• Published 27th Oct 2020
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Ride the Pony - Five Dollars - Irrespective



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Two

* * Ω * *

“Megan.”

The name would not leave him. It buzzed around in his head like a beehive being struck by a stick, and as it buzzed, it brought long-lost memories with it.

He had been sent here to find Megan. He couldn’t remember why, but somehow, he knew that she was important.

Immediately after he had broken the machine, Master had put him in the trailer. It was a large metal box, with locks on the outside that he could not reach. Master had taught him new words as they had walked to the trailer, sharp words that sounded ominous. Voodoo. Witchcraft. Satanic.

But Master used a word that he did know, too. Magic. Master blamed magic for breaking his machine. It was magic—dark, evil magic—that had made the grass and the flowers grow.

And it was magic that had brought him here in the first place.

He twisted around to look at the bare patch on his flank that still tingled with the touch of the old woman. There was a mark there, a picture that he had nearly forgotten as it had faded over time. There, in bright lines and vibrant colors again, was a picture of a rock—jagged, rough, and with a spike protruding from the top of it.

He shook his head. It wasn’t a picture. It was something more, something special. It represented something he was good at, something that he was unnaturally talented at doing.

His first Master had tried to scrub the mark away with harsh chemicals and stiff brushes. When that didn’t work, Master had painted matching marks on the other ponies. Other Masters had done the same thing, until the Circle had stolen the mark.

He could not remember what the mark meant. He wished he could. He felt like he would know why his head was buzzing if he could.

The mark would wait until later. He needed to find Megan and her granddaughter. He needed to get out of the trailer.

A tremor swept over his body at the thought of leaving the trailer on his own. Master was mad already, and if he tried to escape, Master would be furious. The beating would be worse, much worse than anything else he’d endured.

He had to leave. He was terrified, but if he stayed in the trailer, he would never find Megan. The Circle would consume him, and the shadows would eat all of his thoughts and memories. If he stayed, he would be like the dumb ponies that lived here.

He reached out and touched the metal wall in front of him with a hoof. Could he kick his way out? It would make a lot of noise, and Master would hear him for sure. The small windows had bars on them, and he could not reach them unless he untied himself.

If he did get out, what would he do? Megan had left, and he had no idea where she had gone. He would have to search for her. Master would look for him, and he had the large machine called a truck. The truck was fast, and it had bright lights. Master could find him if he ran. He would be a bad pony, and the beating would...

He fought back against the unpleasant thought. The truck had to stay on the black stuff called a road. If he stayed away from the road, Master might not find him.

His thoughts froze with his heart when he heard a voice. Master’s voice. It was too late! Master would hurt him for the damage he’d caused! Master was going to beat him for breaking the machine!

The locks clinked, and the door swung open. He backed himself into the corner and made himself very small. Maybe Master would see he was sorry. Maybe Master would see that he would never do anything like that again.

A hand came out of the darkness and he flinched, waiting for the first strike.

It never came. The hand began to scratch behind his ear, and another one began to pat him gently on the neck. “Shh, it’s okay, boy. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

The granddaughter! He let out a nicker as relief filled him from hooves to ears. If she was here, then Megan was here. Master would not hurt him, not in front of Megan. Master got in trouble if he hurt the ponies when others could see.

“I’m telling you, that… that thing is a beast straight from Hell,” Master spat from somewhere out in the darkness. “The pure spawn of Satan himself. It needs to be destroyed.”

“What happens to him is my concern, not yours,” Megan said. “You have your money.”

Guess what?” the granddaughter whispered to him in the old language. “Grandma bought you! We’re going to take you away from this horrible man. You’re going to live with us now. You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’m going to take good care of you.”

He couldn’t believe it. He wanted to, of course, but this was simply too good to be true. There was no way that the person he was supposed to find was going to be his new Master. It was too fantastic, too amazing.

It was almost like…. He looked over his shoulder at the mark on his flank.

Magic.

“C’mon, boy.” The granddaughter untied his rope from the trailer, and gave it a gentle tug. “Come with me.”

“Watch your step, Penny,” Megan cautioned, and they both waited for him to gingerly step down and out of the trailer. Master was there, a thick stack of money in hand. He thumbed through the slips individually, like he was counting the total amount. Master’s eyes burned with fury, but he did not lash out.

“I should charge you double,” Master grunted. “That monster destroyed my walker.”

“He bent one arm and stripped a few teeth off the drive gears,” Megan retorted. “It’s hardly destroyed. You’re still able to offer rides, aren’t you?”

Master snarled. “I’ll have to buy a new pony to replace him.”

“I highly doubt that you will have a problem with finding another. May I take my purchase now, or would you like to complain about something else?”

Master wanted to say more, but didn’t. Instead, Master turned and walked back to the other dumb ponies and his Circle.

“C’mon, boy.” Penny patted his neck and tugged on the rope. “This way.”

His mind whirled with a million thoughts as he followed Penny and Megan. The angry beehive in his head had mixed with a tornado, and he couldn’t make sense of what was happening. What was going to happen now? Was he going to walk in circles for Megan? Why did he need to find her? How was he supposed to get back to his old home?

His thoughts continued to crash into each other until they reached a nearby tall car. He retreated a step when Penny moved to untie the rope from his muzzle, and he let out a small whinny in fear.

“Slowly, dear,” Megan said, and her soft hand began to scratch behind his ears. “He’s been hurt, and he’s scared right now. Go slow, let him see that you’re a friend. Talk to him.”

“Will he speak to me?” Penny asked, her hand slowly scratching his muzzle.

“In time,” Megan said as she opened the back door on the car. “He probably thinks you’ll hurt him if he does say something. Ponies aren’t supposed to talk.”

“I won’t hurt you,” Penny reassured him. “Not now, not ever. You can trust me.”

He focused his thoughts on this statement. He was supposed to find Megan, and he had. Penny was Megan’s granddaughter. If Megan was good, then that meant that Penny was good, right?

It could be a trick. Penny wasn’t Megan. Penny might steal his words. Penny could be like Master, and put him back in the circle.

Penny crouched down in front of him, and held one hand out. Her soft smile removed his fears. The love in her eyes took away the shadows and the pain. Penny wasn’t like Master, or the children who rode on his back. Penny cared about him. She would be nice, and she wouldn’t take his words.

He didn’t know how he knew, but somehow, he did. He leaned forward and pushed his nose into her open hand. He was going to trust her, even if he was scared.

“That’s a good boy,” Penny said with a giggle. “I’m going to take the rope off now, okay? It won’t hurt at all. You’ll never have a rope on you again, I promise.”

He nodded and remained still as she untied the knots that held the rope on his muzzle. Once she was done, she dropped it on the ground and nodded.

“There we go. That feels better, doesn’t it?”

He looked at the rope, then back up to Penny. He nodded. It did feel a little better.

Penny’s smile grew larger, and she patted his muzzle. “Let’s get you out of here. I’ll ride with you in the back, okay? You’ll be safe with me.”

His gaze went to the open door and the interior of the tall car. He had never ridden in a car before. It looked soft, much softer than the trailer.

He took one step, but then stopped and looked down at his hoof. He had stepped on the rope, the rope that had bound him to the trailer and to Master.

Ever so slowly, he began to twist his hoof from side to side, grinding the rope deeper into the dirt with every motion.

Megan and Penny smiled together as he climbed into the car.

* * Ω * *

“So, what’s your name?” Penny asked. “I can’t keep calling you ‘boy,’ after all.”

He shrunk back and curled into a tighter ball. He knew he could trust Penny, but he didn’t want her to take away his words.

Penny waited for a moment, then scratched behind his ears. “Grandma, I don’t know if he’s going to talk. He still looks really, really scared.”

“It might take awhile,” Megan said. “But he’ll talk when he’s ready. Believe me, ponies love to talk.”

“Just like your stories, right?” Penny said with a knowing grin. “They sing and dance, too, and throw parties, and bake pies, and all sorts of other fun things. How do you think he got here?”

Megan didn’t reply for a moment, her head swiveling back and forth as she pulled up to a stop sign. “I’m not sure how he got here, but from everything that happened when he saw me, he must have been sent. It’s a cruel shame that he ended up with that horrid man, and I’m sure the ones before him were no better.”

“Master bad,” he croaked. It hurt his throat, but he wanted to speak, to prove to himself that he was not like the dumb ponies.

“You can talk!” Penny cheered. “And you speak English, too!”

“Master is bad,” he repeated, his vision being overtaken by the Circle again. His breaths came in ragged bursts, and his heart hammered in his chest. The once spacious car began to close in around him, and he put his hooves on the door to keep it away. “Master will hurt me. I broke his machine.” The Circle forced his body to the floor to conform to its shape, as if it was proving that it would always control him and his life. “Can’t go back to Master. You will be the new Master. Please, be Master. Please?”

“No.” Penny moved to the floor with him and ran her fingers through his mane in long, soothing strokes. “I’m not your master. I’m your friend. You’ll never have a master again.”

“No… Master?” The idea made absolutely no sense to him. For as long as he could remember, there had always been masters. Masters were mean, but they gave him food and water. Master kept bad animals away, animals with long teeth and sharp claws that hunted the mice who lived in the hay.

“No master,” Penny repeated. “I promise.”

He thought this over for several long moments before looking up at her. “Do you Pinkie Promise?”

Penny held out a fist with the last finger raised to him. “I double pinkie promise that you will never have a master again.”

“No master.” The idea scared him, but deep down, he liked the idea. Slowly, he uncurled himself and touched her littlest finger with his hoof. “No more master. Friends instead.”

“Right. Grandma and I are friends.” Penny affirmed. “Do you have a name?”

He shut his eyes tight, so tight that little lights began to dance on the insides of his eyelids. He had a name. He knew he had a name. It was somewhere in him, buried deep in the shadows and suppressed by the Circle. “Yes,” he croaked. “Can’t remember. Circle… took it.”

“The circle?” Penny asked.

“His time in the mechanical walker,” Megan said. “He’s been forced to act like a pony from our world so he doesn’t get hurt. All those years of walking in a circle have stolen his name from him.”

“Oh, how horrible!” Penny pulled him into a gentle hug. “That’s the worst thing I have ever heard! How could anybody or anything be so cruel?”

“How indeed,” Megan murmured softly.

“Well, since you don’t remember your name, I’m going to give you a temporary one,” Penny said. “Everybody needs a name, after all. Let’s see. You have a rock on your leg, so I’ll call you Rocky. Is that okay?”

“Rocky.” He tried out the name, but it didn’t taste quite right. It was nice, and it fit, but he knew it wasn’t his real name. But it would work for now, so he nodded. “Rocky.”

“Grandma?” Penny glanced out the window, and she pointed to something that Rocky couldn’t see. “This isn’t the way we came.”

“I know.” The old woman winced as the car bounced on the rough road. “We’re going to have to take the back roads for now.”

“Why?”

Megan drew in a deep and sad breath. “Penny, when I was a young girl, my mother would tell me fantastic stories about elves who made shoes and kings who could turn anything into gold with just a touch. I learned about ferocious fire breathing dragons, spiteful trolls who were outsmarted by gruff billy goats, and about bears who were quite particular about the temperature of their porridge and uninvited guests. I loved to hear about geese that laid golden eggs and dwarves who could spin straw into gold, so when Firefly crashed into my barn, it was easy for me to believe that ponies could fly, and that magic really did exist.

“But I also learned that this world is a dangerous place for magic. The fairies, the elves, and all of the fae creatures have faded away or fled many, many years ago. This world treats magic as if it were some sort of disease, and attacks it at every opportunity, trying to destroy it or wrap it up in a protective shield like a cyst. That’s why Rocky was trapped with a long line of abusive owners instead of being purchased for a farm.” She coughed once and continued. “Sometimes, I think the world doesn’t know what to make of me. I spent so much time with the ponies that some of the magic must have stayed with me, and the world must have thought I was a rash or something like that. But I was careful. The ponies trusted me to keep their magic safe, so I kept it hidden, never touched it, and waited.”

She was silent for a while, trying to drive around the worst of the potholes. “I waited for so long that I was beginning to forget about them. I started to believe they would never need it again, and all my memories were just dreams,” she added more softly.

“We do need you,” said Rocky. “I… can’t remember why, but that’s why I was sent.”

“And that is why we must hurry,” said Megan. “This world can feel it too. If you are here, loose and unrestrained, it will try its best to stop the magic before it can be released.” She laughed, a much more youthful sound than her old body seemed able to produce. “We’ve stuck a feather up the world’s nose, and we need to run away before it sneezes.”

“Run away?” Penny asked. “Where are we running to?”

“Dream Valley,” Megan replied with a determined grin.

“But… but how? We don’t know how he got here in the first place.”

“True. But I just so happen to know of a way to get back.”

Rocky’s ears perked up. “You do?”

“During my time with the ponies, I was entrusted with the Rainbow of Light,” Megan said. “But that was only one of the magical items that I was given. The Moochick also gave me a magical lasso, one that can open a portal between our worlds. I was told to never use it, except in case of a dire emergency. I think this qualifies.”

“Rainbow.” The inside of Rocky’s head began to pound, and he put both hooves on the side of his head to quell the noise. “Rainbow of Light. We need it. Need to defeat… something… or someone....”

“We’ll need to get back to my house first,” Megan replied. “It’s hidden in my barn. Once we have it, we can get you home.”

“Home.” Rocky repeated the word. “No Master. I find Megan, bring her to Home. Home needs Megan.” He paused, and Penny’s bright, eager smile brought more thoughts to him. “Maybe Home needs Penny, too.”

Penny gasped. “Can I go to Dream Valley, Grandma?”

“I don’t see why not,” Megan replied with a mischievous grin. “Just don’t mention this to your mother. It was hard enough to convince her to let me take you to the fair. I don’t think she’ll like the idea of you going to another world.”

* * Ω * *

“Grandma, can we stop for dinner?” Penny asked. “I think Rocky is hungry.”

Megan glanced into the back seat, a deep frown on her face. They needed to keep moving. The Circle would not let Rocky go without a fight, and she dreaded to think of what would be thrown at them. The evils that had plagued Dream Valley would be nothing compared to what this world could do.

“Grandma?”

A twinge of pain in both her chest and stomach distracted Megan while she tried to think. Penny had never doubted the truth of her stories about the ponies, even when others had said that Grandma Meg was slightly senile. While they needed to get back to the farm, they probably could pick up something and eat while they drove.

Besides, she was hungry, to tell the truth. She offered her granddaughter a reassuring grin. “He’s hungry, or you are?”

Penny giggled and offered an embarrassed smile. “I haven’t had anything to eat since lunch. But I’m sure Rocky wants some food, too.”

Megan nodded. “Would you like something to eat, Rocky?”

“Hay,” he automatically replied. “I eat hay.”

“Nonsense. I remember Cupcake used to make the most delicious cream pies, and Scoops would whip up decadent hot fudge sundaes and milkshakes so thick that I’d almost need a chisel to eat them. You only eat hay because that’s what you were given.”

There was a long pause as Rocky tried to think back to the time before his time in the Circle. “I used to… I liked cupcakes. With sprinkles, and strawberry frosting.”

“Ponies,” Megan said with a chuckle. “Mostly made of sugar. We can stop, but not for very long. The police are probably looking for us already.”

“Why?” Penny asked. “We didn’t steal Rocky. You gave that bad guy a lot of money for him.”

“Yes, but the police don’t know that,” Megan said, with a look of pride for her granddaughter’s youthful curiosity.

“Didn’t you get a receipt from him?”

“He wrote something out, but it doesn’t matter. He’ll just claim I forged it, and the police will believe him. Our world really doesn’t like magic.”

“Can’t go back,” Rocky said, his breaths heaving in and out rapidly. “No Master. No circle.”

“We won’t let anybody take you back,” Megan said. “We just need to be careful, that’s all. When we pull into town, hop down onto the floor. That should keep you hidden pretty well. Penny, if I remember correctly, there’s a gas station up ahead with a Subway just across the street. I’ll have you run over there to get some sandwiches while I get gas, okay?”

Penny nodded. “Okay. Rocky, what kind of sandwich do you want?”

Rocky stared at the seat in front of him as he thought. It was doubtful that he had ever been given anything but hay, since his former owners saw him as nothing more than a pony.

“I don’t eat hay,” he murmured. “I used to eat cupcakes, and pies. I used to eat sandwiches, even. Big ones, with lots of yummy things stuffed between two thick slices of bread. Could… could I have a daffodil sandwich?” he asked in a slow, quiet voice. “I like daffodils.”

Penny glanced between Rocky and her Grandmother. “I don’t think they have daffodils. They do have a veggie sandwich. Would that be okay? It’s got peppers, and lettuce, and onions, and stuff like that.”

Rocky nodded. “Yes, please.”

Penny smiled. “I’ll get you a footlong on wheat, with some chips and a large pop. Have you ever had a soda pop before?”

Rocky shook his head. “Water only.”

“You’ll like it. It’s all fizzy, so it tickles your nose and makes you burp. Mom won’t let me have it, except when we go out to eat, but Grandma Megan always lets me have some when I come to visit. Mom doesn’t like it, but she says it’s Grandma’s job to spoil me, so she lets it go. I’ll get you a Sprite, okay?”

Rocky had no idea what a ‘sprite’ was, but his stomach did, and it signaled approval with a low growl. “Okay. I will have sprite.”


“Okay. This should be more than enough for the food,” Megan said as she handed Penny several paper bills. “Remember, we need to hurry.”

“I’ll be fast, Grandma,” Penny said, and she bolted from the car.

Rocky nearly followed her. He didn’t want to be found. He didn’t want to go back to Master. Penny had said she would keep him safe, but she couldn’t do that if he was not with her. But Megan was still here, and she would stay by the car. He just needed to lie down, and be still. Just for a few minutes, and then Penny would be back with food. The Circle couldn’t find him if he could be quiet.

“I’ll be right here, Rocky,” Megan offered with a soft smile, her hand scratching that perfect spot behind his ears. “It will only take me a minute. Nothing will happen to you.”

“Okay. I will lie on the floor. I will be very quiet. I will not move.” Rocky slid to the floor of the car, and he made himself as small as he possibly could. “Is this good?”

“Perfect. I’m going to put the blanket over you for now, but once we leave, you can pull it off. I’m also going to unroll the window a little so you have some fresh air.”

Rocky nodded, and he drew in a long breath as Megan spread a large brown blanket over him. It was almost the same color of his coat, and he liked how it smelled. It was like he was in a forest, with tall pine trees and bunches of wildflowers scattered all around him.

A little part of him hoped that Home smelled like this. He wished he could remember what it had been like, but when he went back that far in his memories, all he could see was shadows and the Circle.

Had the Circle taken over his home? It had been so long since he’d left. Would Megan still be needed? Would the ponies of his home be mad that he had not found her sooner? Would they punish him for his failure?

He pulled himself into a tighter ball and shivered. Maybe they would. Maybe there was no home anymore, and he was going to a place that was worse than where he was.

He sniffled a little, rubbing the end of his nose with a hoof in a failed attempt to keep his tears in. He didn’t like being scared all the time. He didn’t like all of these bad thoughts. He used to be a brave pony, who was smart and who helped out his friends whenever they asked.

Megan said she was his friend. Penny said she was his friend, too. They were being nice, and they were trying to take him home.

He liked having friends again.


Penny hummed a cheerful tune to herself as she placed a lid on the last cup, and it took her a moment to figure out how to get all three drinks into her hands without spilling them.

This day had made her insides feel like she was on a roller coaster, and she couldn’t decide if she should be terrified or excited. She had been delighted beyond belief when her mom had said that she could go to the fair with her grandma, and if that had been the only thing that had happened, she would have proclaimed today as the Best Day Ever, with capital letters and everything.

And then she had found a Pony! A real, honest-to-goodness Pony from Dream Valley, straight out of her Grandma’s stories and in the real world! Even thinking of it now made her giggle a little with glee. She had been a little scared when Grandma bought him, since that horrible master could have said no, but thankfully they had saved poor Rocky before anything really bad had happened.

All they had to do now was get him home. Grandma’s farm was still a few hours away, and Penny was a little worried that somebody would see him. Grandma Meg’s warnings about how the world hated magic had scared her a little, but she was going to be brave, for Rocky’s sake. If they were careful, and if she stayed calm, then everything would work out in the end.

Once she had the food and the drinks secure, she pushed the door open with her back and turned to walk to her Grandma’s car. Her breath caught in her throat, and a chill of fear seized her heart.

The police.

A cruiser from the local police department had pulled up to the pump on the opposite side of her grandma’s Ford Escape, and the officer was having what looked like a stern conversation with Grandma Megan, with one hand near his gun and the other gripping the radio mic that was attached to his shoulder. Penny had always been taught to trust the police, but all of that was drowned in the horror that Rocky was going to be taken away.

Had the officer seen the pony they were hiding in the back seat? Was he calling for backup? Could it be that Rocky’s former Master had reported a stolen pony, and now her Grandma was going to be arrested for theft?

Penny swallowed hard, but on second glance, she noticed something. Grandma Megan didn’t seem to be upset or afraid at all. In fact, it looked like her grandma was just having a friendly conversation with the officer, and she even had that warm, welcoming smile that she gave to anybody that she talked to.

The sight gave her a little surge of hope, and she used that hope to give herself the courage she needed. Rocky needed her to be strong right now, to not be afraid. He was counting on both Penny and Grandma Megan to get him home again.

Penny could do it. She would do it, just for him.

I wonder if this is how Grandma felt when she first went to Dream Valley, she thought as she forced her feet to move. She didn’t have any idea of where she was, or what she needed to do. She had no way of defeating Tirek, but she found a way all the same.

Penny held her head high as she crossed the street. If Grandma Megan could do it, then so could she.

“Ah, Penny!” Megan cheerfully greeted her when she reached them, and she took one of the cups as they moved to the rear passenger door. “Any trouble getting the food?”

“Nope!” Penny cheerfully replied. “No problems at all.”

“Good. Hop in, and we’ll get going. I hope you got me some sun chips,” she said with a wink.

Penny nodded and quickly moved into the back seat, with what she hoped was a subtle movement to block the officer’s view of the lumpy blanket on the floor of the car. “Are you okay, Rocky?” she whispered.

Rocky made a soft, frightened noise that sounded vaguely positive.

“We’ll be leaving in just a minute, so don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine.”

Just as she finished saying the words, her grandma hopped into the front seat and fastened her seat belt. “Are we ready back there?”

Penny quickly buckled her own seat belt and nodded. “We’re ready, Grandma. Let’s go home.”

Megan nodded, and Penny pulled the chips out of the plastic bag as they drove away from the gas station. But as they did, the officer’s radio cackled, and Penny caught the first little bit of the message through the open window as they eased back onto the main road.

“All units, be on the lookout…”

* * Ω * *