• 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 6: We've only just Begun

Ernie had taken a little longer than he had planned, inspiration having slowed him down at the farm. The sun was setting when he got back to his neighbor’s house with a duffel bag full of items, and Jean greeted him at her door, quirking her eyebrow in surprise at the obvious bulk in the bag he carried.

“That looks to be a little more than just a couple of grooming tools,” Jean said, a small smile on her lips. Her neighbor seemed to have benefited from the ride to the farm and back, having a much happier expression than when he had left.

“Well, once I grabbed the hoof picks, I figured I may as well grab a couple of rasps,” the lean man said. “Plus, I had to grab the crack epoxy, and I spotted the brushes there and...”

“Never mind,” Jean laughed, waving him in. “No wonder Lynn is your wife. She must have half her sewing room in my living room. She’s measuring the kids right now to within an inch of their lives.”

“Thanks, I brought some...uh,” Ernie paused. “Some horse food. A little hay, some oats, and some pellets.”

“Sausages are coming out,” said Billy’s dad, Arnold, as he pulled out a baking sheet of cooked sausages from the oven. “Hey, Ernie.”

“The kids seemed to do just fine with cookies earlier,” Jean said, easily pivoting around Arnold’s bulk as she grabbed a stack of plates. “Don’t ask me how they’re picking things up with hooves, but they are.” Ernie paused for a moment in his path to the living room to look at his two neighbors. Arn and Jean were moving around each other as comfortably and smoothly as he and Lynn did in their kitchen.

“You know,” he said, just before he stepped through toward the living room, “I don’t know if Lynn’s ever said anything, but the two of you look good together.” Bulky engine rebuilder and lean witch both froze at that comment, shooting a look at the empty air where their neighbor had just been, then looking at each other.

“He’s got a point, Arnold,” Jean said, setting down the plates. “You and Billy are over here at least a couple times a week. Our kids get along, and we work well together.” She touched his bicep, “Isn’t it time you let Annie’s memory rest?”

“It’s been six years, five months and twenty days since she died,” Arnold said, a quickly mastered touch of pain crossing his face, and he set down the tray of sausages. “You’re a good friend and a good neighbor, Jean, and I’m comfortable with what we have between us right now. Besides, do we really want to give all the biddies in town the satisfaction of thinking they’ve finally pushed us together?”

Jean grimaced slightly at that. When Arnold had first come to town, just after his wife had died, every tongue wagger in town was going on about how “The Witch and The Widower” just seemed to be perfect for each other. It didn’t help that Arnold was everything her ex hadn’t been. Patient, slow to anger, and careful with his great strength. He was the Friesian to her Arabian, but he hadn't been ready to let go of his beloved wife’s memory then, and he still might not be.

“Everything needs to grow,” Jean said, scooping cabbage rolls and slices of pot roast onto plates. ”But now probably isn’t the best time to talk about this.” Arnold moved up beside her, adding sausages and roast potatoes to the plates and Jean appreciated anew how hands as large as his could make such precise, deft motions.

“If you two are finished canoodling in the kitchen I’d like to show you a few things,” Ernie’s voice came from the living room.

“Be there in a minute,” Arnold called back. “We’re just getting the food onto plates now. How about we all eat first then concentrate on the kids?” He looked at Jean, who shrugged.

“Can you two manage?” Lynn asked from the living room. “We’ve got our hands full at the moment.”

“No worries,” Jean said, loudly. “We’ll bring the food there.” The two adults grabbed plates and took them into the living room where they were greeted with hungry enthusiasm, and over the next hour the five children and four adults ate, talked, and learned. Ernie Harding gave an impromptu class in hoof care and cleaning while fixing the small crack in Billy’s hoof. Pauses were taken for bites of food, which the children impressed all the parents with their ability to hold.

“I still can’t get over how you kids are able to hold things with your hooves,” Jean said to her younger daughter, who was messily finishing her cabbage roll. None of the children had expressed any real interest in the horse fodder, preferring to stick to human food.

“It’s kinda weird Mom,” Romy replied, licking a bit of tomato sauce off her hoof. “If I think about it, it doesn’t work. But if I just let it happen, it goes just fine. Oh, and Mom, I think you need to have the floor under the couch checked. It feels funny.”

“Is that another one of these ‘powers’ you kids have?” Jean asked, stroking a brush through Rowan’s fur. “Like Billy being able to kick a small tree in half?”

“It sure is!” Zak said, with a large smile. “We all got a super power. Billy’s really strong, Romy can feel things, Kya is a really strong flier, Rowey can make shields and I’m fast, really fast.”

“Really?” Ernie said, looking at his son with a grin. “Is that gonna translate into you cleaning your room faster?”

“Daaad,” Zak replied, smiling, but then his face became a little serious. “Ms. Pedersen, can I use the bathroom?”

“Sure thing Zak,” Jean said to the winged pony. “You know where it is.”

“Thank you,” Zak said, trotting off to the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen.

“You know,” Arnold said, giving his son’s hooves another check, “when Zachary gets back from the bathroom I’m thinking maybe we should all head over to my garage.”

“Why?” Lynn Harding asked, putting away a notebook with all of the children’s new measurements.

“Well, whatever has done this to our kids seems to have also given them some interesting abilities,” he said, setting down the hoof he was checking. “Let’s see what they can do.”

“You know, that’s not a half bad idea,” Ernie said. “It’s dark now and almost no one will notice us as long as we aren’t too loud.” A grunt of frustration came from the bathroom.

“Um...Dad?” Zak called from the bathroom. Everyone's ears perked up, in the kids case, literally. “Could you come here for a minute?”

“What’s wrong?” Ernie asked, packing away his grooming tools.

“Just...come here, okay?” Zak asked, from the bathroom. His father got up and made his way to the next room where his son was.

“What’s the problem, Zak?” Ernie asked, at the closed door. “Do you need me to come in?”

“Um yah, please Dad, just you?” Zak asked, and everyone could hear the embarrassment in his voice.

“What seems to be the--” Ernie began as he opened up the door and saw the predicament his son was in. “Oh, okay, I see the problem. You want me to do that for you?”

“Please,” the boy said. “God, this is so embarrassing.” Some sounds could be heard from the bathroom and a minute or two later Ernie came back into the living room.

“What was wrong dear?” Lynn asked her husband, brow slightly furrowed in worry.

“He, um. He...” Ernie trailed off as he thought on how to phrase his son’s problem. “Oh, screw it. The rest of you are going to run into this soon. He couldn't reach around to wipe his butt after taking a dump.” Billy snickered at his friend’s predicament.

“Don’t laugh son,” Arnold said to him,. “You’re going to have to go to the bathroom too.” Everyone laughed, as Billy’s face fell in realization of that universal truth: Everyone poops.

A minute or two later, Zak joined the others and his blush was visible even through his charcoal grey fur. He moved quickly through the living room and seated himself in the sheltered corner between the two couches,

“You know, if we are going to do a little testing, all the kids should use the bathroom beforehand,” Jean said to the room in general. “Ernie, is Billy’s hoof up to it?”

“It should be fine,” Ernie said, gathering the rest of his things up. “So long as he doesn’t go punching through trees for awhile.”

“What did I miss?” Zak asked, his embarrassment quickly evaporating under curiosity.

“We’re thinking of heading over to my garage so we can check out what you kids can do,” Arnold said, beginning to get up. “All you kids are going to go to the bathroom, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed, Zak.”

Once all the children had used, and been helped at the bathroom, the group headed over to Arnold’s shop. Night had fully fallen by now, and the streets of Brightly were ironically not very bright, as the village had not been able to afford more than a streetlight at each intersection in town. As such, the group was easily able to make their way to the large garage Arnold used as his machine shop.

“Okay, Ernie, give me a hand here,” Arnold said, and together the two men spent the next ten minutes pushing heavy items aside to clear a large area.

“So who wants to go first?” Lynn asked the children. Four of whom immediately volunteered, jumping up and down excited to show off their new powers. Lynn noticed that as usual, her shy daughter was trying to hide in the back. “Kylara, sweetie. What can you do, again?”

“Um,” the black furred pegasus began, nervously, “I can fly, and, um, I can carry a lot of weight when I do.”

“Okay then,” Arnold said, smiling. “We’ve got a lot of heavy things around, let’s see what you can lift.” Ernie pulled out a safety harness he had taken from the farm and buckled it onto his transformed daughter as well as he could.

“If this becomes a regular thing, your Mom and I will make you something that fits better,” Ernie said to his daughter, who rubbed her cheek against his.

“Thanks Dad,” she whispered to him, and then extended her wings in their full silver-tipped glory. Over the next five minutes everyone was amazed as Kylara lifted an entire engine block into the air, and held it there for a full minute. That was only the beginning. As Kya tired and lowered the block, Rowan manifested a plane of force underneath the weight of descending metal and held it in place as her friend disconnected herself from the harness.

Rowan’s sister Romy, not to be outdone, put a hoof against the assembled engine block and told Arnold that the third cylinder had a very weak spot along it. Billy offered to break the engine block open, but no one would let him. In the end, he had to settle for being harnessed to the abused mass of metal and dragging it across the concrete floor, almost strutting with pride as he did so.

Last, but by no means least, Zak did a speed slalom run through the garage. At one point he flew in one door and out the other, passing by a chronograph as he did so. Zak came back in through the open garage door, landed and folded his wings against his sides. “So, how fast was that?” he asked.

“About a hundred feet per second,” Arnold said. Ernie punched the number into a calculator and whistled.

“That’s around a hundred and ten kay,” Ernie said. “Highway speeds. Not bad son, not bad at all.”

“I had to slow down a lot to make the turns in and out of the garage,” Zak complained. “I could have gone a lot faster.”

“We’ll see what tomorrow brings,” Ernie said to his son. “Maybe head out to the lake and do a straight out speed run.” Father and son began to discuss the best places along the local lake shore where they could do the test and still be unobserved.

“Mom,” Kylara said, nuzzling her mother’s side, “are we gonna be ponies forever?” Lynn looked over at Jean, raising an eyebrow and tilting her head in obvious question.

“I...I don’t know, Kya,” Jean said, both of her daughters looking to their mother with the same question on their faces, and conversations stopped as every eye in the room fell on her. “There are stories of transformations like what you kids have gone through, but most of them were either punishments or to teach a lesson.”

“But we didn’t do anything wrong, did we?” Rowey asked, a small quaver of fear in her voice.

“Not as far as I can tell,” her mother assured her, kneeling to draw the pony close, “and this doesn’t feel like a punishment. If anything, you five have gained, not lost.”

“Jean, is there anything you can do?” Arnold asked. “I know this is outside your usual area of expertise, but...” He trailed off, spreading his hands wide.

“Assuming this isn’t a curse or something, there should be three ways the change can reverse,” Jean said, and everyone leaned a little closer. “First, it could be an enchantment, and when it runs out of power or hits its limit, the kids will change back on their own. Second, I could try to find a counter-spell or something. Or, third, it’s a permanent change of some sort.”

“Any way to find out which?” Lynn asked. “And any chance we could maybe just get Father Addison to do something about it?”

“The Church has always been a bane to most magic, so if this is a curse, then Father Hills might be able to break it” Jean said. The kind Anglican priest was a true example of “love thy neighbor” and had been one of Jean’s earliest friends when she had first come to Brightly. “Something I can do right now is to try to recast the spell that changed the kids.”

“Woah,” Ernie said, “isn’t that a little dangerous. What if you succeed and we all turn into little horses?”

“From what Rowan describes, the spell takes some time to cast and it’s rather obvious that something is going on when it does,” Jean said, looking around at everyone. “I’ll be counting on one of you to stop me from finishing it, if it does start to work.”

“And if it does work, I mean start to work, what does that mean?” Arnold asked, resting a hand on his son’s flank.

“It means that it isn’t a curse, but an enchantment instead,” Jean said, frowning. “I think. All of this is way beyond anything anyone has run into for a long time. I’m running off of legends and fables here.”

“Well, it’s better than anything else we’ve got at the moment,” Ernie said. “Go for it.”

“Alright then,” Jean said, taking a breath. “Rowan, pass me the book.” Wordlessly, her daughter placed the ornate tome in front of her kneeling mother. Jean nodded her thanks and steeling herself, she reached out, and for the first time physically touched the book, giving a gasp as she felt a flow of energy from the artifact in front of her.

“Jean, are you okay?” Arnold asked, concern in his voice.

“I’m okay,” Jean assured him, her voice hollow and her eyes locked on the book. “It’s like when you first get into a hot tub. The same feeling of heat and warmth all around you. I’m going to try the words now...” She opened the book and the others immediately heard her take a deep breath in, followed by a long, slow exhalation. Ernie made to speak but his wife shushed him. Twice more, Jean repeated the cycle of breathing, focusing herself on mastering the warm strength within her. Opening her eyes, she focused on the pseudo-Latin words in front of her and began to chant them in a steady cadence.

In nomine Sol

In nomine Luna

In nomine Equus

On the third line, an unseen wind seemed to spring up, focused solely on the woman reading the book. Jean’s waist length hair came undone from its braid of its own accord, and streamed out behind her parallel to the floor.

“Arn, you better stop her,” Lynn said, but the large man didn’t move, mesmerized by the scene in front of him.

Orbis Terrarum Equorum

Twinkling lights appeared in Jean's hair, turning it a shade of black so dark that it began to have blue highlights and a dark lavender glow began to appear over her skin.

“Ernie?” Lynn asked her husband, but he too seemed frozen in place.

Mannulus Terrae


Jean’s voice broke off as Lynn slammed the book closed, cutting off Jean’s view of the words. At the same time her hair returned to normal, falling to lie flat against her back again. Cut off from the power flowing into her from the artifact, Jean collapsed to her hands and knees.

“Is everyone alright?” Lynn asked the room in general, as she checked to make sure Jean was okay. Both men blinked and shook themselves.

“Yah,” Arnold said, turning toward where Romy and Rowey were busy shaking their mother.

“Mom?...Mom?” both girls asked. To their relief, a moment or two later Jean also blinked and looked around, pushing herself back to a kneeling sit.

“Hey girls,” she said, and both her daughters cuddled next to her. “I’m okay, just...a little weak. Thanks for closing the book, Lynn. I couldn’t stop.”

“I noticed,” Lynn said, smiling. “I may not know magic but I can close a book, eh?” Everyone had a bit of a chuckle at that.

“Ha!” Jean exclaimed, slowly getting herself back to her feet. “Seriously though, thank you, and I think I learned something too.”

“I hope it’s something good,” Ernie said, Zak and Kya both snuggling up against him, “because whatever you did had me riding along with it.”

“Same here,” Arnold interjected.

“Whatever it is, it felt like it wants to be helpful, not harmful,” Jean said, fumbling a bit for the words. “I felt like something was trying to protect me, and that I was being offered...a kinship or the friendship of something or someone.”

“So, not evil, then?” Billy asked, speaking up into the group.

“Not evil,” Jean said, confirming. “Like you kids could ever be evil, no matter what.” Everyone laughed a bit at that, and tension flowed out of the garage.

“So, are we gonna be ponies forever?” Kya asked, looking up to her father.

“Maybe, maybe not,” her father said, smiling down gently at his daughter. “But if you are, it’s because something or someone thinks you need to be a pony, at least for now.”

“Plus, you’re adorable,” Jean said. “All of you.” A chorus of denials erupted from all five children.

“Okay, I move that we bring this meeting of the Pony Parents to a close,” Arnold said, hugging his son. “It’s been one heck of a day and I think all of us could use some rest.”

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