• Published 20th May 2017
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Brightly Lit - Penalt

The village of Brightly, British Columbia is a small, isolated place where everyone knows everyone, with a strong sense of community. A community that starts to include colourful little ponies.

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Chapter 20: Can't Find My Way Home

The sun was very low as the early spring afternoon began to draw to a close, and its light gleamed off the three vehicles making their way up the hill of Brightly’s main street. The town had a small natural rise at one end, which is where the original founders had decided to establish the nascent community’s town hall and other important buildings. Over the decades, many things had changed about Brightly, but the location of the more important buildings in town had not.

“It’s hot underneath here,” the large lump in the back of Jean’s car said in Rowan’s voice. “Can we get out?

“Almost there, sweetie,” Jean said, driving carefully behind Ernie and Arnold’s trucks. As she drove she could see the havoc the storm had wreaked on the town, but she could also see her community pulling together to clear the debris from streets and yards. “How are the rest of you doing?”

“We’re doing fine, Jean,” Natasha said, from under the blanket as well. “It’s just a little cramped with four of us back here.”

“Well, I don’t think we’re quite ready to show the town their new four-legged residents, are we?” Jean asked without turning her head, as she drove past a chipper that a village crew was feeding fallen branches into.

“Not unless we have to,” Father Addison said in agreement, as he sat on the car floor beside his wife.

“We’re there,” Jean said, a minute later. “Oh, they are waving us in beside the fire truck.” A moment later the car came to a halt, and Darrell Montcalm looked surprised as he rolled down the doors for the firehall’s garage. He and the others had already parked their three vehicles out back, but he had only expected to make room for two vehicles, not three, but then he recognized the face behind the wheel of the third vehicle.

“Jean Pedersen,” Darrell said, coming to the car door. “It’s good to see you again.”

“We need to have a few words, Mr. Mayor,” Jean said, as she got out of her car and opened the back door. Montcalm’s eyes grew wide as the forms of Seeker and Shield Maiden were joined by a pair of dark furred, bat-winged ponies.

“It’s spreading?” Montcalm asked, as the rest of his team joined him among the vehicles. “The letter never said anything about that.”

“What letter?” Ernie asked, Lynn circling around from the far side of the truck with Darter and Skylark at her side.

“Seeker!” Ben yelled, as he came out of the firehall’s small office. Pony and person bounded toward each other, Seeker leaping into Ben’s arms as the young firefighter slid forward on his knees. The two grabbed each other in mid-motion and shared a fierce hug for several seconds, before Ben looked up to see Jean looking down at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Sir,” Jean said, fighting down the corner of her mouth that threatened to quirk upwards. “What are your intentions toward my daughter?”

“Oh… uh, sorry Ma’am,” Ben said, standing up and extending a hand to Jean. “Didn’t realize… Just good friends, Ma’am. Not like that, I mean we’re friends but not…” Jean decided to take pity on the young fireman, releasing her stern demeanor and laughing at Ben’s embarrassment.

“It’s okay, Ben,” Jean said, chuckling. “Romy told us everything. I’m glad that you were there to protect my daughter.”

“What letter?” Ernie repeated, refusing to allow circumstances to divert him from what had sparked his interest.

“Hang on a second, Ernie,” Darrell said, approaching the two new ponies. “Hi, we probably know each other, but if not, I’m Mayor Montcalm. Everyone here knows about ponies and is okay with them. You are safe, no one is going to hurt you, and we won’t tell anyone about this unless you want us to.”

“I’m Father Addison,” the darker of the two ponies said, “my wife, Natasha.”

“Oh,” Montcalm exclaimed, clearly surprised. “Father Addison. Well, I’m glad to see you’re taking this well.”

“About as well as can be expected when an angelic spirit gifts you with a reflection of its form,” Addison said, then he noticed Montcalm’s grimace. “What?”

“That may or may not be accurate,” Montcalm said. “Let’s all go into the break room and I’ll explain. Yes, Ernie, that includes the letter I mentioned.”

The entire fire department, plus seven ponies, plus Lynn and Jean, made for quite a crowd in a break room that was only meant as a place to have coffee and reheat snacks. Thankfully for all concerned, someone had prepared ahead of time by placing all the available chairs around the room's edges with a trio of beanbag chairs in front of them.

“How come there are lights on in here?” Iron Hoof asked, looking around as he settled onto one of the bean bags. By unspoken consent, the bat pony couple shared one chair, Darter and Skylark another, with Iron Hoof, Seeker, and Shield Maiden on the last one.

“We’ve got solar panels on the roof, and a bank of deep cycle batteries,” John Vatten said, bending down to ruffle Iron Hoof’s mane. “We can run all our lights and radio equipment for a full day, just on the battery charge.”

“And that’s before firing up the generator,” Arnold said, smiling.

“Okay folks, settle down,” Darrell said, getting up in front of everyone. “We’ve got a lot to cover and I’d like to get through it before my wife decides to give my dinner to the dog.” People and ponies alike stopped talking and gave their attention to the fire chief.

“First off, I’d like to thank you all for coming, and being exactly the kind of people I’ve come to expect to find in Brightly,” Montcalm paused, a smile touching his lips. “Good people, who give of themselves for their neighbors. People who are friends with each other, no matter what race… or species they are.”

“That almost sounds like you knew this was coming,” Ben said, sitting cross-legged on the floor beside Seeker.

“I did,” Darrell said, riding out the outbursts of surprise from the group. “Two weeks ago, I saw the kids here running along Back Road. I didn’t hit the panic button because I, and every mayor of Brightly since the 70s, have been half expecting something like them to come along.”

“So what is it?” Kevin asked, leaning back in his chair. “Secret government experiment? Accidental release of radiation from a misplaced American nuke?”

“Never took you for a conspiracy buff,” Jessica said, sitting on the floor beside the ponies as well.

“Man has to have some secrets,” Kevin replied, with a quick grin.

“Ya, but take it from me, transformations don’t need any sort of super conspiracy or sci-fi technology,” Jessica said, to which Kevin gave a sober nod.

“Folks, we’re getting away from things here,” Darrell said, cutting through more than one conversation that began to start up. “Let me read a letter to you that will hopefully explain a lot. This was written by John Leung, who probably did more to shape our community than just about anyone else.”

“I knew he had to be behind this somehow!” Ernie exclaimed, before subsiding at Darrell’s glare.

To those in the years to come,

I am John Leung, and I have lived nearly my entire life in Brightly. The doctors tell me that soon my life will come to an end but I am not sad at this. I have lived my full measure of time in this world and I am ready to leave it. But before I do so there are certain things I need to ensure are passed on to you, the person reading this letter.

If you are the Mayor, thank you for keeping this trust. The things you are about to read will seem fantastic, even impossible, but they did happen and the proof of them is all around you. Even if you do not believe the story, the endowment trust fund for Brightly in my will is based on you keeping to my instructions. Please continue to do so.

As for the story. When I was a young man I was trapped in a cave-in while working in Number Three Mine. I was trapped, my air was running low, both of my legs were broken and I was slowly bleeding out. With no other hope left to me I began to pray, to my ancestors, to the gods, to whatever power might hear a poor dying miner.

To my astonishment my prayers were answered by a handmaiden of the divine horse of the Jade Heavens, Kanthaka. She took pity on my plea for help, and brought her Mistress to the hole that had come to be between her realm and ours. Together, Kanthaka and her handmaiden sent me fresh air and water through magical gems, as well as fresh food.

It was not enough though as my body itself was still broken and dying. It was then that Kanthaka gave me the greatest blessing of all in exchange for a promise. I agreed to her conditions and in return she blessed me with her form, healing my broken legs instantly. Over the next few days while my fellow miners worked to free me I spoke with the handmaiden. I will not bore you with the details, but hers was a land of beauty and wonder.

The magic Kanthaka used to transform me into a small pony was held in a book she sent me, and I allowed it to finish running its course before I was rescued days later. Over the next three years, I was able to visit the same spot in the mine a few times. Each time I visited I was able to speak with Kanthaka or her handmaiden and they lovingly gifted me with more gemstones.

The stones sent to me were emeralds and rubies of fantastic size and quality. As you can imagine they were the beginning of a vast fortune that I have done my best to use to help those around me. At this time you might put this all down to the ramblings of an old man as he lies on his deathbed, but there are three items that prove my tale.

One, is a ruby I have had set in the cross for our local church. Father Kingsley is something of a humourless sort, so I did not tell him that the gem was made to hold magic from the heavens and push it out as good, clean air. He did not seem to mind being gifted a large ruby, until I told him that under no circumstances was the gem or the cross to be sold or leave Brightly for any reason. Oh, and if you hold it to your lips you will easily be able to feel the air coming off of it, which should prove to you its power.

The second item I have entrusted to the mayors of our town, to be passed down along with this letter to future generations. It is an old mining lamp that I have had refurbished, but instead of a wick and oil there is yet another gem. This one will glow if Kanthaka’s magic is used anywhere near Brightly. It is meant to give you time to prepare, Mr. Future Mayor, for the arrival of another pony, as it will mean that someone has managed to find the third item.

The third item is the book Holy Kanthaka gave me, written in heavenly script, except for the spell it holds on its first page which was written by her own hand. It was lost during the great fire that swept over the Chinese section of Brightly long years ago, and I have established a treasure hunting fund with our new museum in the hopes that one day it will be found. The book was well protected from fire and is likely buried under some rubble somewhere.

Anyone who is close to magic should be able to cast the spell in the book and experience the blessing of Kanthaka’s form. That of a pony, with strengths beyond what any pony should have. For me, it gave me the ability to endure the trials of five days sealed in a cave-in. For others, who knows. If you are reading or hearing these words, future pony of Brightly, I lay on you the same charge Kanthaka laid upon me.

That you use your new gifts generously on behalf of those around you and our town, that you temper your new strength with kindness, dealing honestly with people while bringing them laughter and joy. Do this in loyal service to your friends and your community. Do this and I am certain that Kanthaka will bless your life as she has mine these many long and happy years.

Now, I must close this somewhat rambling letter as I am very tired. I wish you health and long life. Take care of our town, please.

John Leung
April 1973

“Since the letter was written, it has been passed along to every mayor of Brightly,” Montcalm said, as he reverently folded the letter back up. “I can confirm that the lamp in the trophy case in my office does indeed have a very large gemstone hidden inside of it, and that it is glowing softly. As for the ruby however, I’ve tried it and felt nothing, apparently the stone was damaged when the cross fell off the wall during a small earthquake in the 80s, so that might have something to do with it."

“That doesn’t explain why Natasha and I—” Father Addison began, just as the two bat ponies shifted back to human in the blink of an eye.

“Whoa,” Ben said, spinning away from the middle-aged couple who were very human and very naked all of a sudden.

Natasha Adamschek, demonstrating good mental agility, grabbed the beanbag chair she and her husband had been sitting on, yanked it out from underneath him and flipped it up and over them both, giving them some cover. Kevin and Jessica stared in shock for a few seconds and then dashed out of the room, returning less than a minute later with blankets that had been stored in the rescue truck. The Adamscheks gratefully accepted the blankets, wrapping them like grey togas around their bodies.

“Jessica, how close is it to sunset?” Jean asked, taking in the scene in front of her, mind racing.

“Sun is just going down now,” the paramedic replied. “Why?”

“Arn,” Jean said, turning to the big man. “When was it that you first noticed that Billy had changed back from being Iron Hoof?”

“Not sure exactly when it was,” Arnold said, rubbing his chin in thought. “I do know that the birds had woken me with their noise because the sun had just come up.”

“Sunrise and sunset,” Jean said, pausing as she noticed she had drawn the attention of everyone in the room. “Sunrise is a time of new beginnings, sunset is a time of endings. It makes a sort of sense for the transformations to end at a sunrise or sunset.”

“So, there are rules to this?” Lynn asked, a hopeful note in her voice. “Rules that we can figure out and maybe manage this?”

“Most forms of magic, particularly non-harmful ones follow rules,” Jean said, nodding. “It’s generally the harmful ones that run without control, I guess it has to do with their nature.”

“The Old Testament is full of precise rules and guidelines that the Israelites had to follow as part of their worship,” Father Addison said, accepting a cup of water with a nod of thanks. “Rules create discipline and allow one to show respect for God by following them. I would guess that Jean’s rituals allow her to show respect for the beliefs she follows.” A phone began to ring in the building with an odd double chime of its bell.

“Interesting as this is, I’d better get that,” Montcalm said, sliding past people. “That’s the direct line from Emergency Management BC, be right back.” Montcalm left the room and everyone heard him pick up the line and greet whoever was calling before he closed the door of his office.

“Kids, there’s something I’d like to say to you,” Jessica said, with the look of someone who had come to a decision. “Some of you know what I’m about to say, some of you don’t.”

“Jess, you don’t have to—” Kevin began, before Jessica cut him off with a raised hand.

“I don’t have to, but I want to,” Jessica said, her voice taking on an odd note. “Last night these kids and their parents became part of our family, and I’ll always do everything I can to help our family.”

“Well, I appreciate that,” Ernie said, tilting his head in curiosity, “but beyond what you’ve already done, how are you able to help? It’s not like you’ve been changed into a pony.”

“But I have been through a transformation, a changing from one sort of person to another,” Jessica said, as she drew herself up. “I was born as a man. As Jesse Harkins. Four years ago I underwent gender reassignment surgery to change myself as fully as possible into a woman.” A ripple of shock went through the group, except for Kevin Banta.

“Jessica told me when we first partnered up,” he said to the others. “Darrell knew as well because that information was on her application to work here.”

“And you kept this a secret?” Ernie said, his voice hard edged.

“I told people what they needed to know,” Kevin said, narrowing his eyes a bit. “What Jessica is doesn’t affect how she does her job.”

“Ernie, is this a problem for you?” Arnold asked, leaning over, concern in his voice.

“Yes… No… I… don’t know,” Ernie said, the hard edged tone from a moment ago dissolving into confusion. “This is just a little hard for me. I was raised to believe that this sort of thing was the Devil’s work, that it was evil and wrong. I’ve tried to put all those things I was raised with behind me, but sometimes it’s hard to change even when you want to.”

“Ernie,” Kevin said, relaxing a little as he realized that his fellow firefighter was making an honest attempt to deal with the revelation. “Did your kids being ponies make them any less able to help us last night?”

“No, it made them better,” Ernie said, before letting out a sigh. “Sorry Jessica. This is something I’m going to have to work on. Can you put up with me being a bit of an idiot about this?”

“No worries, Ernie,” Jessica said, a smile touching one corner of her mouth. “You actually took it better than some people I knew, and while my transformation may not be quite like the kids, it is a transformation and I might have a few insights on how to deal with it.”

“You used to be a guy?” Darter said, looking up at Jessica, eyes wide.

“Yes I was,” Jessica said back, not quite able to quell the nervousness she had. “I wanted you kids to know that if you want to talk about these changes or how they make you feel, or just anything at all about being in a different body, my door is always open.”

“Hey guys,” Shield Maiden said, getting the attention of her fellow ponies. “Whaddya say? Next time we pony up…” She trailed off, tilting her head in Jessica’s direction. The other four broke into smiles and nodded.

“Wait,” Jessica said, frowning a bit. “Are you all talking about what I think you’re talking about?”

“I think they are,” Jean said, with a small laugh. “Apparently the magic has a small area of effect. Last night it caught Lynn and I in it’s effects and we spent the night as ponies as well.”

“How come you weren’t with them last night then?” Jessica asked, still frowning. “Is there a problem with having a new body?”

“Got it in one,” Lynn said, chuckling. “It took us an hour just to figure out how to stand up, and walk—” Lynn and everyone else stopped and looked up as Darrell Montcalm came back into the break room with a serious expression on his face.

“Hey everyone,” Montcalm said, with an expression the firefighters all recognized as his serious look. “That was Emergency Management on the phone, as I thought.”

“Ya, what’s up?” John Vatten, who had been silent through most of the conversation, asked.

“Bit of a mixed bag,” Montcalm said, leaning heavily against a wall. “First off, there will be a Hydro crew here probably late tomorrow. They’ll be assigned to assess the dam, manage it until it's fully repaired, as well as getting all the downed lines back up and running.”

“Oh f… udge,” Arnold said, correcting himself at the last second. “We’re going to have people crawling all over town.”

“It gets better,” Montcalm said, growling slightly under his breath. “Apparently we all made the news, so not only are we going to be having at least two full Hydro crews crawling all over town for an unknown length of time, but we can expect a horde of reporters at any moment asking all sorts of fun questions.” He looked directly at the five ponies in the room.

“Are we gonna make you all in trouble for what we did?” Skylark asked, voice trembling a bit.

“No sweetie,” Montcalm said, bending down to give the pegasus a one-armed hug, “You’re part of the team and the town, and we protect our own. However, to be on the safe side we need you all to lay low until you all change back to being kids again, okay?”

“Okay,” Skylark said, reassured and hugging Montcalm back.

“As for the rest of you, I think it goes without saying that we keep mum about the kids,” Darrell said, spearing each of the other adults in the room with his gaze. “Be friendly, be helpful, but be careful about what you say about last night. As long as we don’t give the reporters anything to dig into, things should blow over like they did in Hartley Bay a few years back."

Good evening, British Columbia. Global News here with your weekend evening news from across the province and the country. Our lead story remains the dramatic events in the small town of Brightly, British Columbia. Where an intrepid band of firefighters braved howling winds and driving rain to save their town.

Global News has also learned that the firefighters had to contend not only with the storm, but at least two decades of neglect to the Carmanah dam and a BC Hydro manager who tried to interfere in the emergency. At one point the manager even ordered the firefighters off the dam in order to reduce BC Hydro’s liability. Had the firefighters obeyed the order their town would have been flooded, and only their determination and the cooperation of a low level BC Hydro employee enabled them to succeed.

We have also learned that an investigation has begun at the highest levels of BC Hydro, and there are rumors that the shocking state of neglect at the Carmanah Dam may have been due to resources being diverted away from maintenance, and toward the massive Site C project in the north-east corner of the province. Sources with the former government had no comment regarding these rumours.

And, in an exclusive only to Global News, our newsroom has managed to obtain dramatic audio of the moments when the daring crew of volunteer firefighters succeeded in saving the dam and their town. In advance, we apologize for the quality of this raw audio.

“33 percent... 35... 38... 41,”
“C’mon kid, One more miracle, that’s all I ask.”

“43... 45... rate slowing now.”
“You can do it, Seeker!”

“Keep going.”
“47... 49... 52 percent! Data link established! Sending commands!”
"Brightly VFD, I am reading a fully closed floodgate here. Can you confirm?”

“Confirmed! Confirm full spillway closure."

Global News will continue to follow this unfolding story of heroism triumphing over government mismanagement. In other news…

Author's Note:

So, a couple of notes. First off, the Hartley Bay incident Darrel Montcalm is referring to is the sinking of the Queen of the North. The entire village of Hartley Bay mobilized in the middle of the night and rushed every boat they had to the stricken vessel. All but two passengers were safely rescued.

Second, we finally get a reveal of how the mayor knows so much and a bit more information about how heavily seeded Brightly is with magic.

Also, this marks the 20th chapter of Brightly Lit, and as of a couple of weeks from now this story will have been a part of my life for a year. It's been a very good year.

All hail my mighty editors: Sandstorm94 and Coyotethetrickster. Soon we will have our revenge, and Deathstalker two.

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