farm. But, clearly it was fated.”

“Clearly.” Cheerilee rolled her eyes (As in, this Tree Hugger was clearly off the wagon). “So, is there anything else I can… help you with?”

“Well, actually. Is there a Fluttershy around these parts?”

“Why yes, she lives at that little cottage near the edge of the Everfree Forest.”

“Righteous. She was my guest when the Preservation Society went to see the flight of the Breezies that one time. She is a true lover of nature and a kindred spirit. I think I’ll drop in on her abode.”

“Well, she may be getting ready for this year’s Gala at the Carousel Boutique. It’s right downtown.”

“I’ll be off, then. Thanks so much for all your help, what with the universe at stake and all.”

“Yes, the universe.” Cheerilee rolled her eyes again, but with a smile.

“...” Tree Hugger stared at Cheerilee.

“...Yes?” Cheerilee asked uneasily.

“Your inner bliss seems disturbed. Clearly, being an instrument of fate has disturbed your auras. What you need is a little less stress.”

She reached into her saddlebag and pulled out a paper bag.

“These always help clear the bad vibes from my system after a long day. Have them. I can make some more. Have a blessed day.”

The green mare left, leaving a scent trail of incense out the door.

“Well, that was different. I’ll have to open a window to get that smell out.” Cheerilee said to herself. She poked at the bag curiously and looked at the clock. “10 more minutes till the next one.” she groaned.

She stared at the bag again. Then, with a shrug, she reached over and opened it. “Let’s see what’s in he- Oh!”

It was a bag of chocolate chip cookies! Well, that was nice of her, thought Cheerilee. Whoa, the room was tilted to the right for a sentence. I mean second. “Ugh. Maybe a break would do me some good.”

She pulled out a cookie and nibbled on it. “Wow, this is really good.” The rest of it went down the hatch. Cheerilee had never had a cookie that good. She pulled out another and started wolfing it down. She could feel the stress melting off her with every bit- Wait a minute. Why did this remind her of college? She stopped chewing and rolled it around in her mouth.

Yup, there’s the chocolate, there's the dough and yup, there’s the pot. And there's the Poison Joke.

Wait, what? Cheerilee’s eyes widened. Who puts Poison Joke in a cookie? Was this one of those crackpot hippie recipes? She was a second away from spitting it out, but she suddenly hesitated. Her brain was starting to get fuzzy, and not in a bad way.

“Y’know what? Buck it. I already have Poison Joke in me anyway, and this feels too good to stop.” She swallowed and reached for the next cookie. Her stomach gurgled a little. The room began to tilt again. But she didn’t mind this time. In fact, she was feeling mighty gooooood.

“Bring on the next parents.”

The room had gotten wobbly by the time Cheerilee finished her third cookie. She had to keep her hands firmly on the desk to keep from toppling over now. And yet, she couldn't help but grin like a lunatic. She was elated. Ecstatic. Euphoric, even.

“Okay, so whooo's next? Hehe, whoo! Whoo! I sound like an owl.” She looked out the window into the night (which she thought was weird, she could have sworn it was just early afternoon), and there was, in fact, an owl perched outside.

“Who?”, it said.

“Whoo?”, Cheerilee replied.

“Who are you?”

“Whoo whoo, whoo whoo.”

“Yeaaaaahhh!”, said the owl, before flying off. It was then that Cheerilee noticed that it was wearing sunglasses. At night.

———

Cheerilee reached for another cookie as she checked today's schedule. Next on the list were High Note's parents, Double Bass and Shinybutt. Wait, she thought, that wasn't right. Ah, Octavia Melody and Sunny Skies. That's more like it.

High Note was a good kid, always getting along with everyone except for when she didn't. Pretty good grades for the most part, though she scored low in quantum mechanics. And advanced firewall configuration. And Gaelic. And...

Okay, so maybe High Note was a pretty lousy student. But her parents didn't need to know that, did they?

As soon as Cheerilee was finished reviewing the student's file, she noticed the parents standing at the doorway. The woman on the left was wearing a formal gray suit, and to the right was a taller lady in a white sundress. In a brief moment of clarity, she took the bag of cookies off the table (with only one last cookie left inside), and stuffed it in a drawer. “Come in!”, Cheerilee called out to the two people at the doorway.

There was something peculiar in the way that the two of them walked. As they came closer, the schoolteacher could feel a proud, almost regal aura radiating from the pair, and it made her shrink in her seat.

Literally. Where she used to be able to comfortably put her elbows on the table, now it felt awkward. It felt like the desk had gotten taller, but the truth was that Cheerilee was really getting smaller. What she didn't understand was how she didn't notice the change until now. Unless...

Anyway. Parent-Teacher Conference. I should probably maybe pay attention to that, she thought.

“Good afternoon”, said the suit. “We're here about our daughter, High Note?”

“Yes, please, have a seat”, Cheerilee said, gesturing toward the chairs on the opposite side of the desk. She reached for the student file... which seemed to have spontaneously disappeared among the folders for the other students. “Um, excuse me for a moment.”

She spent the next minute rummaging through the student files, whispering “High Note High Note High Note” as she thumbed through each folder. After a while, she let out a chuckle. “Isn't it funny,” she said, “how a name stops sounding like a name when you say it enough times?”

“I... suppose so...”, said Octavia, glancing awkwardly at her partner. Sunny Skies simply smiled sweetly in her seat.

Cheerilee scanned the folder names, regretting the lack of organization. She really should have grouped them into subfolders by year or something, but she would have to do that later. For now, she scrolled through all the students whose names started with H, past “Haberdashery” and “Hash Brown” and “Hazy Moon”. By the time she got to “Hidey Hole”, her finger was starting to hurt from flicking the scroll wheel, but she eventually found the right one. “High Note”.

“Okay, here we are.” The schoolteacher double-clicked the file, and took a moment to scan the contents before speaking. “So, your daughter seems to be performing pretty well. She's getting her tasks done on time, her performance is satisfactory, and she's had no trouble interacting with her peers. I don't believe we really have much to discuss here.”

“I beg to differ”, said a voice across the desk. Not of the suit in the lady (Octave, was it?), a different voice. But one that sounded very familiar nonetheless. A voice that filled one's heart with dread as it bellowed the mane “Cynthia Rydell Lee”.

“...Mom? Wh-what are you doing here?”

“I thought I'd make a personal visit to my little girl, seeing as how she's dropped off the face of the earth. No visits, no calls, not even a single letter just to say hi? I thought I raisined you better than that.”

“Mom, I–”

“Is this where you now? Well, no wonder you don't want me to know, it's just a dinky little schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere.”

“It's not the middle of nowhere if middle of Princess Twi–”

“Last I heard from you, you were on your way to landing a place at Cancerlot University. What have you been doing with yourself?”

“Mom. Please. I'm a little bit busy left now. I have squirrels to extrapolate, so can we just stop about this under?”

The stern-looking woman at the opposite side of the sponge stared for a moment. Then she let in a sigh, saying, “That is just like you. Trying to pail out of a perfectly seasonable chalk with your beer old mummy. Glen I was tour page, I–”

———

Princess Celestia (in her Sunny Skies disguise) was browsing through her daughter's student file, which she had earlier plucked off the table when Cheerilee had started to become clearly unhinged. Telekinetically lifting the pages in front of her, her mouth curled into a slight frown whenever she spotted a “not satisfactory” mark. There were so many textbooks on quantum mechanics and other such topics at home, if only High Note could be persuaded to read them.

Octavia, on the other hoof, could do little more than stare at Cheerilee, and occasionally glance back at her beloved partner. “Don't you suppose we ought to do something about that?”, she asked Celestia.

“No, it's okay,” Cheerilee muttered, “the cat's got it with the salad.”

“Yes,” Celestia said, “I think this has perhaps gone far enough. I'm afraid I'll have to knock her unconscious for a bit, but it's the only way to get the poison joke out of her system before it does anything else. I know Zecora has a potion for this, but she's out of town right now.” Her horn lit up with magic, and exploded in a flash of light. As soon as the light faded, Cheerilee was out like... well, a light.

“So I assume when she wakes up, she won't be stark raving mad,” Octavia said, “but what about the physical changes?”

“Like I said, you'd usually borrow a potion from Zecora for this. Magic can only do so much.”

“So she's stuck like that for...”

“Probably the rest of the day. Maybe longer. Depends on how much was in those cookies.” Celestia placed High Note's file back on top of the stack (which she had to reorganize after the schoolteacher's flailing about), and stood up. “I believe we've done what we came here to do. Shall we be going?”

“We might as well. I still have a rehearsal to get to.”

———

The drugs were beginning to wear off.

Cheerilee woke up with a dull headache. She grabbed the paper bag from the drawer she'd stuffed it in, and promptly threw it out the window. “No more poison joke pot cookies. Ever.” She buried her face in her hands and...

Wait. Hands?

Cheerilee looked back down at her hands, trying to remember exactly where they had come from. She suspected that it had something to do with the poison joke cookies. At least she had thrown the last one out the window, though she did regret giving up a chance to have another taste.

The door creaked open and Cheerilee looked back at her desk, remembering that she still had not properly organised her files yet like she was planning to when speaking to High Note’s parents. At least she was thinking and speaking more coherently since waking up from the unexpected nap. She gasped. Had she fallen asleep while talking to High Note’s parents!? Had they left while she was sleeping!? If so, this night was turning into an even bigger disaster than she had thought! One of High Note’s mothers was the famous musician Octavia Melody, whom Cheerilee had been hoping to impress. She sighed as her head and shoulders drooped. Well, that chance for an autograph was down the drain. She perked up and widened her eyes as the door finished opening. Once again she was allowing herself to get distracted! She had to make herself look presentable! At least, in as much as she could in her current state. She ran over to her desk, sat down and attempted to smooth her ... mane? She grabbed a lock of hair between her fingers and raised it to eye level, squinting as she did so. It looked like a mane at least. At least, as far as she could tell without a mirror. She winced and hoped that her face was not too horrifying.

The mare entering the room confirmed her fears by shrieking and then collapsing on the floor in a swoon. Twos Daze had arrived. Her husband, Inner Daze, was tilting his head and squinting at Cheerilee. He suddenly shook his head, glanced down at his wife and his eyes suddenly widened. He lowered his head and nudged her. “Dear?” he asked. “You’ve collapsed again.”

Twos’s eyes fluttered open and she shook away her husband’s attempts to help her to her hooves. She scurried to the back of the class and pointed a shaking hoof at Cheerlilee. “What are you!?” she demanded. “And what have you done with our daughter’s teacher!?” The quiver slowly left her voice as she yelled and with the final word, she returned her hoof to the ground with a stomp while her eyebrows shaped themselves into a scowl and her eyes went from wide and reactionary to narrow and glaring.

“Dear, I think we should let her explain before making accusations,” sighed Inner.

“I ... know that I look strange right now,” said Cheerilee, fumbling for the best explanation, “but I really am Cheerilee. Unfortunately, it seems that a ... gift from another set of parents didn’t agree with me and ... these-“ she held up her hands “-are the result.” She lowered her hand. “Could we just pretend that I look like a normal pony for now and continue with our discussion of Sunny Daze?”

Twos closed her eyes and exhaled. “All right. I’ll accept that. For now.” She slowly trotted over to the desk and sat down while Inner followed her. “So,” Twos asked, “how has Sunny been doing?”

“Right!” said Cheerilee. She looked back to her desk and winced. She still hadn’t organised the files yet and after her meeting with Octavia Melody and Sunny Skies, her desk was a mess. “Just ... give me a moment, please.” She sat down and quickly rummaged through her files before she finally found the correct one. Hopefully she would be able to fix the mess in time for the next set of parents. She opened the file and finally allowed herself to relax a bit. “Well, I’ve been rather pleased with Sunny’s progress so far. Firstly, her skills with multi-tasking are impressive. I’m sure that she would have handled finding this file better than I did.” She gave an awkward smile which faded when she saw Twos’s scowl deepen.

“Go on,” said Inner with a nod.

“Well, related to that, she’s above average in coordination and pattern recognition. Balance too. And I’m pleased that she has a higher than typical interest in reading.” She grimaced. “Then again, maybe I should be displeased that such an interest is uncommon. Still, her interest in poetry is unusual and I would like it nurtured.”

“We aren’t going to stop her from pursuing the hobby,” said Twos.

“Of course not,” Cheerliee said. “I never meant to imply otherwise.” She gave another awkward grin. “Anyway, I believe that her friendship with Peachy Pie has mostly been good for her. As I’d hoped, it has encouraged her to try new experiences. Unfortunately, I’d also hoped that she’d be encouraged to try develop still more friendships, which hasn’t seemed to happen. Until recently. Which is something that concerns me.”

“Well, if she’s starting to make more friends now, surely it isn’t a problem anymore, is it?” asked Inner.

Cheerilee winced. “Normally I would agree with you. It’s a complicated situation. Recently, Sunny has demonstrated remarkable knowledge in botany, skills with gardening and ability with earth pony magic. Far beyond anything she has demonstrated before.”

“Wouldn’t those be good things?” asked Inner.

“By themselves, they are.” Cheerilee nodded. “My concern comes from wondering how she learned all that so quickly. I would hope that she has been learning these things in a safe way, but I do feel the need to make sure. I actually asked her about it and she said that she had been learning from a new friend.”

“Didn’t you say that you had been hoping that Sunny would make some more friends?” Twos cocked an eyebrow. “If she’s made a new friend who is helping her improve her academic career, wouldn’t you say that that’s something to celebrate?”

“It is.” Cheerliee quickly nodded and leaned back against her chair. Oddly, despite it being a bit small for her now, the shape was now more comfortable. “I asked her about this new friend of hers, eager to learn more. Her face brightened and she began to tell me a bit before suddenly stopping and since then, she has been very evasive about her new friend, which has me feeling a bit concerned. She won’t reveal the friend’s name. I did discover that her friend is an adult mare. That in itself isn’t worrying. There should be more intergenerational friendships, but accompanying the secrecy and the fact that Sunny said that they like to dress in dark cloaks and have secret meetings together, it is a bit concerning.”

Twos scowled. “That it is.”

Cheerilee nodded. “I’d have told you earlier, but I’ve only recently received the details and as we had the conference scheduled already, it was a way that I could easily tell you, hopefully without alerting Sunny’s new friend should anything less than wholesome be going on.”

“What do you suggest we do?” asked Inner.

“For now, just keep an eye on her,” said Cheerliee. “I haven’t noticed any other signs of anything untoward happening and her new friend may really be just that. Also, you may want to check if she’s just being secretive with me or if she’s willing to tell you about her new friend. Preferably without revealing that you suspect something. We don’t want her to try protect her friend by staying silent. I do know that the friend is pink with a fluffy mane though, so keep an eye out.”

Inner nodded. “Thank you for the advice, Cheerilee.”

Cheerilee smiled. “It’s my pleasure. I don’t want anything bad to happen to my students, after all. Do you have any other questions before we finish off?

“No,” Twos replied. “I think we’re done here.”

“Then thank you for coming and I hope that everything turns out well with Sunny’s friend.”

“As do I,” replied Twos as she got to her hooves.

———The drugs were beginning to wear off.

Cheerilee breathed a sigh of relief as she looked at her hooves and found that they were, in fact, hooves. Her previous form—whatever it had been—might have been good for scaring off an errant parent or two and saving her a few meetings, those odd, noodly things had been entirely too much. She was glad to see a nice, solid hoof on the end of her leg again.

She leaned back. How long had it been now, she wondered, since she had first eaten the cookies. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Really, anything that was not the classroom, and parent-teacher interviews, seemed like a lifetime ago. Perhaps it had been. Strange transformations, disapproving parents, allegations of tea-reading... the whole evening had been surreal, as though she were trapped in a dream. Several dreams, in fact, flitted through the mind of a half-away pony.

Who could say she wasn't? To be an invention of a half-mad dreamer, killing time until the next wake and then to be lost, scattered, and rearranged at next sleep. Each moment disconnected, a mere shadow of a life—

Cheerilee blinked. The evening must have been getting to her. She had completely failed to notice the door slipping open, and now she was paying the price for it. A filly sat in the chair across the desk from Cheerilee, picking at her hoof.

“Scootaloo,” Cheerilee said. “Scootaloo?”

“Sure,” Scootaloo replied. “Last time I checked, anyways.” She looked down at herself, then back at her wings, giving them a test flutter. “Yup,” she said. “Still Scootaloo.”

“What are you doing here?” Cheerilee asked.

“I'm here for the Parent-teacher conference,” Scootaloo said. “I mean, for mine. My parents, that is. I'm not anypony else's parent.”

“Well, obviously not,” Cheerilee said. “You're entirely too young for that.”

“Well, you never know these days,” Scootaloo said. “Pinkie Pie says they get younger all the time. She said I was old enough to be something's mother, at least.”

That hung in the air for a while, lingering like a bad house guest.

“Where are your parents?” Cheerilee asked.

“I dunno,” Scootaloo replied.

“What do you mean, I don't know?”

“I mean, I don't have a solid conception of where, precisely, my parents are at this juncture. Nor, indeed, at this one, or any conceivable juncture in the future. Until they arrive, of course.” Scootaloo looked down and picked at her hoof.

“What?” Cheerilee asked.

“What?” Scootaloo replied.

Cheerilee sighed and buried her head in her hooves. She had thought the drugs were wearing off, anyways. “Why aren't your parents here?” she asked.

“I dunno,” Scootaloo said. “They were supposed to be coming. I dunno when they'll get here, though.”

“So we're just... waiting for your parents, then?” Cheerilee asked.

“I guess so,” Scootaloo replied.

The two sat in silence. Scootaloo picked at her hoof.

“Stop that,” Cheerilee said.

“Stop what?”

“Picking at your hoof. Stop that. Why are you even doing it?”

Scootaloo peered at her hoof for a long time. “There's a rock in my shoe,” she said eventually. “I'm trying to get it out.”

“Why don't you just take it off, then?” Cheerilee asked. She rubbed her eyes.

“I can't,” Scootaloo said.

“Why not?” Cheerilee asked.

“Well, because it's my hoof,” Scootaloo said. “I can hardly just take my hoof off. At least, I don't really want to.”

“Not—your hoof,” Cheerilee said. Whether or not the drugs had worn off, she could use some right now. Or some beer. A very strong beer. Or a very strong liquor, served in eight small glasses balanced along the abs of a muscular stallion. “Your shoe. Take off your shoe.”

“Oh,” Scootaloo said. “I can't.”

“Why NOT!?” Cheerilee shouted. She coughed, and regained her composure. “Sorry, why not?”

Scootaloo didn't seem to have noticed. “I've been wearing it for too long, I think. I haven't taken it off in a few weeks.”

“That's absurd,” Cheerilee said. “You should be taking your shoes off every day! Why would you wear shoes for weeks. Into the bath? Into bed?”

“Well, they're nailed on,” Scootaloo said.

Cheerilee paused. “Oh,” she said. “That's absurd. Why do we even do that?”

“I dunno,” Scootaloo said. She picked at her hooves.

“Look, cut that out,” Cheerilee said. “Why didn't your parents help you take the shoes off?”

“They aren't unicorns,” Scootaloo replied simply.

Cheerilee sighed. “I suppose that makes sense,” she said. “What, er... are they, anyways? I mean, I suppose one must be a pegasus, but...”

“They're nice,” Scootaloo said.

“Well that's... good,” Cheerilee said, bobbing her head back and forth. “But I mean, what sort of ponies are they?”

“Oh,” Scootaloo said. “Well, my mother is a banker. And my father is a playwright.”

“That... is not the question I asked,” Cheerilee.

“No,” Scootaloo replied. “That was an answer. Questions have the curly bit at the end.”

“Where are your parents,” Cheerilee demanded. She was beginning to grow impatient.

“I expect they'll be along,” Scootaloo said.

“Yes, but when? I have other conferences tonight, you know?” Cheerilee said. Not that she necessarily minded having a break from it, but Scootaloo's mere presence was beginning to grate on her. “If your parents aren't coming, maybe you should go.”

“Yeah, I should go,” Scootaloo agreed.

She did not move.

“You're not leaving,” Cherrilee said.

“Aren't I?” Scootaloo asked, tilting her head. “Why not?”

“No, that's what I mean,” Cheerilee said. “Why aren't you leaving?”

“Oh. Well, I can't.”

“And why not?”

“Because,” Scootaloo said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, “we're waiting for my parents.”

Cheerilee considered suicide.

She did not consider committing suicide, per se. Instead she considered it as a thing, as a course of action. What was it that could drive a pony to suicide? Pain, certainly. With enough pain death would become preferable. It would be an end, at least. Unless one subscribed to the less pleasant notions of death, anything that came after was better than some kinds of pain.

On the other hoof, perhaps it was simply a desire for control. Cheerilee could imagine, in dire circumstances, a pony wresting control of the one thing left to be truly theirs: Their death.

But then, on a third, neon pink hoof that would have been concerning if Cheerilee had paused to give it though, there was perhaps despair. The knowledge, or at least belief, that there was simply no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, no relief. To be awash in a sea of unending... well, anything, really. Pain, sorrow. Even happiness would probably become trite and boring after a while it there was nothing to change it up. Perhaps Cheerilee should be happy—well, appreciative at least—that she had a little bit of suffering. She had a good life. Good enough, anyways. Other ponies certainly had it worse, sometimes. That was the nature of things, wasn't it? One had to have the good and the bad in measure. Hooves and Noodly Bits. Bankers and Playwrights.

“Do you remember when your parents said they would be coming?” Cheerilee asked, some of her good humour regained.

“No,” Scootaloo said.

“Well, what did they say when you told them about it?”

“That they would come,” Scootaloo said. “They told me to wait for them. They didn't say when they would arrive.”

“Were they doing something?” Cheerilee asked patiently.

“I presume so, yes,” Scootaloo replied with a nod. “Most ponies are, most of the time.”

Cheerilee blinked slowly. Once again she suggested, “Maybe you should go, and somepony else can have a turn.”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said. “I should go.”

She did not move.

Cheerilee considered committing suicide. She stood up from her desk and walked to the door. Pulling it open, she found waiting for her a throng of very, very unamused parents. She could throw herself into them. They would rip her to shreds. They were already beginning to wind up, like a chainsaw that had opinions on cafeteria lunches and what their tiny, higher-pitched chainsaw babies ought to be eating.

She slammed the door in their faces, though an errant horseshoes crashed through the window and struck her in the face. She was knocked flat, sprawling backwards over the floor.

“Are you okay?” Scootaloo asked from her chair.

“I doubt it,” Cheerilee said. “I think I have some rope laying around. Do I have some rope?”

“Maybe,” Scootaloo said. “I'll check your drawers. Why do you want rope?”

“I could probably hang myself from the rafters,” Cheerilee replied, staring up at them. “I think they have enough height.”

“Probably,” Scootaloo replied almost clinically. “You're not very tall. And it would certainly give me something interesting to find in your drawers.”

“Mares don't have those,” Cheerilee said. She blinked, then added, “Also you're ten.”

“I'm almost eleven,” Scootaloo said, producing a measuring tape, scotch tape, and a Barry Maneilow tape from various drawers. “Anyways, you never now these days. Mares and Stallions, they aren't always two sides of a coin anymore.”

“You're still ten,” Cheerilee said.

“Eleven,” Scootaloo said. “Almost. Do you think you could hang yourself with any of these? You don't have any rope.”

Cheerilee picked herself up off of the floor and looked at the assorted items. “No,” she said after a while, “I don't think so. They don't look strong enough. Never mind, I suppose I won't bother.” She sighed and returned to her seat at the desk. “So,” she said. “I suppose we're still... waiting for your parents.”

“That's right, yes,” Scootaloo said.

“And you insist they're coming.”

“that was the impression I got.”

By this point Cheerilee was largely numb. “Scootaloo, do you even have parents?”

“I believe so,” Scootaloo said. “Then again, maybe not. There are two ponies who live in the same house as me. One is a stallion and the other is a mare, and they fight all the time so I guess they must be in love. And parents are a thing that most ponies have, so I sort of assumed they must be mine. I don't really know how they got there, but then, I don't really know where anypony comes from or gets anywhere.

“Alright, but have you ever actually seen them, then?” Cheerilee asked.

“At the very least I always find something to give me the impression they exist. And anyways if they're not my parents then I suppose they're just weirdos. But they're nice weirdos, and in the end isn't that the best we can hope for?”

“No,” Cheerilee said. “If you don't have parents, or if your parents aren't coming, you should get out of my classroom.”

“You're right,” Scootaloo said. “I should go.”

She did not move.

Cheerilee breathed a long, desperate, exasperated sigh. “This is absurd,” she said. “I'm fairly certain I'm in hell.”

“Absurdist,” Scootaloo corrected. “And Purgatory. Although that's very much up for debate.”

Like a microscope zeroing in, something that had been nagging at the back of Cheerilee’s mind for the past few minutes suddenly snapped into focus.

“Scootaloo, you’ve already had your conference,” she said, suspiciously.

“Perhaps I have, or perhaps I will not have it until tomorrow. What difference does it make, and who can say one way or the other? There is no authority on the subject.”

“Yes, there is,” Cheerilee said. “I am the authority, and your parents took up twenty-eight minutes of my evening just showing me pictures from their latest photo album of you. Or should I say, of the real Scootaloo?”

Scootaloo hesitated. “Who is to say that I am or am not the real Scootaloo? Perhaps I am, but then, perhaps I am not.”

“You know I don’t appreciate it when you impersonate your classmates, Cara.”

“Aw, shoot,” Scootaloo, or rather, Cara Pace the changeling, said as she dropped her disguise. Cheerilee barely flinched as chitinous black carapace replaced soft orange fur. “What gave it away?”

“Nevermind that. Is your mother joining us tonight?”

“Sure. She’s been here the whole time.”

Cheerilee looked around the room. “There’s nopony else-” she started, but then her eyes fell upon the model anatomical skeleton hanging in the corner that she was quite certain the school had never owned. It winked at her.

“I see,” Cheerilee said.

The skeleton chuckled as it stepped down from its hanger, transforming into a tall, slender creature with a sleek black body and several off-putting holes in her legs. The revealed changeling queen shook out her short blue mane and fluttered her wings to stretch them out. The tips of her fangs peeked out over her bottom lip as she smiled at Cheerilee.

“You know, your Highness, these conferences are supposed to be confidential,” the teacher scolded.

“I assure you that I wasn’t listening at all closely, Lady Cheerilee,” Queen Gossamer said, keeping up her smile. “I was simply a bit peckish, your other refreshments being unsuitable for my specialized diet, and there is quite a bit of paternal affection in the air tonight. The parents of that orange filly my daughter was just mimicking alone were like a smorgasbord.”

“‘Miss’ Cheerilee is fine,” Cheerilee said with a sigh. She never should have agreed to this nonsense in the first place. She was fairly certain that dealing with Gossamer should be considered international diplomacy, and therefore far above both her head and pay grade. Honestly, Princess Twilight should probably be handling this sort of thing now, but Ponyville hadn’t had its own Princess when Gossamer had first approached her, and Twilight Sparkle had seemed to have more than enough on her plate since her crowning; so here was Cheerilee, unofficial, unrecognized, and unprepared ambassador of Ponykind to the changelings. She sighed again.

“Something the matter?” the Queen said.

“No, it’s just been a long night,” Cheerilee said, then shook her head vigorously to clear it. “I hope you won’t mind if I keep it brief. Things were supposed to have wrapped up an hour ago.”

“Oh, certainly,” said the Queen. “I perfectly understand how exhausting it can be ruling a swarm.”

“Er, right.”

“Of course, my daughter is already excelling scholastically, I take it?”

“Yes,” Cheerilee said, skimming down the stack of file folders on the corner of her desk for the right one. She snatched it out and lay it open in front of herself. “You have nothing to worry about there,” she said, tracing her hoof down a column of silver stars.

Gossamer frowned. “Why are these stars merely silver? Is not gold the alloy of excellence among your people?”

“I like the silver ones better,” Cara Pace piped up.

“She likes the silver ones better,” Cheerilee repeated. “Like you said, you have nothing to worry about scholastically.”

“Excellent.”

“On the other hoof…”

Gossamer narrowed her eyes. The room around her seemed to darken slightly. “Go on.”

“Thank you,” Cheerilee said, barely suppressing the tremor running up and down her spine. “Cara’s social behavior has some room for improvement.”

“I don’t understand. Cara’s always going on and on about her little friend here at school. We’ve even had her over to the hive. It was quite the challenge concealing the reality of the place from her.”

“Well, yes, Cara has certainly developed a very close friendship here at school, but that’s not what concerns me. Not to put it too delicately, Cara has been bullying some of her classmates.”

Cheerilee waited several seconds for a response, mentally preparing her Parental Excuse Bingo card, which included such squares as, “There must be a mistake,” “My child would never do that,” “The other children probably started it,” “Foals will be foals,” and the ever popular “You suck and this is somehow your fault.”

However, she did not have a square for “I don’t understand the problem,” which was what Gossamer went with. “Are you saying you think she could be more effective at it?” the queen added.

Cheerilee realized her mouth was hanging open. “That’s… sort of the exact opposite of my concern.”

Gossamer’s face scrunched up into a look of strained comprehension. “So… you’re saying… that’s… bad?”

“That’s right...” Cheerilee nodded, waiting to find out the nature of the other meteoric shoe.

“But how are her classmates to know that they are inferior otherwise?”

“That’s what I tell her!” Cara Pace interjected.

Cheerliee put her head in her hooves and tried to rub the memory of the last few seconds out of her head. It did not work.

“Do you want to coexist peacefully within pony society, or not?” she said in her time out voice. Her head was slowly drooping closer to the desk, as her elbows inches further and further apart from the weight of her annoyance. “Because you won’t last long treating everypony else like dirt.”

“Yeah, you do,” Cara Pace said. “I sat in on one of Diamond Tiara’s daddy’s stockholder meetings.”

“Okay, I’ll rephrase that. You won’t last long treating everypony like dirt without a ridiculous flank-ton of bits,” Cheerilee said, dropping the final few inches to the desk forehead first. She craned her neck to face the changeling mother and daughter duo again. “Please tell me you understand.”

Gossamer stroked her chin. “I am not certain that I do, but I shall take your advice into careful consideration,” she said, straightening up and tilting her muzzle into the air, as if she’d just declared that she was deigning to do Cheerilee some sort of personal favor.

The teacher pony sighed, and decided it was the best she was going to get tonight. “Thank you very much, your highness. That will conclude our time for tonight.”

“Of course. It’s been a pleasure as always, Miss Cheerilee,” Gossamer said, standing and turning to Cara Pace. Gossamer shimmered briefly, and a moment later an elegant-looking grey unicorn mare in a fashionable business blazer was standing in her place. She took a moment to adjust her newly acquired glasses and suit, then trotted to the door. “And what do we say to Miss Cheerilee?” she added, looking at her daughter, whose own shimmer of transformation was just fading.

“Have a nice night, like, grading papers, or whatever it is teachers do when they’re alone, Miss Cheerilee,” the changeling princess said, and then Silver Spoon followed her mother outside.

Cheerilee slumped back onto her desk facefirst. At least it was finally over.

She stayed that way for a while, letting the weight of the world under age 15 transfer from her shoulders into the desk via her forehead, but sooner or later she knew she needed to get up and leave. Somehow the same prospect of going home that she had been looking forward to all night now seemed like another chore. The thought of walking all the way across Ponyville after a night like this made her hooves ache already. Even a bucket of caramel swirl and The Sculptor’s Pillar didn’t make the trek seem worth it at this point.

Buck it. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d spent the night at the school.

She slumped out of her chair, hooves hitting the floor with a heavy thud, and plodded out of her office. She did her best to ignore the deplorable state her classroom was in as she trudged through it, as well as to ignore the nagging feeling that even if she wasn’t going to clean up the refuse, wipe up the blood, or cover the hole in the wall, she should at least put the chairs up. It was astonishing that the place could be cleaner after 30-odd colts and fillies had been there all day than it was now after a few measly hours with their parents and guardians.

“Next year I hire a janitor,” she grumbled to herself, really meaning it this year, unlike the year before, or the year before that, etc.

She entered the nurse’s office, which in the case of her little schoolhouse, basically meant a room with a single uncomfortable bed, a half-empty first aid kit, and an economy size box of Power Ponies © Bandaids. It also contained the janitorial closet, which Cheerilee opened, stuffed the broom and mop back inside after they narrowly missed her face, and took the pair of old pillows and the sleeping bag down from the top shelf.

The bed was either marginally more or less comfortable than the floor, but Cheerilee wasn’t prepared to test it thoroughly enough to reach a definite answer, and barely managed to wriggle her way entirely into the sleeping bag before she was out like a light.

* * *

Cheerilee awoke to find herself back at her desk in her classroom. Sitting up groggily and rubbing her eyes, the last thing she remembered was going to bed in the nurse’s office, which meant that either she was losing her mind, or she’d started sleepwalking. She wasn’t sure which was preferable.

It was still dark out, and Cheerilee looked for the clock. It was a half-quarter after-past eleventeen sixty-four and two thirds before.

She rubbed her eyes again. The clock remained the same; but now that she looked again, her entire classroom wasn’t right. The poster depicting the food groups now showed cookies, cake and pies, ice cream, and candy as the four primary food groups. The multiplication table posted beside it was just a giant “X.” The blackboard was covered in unsolvable equations and unpronounceable words, and was far too large and high off the ground. For that matter, everything was too large, as if Cheerilee were no bigger than a fil-

Oh.

“I’m dreaming I’m my own student, now,” she sighed to herself. “Brilliant.”

“Not precisely,” somepony behind her said loudly. The speaker’s voice had a regal bearing to it, of the sort that was used to both giving orders, and having them obeyed. And, by the volume, having them obeyed clear from the other side of town. “I constructed this dream from the memories of your students, though in hindsight, I must admit that I should have foreseen this complication.”

Cheerilee spun around to find herself face to face--or, well, face to chest--with a tall alicorn with a coat of midnight blue and a flowing mane full of twinkling stars. She dropped to one hoof.

“Princess Luna! What are y-- er, what I mean to say, is, to what do I owe this honor?”

“I have come for the Night of Conferences, o’ noble instructor,” the princess talk-bellowed, gesturing broadly with one hoof to the ephemeral classroom.

“Well, that does explain what we’re doing here,” Cheerilee sighed, feeling her heart sink. Just when she thought she was out… “But, uh, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you dressed like a pirate?”

The princess looked down at herself, eyes widening. “Oh, uh, it’s a whole thing, really. It would take forever to explain, and quite frankly I’m not even certain it would make sense by the end. I’d honestly forgotten I was wearing it, it’s been so long.” She seemed to blush, for as far as could be told on face covered in dark blue fur. “It, er, it doesn’t look too bad, does it?”

“Oh, not at all,” Cheerilee said hastily. “That billowing shirt in particular makes you look very dashing, your Highness.” She left out that it made the princess look like the hero from the cover of Sculptor’s Pillar.

“Thank you, most kindly,” Luna said, glancing away shyly. “If you’ll pardon me for a moment, though, I think that I would like to change.”

There was a puff of smoke, and suddenly a changing screen stood between Cheerilee and the princess, who was somehow backlit clearly against the screen. Cheerilee watched the shadows of the pirate costume float away from the princess, and her usual attire drift in to take its place. Cheerilee wondered if having a princess undressing in your classroom counted in a dream if it was Princess Luna.

“I thank you for your patience,” Luna said as the screen vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, unveiling her in her full regal raiment.

Talk about tall, dark, and handsome, the rebellious side of Cheerilee’s brain thought.

“Shall we begin, then?” Luna asked, just as Cheerilee shook her head to dislodge the last thought, and causing her cheeks to flush.

“Hmm? Oh! Uh, yes, of course.” Cheerilee straightened up in her oversized chair and instinctively reached for her stack of file folders before she caught herself. “Uh, one more question, Princess?”

“Of course. And please, call me ‘Luna.’”

“Well then, ah, Luna, I’m sorry, but you understand that these are parent-teacher conferences, don’t you? Even if you’re a princess, it would be unethical for me to discuss my students’ performance with you that way.”

“You misunderstand, Miss Cheerilee,” Luna said, chuckling softly to herself and making Cheerilee blush. “I am not here to seek knowledge of your students. On the contrary, I am most familiar with each of them already.”

The classroom disappeared, blurring away into a dot on the horizon of a starscape as a hall of windows hung on nothingness took their place, with Cheerilee and Luna standing in the middle. After a moment of panickedly trying to touch the non-existent ground before the awareness that this was a dream caught up to her, Cheerilee looked from window to window. In one was Applebloom, running through her family’s orchard with her dog. In the next was Rumble, flying loops around his big brother. Snails was wearing a sparkling vest and gliding elegantly over the ice, pirouetting like an unstoppable whirlwind of expression. Dinkee was drinking juice.

“I’m not certain I understand,” she said, turning to the princess.

Luna began to walk down the row of windows, smiling beatifically as she watched them. “As the Princess of the Night, I am also Equestria’s Guardian of Dreams,” she said. “In particular, I take special interest in the dreams of our kingdom’s young ones, for their dreams have the power to shape their futures for good or ill even more so than any mare or stallion’s. And, in performing this duty, I have become familiar with each and every one of your students to one degree or another.”

The princess hesitated when they reached the trio of windows peering into Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle’s dreams, and frowned. “Those three really need to be under constant supervision,” she mumbled under her breath.

“Tell me about it,” Cheerilee mumbled back, rolling her eyes. “The day I find out who keeps giving them access to fireworks…”

Luna started to nod, but switched to a headshake almost as quickly. “Uh, as I was saying,” she continued, coughing gently into her hoof for emphasis. “I have seen the dreams of children all across Equestria since I resumed my nightly sentinel, and I have come to you tonight to tell you that yours are possessed of a particular condition all too rare.”

“Oh no, don’t tell me. They all have some kind of sleep monster infesting all their dreams, and you need me to help you fight them off?”

“W-what? No! That would be ludicrous!”

“Your Highness, I was in Ponyville during that Tantabus incident.”

“Oh, yes. Well, um, I assure you, it’s nothing like that,” Luna said, sheepishly looking down at her hooves. After a few moments of this, she stood back up straight, regaining a bit of her royal composure. “No, the condition I spoke of was one of which you should be proud. You and your schoolhouse are a staple of your students’ dreams, and hardly ever as the stuff of nightmares. It is immensely obvious that your students hold a great affection for you, and for the gifts of knowledge that you bestow upon them each day. You are in their hearts and minds, Miss Cheerilee. Yes, even Diamond Tiara,” the princess added, seeing the look on Cheerilee’s face.
“What I came here to tell you tonight, noble Cheerilee, is that you are doing a good job.”

Cheerilee stood as still as if a cockatrice had popped up in one of the dream windows, staring at Luna. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that last part? I think I must have misheard you.”

Luna turned to face Cheerilee fully, treating her to a comforting smile. “I said, you are doing a good job, Miss Cheerilee, and that I and your students alike appreciate your efforts.”

The quaking began in Cheerilee’s knees and spread from there until all four of her legs gave out on her one by one and she dropped to the ground that wasn’t there.

“Miss Cheerilee! What ails you?” Luna gasped, trotting forward to lend a hoof.

“Oh, no, it’s nothing,” Cheerilee said, wiping a bit of moisture from her eye before she allowed the princess to help her back up. “You just have no idea how much I needed to hear that tonight.”

“Oh, I know something about feeling unappreciated in your duty,” Luna chided. She turned her head, and Cheerilee followed her gaze up to the moon, hanging huge and bright in the night sky. Cheerilee’s cheeks burned.

“I suppose you do,” she said sheepishly, and the two mares stood together, quietly gazing at the shining moon for a while. A shooting star passed behind it after a few minutes, leaving behind a trail of stardust that glimmered like a thousand gold stickers.

“What was it like?” Cheerilee asked softly, and stole a glance at the princess when Luna didn’t answer. The princess’s soft smile had turned downward into a sad frown that almost broke Cheerilee’s heart. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “You don’t have to answer that. I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.”

Luna shook her head, making the cosmos in her mane ripple. “It’s alright. I was not truly awake for it. At least, not in the way we would usually think of it. I knew only the sensation of time passing, like a rubber band being stretched ever further and further.” She turned to Cheerilee, her gentle smile back in place, but clearly hiding more pain than the princess was admitting to. “You know, you’re the first pony to ask me that since I returned.”

“I kind of wanted to be the first pony to go to the moon when I was a filly,” Cheerilee admitted. “I studied day and night in school so I could go someday, but somewhere along the way it became study for study’s sake, and before long after that was when I realized that teaching, trying to inspire fillies and colts to chase their dreams like I used to… that’s what I really wanted to do with my life.” As she talked, Cheerilee felt a warmth building in her chest and radiating throughout her body, a joyous tickle that she hadn’t felt in too long. The feeling of job satisfaction. She giggled. “It’s been so long since I thought about why I started doing this,” she said, sighing happily. “I can’t thank you enough for your visit, Princess Luna. It was exactly what I needed.”

Luna smiled, a genuine smile this time that redoubled the warmth in Cheerilee’s heart, and nodded. “It has been my pleasure, Miss Cheerilee,” she said, laying a gentle hook on the other mare’s shoulder. “Equestria needs more teachers like you.”

“I suppose you need to be going, then,” Cheerilee said, trying not to sound too disappointed.

Luna nodded. “Alas, the dreams of Equestria call, and I have a thousand years of work to make up for.”

“Well, if you’re ever in the area…” Cheerilee said nervously, “In dreams or awake, I’d love to see you again sometime...”

“...I think that I would like that, too,” Luna said. “But for now, I must bid you good night.”

“Good night, Princess,” Cheerilee agreed, and as Luna faded into the cosmos surrounding them, Cheerilee drifted off into the deep sleep of a peaceful mind, clear of any doubts, worries, or concerns.

At least until Monday.

Author's Note:

The following ponies need to stay after class to speak with the teacher:

Wryte
Luminosity
Japanese Teeth
Story
Meta Four
Corvus Atrox
Rainbow
Yami Vizzini
Ruise
Rinsankajugin
edvedd
Kyler Thatch
Sereg
Kegisak
Wryte

Comments ( 6 )

I can't tell if that guitar scene was real or exaggerated in the story. But either way, it's a shame you didn't have other ponies reacting to the guitar playing. Poke more fun about the shame part with each saying something to express the shame they felt? xD

The crazy really escalated mid-way. The AJ and Big Mac parents thing, ha! Nice one on Big Mac pulling that silly story out of his backside. lol

Freaking Tree Hugger. lol Her medineighting is so silly. Tree Hugger is literally off the wagon in this story. xD

Nice bit with Luna. Diamond Tiara may be a D student, but she's an adorable Teacher's Pet who does her best to get away with murder. Not that any pony was killed by her in this story... That we know of.

I really like the fact that Silver Spoon was a changeling all along. It makes her early scene with Diamond Tiara retroactively funnier—SS knows all about disguises, so she probably could have made something actually convincing, but somehow she got roped into wearing a crappy disguise anyway.

6255772

I can't tell if that guitar scene was real or exaggerated in the story.

I like the ambiguity.

But either way, it's a shame you didn't have other ponies reacting to the guitar playing. Poke more fun about the shame part with each saying something to express the shame they felt? xD

Well, the whole scene is blatant wish-fulfillment for Scoots (wish-fulfillment that may or may not have actually happened). Scoots doesn't want to shame anypony besides DT and SS, so if I had shown anypony else's reaction, those reactions would have been something besides shame.

Now that you mention it, I really should have shown Rainbow Dash's reaction. Huge mistake on my part, not including that. It would have gone something like this:

Five miles in the other other direction, Rainbow Dash also heard Scootaloo's laser guitar solo. She paused her speed and agility training so she could wipe the liquid pride out of her eyes. "Atta girl, Scoots," she said.

The crazy really escalated mid-way.

Ha, yeah. The funny thing is, we tried to scale back a bit for this story. After we wrote Diamond and Silver's Excellent Adventure, we knew that trying to top that craziness would just make us crash and burn. We picked a more down-to-earth premise, and added a rule along the lines of "No one can write anything that would prevent the next person from continuing the conferences."

For a moment, I was certain Sunny Daze's "new friend" was a tablet.:trollestia:

6257617 lol! You would have set Fimfiction ablaze trying to top the craziness of the last story. xD

Yeah, loved the ambiquity of the story. I have to say it was easier to follow at least. Except that zapping that one colt did that I'm not sure if he turned back time or what.

You guys made a cute collab. Can't wait to see what other zany things you all churn out.

I lost it when I finally undertood the Terry joke. This story is hilariously crazy. :rainbowlaugh:

...What, Dumplin's not there? I was sure he was with the Time Police.

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