• Published 12th Dec 2016
  • 7,675 Views, 2,366 Comments

How to Disappear Completely - shortskirtsandexplosions



Flash Sentry's world sucks. Maybe it's high time he left it.

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Hungry

A massive pair of crystalline doors opened to a bright, verdant landscape. Starlight Glimmer casually trotted ahead of Flash, her horn glowing as she opened the entrance to the palace.

"...and you'll find an Information Center right inside Town Hall."

"Town... Hall...?" Flash murmured, squinting at the blazingly blue sky. The air smelled sweet, sugary... even cavity-inducing.

"Mmmmhmmm." Starlight nodded. "It's the big circular building in the middle of town. You can't miss it." She pivoted to face him with a smile. "Just ask the front desk secretary for a brochure. You'll learn all you need about Ponyville in no time. I... uh... I helped a little bit with the latest print. It was a project that the Princess and I worked on together since we have so many visitors like you showing up as of late." She brushed her mane back and added, "But—eheh—everyone here is more than willing to give you directions all the same, y'know. All you have to do is ask."

"Right..." Flash's vision came into focus. Bright blue pupils reflected looming mountains and lush forests. His ears droops as his muzzle hung open. "Just ask..."

Starlight cocked her head to the side. "Was there a specific place you were headed to when you first stumbled upon the palace? Perhaps I could point you in the right direction."

"I was just... just..." Flash gulped. The phantom weight of schoolbags slumped to the ground in the back of his mind. "...going for a stroll."

That made Starlight squint curiously. Eventually, she cleared her throat and said, "Well, I hope you enjoy the... rest of your walk!" A slight giggle. "Just so long as—y'know—you schedule your next arrival here at the palace. Princess Twilight is more than willing to meet strangers from far and wide who wish to learn lessons on friendship. But—all things considered—making an appointment would be most helpful in the future. I'm sure you'll understand."

"Yeah... totally..."

"Sooooooooo... uh... have a good day then, Mr. Sentry!" Starlight waved. Starlight backtrotted. Starlight produced a glow to her horn.

And the doors behind Flash closed with a thunderous clap.

He was too busy staring at the inexplicably colorful landscape to be affected by the dire punctuation of that gesture. The houses of this "Ponyville" were straight out of a fairy tale book. He saw structures of cobblestone and wood with gold-thatched rooftops. A windmill twirled in the distance while babbling brooks snaked around grassy gnolls. To the far east, colorful tents and market stands dotted the landscape. Much closer, two-story apartments and rustic inns stood, flanked by carriages and apple carts. Flash sniffed, smelling hay and sawdust. In his peripheral, he spotted patches of farmland, and he could see supply wagons full of produce. The village was the very epitome of "country," and he felt like any moment he might see random livestock wandering by.

Flash raised his hoof and rubbed the fuzzy limb against his fuzzy cheek.

He was livestock.

Gulping, Flash stepped forward. His eyes traveled upwards, lost in the blueness. Where there wasn't a cloud, he saw songbirds and butterflies fliting about. The air was filled with mirth, music—although he couldn't tell from where. Perhaps everywhere. He strolled past gardens full of flowers that ranged the entire color spectrum. Squirrels and bunny rabbits scampered fearlessly between the village buildings and the fringes of a massive forest. The more Flash stared, the more the environment stared back—as if smiling—and there wasn't a single ounce of dread to be tasted amongst the entire sweet pie of life.

Once Flash had trotted a slight distance, he turned to look behind him. "Whoah..." He gawked at the palace that he had just exited. It resembled a crystalline tree—or perhaps a ginormous candlelabra. It was simultaneously beautiful and ridiculous, dwarfing any amusement park architecture he had the grace of witnessing up close, both in beauty and in splendor. His eyes couldn't tell where the balconies began and the spires ended, and the slender base of the looming, glinting structure just screamed "absurdity." He gulped hard and murmured to himself: "Friggin'... bigger on the inside than on the outside—"

"Good morning!" a voice chirped.

Flash Sentry flinched. The last time anyone had addressed him that loudly—and suddenly—he had received a right-hook to the chin from Hank. He reeled about... only to see a smiling equine. The creature's muzzle was flat and rigid—like Flash's own reflection. A stallion, Flash reasoned. The pony paused to wave... then continued drawing a wagon full of hay bales towards the far end of town.

Flash watched his movement, then blinked as he saw other quadrupeds lingering about the insides and outsides of the village. A graying mare stood on a balcony, watering flowers. At first sight of Flash, she smiled and waved. Two ponies trotting side by side nodded at him, grinning as they continued a mirthful conversation. Two old stallions sitting on a porch gave him a casual glance, waving briefly before continuing to waste the hour way in idle chat.

Flash stumbled through the scene in a delightful daze. He glanced about, his eyes reflecting more and more bright shapes. Each pony brought with him or her more diverse shades of pastel color. At one point, a group of fillies scampered across the street—chasing circles around him before carrying their foalish game of giggles down an adjacent alley. The air smelled sweet—the denizens sweeter. The villagers' smiles matched the bright pink and blue shades of storefronts and dangling inn signs. Even the damn architecture had wooden heart shapes and butterfly silhouettes. The veritable joy and innocence of the place haunted the teenager. He trembled in his alien body, and yet he couldn't shake the goosebumps loose. Any moment, he might collapse—and he was suddenly more concerned for the shock it would give the locals than any adverse effect it might have on himself.

He needed to sit down. He needed to squat in a chair or a bed somewhere and compose himself. Every minute... every heart beat was a vibration that threatened to rattle his limbs to loose jelly.

So—in an absolute test of this queer dream's structural integrity—Flash made for the brightest, pinkest, most absurd-looking building in sight. Painted wooden effigies of cupcakes and sundaes loomed above him as he passed through the open door. Immediately, he was assaulted by an aromatic wave of angel bread and cake frosting. Ponies sat at bright pink tables, eating at bright pink pastries, giggling with bright pink conversations. With a few limping steps, Flash carried his numb self to a stool positioned before a glass counter. He sat still and silent, his ears tickled by the crisp breeze wafting in through the windows... and the warm scent of baked goods rolling out of a squeaky clean kitchen. His shivers hardly subsided, but at least he was anchored in place. He tried to collect his thoughts as the whole happy world hummed around him.

It didn't help that a plump middle-aged mare shuffled up, chirping in a hauntingly familiar voice. "Why, hello there, stranger! What can I getcha?"

Flash did a double-take. "... ... ...Mrs. Cake?" he dripped.

Her bright eyes blinked at him. "Right you are!" she sing-songed yet again. "Welcome to Sugarcube Corner!"

"This..." Flash squinted at the polished surroundings of the rustic eatery. "This is Sugarcube Corner?"

"That's right! Best bakery in all of Equestria!" The mare giggled pleasantly, blushing slightly. "At least... I like to think so."

Flash craned his neck, gazing at the kitchen. Beyond the edge of a counter, he could make out a yellow horse's body with an orange horse's mane. The color scheme of the stallion was too recognizable to be a coincidence. "Mr. Cake..." He turned and looked over his shoulder. He noticed a young orange-haired mare with a golden coat talking with a country twang. "Golden Harvest..." His mind flickered through an entire yearbook of smiling teenage faces just as he scanned the muzzles and flanks of the patrons seated around him. "...Thunderlane... Raindrops... Berry Punch..."

Mrs. Cake cocked her head to the side. "Did you reserve a table for a party? I could check the guest book for ya!"

He ignored her, and yet he didn't. "A mirror..." Flash chuckled breathily. "The portal... it's a mirror..." His heart warmed. He smiled... then smiled some more. The stallion felt like giggling—if just for giggling's sake.

"Sir...?" Mrs. Cake was starting to sound concerned.

Flash turned to face her. He blinked. He grinned. "Hi there."

"Hehehe... hiya!"

"... ... ...how are you doing today?" he asked.

"Well..." Mrs. Cake adjusted her apron. "Busy as ever! What—with all these pies we have to deliver to Fillydelphia by week's end. But baking is what I love to do best!"

"Fillydelphia..." Flash almost snorted. "That's great." He swallowed. "This is great."

"Is there... something I can get ya, sir?"

"Hmmm?" Flash stared at her as if reawakening to the simplicity of the moment.

"We've got everything you could ask for here! From cupcakes to licorice to apple fritters to banana splits!"

"I..." Flash squirmed in the stool he sat on. "I'm not hungry." Just as he said this, something growled between the two of them.

Mrs. Cake giggled. "Seems like somepony's tummy thinks differently!"

"Some...pony...?"

"How about a tasty treat for starters?"

"Uhm... er..." Flash glanced at the glass display before him and named the first thing he saw. "...banana bread?"

"How many slices?"

"...three?"

"Mmmmkay! That'll be one bit!"

Flash blinked. "One bit?"

"That's right!"

"... ... ...one bit of what?"

"Excuse me?"

"Sorry?"

An awkward burp in time lingered between the two.

"It's... one bit for three slices," Mrs. Cake explained with a cheekish smile. "That includes the butter."

Flash sat in a daze. He suddenly exhaled, "Oh you mean money."

"That's right."

"I..." Flash winced as the words crawled out of his muzzle. "I don't have any money."

Mrs. Cake blinked, glancing at his flank—as if expecting something to be hanging off him. A wallet? A saddle? "Oh..."

"I... I'm sorry..." Flash could feel his ears drooping against his will. He leaned off the stool. "Really, I... I just came in here to sit down."

"No, it's quite alright! Are you visiting from out of town?"

Flash bit his lip. The sweetness of the moment had dwindled into nervous numbness. His shoulders hunched as he looked for an exit.

But Mrs. Cake was looking for something else. Suddenly, she sported a darling smile. "Tell you what... do ya see those tables off in the distance?"

"Uhhhh..." Flash followed her line of sight to see a booth or two littered with bread crumbs. "Yeah?"

"How about this? You can do a little something for us—like cleaning off those tabletops—and I'll let you have those three slices!"

"Oh no..." Flash winced. "Mrs. Ca—ma'am. I couldn't..."

"Why not?" She winked. "It's an honest reward for some honest work! Pinkie Pie is off helping her friends with something today, so I've been a bit short on help around the storefront. So what do you say?"

"I..." Flash smiled politely. "I-I didn't mean to be an inconvenience. Really."

"Heh... I'll be the judge of that." Mrs. Cake ducked behind the counter, then reappeared with a rag and a bottle of cleanser. "Here's what you need. Do a good job on the tables, and you don't have to worry about the bits!"

"You're..." Flash shuddered slightly. "You're too kind."

"Mmmmm... I get that a lot. One sec..." She trotted into the kitchen. "I've got to check on my pies!"

Flash stood in place, still stunned by the spontaneous act of kindness and generosity. After all, he was a total stranger—a practical horse vagrant from the street. After letting the moment sink in, he approached the rag and bottle on the counter... then stumbled to a stop. He looked at the items, then down at his hooves. Awkwardly, he leaned back on his flank and attempted to stand up straight. This worked for the better part of zero seconds—and he was collapsing back on all four fetlocks. Grunting, he reached up and tried to grasp the bottle with the crook of his hooves—only to fail. At last... he resorted to the only thing he could. He grasped the edge of the rag between his teeth and flung it over his flank—where it rested. He then clasped the bottle in his muzzle, carrying it awkwardly across the eatery. He looked to his left and right. He spotted ponies carrying trays of sweets, coin purses, and other items with their teeth—so the stallion felt slightly less weird for resorting to the use of his jaw.

Approaching the first table, Flash realized—upon closer inspection—that it was far less messy than he had previously thought. In fact, aside from a few sparse crumbs, there was very little that needed to be cleaned off. This made Mrs. Cake's spontaneous offer even more embarassingly generous with each passing second that Flash observed the matter. Nevertheless, she had committed to something, and so had he. The only trouble was figuring out how to spray cleanser on a tabletop and wipe it clean... without the use of opposable digits. Flash figured that the most basic of physical actions must have come naturally to these horse-creatures. After all, how else would they have established such a fully-functional civilization?

It was around this point that Flash discovered that the best way to think about it was not to think about it at all. He did things as stupidly as he could—using the flimsy joints in his forelimbs to operate the spray bottle and his own protruding horse chin and teeth to wipe with the rag. To his mild surprise, it was working, and he found that he could even observe the patrons of Sugarcube Corner around him while he went about his task.

The teenager soon found himself tuning in to random conversations—all of which resonated with perfect clarity... perhaps due to him possessing large damn pony ears.

"So I planned my vacation to the Crystal Empire ahead of time, right? And guess what I got in the mail! An actual travel brochure sent from the Crystal Palace! What are the odds, y'know?! I'm telling you—it's all Princess Cadance's doing! I swear—she's a mind reader... or a heart reader. Someway... somehow... she must have known how much I needed this vacation and personally sent me this pamphlet to get a proper idea of what I'm in for! Either that or... y'know... random mailbox spam. Heeheehee!"

"The older I get, the more turnips and carrots taste the same. I feel like my mother went through the same thing when she was this age. But—then again—it probably comes from working on a farm. All we ever eat is turnips and carrots, right? I bet if I lived in Manehattan, I could tell the difference in a heartbeat. The more you know, the less you have to digest. Guess that's why I keep coming here to Sugarcube Corner."

"Did you hear? The upper elite of Canterlot are striking a business deal with the Diamond Dogs! Now wouldn't that be spectacular? Having friends with the burrowing canines could mean a bigger flow of precious rubies in and out of town! Also... it'd be really realllly nice to not have to worry about mangy mutts biting at our fetlocks or trying to kidnap us in the northern plains. Also... more grounds for picnics! Heehee! Wouldn't that be great?"

"I'm just so excited! It's ten days... only ten days before I get to see the beautiful gown I commissioned at Carousel Boutique! I'm telling you... Rarity is an absolute gem! So generous and creative! I just know she is going to make me a dress to die for! I... I've got to get her something special in return! I mean... yes... I know I've paid for the commission in advance... but she deserves a little bit more for all of the effort and professionalism she puts into her material, don't you think? Hmmmm... oh! How about a gift card to Aloe and Lotus' Spa! She loves that place, doesn't she? I mean... of course she does! Have you seen her complexion? It's always just... so spectacular! Hehe!"

"So I met my first sarosian the other month while visiting Trottingham. It was late at night and there was some gathering of young and old royal guards at the local civic center. I do believe his name was... 'Wyh'lymhym.' I know—so exotic-sounding, isn't it? He had the most amazing accent, too. He was soft-spoken... with a shiny midnight coat. But... ohmycelestia... his EARS. They were the cutest, fluffiest ears I've ever seen on a pony. Not in the least bit frightening. I fear I've had it all wrong about bat p—er... I mean sarosians my entire life. Now I'm just jealous! Jealous for those adorable, leafy ears!"

Flash Sentry was at his fourth table at this point, but he wasn't keeping count of his task. He was just absolutely lost in the conversations that he was hearing. What mesmerized him about them was not so much the substance—which was for the most part confusing—but rather the tone.

The teenager was truly and deeply impressed at how... positive each of these patrons were. There wasn't a single complaint to be heard amidst the clientele. Every word from their muzzles was full of mirth, charisma, and wonder. It almost sounded too good to be true, like something scripted for young, naive children. But the more Flash heard the ponies speak, the more convinced he was of their enthusiasm and sincerity. The innocence of the moment nearly frightened him... and his heart hung heavy from the fact that he recognized that fear. It started to form a painful lump in his throat... when suddenly—

"Oh Lyra, you're far too modest." The establishment's front bell accompanied a sweet, velvety voice. "But I simply must insist. Our studio is yours for the entirety of our absence."

"Are you sure about that, Tavi? I mean... it w-would mean a lot to me. I've seen the equipment you gals have and there's a lot of stuff I've been meaning to record. I... I feel almost like I'd be taking advantage of—"

"Pish-posh! You're looking after our beloved feline, are you not? You've more than earned a chance to use some proper studio equipment! Erm... ehem... n-not that I'm meaning to imply that you've had some less-than-desirable tools at your disposal."

"Heh... it's okay, Tavi. You can come out and say it. I'm a sucky musician."

Flash Sentry looked up. He saw three young mares entering Sugarcube Corner. He instantly recognized a trademark pair of violet shades adorning a head with an electric-blue mane. A lime-green unicorn stood opposite of an earth pony with a smoothe gray complexion and smoke-black hair. As their voices purred on, Flash's head put two and two together, and his heart skipped more than a few beats as he ascertained who—and what—he was witnessing.

"Miss Heartstrings!" A delicately-accented voice chided. A pair of violet eyes narrowed as Octavia Melody's voice sliced its way out of the daintiest of the three. "Do not say such brutish and dishonest things about yourself! Now, I have had the good grace of observing your compositions in my free time, and I must say that they are beyond lovely. There is no ineptitude to be found in your work." She bore a fuzzy smile, full of beauty and compassion. Flash—being the teenage boy that he was—was no stranger to admiring the exquisite human damsel that was Octavia Melody from afar. However, this definitively equine version of the Trottingham University exchange student was somehow... more adorable than what he was used to on the other side of the mirror. He couldn't quite put his finger—or hoof on it. With each word that she spoke, his mind reeled with the contemplation of warm terry cloth towels straight out of the drier. It made him calm, happy—like the bittersweet smile now hanging off her muzzle. "You have simply been stuck in a horrible rut of bad luck, love." She sighed sideways. "Just the same as Vinyl and myself."

The chic unicorn to her side nodded gravely. A bulky pair of headphones rattled around her neck, the clamshells extra-large to fit fuzzy pony ears. Flash would have chuckled—hadn't the conversation suddenly taken this curiously melancholic tone.

"Does this have something to do with your trip to Canterlot?" Lyra Heartstrings asked. Flash hadn't realized just how... striking her green complexion was. Then again, back home, there wasn't much of her figure that was this... exposed. Flash chose to dwell on that as little as possible. "There're tons of venues in the upper city." She leaned in, yellow eyes peering. "Is that why you're both headed out there? To find some sweet gigs?"

"If there's even the slightest chance at musical opportunities, it falls upon Vinyl and myself to seize it," Octavia said with a half-hearted sigh. "The music scene in Ponyville has simply been too dry as of late. From what I hear, even the Ponytones—Celestia love them—have been forced to enjoy a temporary retirement."

"Heh... I think it's because it's been ages since Tirek," Lyra said with a crooked smirk. "Without a horrible crisis, everypony's happy. There's no need for symphonic escapism."

"That's a remarkably... grim way of looking at things, Miss Heartstrings, but not too far from the truth." Octavia adjusted her bow-tie. Only now did Flash realize that the thing perfectly matched the mare's eyes. It was suddenly both silly and alarming that it was the only article of clothing she wore. "The life of an artist is as fickle as the seasons... only ours aren't regular as autumn, winter, or spring. No—I fear we must take action rather than depend on the mood of the local populace. And if that takes us to Canterlot to search for proper venues, then so be it."

Vinyl Scratch nodded with a calm smile.

"And we sincerely hope that you make the best out of what you produce in our studio while we're gone," Octavia said in a sweet tone. "But you needn't wait for us to go on an extended trip to have full access, darling! You know that our facilities are yours for the taking! All you need to do is ask!"

"But..." Lyra squirmed where she stood, rubbing one hoof against another. "I j-just feel so silly. You'd think that an aspiring musician such as myself would have her own equipment."

"You're a busy mare—what, with helping your delightful friend at her business on a daily basis."

"But I enjoy helping Bon Bon out at her store!"

"But you enjoy making music even more. Don't lie to us, Lyra." Octavia coyly winked. "And don't pretend you can hide the fact from Bon Bon either. She wants to see you happy and successful just like the rest of us."

Lyra sighed. "I'm just... sc-scared of wasting everypony's time and patience. Especially hers."

"Dearest Miss Heartstrings, how many times must we go through this—?"

Just then, Vinyl Scratch coughed—the first semi-audible thing to come from her muzzle since the three arrived there.

Octavia instantly looked over. "Vinyl?" She rested a hoof on the mare's shoulder. "Are you alright, love?"

Vinyl nodded, although she rubbed her throat with a wincing expression.

"Oh no..." Octavia's ears folded. "Don't tell me... you're having another reaction? I swear... it happens every time we come here."

As if drawn to the sound of alarm, Mrs. Cake waddled over from the kitchen. "Hello, ladies! Is... is everything okay?"

Octavia steeled herself with a sigh and a smile. "Oh, Mrs. Cake, I do not wish to be such a terrible burden—"

"No! Please!" Mrs. Cake leaned in. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Well, it's my dear friend. Vinyl. The last two times we've come here, she's broken out in a rash and suffered a soar throat. I hate to say it... but I do believe she's allergic to something here in Sugarcube Corner—which is a shame, for we do so very much enjoy coming here to partake in your scrumptious baking."

"Wait..." Lyra cocked her head to the side. "I think I remember this from a month ago. Wasn't there some kind of a mildew problem?" She winced and glanced Mrs. Cake's way. "No offense."

"None taken!" The older mare nodded. "And you're right. I do recall a rather nasty stain that had formed near the ceiling on the west side of the building. Honey Bun—erm... my handsome Carrot went and cleaned it up though."

"Oh! I heard about that!" Lyra shifted where she stood. "Didn't... uh... didn't he fall off a ladder and hurt himself?"

"Oh dear!" Octavia held a hoof to her chin. "I hadn't heard about that! My apologies—"

"Nothing to be sorry for!" Cup Cake insisted with a half-giggle.

"Still, is your husband quite alright?"

"Heh..." The stallion in question strolled up, dusting baking powder off his fetlocks. "Fit as a fiddle! I promise!" He then grimaced slightly, squinting out one eye. "Although... the ol' pie pan has a few dints in it." He took one glance at Vinyl. "Wuh-oh. Somepony's got some red in her snow-whiteness. I'm guessing I didn't get it all cleaned up."

"You know what I think it is?" Lyra said. "Something's clogging up the moisture between the ceiling and Sugarcube Corner's exterior. It's probably what's causing all of the mildew and mold to build up. The same thing happened to Bon Bon's shop on the other side of town."

"Did you ever find a cause?" Octavia asked.

"The rain gutters," Lyra said. "I guarantee that that's the problem. Once those things get clogged up, then there's only one place for the moisture to go."

"Well, that settles it!" Carrot Cake gave Vinyl Scratch a reassuring pat on the shoulder and made for the broom closet. "Let me get the ladder and I'll be outside, cleaning those gutters right away—!"

"Carrot! Not on your life!" Cup Cake suddenly gasped, trotting after him. "I'm glad that you wish to do something so kind and noble for our customers—"

"It's not just that, Sweety Delicious," the stallion said, rummaging through the closet. "It's something that's gotta be done! We don't want to have a horrible mold problem in our eatery! It'll make us look bad!"

"But your back is still recovering from that dreadful fall you took!" Cup's plump cheeks reddened in adorable consternation. "You're simply in no condition to go up any ladders right now! Much less sweating your handsome flank off in cleaning the gutters!"

"Nonsense! We're ahead of schedule! I don't need to bake anything for another hour or two! So you just... mind the store and I'll—" While speaking, Carrot Cake grasped the ladder and pivoted his body one degree too much. His eyes crossed, and he instantly doubled-over in pain, nearly dropping the ladder to the floor. "Aaugh! Hssssssh—aychiwawaaaa..."

"Cuddle Bumps!" Cup Cake rushed over to him, pouting. "Ohhhhhh... I knew this would happen! What did I tell you?"

Vinyl Scratch gestured emphatically.

Octavia spoke for her. "Vinyl's right. It's... not too bad. Honest! We'll only be here for a little while. Besides... if it gets too bad, we'll just have some of your treats for take-out!"

"But..." Carrot winced. "That's not fair to you ladies. Cup Cake and I know how much you enjoy hanging out here and talking. Also, we'd hate to lose some of our most valued customers."

"You're not losing anypony, Mr. Cake," Lyra said, glancing at the others. "Right, girls?"

"Absolutely!" Octavia smiled tenderly. "It's just... something out of our control for the time-being."

"But..." Carrot sighed, glaring at the ladder in frustration. "I can't just sit on this nonsense. If those gutters don't get clean, then we'll have a real problem on our hands."

"Well..." Lyra scratched her fuzzy green chin. "Maybe if you just hired somepony on the outside?"

"I... am afraid we're a bit scrapped for bits at the moment," Cup Cake said with a nervous smile. "And Pinkie Pie isn't in town, so—"

"Ahem."

Five sets of pony eyes looked in Flash's direction.

He finished polishing the last of his tabletops cleaned. With a well-prepared smile, he faced the group and offered a gentle smile... along with a gentle voice: "I couldn't help but overhear that you have a slight rain gutter problem." He felt his own ears perking straight up, and he just rolled with it. "Maybe I can be of help?"

"Oh, dear..." Cup Cake held a hoof over her chest. "That's so sweet of you, but we couldn't possibly—"

"Please." He folded the cleaning rag neatly and positioned it on a table's edge next to the bottle of cleanser. "It would mean a lot to me to help out."

"We don't have a lot of spare bits to offer."

He merely winked back at the mare. "Banana bread... remember?"

"Oh! Uhm..." Cup Cake fidgeted. "Well..."

Carrot Cake narrowed his eyes. "What's your name again, buddy?"

"Oh, I'm..." Flash suddenly froze in place, as if staring at a ghostly reflection in a shiny mirror. "I'm... uhm..." He clenched his horse teeth, glancing all around. His eyes danced across painted wooden effigies of cupcakes, pastel coats and colorful manes, a brass platter filled with cookies. "Brass."

Lyra and Octavia blinked. "Brass?"

"Brad—Brad!" Flash tossed them a cheesy grin, exhaling. "My name is Brad." He gulped. "And if you need your gutters cleaned, then I'm your man... pony. I'm your pony."

Cup Cake looked ready to protest—

"Well, Mr. Brad." Carrot Cake stood up, wincing from his spine... but nevertheless smiling. "If you insist... then who are we to say 'no' to such spontaneous generosity?" He glanced aside to wink at his spouse. "Besides... we do have plenty of banana bread."

"Mmmmmmm..." Cup Cake squirmed slightly, glancing at "Brad" with doe-like eyes. "You're certain it isn't a terrible inconvenience?"

"Not at all! Now..." Flash gestured at Carrot. "Mind if I borrow that ladder?"

"Uhhhhh..." Carrot glanced at Flash's sides for some reason... then tilted the ladder forward. "Sure thing...?"

"Cool beans!"

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