A fable loosely inspired by My Little Dashie. A tragic tale about the dangers of allowing dogma to be an excuse for persecuting others who may be different and have attributes and gifts that are not understood. Warning: The content of this story may be ideologically sensitive to some readers.
They say that time heals all wounds. But that's not true. Sometimes, time only causes the wound to fester—to become infected and burn with the fire of loss.
I have told this story at least a hundred times. And every time is like opening the wound afresh and pouring salt into it. So now, I write it down on paper so that those who wish to hear the tale may read of it. For I will never tell this story again.
It was the year 1903, and dust roared across the vast farm fields of Missouri. In those days, I was the head of a small family owned farm in a rural community. The summer had been hot and dry and a particularly severe drought had parched the land. That morning, I arose before sunrise, as was my habit, and started down the creaking stairs from the bedroom to the kitchen. I was thinking the same thoughts I'd been thinking all week: if we didn't get some rain soon, we were going to lose that year's corn crop, and if that happened, we would probably lose the farm.
As I walked into the kitchen, my ears caught the sound of a tapping noise coming from the front of the house, as if on the porch. My first thought was some type of predator—a wolf, or perhaps a coyote. We had already lost several of our sheep that year.
Without hesitation, I jogged out into the living room of the old farm house, reaching above the fireplace mantle and taking down the Winchester lever-action rifle hanging above it. Carelessly, I threw open the door and looked out into the predawn dark.
At first, I saw nothing. But then I looked down on the porch to see a woven wicker basket before the door. Inside, something was wrapped in a crimson blanket that had a strange stylized image of the sun on it, embroidered in golden thread. Never had I seen such a thing, for the thread looked as if it had been woven from actual gold.
Now during those trying, drought-filled years, it was not unheard of to find abandoned babes left on doorsteps. After their crops had failed, many families simply couldn't afford the expense of raising another child. When I reached down to unwrap the blanket, that is exactly what I expected to find. Nothing could have prepared me for what was actually there.
I hesitate to say it was a baby horse, for it was more than that. The young foal in the basket was pure white in color, as if her coat were made from freshly fallen snow reflecting the light of the sun on a crisp winter morning. A single horn grew from the center of her forehead, like that of the unicorns of mythology. On her sides, near the top of her back, grew small feathery wings. Her mane and tail were blending colors of pink, light green, and light blue, and seemed to flow gracefully in some unfelt breeze.
I don't know how long I stared at the strange sight before me, but it must have been nearly a full minute. Finally, I recovered my wits enough to lean down and pick up the basket, taking it back inside the house. There, I unwrapped the young filly—I used the obvious method to determine it was a filly—and held her for a moment. Her magenta-colored eyes looked deep into mine and I found myself wondering why anyone would have simply put something so adorable in a basket and abandoned her on a doorstep.
I untangled the blanket from her and carefully set her down on the rug in front of the unlit fireplace. I thought she might be hungry and went into the kitchen. I had no mares that were with foal at the time, so cow's milk would have to do. My youngest daughter was still not fully weaned, so I did have some baby bottles. I filled a small pan with milk and began to warm it on the stove.
As I waited for the milk to heat, I went back out to the living room and watched her. She stood up, shaky on her four spindly legs. Then, she carefully put one forehoof forward, followed by the other. At one point, she stumbled and almost lost her balance. Now living on a farm, I had seen fillies born before, and I surmised this one must be no more than a few hours old.
I went back into the kitchen to stir the milk and tested it, then filled the bottle, took it back to the living room and offered it to her. She looked at me for a moment, then pecked at it with her muzzle, testing it and playing with the rubber nipple before finally taking it into her mouth and starting to drink. I could feel my heart melting for this poor creature that someone had so carelessly abandoned in a basket. At that moment, I bonded with her as if she were a lost puppy.
I heard a noise upstairs and realized my wife and children were up. Before I had a chance to hide the young filly, they were already out of their bedrooms, standing at the top of the stairwell and staring down at her. The children wasted no time before darting down the stairs and rushing to her, ignoring my wife's shouts to stop. The shouting seemed to frighten the young filly, and she attempted to bolt and run behind the couch. But her legs were still unstable, and slipped out from under her, causing her to land muzzle first on the floor. My three children surrounded her and began to fawn over her as if she were an abandoned kitten they had brought in from outside. At first, the little filly seemed scared, but she quickly warmed up to the attention. She even seemed to enjoy their gentle stroking of her fur and their little hands brushing through her mane and tail.
My wife came downstairs and we spoke briefly while the children remained occupied with the young filly. I was relieved when it took took next to no convincing for my wife to agree that we should keep the filly. And so, our strange little filly had a new home. Now, all she needed was a name.
I thought back to the blanket she had come wrapped in—the one with the image of the sun emblazoned on it—and tried to think of names that might fit our new filly. "Sun" wasn't a good name, "Solar" didn't sound good either. Where had she come from? She had just appeared. A sun. A star from the heavens. From the heavens? Celestia! I suggested the name to my family, and they all agreed quickly. And so now our little filly had a name. And what a beautiful name it was—Celestia.
Now children will be children, and children are not very good at keeping secrets. So it was only a matter of a few days before the entire schoolhouse knew of our strange new filly. Soon, we had the children from every farm in the area—even from all the way in town—coming out to play with our little Celestia as if she were every child's favorite puppy. The little filly seemed to hesitate at first, recoiling from all of the hands reaching out to touch her. But it wasn't long before she seemed to enjoy the attention of the children, even looking forward to their visits. On the days when the dust storms rolled through the area and parents didn't allow their children outside, she would sit by the door, a look of sad longing in her deep magenta eyes, like a faithful dog waiting for its master to come home.
At first, I wondered why none of their parents had come over to see our little Celestia. But then, Billy—he was one of the children who routinely came to play with her—gave the obvious answer: Their parents simply didn't believe them. The other children nodded their agreement. Little Timmy, well he was little at the time, even said that his father had taken a belt to him and told him to stop telling such tall tales.
Of course, it wasn't long before the parents started talking amongst themselves. And when they discovered that all of their children had been telling the same story, a few of them decided it was worth coming over to our farm to investigate. Once a few had seen her with their own eyes, they told all of the other parents at the school parent-teacher meetings. And those people told the people they worked with in town, and so on. Soon, our little Celestia was a local celebrity. I felt it only natural to be concerned about how some of the adults would react to her, but it turned out, my concern was unfounded. All those who saw her fell in love with her, just as the children had done, and word of her continued to spread. Soon, even people from the next town were coming to see her. At first, our little Celestia seemed intimidated by all of the attention. But once she realized all of the people loved her, and all of the hands that touched her were gentle and kind, she began yo crave it like a dog craves being pet and played with. And so life was good. Our little Celestia's celebrity status had extended beyond just the immediate town, and into other small towns close by.
Now as luck would have it, the drought broke later that summer. Autumn came, and we were able to harvest a normal corn crop so we were no longer in danger of losing the farm. And our little Celestia had started to grow up; I'm sure you know fillies tend to grow rather quickly. Her unsteady legs had grown strong and powerful, and despite her youth, she could run like the wind. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. She spoke her first words. She said my name; then she said the names the rest of my family. She even spoke the names of some of the children who routinely came to play with her.
Needless to say, I was completely dumbfounded at this new development, but I was also excited. I took it upon myself to teach our little Celestia to read and to speak the language fluently. When the children came over next time, she stunned them all by speaking to them. At first, they seemed slightly frightened by this new development. But as tends to happen with children, fear soon gave way to curiosity, and in no time at all they were playing again as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. The only difference, was that now their filly playmate could actually talk to them. Even the adults seemed to take it in stride after getting over their initial surprise. And so life remained good. We had sold our entire crop, we had enough food to get through the winter, and our little Celestia was loved by the entire town.
Winter came, and with it, long days spent indoors near the fireplace as the cold Missouri wind whipped across the open fields. Fewer children came to play with our little Celestia now, and those that still made the trek did so less frequently. I can remember one day coming downstairs and seeing her sitting in front of the fireplace, her head hanging low and a distraught look on her muzzle. Concerned, I sat down next to her.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Why don't the children come to play with me anymore? Did I do something wrong? Do they no longer like me?"
At first, I was shocked that she would think that. But then it occurred to me: it was her first winter. I wrapped my arm around her neck comfortingly and spoke in a reassuring tone. "Oh, that's not it at all, Celestia. They love you. All the children do. But in the winter, it's not safe for them to venture so far outside of town. I'm sure all of them miss you as much as you miss them, and they will be overjoyed to see you once spring comes and the snow begins to melt."
That seemed to reassure her. She gave me a small smile and her ears perked up on her head. Then she looked at the bookshelf above the fireplace mantle, before turning her head back to me.
"Will you read a book to me? And teach me more about how to read?"
I smiled in response. "Of course, I will." And that is how we spent much of the rest of the winter. Our little Celestia learned quickly, and before long, she was proficient enough to start reading books to my children at bed time. She had a little trouble turning the pages, but eventually mastered the ability of slipping the tip of her horn between the papers and turning them that way. I was overjoyed that she enjoyed reading to them and had taken it upon herself to do so almost every night. It relieved me from the duty and gave me more time to focus on planning what to plant next year and trying to round up potential buyers.
Before long, spring came, the snow began to melt, and the children were at our door again asking to play with our little Celestia. The first thing they did was marvel at how much she had grown through the winter. The children had also grown during that time, although not as much as our little Celestia had.
The next few years continued much as the the first had. The children continued to play with our little Celestia. The adults continued to be fascinated by her as well, although they did not come to see her nearly as often as the children did. And it wasn't long before our little Celestia was not so little anymore. By the fourth year, she had grown into a beautiful young mare.
Given that she had always had wings, we had often wondered if she could fly, so it came as little surprise to us nor anyone else, the first time she did. Her first flight was relatively short, simply taking to the sky, taking a few turns around the barn, and then landing. But before long, she was flying as proficiently as if she had been doing it all her life.
Now, even the adults came to see her more often. Always, they wanted to see her fly. She would oblige them and perform spectacular aerial stunts. Loops, rolls, dives, and vertical climbs. And when she would land, the audience would cheer and clap for her. And all the while, the entire town continued to love her.
Much to the chagrin of the parents, sometimes Celestia would let the children climb onto her back and give them rides, although no matter how much the children begged her, she refused to fly when any of them were riding her. This was met with groans of disappointment from the children and sighs of relief from their parents. Only a few of the parents refused to let their children ride her though. She was always very careful with the children and had never shown any aggression or carelessness with them. And so all of the townspeople trusted her and loved her.
Other than her willingness to play with and entertain the children, she was always willing to help anyone with any problem she could. I remember that spring my plow horse stepped into a small hole in the field and injured his leg. Thankfully, it was not a fatal injury, but it would take the rest of the harvest season to heal. I don't know what I would have done without Celestia, for she offered to let me put the harness on her, and together we harvested the entire field. I couldn't have done it without her, and we would have lost the crop.
That was just the type of mare she was. When someone needed help, she helped them. And her kindness and generosity extended to everyone in the town who needed her help. And through it all, the townspeoples' love for her continued to grow.
Spring turned into summer and summer into autumn, and the night came where there was to be a town meeting at the community center. Celestia had never been into town before and very much wanted to go along, so we agreed to let her come. When we arrived at the community center and brought her inside, a few people thought it slightly strange seeing a horse inside the building, let alone one with wings and a horn. But once they got over the strangeness of the sight, she was welcomed with open arms.
Folks went about their business, and I stayed next to Celestia. A few minutes later, I noticed her looking intently at something on the other side of the room. A look of sadness seemed to fill her large eyes, and a frown creased her muzzle.
"What's bothering you?" I finally asked her.
"That boy over there. What's wrong with him?" she responded.
I glanced in the direction she was looking, and I saw ten year old Phillip, seated in his wheelchair, his head motionless as he looked at the table. I turned back to Celestia and leaned towards her ear speaking quietly so as not to be heard.
"That's young Phillip. He was born with a spinal cord defect that prevents him from moving. He's been paralyzed from the neck down since he was born. Doctors didn't even think he would survive since they were not sure he'd be able to breathe on his own. But he can." I hesitated for a moment before adding, "Some say it would have been a mercy for him if he had not survived."
She looked back at me, her eyes getting wider. "He can't move at all? Not at all?"
"He can't, except for moving his head a little bit. But he can only do that with tremendous pain. He needs someone to push him around in the chair. He needs someone to lift him out of it at night and put him in bed. He even needs someone to turn him in bed once in a while so he doesn't get bed sores."
I watched as Celestia's ears drooped and her eyes became even more infused with sadness. I felt nearly as bad for her as I did for young Phillip, as I could feel her heart breaking with compassion for the unfortunate child.
Then, the expression on her face changed. Now, it had become resolute. Her drooped ears raised and she held her head high, walking slowly over to the paralyzed child, stopping directly in front of him. Little Phillip looked up with a great deal of effort and pain judging by the scrunched up expression on his face.
For a moment, the two of them simply looked at each other. Celestia said nothing. Neither did Phillip, although he rarely spoke, since it caused him a great deal of pain to do so. I watched Celestia tap a forehoof on the floor once as if to cement her resolve. Then, she lowered her head towards the child's neck. I watched in awe as the tip of her horn suddenly glowed with a radiant golden light, a light as if from the sun itself. Vaguely, I was aware that everyone else in the room had noticed as well; everyone had gone silent and was now focused on her.
She touched the tip of her glowing horn lightly to the child's neck. The glow brightened for a moment and a tingling feeling came about the room. A smell like ozone after a thunderstorm briefly filled the area. Then, the light from her horn grew dimmer and went out. She raised her head back up, took a couple of steps backwards, and looked at him again.
"Stand, and walk," she said in a firm and confident tone.
Nothing happened. For several moments, there was stunned silence in the room. Finally, an indignant cry arose from one of the men a few feet away.
"Is this some kind of cruel joke? He's been paralyzed since birth! He can't stand up and walk! I've never known you to be cruel, Celestia but this … This is just sick!"
I was about to rush forward, and retrieve Celestia, then make a hasty retreat from the building. But before I could move, Celestia spoke again, undeterred and this time in a stronger voice.
"Rise, and walk!" she said, looking at the child sternly.
Phillip's eyes widened. His left arm moved slightly on the chair's armrest, followed by his right. The silence in the room was overwhelming. Everyone's jaw hung open. That child had never moved his arms on his own. Not since the day he was born.
The child looked down at his feet and I stared in stunned silence. I had never seen him move his head that fast before, and he had not winced when he did it. Could it be? Had he actually made a movement without waves of pain hitting his neck?
A stunned gasp went up as his feet moved. His fingers curled, hands gripping the ends of the chair arms. I saw his muscles tighten, muscles that had never worked in his life. He pushed down against the arms of the chair. His knees began to bend and straighten. His legs, which were thin and atrophied from lack of use, seemed to grow firm and strong before my very eyes. And then, unsteady and shaking, he rose from the chair. From the corner of my eye, I saw his parents. His mother had her hand over her mouth, her eyes filling with tears. I turned my attention back to Phillip. With great trepidation etched on his face, he removed his hands from the chair. He was standing! On his own two legs without any help! His eyes simply blinked in disbelief, his jaw hanging wide. Carefully, shakily, he lifted his left foot, moved it forward, then put it back on the ground. Then he did the same with his right foot. The room remained silent, as if stunned by a lightning bolt, the only sound the weeping of joy from his mother and father.
And Phillip continued to walk, the unsteadiness leaving him. He took another step, then another. Finally, he covered the last few steps to Celestia in a bound, throwing his arms around her neck. His mother and father rushed forward to join him, his mother's cries of joy muffled in Celestia's neck fur now as she cried into her mane.
"Thank you! I don't I don't know how you did it, but thank you!" she managed to say between sobs.
Now I don't know how long everyone in the room continued to stand in stunned silence, but at some point, the silence turned to laughter and shouts of joy, combined with people heaping praise and adoration on Celestia. I could see she was starting to get nervous with all of the sudden attention as she danced on her forehooves. I stepped forward, getting near her and motioning her to the door. She quickly followed me, a crowd from the room pursuing us. Eventually, we made it to the door and stepped outside. She motioned me to climb on her back. I did so, and we galloped back to the farm, losing the crowd of people quickly.
Needless to say, word of what had happened spread quickly. Over the next few days, Celestia's celebrity status increased a hundredfold. Sick and injured people started to show up from all over Missouri, looking for this mysterious white horse with a horn and wings that could heal ailments that doctors could only frown and shake their heads at. And heal them she did. Celestia had compassion for all of them and healed every one of them. I continued to be amazed by her kindness and generosity. Never once did she ask for anything in return.
It was on a day about a week later, when there apparently were no sick or injured people to be brought, that Celestia decided to go into town and see some of the kids she had grown up with. I was busy trying to decide whether to plant corn of soybeans next year, and so I declined to go with her. She simply nodded and smiled, then left and started into town herself.
About an hour or so passed before I heard the door open roughly. Hooves clapped on the floor as she came running in, finding me at the kitchen table going through seed offers. Her eyes were filled with tears and she immediately broke down and started crying. Quickly, I stood up and went to her, concern filling my heart.
"Celestia … What's wrong?" I asked in a worried tone.
"They … they threw rocks at me! They told me to get out! That I wasn't wanted here!" she managed to say between sobs.
"What?" I responded in shock. "Who did? Who told you that?"
"The kids I grew up with!" She buried her muzzle in my shoulder, her body shaking with uncontrollable sobs.
"Why? Why did they say that?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. I galloped away as soon as they started throwing rocks." Another sob racked her body.
I held her close and tried to console her. Eventually, I managed to get her to calm down. She sniffed a couple of times and dried her eyes on my shirt. It took a while, but finally, I was able to get her to lie down in front of the fireplace and sleep. By the time I did so, it was evening. The sun had already set, and it was beginning to get dark out. I went to the coat rack and grabbed my coat, throwing it on over my shoulders. I was determined to go into town and find out exactly what had happened and why. And I wasn't going to wait until tomorrow to do it.
Before I could reach the door, I heard a shatter, followed by the thump of something crashing onto the floor. I jumped in surprise and looked towards the window at the front of the room. The glass was broken, a jagged hole the size of a grapefruit punched through it. Shards of glass lay on the floor underneath. On the floor, a few feet away, there was a large rock with a note attached to it. I quickly picked up the rock and removed the note, unfolding it and reading it to myself.
"Pony witch! We don't want you in our community. We don't want witches and their black magic here! Leave!"
"What was that?" Celestia called from in front of the fireplace, wide awake now and back on her feet.
"Nothing," I responded as I quickly folded the note back up and hid it in my shirt pocket. "The window just broke. That's all."
"Windows don't just break," she responded incredulously.
I sighed before answering her. "Some kids threw a rock through it. But you needn't worry yourself about it. I'll have the sheriff come out and take a report. He'll find the people responsible."
"This is because of me, isn't it," she said as she frowned and looked at the floor.
"No. Don't ever think that. You did nothing wrong to cause this," I said, walking over to her and wrapping my arms around her. "It's just kids acting out. It will pass."
I don't know if she was convinced or not, but I was finally able to get her to lie back down and go to sleep. In my own mind, I hoped I was right. I hoped it was just kids being kids and that this would, in fact, pass.
The next morning, Sheriff Johnson came out to investigate. He looked at the broken window and I showed him the rock that had been thrown through it. I made sure Celestia was in another room playing with my children, as I didn't want to expose her to any of this. After a few moments, the sheriff shook his head and sighed.
"I wish there was something I could do, Bill. I really do. But since no one actually saw who tossed the rock through the window, there's no one I can charge with the crime."
Now I wanted to protest, of course. But what could I say? I knew the sheriff was right. And so I only nodded slightly in begrudging acceptance.
"I'll keep my ears open," the sheriff continued. "People who do this kind of stuff often can't resist the urge to brag about it to others. Perhaps someone will overhear something at the saloon. In the meantime, I suggest that Celestia stay away from town until this blows over."
Reluctantly, I nodded and thanked the sheriff for his time. When he left, I went into the other room to break the bad news to Celestia.
"The sheriff … thinks it would be best if you stayed away from town for a while … Just for a little while."
She looked at me with emotional pain etched on her muzzle. I could see tears starting to well up in her eyes, and again, my heart started breaking for her. She rushed towards me and buried her muzzle in my shoulder.
"I don't understand," she sobbed, "What did I do wrong? Why don't they like me anymore? Why would the kids throw rocks at me? Those are kids I grew up with … that played with me … that loved me. What did I do wrong? Why don't they like me anymore?" I could feel her tears starting to sink through my shirt and wet my skin as I responded.
"You didn't do anything wrong, Celestia … Sometimes, people fear what they don't understand. And they don't understand how you were able to heal those people when no doctor could. But this will pass. Once they realize that you are a good and caring being that only wants to use her powers to do good, this will blow over. And like a passing thunderstorm, there will be clear skies behind it."
I knew my answer wasn't a very good one, but it was the only one I could give her. For I myself, did not understand why they would do this to her when she had shown them nothing but kindness and done nothing but help them. I hoped I was right, that it would blow over. But I wasn't entirely sure that it would.
Now the next few days passed without incident, and I thought perhaps it was over. I was starting to feel a sense of relief. And Celestia, who had been distraught ever since the attack on her, seemed to be a little less depressed. Maybe she thought it was finally over as well. But then came that awful night I will never forget.
I had just sat down for dinner with my family when I heard a tremendous commotion outside. Getting up from the table, I went to the living room and saw flickers of orange approaching from the distance outside the window. Quickly, I took down the Winchester, checking to make sure its tube was full of ammunition.
"Keep Celestia in here!" I called out to my wife behind me. Then I opened the door and stepped out on the porch, shutting it behind me. An angry mob of torch-wielding adults waited for me, approaching from the distance. I held the rifle in both hands in front of me but didn't point it at any of them. At the front of the group, apparently leading it, I saw Thomas, the local mill owner. He had a torch in one hand, and his axe in the other. My hands tensed around the stock of the rifle.
"Give us the pony witch! We don't want witches in our town!" he shouted.
"Witches? She's not a witch!" I responded incredulously. "All she has ever done is use her powers for good! To help anyone in this community that needed it!"
"She is the antichrist!" another angry voice called out from the mob. "She performs miracles and healings as it says the antichrist will do in the Bible!"
"The antichrist?" I shouted back in bewilderment. "She has never claimed she's a god. Never asked you to bow and worship her. Never asked you to leave the church or renounce your faith. The antichrist? She's not the antichrist!"
"Then she is worse!" another called out. "She is the beast itself! Or the devil in disguise! She performs miracles and does not attribute them to God!"
"All she has ever done is help you all whenever you needed it!"
"She is evil!"
"Evil? How can you say she is evil? She has only ever used her powers for good!" I shouted back. But now the sound of my voice was being drowned out by rising chants from the mob.
"Give us the pony witch! She is the antichrist! Give us the pony witch!" they shouted repeatedly, thrusting their torches into the air.
The situation was becoming explosive, and I knew violence was going to erupt at any moment. But then, a gunshot to the left quieted them. I turned my attention there, as did the others. Sheriff Johnson made his way through the edge of the gathered mob up onto the deck of my house. Standing next to me, he spoke to the crowd, his voice laced with anger.
"All of you should be ashamed of yourselves! Coming here like this when she has been nothing but kind to you. When she has never asked for anything in return." He looked at one man in the crowd, about two rows back. "Joe, your boy would be dead from that farming accident right now if she had not healed his injuries. You should be utterly ashamed of yourself for being here. And preacher, what of all of your talk of kindness to strangers at your Sunday church services? I'm disgusted to see you here."
For a moment, the crowd remained silent. But it wasn't long before one, maybe a few rows back, shouted out again. "She's the antichrist! We don't want the pony witch in our town!" The rest of the crowd began to become loud again, voicing their support of running our poor Celestia out of town, or worse.
"All of you disperse now!" Sheriff Johnson called out loudly. "Or I will have every one of you run down to the county jail for disturbing the peace and inciting civil unrest."
Well, it seemed none of the gathered mob was willing to go to jail over it. They slowly started to disperse, each going their separate way, the flickering orange torches fanning out and disappearing into the distance. All but one. Joe, the man whose boy had been badly injured in a farming accident, and healed by Celestia remained behind, a look of remorse on his face.
"Sheriff Johnson is right," he said quietly. "I had no business being here. She saved my boy's life and I'm ashamed of myself for participating in this. I know I don't deserve her forgiveness, but please tell her I'm sorry."
I nodded slightly. "I will, Joe." Then, he turned and left as well.
"I'm sorry about this, Bill." Sheriff Johnson said. "I really am. I wish I could do more to offer protection for your farm and for Celestia. But I'm short staffed and there's no budget for me to hire any more deputies. I simply don't have the resources right now to have a deputy patrol this area so far away from town."
I nodded slightly. "I understand, Sheriff."
Then, he turned and left, and I watched him go before turning back towards the door. The fact that Joe had stuck around to apologize gave me a flicker of hope. Maybe the community would realize they had been wrong. Maybe he would talk to them. If even one of them were willing to admit they were wrong, maybe more would be.
I went back inside to find Celestia in tears again, my wife and children trying to comfort her. The shouting outside was loud enough that she had been able to hear every word, and now, she also knew it was not just the children who had suddenly turned on her and no longer wanted her around. I wish I had been a wise man that night. A man of learning who had studied at the great universities. A man who knew what to say to her to comfort her and make her feel better. But I was not, and I didn't know what to say. I think she ended up crying herself to sleep that night.
Again, the next few days passed without incident. And I began to think that perhaps the uproar had died down. Maybe Joe had been able to convince them they had been wrong; that they were wrong to treat Celestia the way they had done. But that night, any hopes I had of that being true were crushed as surely as if they had been corn tossed into a grinder at Thomas's mill.
Once again, my family had just sat down for dinner, when a crash from the living room startled us. There was a strong smell of burning kerosene. I rushed out to the living room to find a roaring fire in the middle of the floor a few feet away from the shattered window. Looking around, I grabbed a blanket from the couch and threw it over the fire, stomping on it to put the flames out. For several long terrifying seconds, I didn't think I would be able to get it out. I can remember flames eating through the blanket, singing my pants, crawling up my leg and burning. Finally, the flames dimmed and went out.
I breathed a sigh of relief, then turned and frowned to see my family and Celestia standing in the doorway to the kitchen. All of them looked distraught and on the verge of tears. It was Celestia who finally spoke, her voice shaking and unsteady.
"I can't stay here anymore. I'm only putting you and your family in danger. I have to leave."
"No … I don't want you to leave. My family doesn't want you to leave," I responded in a pleading tone of voice. "We'll move … We'll go somewhere far away where they won't persecute you anymore," I responded in a pleading tone of voice.
She shook her head sadly. "I can't ask you to do that for me. Not give up your farm and the life you have built for you and your family. Besides, you and I both know that it would only be a matter of time before the same thing started to happen wherever we go. And it's in my nature to help those that need it. I can't simply stop using my abilities to heal sickness and injury to avoid persecution."
I wanted to protest, but deep down, I knew she was right. Not only was my family in danger as long as she were here, but she was in danger as well. And there was no where we could go where that would be likely to change once the local population found out about her abilities, assuming the entire country didn't already know, that is. My entire family gathered around her, and together, we all cried. We must have cried for an hour or more. We cried until we no longer had any tears left to cry. And then, we cried some more. We agreed that Celestia wouldn't leave until we at least had Sheriff Johnson out tomorrow to see what he had to say. Then, we all went to bed, sleeping in the same upstairs room. I kept the Winchester close to me all night, and my eldest son kept the shotgun. We took turns keeping watch out the window in case anyone would approach, but no one did.
The next morning found Sheriff Johnson, along with Matthew examining the damage in the living room. All of us, including Celestia, stood off near the doorway to the kitchen, watching the sheriff and the fire chief. Shortly, the Sheriff lifted his head and frowned at us.
"Again, I'm sorry to say that since no one actually saw who started the fire, there's no one I can arrest for the crime. All we can do is keep our ears open and hope someone brags about it at the saloon in town or something."
I saw his frown deepen as he turned to look at Celestia. "I'd never force you to leave, Celestia. Not after everything you've done for us. But I can't guarantee your safety here anymore. And I don't think it's safe for you to stay here."
All of us said nothing, only nodding stoically. It was like having a second doctor confirm the diagnosis of some terrible disease. We had all been hoping against hope the original diagnosis was wrong. But deep down, we had all known it was not.
"Thank you for your time, sheriff," I responded quietly.
He nodded slightly and came over to me, putting a hand on my shoulder. "I wish I could do more, Bill. I really do. But my hands are tied by the limited budget and inability to hire more deputies. And even if I had more deputies, I don't think I would be able to hold back the angry mob the next time they decide to come out here."
Then he turned to Celestia and put a hand on her withers. "I am truly sorry … I'm so sorry. I'm a better person for having met you. You do not deserve any of what has happened to you. If I don't see you again, good luck, wherever you go."
Then the sheriff and fire chief both left the house.
None of us said anything for a long time. All we did was hug each other and cry. I couldn't understand any of it. All she had ever wanted to do was help people. And they rejected her because of her unique ability to do just that. We hugged, we cried, my family cried. We all cried for what seemed like hours.
"I will never meet anyone like you again, Celestia," I said softly. "I'm so sorry for everything that has happened. I wish I understood why it has happened, but I don't. I love you, Celestia." The rest of my family all took their turns saying their goodbyes, all sharing their love for her.
"Where will you go now?" I finally asked her after I was able to compose myself well enough to speak again.
"I do not know," she said sadly. "I will try to find another world I suppose. One where I am more needed … More wanted."
"You are needed here, Celestia. These fools are just too blinded by dogma and superstition to see that," I said, a hint of anger creeping into my voice.
She said nothing in response to that, her ears remaining drooped against her head. Her once flowing radiant mane and tail lie loosely, as if the invisible breeze that always seemed to keep them in motion had simply died. Now, her tail hung loosely on the floor, her mane limply over both withers. She finally spoke again in a sad, shaky voice.
"I love you all. And I will never forget you. Thank you for taking me in and caring for me in the years I was here."
We hugged again and said more goodbyes. Then, she took a few steps backwards. For a moment, she looked at us with a deep sadness in her eyes. Then, her horn glowed with a golden dot of light. The dot expanded into a sphere, which grew until it completely surrounded her. It closed in on her with a momentary flash of blinding light. When my vision recovered from the flash, she was gone. I hugged my family as fresh tears immediately flowed to the surface, and we started to cry again.
For the next three days, we did nothing. No seed was planted, no buyers were contacted. Nothing. We did not leave the house and rarely spoke, even to each other. Each of us mourned the loss of our little Celestia in our own private way. We mourned her as bitterly as if we had lost a beloved member of the family, for that is exactly what had happened. I went to church on Sunday, but only to tell the preacher that I was leaving the congregation. For the town's treatment of Celestia had caused me to lose all faith in the church and in organized religion.
But life marches on, even when we want it to stop. And so on the sixth day I half-heartedly went out into the field and worked the plow. The tears began to flow again as I thought of the time Celestia had pulled the plow for me when my draft horse had been injured.
It was then that I noticed a man approaching my field from the road through my tear-clouded vision. Wiping my eyes with the back of my dirty hand, my vision cleared enough to see that it was Thomas, the mill owner. Anger rose in me immediately, and I assumed he had come to make sure that Celestia was actually gone. I halted my horse and began to walk over to him, trying to get my anger under control. When he saw me approach, he stopped, a mixture of what seemed like sadness and fear blanketing his face.
"What is it you want, Thomas?" I asked angrily.
"Celestia … Is she here?" he asked, his voice filled with desperation.
"Why do you want to know?"
He stammered with his response. "My … my boy … Jacob. He's contracted smallpox. He's in the hospital … He is dying. The doctors say they can't save him … I … I—"
Any sympathy I felt for Jacob was overwhelmed by indignation at his father. "Now you want her help? You dare come to her now?" I practically shouted.
He recoiled and seemed smaller somehow, as if he were wilting into the ground like a stalk of corn parched by the summer sun. "I … I'm sorry. I shouldn't have treated her that way. Please, I will do anything she asks of me. As long as she saves my boy. Please …" he pleaded.
I shook my head. "You're too late, Thomas. She's gone."
He wilted even further and I saw a look of despair flood over his face. "Can you find her? Please, I'll do anything for her. Anything. Just as long as she saves my boy."
"I can't, Thomas. She's left this world. None of us can go where she has gone. I don't even know where she has gone." I could feel my anger reaching a boiling point. Not only was I angry over what had happened to Celestia, but now over what would happen to this young boy. I shouted at him now, exploding in a rage.
"You and the others couldn't let go of your religious dogma long enough to accept her for who she was! To accept the gift she had! She never asked anything from you in return! All she ever did was help you and this community. And how did you repay her? By accusing her of witchcraft? Of being the antichrist? Well, look where your dogma has gotten you now, Thomas! She's gone. She's not coming back. You are welcome to search my house if you don't believe me."
Thomas recoiled even more under my verbal assault, then hung his head and turned, walking away. He didn't bother to go to the house and see for himself. I watched him go down the walkway, then turned and went back to my plow, tears mixing with dirt now to form streaks of mud on my face.
Thomas's boy died the next morning from the smallpox. He was only twelve years old. That night, Thomas was found in one of the grain elevators at his mill by his wife. He had climbed to the platform at the top, tied a rope around his neck, and jumped off.
Over the next year, the pain of losing our little Celestia never got any better, and my family continued to be shunned by the town and the community. We made the decision that it would be best if we left. And so we sold the farm and moved to Kansas City, where I took a job as a deck hand on the river boats traveling along the Missouri River. Some years later, I heard that Sheriff Johnson lost his next bid for re-election, and left town as well, although I don't know where he went.
To this day, the pain of our little Celestia leaving us cuts deep. I'd like to think that at least the community learned an important lesson from it. A lesson about condemning others who have attributes you don't understand. A lesson about letting religious belief drive people to hate and persecute. But the way they treated her has caused me to become misanthropic, and I doubt that they learned anything at all.
I never saw Celestia again, and I still don't know exactly what she was, or is. Maybe she was an angel sent from God. Or maybe she is God. I suspect I will never know. But what I do know, is that she has a heart made of gold, and that she was the most kind and caring individual I ever met. And that she gave selflessly of herself without ever asking anything in return.
On some mornings, just before sunrise, I almost think I can see her in the sky to the east, as if she is leading the sun up over the horizon. But I know it is probably just my eyes playing tricks on me, combined with age starting to take a toll on my feeble old mind.
Celestia, wherever you are now, it is my deepest hope that somewhere in this vast Universe, you found that world that needed you, that wanted you, and that appreciated you.