Adventures in Speedfiction

by SaddlesoapOpera

First published

Prompts from others. One hour. No planning. All fiction. It begins.

Acting on prompts from some writing buddies, I am spending no more than ONE HOUR to write short stories featuring two characters picked by one person, in a setting picked by another.

One hour per chapter. No advance knowledge. No plans, no notes.

All fiction.

Buckle up.

Gummy, Mister Cake, and an Ursa Cave

Characters: Gummy and Mister Cake
Setting: An Ursa's Cave

Mister Cake trotted up to the mouth of the cavern like a Pony condemned. Autumn wind whistled around him, stirring through the brown grass and his butter-yellow hide.

He craned his neck to stare down at the the baby alligator sitting on the strap of the saddlebags slung over his back.

“Are you SURE this is the only way, Gummy?” he asked. “The rest was tough, but...”

The alligator blinked its wide, staring, purple eyes one at a time.

“O-Okay.” He swallowed hard. “H-Here goes.”

Mister Cake crept into the cavern inch by inch, the cool, damp air and his cold sweat combining to rob the warmth from him.

The cavern was larger on the inside than it had appeared; the uneven blue-grey stone stretched up and out beyond the reach of the meagre daylight pouring in from the entrance.

For a moment the place was as silent as a tomb, but then a deep, rhythmic rumbling hummed through the still air and the smooth stone under Mister Cake’s hooves.

He paused.

“Thank Celestia!” he whispered after a minute of listening to the sound. “It’s still asleep!”

Gummy made no reply.

Mister Cake wiped his brow with a foreleg and continued on deeper into the cavern. It didn’t take long for him to find his quarry.

The sleeping Ursa Major’s sidereal hide illuminated its den with soft starlight, revealing its impossibly huge form and the cruel edges of its scythe-sized claws and fangs.

Its Ursa Minor cub was curled up next to its parent, its building-crushing bulk dwarfed in comparison.

Mister Cake’s jaw dropped.

He turned back to the alligator. “There HAS to be another way! This is INSANE!”

The Ursa Major snorted and shifted in its sleep; Mister Cake winced.

When he whispered again, it was at a lower-still volume:

“I’m gonna get KILLED in here!”

Gummy stared into Mister Cake’s eyes with a face devoid of the slightest hint of emotion. He slowly shook his head.

Mister Cake sighed very, very quietly. “Okay. All right. Let’s do this.”

He rummaged in his bags and retrieved a pair of scissors with his mouth. He crept up to the sleeping behemoths inch-by-pulse-pounding-inch.

The Ursas were as warm as a summer night. The humid breeze from their snores tickled across Mister Cake’s flanks.

Mister Cake sat down and then slowly slipped his front hooves into the scissors’ wide-looped handles. He brandished the tool, leaned forward, took a deep breath... and brought the blades together around a lock of midnight-purple fur.

An eye the size of a lunch table snapped open less than two yards away from him.

Mister Cake dropped the scissors, smiled awkwardly, chuckled more awkwardly still, and then grabbed the lock of fur and galloped faster than he ever had in his life.

The Ursa Major’s roar shook the entire cavern like an earthquake; needle-sharp stalactites rained down around Mister Cake as he strained to run faster.He screamed in panic through his clenched teeth.

After what seemed like an eternity, he saw the light at the end of the cavern.

The Ursa was groggy from its sudden awakening, but it covered more ground in a single stride that a Pony could in a dozen galloping hooffalls. It was gaining on him.

With a final rush of desperate speed Mister Cake cleared the cavern entrance and emerged in the open air.

A paw as big as a locomotive engine reached out after him, but then recoiled from the harsh late-afternoon light. An irritated growl sent one last tremor through the area.

Mister Cake let out a sigh that all but deflated him. He stowed the lock of fur in his saddlebags and then turned to trot back toward the road.

* * * *

Pinkie Pie sat on a low wooden stool in Sugarcube Corner’s main room. Her customary broad grin had been replaced with an appraising frown.

“Well?” she asked accusingly.

On the opposite side of the room, Mister Cake stood surrounded by several containers of varying sizes and shapes. He wore the black-and-white costume of a sad-faced Pierrot clown.

Mister Cake reared up on his hind legs, inhaled deeply, and sang:

“I’m so super-duper sorry that I broke our special trust,”

He ducked down and grabbed a pinch of Phoenix down from a small velvet bag between his hooves, and then blew on it. The orange fluff burst into a flash of crimson flame.

“When a pony breaks a promise, making amends is a must!”

He stomped on a large clam-shell, which popped open and unleashed a cloud of seawater bubbles. Faint scat-singing echoed from nowhere.

“I didn’t mean to be a blabber-mouth, I’m so sorry I could cry,”

He grabbed a canvas sack of tiny volcano-rubies and spilled them out on the wooden floor, hastily arranging them into a silhouette-portrait of the pink Pony before him.

“So please, oh please, oh please, won’t you forgive me, Pinkie Pie?”

He picked up the lock of Ursa fur in his mouth and then spat it upwards, releasing a shower of twinkling motes.

Mister Cake stood in the remains of his display, panting and staring expectantly.

Pinkie Pie rubbed her chin with a hoof and let out a lengthy “Hrmmmmm...”

All at once, her expression brightened. “Okie dokie lokie! I forgive you!” She giggled.

Mister Cake sighed in relief. “Thank you, Pinkie. It was all a misunderstanding, honest!”

Pinkie Pie smiled wider still. “Aww, it’s okay, Mister Cake!” Her expression briefly darkened. “Just DON’T let it happen again. Pinkie Promises are SERIOUS BUSINESS.”

Mister Cake nodded hastily.

Pinkie Pie bounded off, humming cheerfully.

Mister Cake sighed once more, and then busied himself in cleaning up the mess.

Missus Cake raised an eyebrow from her vantage point at the kitchen doorway and then trotted over to her husband.

He gave her a pointed sidelong glare.

“All right, all right, point taken,” she said after a long pause. “I won’t ask you for any of Pinkie’s recipes again.”

The End: ~57 minutes

Tank with Propeller, a Manticore, and the Schoolhouse

Characters: Tank with Propeller, a Manticore
Setting: Ponyville Schoolhouse

The sound of a deep, bellowing roar shook the gold stars from Ponyville Elementary’s Smart Cookie Board.

Miss Cheerilee ducked under her desk, narrowly avoiding the Manticore’s swinging stinger-tipped tail. The venomous needle-tip left a foot-long scratch in the varnished wood.

“Recess, everypony!” she said in a loud but carefree tone, leaning out from the side of the desk to be heard. She smiled reassuringly.

The assembled students, their desks pushed back to the corners of the class to make room for the massive hybrid beast, sat for a moment in stunned silence.

“NOW, class!” Cheerilee barked, a crack forming in her friendly tone.

The students jerked in surprise and then crept out, shimmying along the walls to stay out of reach of the ornery creature as they exited.

Once the last of the students was gone, Cheerilee’s smile dissolved. She bit her lower lip and crouched down lower under the desk.

The Manticore rumbled in bored irritation and smashed an unoccupied desk with a casual swat of its paw.

Cheerilee stifled her yelp with a hoof. She started shaking.

Not like this! She silently begged. Oh, Celestia, PLEASE don’t let it end like this!

The circumstances leading up to her present predicament had seemed so innocent. So typical.

Only in hindsight did the chain of events leading to an upset Manticore being corralled in her classroom seem so perfectly obvious that it shamed her to even think about them.

“Should have known,” she whispered harshly. “Stupid!”

The Manticore turned at the sound and let out a low growl.

Cheerilee whimpered.

The beast reared up and brought its meaty paws down on top of the desk; the old wood cracked.

Cheerilee gritted her teeth; she tasted salt as a stray tear slid between her parted lips.

The Manticore clawed at the desk again, tearing a large chunk away. Miss Cheerilee’s bolthole was about to break.

The pulse pounding in her chest finally squeezed a shout out of her lungs:


An instant later, Cheerilee heard the classroom’s back door burst open.

The Manticore turned away from the ruined desk to face the new arrival.

Still mostly hidden as she was, Cheerilee couldn’t see the battle that ensued, but the sounds suggested a whirling melee.

A high rhythmic hum filled the air, along with hollow raps like a great weight bashing against armour. The Manticore’s thudding footsteps suggested that it was lunging to and fro across the classroom.

Cheerilee dared to let herself hope she might live to hear another morning school-bell.

At length there came a sound like a lawnmower cleaving tall grass, and the Manticore yelped in surprise. It shuffled about a moment longer and then crashed out through a window, widening the hole considerably. Its footfalls faded into the distance.

Cheerilee counted a dozen heartbeats and then shakily crept out from under her former desk. The adrenaline still surging through her system made her clumsy, and she almost fell as she turned to lay eyes on her saviour

A fine specimen of smooth-shelled turtle - no, Cheerilee corrected herself, tortoise - stood proudly on top of one of the desks. He wore a magi-technological propeller device on his back and a dashing pair of goggles on his eyes. He was surrounded by a pile of freshly-shorn bright-red mane-fur. Other shreds of lost mane rested on top of his head, giving the impression of a pair of bushy eyebrows.

Cheerilee’s eyes widened; a blush imperceptibly coloured her magenta cheeks.

“You live with Rainbow Dash, don’t you?” she asked. “I’ve seen you at the park. Tank, right?”

The tortoise very, very slowly smiled and nodded.

Miss Cheerilee giggled bashfully.

“You know,” she said, lowering her voice as she trotted closer to her hero, “I have a history of falling for strong, silent types.”

She rested her front hooves on either side of Tank and lowered her mouth to his.

Tank waggled his borrowed eyebrows and craned his neck to meet her.

* * *

Meanwhile, outside, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon squealed in fear and galloped around the schoolyard pursued by a tonsured Manticore.

“MISS CHE-E-E-RILEE!” they screamed together. “HE-E-E-L-LP!”

Atop the creature’s back, a trio of blank-flanked fillies held onto the rope slung around its shoulders and shared a triumphant shout:


THE END: ~41 minutes

Madden, Hard Knocks, and the Badlands

Characters: Madden, Hard Knocks
Setting: The Badlands

The Pegasus’s sea-blue hooves dragged across the cracked, reddish gravel. The merciless heat had slicked his silvery mane and tail with sweat, and his wings drooped on either side of his body, too overworked to carry his weight. His wide sunglasses provided some relief from the glare of the noonday sun... on the side that still had a lense, at any rate.

“Dodge can’t be much further,” he muttered. Thirst and the harsh, dry air stole much of the rolling, smooth timbre from his voice.

“You’ve said that f-fourteen times, Madden,” panted the fuchsia Earth Pony stallion following along behind him.

The Earth Pony’s toned hide was speckled with nicks and burns and scrapes, none of them serious. Despite the fatigue slowing his stride he moved with firmness and finality.

“Don’t give up now, Hard Knocks!” said the Pegasus with forced resolve. “We’ve gotta think about the other passengers!”

Hard Knocks paused and turned to look back the way they’d come.

Their hoofprints trailed off toward the horizon, where a thin plume of smoke marked the site of the crash.

He turned back and grumbled: “You’ve said THAT eighteen times.”

“So...” offered Madden a few minutes later, “do you think there are any Dragons around? I remember hearing that this is a big habitat for them.”

“Nahh,” said Hard Knocks. “Not right now, anyway. You Pegasi oughta spend more time reading the Almanac and less time reading the stars. Next Dragon Migration’s not for a few months.”

“Oh. Uh, okay,” said Madden, finally at a loss for further conversation.

The pair plodded on in silence for a time, conserving energy.

As they came to the top of a long, sloping hill, they caught sight of the glimmering of something far in the distance.

“S-See?” said Madden as if he’d been sure all along. “Only a little wh-while longer. now!”

Hard Knocks snorted in an almost total absence of delight.

* * *

The desert moon was huge and silvery in the night sky by the time the two travellers trotted into Dodge.

They made what passed for a gallop straight toward the local saloon.

They both staggered up to the bar.

“W-Water,” wheezed Hard Knocks.

“And s-salt,” added Madden. After a pause he added: “M-Maybe some lemon?”

Hard Knocks kept his chin resting on the bar, but fixed his companion with an irritated sidelong glare.

“What?” he replied. “Vitamin C is important!”

Served, the two drank in desperate gulps. They didn’t pause for breath until midway through their third mugs.

“So... where you boys come from?” asked the bartender, a lean and well-coiffed Earth Pony with a black waxed moustache.

“Blimp crash,” said Hard Knocks flatly.

“Cloudsdale, by way of Canterlot,” added Madden. The confident tone that had made his career as a master of ceremonies was returning to his voice. “Well, I am. I think he’s from Ponyville. We were on board the Indefatigable’s maiden voyage, you see.”

The bartender stared blankly.

“Great big airship,” continued Madden. “Launched from Canterlot. It was quite the event! Prince Blueblood himself was there! And then, one accident with Wheat Flambée later, we were going do-o-o-o-o-o-own!” Madden drew the word out as if his voice had an echo.

“Mm-hm,” answered the bartender, as if stories of crashing airships were the most mundane part of his evening.

“So, we’ll need some Ponies with first aid supplies, maybe a bucket brigade, tools for moving debris the whole deal!” Madden waved a front hoof outward in an expansive gesture. “Won’t be hard to find -- just look for the smoke out in the badlands!”

“Ohhh,” said the bartender. “Yeah, that’s all taken care of. That smoke was easy to see, even from all the way over here. We sent out some folks HOURS ago. If’n you’d stayed where you were, you’d be talkin’ to ‘em right now!”

Madden’s jaw dropped.

Hard Knocks pressed his forehead to the bar and let out a long, low, miserable sigh.

“So, uh, anything else we can do for ya?” asked the bartender.

“...You got anything to eat?” asked Hard Knocks glumly.

* * *

The next morning, Madden and Hard Knocks stepped out into the fresh air and took in the sight of the rustic town’s daily routine.

A pale, finely-dressed Earth Pony mare with a striking red mane halted in mid-step as she passed them by.

“My, my!” she said appraisingly. “You boys here lookin’ for work? My... cherry orchard... could always use another set of strong legs.”

“Y-Y-Y-YES!” said Madden, his volume rising in tandem with his wings.

“NO,” interjected Hard Knocks. “We’ve still got a TON of ground to cover before we get back to Ponyville. You don’t wanna use up all your energy...” Hard Knocks frowned. “picking cherries.”

The mare tittered behind a front hoof.

“B-But, I’m back in flying condition!” protested Madden piteously. “I’ll just FLY back to Cloudsdale later on!” He flapped his wings for emphasis.

“The Pony Hell you are!” growled Hard Knocks. “YOU got me into this mess, YOU’RE going to help me drive the hoof-car all the way back to Ponyville!”

Madden’s wings drooped. He sighed. “....Fine.”

“Aww. Pity. I’ll just leave you two to it, then,” said the mare, and sashayed off.

* * *

“This is almost as fast as flying!” said Madden cheerfully. “The worst is over!”

The hoof-car was well-made and well-maintained, and despite the brutal monotony of its operation the pair made excellent time on the rails... until late afternoon.

As brakes shrieked and a whistle howled, the 3:10 to Appleoosa smashed through the hoof-car like so much tissue paper.

Having leaped aside with seconds to spare, Hard Knocks and Madden tumbled to the ground on either side of the tracks, covered in dust and burrs.

Hard Knocks rolled off of his back and stumbled to his hooves. He shook his head to clear it, fixed Madden with a narrow-eyes stare and muttered:

“I hate you so much.”

* * *

The quarray eel fought to keep its mouth closed. A Pony’s desperate screams escaped from between its teeth every time its jaws parted.

Eventually, Hard Knocks fought his way free and fell to the ash-grey stone. The frustrated eel twisted around and returned to its tunnel.

Hard Knocks crawled over to a patch of wicked thorn bushes and began the painstaking process of extricating Madden from its grasp.

“Okay,” said the upside-down Pegasus, “Even though the acoustics are great in this gorge... I guess they WEREN’T ready for some hoofball!”

* * *

Ponyville’s bucolic skyline had never looked so good.

Hard Knocks felt tears well up in his magenta eyes as the scrub gave way to lush emerald grass and the road grew smooth and hoof-worn.

“We made it...!” he whispered in awe. “We actually made it!”

Madden nodded in agreement next to him, but then looked up. He suddenly jerked to the side.

Hard Knocks opened his mouth to ask a question, but a falling pile of undelivered bric-a-brac cut him off in mid-sentence.

The empty drawers, barrels of pickles and odd socks came first, followed by a vintage player-piano and a hoofful of assorted mane-brushes.

As consciousness slowly fled from Hard Knocks, he heard a foalish voice from above cry out:

“Woops! Look out below!”

* * *

Hard Knocks awoke to the sight of a pair of friendly blue eyes framed by a purple and white striped mane and a soft-featured pink face.

“You had quite a rough time!” said the nurse. “Don’t worry, though. A month or three in that body-cast, and you’ll be right as rain!”

Hard Knocks became aware of the dull aches permeating his body, and the thick plaster restraining him from head to tail.

Oh well, he thought to himself, I could use the rest.

Plus... at least I don’t have to deal with an annoying blue Pegasus ever again!

THE END ~ 62 minutes

Fancy Pants, Scootaloo, and the Field Under Cloudsdale

Characters: Fancy Pants, Scootaloo
Setting: The Field under Cloudsdale

Fancy Pants stood in the perpetual shade of the barren field like a lone king on an empty chessboard. Under the perpetual cover of the Pegasus city of Cloudsdale, the field was generally avoided by all. There was nothing here but dead grass, endless faint drizzle and the occasional puddle of spilled rainbow.

There would be no interruptions here, and no prying eyes.

He magicked a golden pocket-watch out of his waistcoat and double-checked the time. As a connoisseur of the finer things in life, he prided himself on remaining punctual. Only a minute or so later than planned, he heard a faint buzzing in the distance. He smiled.

Scootaloo was hunched over the crossbar of her wooden scooter, her tiny wings blurring as she propelled herself and her two friends forward. She skidded to a stop a few paces from the dapper white Unicorn and then took off her racing helmet.

“Uh... hay!” she said, partially succeeding at trying to sound nonchalant. “I showed up at two o’clock, just like you said!”

Fancy Pants raised a well-coiffed blue eyebrow.

“You brought friends.” His voice was utterly flat.

Scootaloo rubbed the back of her neck with a front hoof. “Is.. is that bad? It’s just we kinda always do everything together, and I know you said not to tell anypony, but I was so excited I just had to tell SOMEpony...ab- about...” She trailed off; the stallion’s gaze felt like the one Miss Cheerilee gave her when she broke a window playing hoofball.

Fancy Pants stayed silent.

“You don’t hafta pay them, too!” she offered.

Apple Bloom nodded eagerly. “I’ve been mighty curious ever since Scootaloo told us! I’m jus’ happy ta be taggin’ along!”

“Yeah!” agreed Sweetie Belle, her voice squeaking on the word. “I’ve always wanted to! I bet this’ll be a LOT of fun!”

Scootaloo stared imploringly into the stallion’s steely-blue eyes. “Can they do it too, Mister Fancy? Pleeeeeez?”

Fancy Pants pursed his lips in thought. This was becoming complicated.

“Can you all keep this just between us, then? Not a word to anypony?”

The three little foals all but fell over each other in their energetic agreement.


“Yer darn’ tootin’!”


Fancy tapped his chin with a front hoof. “And you know it might be a little rough on you, yes? You may get a little... messy.”

“I ain’t afraid ta take a tumble’r two!” said Apple Bloom proudly.

“I got REALLY messy at the last Sisterhooves Social, Mister Fancy!” added Sweetie Belle.

Fancy Pants let out a tiny sigh. “Oh, my. Such youthful vigour! Yes, very well. You’ve convinced me! It will be the four of us!”

The three fillies shared a triumphant cheer and a high-hoof.

Fancy ignited his horn and magically loosened his tie as his dress shirt magically unbuttoned itself. Soon every scrap of his clothing was in a neatly folded pile on a patch of dry grass.

“Now remember, my little Ponies... this will be our little secret, you understand? I have a reputation to consider.”

“We won’t tell, Mister Fancy!” the trio chimed in unison.

Fancy Pants grinned. “Marvelous. Then let’s begin.”

* * *

Two hours later, Scootaloo dragged her scooter along at a slow and uneven pace, supplementing the shaky, intermittent flapping of her tired wings with kicks of her right hind leg. Like her friends, she was covered head to hoof in patches of dirt from the field and the occasional bump or scrape.

“That was... pretty rough,” she groaned. “I’m sore all OVER!”

“He’s gotta lotta energy fer such an old guy,” agreed Apple Bloom as she plodded along next to the scooter.

“I don’t feel so good...” moaned Sweetie Belle from the scooter’s towed wagon, where she was sprawled on her side. Her pale white face had a distinctly greenish cast.

“I TOLD ya ta spit it out!” chided Apple Bloom. “It ain’t healthy ta swallow that stuff!”

“I got caught by surprise!” said Sweetie defensively. She let out a sour burp and then flopped back down in the wagon.

Scootaloo pondered for a moment. “Well, he DID agree to pay all of us in the end, so I guess that’s pretty cool, right?”

“Yeah!” said Apple Bloom, brightening. She turned to look at the three bags of bits sitting next to Sweetie Belle in the wagon. “This’ll be enough ta get those skydivin’ lessons we were talkin’ about! I’m telling ya - I got a good feelin’ about us gettin’ Cutie Marks fer flyin-” Apple Bloom caught herself, then winced.

Scootaloo frowned.

“...Sorry,” said Apple Bloom softly.

Scootaloo sighed. “S’okay. Skydiving does sound kinda fun. And I betcha I can steer better than you two!” She flapped her wings for emphasis.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo shared a hearty laugh. Sweetie Belle let out a weak chuckle.

“This was a great idea,” said Scootaloo firmly after a few moments of silence. “We should see if any other rich stallions want to give it a try!”

* * *

Back in the Overcast Field, Fancy Pants lay on the dirt in the aftermath of his secret vice and sighed contentedly.

His ears perked up at the sound of soft hoof-falls, but he relaxed upon sight of his faithful old butler, Dobbin.

The elderly Unicorn trotted forward and stared down at this employer through a small brass-framed pince-nez on the end of his muzzle.

“If I may speak freely, sir,” he said, “this... tendency of yours is going to be found out some day, and it will raise no end of clamour in the Capital.”

Fancy Pants got to his hooves and turned to gaze out at the field.

The remains of a vast collection of mud-walls, mud-battlements, mud-towers, and pile after pile of ready-for-throwing mud-balls sat slowly drying in the gloomy air. It had been an excellent battle.

“If they find out, perhaps they’ll find out they like it,” he said, half to himself. “If there’s one thing last year’s Gala taught them, it’s that one can be a Pony of fine breeding and excellent bearing... and still not be afraid to get dirty.”

“If you say so, sir,” replied Dobbin, magicking up a brush to dust off Fancy’s hide. “But we ought to make haste. You have a hoofball game scheduled in Dodge this evening, a pie-eating contest there the following morning, and you must make your excuses before you go.”

THE END ~52 minutes

Matilda, Trixie, and the Sweet Apple Acres Cellar

Characters: Matilda and Trixie
Setting: Sweet Apple Acres' Cellar

“...So, can you help me?”

Matilda Donkey spoke in a low voice, concerned about eavesdroppers even in the private location she’d picked for the meeting.

“Unfortunately, even for a magician of Trixie’s calibre, it is simply not possible!”

The cerulean showmare turned up her nose at the older Hauseselin standing before her in the fruit-scented gloom of the apple-cellar.

Matilda’s brows knitted. “Oh, please! It’ll mean so much to him! To us!

Trixie sighed in irritation, staring her down. “Trixie hates repeating herself.”

The Donkey stared back. “ … You did it to those two colts.”

Trixie turned away. “That was different!”

Matilda’s lower lip quivered. “I don’t know who else to turn to! Twilight Sparkle said she couldn’t do it, and-”

Trixie wheeled around like an uncoiling spring.

That Mare... said she couldn’t? Not wouldn’t? Couldn’t?” A passionate flame flared to life in the Unicorn’s violet eyes.

Matilda took a backward step. “Err, yes...?”

Trixie narrowed her eyes. “The Great and Powerful Trixie will do this for you, humble Donkey. Even if her mighty horn cracks and her very Cutie Mark explodes from the effort, you shall have your wish!” The mare swung her head upward and unleashed a flourish of magical fireworks.

Muffled hooffalls and voices came from the floor above:

“What in tarnation was that?”

“GALLOP!” shouted Trixie, racing past Matilda and breaking for the cellar door.

* * * *

Cranky Doodle Donkey sat on a stump outside of his modest home and pondered the falling leaves as the autumn dusk set them ablaze with colour.

He sighed; the fall always made his joints ache.

All at once, a strange tingle gripped the end of his nose. His nostrils twitched. He sneezed.

The tingling intensified, and a violet haze blurred his vision. His heart began to pound.

Oh, roadapples, he thought to himself ruefully, I always knew I’d give up the ghost in the autumn.

He staggered to his hooves, hoping to make it to the comfort of his bed before his last moments of life slipped away. Better than flopping down in the dirt like some swatted fly...

With every step, however, he found his gait becoming firmer, not weaker. His strides lengthened, and his hoofprints deepened. A furious itch seared across his scalp.

By the time he reached his front door and leaned against it for support, the impact of his body broke the latch. He tumbled inside, his aching back un-cooperatively pain-free.

“Now, what are you playing at?” he asked the Reaper who was no doubt either already here or on his way. “You think it’s funny, making me kick the bucket this wa-”

The sight of himself in a wall-mirror made Cranky freeze stock-still in mid-sentence.

His garish blond toupee had fallen, replaced by a thick head of curly dark-brown locks. His sallow hide was now tight and bright, and his sunken chest solid and firm. His knock-knees were straight. His arthritis was gone.

He was still staring when there was a knock at his broken door.

Cranky trotted over to his door in a daze, opening it as much by reflex as by choice.

He gasped.

She was a vision. Lean and long-legged, with eyes like wide, soulful droplets of summer sky. Her dark mane was pulled back in a queue, and she wore a dainty silk kerchief - just like she had the day he’d met her.

“M-Mah... Muh...” His voice cracked and lost all volume.

“Oh! I’m so happy this is the right house!” she said, her voice bright and high and full of youthful vigour. “After we met at the Gala, I had to leave early for a family emergency. But I just had to see you again! So I searched high and low until I found you!” She winked.

Cranky swallowed hard. “H-How...?”

“You know what they say, Doodle-darling... love finds a way.” She smiled; her eyes shone.

Cranky smiled back, revealing a mouthful of straight, white teeth. He raced forward and embraced her, gripping her with a strength he’d forgotten ever having.

Matilda hugged back with the same force, half-squeezing the breath from his lungs. He didn’t care.

Cranky nuzzled her neck. “It’s... it’s not real, is it?” he whispered softly, afraid to break the moment but more afraid to leave the question unasked.

“Just for today, love,” she whispered back. “Let’s never forget it.” She pulled back and stared into his bright, clear eyes. “Do I look like you remembered? Like the jenny of your dreams?”

Cranky fought down the lump in his throat. “Oh, Matilda... you always do!” He pressed his lips to hers.

* * * *

A dozen yards away, concealed by underbrush, the Shaking and Sweating Trixie fell over on her side. Her white-hot horn ignited the dry autumn grass where she fell. She lay there, wheezing for breath, until her limbs stopped tingling, and then slowly staggered back to her hooves. She took a few faltering steps until her view of the young lovers was clearer. She wiped the sweat out of her eyes with a trembling forelimb.

“H-Hah...!” she gasped. “Hah... hah...”

“...Happy anniversary!”

THE END ~51 minutes

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