• Published 20th May 2017
  • 5,218 Views, 816 Comments

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 35: Don't Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)

As the morning wore on, Friday became a day of quiet contemplation. Jessica Harkins said a quiet goodbye to her humanity that morning, over a steaming cup of fragrant tea. What had being a human ever gotten her except misery, derision and constant fights with people who kept trying to chain her to their expectations of who and what she should be?

She extended her left wing, stretching it and the feathers attached to it as wide as they could go. She held the pose, examining each and every detail that she could see with the precision of an anatomist. A pony’s body was not what she would have asked for, when she had made the choice to change what birth had given her.

But this equine form had one advantage to it that even the body she had come to call “hers” had never had. It felt right. Its movements were natural and graceful, its reflexes and abilities felt true to her nature, and her need to help others. Jessica Harkins had been bits and pieces of male and female, stitched together with drugs and hormones into something the doctors had hoped would do the job.

Medevac, however, was all mare; and she loved it that way.

She was also a mare with responsibilities, as a chorus of soft snores from the darkened living room reminded her. On silent hooves she ghosted into the living room, smiling for a moment as she saw that the pile of ponies on the couch had morphed into something best described as a “sprawl.”

Arnold now lay stretched along the length of the couch, one arm flopped down to his side, the other draped around Foxfire. The unicorn still lay on Arnold’s chest, and her head was still pillowed in the corner of his neck. Iron Hoof, Arnold’s son, was curled up in a tight ball between his father’s knees. The strong horse of the Power Ponies looked as though nothing short of an earthquake would wake him.

Foxfire’s daughters, Shield Maiden and Seeker, had moved to odd positions for a pair of sleeping ponies. Shield Maiden was now stretched out along the top of the couch, while Seeker lay over her mother’s hindquarters. Seeker was having some sort of dream, if her twitching hooves and muzzle were any indication.

A careful brush with her primaries told Medevac all she needed to know about Foxfire’s condition. Balances were restoring themselves and fatigue poisons were being washed away. Foxfire’s hormone levels were…

Medevac’s breath hitched for a moment as her mind interpreted what her magic-infused wings were telling her. With the care a surgeon would have envied, the paramedic pony laid her wing over Foxfire’s midsection to get confirmation, and the results caused a bubbling joy to rise up inside of her.

“Is momma gonna be okay?” Shield Maiden murmured from her perch, a single eye cracked open and looking at Medevac.

“You can go back to sleep. Your mother is going to be wonderful,” Medevac said, smiling. “Absolutely wonderful.”

It was a day of quiet repose for a frenzied mind. Brian Cummins had jogged the distance back to his hotel room, and had found an old style phone book sitting there. A few moments later he had the information he sought and was about to get up when he realized how soft his bed was. He also was reminded that he had been up all day yesterday and all night.

“Fifteen minutes won’t make a difference,” he muttered to himself, setting the alarm on his relatively useless phone for a short nap. Brian Cummins was sound asleep within sixty seconds of laying his head on the pillow.

It was still on the pillow forty minutes later when Julie, the room cleaner, let herself in with her passkey and turned off Cummins’ phone. People had been complaining about the racket, and despite her annoyance she found herself having some sympathy for the fully clothed man sound asleep on the bed.

“Wow, you’re out cold, aren’t you?” she softly asked the sleeping man, who didn’t reply for obvious reasons.

Deciding that the man on the bed was deeply unconscious, she took the time to draw the room’s curtains shut and briefly straighten up a few things on the desk. Normally, she wouldn’t even notice papers left open in a room, but these ones drew her eyes with its boldly printed list of the names of the members of the fire department, as well as that of the town witch.

“What in the world…?” she asked softly as she quickly read through the Cummins handwritten account of radio intercepts, suppositions, revelations and the final, fully capitalized epiphany of, “MY GOD, MEDEVAC IS AN ACTUAL TALKING PEGASUS. ALL THE POWER PONIES ARE ACTUALLY PONIES.”

“Oh, I’ve got to tell Dora about this,” Julie breathed, thinking of the reaction the town gossip would have to this earth shaking revelation.

Either the man on the bed had completely lost it, or something incredible was happening in town. Either way, these were the best rumours to be had in a generation. The middle-aged room cleaner took an extra moment to scan the pages and fix their contents in their mind before ghosting out of the room and locking the door behind her. She felt an early and long lunch coming on with the town gossip.

It’s was a day of quiet contemplation, as Ernie Harding towed a load of hay onto his pasture. It was a sunny day and his mixed herd of cattle, sheep, and milk cows preferred to eat outside whenever possible. Truth be told, he preferred it as well. His animals had a barn and shelters for when the weather was bad, but they tended to be dark, closed in, and smelly, no matter how often he or his two hands cleaned things out.

His body busied itself with the task of getting out off the tractor and beginning the laborious job of lifting thirty kilo bales of fragrant hay into the bunker. The animals in the pasture came ambling over to rip great mouthfuls out of the bales, in enjoyment of the served meal. The fresh grass of the field was green, rich and succulent, but the hay was in easy to access quantities. Ease of access won over taste.

Ernie stood back as the animals jostled for position, and he allowed himself a moment of rest. As he did so he tilted his head back, and stared directly at the sun with his eyes firmly closed, just letting the light and heat of the celestial orb fill up his vision and awareness. He let his mind drift and as it did, questions he had been holding back came sneaking into his consciousness.

Why did the Brightly ponies seem to flip back and forth between human and pony at seemingly random? Why did some ponies seem affected while others were “one and done”? When was he going to give into his wife’s requests that he too change into a pony, at least once? Maybe if he could figure out what seemed to trigger the changes, he would be more comfortable with asking Jean to work her literal magic on him. Maybe…

“Hey Dad!” said a voice behind him, causing Ernie Harding to nearly jump out of his skin. He whirled in place, to find his two young children looking at him from the bed of the hay wagon. Skylark was tasting one of the two remaining bales with care and an obvious lack of enjoyment, while Darter stood looking at him with furled wings.

“What in…” Ernie began, trailing off to let his pulse and blood pressure come down. “Does your mother know you two are here?”

“Um,” Darter previcated, while Skylark’s guilty face came with a mouthful of hay.

“You two know you need to stay under wraps until at least Sunday,” Ernie said, mainly just to pronounce his parental authority. He had a pretty fair idea what his son was about to say.

“But Dad,” came the expected plaintive cry, “We were booored. We just wanna fly and have fun. We won’t hurt anyone and we’ll be careful not to be seen by—”

“Hey Ern,” said Maysan “May” Harb, one half of the Syrian refugee couple that worked as farm hands for Ernie, as she came around the back side of the wagon. “I’ve finished walking the fence line and it looks…”

Everyone froze in place for a long, long moment. The only sound came from the cattle and sheep still munching on their hay, until the young Arabic woman shook off her surprise and began to slowly approach Darter with a single outstretched hand.

“Hello, little one,” May said, keeping her voice even and gentle, even though Ernie could see the tremor in her hand. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to make sure you’re real. By the Prophet, please be real and not some fever dream.”

Darter held stil, flicking a quick glance at his father, who gave the smallest of nods. Better that this play out here and now, and not in some panicked situation. In the four years since their escape from the Syrian civil war, May, and her husband Wayab, had managed to keep their minds and their dignity despite the vast changes in their lives. Ernie just hoped they would be up to one more.

“Hello, little jinn,” May said, her voice still calm as her hand came within a few inches of Darter’s muzzle. “I’m going to touch you now, if that’s okay?”

Darter wasn’t one to sit back and let someone else be daring when he could do the job just as well. He leaned his head forward into May’s outstretched hand and then lifted up so that her hand slid down his neck.

“So soft,” May murmured, gasping a bit as Skylark came over to join her brother. “Two little jinns. I’m dreaming, this is a dream.”

“Sorry May,” Ernie said, sighing deeply with regret and relief both. “But you aren’t dreaming. You’ve met my kids, say hello to Kya and Zak.”

“Hi Mrs. Harb,” Kya chirped, extending a black and silver wing. “It’s nice to see you again.”

To say that the woman was in a state of shock would be like saying the sea was a little salty. “What? How?” May asked, in both shock and wonder. “How is this possible?”

“It’s not, May,” Ernie replied, in a matter-of-fact tone. “It’s magic, pure and simple. Have a seat and I’ll explain. You see, a few weeks back the kids and their friends found this book…”

It was a day of quiet contemplation, and John Wilcox was making the most of it. He’d uncovered a huge story here in Brightly, and he’d done it in his own way. By making friends with people and forging connections the story of a lifetime had fallen into his lap, and he was being rewarded with being CKNW’s point man for the awards ceremony that was due to take place here in two days.

The award ceremony promised to be a national news piece as well with the expected announcement from the PMO that Justin Trudeau would be coming out for the ceremony as well. Combined, the stories would take John from being barely known to a front-line reporter. After this he could almost write his own ticket and do whatever he wanted as a journalist.

And absolutely none of that took into account the story he was sitting on. The earth shattering, ground breaking story that promised to destroy every paradigm there had ever been about other forms of intelligent life in the universe. Once that story got out, the world would never be the same, and he would be the one to break it.

“You ready to order, or you just want to stare at that cup of coffee some more?” asked the waitress, looking down at the meditating reporter with more than a little amusement.

“Oh, sorry,” Wilcox replied, smiling back up at the patient woman. “Guess I wasn’t really concentrating on my surroundings.”

“Don’t feel bad,” the waitress remarked with a snort of amusement. “Everyone seems to be the same way today. Stupid rumor mill.”

“Rumors? What rumors?” Wilcox asked, glancing around the nearly full eatery. Nearly every booth was full of people engaged in intent conversations with occasional furtive glances to see if anyone was listening in. One woman spotted Wilcox looking around and gave him a glare that could fry a chicken at ten paces.

“Oh, it's just some weird local gossip,” the waitress answered, topping up Wilcox’s cup without being asked. “Nothing you’d be interested in.”

“I’ve spent a week here, and if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that everything here is pretty special,” Wilcox replied, flashing a winning smile up at the waitress who rolled her eyes slightly at the obvious flattery. “Besides, I’m a reporter and some local rumors might take my mind off the fact there was a friend of mine who went down in that plane yesterday.”

“That was a friend of yours?” the waitress asked, with a gasp. “Are they going to be alright?”

“From what I hear they’re bruised up pretty good, but otherwise a lot better off than the pilot,” Wilcox replied, taking a deep breath and barely noticing that the waitress had slid into the booth seat opposite him. “If help hadn’t shown up when it had, he would have died. When that plane hit the water, it hit hard.”

“You were there? You saw it crash?” the waitress asked, neither of them noticing that conversations around them were starting to die as others began to listen in. “Wait, I’ve heard about you. You’re the radio fellow who’s been camped out by the lake.”

“Yes, yes, and yes,” Wilcox said, outward vision fading as he replayed the scene in his mind’s eye. “I’m not exactly sure what happened, but it looked like one of the pontoons hit a log or something just as they touched down. It ripped off and the plane slammed nose first into the water.”

“Ouch,” the waitress said, wincing in sympathy, also not noticing that the cafe was nearly silent now as every ear present strained to hear an eye-witness account of the crash. “What happened next?”

“A miracle,” John replied, eyes watering as he remembered the transcendent joy that had filled his heart when the rainbow column of light had enveloped one of the ponies.

“Tell us,” the waitress half whispered, feeling a bit of awe herself as she saw the reporter’s face go from frowned in concentration to radiant happiness. “What did you see?”

“I saw… angels,” Wilcox said, in a reverent tone. Then he remembered his conversation with Foxfire a few hours later. “Angels with a bit of an attitude—”

“Angels?” asked a derisive voice from a booth. “You mean flying ponies right? Little servants of the Devil. Cooked up by that Pedersen witch over on Kerwick street, right? I told you we should have run her out of town when she first showed up. If she hadn't’ve cast some sort of spell on Father Adam—”

“Dora Godwinson,” interrupted the brittle steel voice of an elderly woman, sitting with her husband in another booth. “That’s the biggest load of moose droppings to come out of your mouth in twenty years. Jean Pedersen has done nothing but be a good neighbor and a good mother to her children.”

“Of course, you’d say that, Millie,” pronounced the first woman, a heavy-set, late middle aged woman with dark hair liberally peppered with strands of steel grey. “You’re just as much under her spell as the anyone else whose had one of her preparations.” The woman’s voice oozed sarcasm and derision, and to John’s horror he saw several people in the eatery nodding in agreement with her.

“That woman and her children have done nothing but good,” declared Millie’s husband, a man of equal elderly years, with only the shadow of a once vigorous frame. “They are innocents, and I won’t stand by and let you whip up a mob against good people.”

“Says the man who used to complain about her at my prayer meetings,” Dora retorted, still pouring venom into her words. “How many doses of her teas did it take for you to change your mind… or have it changed for you?”

John Wilcox hated crowds, hated the feeling of being surrounded by people and most of all, hated when he felt a crowd turn into a mob that could lash out and destroy anything or anyone in its path. It scared him. The possibility of a crowd shifting from being benign to hostile was a fear he hadn’t been able to shake since he had been buried under that dry brick wall in a far off land.

So, when Wilcox rose to his feet to confront the rabble rouser who was trying to incite the crowd to riot, he was surprised to find himself shaking with anger, not fear.

“I don’t know who you are,” Wilcox said slowly, levelling a deadly stare directly into the older woman’s grey flecked green eyes, “and you don’t know who I am. I’ve only been here a few days, so I have no stake in your local politics or your little killer coffee klatsch clan.”

Dora flinched visibly at the mention of the word “clan” even as John pressed on, “I don’t care who or what you are here. I find things out, and report on them. It’s my job. So, I’m going to do my job, and break my given word, which I don’t do lightly. I’m going to report the facts to you people. I’m going to tell you what things looked and sounded like, and I’m going to tell you how I felt while I watched those events so you can feel them too.”

“And, Ms. Godwinson,” Wilcox continued, taking a step forward as the woman tried to break into his tirade, “you will kindly keep your mouth shut until I am finished talking, or I will take great pleasure in using some duct tape to close it for you.”

“Well, I never—” Godwinson began, only to close her mouth with a snap as the eatery’s cook lobbed a wide roll of silver grey tape to the reporter, who caught it with one upraised hand.

John Wilcox didn’t make a single move toward the woman. All he did was focus his targeted gaze on Dora’s mouth and her eyes went wide as she understood that Wilcox wasn’t threatening her. He was measuring how much tape he was going to need. Godwinson settled back into her seat with all the grace she could muster, and Wilcox waited for another few heartbeats before nodding in acceptance of the woman’s acquiescence.

“It was near sunset when the plane turned and lined itself up for a landing on the far side of the lake,” Wilcox began then. “I didn’t know it at the time, but my old zoology professor was onboard as a passenger…”

It had been a day of quiet contemplation. Mainly contemplation of why, oh why, had he had that second shot of booze. Darrell Montcalm’s head and gut had been giving him grief all day about his late night choice. That was on top of the subtle punishment his wife had given him with a breakfast of runny eggs and limp bacon, seasoned by more than a few disappointed looks.

Even the staff of the village office had given him grief. Supposedly the coffee machine was broken. In a pig’s eye it was. At least they hadn’t begrudged him some Pepto for his stomach and brought him a steady supply of Tylenol, milk, and plain crackers. He was going over a contractor’s proposal for getting some road work done when the old intercom on his desk buzzed.

“Yes?” he asked, punching the button with desperate speed to quell the icepick-like agony of the buzzer.

“Sir,” said Sonya, one of his two receptionists, “I think you need to come out here.”

“I’m sure it’s not anything that needs taking care of right now,” Montcalm replied, pushing past his headache through force of will.

“Sir,” Sonya insisted. “I really think it is. There’s a group of ‘concerned citizens’ out here and they say they aren’t leaving until they talk to you about… ponies?”

All thoughts of his own misery vanished in an instant as Montcalm moved through his door and behind the counter of the reception area within half a dozen heartbeats. There was a group of twenty or so packing the waiting area of the village office, arguing amongst themselves and with the other receptionist. It was hard to make out anything through the cacophony of voices, but the words “Power Ponies” came through.

“QUIET!” roared Montcalm, half exploding his own head in the process, but the shout had the desired effect of silencing the crowd. The mayor briefly studied the crowd and was un-surprised to see Dora Godwinson front and center. He was surprised to see the well built form of John Wilcox though.

He’d met the reporter in passing once or twice, and seemed like a decent sort. At least decent enough that he’d let Foxfire and Arnold handle things last night. The reporter noticed Montcalm’s gaze on him and returned it with the look of a man who had made a tough decision and was at peace with it.

“She trusted you,” was all Montcalm said, letting his displeasure show.

“They already knew enough for this woman,” Wilcox replied, jerking his chin toward Godwinson, “to try to fire up a lynch mob down at the cafe.”

“People have a right to deal with dangerous creatures in their community,” Godwinson shot back. “I was only trying to muster some concerned citizens to help get rid of them.”

“Dangerous creatures?” Montcalm queried, his voice calm and quiet. Wilcox felt a chill settle over him when he heard that voice. Dangerous people were often noisy people. Very dangerous people tended to get quieter as they became more dangerous.

“You mean dangerous creatures that call upon the gift of one of the best men who has ever lived here?” Montcalm asked, and everyone else fell silent. “You mean dangerous creatures who in the course of using their new gifts, wind up laying dying in their father’s arms?”

No one saw Montcalm move but suddenly he was directly in front of Dora Godwinson, towering over her and her allies like a wrathful titan. “You mean dangerous creatures who inspired a firefighter to bar the path of the apparent Angel of Death with nothing but a fire axe in his hands?”

“You mean dangerous creatures, who give succor to a dying angel from beyond the stars after that holy being gave its own essence to save one of our own?” Montcalm demanded, his voice roaring again, his rage stalking the reception area as if it was a physical thing with teeth and claws.

“Or, maybe you mean the dangerous creatures who saved you, and me, and our whole community, from a dam ready to burst?” Montcalm growled, visibly pulling back his fury toward the woman who would dare threaten children. “Or maybe you mean the dangerous creatures who just yesterday, saved three more lives.”

The entire room was silent and still in the wake of Montcalm’s titanic diatribe. No one moved, no one stirred. No one dared to, and for a long, long, eternity Montcalm’s eyes bored into those of his opponent. Outrage sputtered, indignation fled, confidence wilted and Dora Godwinson lowered her eyes and looked away.

“Get out of here,” Montcalm growled, in a low voice. “And be glad I don’t tell you to get out of town like you wanted to do with some of the finest young people it has been my honour to know.”

The group began to shuffle out, shamefaced and cowed. As they did, Montcalm raised his voice once more.

“Wilcox, my office,” Montcalm ordered, jerking a thumb down the corridor. “Lynn, call the inn. Tell them to tell Cummins that I want him here now. Sonya, fire up the phone tree. Tell everyone there’s a town meeting at seven, in the Community Centre.”

“What are you going to do, sir?” Wilcox asked, fighting an urge to salute.

“What I should have done in the first place,” Montcalm said, taking a deep breath and feeling his blood pressure start to climb down from its dizzying height. “Stop hiding things, let people know what’s going on in their town, and do everything in the light. Start making those calls, ladies.”

Author's Note:

So a few notes:

First off, my profound apologies for the inexcusable delay in the getting this chapter out. May kicked my ass six ways to Sunday, and you can read my last two blog posts if you want the details,

Second. I was going over my notes and I realized that things had passed the critical threshold for the knowledge of the ponies to become known. Those involved have done well to keep things under wraps but their luck just plain old ran out.

Third. Yes, she really is, and only just. Careful readers with good memories should be able to pinpoint the when. Sometimes the 'E' rating limits me, but sometimes it's a joy being subtle.

Fourth, we are heading into the home stretch and I have a question for my readers here. Anything in particular you would like to see happen with any of the characters, Brightly itself or the story in general?

Fifth. A quick note about Dora Godwinson. She is the personification of that one person who is in almost every large group. The one that lives on gossip, creating drama and feeling that they know more and are intrinsically better than everyone around them.

If you like this and other stories of mine, you can support me on Patreon for as little as a dollar a month. Patreon is probably one of the best things ever for keeping content creators like me in keyboards, coffee and chairs. Your support is what keeps me going.

A big shout out to the ongoing support through Patreon by:

Canary in the Coal Mine,

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