• 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 34: Morning has Broken

Tim Kielops whooped with joy as he rose up toward the belly of the Cormorant helicopter. The rising sun tinged the world golden as he clasped hands with the SAR tech who reached out to him from the aircraft. A moment later he was onboard and being wrapped in a blanket as the line descended to pick up the crew member who had rode the sling down to help Tim up. Two minutes later the Cormorant dipped its nose as it turned towards the hospital in Bella Bella.

The sun continued to rise, slowly illuminating the Carmanah Valley and the small village it contained. Sunlight poured in through windows, and in one house in particular that light was viewed with fear and loathing by its occupant.

The pegasus who had taken the name Medevac for herself viewed the advancing sunbeam with ill-disguised contempt. The past half day had been one filled with happiness and fulfillment, a sense of purpose found and a mistake in the universe corrected. Ever since yesterday evening everything had been right with the world, and Jessica Harkins was loathe to see things go back to the status quo.

“May as well get it over with,” the pegasus said softly, spreading out her wings and ruffling them one last time. “I’m gonna miss these wings. I’m gonna miss being the right sex.”

Screwing up her courage, Medevac stepped into the sunlight. The dawn tinged her cream coloured body with reddish highlights and intensified the colour of her red feathers and crimson streaks in her otherwise blue mane. The brightness of the light forced her to shut her eyes even as its warmth filled her mind and heart.

She stood there for several minutes, just letting the dawning heat fill her up and melt away her cares and worries. Finally, she let her awareness come back to her and opened her eyes, turning toward the kitchen to start her day. Her first step told her that something had gone very right, when instead of the soft tread of a foot there was instead the loud “clop” of a hoof.

“What the…” Medevac sputtered, looking down at her body.

Cream coloured forelegs, ending in cute but sturdy hooves looked back at her. Twisting her head to look behind her, Medevac saw that her pony body was intact, complete with feathered wings and flowing tail. She had thought that nothing would ever compare to the joy she had felt when the column of rainbow light had marked her and helped her realize her purpose in life.

The Rod of Asclepius looking back at her from her flank told her that she had been wrong. Staying in this body was and would continue to be the greatest joy in her life, along with being able to help others with its wonderful abilities.

“Thank you, Foxfire,” Medevac fervently said. Then, with a roguish smile in on her face, she cantered out of her home and took to the air. It was only a few blocks to Jean Pedersen aka Foxfire’s home, and no one would be up and about this time of morning. Even if it was a Friday, people would only be just getting out of their beds, or rolling over for a few more minutes of sleep.

Keeping her height to only a few feet above ground, the pegasus zipped along with only the sound of her wingbeats to mark her passing. A quick left and a right, followed by a brief rise to wing over a back fence and Medevac was at the home of the friend who had made her joy possible. As she knocked on the wooden back door, Medevac idly wondered whether she would be stuck here for the rest of the day in order to help keep the secret of Brightly’s ponies.

“Hello?” Foxfire asked, wincing at the brightness of the sun as she opened the door.

Medevac was stunned at how her friend looked. Foxfire might not have been the neatest of people or ponies, but she was always organized and tidy; as befit someone who worked with herbal agents that could both cure or kill depending on how they were used. The unicorn looking out at Medevac, however, looked like she had been through a hurricane, then dragged down ten miles of bad road.

“Foxfire,” Medevac gasped in shock. “Jean. What’s wrong? Did something bad happen to the kids?”

“No,” Foxfire said, turning away from the door and leaving it open as she walked back into her kitchen. “Kids should be home soon. Montcalm called. The girls radioed him from the top of the ridge. They should be home soon.”

“Then what’s wrong?” Medevac asked, going inside and closing the door behind her. “Sorry for saying it, but you’re a mess.”

“Nightmares,” Foxfire said, stumbling as her hoof caught the edge of the throw rug under the kitchen table. “Visions. Terrible things.”

“Woah, easy there,” Medevac said, rushing up to give her fellow mare a wing of support. As her feathers rested against the unicorn’s snow white body they relayed a wealth of information about Foxfire’s physical state to Medevac. None of it was good.

“‘M fine,” Foxfire mumbled, nodding her head and trying to shuck off Medevac’s wing. “Just need to close my eyes for a few minutes. You can go home. Just need a few minutes without seeing everything on fire.”

“Foxfire, I’m not going anywhere,” Medevac said, keeping her wing over Foxfire and using it and her body to guide Foxfire toward the living room and a couch. “We’re both still ponies.”

Foxfire let herself be guided and that worried Medevac more than anything else. If there was one thing that had carried over to the unicorn from Jean Pedersen’s personality, it was her strong independent nature. To simply allow herself to moved and guided by someone else without question or attempt to put her own stamp on things was unheard of.

“Here, sit on your couch,” Medevac said, almost having to move Foxfire’s body for her, so without volition was she. “I’ll make some tea.”

“Okay,” Foxfire said, unmoving. Her eyes seemed to be tracking something only she could see. Medevac spoke up again as that thousand-yard gaze began to flick about, as if looking for something.

“Is there a particular blend I should use?” Medevac prompted, hoping to draw a response from Foxfire. Jean never let anyone use her kitchen without her direct supervision.

“The breakfast tea is in a labelled tin by the stove,” Foxfire said, head lowered. “The kettle is by the sink.” Medevac was very worried now. Foxfire was definitely in an altered mental state.

“Foxfire,” Medevac said, dialing up her “doctor” voice. “I want you to stay right where you are and not move until I return. I’m just going to get someone and be right back.”

“Okay,” Foxfire said, nodding. The defeated tone in Foxfire’s voice had Medevac charging for the door before the second syllable was absorbed by the wooden walls. A bare handful of breaths later had the pegasus pounding on Arnold Kye’s door.

“Arn! Arnie! Open up,” Medevac yelled at the unresponsive door. “C’mon, c’mon.”

After a seeming eternity Arnold’s door opened to reveal the disheveled big man. His hair was askew in every direction and he was wearing boxer shorts under a hastily thrown on housecoat. Bleary eyed, he blinked at the pegasus bouncing up and down in front of him, his brain trying to process what his eyes were seeing.

“Jessica?” he mumbled more than asked. “Is that you? Why are you still a pony?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” the paramedic pegasus zipped out, at an appreciable fraction of lightspeed. “Get your shoes on. I need you.”

“Why Jessica,” Arnold said with a tired smile, “I didn’t know you felt that way.”

“And people wonder why I wanted out of being male,” Medevac replied, rolling her eyes. “Not me, you idiot. Jean needs you. I just came from her place, something's not right with her.”

That jump started Arnold’s brain in an instant.

“What?” he demanded, his eyes darting around to look for his shoes. “What’s wrong?”

“Not sure,” Jessica admitted, bouncing up and down. “But she’s definitely not thinking clearly or acting normally. Could she have messed up one of her preparations?”

“Not a chance,” Arnold said, finally finding a pair shoes to jam his feet in. “You know Jean, she’s as precise as a machinist when it comes to her blends. Let’s go.”

Together, the pair rushed back across the street; their concern for Jean blinding them to the fact that their entire exchange had been witnessed by two seperate groups. One, was Jean’s elderly neighbors who were always early risers and fans of both Jean’s teas and cooking. The other however, was Brian Cummins, who had spent the past few hours walking about and doing some soul searching.

After his encounter with the Mayor, Cummins had walked the town, thinking all the while. He’d only stopped at his hotel room to pick up his arctic parka, which was a far warmer garment than what was needed for the weather. Then he had picked his way along the town’s cracked and potholed pavement, past spots where streetlights barely worked until the sun rose and began to warm the world. As it did Brian Cummins had come to a decision.

He would make amends as best he could here, report on the story he’d been told to cover and then leave. Either luck or blind chance had found him near a street he remembered and he turned toward Arnold Kye’s house. He’d apologize to the big man. It might not be accepted, but at least it would be a start. He stopped along the backside of Arnold’s garage to vent the heat from his parka and marshall his thoughts and courage..

As such Cummins had been well positioned to hear the exchange between Arnold and Medevac, and at the words, “Why are you still a pony?” he had snuck a peek around the corner and had seen Medevac bouncing up and down at Arnold’s back door. Cummins did what any sensible person would have done. Ducked back around the corner, and rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t seeing things before taking another look.

His second look confirmed what his first had seen. A small cream coloured horse with a blue and red tail was there. Was there and talking. Arnold Kye raised his head at something the little pony said, and Cummins whipped his own head back behind the sheltering cover of the big structure to avoid being seen.

A thunderbolt of realization struck Brian Cummins at that moment. Montcalm had spoken of magic. True Magic, and as Cummins replayed that heart aching conversation back in his head it was now obvious the mayor hadn’t been speaking in metaphor. Montcalm had meant what he had said. He had also meant his threat as well. If Cummins reported anything that Montcalm thought would harm the children, no… the ponies, at the heart of this, Montcalm would destroy him.

In television news five seconds was a long time, ten was an eternity, and Cummins hadn’t earned his stripes as a television news reporter without being able to think fast and act almost faster. Despite how long he had been up, despite the aches and pains of his body, despite discovering information that upended everything he thought he had known about Brightly, he was still able to adjust and realize that there was another option.

He was a reporter and by all the gods, he would report. He wouldn’t report on the kids, but if memory served from his hours at the scanner, Medevac was also “Rescue One” aka Jessica Harkins. Harkins was an adult and Montcalm had said nothing about the rest of the fire department or any adults. Plus, the rules for reporting about minors didn’t apply to adults. Jessica, or Medevac was fair game for any story Cummins cared to report.

Energized, Cummins pushed off the wall of the garage and headed back to his hotel room at a fast walk. He needed a piece of archaic equipment. An item once commonplace but now replaced by the power of internet search engines. He needed a phone book.

As Cummins jogged his aching, middle-aged body back to his hotel Arnold and Medevac bolted back across the street to Jean’s home. Not realizing that Jean’s elderly neighbors had seen Medevac both times she had crossed the street.

“I must have warned Father Addison a dozen times,” John Rosenburg declared, as he watched the mismatched pair rush into Jean’s house. “I told him one day that witch would start changing people into toads or something. We’ve got to put a stop to this. Right now.”

“Sit down and drink your tea,” Mildred, his wife of thirty years scolded, rolling her eyes. “You know, the tea that does a better job with your arthritis than anything the doctors prescribe? The tea our friend and neighbor makes specially for you?”

“But what about…” he trailed off, gesturing toward the home on the other side of the hedge.

“I’m sure there’s a rational explanation,” Mildred said, getting her husband to sit down with a well practiced look.

“And if there isn’t?” John asked, querulous as he applied butter to a slice of toast.

“Then we go over there and have a polite chat,” the old woman responded. “We’ve known Jean and her daughters ever since she moved here, and she’s done a lot of good since then. She wouldn’t be turning people into… what was it again?”

“A little pony,” John said, taking a bite and chewing before he spoke again. “A cute little pony. With wings. Leading Kye over to her place. They looked worried.”

“Jean might be sick, or one of those lovely daughters of hers,” Mildred said, opening up their fridge freezer and peering inside. “We should take over some borscht. You could make some of those baking powder buns you used to make.”

“We’re talking about a woman who is turning people into little horses and you want to take her some soup?” John demanded, thumping an age-seamed fist on the table.

“None of that is any reason for us to be rude to our neighbor,” Mildred chided, pulling out a frozen tub of the rich, red soup.

“Fine, but when she turns us into old nags I get say ‘I told you so’,” he said, throwing up his hands in surrender before adding, “do you think she’d like chives or cheese in those buns?”

“Whichever you think is best, dear,” Mildred said, laying a hand over her husband’s and smiling down at him.

Meanwhile, Arnold and Medevac had returned to find Foxfire still sitting on her couch and staring into space with barely open eyes. The unicorn pony was slowly weaving back and forth in the manner of the truly exhausted.

“Foxfire,” Arnold said, concern in his voice. “Jean?”

“Mmm?” Foxfire mumbled, her weaving becoming wider, and Arnold strode forward in time to catch the pony as she toppled sideways.

Arnold and Foxfire’s motions had combined to result in Arnold sprawled on Jean’s couch with Foxfire draped across his chest. Medevac stepped up a moment later and laid a wing over the recumbent unicorn, covering her from crest to dock.

“What’s wrong with her?” Arnold asked, stroking Foxfire’s neck. The contact seemed to rouse the unicorn slightly and she pushed herself up a bit into the crook of Arnold’s neck.

“It’s like she’s sleep deprived,” Medevac said, trying to make sense of what her sensitive feathers were telling her. “But to be this out of it would take going days without sleep. She’s maybe had one bad night.”

“S’okay,” Foxfire mumbled, nearly poking Arnold in the neck with her horn as she tried to snuggle closer. “Jus’ need some sleep. No nightmares.”

“Just rest,” Arnold said, still stroking the soft fur along Foxfire’s neck. “I’m here now. Just close your eyes.”

“Whatever you say,” Foxfire murmured, eyes closing completely. “You’re a good man… stallion… whatever.”

“What do I do?” Arnold asked Medevac softly, as Foxfire’s breathing dropped into a steady rhythm.

“You need to be anywhere?” Medevac asked, to which Arnold shook his head. “Then you stay there as long as you can. She needs solid REM sleep, and if you being a cushion for her can do that...”

“Then I’ll stay right here,” Arnold finished, keeping his voice low.

Arnold squirmed as much as he dared to find a comfortable spot on the couch. Luckily, the piece of furniture was well-used and Medevac was right there propping him up with some cushions as well. The pair needn’t have bothered as Foxfire barely even stirred as Arnold settled into a comfy spot.

Foxfire’s breathing had settled into a steady restful rhythm and as she did she began to give off the dangerous subatomic snooze particles known as “sleepyions.” Arnold, though he would never admit it, had spent his own restless night of worry over his son and as the sleepyion cascade washed over him he felt his own eyelids begin to get heavy again.

“Sleep, I’ll handle everything,” Medevac whispered, and made her way to the kitchen.

She was just beginning to open the fridge to see if there was anything she could sneak for breakfast when she heard a clomping and clattering coming up Jean’s back steps. Moving quickly she zipped across the kitchen and opened the back door to quiet the noisy group.

“Shhh,” Medevac said, putting a wing over her lips as she opened the back door to reveal Ernie leading three dirty, damp, but happy little ponies up the steps. All of them were surprised to see Medevac still in her pony form.

“You’re still a—” Ernie began, in a normal voice.

“Shh,” Medevac interrupted, “Foxfire just got to sleep on top of Arn.”

“Is thomething wrong?” Seeker said, worry on her face and in her voice. “Is Mom okay?”

“She didn’t have a good night,” Medevac said, and all three ponies looked stricken. “I think she’s gonna be okay, she just needs to get some good sleep.”

“Can I see my Dad?” Iron Hoof asked, also looking worried.

“He’s just falling asleep too,” Medevac said, then smiled as a thought crossed her mind. “How well did you kids sleep out in the woods?”

“We’re kinda tired,” Iron Hoof admitted. “Mister Tim tried to keep us warm but trying to sleep on rock wasn’t easy.”

“Well, there is plenty of room on the couch,” Medevac said, keeping her voice quiet. “I can’t think of any better way for your parents to get some good sleep than with their kids beside them.” Shield Maiden’s eyes lit up as she realized what the bigger pony was driving at.

“Power Ponies,” she whispered intently, once again taking on the mantle of leadership of the ponies of Brightly. “Prepare for ‘Operation Snuggles’.”

Iron Hoof and Seeker immediately broke into huge smiles while Ernie did his best not to laugh as he watched the interplay of the three younger ponies. Both nodded their readiness to the leader of their team.

“Medevac,” Shield Maiden said, drawing herself up. “Power Ponies are go.”

“Copy,” Medevac replied, heart warming. “Initiate ‘Operation Snuggles’ at your discretion.”

“Let’s go Power Ponies,” Shield Maiden said, and the three youngsters ghosted past Medevac and into Jean’s home.

“Well, I can see things are well in hand,” Ernie said, biting his lip to keep laughter at bay. “You hold down the fort here, and we’ll talk later.”

“No problem, Ernie,” Medevac said, as she began to close the door. “Let Kevin know I won’t be in to run the clinic today, okay?”

“Can do,” Ernie answered, before adding,. “I’ll let him know that you’re a little hoarse today.”

Medevac gave a very equine snort at that and closed the door. She turned off the kettle, set some tea to steep and got back to the living room in time to see three young ponies snuggling up against their parents. Arnold had half-roused and had draped an arm over his son, while Jean was beginning to stir uncomfortably at the contact with the cool, damp bodies of her girls. As luck would have it Medevac knew where Jean stored her extra blankets and soon had everyone tucked in under expanses of soft, warm fabric.

Within five minutes Arnold and Foxfire were both back to being soundly asleep and the three Power Ponies were nodding as well. After ten minutes even they were out cold and the living room echoed with the sounds of restful slumber. Medevac drew the living room drapes to keep the out the brightening light of day and the rising noise of the waking town, though Brightly could never be said to be a noisy place even at the busiest of times.

With the soft touch of a healer, Medevac placed a wing over what little of Foxfire was still exposed and smiled as she was able to sense the beneficial effect restful sleep was already having on her fellow equine. A few checks of the others and she retreated to the kitchen to sip at her now fully steeped tea.

Halfway through the hot herbal drink, the sound of footsteps was again heard on the wooden stairs leading up to Jean’s back porch. Sighing, Medevac put down the tea and made her way back to the door again.

“They’re all sleeping,” the pegasus said, in a low voice as she opened the door. “Come back oh—” Medevac broke off as she realized she was muzzle to face with Jean’s elderly neighbors, both of whom she recognized from her clinic work.

“Jessica Harkins, is that you?” asked Mrs. Rosenburg, her eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Y-yeah, it’s me,” Jessica replied, controlled fear going through her as she realized that two more people had discovered the truth. “Hi, Mr. Rosenburg. How’s the arthritis today? Taken your metroprolol?

“What in the name of—” John Rosenburg began to say hotly before Medevac interrupted him.

“Shhh!” Medevac said, crossly. “Jean had a rough night while her girls were out in the woods taking care of that lost power lineman. They all just got to sleep.”

“Oh, sorry,” the older man apologized, flinching a bit and dropping the volume of his voice. “Didn't’ know. But I will be damned if I let that woman go around changing people into ponies.”

“Are you okay, dear?” Mildred asked, reaching out to touch the back of her hand to Medevac’s cheek. “Did it hurt?”

“No, it didn’t hurt at all,” Medevac replied, keeping her voice low. “And Jean didn’t do this to me. I asked her to, so I could help at the plane crash yesterday.”

“People don’t just go changing into animals,” John said, gesturing around with a large covered bowl. “It’s unnatural. It’s evil.”

“We brought some borscht and baking powder buns,” Mildred explained, rolling her eyes at her husband’s histrionics. “Can we bring them in?”

“Sure, as long as you are quiet,” Medevac said, bringing up her doctor persona. “I’m serious, they need their sleep and I won’t have you waking them, but some food ready for when they wake up would be a good idea. So, thank you.”

John Rosenburg grumbled a bit under his breath but nodded his agreement and Medevac stepped aside to let the elderly couple in. Mildred put down her container of reheated soup and snuck a peek around the corner and into the living room. A contented look came over her face as she beheld Arnold Kye covered and surrounded by blankets and four sleeping ponies.

“John, come here,” she whispered, grabbing her husband’s arm and pulling him close so that he could look in on the scene on the couch. “If you can look at that and tell me there’s anything unnatural or evil going on there, then you aren’t the man I married.”

“Fine,” John said, keeping his voice very quiet. “But I want to know what’s going on here.”

“Fair enough,” Medevac said, and drawing the old couple back into the kitchen she began to relate the story in hushed tones.

As she did so, the thing that had taken residence in Jean’s mind silently cursed as warmth and comfort flowed into Foxfire, undoing its work of the past night. It calmed itself after a few minutes as it reminded itself that it could afford to be patient. It would simply bide its time until another opportunity arose for it to fulfill the plan it had for this strong young host it had found.

Author's Note:

Things are moving along, and to be honest I'm actually having trouble deciding who to focus on each chapter. My primary focus needs to be on the Furred Five, of course, but now I have so many interesting secondary characters and issues I find myself running into Robert Jordan's problem from his Wheel of Time series.

Hopefully I won't fall into the same trap he did.

Also, as we begin to near the end of the story, or at least the end of the primary arc, I've decided to start including some sketches of my visualizations of important places around Brightly. Here is a rough sketch of the main floor of Jean Pedersen's house.


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Canary in the Coal Mine,

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