• 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 43: Stand by Me

Near the center of Brightly was a small church. It had been built almost a hundred years ago in the classical style of such buildings. Tall front entrance with a steeple, long main body holding large stained glass windows, and a small rectory connected at the rear of the main building.

The lot the church stood on had no fence to keep others out. There had been one, when the current priest had taken up his post, but he had asked it be torn down and replaced with some bushes saying, “The house of God should never be set apart from His creations. Any and all who seek the peace of God’s love are welcome.”

Father Addison Adamschek felt those words coming back to him as he stood in the entrance to the Anglican church he called home, greeting his parishioners as they made their way in for the regularly scheduled Sunday sermon. Beside him, his wife Natasha was also saying “good morning” to the steady stream of people coming in to find seats in what was really more a chapel than a full church.

He took a moment between welcoming members of his congregation, to drink in anew the glory that was the woman who had chosen to join her life to his own. The two of them had walked life’s path together for several years now, and he never failed to marvel at the miracle of her love for him. He was as unworthy of it, as he was of God’s mercy, but that would never stop him from trying to measure up to either.

Even now, with the strange changes coming to their lives and their town, he felt as close to his wife as the day they had married. Only someone who was as close to her as he was, would have noticed the overt changes that being merged with an angel of the Lord had made to her. As it was, he noticed the extra few inches of hair, how it had begun to shift from a rich auburn to an even richer black. How those depths had green highlights, as opposed the dark blue that was normal.

And, of course, no one present other than himself knew of the trefoil leaf image that she bore on the outer planes of either hip. Nor did anyone but her know of the Canterbury Cross that he bore in turn. They were the images of their respective callings, of choices made and roads traveled. It was a further confirmation that the two of them had made the right choices during the night of that terrible storm, not so long ago.

“What are you looking at?” Natasha asked, noticing her husband’s deep regard.

“You,” he simply replied. To her it would never be about what he said, but how the kindness and goodness of the truly giving man she had married carried through in every syllable that he spoke.

“Don’t you have a sermon to give, Father?” asked a very elderly lady who had just wobbled up while leaning heavily on a cane. Adamschek could see the old dame was smiling at the love she could see between husband and wife, and that her question was more a bit of humour than a true question.

“Sermon?” Father Addison asked, tilting his head as he addressed the parishioner. “There was supposed to be a sermon today?”

“Just don’t keep us waiting too long, eh?” replied the old lady with warmth in her voice, as she slowly turned to head inside, being aided by a middle-aged woman that Father Addison recognized as the elderly lady’s grown daughter.

“I think you have a sermon to give, stallion mine,” declared Natasha, as the last of the congregants filed in to take their seats.

“I think you might be right, mare o’ mine,” Addison answered, using the equine turn of phrase to match that of his wife. “What brings on the pony talk all of a sudden?”

“Because of what is happening today,” Natasha answered, her voice a little low. “And because ever since the dream I’ve been thinking more and more in horse terms.”

“Interesting,” the priest replied, and together the two made their way inside.

A few minutes later the opening hymn had been sung and Father Addison stood up at the pulpit in front of his congregation. His little chapel usually saw around thirty to forty people on any given Sunday and today was no exception. He knew that not everyone looking up at him was an Anglican, but his was the only Christian church around, and for their sake he tended to keep his sermons free of the specific doctrines of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“My friends, welcome,” Father Addison began. “I would like to speak to you this morning on the themes of love and tolerance. When our Lord was asked what the most important commandment was, his response was love of God and of our neighbor. The bible says that there is no greater love than that of one sacrificing themselves for their fellow man…”

“Premier Horgan,” Darrell Montcalm said, stepping forward to greet the tall balding man entering the room.

The head of the Government of British Columbia was a tall, strongly built man. A receding hairline was in keeping with his age of sixty, but the energy coming off him was that of a man of far fewer years. Striding forward, he met Brightly’s mayor in the middle of the room, clasping his hand in a strong, but not crushing grip.

“It’s good to meet you Mr. Mayor,” Horgan replied, his face engraved with a politician’s smile. One that was warm on the outside, but showed nothing of the true feelings below. “When you agreed to meet before the ceremony, I was a little surprised when my aide said you wanted to meet here, instead of in your office.”

“Well, the kitchen here is just off the main auditorium of the hall,” Montcalm explained, waving his now released hand around the room. “It’s private, but has easy access to where they are setting up for the award ceremony. I’ve had a couple of chairs and a table brought in so we have somewhere to sit as well.”

“You expect this to take awhile?” Horgan asked, raising a greying eyebrow. “You did mention on the phone that you had something to ask me. By the way, any coffee?”

“Plenty,” Montcalm answered his premier. “Have a seat and I’ll get us each a cup. Cream? Sugar?”

“Both, but make it a small cup,” the sixty year old replied, moving over to a wooden table and taking a seat. “I’m not really supposed to have coffee, but I like it too much not to enjoy a cup now and then.”

“Same here,” Montcalm admitted, pouring two cups from a drip machine and bringing them over after adding in the requested sugar and cream. “I need a favor. A big one. Something only a provincial or federal leader can provide.”

“That sounds like a pretty significant favor,” Horgan said, taking the offered mug and giving it an appreciative sniff. “Mind providing a few specifics on that?”

“I need protection for some of the residents here in town,” the Mayor answered, taking a sip of the brew. “I need to make sure their rights are going to be protected.”

“Sounds like a job for the Human Rights Commission,” Horgan replied, then added, “I’ll do what I can to help, but I can’t be seen interfering in anything they handle. Now, as for what I need you to help me with—”

“Sir, with respect,” Montcalm interrupted, holding up a hand. “It’s much more complicated with that. How much do you know about the history of this town?”

“Not much,” Horgan admitted, accepting the interruption and noting that the mayor was not letting himself be pulled off topic. “I’ve read a bit to get ready for the award ceremony. Founded in the late 1800s by John Dunsmuir, along with a few other small communities along the coast, as a coal mining town and port. Experienced a downturn in the 60s when the last of the coal mines closed. Has reinvented itself over the past couple of generations as a jumping off point for eco-tourism into the Great Bear Rainforest.”

“That’s the known history,” Montcalm responded, with a nod and a sip at his coffee. “You could get that off of Wikipedia or any other source. What do you know of Brightly’s secrets?”

“Secrets?” Horgan echoed, eyebrows climbing. “You mean like the Carmanah Dam? I know all about it, and considering most of my life has been spent dealing with hydro-electric power, I owe you a bit of an apology for not learning about that mess sooner. With me as Premier I promise I will do my best to make sure Brightly never has to rely on coal again.”

“No Mr. Premier,” Montcalm replied. “I don’t mean that. I mean about Brightly’s contact with other worlds.”

Horgan froze for a split second at that, coffee cup just a fraction away from his lips. He set the cup back down and spent a long second looking at Darrell Montcalm, who returned that questioning gaze with a steady regard. Montcalm didn’t look insane, he looked like a man who was laying his cards on the table. It didn’t mean Brightly’s mayor wasn’t crazy, but it did mean he was serious.

“Other worlds?” Horgan asked, at last. “Please don’t take offense at this, but are you currently in the care of a mental health professional?”

“You think I’m crazy,” Montcalm stated, with a deep sigh. “I can’t say I blame you. But, before you go, let me just show you one thing. If it doesn’t convince you that something strange is going on in Brightly then I’ll shut up about it and never mention it again. Deal?”

“I came up all this way,” Horgan replied, making sure to put his hand into his coat pocket where his emergency beeper was, just in case. “It would be a shame to just turn around and leave. You’ve got five minutes to convince me.”

“I’ll only need one,” Montcalm said, and getting up with an audible creak in his knees he made his way over to the back door of the room. “Mr. Premier, I’d like to present to you two of Brightly’s best. Iron Heart and Foxfire.”

Horgan leaned back in his chair as Montcalm opened the door, ready for almost anything to come through the doorway. From empty air, to an unholy alliance of his former political opponents, to a stranger in a costume pretending to be from another planet. Among the very last things he expected to see was a pair of small ponies, one jet black and one pure white, come slowly clip-clopping into the room.

“Um, those are horses,” Horgan told Montcalm, now absolutely sure the mayor was off his rocker. “Rather nice looking ones, if a bit small.”

“That’s because we aren’t horses,” the white horse replied. Horgan’s eyes went as wide as they could go as his ears informed him the voice actually was coming from the animal. “We’re ponies.”

“Oh, that’s a good one,” Horgan quickly replied, trying to recover from the shock of hearing animals talk and looking up at Montcalm. “You really had me going there for a moment with that hidden Bluetooth speaker. These are really quite the cute animals, though. Is there some problem with ensuring the breeder is being protected under law?”

Horgan winced internally even as he said the words. He knew he was off-topic and off-point, but he had to say something to fill the gap as he tried to figure out what was going on. His mind spun ideas in and out of the framework of the reality he was experiencing, but nothing was sliding into place to form a complete picture.

“Breeder?!” the white pony snarled, taking a step forward that looked like it would smash its way through the floor. “I am a person not an an—”

“Please Foxfire,” Montcalm interjected, putting a hand in front of the angry equine. “Give the man a chance to come to grips with a change to his entire universe. Premier Horgan, take a close look at Foxfire, the white pony's head.”

“What are you… wait, is that a horn?” Horgan asked, then paused as his mind shifted its paradigm without a clutch. “Is that an honest-to-God unicorn?”

“Yes, I am!” declared Foxfire, giving a very equine snort of anger and visibly seething. “Stop referring to me as some sort of thing, or I swear by the Goddess I’ll—”

“Give the man a chance,” interrupted the night black stallion, long mane glinting as he nuzzled the unicorn. “He’s only human.”

“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” Horgan quoted in a soft voice, the byplay between the two little horses making them seem more real, not less. “But what do you do when it’s the improbable that’s eliminated first?”

“Sorry, Mr. Premier,” apologized Foxfire, the loving contact of her beloved banishing her anger. “My single biggest fear has been that you would treat us like animals and throw us in cages, or worse. So, when I heard you refer to me as a thing and talk about me having a ‘breeder’ it pushed my buttons a bit.”

“The apology should be mine,” Horgan replied smoothly, political instincts sliding to the fore. Identity politics were something he knew. Something he could work with and understand. Not impossible talking horses.

“Would it help if I let you touch me?” Foxfire asked, stepping past her mate until she was just outside the older man’s reach. “So that you know I’m real, and not some sort of delusion or fantasy.”

“If you are willing, then yes,” the premier decided. “I’ve seen a lot that this province has to offer over my years serving it, but this is a new experience for me.”

“Just be careful of the horn,” Foxfire said, moving up until she was within the circle of the man’s arms, the tip of her muzzle pointing at his chest. “It’s sensitive.”

“Please let me know if I do something wrong,” Horgan murmured, and reaching flesh contacted white fur.

The sense of touch is humanity’s most acute sense. Our skin, the primary sensory organ for touch, covers our entire body and is sensitive enough to pick up as little as one molecule of thickness difference in a surface. Touch is also a primary psychological need. Humans are social animals, just as equines are, and we share a deep need to both touch and be touched by others.

So, when the politician’s fingers touched the fur of the witch turned unicorn in front of him, his sense of touch told him that she was real. He felt the softness of her fur, followed by the firmness and weight of her body as his hand cupped her jaw. Living warmth bloomed in his palm and the beat of her pulse danced across his fingers.

Living eyes met living eyes as Foxfire looked up at him with fragile hope, and in that moment John Horgan’s universe accepted the fact that unicorns were real.

“You are real. Actual flesh and blood. And you’re scared, aren’t you?” Horgan asked, years of public life letting him read the emotions of the creature leaning against his hand. ”You seemed furious before. But that wasn’t rage, it was fear, wasn’t it? Fear of what men in power like myself might do, or ordered done to you.”

“Yes,” Foxfire whispered. “I’m terrified, and not just for myself, but for my children and the other ponies of Brightly.”

“You have children? Foals?” Horgan asked, his voice filled with the empathy of a fellow parent.

“We do,” Iron Heart answered, moving to stand beside his love. “Brave children who discovered how to turn person to pony. Being a pony gives you powers that people can only dream about. Our children used those powers to save this town and the lives of others.”

“The other medals you wanted!” Horgan realized, looking up at Montcalm, who was still leaning against the wall by the doorway. “That’s why you wanted them. You were going to introduce me to the children then. Wait, you said ‘turn person to pony.’ Are you a unicorn or a human?”

“We’re both,” Iron Heart explained. “We still don’t quite understand how it works, but after a certain point you start changing back and forth whether you want to or not. The best we’ve been able to determine, the changes are linked to the sun.”

“Can you change anyone into a little hor— er, pony?” Horgan asked, before adding, “and what’s changed that’s got you so scared and has you meeting me instead of your young heroes?”

“Too many people know about ponies now to keep it a secret any longer,” Montcalm answered, pushing off from the wall. “They worried about saving lives first and keeping things quiet second. Today is the last chance to show Brightly’s pony population to the world in a controlled manner, instead of it leaking out and someone reacting badly.”

“And to answer your second question. Yes, my daughter and I can turn anyone in a small area into a pony,” Foxfire said, then quickly added as she saw a slight frown wrinkle Horgan’s brow. “But we would never intentionally transform someone without their consent. People have a right to decide what happens to their own bodies.”

“Indeed they do,” Horgan replied with a nod. “And it’s good to hear that you intend to uphold B.C. and Canadian law when it comes to that. I can guess what it is you would like me to do for you, but I’d like to hear it from you, just in case I’m wrong.”

“Brightly’s ponies need your protection,” Montcalm stated, as he stood behind Foxfire and Iron Heart. “They need you to ensure their rights and freedoms as Canadian citizens are upheld. We need you to make sure they can stay with their loved ones, and most of all, we need you to protect them against people who will want to exploit them.”

“That’s what I thought, and it’s going to be a problem,” Horgan answered, and in response Foxfire backed away from him with fear and a purple glow forming in her eyes and around her horn. “Wait! Let me explain.”

“Make it fast,” Iron Heart growled, moving between Horgan and Foxfire to shield her with his own body, Montcalm stepping up to flank him, “because we’re about ten seconds from running for the hills.”

“Canadian law specifically defines a person as a human being that has issued from their mother. But,” Horgan said, stressing the conjunction, “that wouldn’t stop me from requesting the Lieutenant-Governor issue an Order in Council declaring all ponies as persons.”

“You can do that?” Foxfire breathed, heart in her throat as she allowed her drawn power to fade.

“As Premier of British Columbia I can,” Horgan stated, drawing himself up straight. “And as the representative of the Queen, a pronouncement by the L.G. has the force of law, and it would be effective immediately.”

“I’m sensing a downside here,” Montcalm said with a frown. “What is it?”

“It would only affect British Columbia, and Orders in Council can be challenged in the courts,” Horgan replied. “However, even then you would be under the protection of law until the matter was settled.”

Silence settled over the small gathering, and Foxfire felt the need to run, and run, and run, grip her. She looked at the door, and began to shift her hooves in preparation to bolt, but the voice of that regal version of herself echoed in her mind once more.

Though others plead and threaten, you must stand your ground,” came the remembered words of Foxfire, Queen of Brightly and the Lands Beyond. With those words came the confidence, poise and power of that majestic vision. Foxfire realized that now was the moment that vision had been preparing her for, and she allowed the regal power of that other self to guide her next words and actions.

“Swear to me,” Foxfire commanded, stepping past the males in front of her and wreathing herself in an aura of smoky, dark purple magic. “Swear to me, John Horgan, that you will do everything in your power to protect me and mine.”

“I swear it,” Horgan replied, sliding out of his chair and dropping to one knee as he offered his hand to the unicorn. “As both premier and parent, I will do everything I can to protect and safeguard every citizen of Brightly. Pony or person.”

“So mote it be,” Foxfire declared, as she placed her hoof in Horgan’s hand. “We shall stand with thee for as long as thou doth stand with Us. Thus, is Our compact made.”

Author's Note:

I'm taking a couple of days off to play a bunch of Conan Exiles and to recharge the mental batteries. Next chapter will be out around the 1st.

Next chapter's music..

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Canary in the Coal Mine
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