My Little Pony Monthly Issue 62 (May 1, 2002)

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Issue 62
May 2002

Index of this issue--

1. Letters to the Editor

2. Birth of Spring (by Sugarberry)

3. Stranger Than Fiction Chapter One (by Berry Brite)

4. History (by Clever Clover)

5. Mother’s Day (by Sugarberry)

6. Left in the Lurch (or rather, Church) (by Tabby)


Letters to the Editor - I just got the MLP Monthly. Please tell Baby Jedi that I loved (I mean LOVED) her story “Spare Me the Details.” It was hilarious. Tell her to hurry up and finish it, too. You can tell her how hopelessly obsessed I am with LOTR but hadn’t the guts to write a crossover story. I liked her description of Pippin. But I wonder if Legolas would really mind being called “Leggy.” ~.^ Tell her I loved the story and that I can’t wait for the next installment. - Could I please have the link to the webpage where you have the other chapters of the Insane Crossover Story? I’d like a friend to read the whole thing.

Editor’s note-- If anyone else wanted to read past chapters of the crossover, you can find them all posted at


Birth of Spring
by Sugarberry (

The country blue stallion grabbed for the obnoxious phone as its ringing brought him out of a deep sleep on an early Saturday morning. “Yeah!” he croaked into the receiver while rubbing his hoof over his still sleepy eyes.

“Still in bed?” the voice on the other end asked with a chuckle.

“It’s hardly daylight yet,” Vanguard defended, recognizing the voice as Wigwam’s.

“Have you looked out the window?”

“No,” Vanguard admitted, vaguely remembering that it had been snowing the night before even though it was already more than a week into the month of May. He reached for the window curtain that was closest to his position and pulled it back to peer out into the newly dawning day.

“Whoa!” he said, the surprise in his voice causing Sugarberry to abandon the warm covers and join her husband at the window. “It looks like Antarctica out there!”

“My flowers!” the mare agonized, seeing this return of winter as an abomination to the spring display of blossoms that she so faithfully cultivated.

Vanguard heard another chuckle emanate from the receiver. “Tell your beautiful wife that her flowers will consider this just a refreshing drink; it’ll be melted in no time, even if it’s a good foot deep out there.”

“I thought the forecast was for several inches by morning,” frowned Vanguard, noting that flakes were still falling from a dreary sky.

“Wrong again on the weather pony’s part. But I’m not complaining. This gives us a perfect opportunity to have one more trek on our snowshoes. Are you with me?” queried Wigwam.

The expanse of white snow lying pristine on the ground beckoned, its unbroken smoothness begging for exploration. “Sure,” Vanguard said, “as long as Sugarberry will excuse me from the shopping expedition she had planned.” He turned to her with questioning eyes, and the mare waved a hoof in the air to indicate that he was free to do as he pleased. “Sure,” Vanguard repeated.

“Great! I’ll be over as soon as I can get there.”

“Just a sec’,” Vanguard said, covering the receiver with a hoof. He directed a question to Sugarberry. “Shall I invite him to breakfast?”

“Might as well.”

“Okay, Wigwam, you’re cleared for breakfast; see ya shortly.”

* * *
Sugarberry had knocked on Chocolate Chip’s bedroom door to alert her to company coming in the form of Wigwam and scurried to the kitchen to throw together something tasty when Wishbone came up the stairs from his basement apartment. “It’s barely light out, but the clock says seven,” he yawned. “What’s up?”

“Look out the window,” Sugarberry advised.

“Yowser!” exclaimed the stallion. “I heard we were going to get some snow, but this is ridiculous!”

“It’s actually very beautiful, but I worry that all my flowers will be ruined,” brooded the mare. “The apple tree was in full bloom; now all the trees look like they are covered in white flowers.”

Fluff, the orange long-hair, and Raptor, the short-haired black tiger, jumped onto the window sill to watch the steady downfall of flakes, Raptor occasionally trying to catch one regardless of the window glass.

“Good morning, Wishbone!” Vanguard greeted when he came into the kitchen, his snowshoes in hoof. “Wigwam’s stopping by; maybe you’d like to join us on our walk.”

“I’m supposed to be at work by nine; otherwise, I’d go,” Wishbone said.

Chocolate Chip came trailing into the room. “Dreamcatcher said there would be a substantial snowfall this month; she obviously knows more than the weather pony.”

Vanguard, busy mixing up the orange juice, queried, “Her foal is due this month, too, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but not for a couple of weeks, she figures.”

“I saw her yesterday for a minute,” Sugarberry added, “and I thought she was looking rather weary; I asked if there was anything I could do to help her out, but she said she was doing fine.”

“Wait until November, and you’ll be looking weary, too,” grinned Wishbone, referring to the happy event that faced Vanguard and Sugarberry later in the year.

“At least the morning sickness didn’t last long,” admitted Sugarberry with a wry grin.

A knock at the door at the same time it opened admitted Wigwam into the house. “‘Morning, everyone!” His words were inclusive, but his eyes settled on the chocolate brown mare.

“Why did this snow have to come on my Saturday to work?” grumped Wishbone. “I’d much rather be out with you guys on the snowshoes.”

“What about you, Chocolate Chip?” Wishbone grinned. “You said you’d try snowshoeing sometime.”

“I’m to relieve Friendly at the book store at noon, and something tells me that I wouldn’t feel up to it if I was to spend the morning traipsing over the countryside with you two. Besides, I don’t have any snowshoes.”

“Aha!” said Wigwam with a wicked gleam in his eye. “That’s where you’re wrong. I have a second pair waiting for you right outside the door.”

Chocolate Chip was not impressed. “Next winter I’ll accompany you into the wilderness on those things, but not today.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing!” teased Vanguard.

“As if we don’t remember the trouble you had with snowshoes when you first went out on them,” returned Chocolate Chip.

“Well, you won’t learn if you don’t try,” prodded Wigwam. “Van’s an expert now.”

“All the more reason I shouldn’t go along; I’d be a nuisance.”

“Never that, my sweets,” Wigwam grinned, his intense gaze causing her to blush.

But Chocolate Chip would not give in, so it was only Vanguard and Wigwam who set off for the Dark Forest when breakfast was finished.

* * *
The snow had nearly let up and the clouds were beginning to thin by the time the two stallions had traversed the meadowland between Dream Valley and the Dark Forest and, as they always did when out on a trek, headed for Butch’s cabin in the woods. The temperature attested to the fact that Wigwam had been correct in his assertion that the snow would not hang around long, and clumps of snow were dropping off the overhead branches of the trees already as Vanguard and Wigwam walked into the clearing that was Butch’s domain.

Quackers, the green-headed pet duck, had been defeated by the depth of the snow and was confined to his fenced-in pen; this fact did not keep the duck from quacking irritably at the stallions, pointedly informing them that he was not pleased with their trespassing. The duck paced back and forth on a shoveled area at the front of the pen, raising his raucous gabble.

Alerted by the noise from Quackers, Butch came to the door of his domicile to greet his unexpected guests and invite them in for some warm apple cider.

“Hey, this place is really shaping up!” Wigwam commented on entering the house after he and Vanguard had removed their snowshoes. Obvious signs of construction littered the room they were in and continued on through a new doorway to an addition that Butch had been steadily working on in an attempt to modernize and expand his rustic home.

Vanguard crossed to the doorway and peered through. “What are you going to do with all this space?” he asked, noticing stairs that led to a second floor suite in the construction. “You’ll get lost in here all by yourself.” He winked at Wigwam, who gladly continued with the teasing which inevitably occurred concerning the stallion’s friendship with Sparkler, the mare who owned the jewelry store at the mall.

“And a picture window, too; that’s an extravagance I wouldn’t have thought you’d go for in your little bachelor cabin. Or do you have some news for us?” Wigwam lifted a brow in Butch’s direction.

“Can’t a fella improve his property without raising all kinds of questions?” Butch sulked.

“What’s with these fabric samples?” Vanguard asked, holding up a variety of floral prints and solid colors.

“Sp... I’ve been decidin’ on curtain material and beddin’ and stuff like that,” grumped Butch, his lids lowered and his mouth in a frown but with a definite twinkle escaping his eye.

“Hey! You’re really coming up in the world! You’ve got a telephone now!” Wigwam noted.

“And electricity, too,” admitted Butch, a touch of pride creeping into his voice.

“You’ve done a good job,” Vanguard acknowledged. “The place is really shaping up.”

“All you need now is...” Wigwam had begun to say when a distinct scratching at the door caught all three stallions’ attention. Butch hastened to find out what was so adamantly trying to get in. He flung open the door to reveal a noble, grey-furred creature with yellow eyes standing on his doorstep.

“Manitou! What are you doing here?” Butch asked, as if expecting a spoken answer.

Manitou whined and shook his head, calling attention to a red braided band around his neck with a leather pouch attached to it.

“You’ve got something for me?” Butch reached forward slowly, and the wolf bowed his head in submission. The stallion lifted the band from around the wolf’s neck, and Manitou sat down as if to wait.

Releasing the drawstring that closed the pouch, Butch peered inside and then pulled out a piece of folded paper. Upon opening the note and reading it, he tensed up. “Bad news,” he said, handing the note to Wigwam; Vanguard moved closer to read it over his shoulder. Dreamcatcher is in labor and is having a difficult time; I may need to get her to the hospital fast. Can you help? Fetish. The word fast was underlined heavily.

The stallions, responding to the urgency, were ready to move out the door immediately, but Butch delayed them. “We may need some blankets,” he said, rushing off to get several. “And someone should call the hospital to warn them what to expect once we get Dreamcatcher there.”

Wigwam continued out the door to get his snowshoes fastened on his hooves. “You call, Van, then come after us as fast as you can.”

Butch came through with the blankets; and Vanguard went to the telephone, finding that his hoof was shaking at the thought of the mare about to birth but in need of professional help that was miles away. He located the number he needed on Butch’s list of emergency numbers (which was too neatly compiled to be written out by anyone but Sparkler) and tapped impatiently waiting for the call to connect. When he had forewarned the hospital that a mare was to be brought in for delivery, giving them the few details he had, he ended that call and placed one to his own number to alert Sugarberry so that she could meet them at the hospital. With that done, Vanguard was on his way to join his comrades.

* * *
They found Fetish hovering over his wife in the tepee that was their home at the edge of the Dark Forest. Dreamcatcher, proud of her Native Pony heritage, embraced the traditions of her ancestors with a rigid tenacity that went far beyond her husband’s desire to cling to the old ways. This led to their unconventional housing and a way of life that echoed a lifestyle that had existed in Ponyland hundreds of years ago. Dreamcatcher was hesitant to allow the mode of modern ways to interfere with the Native Pony legacy even to the point of refusing the care and supervision of the medical profession during the hidden growth period of her unborn foal; now that the time for delivery of that foal was here, however, the healer who was to attend to her was not in the area, having his hooves full with another birth in a Native Pony village far to the south.

“What’s the problem?” Butch asked, forgoing civilities and surveying the interior of the tepee, his gaze coming to dwell on the mare resting beside the central fire that warmed the tepee.

“She’s been in labor for most of the night, but nothing is happening. I can’t just stand here and watch her bear the pain any longer.”

“Wasn’t Jalap supposed to be here for this?” Wigwam asked, feeling totally useless.

“Next week he would have been; the foal is a little early.”

Dreamcatcher cried out as another contraction swept her body. Fetish dropped to her side and held her hoof, his face lined with worry as he looked upon his wife who was wearing down in the battle to bring forth the foal; her face was dripping sweat, and Fetish smoothed across her forehead with a woven towel until the mare relaxed for the temporary cessation of the pain. She panted softly in an effort to regain her strength, barely aware of the stallions who had come to help move her into capable hooves at the hospital.

“Dreamcatcher, we’re going to have to take you into Dream Valley to a doctor who can help you.” Vanguard and Butch were already preparing a makeshift gurney on which to transport her, and Wigwam was laying out the blankets which would cover her.

“No!” Dreamcatcher said with surprising clarity. “I won’t go!”

“I’m not going to stand here and watch you...” Fetish left the sentence go unfinished. “For your sake and the foal’s, I’ve got to get you to the hospital.”

“No,” the mare said again, but with less resolve, her eyes closed as another contraction held her attention, her distressful groan rending the hearts of the stallions, her desperate hold on Fetish’s hoof proof of the agony she was in. Her eyes remained closed even after she released her husband’s hoof.

“We’re going to move you onto the stretcher now,” Fetish advised his wife, conveying his intentions to the stallions at the same time. Dreamcatcher shook her head in the negative, but Fetish nodded to the stallions to lift her; at the count of three, they made the transfer and Fetish tucked Butch’s blankets thoroughly around the mare before he stood. “We’ve got to get her there as quickly as possible,” he said, taking his position such that he could keep a close eye on his wife to monitor any immediate need.

The four stallions set off over the late season snow with Manitou a willing escort and with his mate, Halona, joining them. Vanguard could not help but remember the previous spring when the she-wolf had been in need of medical care herself.

The ponies were making good progress when Fetish suddenly commanded his associates to halt their progress and lower Dreamcatcher to the ground; Dreamcatcher, who had been quietly bearing with her misery, had opened her eyes and focused on Fetish’s face with such a pleading look that Fetish knew he must stop the journey momentarily to care for her needs. Wigwam, Butch, and Vanguard moved away to allow the couple some words in peace.

Fetish smoothly the tangled mane that clung to Dreamcatcher’s wan face. “We’ll have you there in no time, my darling.”

The mare almost imperceptibly shook her head. She closed her eyes for a moment; when they opened, they were bright and clear. “Raise our foal in the Native Pony tradition... promise me.”

Fetish felt his heart drop but he forced a weak smile. “We will both raise him...”

Dreamcatcher shook her head now with more resolution. “No, Fetish; you will do it alone.” She closed her eyes and said no more.

Motioning for the others to return to their posts, Fetish soon had them on the march again; his face was nearly as pale and drawn as his wife’s as he contemplated the conversation they had last spring when she had first told him that there was a foal on the way. He shook his head; if only she did not have this evasive unicorn magic of foretelling the future; it was inconsistent, to say the least, and often incomplete, causing undo worry about things that would have better been left unknown.

At that moment, the thinning clouds were defeated by the burning sun and the landscape was converted into a sparkling field of diamonds and rubies and sapphires as the beams exploded into crystalline brilliance. This has to be a sign, Fetish whispered under his breath and looked down upon his wife’s face. Her eyes were still closed, but she seemed to be temporarily at peace; did she notice the warmth of the sunbeams that were slanting across her? He hoped so.

His thoughts turned back to that day by the river when she had naysayed his attempt to have one of Dream Valley’s doctors take care of her during her pregnancy rather than leaving it under Jalap’s supervision. Dreamcatcher had foreseen the springtime snowfall and the dazzling sunshine and something more. She had seen her own death coming upon her while under the auspicious care of the learned physicians at the hospital. It had strengthened her resolve to commit her care only to Jalap and the traditions that had been carried down through the stretch of ages.

This knowledge put a tremendous burden on Fetish; was he doing the right thing to be transferring her from the natural world that she trusted to the sterile environment of modern medicine? Was he literally handing her over to her death? The thought almost caused Fetish to order a halt to his mission, but one more look at his wife’s face– once more plagued with pain– only strengthened his resolve to do what he saw best to save her life and the life of their foal.

The stallions saw with relief that the hospital was in sight, and they quickened their steps, anxious to turn their responsibility for Dreamcatcher to others who could help her. They handed the mare over to the waiting personnel who quickly took control of the situation. Vanguard breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that Dr. Toby himself was there along with Dr. Aurora; Dreamcatcher could ask for no better team of professionals. He, Wigwam, and Butch watched as Fetish followed the doctors into the delivery room and then took themselves out to the waiting area to bide the time until news would be forthcoming.

The stallions were met with the worried faces of Sugarberry and Chocolate Chip. “Is Dreamcatcher okay?” asked Sugarberry, the look of concern intensifying as she noted the sober faces of the stallions.

“Toby and Aurora are with her,” Vanguard said, putting a foreleg around his wife and guiding her to a waiting sofa. “She seems to be awfully weak.”

“What went wrong?” Chocolate Chip wanted to know.

“Fetish says that the labor pains aren’t getting any results,” Wigwam supplied.

“She’ll be all right, won’t she... and the baby?”

Wigwam drew the chocolate brown mare to him but made no response. Would Dreamcatcher and the foal survive? He had to wonder about that himself.

* * *
Fetish retained his hold on Dreamcatcher’s hoof as the medical team went about their work. Dreamcatcher, he noted, was no longer fighting their ministrations as she had at first but seemed resigned to be here; Fetish hoped that she would forgive him for acting against her wishes; he, for one, felt much more positive about the outcome now that the doctors were in control although the monitoring of both Dreamcatcher and the foal completely unnerved him as heartbeat and contractions were watched closely.

An exam had determined that the foal was in a breech position; and Toby and Aurora, both conscious of Dreamcatcher’s desire to have this child naturally, were determined to do all in their power to respect that wish. A collective sigh of relief was breathed when Aurora announced, “There; the foal’s in position.”

* * *
Never had anything so glorious been heard, Fetish decided, than that first cry of his newborn son. He gazed in wonder as the new life was heralded with thrashing limbs and wriggling body that until now had been growing in silent darkness within Dreamcatcher. Fetish dropped his gaze to share that moment with his wife. To his complete dismay, he found that Dreamcatcher– the brunt of her work finished– appeared to have fallen asleep, her face ashen, her sweaty skin now turned dry and cold to his touch, her hoof laying limply in his.

For a moment, Fetish felt as is his heart had stopped beating and he only vaguely realized the increased activity around him as the foal was taken away and he himself was stripped from his wife by an orderly who nearly pushed him out of the room; Fetish managed one quick look back at Dreamcatcher to see both Toby and Aurora working over her in uncompromising proficiency before the door closed between them.

“What’s going on?” Fetish demanded of the pony who still had a tight hold on his foreleg.

“You’re wife has had a difficult time, Fetish; she’s very weak and has lost more blood than is normal...”

“What are you saying?”

“She needs to be stabilized, and Dr. Toby thought it would be best to have you out of the room.”

“You can’t let her die!”

“We have no intention of that happening! But there is a need to take steps promptly to steady your wife’s vital signs. Now, I can stay here with you, or I can return to help with your wife.”

The blazing fire in Fetish’s eyes glared at the orderly; but reason overcame emotion; and, releasing a deep sigh, he stepped back in quiet submission.

“The waiting room is right over there,” the orderly nodded, “and I’ll come and get you when the doctors give their okay. Understand?”

Responding with only a blunt affirmative, Fetish turned and made his way in the direction indicated and was met with compassionate entreaty by his friends who had as yet received no word on the progress so far and, they realized numbly, could not expect cause for rejoicing in the somber face of the stallion before them.

“What’s happening?” Wigwam voiced for all of them.

“Dreamcatcher isn’t doing too well,” he said, and the vocalization of that fact tore his heart; he could no longer stand steadily and his face convulsed in a spasm of anguish. Butch moved a chair behind him. The stallion sat down and lowered his head, hiding his face in his hooves. The clustered ponies could see that there was more to come, and whatever it was would not be pleasant. “She’s lost too much blood and she’s exhausted and her vital signs...” He choked and could not continue.

“Toby and Aurora know what they’re doing,” Vanguard offered after a moment, trying to keep his tone positive.

“She’ll be fine... won’t she?” queried Chocolate Chip.

“They were doing their best for her,” Fetish granted.

Butch placed a hoof on Fetish’s shoulder. “Here. Have some water,” he said, handing him a paper cup.

“What about the foal?” Sugarberry asked tremulously.

“It’s a colt.” After a moment, Fetish added, “He seemed to be doing all right.” The news should have resulted in a chorus of positive jubilation, but it was met in subdued relief instead.

“Dreamcatcher will fight to hold him in her forelegs,” Sugarberry murmured, knowing how she would do anything in her power to protect the life within her, bring it to fruition, and value the privilege to guide its future growth. “She won’t give up now.”

Fetish lifted his head to meet Sugarberry’s eyes. “She knew going into this that she wouldn’t survive; that blasted unicorn magic has taken the fight out of her because she expects to die!”

Chocolate Chip gasped, and Sugarberry stepped back from his words. “Dreamcatcher wouldn’t give up without a fight!” she snapped. “She wouldn’t!”

“She told me I’d have to raise the foal alone,” Fetish whispered, his words rasping.

“That’s not her decision,” Vanguard said, supporting his wife. “She’s in God’s hands.”

The defeated look went out of Fetish’s eyes and was replaced by a scalding anger as he stood up from the chair. “If He cares so much, then why isn’t Dreamcatcher sitting up holding her son right this minute?” He stalked across the room and leaned against the wall to suffer alone.

* * *
After a nerve-wracking and lengthy wait, the entrance of the orderly who had escorted Fetish from the delivery room claimed everyone’s attention. Fetish came forward to meet him with an expectant look on his face that hovered between hope and fear, but the smile that accompanied the pony’s words broke the spell of melancholy in an instant. “Dr. Toby says you can come see your wife now.”

With a quick glance at his friends, Fetish wordlessly followed the pony down the hall and through the double doors that led into a highly sophisticated care unit where he found Dr. Aurora perusing a chart of medical data. The doctor looked up at the approach of hoofsteps and set Fetish’s mind at ease with the simple words, “She’s going to be just fine, Fetish; she’s one tough pony.”

“She’s okay then?”

“She’s out of danger and resting comfortably; we’re going to keep a close eye on her for a little longer, but we don’t foresee any problems.” The doctor went on to explain the complications that had occurred after the birthing and what steps had been taken to remedy the problem, including an emergency curettage which required anesthesia. “She’ll be coming around soon, and as for your son,” Dr. Aurora smiled as a nurse carried the newborn into the area, “he has proven to us he has a healthy pair of lungs once he was recovered from the distress he was under from a longer than desired delivery time.”

Dr. Toby was close behind Nurse Nightingale and commandeered the infant from her forelegs and transferred him to his father. “Congratulations, Fetish! He’s one fine-looking colt!”

Fetish received the foal with humble reverence as if not fully believing that this tiny being could possibly be the fruits of Dreamcatcher’s labor; he had been whisked away so quickly after his entrance into the world that his father had had little time to note the diminutive hooves or the softly-colored green eyes which perfectly matched his whisper-soft mane. Now the proud father could take in every detail about the colt and found him absolutely loveable.

Dr. Aurora closed up the chart and with a sideways glance at Dr. Toby, mentioned that Fetish might like some time alone with his son at which subtle suggestion Dr. Toby reiterated that Dreamcatcher would soon be awake; and the two physicians made their exit leaving Fetish to admire his protege all he wanted and to keep watch over his wife.

* * *
There were voices, Dreamcatcher was sure of that, although they flitted through her mind like elusive breaths of air that could not be detained. She was tired and her body was weak and she was grateful that nothing was expected of her; she could not have opened her eyes, she felt so feeble. All she wanted to do was drift off...

When she next rose above the empty darkness, Dreamcatcher managed to harness her whirling thoughts again. The voices seemed louder now and closer, but they wavered in and out so that she could not grasp their meaning. She let them go.

She remembered something now. Fetish had grown frightened about her and the foal. He had gone against her wishes. He had brought her to the hospital, fully knowing what she had foreseen about such an event. So this is what dying is like, she surmised in the fuzzy recesses of her brain. Everything is cold and black and cavernous. I’m floating. I’m numb...

* * *
The foal having fallen asleep in his forelegs, Fetish could concentrate on studying his wife’s face now; there was a trace of color in her cheeks which gave him hope. Her breathing that had been so shallow was heavier now. He brushed her cheek, murmuring her name, but there was no response.

How they had looked forward to the birth of this foal! Their plans and dreams encompassed a lifetime of teaching, protecting, loving, and guiding this new life. Now, here the foal was in the light of day, and Dreamcatcher was unable to enjoy these first precious hours with her son. How she would want to snuggle him to her and look into his innocent eyes, to nourish him, to shield him, to encourage him. “Dreamcatcher,” he whispered, his voice seeming to echo in the space around him. “Our baby wants his mother.”

The nurse appeared once more to check on the mare and turned a placid face to Fetish. “Everything looks good.” Nightingale smiled. “She’s taking advantage of the circumstances to get a good rest. That little guy is going to keep her busy.” She straightened the blanket that did not need straightening, then slipped back out of the room.

Sugarberry was right, Fetish reflected. Dreamcatcher would not give up to this stupor when her foal needed her care. She would not, except that she had gone into this day expecting the worst.

On a hunch, Fetish moved the still sleeping foal to his mother’s side, cradling him in the protective curve of his mother’s foreleg. The foal snuggled against the warm body, coming home to all that was familiar to him. Fetish allowed himself to grin at the seemingly heavenly expression on the newborn colt’s face. However, the nearness of his mother’s body awoke an elemental need within the foal; his eyes opened and his tiny face crumpled into wrinkles as he let the world know that he was hungry.

“Dreamcatcher, your son needs you,” Fetish said, louder this time, to be heard over the insistent cry of the impatient colt.

* * *
Dreamcatcher heard voices again. This time she could make out some of the words, but she could not hold on to them long enough to perceive their meaning. She sensed that someone was nearby, and she knew now that she was not floating but wrapped warmly. She was not numb– there was some pain. And that noise... that grating cry... where was it coming from?

She tried to find the peaceful emptiness that had so recently engulfed her, but the bawling would not subside. And what was that warmth against her side that knocked into her like... like the unborn foal had been doing within her these last months.

“Dreamcatcher, your son needs you.” My son!!!
* * *
Dreamcatcher’s eyes flew open as cognizance returned. “Fetish,” she murmured as she was favored with his face close to hers; she was immediately bestowed with a tender kiss.

“It’s about time you decided to acknowledge our offspring,” he grinned at her, feeling as if the world was once again spinning in its orbit rather than hanging motionless with bated breath. “How are you feeling?”

“I want to see him,” she said, her eyes bright with tears.

“He’s right here,” Fetish said, lifting the tiny body up to his mother’s sight.

“Oh, dear God, he’s beautiful!” Dreamcatcher breathed in complete contentment as the complaining foal met her eyes, after which her gaze flew to her husband. “We made it!” she murmured in astonishment.

“Yes, we did,” Fetish concurred, and he enveloped the mare and the foal in a hug that was quite ample for all three.


Stranger Than Fiction
Chapter One
by Berry Brite (

Once upon a time there was a wee wee baby pony named Baby Noddins, who loved mischief. She loved getting people into trouble, just so long as it was them, and not her. So, she devised a way to get her friends into trouble. “I know,” she said, “that will work.” But just as she was walking down the street to do her malicious deed, a huge shockwave came out of nowhere! AAAAH! It was a temporal time rift thingy through the fabric of space. Run, everyone, run! Hide!!! AAAAAAH!!! Needless to say, our little heroine was knocked to the ground.

Three people stood before her with shocked expressions. One was tall, blonde, and about the width of a pencil (maybe we’re exaggerating). She had metal over her eyebrow and by her ear. Another was (rather) short with red hair. She stood gaping at the little horse in front of her. The last was a black man, with conspicuously pointed ears. He lifted a metallic box.

“Well, Captain,” he said, “it is an equine life form.”

“No kidding,” said the red-head. “Is it sentient?”

“I don’t know, Captain,” the man replied.

“It seems to be looking at us,” said the blonde. “Maybe it is sentient.”

“Logic would dictate that it is sentient,” the man said.

“Why’s that?” asked the red-head, who was obviously the captain they were talking about.

“Because,” the man replied, “it looks as though it is trying to comprehend us.”

At last Baby Noddins could not bear any more discussion about herself and piped up, “What’s ‘sentient’ mean?”

“Obviously sentient, Captain,” the man said.

“Sentient: aware of yourself, comprehensive of self-existence,” the blonde said. “Who are you?”

“Baby Noddins,” our heroine said meekly.

“Fascinating,” said the man.

The red-head smiled warmly at our equine heroine. “My name is Kathryn Janeway,” she said. “We won’t hurt you. Please let me introduce you to my comrades. This,” she said, motioning towards the black man with pointy ears, “is Tuvok. And this,” to the blonde, “is Seven of Nine.”

“But you may call me Seven,” Seven of Nine added.

“Hi,” said our heroine shyly.

“Greetings,” said Tuvok in response to her salutation.

“What happened to your ears?” Baby Noddins asked boldly.

“Nothing,” he said, seemingly irritated. “I was born this way.”

“He is Vulcan,” said Seven. “Vulcans are born with pointed ears. They express no emotions. Logic is the center of their reason. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said our heroine, not really understanding.

“Baby Noddins,” Kathryn said, “can you help us? We are strangers, and new here. Will you help us find a place to stay?”

“Yeah,” said Baby Noddins. “Come with me.” So our equine heroine led the three strangers to her house.

* * *
Meanwhile, Tabby sat on her couch pondering. Pondering this, pondering that, pondering whatever came to her blank mind. First pondering the little birdies outside her window, then pondered the little annoying houseflies that endlessly circulated through the room driving her absolutely nuts, pondering that queer ringing sound and pounding sound on her door.

“Oh!” she cried, making the leap back to reality. She hopped up, pondering what she had been formerly pondering, and was pondering who might be at the door. She opened it. “Oh!” she cried again, in remarkably Snow White fashion. “What a cute little chair!” Verily, at her door a little chair crafted out of fine wood was. Pretending to hold up some imaginary skirts, she sat down in it and tee-heed like a little girl. Then she took it into the house and began to dust everything. Then she made a nice pork roast for dinner and a cherry pie (crust included!!) for dessert.

Presently, Thomas came into the room. It was sparkling clean and Tabby was bustling hurriedly in the kitchen. Needless to say, our fine man Thomas was less than at ease. She was singing in an incredibly high-pitched voice, “Just whistle while you work!” Then she proceeded to let out an almost inaudibly high song.

“Tabby?” Thomas gasped. The song cut off immediately.

“Oh, hi, dearie,” she said pleasantly. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“Okay, who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

She laughed crazily at him. “Do you like pork roast?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, “but Tabby, what is going on.”

“Oh, silly,” she said, “call me Tabitha. I much rather prefer that.”

Thomas went wide-eyed. “Yes, Tabitha,” he said. “What’s going on?”

“Oh!” she cried. “Did you see my cute little chair?” Thomas looked. There it was. A cute little chair, indeed. Suddenly, Thomas felt motivated to go work in a mine where a million diamonds shine. He ran to his room and grabbed a pickaxe (no one knows where it came from) and ran out the door singing “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work I go!”

“Be back for supper, dearie!” called Tabby.

“Of course, Tabitha! I wouldn’t miss a pork roast dinner for anything!” Obviously, something was mortally, drastically wrong at this house.

To be continued...


by Clever Clover (

Clever Clover packed his bag for a trip to the Isle where he was prince. He had received a letter from Raven explaining that the Isle was in grave danger and his presence was required. The letter didn’t go into any detail on the nature of the danger, but it did specify not to bring any guests this time.

His packing done, Clever Clover was ready to head out. Minoko was on the couch watching soap operas. “I thought you were going to find a job and get an apartment. Why are you still here?”

“There aren’t many jobs around here that are suited to my special talents. Besides, I haven’t been here that long.”

“It’s been three weeks! You said you’d only stay for a few days and it’s been three weeks!”

“Oh, has it been that long? I’ve completely lost track of time. Well, I’m sure something will come up soon. Are you going somewhere?”

“I told you two days ago, I have to go to the Isle to take care of some business. I’ll be gone for a week or so. Don’t destroy the house while I’m gone and don’t bother looking for the axe. I’m taking it with me.”

“You’re going home? Please take me with you! It’s been such a long time since I’ve been to the Isle. And we haven’t had that much time to get to know each other. It’ll be fun!”

“No. Raven doesn’t want me to bring anyone else. And I’m sure that goes double for you.”

“Raven? That old stick-in-the-mud is still around? Maybe it is better to stay here. Don’t worry, I’ll look after the house while you’re gone.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. Pixie, keep an eye on her.”


* * *
The road to the Isle was uneventful. Ironwood and his guards met Clever Clover on the shore of the lake. “So, Ironwood, what’s up this time?”

“The Regent wishes to inform you himself. Do you think you can handle an ice-boat by yourself? My guards and I have been instructed to stay here until the situation has been rectified.”

“I guess.” Clever Clover boarded the vessel and set sail for the Isle. It took him a little while to get the hang of the boat, but by the time he reached the Isle he was in complete control.

There was no one to greet him on the shore. Along the path he saw several ponies wandering about seemingly aimlessly. They did not greet him as they had on his earlier visits. The village was the same way. Ponies wandered about or just stood there with blank expressions on their faces. The castle gate was open and there were no guards to watch it. Clever Clover made his way through the eerie, apparently deserted castle to the throne room. Oak and Gooseberry were sitting upon their thrones.

“Greetings, your highness. What do you know of the urgent matter that Raven summoned me for?”

Oak stared at him blankly. “Uh, hi. Do I know you?”

“I’m Clever Clover. You know, the one who crowned you king.”


“This is not right.”

Clever Clover had not noticed Raven entering the room. “You are very observant prince.”

“Raven! I didn’t know you could be sarcastic.”

“Come with me. We have no time to waste.”


The jet-black regent led the purple prince to one of the many great halls in the castle. There, in the center of the room, sat the most terrifying sight Clever Clover had ever seen: a Furby! Its fur was black and streaked with crimson.

“Woah, big fun,” it chattered. “Let’s party! Doot-doot-doo! Doot-doot-doo! Dah, dah dah!” It did a little dance along with the song.

“That is what you dragged me all the way to the Isle for? A Furby? Just throw a towel over it and it’ll go to sleep. Then unscrew its battery compartment.”

“You are mistaken, my prince. That is no mere electronic toy. It is a flesh and blood Furby! A minion of the evil empire of Atlantis!”

“Evil empire? Atlantis? Aside from the evil part, you’re starting to sound like Tabby.”

“Did you not witness its foul work in the throne room and with the ponies of the village? Since it appeared, the ponies of the Isle have been losing their intelligence and their will, just as it happened so many years ago.”

“Wha? Rave, I think you need a vacation.”

“Come with me to the library. It is time that you learned the history of your people.”

“Hmm... boring. Me hungry. Ahh, ahh? Tickle me, hee hee hee!” The laughter took on an ominous tone.

“So, what’s this got to do with our history?” Clever Clover asked as they continued to the library.

“A long time ago our people lived in distant lands. There were seven Clans, each inhabiting their own land, and seven Regents who where the King’s eyes, ears, and mouth in the land of their Clan. We were known as great warriors and craftsmen around the known world. We traded far and wide, and our warriors protected our people wherever they might go. Until our traders encountered the Atlanteans.

“At first they traded peacefully, but with time they tried to lure our craftsmen away from their homes to work for the Empire. That is when the Furbys appeared. At first the Regents were able to keep our people together, but then they began to disappear. The Clans began to scatter, and they were relocated throughout the empire. The King was losing influence with his people scattered such.

“Then the two remaining Regents gathered what was left of the Clans and led them to this Isle for refuge. Only five Clans made the journey, Earth, Wood, Spirit, Sky, and Water. With such a small population, the Regents were no longer needed to carry the King’s law to his people. Today, only one Regency remains, and I hold that title, Regent of the Sky Clan.”

“Uh-huh, so what do the Furbys have to do with anything?”

“I already told you; they steal our intelligence and will.”

“So why aren’t you affected?”

“I am the Regent. It is our legacy. Hm, the legacy of the Regents. Come. Your naivety has given me an idea.” The jet-black pony strode confidently form the library. Clever Clover, who was quite confused by this point, followed hesitantly. Raven led the prince through winding corridors into the heart of Malachite Castle where they arrived at a circular chamber with seven chairs along the wall and a pedestal topped by a polished stone orb in the center.

“This is the chamber of the Regents. Though only two made the journey to the Isle, it was hoped that one day the lost clans would return and the Regency would be restored. This chamber was created for that day.”

“Uh huh. So why are we here?”

“This chamber was created by the two Regents who escaped Atlantis. Perhaps they left some clue as to how to defeat the… that creature.”

“Uh, what creature?”

“What! Ah, you are falling under it’s influence. We must search the chamber for some clue left by the Regents.”

“Oh-kay. What’s that?” Clever Clover pointed at the stone orb in the center of the chamber.

“That is an artifact brought here by the Regent of the Earth Clan. Hm, perhaps it can aid us.” The jet-black Regent tried to lift the orb but found it firmly fixed to the pedestal. He peered closely at it’s polished surface. “There is writing here.”

Clever Clover leaned close to the pedestal. “Ah, runes.”

“You recognize it?”

“Sure. I am an archaeologist. They’re similar to the Germanic style, but distinctly different. They are familiar though.”

“It seems the forgetfulness begins with recent memory. You must translate it quickly before you forget.”

“Whatever you say. Hm, I know! These runes are Pokemepolitan. They’re similar enough to Germanic that I can probably make sense of it. Now, let’s see, it says ‘speak my name’.”

“ ‘Speak my name’? Is that it?”

“Uh huh. Over and over.”

“What does it mean?”

The purple prince scratched his head. “What does what mean?”

Raven bopped the forgetful prince on the head. “Speak my name! What does it mean!”

“Raven? It’s a big black bird.”

“Not my name! The runes on the orb! What do they mean!”

“I dunno, what?” The Regent bopped him again. “Ow! Hey, what’s that?” Clever Clover peered at the pedestal upon which the mysterious orb rested.

Raven noticed what had caught the prince’s attention. “Scratches? But not random. An ordered row of scratches spiraling around the pedestal. What could they mean?”

Clever Clover held his forehoof to his lips. “Shhh, I’m counting. One-forty-eight, one-forty-nine, one-fifty, one-fifty-one. Hm, one hundred and fifty one scratches.”

“Speak my name, and one hundred fifty one scratches. What can it mean?”

“One hundred and fifty one Pokemon. Or at least there used to be. Now there are more.”

“This isn’t about Pokemon, it’s… wait. These Pokemon, they are numbered, are they not? Which one is 151?”

“Which what is 151?”

“Pokemon! Which Pokemon is number 151!”

“Mew.” As if a veil had been lifted from his mind, the purple prince confidently reached out and placed his forehoof upon the orb. “Mew!”

For a moment nothing happened. Then the orb began to vibrate and a sudden flash of light blinded the two ponies. When their vision cleared an unbelievable sight met their eyes. A giant Mew hung in the air over the orb and pedestal. Giant for a mew that is. Being a normally small Pokemon, the giant was not quite as tall as Clever Clover. Its body was covered in strange, primitive, tattoo-like markings.

Raven’s jaw dropped; the purple prince grinned. “Cool!”

The giant Pokemon looked around the chamber, as if getting its bearings or searching for something. “Me-ew!”

Raven pondered the Pokemon. “Perhaps this can drive off that vile creature.”

Clever Clover scratched his head. “What creature?”

Mew floated toward the door, oblivious to the two ponies. Raven grabbed the prince and followed the Pokemon. “Come, we must see where it leads.”

“Whatever you say.”

The Mew flew confidently through the maze of passages, as if it knew exactly where it was going. The two ponies followed at a short distance. It soon became clear to Raven that they were returning to the hall where the Furby worked its dark design.

When the flying Pokemon entered the haunted hall, the Furby reacted with great fear, its unnatural eyes going wide. “Ah! Bright light. Me scared. Hug me.”

The Pokemon’s eyes burned with anger. “Mew! Me-ew!” It hurled a sphere of purple energy toward the Furby. The dark agent of Atlantis jumped out of the way and spat a curse at the Pokemon. Then it vanished, as if it had never existed. The Mew smiled and began to fly loops throughout the massive hall.

Clever Clover shook his head. “Whoa. What just happened?”

“What do you remember?”

“I remember everything, I just don’t understand. I mean, Furbys aren’t real. They’re just toys. And I’ve never seen a Mew like that before.”

“You must learn, my prince, that there is much in this world that is not as you believe. After all the wonders you have witnessed in your life, why can you not accept what you have just seen?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’ll just take some getting used to.”

The Pokemon, convinced it’s victory was adequately celebrated, flew over to the ponies and hovered in front of the prince. “Mew!”

The purple pony patted the Mew’s head. “Good job, Mew. I wish I had a Pokemon like you.”

“Mew mew!” The giant Pokemon nodded vigorously.

“It seems the Mew wishes to have a trainer like you. It makes sense, the Earth Clan were always good with animals. That is why many of them were relocated to Pokemopolis by the Atlanteans.”

“That would explain the artifact. It must be one of those ancient Pokeballs I’ve heard rumors about. I’ll have to have a closer look at it, now that I’ve got my wits about me.”

“Very well. And I will check on the king and queen.”

“Right. I’ll meet you in the throne room once I’m done.”

The ponies parted ways. The giant Mew followed Clever Clover back to the chamber of the Regents. Once there, Clever Clover carefully examined the polished stone orb. He noticed that it was no longer firmly fixed in place as it had been when Raven tried to lift it. When the orb was lifted from its resting place, it shrank to the size of a large marble. “Hm, just like a real Pokeball,” Clever Clover mused. “I wonder if it has any other similarities. What do you think, Mew?” But the giant Pokemon was nowhere to be seen. “Hey, where’d you go? Are you back in the ball?” The purple pony held the ancient Pokeball in front of him and spoke the name, “Mew!” but nothing happened. “That’s strange. Maybe he needs to rest, or maybe he only comes out when he’s needed. I guess I’ll just have to find out with time.”

As the prince was about to leave the chamber, he noticed something about the pedestal that had held the orb. There was a deep depression on top where the orb had rested and underneath was a small silver disk with an emerald set in the center, just like the pin that Raven wore. “Rave is gonna want to know about this.”

Later, in the throne room, Clever Clover explained his finding’s to the king. “…so I’m going to have to hold on to the orb at least until I can figure out how it works. And I found this under the orb.” He presented the pin to Oak, who gazed upon it with great wonder.

“The lost insignia of the Earth Clan Regent! This is a great sign!”

Raven stepped forward and took the pin. “It is true. This heralds the restoration of the Regency!”

The king nodded. “Yes, and I can think of no one better suited to bear the title than Clever Clover.”

The purple prince stared in disbelief at the king. “Me? A Regent? Why?”

“I agree with his highness,” said Raven. “With a number of our people now living in Friendship Gardens, the king will need someone to act on his behalf. And since you are of royal blood and descended from the last Regent of your clan, it is your birthright.”

“As is the orb,” added King Oak. “Both the pin and the orb belong to you. As well as the title and responsibility that go with them.”

With that, Raven handed the pin back to Clever Clover. The purple pony nervously accepted. “Gee, thanks. I don’t know what to say.”

Raven laughed. “Perhaps now you will begin to understand why I am the way that I am.”

“What are you trying to do, scare me off? I’ll do the Regent thing, but there’s no way I’m gonna be another Raven.”

Now the king laughed. “I would not expect it of you. You will serve your post just as you are, or else I would not have chosen you.”

“Gee, thanks.”

As Clever Clover navigated the ice boat back to Ironwood’s camp on the lakeshore, he remembered that he had meant to discuss Minoko with Raven. “Well, maybe next time. Besides, maybe my giant Mew can keep her in line.”

When he reached the shore, Ironwood greeted him. “My prince, were you successful?”

“Yeah, but I can’t really take much credit. Have Raven fill you in on the details, and ask him if he remembers someone named Minoko.” Clever Clover jumped down from the boat.

“Very well, my prince. Farewell once again, for my men and I must return to the Isle right away.”

“Sure. See ya later.” And the purple prince regent set off for home once more.


Mother’s Day
by Sugarberry (

“Of course, we’ll help you in the orchards!” Sugarberry enthused as her father, Strawberry Baskets, hesitantly set forth his plans for the day. Sugarberry and Vanguard had spent Friday night with her folks near Berryville and would be staying for the day before heading on to Woodlawn and a celebration in honor of Vanguard’s birthday on the morrow, Mother’s Day.

Strawberry Shortcake shook her head at her daughter. “I think you should rest, Sugarberry, what with the trip here and the coming one to Woodlawn.”

“Gooseberry is helping, so why shouldn’t I?” the strawberry-patterned mare asked, grinning at her sister across the room. “And Dad said that he’s got to get the new plants in while the weather holds. With Vanguard and I helping, the job will get done faster.”

Strawberry Baskets and Strawberry Shortcake, knowing how imperative it was that they get the new strawberry bed planted immediately, acquiesced.

“Let’s get started then!” Strawberry Baskets said.

The ponies were soon out in the mild spring weather busily working in the soil that had been prepared for the strawberry plot; the tilled earth seemed to stretch on interminably, but everyone had buckled down with enthusiasm to get the green plants into their new home. Gooseberry’s two older foals, Wineberry and Huckleberry, were among those hard at work while Baby Gooseberry had been relegated to stay under Grandma’s care at the house.

Vanguard looked back over the row he was planting and grinned as his gaze fell on Sugarberry, busily grubbing her way down the row next to his. The mare had clipped her mane back to keep it out of her way and had adorned her head with a floppy straw hat, its ribbons tied under her chin, that shaded her eyes; she looked right at home with her hooves in the crumbling dirt. She and Gooseberry kept pace with each other, finding this chore to be an excellent time to chatter about family matters and personal ideals and to get caught up on the details of life, many of these involved with the impending births affecting both mares plus their sister, Raspberry.

“Just think! Mom and Dad will double their grandfoals by Christmas,” Sugarberry commented as she anchored a strawberry plant in its niche, thereby missing a mischievous glance from Gooseberry as that mare opened her mouth as if to say something, then quickly closed it without uttering a word.

“Lemon Treats and Poeticus had a foal on April sixteenth,” Sugarberry continued. “That was the first grandfoal on either side of their family. Dreamcatcher and Fetish’s came last weekend with the late snowfall. And who would think it had snowed just a week ago and now we’re out planting things on this warm day!”

“Give me all the details on the foals.”

Lemon Treats and Poeticus have a little girl; they named her Limelight; she looks just like her mother, only pale green instead of yellow. Poeticus has already written a book’s worth of pretty poems about her! Dreamcatcher and Fetish named their little boy Tamarack; he’s a peach color with soft green hair. He wore his mother out during birthing, but she’s doing great now.”

“You and Vanguard must be very excited about your own foal, Sugarberry; I know how you’ve always dreamed of a family of your own.”

Sugarberry stopped her work long enough to look down the field to where Vanguard was at work in the company of Huckleberry and Wineberry; the mare’s face was diffused with a warm glow not entirely due to her gardening efforts and the warm day. “It’s a dream come true,” she said simply before going back to the planting, her thoughts centering on the precious life growing within her.

Meanwhile, Huckleberry was informing his uncle about a summertime business venture he was planning with his best friend, Scottie. “Dad’s lettin’ us have a plot of our own where we can plant corn and tomatoes and watermelons and some other stuff,” Huckleberry scratched his head, “and we’ll sell it at a roadside stand and we get to keep the money.”

“Very enterprising of you, Huckleberry,” Vanguard replied, noting that the colt found it impossible to talk and plant strawberries at the same time, so Vanguard filled the vacant spot in Huckleberry’s row before moving on. He also gave some aid to Wineberry who was also falling behind. “Are you going to help the colts with their garden, Wineberry?”

“They won’t let me,” she said with a scowl in her brother’s direction.

“Scottie and me are going to split our profits between us,” Huckleberry revealed. “We don’t need no girl taking our jangles away from us.”

“I’m sure Wineberry would be a big help at caring for your garden, though,” Vanguard said, noting that Wineberry could talk and plant at the same time.

“Nope. Just me and Scottie. Fifty-fifty.”

“You’re supplying the land, so maybe you should get a bigger percentage.”

“Dad said the same thing, but Scottie said he wouldn’t help at all unless it was even.”

“Hmm. And what happens if Scottie doesn’t show up to help you when weeds need pulling and corn needs picking?”

“He’ll help; he told me he would.”

Vanguard thought back to last summer’s crisis when Scottie had pulled Huckleberry from his chores in the garden to go fishing, and Huckleberry ended up running away from home when his father had meted out an appropriate punishment for his neglect of his duties. He refrained from mentioning the incident, however, and once more secured a plant in each of the foals’ rows before moving on.

“Scottie will make Huckleberry do all the work and only show up when there’s money to be made,” Wineberry placidly stated, wise beyond her years-- or alert to what she had overheard her parents say.

“That’s not true!” Huckleberry defended.

“Wineberry has a point,” Vanguard allowed. “Maybe you should change your agreement so that Scottie gets paid by how many hours he works.”

“Too much trouble,” shrugged Huckleberry.

The three worked in silence for some minutes, and Vanguard took a moment to check on the progress of Sugarberry and Gooseberry; their pace was far behind his and the foals, but Vanguard noted that Sugarberry was obviously enjoying the time with her sister as the two of them were at the moment giggling hysterically over some shared tidbit of information. Her hat had slipped down to her back and wisps of red hair were twining around her warm face and Vanguard realized fully just how beautiful his wife was.

“If Scottie doesn’t help me, he’ll still want his money,” Huckleberry said, bringing Vanguard out of his reverie.

“You’ll have to set the rules up front; and if he doesn’t fulfill his share of the work, he won’t get his full fifty percent. And if you need Wineberry to help you because Scottie doesn’t show up, she should get his percentage.”

Huckleberry gave this some thought while Vanguard filled three spaces in Huckleberry’s row with strawberry plants.

It was Wineberry who next had an idea. “I can grow some flowers to sell!”

“Who’d want to buy flowers?” grumbled Huckleberry.

“Anyone who buys your fruits and vegetables would also want to buy some flowers to decorate their table,” suggested Vanguard.

“And I’ll get to keep all my profits for myself,” observed Wineberry smugly, causing Vanguard to chuckle and Huckleberry to look downcast.

Huckleberry knew his sister to be a perfectionist, and anything she attempted would be a success. She was already in charge of keeping her mother’s flowerbeds weed free and cultivated in the summertime; and she did an excellent job of it, never shirking her responsibility as Huckleberry himself sometimes did. Huckleberry had a foreboding that by the end of the summer, Wineberry would have a small fortune; and he would be bereft of funds. He frowned as he firmed the soil around a strawberry plant.

The sound of masculine voices caused Vanguard and his two young companions to turn their heads; Grapevine and Driftwood had arrived to inspect the mares’ work, it would appear, as they stopped to impart their views on the planting that had so far occurred. Sugarberry abandoned her work to hug her brothers-in-law, successfully tainting them with her dirty hooves. Wineberry and Huckleberry took the opportunity to desert their work as well, rushing to their father’s side as if they had not seen him for weeks when in reality they had breakfasted with him normally earlier in the day.

Shaking the loose dirt from his hooves, Vanguard ambled over to join the crowd of ponies, greeting each of the stallions with a brisk hoofshake.

“You’re a little out of your league,” tormented Driftwood, brushing the transferred dirt from his hooves.

“Actually, that’s not true. Sugarberry has taught me a lot about gardening; and although this is on a much larger scale, the basics are the same. How’s the restaurant coming?”

“The grounds cleared and the foundation is dug; it’ll be up in no time,” the optimistic Driftwood replied. “Maybe you’d like to walk in to Berryville later and look at it; you wouldn’t recognize the place since you last saw it.”

Sugarberry shuddered. The last time they had seen Driftwood and Raspberry’s restaurant was Christmas Eve, and it had been collapsing in flame with Driftwood and Vanguard caught in the buckling walls as a fire destroyed the newly opened enterprise. The memory was a frightening one for all the family.

Driftwood and Vanguard were staring at each other as if reliving the events of that December evening when Driftwood, caught in the fire because of trying to save his dream, had been pulled to safety– well, almost– by Vanguard, both stallions suffering burns and injuries and Driftwood a broken leg. “You’ve made sure that you’ve resolved the problem, I presume,” stated Vanguard with a raised brow.”

“I’ve been assured that the cause of the fire was a one-in-a-million chance,” Driftwood drolly responded. “The manufacturer of that particular apparatus has assured me that I will never have a fire from his equipment again.”

“One would hope not,” frowned Sugarberry.

“The new restaurant will have a model from the competitor’s line at any rate,” the stallion confided.

“How are your vineyards looking this year?” Vanguard queried of Grapevine, whose land bordered Strawberry Baskets’ orchards.

“So far, so good,” Grapevine grinned. “However, as anything can happen with the weather...”

“We know! We know!” Driftwood interrupted, laughing. “That’s all you farmers talk about is the weather.”

“And the weather is the reason I want these strawberry plants in the ground,” said Strawberry Baskets, coming up behind the ponies from his errands around the orchard; he eyed them as if they were errant school ponies and he the irate principal, although anyone who was familiar with the good-natured stallion was quick to notice the twinkle in his eye.

“As to that,” said Grapevine, “Strawberry Shortcake sent us to tell Gooseberry and Sugarberry to go to the house to help her with the food.”

“And we are to take your place,” added Driftwood.

“I think I’d rather stay out here,” admitted Sugarberry, looking regretfully at the interrupted row of green plants, her sister shaking her head in agreement.

“I volunteered to take your place in the kitchen,” Driftwood revealed, “but your mother thinks you both are working too hard out here.”

“But we...”
“No backtalk,” Driftwood said severely, but a smile immediately belied his somber tone. “Besides, Raspberry is anxious to see you, Sugarberry.”

Sugarberry made note of the smug look on Driftwood’s face and acceded.

* * *
“Twins!” Sugarberry squealed and dropped the pan she was holding as Raspberry imparted her updated news as the three sisters helped their mother in the kitchen. “You and Driftwood are having twins?”

“That’s what the doctor tells us,” Raspberry laughed, enjoying her sister’s complete astonishment. “Isn’t it exciting?”

“I should say it is!” agreed Sugarberry, her eyes alight. “And it would explain why Driftwood looked like the cat that swallowed the canary,” she added.

“Wait until he’s been up nights for weeks on end caring for two foals and see how cocky he is then,” Gooseberry grinned.

* * *
The family had come together for a hearty repast giving Sugarberry’s family a chance to celebrate Vanguard’s birthday and Mother’s Day together, and Strawberry Baskets was pleased to report that they had made such progress on the strawberry planting that he would not need to appropriate his willing workers any more that day, leaving them free to enjoy each others company while they could. The stallions ended up spending the rest of the afternoon viewing Grapevine’s vineyards while the mares and foals enjoyed looking over Strawberry Shortcake’s riotous flower beds that surrounded the house and attached bakery which dominated the orchard property.

Huckleberry received an unexpected visit from his friend, Scottie, and the two colts disappeared in the direction of the vineyards to locate the stallions, both full of enthusiasm for the mild days that enticed them to spend every possible waking hour out of doors. It was somewhat unexpected, therefore, to find that Huckleberry was quiet and downcast when the stallions returned.

Scottie made his departure, and Huckleberry slipped away around the corner of the house. Vanguard, noting the gloomy demeanor of his nephew, followed him. He found the colt staring at the rich dark soil of the garden, waiting for the planting of seeds, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “You’re anxious to get started on planting, I suppose,” Vanguard stated.

“Scotty was supposed to help me tomorrow,” a dejected Huckleberry said. “But now he says he is going to a movie with Piper instead.”

Picking up a twig that had blown from a nearby willow, Vanguard absently snapped it to pieces as he considered what to say that did not sound like “I told you so.” Nonchalantly, he observed, “Is there anyone else you could get to help you? You have other friends besides Scotty.”

“No one else is interested.”

“What about Randy? I heard your dad mention how you and he were working on a science project together.”

Huckleberry crinkled his nose. “Randy likes books, not dirt.”

“Well, then, you can plant your garden by yourself the pocket all the profit.”

“That wouldn’t be no fun!”

“Well, then...”

“Winey!” Huckleberry interrupted.

“Whiney?” questioned a startled Vanguard.

“My sister, Wineberry,” Huckleberry explained, looking at his uncle as if the stallion was daft. “She’ll help me.”

“Oh.” Vanguard wondered what the prim filly thought about that nickname. “What about her flowers?”

“We can do both! And with Winey involved, I won’t be given a chance to sluff-off,” the colt observed wisely.

“You’ve got a point there; and all I ask is that you let me know when the watermelons are ripe; you can save me a big one.”

Huckleberry grinned, his eyes sparkling. “I’ll take special care of one to make sure you get a monstrous one.” He grabbed Vanguard’s hoof to lead him back to the others so that he could reveal his great scheme to his sister. Vanguard only hoped that Wineberry would be willing to go into partnership with a colt who was long on plans but short on perseverance. Her own plan to sell flowers would probably be a success all on its own.

Pulling Wineberry from a cluster of gabbing ponies, Huckleberry set his plans before his sister who, her head slightly canted to one side, considered the proposal. “Sixty-forty,” she finally said.


“Yes. I get sixty percent of the profits and you get forty.”

“It was my idea! And Scottie was only going to get fifty.”

“I, however, will make sure that our garden makes a profit; therefore, I get the bigger cut.”

Grumbling, Huckleberry went back to Vanguard and explained the predicament he was in with his new partner. “What do I do now?” he griped.

“Well, if Wineberry wants to be the boss, let her; that way she will be responsible for the majority of the decisions and leave you with more time to go off fishing with Scottie.”

The obvious advantage to that was quickly absorbed by the colt, and he grinned. “Yeah! So Winey will have to do most of the work, but I’ll get some of the money!”

“That’s not...” Vanguard tried to say, but Huckleberry was already on his way to accept his sister’s plan.

* * *
“You and your sisters had a good visit,” Vanguard observed late that day as he and Sugarberry walked the path to Woodlawn. He was remembering the avid conversations between Sugarberry, Gooseberry, and Raspberry that had delayed their departure.

“We certainly did,” sighed Sugarberry. “We had a lot of catching up to do. It was good to talk with family about foals and things.” She grew thoughtful.

“Do you have regrets about living away from your family?” Vanguard asked, casting a sideways glance at his companion.

“You and our foal are my family,” smiled Sugarberry.

“Yes, but you certainly enjoyed having your sisters and your mother to share all the details of your life with. You looked very happy, at any rate.”

A somber note came through Vanguard’s voice as he said those last words, and Sugarberry looked at him quickly. “Of course I was happy to be with them again.”

“I can’t help but wonder if you ever regret not having followed your parents to Berryville when they left Dream Valley as Raspberry and Gooseberry did.”

“More to the point, Mom and Dad followed Gooseberry there when she married Grapevine and there just happened to be an orchard for sale next to Grapevine’s property. Dad saw a chance to fulfill a dream and took it. Raspberry went along to help with the work. I’ve never regretted my decision to stay behind.”

“I rather thought you were reveling in all that sisterly and motherly advice so readily at your disposal.”

“I have Tabby and Dreamcatcher and Lemon Treats, among others, back in Dream Valley.” She looked at her husband questioningly. “Why this concern?”

“It’s just that... well... I wonder if you’ve ever wished we could live closer to Berryville so you could spend more time with your family.”

“I’ll admit that it is always a joy to be with them, but I’m perfectly content with my life in Dream Valley, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything... unless, of course, you’ve become dissatisfied?”

Vanguard laughed. “No, my love. My life with you is perfect.”

“I had my reasons for staying behind when Mom and Dad left Dream Valley.” She didn’t immediately reveal what those reasons were, and Vanguard waited in silence until she continued. “There were my friends, of course, even though Tabby did leave for college. But beyond that...” She cast a sheepish look at the stallion. “I guess I’d always felt I was overshadowed by my sisters. Gooseberry has always been admired for her gentle nature and her compassion and Raspberry for her take-charge ability to handle any situation, but me-- I was just the shy tagalong that no one ever really saw. I needed to get away from that shadow to find out who I was.”

“I always imagined you and your sisters had a faultless relationship.”

“We did, as much as can be reasonably expected,” grinned Sugarberry. “It was never anything tangible; I just seemed lost beside their personalities.”

“If you want my opinion, I think you were too critical of yourself to realize that all three of you were equally personable; however,” he lifted a hoof to indicate he wanted no interruption, “I am of the opinion that you...” and he took her into his forelegs, “are the ideal.” He kissed her as they stood on the path and only broke off when an amused giggle was heard as another pair of travelers had come around the tree-lined curve, the appearance of which suffused Sugarberry in a becoming blush that did not fade until civil greetings had been exchanged; and she and Vanguard had continued on their way.

The remainder of the journey to Woodlawn was filled with pleasurable banter between Sugarberry and Vanguard until the town came into sight. The sun had set and dusk was lowering over the gentle greens of the land as the two ponies crossed the park, stopping as was their habit at the stone bridge that arched over the flowing stream where they stood hoof-in-hoof, Sugarberry resting her head against Vanguard’s strong shoulder.

“Your parent’s house looks so lovely,” Sugarberry murmured, noting how the grey structure blended into the surrounding maples, the white trim accenting its turreted outline, and the glow of light from the windows beckoning in welcome.

Vanguard was in the process of agreeing when he tensed and released Sugarberry’s hoof. Catching an orange flutter out of the corner of his eye, he had focused his attention on what proved to be a row of orange plastic flags marching parallel to the stone bridge. He leaned over the stone railing to mark their journey and groaned. “I don’t like the looks of this,” he said despondently.

“What?” asked Sugarberry, following his gaze but perceiving nothing to upset her other than the unnatural row of waving plastic flags.

“What follows once those flags are placed anywhere?” he asked.

Sugarberry puzzled for a bit. “Well, there were plenty of them around our house when we were getting ready to add the turret, so it means some construction of some kind, I suppose.”

An irritated look crossed Vanguard’s face. “I certainly hope that they aren’t thinking about replacing this bridge,” he said adamantly.

Turning round eyes to him, Sugarberry sputtered, “They wouldn’t do that... would they? It’s such a romantic bridge.”

“It’s been here for as long as I can remember, and Dad remembers it being here when he was a foal as well,” Vanguard said, a scowl marking his face. “Let’s go.” He took Sugarberry’s hoof and the two hurried in the direction of Whirlpool and Floral Breeze’s home.

* * *
Greeted with hugs all around, Vanguard and Sugarberry were soon ensconced around the kitchen table with hot mugs of coffee and chocolate chip cookies as they conversed with Vanguard’s parents.

“Are there plans for the bridge in the park?” asked Vanguard when the daily affairs of both couples had been thoroughly discussed.

Whirlpool ran a hoof through his mane. “The city council sees fit to modernize it,” he admitted.

“Modernize it?!” Vanguard growled. “Exactly what are they going to do?”

Whirlpool shook his head as if he could not say the words, so Floral Freeze took over. “They’ve okayed plans to clear it out and replace it with a steel bridge.” She winced as she saw the crushed look that settled on her son’s countenance; it was one she had seen on each of her family’s face in the last weeks.

“When did they decide this?”

“At their last meeting, and Windmill is pushing it through at top speed,” admitted Whirlpool.

“It was due for some upkeep, and he said it would be more economical to replace it with a steel structure than to pay for the maintenance work on the stone,” added Floral Breeze.

“I can’t believe the council went along with him.”

“Well, if truth be told, they didn’t. But he swept it through anyway along with some other road improvements that were legitimate.”

“Is anything being done to change his mind?”

“Anchor is doing everything in his power to stop any action while he investigates all the legal angles.”

Their conversation was interrupted as the back door opened and Icon came into the house. “Hello, Sugarberry,” he grinned, crossing to her and kissing her cheek. “Are you taking care of yourself?”

Receiving the assurance that she was, he turned to Vanguard. “I’ll wish you a happy birthday a day early, big brother.”

“I was happy to hear that H.C.I. won out over Macrohard in court; that must have been a load off your mind,” smiled Vanguard.

“It was, but have you heard what we’re up against now with Windmill’s crazy idea to get rid of the old stone bridge?” Icon’s eyes were angry as he sat down at the table, and Sugarberry noted that the young stallion seemed thinner than she had remembered. When his mother served him some cookies and milk, he barely looked at the offering.

“Dad tells me that Anchor is doing what he can; has there been any grassroots pressure put on the council?” queried Vanguard.

“Everyone is making his or her voice heard, but Windmill won’t listen. I think every pony in Woodlawn has signed a petition to retain the old bridge, and donations have been collected to cover the repair work from private funds; I don’t know what else we can do.”

“Chiffon had all the foals in the schools send letters as well,” revealed Floral Breeze. “Mail coming through to the mayor’s office is swamping the post office, and still that stallion sticks to his decision.”

The ponies continued to discuss the problem for several more minutes before Icon stood up and announced that he was going to his own home now; he said a quick goodnight, and was out the door. Sugarberry looked wonderingly at Floral Breeze. “Icon is really letting this get to him, isn’t he?”

“All the boys have fond memories of that old bridge, but that’s not entirely what is eating at Icon.”

“If his problem with Macrohard is settled, he should be doing great,” observed Vanguard.

“He came back from Golden City in a worse state than he left,” worried Floral Breeze, “and he refused to talk about what happened. Hodgepodge and Cachet were quite elated over their defeat of Guido Casale, but Icon has been depressed about something.”

“He didn’t seem quite himself,” admitted Sugarberry. “I wonder what could be bothering him.”

“Maybe Icon had words with Guido that he regrets,” pondered Vanguard. “I saw Guido on the news after the court decision, and he was gruff as a bear. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had lashed out verbally against Icon and the others.”

“Has Guido said anything to you since he lost his case? You were quite good friends when you were in Vulcanopolis, I remember,” wondered Floral Breeze.

“Haven’t heard a word from him, but we have our wedding invitation to his and Tiffany’s wedding next month,” revealed Vanguard.

“That’s right!” trilled Floral Breeze. “The wedding will be in Dream Valley; I imagine the princess has been busy with the planning.”

“I’m not sure how busy she had been, but she has an army of underlings making sure that everything will be as grandiose as possible,” giggled Sugarberry.

So while the mares discussed the upcoming weddings in Dream Valley (besides Guido and Tiffany’s there would be Toby and Fern’s) and in Birdsong where Buck and Columbine were tying the knot, the stallions continued their discussion of Icon’s troubles and the problem of the park’s time-honored bridge.

Sunday dawned mild and sunny with the sound of robin songs in the air and the sweet smell of lilacs wafting in the open window. As it was Vanguard’s birthday on this Mother’s Day, that stallion was being coddled and made over by his mother and his wife while his father rolled his eyes at such attention and disappeared behind the newspaper. When the mares were sure that Vanguard had partaken of a sufficient breakfast and Floral Breeze had unwrapped her gift from the two, they released the stallions to their own pursuits while Floral Breeze with Sugarberry’s help lined up the preparations for the family luncheon that would celebrate the joint festivities of Mother’s Day and Vanguard’s birthday.

The walk to church was the perfect time to enjoy the wealth of flowers that bloomed in the myriad flower beds that graced the lawns of Woodlawn, putting everyone in a reverential frame of mind. On the return to the house, the group of ponies in transit had swelled to include Vanguard’s brother and family-- Stillwater, Morning Dew, and Droplet-- as well as Chiffon, a cousin who was of an age with Vanguard (although she was quick to point out that for the next few months, Vanguard was the older of the two) and Icon, whose normal light spirit seemed permanently dampened as he stayed on the fringe of the otherwise lively group.

Many hooves made light work; and by the time further guests began arriving, an impressive spread of food was set out buffet style for those who came to share the festivities. The house was full of ponies in a merry humor as family and friends regaled one another with all the happenings of their lives, with Sugarberry and Vanguard receiving a full share of good wishes on the pending birth of their foal in November.

Sugarberry sought out Icon’s company when she was able to catch him apart from the others, and she patted his shoulder comfortingly. “What’s bothering you, Icon?” she asked, her worried eyes piercing her brother-in-law’s somber ones.

“And what makes you think something is bothering me?” he said with a weak smile.

“You are normally the life of the party, yet you have spoken hardly a word today... besides which,” she assumed a pout, “you have not even attempted to disconcert me with your teasing.”

He grinned more convincingly now. “I’d think that would please you.”

“Not a bit, seeing how melancholy you appear.”

“I think it’s just a case of spring fever.”

“And spring is when a young stallion’s heart is filled with love,” Sugarberry teased and was surprised to see the look of anguish that crossed Icon’s face. “Icon!” she breathed. “You’ve fallen in love!”

“Stupid of me, wasn’t it?” he remarked grimly, his eyes refusing to meet hers.

“Who is it?” Sugarberry bluntly asked. “She’s obviously not here or you would be more fittingly occupied.”

As Icon had not shared his thoughts with anyone other than Cachet when he had met the green-eyed beauty, Splotch, in Golden City, he had no intention to do so now; but the concerned eyes of his sister-in-law softened his resolve, and he found himself pouring his story out to her. “So I gave my heart to a power-grabbing beauty who had no regard for me except that she had hoped to win another successful case for Guido at my expense,” he ended his story. He looked at her sheepishly. “But for all that, I can’t get her our of my mind.”

“You poor thing,” Sugarberry sympathized, shaking her head. “I think this mare needs to reorder her priorities.”

“Her career is her priority.”

“You haven’t tried to contact her again? With the court case behind her, she may see you in a different light.”

“From what I’ve gathered from Anchor, she’s back in Vulcanopolis championing Macrohard’s iron grip on the computer industry; even I am not naive enough to attack that stronghold on a personal agenda that has already been declared forfeit.” He grinned again to lighten his heavy words. “Don’t worry about me, Sugarberry; don’t they say that time heals all wounds?”

“Yes, they do.” But Sugarberry knew that the road to healing could be long and painful when a broken heart was concerned, leaving her helpless to give any worthwhile advice to Icon.

Their private chat was interrupted by Petal; she grabbed her cousin’s hoof in her own and tugged him toward the outside door. “We’re going to play volleyball, and you and I are in charge of the teams.” The filly turned to Sugarberry and winked as she walked away with the stallion; it was obvious that everyone was concerned about Icon’s disconsolate spirit. It would do him good to be surrounded by the rowdy group of foals and young ponies that trooped outdoors to enjoy the pleasant weather.

No sooner had Icon and Petal left Sugarberry’s side than Vanguard filled in the gap. “Were you able to settle Icon’s problem?” he queried, knowing his wife’s penchant for seeing everyone happy.

Sugarberry frowned. “No.”

“Did he at least confide in you?”

“Yes, he did.” Sugarberry hesitated, but not having been asked to keep Icon’s revelation a secret, she went on. “He met someone in Golden City who did not share his feelings.”

Grinning, Vanguard said, “You mean my little brother has finally been hit by Cupid?”

“Unfortunately, Cupid didn’t bother to shoot his arrow at the mare as well.”

“Then I can very well understand how he feels, because I would have been devastated if you did not return my love.” He kissed her lightly.

“That was never an option, you know,” she smiled.

* * *
The day was winding down; the Mother’s Day and birthday presents had been opened and the cake had been devoured. Only the immediate family was left to clean up the kitchen and straighten the other rooms. When a knock sounded at the front door, Stillwater went to answer it, and came back with Anchor, the likable lawyer who had set up his practice in Woodlawn some three years earlier. He was introduced to Sugarberry and Vanguard and then allowed to tell his reason for dropping by; it was obvious that he was fairly bursting to share his news.

“I was out of town on a lead to the bridge controversy... got home very late last night and called the town council together this morning; I felt it couldn’t wait another day.”

“So, tell us!” barked Icon as Anchor sat with a huge grin on his face.

“I traced down the company that Windmill had contracted to do the bridge work and found out something very interesting.” Amazingly, the lawyer merely sat and surveyed the faces of the ponies whose attention he had garnered and now held.

“And are you going to enlighten us now or wait for us to read it in the paper?” growled Whirlpool.

“Well, of course I mean to tell you!” said Anchor. “It’s my reason for being here!” He grinned round at the expectant faces. “My investigation led me to Vulcanopolis.”

This fact served to stun Anchor’s listeners as Vulcanopolis had been on their minds since Guido Casale’s attempt to take over the company that Icon, Hodgepodge, and Cachet owned; Vulcanopolis was the home of Guido’s giant, Macrohard.

“Casale?” Icon asked, his face set in rigid anger.

“Right to his doorstep,” Anchor verified.

“But why?”

“Simple retaliation on Guido’s part,” Anchor said. “He may be a colossus of the computer business, but he did not take H.C.I.’s defeat of Macrohard well; and with Queen Majesty watching, his hooves were tied as far as your business goes; so he planned to aggravate you in more personal ways.”

“This seems out of his league,” Stillwater said, finding it difficult to believe that Guido would be involved with such petty shenanigans.

“His goal was to quietly upset your lives in subtle ways... to be the thorn in your side, so to speak.”

“You talked with Guido face-to-face?” asked Icon, almost dreading to hear the answer.

“Oh, no; he was conveniently off somewhere. I talked to his lawyers.”

“His lawyers...” Icon had a vivid impression of a magenta mare with flashing emerald eyes backing up Justin in any discussion concerning H.C.I.

“Splotch did her homework well,” Anchor continued, his gaze resting on Icon’s face which so unsettled that stallion that he jumped to his hooves and began pacing the floor. Sugarberry had the distinct impression that this Splotch, although Icon had not mentioned her by name, was the root cause of Icon’s personal distress.

Icon himself was reliving his brief acquaintance with the mare; they had talked of many things at the cafe in Golden City, none of which had seemed unnecessarily revealing to Icon at the time; but now, knowing of Guido’s reprisal, Icon could see that insignificant facts about his life and Woodlawn itself had been retained by the ever-plotting Splotch to be used as she saw fit in her determined attempt to guarantee Macrohard’s dominance. For this, he could never forgive her; yet it wrenched his heart to know the extent of her use of him as simply a means to strengthen her case while he had fallen hopelessly in love.

“So what’s the bottom line?” questioned Whirlpool. “What were you able to accomplish concerning the bridge?”

“Justin was well prepared to explain, in a roundabout way, how Macrohard has interest in many endeavors, not all related to the computer industry. He would have me believe that as a philanthropist, Guido was offering his money to better a small town that needed modernization. My talk with Windmill, however, was much more divulging.”

“Windmill sold us out,” Stillwater stated.

“He was to receive a hefty gift for his cooperation,” confirmed Anchor. “As of this morning, the council severely chastised Windmill; his resignation will be made public tomorrow.” The stallion got to his hooves. “The bridge is safe now, and I have a few other ponies I need to talk with, so if you’ll excuse me...”

Floral Breeze moved to accompany Anchor to the door; but Icon intercepted her and, with a glance, edged her away. The two stallions went alone to the entry.

“One question, Anchor,” Icon said, his hoof on the doorknob. “Did Splotch say anything specifically concerning me?”

“You can not have met Splotch without knowing that she would have something to say about anyone and everyone,” hedged Anchor. Icon did not release his hoof from the door, however, and his eyes continued to bore into Anchor so that the lawyer had no alternative but to comply. “She said to tell you that revenge would be sweet.”

* * *
“Oh, I’m glad to be home!” sighed Sugarberry as they finally arrived at Fifth Street in Dream Valley. “And by the lights, it looks like Wishbone and Chocolate Chip are back from Neighberry.” The two young ponies who roomed at the house had visited their hometown to spend Mother’s Day with their parents.

When Sugarberry and Vanguard walked through the door, they found not only Wishbone and Chocolate Chip but also their complements, Garnet and Wigwam. “Did you have a good time in Neighberry?” Sugarberry queried, looking over the four ponies with a benevolent eye. “I thought you’d be on the road yet.” She dropped into a chair as Raptor and Fluff came to rub against her legs and purr their warm welcome.

“Mom and Dad were busy at their restaurant-- lots of ponies eat out on Mother’s Day-- but they did break off long enough to eat with us; as Lollipop was helping them, too, we figured we might as well come home.”

“You were home in Neighberry,” Vanguard pointed out.

“Dream Valley seems more like a real home,” Chocolate Chip said, “and that’s because of you two.” She grinned at Sugarberry and Vanguard.

“She’s buttering us up for something,” Vanguard responded dryly. Looking at Wigwam, he asked, “Any idea what it is?”

As if in answer, there was a rap at the door, and Wishbone rushed to answer it, returning with several boxes from the local pizza parlor. “Mom,” he directed at Sugarberry with a cocky grin, “Happy Mother’s Day!”

Chocolate Chip echoed the sentiment and hugged Sugarberry who beamed at both of her resident students. “Thank you, my children; I’m very proud to have the two of you in the family,” she said formally.

“What about me?” grinned Wigwam, coming to claim a hug of his own.

“You will be incorporated into the family once you’ve married Chocolate Chip,” responded Vanguard, causing Chocolate Chip’s face to deepen in color.

“She’s a stubborn little thing when she wants to be,” Wigwam drawled as all heads in the room turned to the chocolate brown mare.

“Intelligent, too,” Vanguard agreed. “That could explain her hesitance to align herself with the likes of you.”

“Maybe she’s waiting for a better option,” Wishbone added, enjoying his sister’s discomfiture.

“The pizza is getting cold,” reminded Garnet, anxious to relieve Chocolate Chip’s embarrassment; Chocolate Chip cast her a grateful glance as she grabbed the boxes from Wishbone’s hooves and led the way to the kitchen-- which Sugarberry and Vanguard were pleasantly surprised to see was decorated with balloons and streamers and a scrumptious-looking birthday cake.

“As this day is a day of reveling, we have arranged this fete to celebrate both Mother’s Day and Van’s birthday,” said Wishbone. “Happy Birthday, Van!”

“Garnet baked the cake,” Chocolate Chip quickly stated, “and we all went together for some gifts.”

Sugarberry was presented with a tissue-wrapped bouquet of blooms and Vanguard with a book, “The Comprehensive Guide to Snowshoeing”. Wigwam grinned wickedly. “I figure you will have all summer to read up on it so that you will know how it’s done right by the time snow flies again.”

“If I don’t have it right by now, it is only because my mentor was deficient,” retorted Vanguard.

Ignoring the insult, Wigwam went on. “In addition, Chocolate Chip can read it, too, so she can join us on our outings and make use of the snowshoes I bought her.”

They went on to enjoy their pizza and the cake after which the majority of the ponies moved into the home office to access the internet and check on a snowshoe auction Wishbone had his eye on; Sugarberry and Garnet were left alone in the kitchen with the admonition to leave the mess for later as Sugarberry was not to lift a hoof on cleanup.

“So how did you spend your weekend?” Garnet asked of Sugarberry.

“We spent most of Saturday planting strawberries.”

“Appropriate,” laughed Garnet, admiring once again the twice-as-fancy pattern of the mare.

“How about you?” queried Sugarberry. “Did you enjoy your time with Wishbone’s family?”

“We went out to visit Wishbone’s grandparents on Saturday; I felt right at home there; it was so like being with Pepper and Rainbow Star on their farm. We picked violets that were growing in the pasture near the river. It was very peaceful.” Garnet grew thoughtful as she pondered the many happy reunions of Mother’s Day that she had been involved with this year, yet it reminded her painfully of her own relationship with her mother and father. She had no idea where her parents were currently living as their “occupation” made secrecy imperative.

Garnet paced to the window and looked out on the nighttime that was swathed in a golden glow from the porch light. Fluff came to join her by sitting on the windowsill and Raptor sat at her hooves in a statuesque pose with his tail curled forward around his paws. Both felines sensed a sadness about the usually vivacious Garnet.

Slowly, the young mare began to talk. “I don’t even know where my mother is, Sugarberry. I haven’t seen her in years.”

Sugarberry, who had been apprized briefly by Wishbone and Chocolate Chip of Garnet’s past, came to stand closer to the pensive mare. Perceiving her need to talk, she asked, “What is your mother like, Garnet?”

“Very pretty. She was always very pretty. Her name is Sassy, and Dad-- Blackcap-- always said she had enough sass for four mares. But he loved her dearly; that’s one thing I can remember with happiness.”

“Were they good to you?”

“They did the best they could, I’m sure, looking back. We always had food and a roof over our heads. We moved a lot, though... changed schools often. It made us all street-smart,” Garnet grimaced, “and we needed that.”

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

“One sister and two brothers, all older than me.”

“So you are the baby of the family, too.”

“Yes, and I was very lonely. You see, my first two siblings are much older than I am so they didn’t have much time for me; and Sable... well, Sable didn’t want a little sister tagging along after him.” She looked at Sugarberry with pained eyes. “You met Sable, I’m told. He was involved...”

“I’m aware that Sable is your brother.” Sugarberry had no desire to rake up the past incident in which Sable was involved, an incident that had caused anguish to her and her family.

“Sugarberry, my entire family-- myself included-- was cut from the same cloth. Mom and Dad made sure we could take care of ourselves from an early age by conning ponies of their jangles or gaining an advantage with some slight of hoof. I was good at it, too.” She dropped her head, unable to meet Sugarberry’s eyes.

“And look where you are today, Garnet. You’re indispensable to Wigwam’s casino and are surrounded by ponies who love you; you’ve made your own life for yourself.” Sugarberry took the now weeping Garnet in her forelegs as if she was a foal and patted her shoulder. “And you know, your mother might have changed, too. I’m sure you must be on her mind, especially today, wondering where her daughter is, how she’s doing.”

“She wouldn’t be pleased,” Garnet gulped. “In her eyes, I’ve failed miserably.”

“I wonder...” Sugarberry mused as Garnet pulled away to wipe the tears from her face. “... you can’t contact your parents because you don’t know where they are; but by the same token they can’t contact you, either, not knowing where you’ve settled. They might be anxious about you.”

“I don’t want them to know.” Garnet dabbed at a last tear. “I want my life here to work.”

“Have you talked to Wigwam about this? He has training in police work; if he could trace your parents, you’d at least know for sure what is happening with them. And they would never need to know your whereabouts.”

“Maybe someday,” Garnet sighed. “Right now, I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want anything to get between... Wishbone... and me.” She smiled self-consciously, not having intended to be so frank as to where her chief interest lay.

“Well, you can be sure Wishbone agrees with you on that point,” Sugarberry acknowledged, hugging the young mare once more. “You are his world these days.”

Garnet’s natural red coloring defied blushing, but she would have flushed if capable of it as Wishbone returned at that moment, and the look in her eyes as she beheld him revealed enough tenderness to cause the stallion to shudder imperceptibly.

Chocolate Chip and the other two stallions trailed into the kitchen, and Vanguard came across to his wife. “Chocolate Chip assures me that she and her cronies will clean up the kitchen; and as you’ve had a full weekend and Dr. Toby admonished me to take good care of you, I think you had better come upstairs with me.”

“I am tired,” she admitted. Turning to the others, she smiled. “Thanks for the flowers and the supper; I am truly blessed to have the four of you as family.”

“The same goes for me,” stated Vanguard. “The cake was delicious-- thanks, Garnet-- and the book will benefit me immensely, I’m sure. Good night.” He dropped a wink in the direction of the ponies and drew his wife with him as he made his escape, ignoring the repressed laughter left behind him in his blatant haste to secure Sugarberry’s undivided attention.

“You set the stage well?” Wigwam asked of Chocolate Chip and Garnet. Receiving their affirmation, he chuckled. “Good. Now, who’s going to wash and who’s going to dry?”

* * *
Sugarberry no sooner stepped into the upstairs sitting room that joined the master bedroom and which included the circular turret that had been added to the house after she and Vanguard had gotten married when she exclaimed, “I smell roses!” Sniffing the air, she moved unerringly to the turret space and found a bouquet of red roses prominently displayed. “Vanguard, you sweetie!” she bubbled, throwing her forelegs around his neck. “They are beautiful!”

“Not as beautiful as you, my love,” Vanguard softly said. “Happy Mother’s Day, Sugarberry.”

“It could not be happier, what with our little foal growing every day; soon we’ll have him in our forelegs, a tangible creation of our love. Nothing could be more thrilling.”

“I agree; but for the time being, see what you think of this,” Vanguard smiled. He reached for a wrapped box on the table by the roses.

“You are spoiling me,” Sugarberry grimaced, but her eyes shimmered in delight. She opened the package, lifted the lid on the box inside, and caught her breath. “It’s lovely!” she said, lifting a delicate gold chain with two hearts swinging from it. A colored stone rivaled the sparkle in the mare’s eyes. “They’re our birthstones,” she noted, dangling the necklace to watch the light play off the emerald and ruby at the center of the two outside filigree hearts. Nestled between them twinkled a topaz heart for the foal to be born in November.

“And we can add as many hearts as necessary, one for each foal. Sparkler assures me that she will be delighted to handle any number. And if the foal comes early, we can exchange the topaz for another.”

“You’ve thought of everything. Thank you, my darling husband.” She gave him a kiss, then noted, “I imagine that Chocolate Chip aided and abetted you in arranging this surprise.” She carefully pulled a single rose from the bouquet and held it to her nose to enjoy the fragrance while her eyes settled mischievously on the stallion.

“Yes, she did.” Vanguard noted with some apprehension the unsettling sparkle that lit those blue eyes, and he invariably glanced around the room to see if he was missing something. His gaze came to rest on the nightstand next to the bed. “Sugarberry, what’s that?!” he exclaimed.

“It’s my birthday present for you,” Sugarberry grinned.

At that moment, the object that had caught Vanguard’s attention moved, and the stallion started and stepped between it and Sugarberry protectively. “It moved!”

“Of course it did,” smugly responded Sugarberry, holding back her laughter. “It’s supposed to move.”

Vanguard looked at his wife with a frown and then returned his regard to the object in question. It was an owl, a life-size plastic but very realistic likeness with a head that turned and bobbed occasionally; its bright round yellow eyes glared menacingly from its tufted head, giving it such a real appearance that even Sugarberry-- who knew that Chocolate Chip had seen to its being there-- was impressed.

“My birthday present, huh?” Vanguard settled his gaze once more on his wife. “I can only hope that you are implying that I am wise.”

Sugarberry giggled. “Well, that may be true, but it’s actually supposed to be a deterrent to those hawks that have been keeping an eye on our backyard; supposedly, it will scare away predators.”

“I’m inclined to believe that,” Vanguard grinned, glancing once more at the imposing stare of the bird. The owl bobbed its head, then turned to focus its sightless eyes across the room. “And he even has manners,” the stallion said, pulling Sugarberry closer to him and giving her a kiss. “Thank you for my new feathered friend.”

“You’re welcome; happy birthday.”

“And to you, happy Mother’s Day!”

There was an imperceptible click as the owl’s head turned back to the ponies, but neither Vanguard nor Sugarberry noticed; if their attention had not been focused so intently one on the other, they might have been surprised to see that the owl slowly closed one eye in a wink.


Left in the Lurch (or rather, Church)
by Tabby (

“Where could he be?” cried a tearful Sparkler, pacing back and forth in the front of the church. “Oh, what if he had an accident or something? I know something dreadful has happened!”

“Not to Butch; maybe to you,” Sundance, Sparkler’s prospective sister-in-law, mumbled inaudibly in the background. As Butch’s sister, she knew him the best of any of them there, and she had an uneasy feeling that her sibling was up to his old tricks again.

“Now, Sparkler, dear,” her mother said consolingly, straightening her daughter’s veil. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious; don’t fret yourself sick. He’ll come strolling in any second now.” Even she could not help the little gleam of worry that came into her eyes, though.

The rest of the wedding party was growing uneasy as well. “Shouldn’t we send someone to look for him?” Sparkler’s sister, Glimmer, spoke up timidly.

All of them there had been looking forward to this last Saturday in May ever since Butch and Sparkler’s engagement had been announced only several weeks earlier. The couple had opted for a small, intimate ceremony with only a few of their closest friends and family present; most citizens would not be aware of the marriage until the couple had left town on their honeymoon. Though the wedding was small and planning time short, Sparkler felt that it was going to be the happiest day of her life. Until now.

“Wigwam and Vanguard already left to check out his cabin,” Sundance reminded Glimmer.

“I’m sure he just forgot, or something,” Sparkler babbled a little incoherently. “I mean, a wedding could slip his mind, couldn’t it, even his own? How long have they been gone? I’m sure he’ll be with them when they come back. He couldn’t forget today.” No one could bring themselves to speak, or even think, of a possible jilting.

It seemed an eternity of time before Vanguard and Wigwam trudged back from their trip into the Dark Forest. “There’s not a sign of him,” Wigwam said grimly. “Everything’s locked and sealed up tight. It’s obvious he did leave.”

“The salsa shop!” Sparkler broke out. “Did you check there?”

Vanguard shook his head. “We did, but there was nothing to be seen. It’s closed for today, like he said it would be.”

“What if he was injured somewhere along the way?” Sparkler asked pleadingly. “Wait-- we could call the hospital! Make sure he wasn’t admitted!”

Sparkler’s cousin had a cellphone on him and made the call, but the results were negative. Butch, or anyone of his description, had not been admitted to the hospital.

“Could the police help?” Sparkler’s mother, growing increasingly worried herself, added. “If he’s missing...”

“It’s still not time for the ceremony,” Wigwam noted. “Let’s not bother them until we’re absolutely certain he’s not coming.”

At this Sparkler broke down sobbing, and for the next half hour her female attendants were kept busy trying to console her. By this time it was certainly past the accepted time for the groom to arrive, and everyone grimly agreed that it was time to seek outside help. Sparkler insisted on going to the police station along with Wigwam and Vanguard, and carefully took off her veil and entrusted it to the care of her mother until they returned. “With Butch,” she said confidently, but with a doubting look in her eye.

At the station, Chief Tawny himself received the trio. “Miss Sparkler, we’ve been trying to notify you,” he said grimly. “We have some bad news to break to you.”

“Oh no-- Butch!” Sparkler cried. “How-- what happened? Is he okay? Where is he? I knew something had happened!”

“Did you know what he was planning?” Tawny looked up at her sharply.

“Well-- he was planning on marrying me today, of course!”

“We don’t know his whereabouts,” Tawny shook his head, “but we’re seeking him out for arrest. You see, your store was robbed early this morning, Sparkler.”

“My-- store?” Sparkler gasped. “But Butch--”

“Around three AM this morning, someone entered your jewelry shop at the mall and cleared out most of the goods.”

“But-- it was closed today,” Sparkler said weakly.

“And someone took advantage of the opportunity,” Tawny said. “There was no sign of a breaking and entering, so the thief obviously gained entrance with a key. How many ponies have access to that key, Sparkler?”

“Well... I have one, of course, and the mall manager... and I gave one to my fiancé Butch, too. Oh!” Her eyes flew open wide as she began to comprehend where this was leading. “You can’t possibly suspect him!”

“It was a well-planned job; the thief didn’t trigger any alarms, and it was some time before the security guard noticed anything amiss. After a check of the security cameras, we found that the robber matched Butch’s description exactly. ”

“But he wouldn’t!” Sparkler said emphatically. “We were to be married today, but he hasn’t shown up; and I’m dreadfully worried something may have happened to him.”

“I’m sorry, Sparkler, but obviously his attentions towards you were all just a ploy to help him get the goods. I assure you, my men are all scouring the city for him, but I’m afraid you won’t be seeing him except behind jail bars for quite some time.”

“NO!!!!” Sparkler screamed hysterically. “You’re wrong; you must be! Listen to me, Butch didn’t do it! He didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t...”

“If you’ll come with me, Sparkler, we’d like to ask you a few questions as well,” Tawny added. Realizing he was serious, Sparkler tried to calm down enough so that only a few sniffles escaped. Though this was a great shock, she was usually a very composed pony and tried to show that face to the best advantage. Nevertheless, Wigwam stayed with her while Vanguard headed back to the church to break the news to the bridal party.

* * *
For the thousandth time, Sparkler read the note Butch had left for her slipped under her doormat. The police had uncovered it after a thorough check of Sparkler’s house; for awhile they had been concerned that Sparkler may have been an accomplice in Butch’s robbery, but she was at least cleared of that; and she was allowed to keep the note in her possession. Sparkler still couldn’t believe it, that Butch had used her like that. But obviously he had. It had been a week since the horrendous incident, and the police hadn’t found a trace of Butch. Even though her name had been cleared, the empty feeling in her heart didn’t leave her, at least not yet. She kept reading Butch’s letter, hoping it wouldn’t say what it did, but it never changed.

Hey Sparkler,

Really sorry to break up our plans like this, but there wasn’t any other way. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked you, but your life just isn’t the one for me. Besides, I’ve been wanting to go home for awhile and check up on things; plus there’s a girl I left there that I just can’t get out of my mind. I needed funds for the trip and all, so I helped myself to some of your store goods-- I’ll try to pay you back some day. Well, that’s all. Butch.

Sparkler stood up and walked over to the window. No matter how badly Butch had hurt her, she had to move on in her life. It might seem hard to bear now, but she would learn to cope. And however guilty Butch was, she couldn’t help but feel that he had a good heart under all his contrary actions, and she still felt compassion for the stallion that had broken her heart. “Good luck, Butch,” she whispered, a lone tear dripping down her cheek.

Butch will return!


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