With a Little Help From My Friends
Chapter 1: Welcome to Hoofston
The sun was just beginning to come up over the town of Hoofston (which was, for reasons nopony was quite sure of, pronounced “hyoofston”) – it was mostly silent, save for a few pegasi at work arranging the clouds – there was supposed to be a rain today. Such news, however, had not reached one black earth pony who was just wandering down the streets. It was a black colt, with a black mane, blue eyes, and a white treble clef for a cutie mark. As he walked, he looked around, curiously, as though he had absolutely no idea where he was.
Of course, such a method of walking sometimes results in a pony not knowing where he or she is going, and as it happens, the young colt blundered right into a Pegasus.
“Hey!” the pegasus shouted, irritated. “Watch where you’re going!”
The colt backed up. “I’m… um…” he seemed extraordinarily befuddled, and his demeanor conveyed an impression of stupidity. “I’m sorry.”
“Why don’t you pay attention?” the pegasus muttered. “Retard.” And with that, he flew back up to the sky, where he’d certainly avoid any clueless earth ponies.
The black colt stood there for a while, and then continued walking, his head hung a little lower than before.
The rain came, and as a result, most ponies stayed inside their homes, to wait out the rain. This came as a slight disappointment to Gold Standard.
Gold Standard (or “Goldie,” as some friends called her) was a gold-colored unicorn with gold bars on her flank, who owned a shop. It was a nice shop, very tidy and well-organized, and with a rather eclectic collection of wares – if she thought somepony would buy it, she would stock it.
She was a capitalist, and the rain meant that the usual steady flow of customers had slowed down. That meant less sales, and consequently, less money. Being a proprietor, this could be a disappointment. The store wasn’t completely empty, however – there was a shoplifter. A blank-flank young pegasus who attempted to run off with a bag of sugar lumps. The rapstallion didn’t get far, though, because he right into somepony else who had just walked into the story – Constable Brownie (who, obviously, was brown, and had a brownie for a cutie mark. Despite appearances, she only baked in her spare time).
“Now, just where do you think you’re going with that?” she asked.
“Home?” The pegasus asked guiltily.
“Not unless you pay for it.” She said. “If you’re not going to pay for it, you have to put it back.”
“Okay…” the pegasus said, slinking back to where he’d taken the bag from and putting it back.
“Goldie, I swear, this is the third time this week I’ve caught a shoplifter just by walking through the door.” Brownie said, approaching the desk.
“Wreaks havoc with the paperwork – merchandise not there, but no money to indicate sales.”
“What I’m trying to say is that you need to do something about it.” Brownie said.
“Well, what can I do?” Goldie asked. “I’m only one pony, and I’m behind the counter most of the time. I could put in an alarm…”
“Hire an employee or two – that way you can have someone to be on the lookout while you’re managing the counter.” Brownie said.
Gold Standard thought about it. Employees meant a payroll. That meant less income. On the other hand, Brownie was right, and it’d probably result in less shoplifting, which meant less lost money. Having an employee might also mean that someone else is getting money, which can then be spent, and spending is good for an economy.
“That actually might be a good idea,” she conceded.
“Glad you think so.” Said the constable. “Good day.” She turned around to exit when the sound of thunder indicated that it was still raining. “Lovely day for Raincloud to be on weather duty.”
Raincloud was a grey pegasus known for her somewhat gloomy disposition and the fact that whenever she was on rain duty, it tended to last a bit longer than most ponies would appreciate. Not that she wasn’t good at her job, but the rain lasted longer than most ponies would like. But we’ll actually meet her later.
The bell ring, indicating that door had opened. It was the black earth pony with the treble clef cutie mark.
“Good afternoon.” Gold Standard said, trying to entice the potential new customer. “Anything we can do for you today?”
“Well, um, it’s just that it was raining and this was the only door that I figured I wouldn’t get in trouble for walking through.” The pony said.
Well, how do you respond to a statement like that?
“Well, that’s perfectly alright.” She said. “You can stay here until the rain’s gone.”
“Thank you.” He said.
“I don’t think I recognize you…” Constable Brownie said. They certainly didn’t get a lot of strange ponies around here.
“Me neither.” The black pony said. “Wait, that doesn’t sound right, I mean… um…”
“Are you going to buy anything?” Goldie asked, ready to open the cash register.
“Um…” the black pony paused. “I don’t think I can… I don’t have any money.”
“…No money?” Gold Standard asked slowly. Someone with no money? That was a horribly depressing thought for her.
She looked down at the counter. She had some fliers with discount coupons. “Say…” she said. “Here’s an idea. How about if you take these.” She used her magic to hold up the fliers “and hand them out to people around town? I’ll pay you for the job, and then I’ll give you some additional money for everypony who comes in here with a coupon.”
The thunder crashed again.
“That is, once the rain’s cleared up a bit. What’s your name?”
The black colt stood there for a good five seconds before speaking. “Ritardando.” He said quietly.
Gold Standard and Brownie paused. That was an unusual name.
“Italian?” Brownie asked.
“Maybe…” Ritardando said. “I’m not very good at places.”
It was starting to become clear to the other two that this pony was not particularly bright. His head lifted up and he saw something off in the corner.
“Is that a piano?” he asked.
“Oh, that?” Gold Standard said, looking over where Ritardando was looking. “Oh, yes. Got it a few years ago, thinking it’d spruce the place up. Nobody ever plays it…” he saw his cutie mark. “You’re a musician?” she asked.
“I think so...” Ritardando said, walking over to the piano and plunking out a few scales. All three ponies cringed – Gold Standard was right, that thing was in desperate need of tuning.
“I suggest you dry off.” Gold Standard said, seeing that he was still dripping wet. “There’s some in the bathroom upstairs.”
“Oh.” Ritardando said, backing up, seeing he got water on the piano. “Sorry. Thank you.” He awkwardly apologized as he made his way up the stairs.
“I wonder if that piano was a very good investment.” Gold Standard said. “I mean, it looks nice, but nobody ever uses it, and even if they did…” she shook her head.
“Uhh, Goldie, I know I said it’d be a good idea to hire someone and all, but I didn’t mean invite a vagabond into your home.”
“He’s dripping wet, and the rain might not let up until tomorrow morning.” She said simply. “What else should I have him do, wait outside?”
“Your risk.” Brownie said, heading for the door. “I’ll check back in the morning to see if all your worldly possessions haven’t been robbed.”
“You do that.” Goldie said, laughing. “Sure you don’t want an umbrella?”
“I don’t become a constable by being put off by a bit of rain.” She said, leaving.
That left Gold Standard alone in her shop, with Ritardando upstairs trying to dry off with a towel. She walked through her shop, inspecting and organizing the shelves. She always liked to have things nice and tidy at the start of the next day.
Then a shout came down the stairs. “Uhh, the towel’s wet now. What do I do?”
Gold Standard was quickly given the impression that she’d made a mistake.
Chapter 2: Rain, Kites, and Capitalism
Gold Standard had graciously allowed Ritardando to sleep in a spare room overnight until morning, when he could begin his little job, and now it was time for him to do that job.
Sure enough, the rain had let up the next morning. Ground was soggy as it gets, but that’s to be expected when it rains all day the previous day. It’d probably be a fair few hours before it dried up, and as such, there weren’t many ponies out and about.
In other words, Ritardando could’ve picked a better time to try giving away fliers. If nothing else, at least he’d have been able to sleep in a little later. But he didn’t, so he couldn’t.
There were some ponies out, though. Two fillies – a unicorn and an earth pony. One of them was white, with a blue mane and a blue cutie mark in the shape of a kite. The other was a grey pegasus with a grey cloud and blue raindrops as her cutie mark. She appeared to be napping on top of a grey cloud that was lying a little closer to the ground that clouds are generally expected to.
The white one was carrying a kite with her, and stopped every few steps, trying to see if there was a breeze. There wasn’t. Spotting the grey cloud, she eagerly approached it, whereupon the pegasus looked down on her.
“Good morning, Raincloud!” The filly called up.
“Kite.” Raincloud said. “Let me guess, want some wind in your kite?”
“Well, I’d thought about it.”
“Well, think about it later, I’m trying to get some sleep.” She said, lowering her head and trying to catch some shut-eye.
“Um, excuse me….”
Kite jumped. But it was just Ritardando behind her, wearing a pack. “Oh, sheesh, you scared me.”
“Oh…” Ritardando said. “Sorry.”
“Oh, it’s alright. Just with your voice, I thought you were Phoenix, and-“
“And why is Phoenix scary?”
That did not come from Ritardando. It was, in fact instead a larger red unicorn, with a gold bird on his flank. He was older than the others, and he carried himself with a slightly pompous air. “Well?” he asked, in an intimidating bass-baritone voice.
“Oh, wow, your voice does sound like mine.” Ritardando said. Phoenix turned and looked at him quizzically.
“Do I know you?” he asked, after a lengthy pause.
Ritardando looked behind him. “I don’t think so. You want a flier?” he asked, taking one of them from his pack and holding it in front of him.
Phoenix’ eyes narrowed. “No, I can’t say I’m particularly interested…” Ritardando’s head drooped. “Oh, all right.” He said, taking one of them and walking off in a huff. Kite walked over, looking at the fliers with an expression of disapproval.
“You’re working for Gold Standard?” she asked. “She’s a corporatist, you know.”
“Umm…” Ritardando stood there for a minute. “I don’t think I know what that means.”
“Oh.” Kite said. Getting the impression that he wouldn’t understand whatever definition she gave, she decided to skip that part of the conversation. “My name’s Kite, and this is Raincloud.”
“Because he totally needs to be introduced to me right now,” Raincloud mumbled.
“What’s your name?” Kite asked.
“Ritardando.” He said. “I think I like your name better. It’s shorter and easier to remember.”
“Well, I don’t see why somepony’s name should be hard to remember.” Kite said.
“Well, my name’s long and apparently it’s Italian, so…”
All this time, Raincloud looked down at the two, wondering what was up with the black pony.
“So,” Ritardando said. “You want a flier? Comes with a discount coupon.”
“Oh, alright,” Kite said, swallowing her pride and taking one of the fliers.
“Thank you!” Ritardando said, trotting off.
“So, Raincloud, about that wind…”
Routines similar to this carried on for most of the day, albeit with much less small-talk. Ritardando went around town, asking random ponies if they wanted the fliers with discount coupons. This got easier, as more ponies came out as the day grew later, and he eventually managed to hand them all out, eventually returning to Gold Standard’s shop.
“’Ello?” he asked, entering. “I handed out all the things.”
“Wonderful.” Gold Standard said, not particularly paying attention to him, as she was occupied restocking the shelves, “You can just leave the bag on the counter, and I’ll be over there in a jiffy with some payment.”
“Thank you kindly,” Ritardando said. “Somepony out there called you a ‘coproratist.’”
That, however, got Goldie’s attention.
“What does that mean?” Ritardando asked.
“Ugh,” Goldie said, walking over to the counter, “Kite? One of these days, I need to explain to her – I am a proprietor, not a corporatist. There is a difference.”
“Um…” Ritardando said. “I don’t think I know what that other word means, either.”
Gold Standard took a breath. “It works like this – I own this shop, you see?”
“I think so.”
“Now, I own the establishment, so that makes me a proprietor.”
“Now, a corporation is different. A corporation is made up of many ponies, with investors who own stock and elect a board of directors who make managing decisions.”
Ritardando blinked. He didn’t get it. “That sounds confusing.” He conceded.
“It can be.” She said, opening the cash register. “Now, here you are – there’s your payment for handing all those fliers out, and for everypony who comes in here with a discount coupon, you’ll get some more money.” Then another thought occurred to her. “So, you’re just passing through?” she asked. “Where are you from?”
“Not sure.” Ritardando said.
“You’re not sure? What do you mean?”
“I dunno…” Ritardando said, shrugging. “I guess I’m just not ‘from’ anywhere?”
“You don’t have a home or anything?”
There was a pause. “I…” Ritardando thought. “I don’t think so.”
Gold Standard remembered what Constable Brownie had said. A vagabond. “Well, how long are you planning on staying here?” she asked.
“I dunno.” He said, getting a little nervous. “I mean, I haven’t been any trouble or anything, have I? You’re very nice to me for letting me spend the night when it’s raining, and I don’t mean to impose-”
“No, no no.” Gold Standard laughed. “You haven’t been any trouble at all.”
“Not even with the towel thing?”
“Towels get wet, Ritardando. As long as you don’t dunk them in the toilet or something, that’s fine.”
Ritardando was quiet. “Should I make a list of things not to do with a towel?”
“It’s quite all right.” Gold Standard said, deciding that some of his questions would go over much better without answer. “As long as you’re staying in town, you can use my guest room. I don’t use it very often.”
“Gee, that’s very nice of you.”
“Not at all.” Gold Standard said. “And as long as you’re here, you can do jobs for me, keep an eye around the shop, and I’ll pay you. Does that sound good?”
“Yes it does.” Ritardando was starting to perk up.
“Wonderful.” Goldie said, returning to the shelves. “Now, one thing I’ll want you to do is keep an eye on the shop, make sure nobody leaves with anything that’s not paid for.”
“Okay, I can do that… just, how do I tell whether it’s paid for or not?”
“Well, if they just take something off of the shelves and try to leave the store, stop them.”
“Ohhhhhh, okay…” Ritardando said, nodding, in one of those rare occurrences of him ‘getting it,’ so to speak.
The bell rang, indicating a customer walking in. Gold Standard craned her head to see the pony carrying a coupon in his mouth. Beaming, she walked over to the counter.
“Good afternoon.” She said, eager to make a sale. “Can I help you with something.”
“Hello. I was here to get an umbrella.” The pony said. “I realized yesterday that I could really use one of them.”
“Here!” Ritardando said, grabbing an umbrella off of a rack and running over to the customer. Gold Standard was more than a little surprised at how eager Ritardando seemed to help. So did the customer.
“Thank you…” the customer said, placing the coupon on the counter and taking the umbrella. “Let’s see, coupon is…” he mumbled to himself, working out the amount of money, paying, and leaving, giving a funny look to the black colt.
“Did I do good?” Ritardando asked. Gold Standard was a little lost for words, as so many different thoughts were going through her head. He certainly seemed nice, but maybe a little too nice, the kind of nice that ceases to be endearing and instead becomes irritating. And she’d pretty much locked herself into an agreement where she’d give him room, board, and even money.
“Yes, but…” she started. “I’ll need to give you a few pointers about how shopkeeping works…”
Chapter 3: More Kites, that Other Guy, and Ritardando Doing Something Music-Related
A few days had passed since the rain, and Raincloud was bored out of her skull. Rules (and a lack of horsepower) prevented her from covering the town in rain again, so now she was delegated to menial jobs like breeze-making, when she even had a job at all.
And it was a rather hot day. She hated hot days. But she had a way of coping with that – a dark cloud right above her. It amounted to a handy piece of portable shade.
She was on a hill, overlooking the town of Hoofton. From there she could see most of the town, and a good deal of the grassy expanse that lied to the east.
Then she realized something. Bright, sunny day. Air was still. That meant-
“Raincloud?” a voice asked. It was Kite, with her kite.
“Hello, Kite.” Raincloud said in a flat tone of voice. “Let me guess, you want wind?”
“Well, I don’t know how to fly a kite without a breeze.”
Raincloud struggled to suppress a groan. “Fine,” she said, stretching her wings and beating them, creating a small breeze which Kite promptly threw her kite into, all while Raincloud grabbed her source of shade to keep it from blowing away.
“Thank you.” She said cheerfully, watching the kite as it sailed into the sky.
Raincloud looked up at the kite in the sky, and then down at Kite the pony. She had always wondered why she liked kites that much. They held no interest to a pegasus, but perhaps earth ponies (possibly unicorns, too) were more easily amused. After all, Raincloud could fly – she didn’t need a colorful paper proxy.
“Kite, can I ask you a question?” Raincloud asked.
“Sure, why not?” Kite asked, craning her head, but not losing any control over the kite.
Raincloud sat there in silence for a bit. “…Nothing. Nevermind.”
“Okay…” Kite said, focusing her attention back on the Kite.
Raincloud had decided that there was no answer Kite could give that wouldn’t annoy her. Some questions, she decided, are just best left unasked.
But she guessed it just figured that the pony named Kite would like kites. But she wondered why she put up with the repeated requests for the wind needed to get that thing in the air.
She shrugged to herself. Why not?, she figured.
A. A. A. A. A. A. A. A.
That was the sound you were going to hear at Gold Standard’s shop that day, because Ritardando had taken it upon himself to tune the very-neglected piano. This isn’t about him.
Gold Standard was behind the counter, counting up the coins in the register and checking them against a sheet of paper that had recorded all the merchandise sold – had to ensure that the numbers added up. They did. At the end of the day she’d count up the inventory and make sure there were no further discrepencies.
Constable Brownie walked in, and surveyed the few ponies going about their shopping. “Well, I don’t stop a shoplifter on the way in.” she said, approaching the counter. “Either I’m not doing my job properly or it hasn’t been a problem.”
“No problem at all, Constable.” Goldie said, shutting the cash register. “Though I wonder why you’re so concerned with what happens in my store?”
“I have to enforce the law. All crime is my business.”
A. A. A. A.
That was starting to get very annoying (seriously, you ever hear someone tune one of those things?).
“There’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about.” Brownie said. “About your employee.”
“He hasn’t been robbing me, if that’s what you’re asking.” Goldie said dryly.
“It’s not that.” Brownie said. “It’s just that I saw him yesterday, sneaking around the old abandoned theatre.”
Gold Standard looked at him. Ritardando stopped tuning.
“I wasn’t supposed to do that?” he asked guiltily.
“It’s been closed. The area’s off-limits.” Brownie said.
“Sorry… I didn’t know. I just thought, that, well…”
“It’s alright, Ritardando.” Brownie said, trying to calm him down. “It’s just that old abandoned buildings like that aren’t safe.”
“Oh, okay…” Ritardando said, going back to the piano. “I won’t do it again.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear.” Constable Brownie said. Gee, Ritardando sure did act guilty a lot, didn’t he?
Gold Standard looked around. All the shoppers were gone. “Where’d the costumers go?”
“The terrible piano music drove them away.” Said a deep, sarcastic voice. It was Phoenix.
“It’ll sound good later.” Ritardando called. “I hope…” he added quietly.
“What are you doing here?” Constable Brownie asked suspiciously.
“The same thing that everypony does in a shop. I shop.” Phoenix replied dryly. “Where do you keep the medicine?”
“Over there…” Gold Standard said, indicating a shelf towards the back of the store.
“Thank you,” Phoenix said in a tone of voice that barely indicated any thankfulness at all. He went off towards the shelf in question while the other two watched. Ritardando, meanwhile…
A. A. A. A.
“KNOCK IT OFF!” Phoenix shouted. Ritardando promptly stopped and cowered near the piano.
“I will not have you talking to my employees like that.” Gold Standard said sternly.
Phoenix huffed. “I was just about to leave.” He said, taking a box off of the shelf and walking to the counter. “Oh, and I have one of these.” He said, producing the discount coupon. Gold Standard gave a shocked stare to Ritardando, who shrugged.
“Is something wrong?” Phoenix asked, annoyed.
“No…” Gold Standard replied. Phoenix paid his money and then left the store.
“How…” Goldie asked, “how did you get him a discount coupon?”
“I gave it to him,” Ritardando said simply.
Constable Brownie found the events as odd as Goldie did. “Well,” she said, “I guess there are things I should be doing instead of standing around talking. Good day.”
“Bye…” Ritardando said as she left. He looked at Goldie. “Thank you for standing up for me.”
“Oh, don’t mention it.”
“Well, thank you…” Ritardando said, returning to the piano.
A. A. A. A.
You get the idea.
Chapter 4: Blackbird
Ritardando had been given a relatively simple task. A few weeks ago, Gold Standard had plastered fliers all over town, indicating there was a special sale. Well, now the sale was over, and she now had to disappoint everypony who came by inquiring about the sale. Unfortunately, as she was too busy managing the place to go out and take them down, so she asked Ritardando to do it.
Ritardando didn’t really have any difficulty with it, save for the fact that he frequently found himself distracted.
For example, the abandoned theatre. He knew he wasn’t supposed to go inside again, but he just wanted to look at it.
Besides, he thought, maybe there was a flier on the building that he could take down (there wasn’t). Though he didn’t actually walk up to the building – he just stood and looked at it.
“Just what are you thinking of doing?” Asked a voice. Ritardando jumped, startled. He looked around for the source of the voice. “Up here,” it said.
Ritardando looked up. There, sitting on a grey cloud, was Raincloud, looking down at him.
“Well?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing!” Ritardando said.
“Not surprising.” Raincloud muttered under her breath. “I don’t suggest you hang around here for very long. Brownie might think you look suspicious.”
“But I’m not suspicious!” Ritardando protested.
“Honestly,” Raincloud said, “I believe you. Just stay out of the building. We just don’t use it.”
“But why?” Ritardando asked, walking away and resuming his task of looking for fliers. “I mean, I went inside, and the place didn’t seem run-down or anything – why not use it?”
“Asbestos.” Raincloud said very, very flatly.
Ritardando paused. “Heeey, wait a minute…” he looked up at her. She raised an eyebrow. “That’s not a real sentence!”
“Huh?” She asked.
“‘As best us?’ What does that even mean?” He asked. Seeing the expression on her face, he realized that he’d misunderstood. An awkward silence passed, until at length, he said, “‘as pest us?’”
“We don’t have many big performing arts ponies here.” She said, trying to find terms that he’d recognize.
“Oh.” He said. “That stinks.”
He looked off in the distance. There was a house a fair ways away from the rest of the town. Maybe there was a flier there, he thought, and began walking off in that direction.
“Uhh…” Raincloud said. “That’s Phoenix’s place. Why are you going there?”
“To get fliers!”
“I, uhh… there aren’t any there.” She said. “Trust me.”
“You’ve already checked?” Ritardando asked, stopping.
Raincloud was quiet for a second. “Wow. He actually got me there.” She muttered to herself. Of course, Ritardando had resumed walking there by the time she decided on what else to say.
She opened her mouth, and then decided to just let him go. Not her problem.
Ritardando resumed walking up to what he’d been told was Phoenix’s house. It was a large building on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by a dirty, crumbling fence and with an uninviting path leading up to the front door. He saw that the front gate was open, and walked into the front yard. Looking around, he saw that there were no fliers stuck to the wall. He was about to turn around and leave when he heard a noise.
It was a chirping sound, coming from an open window. He walked up to the window, slowly, and peered inside. It seemed to be a study, with a desk and several bookcases (and a mess of books piled onto the desk), but the source of the noise had been a small, gilded birdcage next to the desk.
Inside the cage was a tiny blackbird, chirping.
“Oh, hi!” Ritardando said, leaning against the open window. “What’s your name?” he asked.
The bird cocked its head at him, and then gave another chirp.
“Oh, I forgot, birds can’t talk…” Ritardando said, ears drooping. “But you can sing! I like singing, too.”
The bird chirped inquisitively.
Ritardando cleared his throat. “Ahem.” And then he started singing. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night…”
“What are you doing?”
Ritardando was so surprised he nearly jumped through the window. He turned around. It was Phoenix.
“Well?” he asked impatiently.
“Ah-ah-ah-I I didn’t mean to intrude-“
“Oh, goooood!” Phoenix said in a sarcastic, slightly higher-pitched voice. “Then DON’T!” he bellowed. Ritardando went barreling out of his front yard, back into town. Phoenix watched him as he ran off, before shutting the window and entering through the front door.
Ritardando bolted back into town, and into Gold Standard’s shop. He slammed the door shut and leaned against it, breathing heavily. Gold Standard looked at him from the counter, surprised. Raincloud was also there, and looked at him.
“I told you.” Raincloud said in a flat voice.
“Ritardando? What happened?” Goldie asked.
“I took down the fliers,” he responded.
“Don’t ask,” Raincloud said.
“All of them?”
“Well, you can go out and check some more tomorrow. Thank you.” Goldie said, returning to her business with Raincloud (“Don’t ask,” she said).
Ritardando and nodded, heading to the staircase at the back of the store and climbing up. From there, he made his way down the hallway to the spare room that Goldie had allowed him to take up residence.
The room had a bed and a nightstand, upon which Ritardando’s worldly possessions (several sheets of music paper and a harmonica, among other things) were strewn, the empty saddlebags at the foot of the bed.
He walked over to the window, looking in the direction of Phoenix’s house (likely in part to make sure he hadn’t followed him). That Phoenix owned a pet bird surprised him, and he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to sing for longer.
He was, however, quickly removed from his train of thought by a bright blue kite sailing past his window. He stared blankly at it, entranced by the pretty colors, before noticing that there was someone holding onto it from the other end.
It was Kite. She didn’t notice him, however, as she had her eyes fixed on the kite.
She likes kites, Ritardando figured. He looked around at the town from the window, and realized he was able to see the other ponies going about their business.
He saw Raincloud exit the shop with what appeared to be a large roll of string. She walked over to Kite, who nodded appreciatively. This confused Ritardando, so he promptly turned his attention to something else.
He also saw Constable Brownie, making what appeared to be routine rounds around the town. Ritardando wondered if that ever got boring.
Then, he saw Phoenix walking down the road, and he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He watched in horror as the colt made his way into the shop.
He sat there for a minute, terrified. Then, shutting the window, he bolted out of his room and down the staircase.
“…And let me make it clear that if I want a visitor, I will ask for one.”
There’s a good reason that one shouldn’t run down a staircase.
“That will be all for now.” Phoenix said, turning and leaving.
“Ritardando!” Goldie exclaimed. “Are you alright?”
Ritardando sheepishly sat up. “I was just looking for fliers…”
Chapter 5: Possible Brain Damage and More Kites (I’m not Kidding)
“What do you mean you don’t have any?” Phoenix asked angrily, nostrils flaring.
He was in Gold Standard’s shop, at the counter, with a number of things he intended to purchase – medicine, certain plant parts, a new book, and so on. The shop, however, lacked one thing in stock that he needed – iris petals.
“I’m sorry.” Gold Standard said, trying to maintain a polite disposition. “But we stopped ordering them – you were the only one who ever bought them.”
“Well, I need those.” Phoenix said. “Oh, forget it. Just give me what I bought-“
He didn’t even remember to use magic to carry it out, instead just grabbing the bag in his mouth and storming out of the shop. Coincidentally, Raincloud entered at the same time.
“Well, he seems uncharacteristically cheerful today.” She said.
“Lookie!” Shouted Ritardando, bursting through the storeroom door. “Lookie what I found!”
Raincloud and Gold Standard looked at the black colt and saw him standing there with an acoustic guitar hanging around his neck by a strap, a full-toothed grin plastered on his face.
“We had a guitar back there all this time?” Goldie asked, surprised.
“I know! Isn’t it great?” Ritardando asked, bouncing excitedly.
“Just remember you need to restock the shelves,” Goldie said. The grin quickly fell from Ritardando’s face.
“Oops…” he said. “I forgot.”
“That’s okay, just do it.” Goldie said patiently. Ritardando promptly ran back into the storeroom.
“You know,” Raincloud said, looking over several large sheets of colored paper, “when I first met him, I swore he and Phoenix had the exact same voice. But I think I found a difference.”
“What’s that?” Goldie asked.
“Ritardando drags out his vowels a little longer. You got any other colors?”
Ritardando hastily emerged from the storeroom, carrying probably too many large boxes on his back. Hastily, he stacked the boxes on their respective shelves.
“Done!” he said, exasperated. “Can I go for a walk?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Gold Standard spotted one box that was backwards. Quickly and subtly, she used her magic to remove the box and turn it around without Ritardando noticing. “Hmm?” she asked, paying more attention to the aforementioned than to the request.
“I did what you told me to.” He said quietly. “I’d like to take a little walk around town.”
Gold Standard looked at the clock. Despite his distraction with the guitar, he had actually finished his chores in a decent amount of time. “I guess so. Just make sure you’re back by three.”
“Okay!” Ritardando said, merrily trotting out the front door.
“Maybe I should have him as a door greeter…” Goldie said to herself.
As Ritardando began his walk through the town, he came by an apple tree. Seeing a piece of fruit hanging, he decided to try bucking the tree, but he stopped when he saw a blue jay sitting there, preening its feathers.
He smiled, forgetting about the apple. He did the one thing that came naturally – that is, he started belting out a song.
“Oh jaybird, sittin’ on a hick’ry limb
He winked at me and I winked at him
I picked up my brickbat
An’ hit him on the chin.
‘Looka here, little boy, don’t you do that agin!’”
“Shut up!” yelled a voice, as there was a shattering sound near Ritardando’s hooves. He jumped, looking down. It was a broken flowerpot. He looked back up and saw a window on a nearby building shut, in front of which there was a row of flowerpots with a noticeable gap. He looked back at the tree and saw that the jay had flown off, likely startled by either the song or the flowerpot.
He looked down and saw that there’d been a sunflower in the pot. Remembering he was hungry, he decided to make that his afternoon snack.
It was at this point that Raincloud, laden with saddlebags, passed him. “Was that you singing?” she asked.
“You’re not going to throw a flowerpot at me, are you?” Ritardando asked quietly.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Raincloud said, walking on past him. Ritardando, however, followed her. Raincloud, not being an idiot, noticed this. “What?” she asked.
“What’s in the bags?” Ritardando asked.
“What kind of stuff?” Ritardando asked. “Is it stuff for Kite?”
Raincloud stopped. “Huh?”
“Is it stuff for Kite?” Ritardando asked. “I saw you the other day – you bought some stuff and gave it to Kite.”
“Well, yes I did.” She said, resuming the walk. “Just don’t tell Goldie about it.”
“Um, okay…” Ritardando asked. “So, what is it?”
“It’s kite-making materials. String, paper, cloth, that sort of thing.”
“Kite-making…” Ritardando repeated, pondering it over. “But the store sells kites.”
“Well, she doesn’t want any of those.”
They eventually came to a small cottage that had a disproportionate number of windows. Raincloud walked up to the front door (which also had a large window on it) and knocked.
Ritardando quietly walked up to one of the many windows and peered inside. Looked like any normal house, but it seemed like the kitchen, living room, and dining room were all mashed together into one big room, and there was a large door around the middle.
“It’s not really polite to pry.” Raincloud said. Ritardando jumped.
“Sorry…” he said, backing up.
Seeing that Kite wasn’t answering the knock, Raincloud pushed the doorbell.
“Yes?” asked a voice behind them. They turned around, seeing it was Kite.
“That explains why she didn’t come when you knocked,” said Ritardando, stating the obvious. Kite, meanwhile, was holding a kite he hadn’t seen before – it was a delta kite, and it was bright pink. “Well?” she asked, looking at Raincloud. “What do you think?”
Raincloud’s expression was unchanged. “I told you, I don’t like pink.”
“Ah, well,” Kite said, shrugging. “Thought it might be funny.” She reasoned, opening the door. “Hi, Ritardando – what are you doing?”
“Following me.” Raincloud said.
“Well, I saw that she’d bought a bunch of stuff and was bringing it to you, so I wanted to see.” Ritardando said. “She says you make kites.”
“Yep. Want to come see them?” she asked. Ritardando nodded. “Alrighty, then, just follow me.”
She led them into her house, towards the mysterious door. Opening it, Ritardando saw a long staircase leading down somewhere. Fortunately, it was well-lit, so he didn’t have cause to be scared.
“So,” Kite asked, “You’re a musician?”
“Yep” Ritardando said.
“We don’t get a lot of those here,” Kite said as they reached the bottom of the stairs, in front of yet another large door. “Well, ready to see my workshop?” she asked, grinning. Opening the doors, more light flooded in, and Ritardando stared in shock.
The room was a giant workshop, the walls lined with all kinds of kites in every shape and color workable.
“I make all kinds.” Kite said, walking in. “I get the materials – paper, cloth, string, wood for the frames, and I put them together. I make diamond kites, delta kites, dragon kites, box kites, fighter kites, arch kites, bag kites, c-kites, bow kites…”
Ritardando blinked. “So… you like kites?” he asked, walking further into the room.
Kite chuckled. “Yeah. But I guess that’s to be expected. It’s always been my life’s calling. That’s probably why I got my cutie mark. I remember I got it the first time I flew a homemade kite. It was the happiest I’d ever been.” She sat down, off in her memories.
“What is it you like about them so much?” he asked.
Kite paused. She thought. She’d never really considered that question. “I… I don’t know.” She said. “I guess it’s hard to explain. I mean, why does anything like anything? Why do you like music, I-”
“Because it’s beautiful.” Ritardando said quietly, cutting her off. There was an awkward silence in the room.
“Anyway,” Raincloud said, “I brought you the supplies you wanted.”
“Wonderful!” Kite said, peering into the bags. “Thanks a bunch.”
“Why do you need to make your own kites?” Ritardando asked. “I mean, we sell kites-”
“You sell one kite.” Kite said, walking over to the wall. “And I already have it.” She indicated a blue-and-white diamond kite. “It’s not that it’s a bad kite or anything, it’s just it’s the only one you sell. I mean… imagine if you had one song, and that was the only song you had.”
“Huh.” Ritardando said. “That wouldn’t be as good as having a lot of songs.”
“Meanwhile, the rest of us are unable to tell the difference.” Raincloud said.
“There are differences!” Kite and Ritardando protested.
“Well, in any case, I have to go. Weather management is going to be mad if I’m late for the breeze again.” She said, turning to go up the stairs.
“I guess I should go, too,” Ritardando said (Raincloud gave a sigh – Oh, am I ever going to get away from this guy?)
“Well, see ya later.” Kite said as Ritardando followed Raincloud up the stairs.
“You know,” Raincloud said, after they left the house, “I never got why she likes kites so much either. Now that you ask, I guess she doesn’t have a reason.”
“Well,” Ritardando said. “Maybe she does have a reason, and just doesn’t know how to say it. I mean, well, I don’t always know how to say things.”
“Well, what do you think her reason is?” she asked.
“Um…” Ritardando thought. “Well, I dunno. Maybe it’s like what I said, and she thinks they’re beautiful.”
“Lots of things are beautiful. Doesn’t mean you have to obsess over them.” She said.
“Well, I’m just saying.” He said. “Maybe I don’t know, but maybe she knows, and you sorta just know, y’know?”
There was an awkward pause.
“No.” She shook her head. “Ugh. I need to get back to my job,” she sighed, spreading her wings and jumping into the air.
“See ya…” Ritardando said.
He realized that he should probably be getting back to the shop. However, on the way back, he passed that apple tree and decided that he would like to have that apple after all. Licking his lips, he walked up to the tree, turned around, and bucked it. As expected, the apple fell to the ground. Not as expected, however-
“WHAT are you doing?” roared somepony else’s voice. Ritardando jumped. It was a large, scary-looking colt. “See that sign there?”
The colt indicated a sign nearby: “Do Not Kick the Trees.”
Ritardando looked at it, flustered.
“What’s the matter with you? Can’t you read?” the colt asked, bearing down on him.
“I-I-I-I…” Ritardando stammered, backing up.
“Are you stupid or something?”
Then, Ritardando slipped on the apple. He stumbled over and crashed into the wall of a nearby building with a painful-sounding THUD.
“Ugh…” Ritardando groaned, regaining his footing. He looked at the colt, who had a look of horror on his face.
“Look out!” he shouted.
“Huh?” Ritardando asked. And then it hit him. A flowerpot, right on his head. On impact, it shattered, covering his head in dirt.
“Oh, no no no no…” the other colt stammered. “Stay here, I gotta get help!”
Ritardando blinked, not taking everything in, but trying to stand up straight. His head was awash with sounds and voices.
“Look out!... Why don’t you pay attention?... Are you stupid or something?... Retard… Italian?... Can you hear me?... Shut up!... Watch where you’re going!... Retard… Ritardando!”
“Ritardando!” a voice seemed to be shouting in his face.
“Uh?” Ritardando groaned, looking around. He was in his bed at Gold Standard’s shop. Constable Brownie was hovering near him.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I… I” Ritardando leaned up, and a cloth fell off of his head.
“No, stay down.” Brownie said, having him lie back down and placing the cold, damp cloth back on his head. “Somepony came running to me for help. A flowerpot fell and hit you on the head.”
“But he’ll be okay, right?” Gold Standard asked.
“He’ll be fine,” Brownie said. “He just has to take it easy for the next couple days. He should stay in bed for the rest of the day, and don’t have him do any hard work for a while. That means no heavy lifting or errand-running. It’ll probably be best to keep an eye on him for the rest of the day.”
“I’ll have to go down and close up the shop, then,” Goldie said, turning and exiting the room.
“Did I do something wrong?” Ritardando asked.
“No, nothing like that. It seems like entirely somepony else’s fault.” Brownie said. “Leaving their flowers too close to the edge. You just need to be careful and watch out. In the meantime, just stay in here for a while. Keep things easy and quiet.”
“Is there anything else I can do?” Gold Standard asked, walking back in.
“No, I think he’ll be fine. Just fetch me if there are any problems.” Brownie said, walking to the door. “Have a good day,” she said, leaving the room and heading down the stairs and out of the shop.
“Kite brought you something,” Goldie said, levitating something with her horn. It was a kite (obviously). More specifically, a black delta kite with what a white staff and notes on it.
“Ooh…” Ritardando said, taking and holding it. “Black! How’d she guess?”
Chapter 6: Candy and Rainbows
Ritardando seemed to be just fine after his concussion (because he probably didn’t need two days’ rest after a bump on the head), and was down and about. He was very careful around heavy objects, though, which was a rare bit of common sense from him. Granted, even the less intelligent have that kind of sense, given the populace’s general aversion to pain.
At present, he was in his room, tuning that guitar he had found. It was a nice guitar, he thought. Hopefully Gold Standard would let him keep it, or at least sell it to him (there’s a funny idea – buy from your employer).
“Ritardando!” called Gold Standard’s voice from downstairs. “Are you up yet?”
“Coming!” he called back, placing the guitar down on the bed and bolting down the stairs. Gold Standard was in the kitchen, and there were two bowls of cereal on the table.
“Morning!” said Ritardando.
Ritardando then spotted something on the kitchen counter – several glass bottles, one with a straw inserted. He looked at them quizzically. “What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s my plan for the Autumn Apple Fair this year,” Gold Standard said, seeming a little pleased with herself.
“The aw-dumb what?” Ritardando asked.
“The Autumn Apple Fair. Every fall there’s a big fair near the town celebrating the apple harvests. A lot of money is exchanged, and I mean a lot.” She said. “I’ve been trying to find a way to get in on the business for years, and I think I might’ve found something. I’ve been working on apple cider. Care to try some?”
“I’m underage…” Ritardando said. He then saw an expression on her face that he was more accustomed to seeing on Raincloud’s. “Or maybe not.” He said, taking a sip.
“I think I might be onto something here,” Gold Standard said, half to herself. “If I can just… just…” The confidence fell from her face. “Ugh, it’s not going to work. There’s bound to be tons of ponies selling cider, and my wares aren’t going to make a dent in anyone else’s sales. I don’t know how I can possibly compete with the Delicious brothers.”
“Huh?” Ritardando asked, thinking of cannibalism.
“Red Delicious and Gold Delicious,” Goldie said, pacing. “They’re from the Apple family, the owners of the biggest orchards. Every year, they come in with their big fancy apple-wagons and their big fancy apple pies and my shop is left completely vacant for the entire fair. Even when I try to set up a booth in the actual fair, I never get back the money it costs to set up the booth in the first place.” She was growing more and more frustrated. “Apple cider,” she muttered, disbelieving. “As if that’d be the winning strategy. I barely know how to make it-”
“I thought it tasted good…”
Gold Standard spun around angrily, “well of course you would-” she broke off, seeing the colt’s startled reaction. “I’m sorry,” she said, trying to calm down. “It’s just I’ve been trying to do it for years, and it just frustrates me. I just can’t get it to work.”
“It was like that with me, once,” Ritardando said, “with the guitar. Then I realized it didn’t have strings.”
Gold Standard, like many ponies, had absolutely no response to that, just staring as he ate his cereal.
“Well, after we have breakfast, we’ll open shop.”
They entered into the shop after they had their cereal. “Well,” Gold Standard said, “I’m going to need a bit of help from you.” She said, using magic to lift a large crate near the counter. “A very special Friday ritual.” She placed the crate down and then instead raising a crowbar.
“And…” Ritardando said, “what do I do?”
“Stand by the door.” She pried off the top of the crate.
Ritardando jumped as he heard banging on the front door. He turned and looked – dozens of little colts and fillies with eager-looking faces. It had been a crate of candy.
“I want you to stand by the door and just keep an eye. Ready?” her horn started to glow.
And then the door was open and Ritardando was nearly trampled by all of the foals.
After managing to get his bearings, he just stood there, vacant expression, watching all the foals buying candy. After about twenty minutes, they’d all gone.
“So, um,” Ritardando said.
“Every Friday we get a new shipment of candy.” Goldie explained. “And all the foals come and get it. I should really consider selling more and opening a little candy bar here - it’s very lucrative and I think it might make the store seem a little more inviting…”
There was a sound from outside that sounded like a foal was upset.
“Oh no…” Goldie said.
“What?” Ritardando said, walking over to the door.
“Bullies…” Goldie said. “The foals buy the candy, and then the bullies come along and try to take it from them.”
Ritardando stood there for a while. “Say…” he said, a grin appearing on his face. “I have an idea.”
“An id…” Goldie said, almost surprised by the prospect, but definitely surprised by the fact that Ritardando had merrily waltzed out of the store.
Turning a corner, he found just the thing – three young bullies, the mass of children cowering before them. One of the bullies was a unicorn, using magic to hold the candy over them.
“That all of it?” the leader, an earth pony, asked.
“I think so,” said the unicorn.
“Any of you pipsqueaks hiding any?” the third, a pegasus, asked. “You’d better not, or you’ll be in for a load of hurt.”
The younger foals cringed.
“Excuse me,” said Ritardando, but in a different tone of voice than usual – his vowels weren’t dragged out, but were sharp and to the point. He sounded like some kind of suave British mastermind. “I can’t help but hear the ruckus.”
“Yeah, what of it?” the young earth pony asked.
“Nothing, nothing,” Ritardando said, “just that it seemed like you were being a little… mean, to this young foals. You see…” he lowered his head to him, “it wouldn’t be very nice if there were some big foals making trouble for little foals, now, would it?”
The bullies were starting to lose their tough guy acts, what with the big black pony with a scary deep voice being all intimidating on them.
“Hey…” said the pegasus, hovering in front of him, “aren’t you that retard who stacks boxes?”
“Why, yes, my little pony,” Ritardando said, a sinister grin crossing his face, “I do stack boxes. Do you know why?”
The pegasus sank to the ground.
“There are secrets in those boxes,” Ritardando said in a voice that was almost whispering, “dark secrets only known to the few of us. Dark secrets that guard, for example, that candy. So I think that you three should have a little more respect for it, and pay for it with your own money rather than grubbing it off of these honest foals. Do I make myself clear?”
The unicorn was trying to save face, but he’d let up his spell holding up the candy. “He’s bluffing. Take this!” he said, and shot a bolt of magic out of his horn.
Ritardando blinked, and then wiggled his nose a bit. The unicorn wasn’t breathing, waiting to see what would happen. Ritardando turned his focus back to the unicorn, and leaned in. “That tickled.” He said.
The bullies turned tail and ran, as the younger foals quickly gathered up their candy. Ritardando turned around and walked majestically back into the shop, his head held high, to a dumb-struck Gold Standard.
After he walked in and closed, the door, however.
“AAAAAGH! My nose!” he yelped, the suave accent dropping. “My nose my nose my nose my nose my nose….” He repeated as Goldie led him into the kitchen.
“Hold still,” she said, holding an ice pack up to his nose.
“Ahh!” he yelped again, jumping back. “That’s cold!”
“Of course it’s cold, it’s an ice pack,” she said, trying to regain her patience. “What was that you just did?”
Ritardando managed to put up with the ice on his nose. “Well, the bullies were scaring the foals, so I thought… why not scare them? I mean, I’ve got a deep voice, and I can make it sound all intimidating, and, well…”
“‘Dark secrets that guard this candy?’” Goldie asked, laughing, “now there’s an idea. I could use that as a marketing gimmick. You okay?”
“Uh-huh.” Ritardando said, nodding.
The bell rang, indicating someone entering into the shop.
“Well, let’s go. Can’t leave a customer waiting,” said Gold Standard as they entered back into the shop.
It was Raincloud, looking a little impatient.
“Oh hi!” Ritardando said, apparently recovered from whatever was the matter with his nose. “You here for kite-making supplies again?”
“Huh?” Goldie asked.
Raincloud’s eyes narrowed, walking over to the newspaper stand near the counter. “No. I’m just here for the paper.”
“Um…” Ritardando said, thinking. “Ohhhh, that paper.”
“Are you feeling alright?” Goldie asked.
“I doubt it has anything to do with the bump on his head,” Raincloud said, taking the paper and placing a bit on the counter. “Hm. Some young mare in Cloudsdayle pulled off a Sonic Rainboom…” she said casually, flipping through the pages.
“His nose, actually… I heard about that, too. I had a hard time believing it.” Goldie said. She noticed Raincloud’s lack of interest. “I take it you’re not into sports?”
“I’m unlikely to be impressed by anything involving rainbows.” Raincloud responded.
“Y’know, why are there so many songs about rainbows…” Ritardando mused. “I’m gonna grab my guitar!” And before Raincloud could object, he had run up the stairs.
“Thanks for the paper,” Raincloud said hastily, grabbing the paper and leaving.
Ritardando ran back down, guitar hanging from his neck. “Where’d she go?” he asked. Surprisingly, he caught onto what happened. Unsurprisingly, he barreled out the door after her.
“Ritardando, wait!” Goldie shouted afterwards. She ran after him, worried that nothing good would come out of this.
“Raincloud, wait!” Ritardando said. “I think I’ve got a song!”
Unfortunately, Raincloud’s already-limited patience had run out. “No, Ritardando.” She said, turning around. “I’m not interested. I have a headache.”
“Music can’t give you a headache!”
“Try me,” Raincloud said sarcastically.
“Okay!” Ritardando said, not getting it and preparing the guitar.
“No!” she said. “Listen, I’m not interested. I don’t care. Nopony cares. Nopony likes it. Besides, I just said I don’t like rainbows.”
Ritardando stood there, frozen, his open-mouthed facial expression not changing, as though he wasn’t sure how to process Raincloud’s remark.
“So… no songs about rainbows?”
“No songs in general.” Raincloud said. “There are other towns that do regularly scheduled musical numbers. Not here.”
Ritardando looked around. A few ponies had stopped to watch the scene. Not participating, as Ritardando might’ve hoped (provided they supported his side), just watching. He saw Gold Standard, with a seemingly pained expression, as though she were pleading with him to get back inside before it got worse.
“But it’s a good song…”
“No! Don’t you get it?” Raincloud asked. “Ughh, you’re so annoying. You’re like a big black balloon with a dopey grin painted on. And the balloon won’t shut up.”
It took a bit for Raincloud’s words to really sink in for him. When they did, that grin of his twitched a bit, and he stepped back.
“You… you’re wrong.” Ritardando said, back into the shop, trying to sound confident. “I’m going to… start a band! And then we’re going to perform, and then it’s going to be so awesome that it blows your mind.”
Goldie followed him inside, and the crowd dispersed, save for Raincloud, who wondered if she was a little too mean to him. Well, he seemed like he was still set on the whole music thing, she figured, so he couldn’t have been too broken up about it. Then she decided to read the funnies.
Chapter 7: The Goods
Hoofston’s police station was like most others, with the exception of the plate of cookies at the counter. Constable Brownie was at her desk, filling out some forms. She never expected that filing reports would be part of her job, but if that’s what she was supposed to do, she’d do it.
“When can I go home?” asked a voice. It was a sulking filly in a cell.
“When your parents come pick you up.” She said, spitting out the pen.
The filly looked scared. “My parents? But-”
“Not buts.” She said. “They already know. Hopefully they’ll teach you that you shouldn’t be throwing rocks at windows.” She picked her pen back up, indicating she was going to get back to work.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t about to happen, as there was another pony walking through the front door. She looked over, hoping that it was the filly’s parents. It wasn’t.
“Hello,” said Ritardando. He seemed nervous, which was understandable, given that she’d given him a warning for trespassing in the abandoned theatre. “I wanted to ask you something?”
She unenthusiastically spat out the pen. “Yes?” she asked.
“Umm… can you bake?” he seemed embarrassed to be asking. “I mean… you, well…”
“Yes I can,” she said, cutting him off – it’s spare the poor guy from trying to finish that sentence. “Guessed by the cutie mark, I take it?”
“Kinda,” He said, nodding sheepishly.
“Here, have a cookie,” she said, nodding towards the platter. “Most ponies assume I just make baked goods. They don’t know I’m a constable.”
“I know you’re a constable,” he said. She didn’t answer that sentence, partly because it was obvious and partly because the filly in the cell complained.
“I want a cookie…” she said.
“You don’t get one,” Brownie said, “not after breaking windows.” She turned back to Ritardando. “Baking is more of an enthusiastic hobby for me,” she continued, “I didn’t want it to be my, well, job.”
“Ahh,” Ritardando said.
“So, what was it you wanted, exactly?” she asked.
“Well…” Ritardando pawed at the floor. “Gold Standard’s a bit stressed out. There’s this ‘apple’ thing coming up and she really wants to take part in it”
“The Autumn Apple Fair?” Brownie asked. She was aware of it. Happened every year: Autumn Apple Fair comes, and Gold Standard just needs to find some way to make the sale against the Delicious Brothers, despite having none of the resources necessary to compete.
“Yeah, I think so,” Ritardando said, continuing. “Problem is, she doesn’t think she’s very good at cooking, so I was wondering if you had any recipes for stuff. Like apple pie, apple, umm…” he couldn’t think of any other foods with apples in them, despite having eaten several of them.
“I’ve offered her them before,” she said, shaking her head, “but she isn’t very keen on accepting help.”
“She accepts my help,” Ritardando said. Then, he got an idea. “I know!” he said.
“What?” Brownie asked, curious.
“Maybe, maybe…” Ritardando said, trying to string the words together, as the idea was very far ahead of his mouth, “maybe if you could give me the recipes, and I make the stuff, and I say that I did it, she’d be fine with it!”
Brownie thought about it. “Well,” she said, relenting. “If you want to try, go ahead. Doesn’t concern me, but I’ll give you the recipes,” she said, walking over to another door. “I’ve got it somewhere in here. Give me a minute or two...” and with that, she vanished into another room.
Ritardando looked at the filly. “Hi!” he said enthusiastically.
“Are you that retard pony that works at the shop?”
“Ritardando, that’s my name,” He said. “What kind of music do you like?” he asked.
“Uhh…” the filly said. “I dunno…”
“What do you mean?” Ritardando asked. “I mean, ya gotta like music. So what music do you listen to?”
The filly, who had until now been worrying about the trouble she’d be in when her parents picked her up, was now more concerned about the dumb pony in the room.
“I mean…” Ritardando said when she didn’t respond. “Rock and roll?”
The filly shrugged.
“Jazz? Hip-hop? Techno?” He continued listing.
“Uhh…” the filly said, a little more nervously, as she had just become aware of what she had been subjected to.
“Punk? R&B? Heavy metal?” he asked, “Lots of heavy metal. Death metal, power metal, metalcore, deathcore, grindcore, tons of ‘cores,’ speed metal, black metal… not sure whether nu metal counts, umm… Classical?” he continued.
“I don’t think I know any of that stuff.”
“Showtunes?” he asked. “Psychedelic rock? Trance? Electronica? A cappella choral arrangments? Funk? Soul?”
The filly was beginning to wish that her parents would just get over here and ground her already.
“Post-industrial? Blues? Neo-classical? Baroque pop? Madrigals? Percussion ensembles? Folk songs?”
“You’re really into this stuff, aren’t you?”
“Percussion ensembles are actually pretty cool…” Ritardando said, trying to make another guess. “Twelve-tone? Noise music? Operetta?”
“Probably not,” The filly said.
“There’s lots more,” He said. “Reggae, ska, mambo, program music…”
“Probably not,” she repeated.
Ritardando was left very confused. “Do you ever… do music?” he asked.
“No,” the filly said, shrugging.
Ritardando didn’t say anything. He ears were down and his head sank a little. The filly found this odd.
“Why’s it that important to you?” The filly asked.
“It just is,” he said. “I mean, it’s there on my cutie mark.”
“That’s what it is?”
Ritardando’s voice went quiet. “Music is very special to me. Music is… it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. It’s like painting.”
“Yeah. But for ears.”
“Ahh, here we are…” Brownie said, emerging from the room with a saddlebag, “apple pies, apple crumble, apple fritters… caramel apples with apple caramel on them…” she took the bag off of her back and gave it to Ritardando, who uttered a muffled “thank you” before merrily trotting out of the station.
“He’s weird,” said the filly.
Constable Brownie ignored her and went back to work, hoping to actually finish with the report. Unfortunately, this was again interrupted by Ritardando, who gave another muffled statement: “Mm rinta lft,” which most likely translated to “I’m kinda lost.”
Brownie looked at the colt, and then back to her workload. This was annoying. She’d either have to rudely ask him to go away, or she’d have to help him get back to the shop and leave her paperwork delayed again.
She sighed. I can’t win, she thought, first going to put the saddlebags on his back, rather than have them stupidly hang out of his mouth.
Ritardando looked at the filly. “Dubstep! Do you like dubstep?”
“Come on,” Brownie said, leading him out the door. “I’ll getcha back to the shop. Let’s just do it quickly so I can get back to work.”
“Thanks,” Ritardando said, following her. “Y’know,” he said, “foals around here seem to get into trouble a lot.”
“I mean, the shoplifters, that filly… there were some bullies stealing candy just the other day.”
“Oh, them?” Brownie asked. “I’ve been trying to do something about them for over a year.”
“I scared ‘em, I think.” Ritardando said, seeming pleased with himself. “One of them hit me in the nose, though…”
“We have a slight problem with juvenile delinquents.” Brownie said. “It’s distressing. They’re the youth of this town – what happens when they become the adults running the place?”
A smile came on Ritardando’s face. “Hey, I got an idea!” he said. “A choir!”
Constable Brownie stopped. “A choir,” she repeated flatly. “How does that help?”
“Well, they say music can soothe the savage beast,” Ritardando said. “Or something like that. Maybe it works on foals, too?”
“I somewhat doubt that.” Brownie said. “Getting them to work on something constructive, though… could work.”
“Uh-huh.” Ritardando said, nodding, pleased at Brownie’s (almost) approval. “It’ll be great. I’m also planning on doing a concert sometime soon. It’ll also be great. I got a guitar and I’m gonna play it and I’m also gonna sing while I play it. It’ll be great. It’ll be really great. I told Raincloud about it, but I’m not sure she believes me.”
“I’m sure it will be,” Brownie said, only half-listening, “you got the paperwork filled out?”
Ritardando stopped walking. Brownie turned her head to look at him, and stopped as well.
“Ritardando?” she asked
“Well, yeah.” Brownie said. “You need to fill out the forms and get them approved if you want to do a public performance. Otherwise ponies might complain about ‘disturbance of the peace’ or whatnot, and it just helps for planning stuff out.”
“Ohh…” Ritardando said, nodding, resuming the walk. “Where do I get that stuff?”
“City hall. Just go to the front desk and ask about ‘public performance.’”
“Okie-dokie,” said Ritardando.
“Turn this way, Ritardando,” Brownie said, steering him in the right direction. “That way leads to the dump.”
“Oops.” Ritardando said, turning and catching back up with Brownie. “Thank you,” he said.
“No problem,” Brownie said, nodding, “it’s my job.”
“Well, you’re very good at it.”
Brownie smiled. “Well, the shop’s right over there,” she said, pointing her head in the direction down the street. “If you ever need help with baking or law, just call on Constable Brownie.” She said, turning and taking a brisk trot back to the police station.
The filly was still there, thankfully.
“What’s a madrigal, anyway?”
Chapter 8: Windows
Phoenix’s house had been visited before. It was a large house, separate from the rest of the town, lying on the outskirts. A cold, uninviting house, the kind that foals suspect is haunted due to the reclusive occupant and the varying states of disrepair.
There was, however, nothing truly spooky about the house. Tall, with a closed gate, and perhaps bigger than a single stallion could possibly need, yes, but there were no lingering ghosts or curses or anything. Just big, forlorn, and slightly empty, save for its occupant, who was returning from an errand.
He didn’t announce his presence – the bird could hear the front door opening. Phoenix entered his study and opened the birdcage.
As for Phoenix, there are some things you might have already gathered. He was a unicorn. He had a deep voice. He had a large house and a pet blackbird. And he was not the most pleasant pony to be around. Nopony really liked him, which worked out well, as he didn’t really like anypony himself.
First there was Constable Brownie. Always strutting around, acting like she’s better than everypony else. A bit sanctimonious, really, with the “the rules are” and the like.
Then there was Raincloud. He suspected that she must have several journals filled with angst-ridden poetry or something. Or maybe she was too lazy to write poetry and just sat under rainclouds of her own making.
And that friend she was doing errands for – Kite. Was there anything to say about her at all, aside from her name? That was really the only descriptor that existed for her. She had absolutely no interests outside of her namesake, from what he could tell. Then she had that stupid grudge with the shopkeeper.
Gold Standard. My, was she vapid. He wondered why she and Kite didn’t get along better – they had completely one-track minds, with Goldie not being interested in anything that wasn’t related to money (more specifically, her getting money). Why she tolerated that idiot assistant of hers was a mystery – perhaps she hoped to capitalize on his stupidity, somehow.
Speaking of Ritardando, what an irritating moron, always prancing about grinning, under the mistaken impression that everypony loved him, when they didn’t. Worst of all, he wouldn’t shut up, even when he was stating the blatantly obvious. Well, not to worry about him – one bad “concert” and he’d give up and bother someone else.
Phoenix then got tired of thinking about ponies he didn’t like. “Hey, pal,” he said to the blackbird, who hopped out. “Sorry I’m late. Had to go a little out of town to get these…” he set a bag down on the table. “Iris petals. Maybe I should start growing them myself.” He shook his head. “Iris, how could there not be a demand for iris? Don’t ponies at least eat them?”
The blackbird chirped. “Oh, you’re probably right,” Phoenix said, “I got them, after all. Next time I go out I’ll see if I can uproot a few and plant them in the yard. Maybe if I can just grow my ingredients I won’t need to leave the house.” He looked out the window at the mountains near the town. “Wouldn’t that be a nice thought…” he muttered.
Then, just as Phoenix was getting tired thinking of ponies that annoyed him, the doorbell rang.
The blackbird chirped inquisitively, and Phoenix groaned. Grumbling, he walked over to the door and opened it. It was Ritardando, standing there with saddlebags and a black kite on his back.
“Well?” Phoenix asked, “what do you want?”
“Well, uh, I know you were getting medicine, and you stopped, so I thought I’d bring it up here…” he said, fiddling with the saddlebags, “hold on…”
Phoenix rolled his eyes, and used his magic to just take the box of medicine out of the bag. Ritardando let out a startled yelp as the box nearly hit him in the face.
Phoenix tossed a few coins out into the yard with the intention of getting the earth pony to leave his front door, which he immediately shut. Phoenix stood at the door, listening, and after about twenty seconds, he opened the door to see Ritardando still standing there.
“What’s your bird’s name?” Ritardando asked.
“What are you doing here?” Phoenix asked.
“I’m your friend,” Ritardando said (Phoenix groaned), “I’ve been kinda worried about you, Felix-”
“I assure you,” Phoenix said, his patience running out, “I’m quite fine, and so is my bird,” and with that, he emphatically slammed the door.
“Huh,” Ritardando said, turning and walking away, making sure to pick up the coins.
Phoenix watched from the window of the study. Ritardando turned his head, shouting “Bye!”
Phoenix shook his head, opening the box. “Here you are, Singsing.”
Ritardando made straight for Kite’s house, where he promptly rang the doorbell. He enjoyed the doorbell’s chime, so he tried to whistle it. He wasn’t sure he got it right the first time, so he rang it again.
“I’m right here,” Kite said, behind him. Ritardando jumped.
“Sorry,” Ritardando said, “I like your doorbell. And I brought the kite.”
“I noticed,” Kite said, though not in the sarcastic tone that Raincloud would have, “ready to fly it?”
They walked out of the town, up a grassy hill.
“I like being outside the town. Seeing the countryside and all that,” Ritardando said, “so quiet you can’t hear anything but the wind.”
“That’s my favorite sound. You ready?”
“I think so…”
Kite took the kite off of Ritardando’s back and placed it on the ground, unrolling the string. “Okay, you hold this end of the string in your mouth, okay?”
“Okay, now just face that way… no, that way, Ritardando.”
“Sorry,” he said.
“Okay,” she said, backing up, ready to throw the kite, “now RUN!”
Ritardando took off, teeth clenched, and Kite threw the kite into the air. It sailed up, carried by the wind. “Okay now – slow down a little!” she called after him.
Ritardando slowed his run to a brisk trot. “Better!”
The wind became stronger, and the kite tugged on the string so hard it nearly came out of Ritardando’s teeth. Kite ran up to him, grabbing the string along with him and helping him to hold onto it. The burst of wind died down quickly enough, and they settled on top of a hill, the wind letting the kite lazily glide through the air.
“It’s a nice kite,” Ritardando said, the string wrapped around his hooves.
“Thanks,” said Kite, “I’m not sure black’s a good color for it…”
Ritardando looked at her, surprised.
“I didn’t mean anything by that,” she said hastily, “I mean, for a kite.”
“I like it.”
“Well, I guess that’s all that matters,” she said, “but I’m more used to colors like blue or red or purple.”
“That would make more sense…”
“But, I dunno,” she said, “I just think it fits you. I mean, for obvious reasons. It’s got your color and your cutie mark.”
“Yeah,” Ritardando said, nodding, “that works. Thanks for making it.”
He watched the kite fondly for a while before speaking again. “Have you ever wished you could fly?”
“What?” Kite asked, “Oh, uh, no. Not really. Not anymore. Used to, kinda.”
“Well,” Kite said, sighing, “my parents were pegasi, and…”
“Wait, what?” Ritardando asked, “That doesn’t make any sen-”
“I was adopted.”
“Oh,” Ritardando said. He felt very, very foolish. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she said, “they were very good to me. They even moved out of their home in the clouds. I… honestly didn’t expect that. They didn’t have to, they could’ve just, well… not adopted me, but they did.”
“Sounds like they cared,” Ritardando said.
“They did,” she said, “I need to go visit them sometime. But that’s enough about me, what about your family? Where are you from?”
Ritardando shrugged. “I dunno,” he said simply.
“What do you mean?” Kite asked.
“Uhh…” Ritardando said, “I… don’t know.”
“You mean you don’t remember?”
“I guess not,” Ritardando said, “I guess it just, well, never came up.”
“But,” Kite said, trying to figure it out, “how can you not know? Do you have amnesia?”
“What’s that?” Ritardando asked.
“That’s when you can’t remember things,” Kite said.
“Oh, yeah, that makes sense…” Ritardando said, mulling it over, “I dunno, maybe? I’ve just never really thought about it. Doesn’t matter much. I mean, it’s just not a thing that happens to me.”
“Well, what does happen to you?” she asked.
Ritardando shrugged, “I go places, meet ponies, sing songs, and, well, I dunno. Though there was this one time…”
“Well, once, I was in this caravan, and they were all these merchant types,” he began, “one of them is selling these sponges, and these are magic sponges that take in a lot more water than they normally would.”
“Well, the guy’s really friendly, gives me one of them…”
“Did it work?”
“Yup. Drained an entire bathtub, but you couldn’t tell by looking at it. Well, thing is, I forget and I leave it on a seat, and this other pony walks in and sits down on it…”
Kite burst into laughter. “Was he mad?”
“Uh-huh,” Ritardando said, “everypony else found it very funny.”
Kite looked back up at the sky. “Yeah, I don’t really want to fly,” she said, returning to the earlier topic, “I just like to watch.”
“I know what you mean.”
“I mean, I’d be afraid of falling. With kites, you don’t have to worry about that,” she said, “they’re like windows, kinda.”
“Yeah,” Kite said, “just little patches of color that you watch. You don’t really do all that much with them, you just watch them. It’s simple.”
“You make them look complicated,” Ritardando said, “I mean, with all your different… kinds of them.”
“Well, music seems complicated to me,” Kite said.
“Really?” Ritardando said, surprised.
“Yeah,” she said, “the way you talk about it sometimes, I can’t keep up with it.”
“Huh,” Ritardando said, “I guess maybe. Depends on the kind of music. Some of it’s complicated, some of it isn’t.”
“Can you think of one that isn’t complicated?”
“Hmm…” Ritardando thought. “I know, howabout this…” he cleared his throat.
“Yes, the candidate's a dodger, yes, a well-known dodger,
Yes, the candidate's a dodger, yes, and I'm a dodger too.
He'll meet you and treat you and ask you for your vote,
But look out, boys, he's a-dodgin' for your vote.
Yes we're all a-dodgin',
A-Dodgin', dodgin', dodgin',
Yes, we're all a-dodgin' out the way through the world.
Yes, the lover is a dodger, yes, a well-known dodger,
Yes, the lover is a dodger, yes, and I'm a dodger, too.
He'll hug you and kiss you and call you his bride,
But look out, girls, he's a-telling you a lie.
Yes we're all a-dodgin',
A-Dodgin', dodgin', dodgin',
Yes, we're all a-dodgin' out the way through the world.”
“Seems kinda… cynical,” Kite said.
“I mean, they’re all dishonest ponies and they’re just trying to scam you out of something.”
“Oh.” Ritardando said. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“But it was a nice song,” Kite said, encouraging him, “you have a pretty voice.”
“Thanks,” Ritardando said, smiling, “I’ve been hoping to put on a concert. But it’s not going well. There’s all this… paperwork.”
“Paperwork?” Kite asked, “what for?”
“Well, I need permission, but every time I fill it out, there’s something wrong – like, I filled out something wrong, or I took it to the wrong desk, and then when it’s in order, they’re closed, and… and…” his voice cracked.
“That’s a shame,” Kite said, “you know, I don’t really know why you need to do that. Seems a-”
“You’re right…” Ritardando said, “what time is it?”
Kite looked at the sky, “well, from where the sun is, I’d say it’s around two-thirty.”
“I’ve gotta get back to the shop,” Ritardando said, rolling the string back in. “Thanks for this,” he said, “it was really nice.”
“I’m glad you liked it.”
“Bye,” Ritardando said, walking off. Then he stopped and turned around, “why don’t you ever come into the shop?” he asked, “you always have Raincloud buy stuff for you.”
“You don’t like her, do you?” Ritardando asked, “why?”
“Well… Kite laughed, a little embarrassed, “I tried to open a shop once. A kite shop.”
“You did?” Ritardando asked, “how’d that go?”
“It didn’t,” she said, “Gold Standard saw and decided she wanted to compete. And I couldn’t.”
“It did,” Kite said, “but… maybe it’s better that way. Keeping a shop sounds busy. I might not have had enough time to make the kites, or to even fly them. Still, it’d be nice if she sold a better variety of kites.”
Ritardando thought about that. “You’re good at ideas,” he said, walking off. Kite watched him, wondering what exactly he meant.
Chapter 9: The Concert
Gold Standard didn’t sleep well around this time of year. The coming Autumn Apple Fair always filled her with a sense of apprehension – how to compete with the Apple family? It seemed nearly impossible. Cider… like that’d do any good.
In any case, she often went downstairs for a cup of coffee when she couldn’t sleep. It always helped her to calm her nerves, or at least to have a clear head while she was awake.
She wasn’t going to get any coffee, however, because as soon as she stepped into the kitchen, she forgot all about it. The place was a mess – flour, eggs, sugar, and bowls were strewn everywhere, like somepony had been playing mad scientist, except with cooking.
The source of the mess was blatantly obvious – Ritardando, asleep at the table, and covered with flour (made from flowers) and what appeared to be batter for pie crust.
Pies. That’s what he had been making, it seemed, judging by all the pie tins filled with… attempts.
Gold Standard was irritated – it’d take forever to clean up, but then she saw how he had fallen asleep at the table. He must’ve been exhausted, she thought.
Well, she thought, covering him with a kitchen towel like a blanket, he can clean it up in the morning.
She went back upstairs, deciding she’d stay up in a place that wasn’t covered in sticky stuff.
The next morning, she returned downstairs to find Ritardando frantically trying to get everything put away.
“What were you doing last night?” she asked, “were you trying to bake?”
“Uh-huh,” Ritardando said. He stopped. “I wasn’t very good at it.”
“Well, nopony can be good at everything.”
“Well, I knew you wanted that thing with the apple fair, so I thought if I could make some apple pie, well…” Ritardando said, “I can’t make apple pie yet.”
The word ‘yet’ implied future attempts. That wasn’t something Gold Standard was eager to see happen.
“It’s okay,” Gold Standard said, “just… get it all cleaned up and then-”
“I’ve got something,” Ritardando said, shoving the bowls into the dishwasher, “that I want to show you after I clean up.”
“What is it?”
“I’m gonna show it,” he said, hastily dragging a wet cloth over the counter. “But first I’ll make you breakfast and-”
“I think I can handle breakfast by myself, thank you,” she said, going to the fridge, “just… continue doing what you’re doing.”
Ritardando finished his cleaning and went upstairs, while Goldie enjoyed her usual bland breakfast of cereal.
After breakfast, she walked back into the shop and, with a spark of her horn, opened the doors and turned the “open” sign around.
It was the start of the new day. Same old customers, though. Including Phoenix.
“Good morning,” Gold Standard said.
“Shut up, I just want my medicine,” said Phoenix, walking into the store.
“And heeeeere I am!” bellowed Ritardando as he careened down the stairs.
Gold Standard stared at him. He was wearing some flashy white suit, and his normally messy hair had been slicked back with copious amounts of styling gel.
“I’m gonna wear this for the concert tomorrow!” he said excitedly.
Phoenix stood there, staring at him with equal parts confusion and shock. “Concert?”
“Yeah!” Ritardando said excitedly.
“I’m going to be holding a sale tomorrow,” said Gold Standard, “come for the concert, stay for the savings. Or come for the savings, stay for the concert. Either one works.”
Phoenix didn’t say anything. He took a box of medicine, slapped down the requisite amount of money, and left.
“Hmm…” said Ritardando, “should ‘xonx’ be a word?”
“You’re planning on wearing that?”
“Uh-huh. I think we need to get more hair gel, though…”
Not eager to just wash it all off, Ritardando spent the rest of the day with that hairdo. Customers viewed it with confusion, but it didn’t bother Gold Standard. As long as the purchases continued and she continued to make money, she was fine. Ritardando had thankfully become less… enthusiastic about helping customers since his first day on the job. Despite his best intentions, if they wanted the product enough to buy it after his ‘help,’ they didn’t need it.
The next day seemed to be completely silent at first. The sun still hadn’t burnt away all of the mist, and all the doors and windows in the town were shut.
This silent picture was completely shattered when one second-story window opened and a booming voice shouted “GOOOOOOD MORNING HOOFSTON!”
“Ritardando, not yet!”
“The concert will start shortly after I open shop,” Goldie said, reminding him of what the plan was. “Did you seriously get up early?”
“Uh-huh,” Ritardando said. His stomach growled. “I think you’re right…” he conceded, “I should have breakfast first.”
And he did. Cereal. Again. Always cereal.
“Y’know what we should have for breakfast sometime?” Ritardando suggested, “waffles. I love waffles. Haven’t had them in a while.”
“Well, we don’t have a waffle iron,” Gold Standard said, shrugging.
Actually, they did. Several, in fact, except they were on the store shelves and not in the kitchen. Gold Standard never liked to dip into inventory for personal use, even if she could. It just always looked ugly on the books – there’s a piece of inventory, gone, and no cash or credit in its place.
Ritardando looked up at the clock, and then sprang up out of his seat.
“What-” Goldie started.
“Time!” Ritardando chimed, rushing up the stairs, “it’s time! Time for our show to begin! Open the doors and stuff!”
He ran into his room, threw the guitar strap around his neck, and flung open the window. He looked down, eagerly. There were other ponies, looking at him the way you’d probably look at the village idiot, if he were a story above you and grinning down expectantly.
“Hi!” he said, “thank you all for coming here. And there’s not just a concert today, there’s also a big sale – discounts on stuff. So go inside and buy something, because Gold Standard’s been really nice to me and… well, maybe you’re just here for the sale, but there’s not just a big sale today, there’s also a concert!”
Some of the ponies had expressions of boredom. Some had expressions of curiosity. Kite was there, with an expression of anticipation. Raincloud was there, with an expression of annoyance. Lastly, Phoenix was there, with an expression of horror. Raincloud sympathized with Phoenix.
“And now, to blow your minds!” Ritardando raised his hoof, and brought it down on the strings-
Oh wow, that thing was out of tune. Several audience members cringed.
“Excuse me…” Ritardando said, shutting the windows.
“Oh no, on no…” Ritardando said, frantically fiddling with the nobs. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, check the tuning every time…”
Five minutes later, he opened the window again. “Sorry about that,” he said, “just gotta, um, y’know.”
He strummed a chord. It was in tune. Then he started playing again, but as he played, the notes seemed to slip out of tune, but not consistently – the low E string went flat, the G string went sharp… it didn’t make any sense at all. But he couldn’t stop the concert again. His free hoof went to the knobs again, trying to tune on-the-fly (which was always a bad idea), but that didn’t work. His brow wrinkled in frustration, and he just took it out in the playing, working out some kind of frantic melody line. His playing was furious.
And it sounded awful. Most of the audience members either cringed or walked away. Some of them just stared at him, including Phoenix.
Then, suddenly, the guitar broke. It shattered into pieces, leaving Ritardando sitting there, his hooves where they should be for playing, the end of the fretboard in one hoof and the rest falling from the window into the street below.
It was almost completely silent – Ritardando, sitting at the window, and the crowd, staring at him. Then, he backed away and shut the window. Gradually, the crowd trickled away, not even considering Gold Standard’s marvelous low prices.
Phoenix and Raincloud were the last ones to leave.
“I didn’t expect that,” said Raincloud. Phoenix didn’t respond. He just walked on off to his lonely little house. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, his house was rather large.
Gold Standard looked out the window. Looked like the day had been a complete failure on both fronts. She was disappointed. Not one sale.
After she was done being disappointed with that (and it took a while, maybe twenty minutes), she went upstairs. Ritardando was sitting on the bed, the fret fragment next to him. He wasn’t moving or saying anything, just staring into space. He looked like he was on the verge of tears.
“Ritardando?” asked Goldie, “are you alright?”
“Yeah,” he responded flatly, “I guess.”
He wasn’t. Goldie sat down next to him.
“I don’t know what happened,” Ritardando, “I mean, I thought I had it tuned, but then it wasn’t, so I tuned it, and then it still wasn’t, and, and…”
“I’m sorry,” said Gold Standard, “but y’know, sometimes things just happen. And they aren’t always good things.”
“Yeah, I guess…”
“It’ll get better,” she said, “you’re still a very good musician.”
Ritardando smiled, “thanks.”
The bell downstairs rang. “Ah! Customer came after all!” said Goldie as she merrily went back downstairs. But it wasn’t a customer – it was Constable Brownie.
“Hi,” said Brownie. She plainly wasn’t in the mood to shop, “is Ritardando here?”
“Yes…” Gold Standard asked, looking at the stairs. Ritardando was cautiously walking down.
“Ritardando,” said Brownie, spotting him, “you didn’t get permission, did you?”
Ritardando cringed a little. “No…”
“You were supposed to,” said Brownie, “that’s the rules – if you want a public performance, you need to fill out the forms and get permission from the city.”
“I couldn’t…” said Ritardando weakly, “the forms were confusing and, and…”
“Well, I…” it had sounded a lot better in his head, “I didn’t see why I needed one.”
“Ritardando, you said you had everything taken care of!” said Gold Standard, as she’d been under the impression that everything was completely legal.
“It’s not your concern, Goldie,” said Brownie, “he did it himself. Ritardando, you’ll have to come to a hearing tomorrow morning.” She saw that he looked very scared, and felt a little sorry for him. “You’ll probably be asked to pay a fine or do community service,” she said, trying to calm him, “that’s all.” She left.
Ritardando didn’t look at Gold Standard.
“Ritardando, you need to tell me about these things – I could have helped you get permission.”
“Yeah…” said Ritardando, “you probably could have… I’m sorry.”
Gold Standard sighed. “It’ll be alright…” she said, “like she said, it’ll just be some small charge. I’ll come with you and help.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“You’re my employee. You’re my responsibility,” she smiled, “besides, if they have you doing community service, that means you’ll have less time to work for me.”
Ritardando smiled. “Thanks,” he said, “I guess it could be worse. Like that time with the sponges.”
Chapter 10: Past Events in Present Tense
A unicorn mare has given birth, but the foal isn't moving or breathing. Both of the parents are devastated. Quietly, the mother nudges the foal, and it stirs, breathing weakly. It doesn't cry. Relieved and overjoyed, the parents name him Phoenix.
Brownie is lost on the way home from school. A police officer pony helps her cross the street. She likes him. He helps her find her way home. Her parents thank him, and he goes on his way. She never sees him again, but remembers him. She'd like to be like him.
A pegasus couple is moving out of their home in the clouds. They have adopted an earth pony, and she won't be able to live there. They don't mind, though. They'll care for her like they should. They meet the filly. She sees their wings and wishes that she could fly.
A family of unicorns is packing up a wagon. The parents can't afford to live in the house anymore, and they need to find someplace else to work. They pack up some furniture, food, and a few spare belongings. The youngest one, Gold Standard, has a stuffed bear.
Ritardando has a gift. He can learn how to play almost any instrument very quickly, and he has a good ear and strong music-reading skills. He’s not really good at reading things that aren’t music, however. His tastes in music are also undiscerning, and that hurts him at a recital. No matter how much talent or skill he has, a rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is only so impressive.
Raincloud wants her mother to read her a story. A new one, in a book she just found at the library. Her mother is hesitant to read the story, but she insists. It's about a foal that searches and searches for her parents, and then, at the end, comes to a grave. Raincloud cries. She is very upset.
Phoenix loves magic. As a small colt, he learns how to do some simple tricks, and he’s able to impress his friends. His parents encourage him. He feels special.
Ritardando enters into a music contest. His special talent is music. So is everypony else's. His hastily-constructed, under-rehearsed one-pony band show does not impress the judges. The contest is won by a unicorn who can magically produce the sound of a fifty-piece orchestra.
Brownie leads some fund-raiser efforts for her school. She organizes several bake sales, for which she supplies her own goods. She gets awards from the school for her participation and leadership skills.
Kite gets average passing grades. She manages to get by just coasting through her work. She does better in art classes.
Gold Standard watches as her father tries for job after job, but nothing seems to work. Her father’s talent is bowling. That doesn’t really help for getting a job.
Phoenix has very supportive parents. They sign him up for the school for gifted unicorns. Phoenix is excited. He has wild fantasies about how great it will be.
Raincloud doesn’t have a lot of friends. She’s fine that way, though. She likes to be by herself. She likes to be by herself and think. She can’t think as well when ponies are trying to talk to her. It keeps her head clear. It keeps her content.
Ritardando is thrown out of a department store. He doesn’t know that you aren’t supposed to play on the pianos. He’s dumb like that.
Gold Standard doesn’t like being poor. She doesn’t like seeing her parents worried about putting food on the table. They sell the table to try to buy food.
There is a hill behind Kite’s house. Every day, she walks up there to look. She can see for miles. Sometimes there’s a cool breeze. When that happens, she sits and feels it. Sometimes she closes her eyes.
Raincloud often goes to that same hill. Raincloud likes to come to the hill to sit and think. She doesn’t always like sharing it with Kite, because she likes being alone, but they share a common interest. Raincloud has a friend now. If there isn’t one, sometimes Kite asks for a breeze.
Phoenix is eagerly anticipating his admission into school. He can barely contain himself. He’s excited. Happy, even. He smiles a lot.
Ritardando joins a caravan. It’s filled with traveling salesponies and craftsponies. He doesn’t really do a lot. He just does music. In a way, it’s less that he joined the caravan as it is that he coincided with it. Sponges happen.
Brownie keeps a journal. Every recipe she’s ever come across, and many she’s invented herself. She’s good at memorizing them. It’s a hobby. A very intensive hobby.
Kite would like to fly. She sees her foster parents, and they have wings. Why doesn’t she? She asks a few of her pegasus friends to help her, including Raincloud. Raincloud thinks it’s a bad idea. Kite doesn’t really care. That’s how dreams work, sometimes.
Gold Standard feels helpless. It’s another addition to the list of things that she hates – being poor, being uncertain, watching ponies she cares about worrying. She looks at her teddy bear.
Ritardando is walking in the wilderness again. When he comes to the top of the hill, he trips and falls down, tumbling to the bottom. His leg is hurt, and it's painful for him to walk. He sits down under a tree. He calls for help, but nopony answers. The sun comes down, and the night arrives. Ritardando is afraid of the dark.
Phoenix takes his entrance exam. He can’t do it. He fails. He is devastated. His parents try to comfort him, but he can’t hear them. It’s the worst disappointment he’s ever felt in his life. He cries.
Brownie wins a baking contest. It’s a feeling of accomplishment. It’s an emotion that she comes to hold very dear. It’s at this moment that she realizes that baking is more than a hobby – it’s the thing she’s best at. She gets her cutie mark. It’s another feeling of accomplishment.
Other ponies don’t like Raincloud. She’s too sarcastic. She’s fine with that. They leave her alone. Besides, she likes being sarcastic. It’s how her sense of humor works, and it makes her feel clever. Sometimes, other ponies find it funny. At least, she finds herself funny.
Kite does not have Raincloud’s support in her flying experiment. She tries to construct a flying device. Kite was always better at aesthetics than engineering, however. It doesn’t work. She’s okay, but she’s terrified after the ordeal. She doesn’t want to fly anymore.
Phoenix is alone. It’s night. He is at the top of a hill. His disappointment about rejecting is gone. He heard that some purple unicorn filly was accepted as Celestia’s pupil. Now he is angry. That was something that he had fantasized about, and now it’ll never happen. He knows that even if he had passed the exam, he wasn’t that good. He stands up. He tries magic again. He conjures a swirl of magical energy. His cutie mark appears. It doesn’t make him feel better, though.
Raincloud takes up gardening as a hobby. She’s not very good at it. The plants need water. She gets the idea of setting up rainclouds over it, rather than getting a hose or watering can. She drowns the plants.
Ritardando has acquired and either broken or lost a guitar, a mandolin, a trumpet, two flutes, three violins, a cello, fourteen harmonicas, a kazoo, three oboes, and a portable harpsichord.
Kite isn’t outside quite as much. She stays inside and tries her artistic skills some more. Her failure at engineering has motivated her to review geometry. Not that she wants to fly anymore.
Gold Standard tries to use her unicorn magic. She turns her teddy bear into a number of gold coins. She is overjoyed. She rushes to show her parents. Now she can help. Maybe her family won’t be poor anymore.
A bully taunts Brownie. Her cutie mark is a star. That makes her special, she says. Brownie, she says, will never amount to anything but someone who makes snacks. Brownie is angry. She won’t let her be right.
Phoenix’s parents have died. He has inherited a large, and now lonely, house. He buys a pet blackbird. That will be his friend. The bird is the only friend he needs.
Kite takes that applied geometry and makes a kite. She goes to the top of the hill, and with Raincloud’s help, she sets it flying. Kite smiles at her work. It’s beautiful.
Gold Standard turns various odds and ends into money. Not enough to live luxuriously on, but enough to act as start-up capital. She has a shrewd eye for business, and so her family starts a shop. They aren’t poor anymore.
Ritardando doesn’t worry about money. He’s a vagabond, after all. He gets by on the kindness of strangers and whatever luck he can muster. And he’s happy, more or less. He loves to sing, anyway, and he can do that all he wants. As long as somepony else isn’t annoyed.