Mr. Pony

Stephen S. Power


A little girl in a horsehead mask leans out of a weathered bus shelter and stares down a country road. Dry leaves and dust from the Palmer’s empty pumpkin fields skitter across the asphalt. The air is gray and rough as stone. The girl hugs her pink coat closed until the school bus finally appears, then she waves her bedazzled hooves. The flashers turn on. The girl smiles inside her mask. She’s always relieved to be seen.

The bus wheezes to a stop, the door squeaks open, and she hauls herself onto the bottom step.

“Hey there, Mr. Pony,” the driver says.

“I’m not a pony,” the girl says. “I’m not a mister, neither.”

“You are today, Mr. Pony. That is a very fine mask.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Pony says, climbing up to stand beside him. “After Whimper got a ‘fection, Mommy took his face to make it.”

“Your mama did a wonderful job.” The driver peers at her forehead just below the wire-stiffened ears. “Look at how well she sewed up that bullet hole. Hey, one second.” He plucks something from a plastic bag hanging off the dashboard. “Would you like a sugar cube, Mr. Pony?”

The peppermint looks miniscule in his massive black hand.

She bobs her head. The driver holds the candy so she can press it between her hooves, which had been Whimper’s too, and Mr. Pony trots to her seat: third row, driver’s side, on the aisle. From there she knows the driver can keep an eye on her in the rearview mirror, and she can watch him crank the door shut, then put the bus in gear. The bus doesn’t feel so empty then.

That’s when she notices in the mirror that the bus isn’t empty. All the way in back, a skull mask peeks out of the last seat.

“Who’s that?” Mr. Pony says.

“That’s Mr. Skeleton.”

“But I’m the first stop.”

“Not today,” the driver says. “Can’t have Halloween without a skeleton.”

Mr. Pony wonders who could be in the costume. No one lives farther from school than her. She looks in the mirror. Mr. Skeleton ducks out of sight. Probably some stupid new kindergartener.

Mr. Pony says, “Were you a skeleton when you were a kid?”

“No, I couldn’t go trick or treating.”

“Why not?”

“Mama made me stay home,” the driver says, “because of the ghosts.”

“That’s not fair,” Mr. Pony says. “Wait, you’re making that up.”

“I am not.” The driver turns onto a road that looks exactly like the one they’re leaving. “Mama said once a year the ghosts woke up, and they were terribly hungry, so we had to feed them.”


“Chicken,” the driver says. “And greens and boiled potatoes. And jars of my uncle’s glow juice.”

“You mean shining?”

The driver laughs. “What do you know about shining?

“My uncle has empty bottles all over his cellar. He says when the moon goes to sleep, it puts its shining in the bottles the way I put my clothes away. He showed me the shining once. It was beautiful and clear, and it did seem to glow. He said if I ever drank some, it’d make me glow too.”

“I think our uncles would’ve gotten along just fine, Mr. Pony.”

“Is yours a ghost now too? Mine fell down the cellar steps.”

“Yes, but they’re a different kind of ghost. Glowing ghosts. Shining ghosts. The ghosts that came to my house, they were hungry ghosts. Moaning as they crossed the yard. Rattling our shutters. Banging the walls and door till my uncle had to let them in.”

Mr. Pony shivers. “I don’t think I like this story, Mr. Driver.” She looks in the mirror. Mr. Skeleton is nowhere to be found. She stares at the floor, waiting for his bony hands to grab her ankles or his bony face to look up between her legs. She tucks her feet onto the seat and sits her muzzle on her knees.

“I’m sorry,” the driver says. “Is my story scaring you? I should’ve known. You are just a little pony after all.”

Something fires in the girl. “I’m not little,” Mr. Pony says. “I should be Mr. Horse. Tell your old story.” She stamps both feet onto the sticky floor.

“Yes, ma’am!” the driver says. “Now the ghosts were big. Bigger than my uncle. I figured that’s why they were so hungry. They floated inside, all white and flowing, filling our little house and stuffing our dinner in the slits they had for mouths.”

Mr. Pony shivers again. She wants to move up near the driver, but after stamping her feet like that, she has to be brave, so instead Mr. Pony presses her peppermint harder and says, “Weren’t you scared?”

“Sure I was. I didn’t mind feeding the ghosts. You have to feed the hungry. I couldn’t look at them, though. They had no eyes, just deep black holes where eyes should be. So I’d hide behind Mama.”

The driver looks at her in the mirror, then past her. She does too. Mr. Pony stops grinning at how someone that big could be scared because there’s Mr. Skeleton, shuffling up the aisle. He ducks into the seat behind her.

“One year, though,” the driver says, “the year I was about your age, a ghost knocked over my uncle’s chair, then Mama’s, and that wasn’t right, so I stepped out, and I spoke up.”

“What did you say?”

“I’ll tell you.” The driver slows through a bend in the road, then speeds up. The bus fills with roaring, and the driver raises his voice.  

“I said, ‘You pick up that chair, Mr. Ghost. And that one too. This is a nice peoples home. Don’t you come ’round here if you can’t be nice.’ The ghost stared at me as if I were the ghost. So did Mama. She tried to cover my mouth, but I slipped away and pointed at the chairs. My uncle couldn’t move at all. His face had frozen solid around his smile. But you know what? That ghost did pick up the chairs, then they nodded at my uncle and left.”

“Did they come back?”

“I don’t know. Not long after, Mama and I moved up here. Her cousin needed help.”

“What about your uncle?

“He had to stay back home to pick. Then Mama said he fell and died. Like your uncle, but out of a tree.”

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Pony says because that’s what you say.

The driver doesn’t say anything, and in his silence she hears shuffling. Mr. Skeleton’s in the aisle, staring down at her. He’s taller than she thought. His mask is made of real skull. He stinks of old dirt. Mr. Pony nearly shrieks as he holds out a skeletal hand until she realizes it has to be a trick from Ben Franklin’s, stuffed up his sleeve.

“Halloween’s much nicer up here,” the driver says. “No ghosts, just Mr. Skeleton. There’s parties. Corn dollies. Candy. I love giving out candy. I’d rather feed ponies than ghosts.”

Mr. Pony looks at her peppermint, looks at Mr. Skeleton, then carefully raises her hooves to drop the candy into his hand. The finger bones curl around it, Mr. Skeleton bobs his head, and he ducks behind her again.

“Of course,” the driver says, “ponies could probably eat more candy than any ghost.”

The candy wrapper crinkles nervously. Mr. Pony hears crunching. She really wanted that candy.

The driver peers through the windshield, stops the bus, and opens the door. “Hey there, Mr. Clown,” he says.

Mr. Clown gets on, ignoring the outstretched hand with its peppermint, and sits in the seat behind Mr. Pony.

“You can’t sit there,” she says. “Mr. Skeleton is.”

“No skeleton here,” he says.

Mr. Pony stands up and looks for herself. The candy wrapper rocks on the floor, but Mr. Skeleton is gone. She runs to the back of the bus. He’s not there either. Nor is he under the seats. She runs to the driver.

“Hey, Mr. Pony, back in your stall. It’s not safe to gallop around the bus.”

“Where’s Mr. Skeleton?” she says. “Where did he go?”

The driver points at the rearview mirror. “He’s right there.”

Mr. Pony bends and peers. “That’s only Mr. Clown.”

“Well, you can’t always see him,” the driver says, “but he’s there. He’s never not there.”

The driver reaches out to crank the door closed. His hand swallows the knob, the bus shrinks around her, and before Mr. Pony knows it she’s jumped down the stairs into the weeds beside the road. There’s no shelter here, just field left to fallow and, far off, a house she doesn’t know.

The driver says, “Hey, Mr. Pony. Let’s get back on the bus.”

She isn’t listening. She’s flinging away her hooves and yanking at her mask, trying to get it off. Her chin stops it one way. Her ponytail, the other. Mr. Pony wrenches the mask around and, unable to see, trips on the edge of the road. She falls against the bus, crying.

Between her sobs she hears shuffling in the weeds. She kicks in case it’s Mr. Skeleton, then bucks as something takes holds of her mask. It’s carefully lifted off.

The driver kneels before her, squeezing the horsehead between those massive hands. His black eyes are wet and shining. “I’m sorry, Miss Holle,” he’s saying. “No need to cry. It’s just a story. You wanted me to tell it. And you could see him too,” while the girl’s saying, “Make him stop looking at me,” over and over, and the driver’s saying, “I shouldn’t have told you. I should’ve known not to tell you. Don’t cry, Miss Holle. Don’t tell anyone I made you cry.”

Above them Mr. Clown pushes his dead white face out of a window, and he laughs and laughs and laughs.


“Mr. Pony”  © Stephen S. Power
Stephen S. Power is the author of the novel “The Dragon Round.” His short fiction has recently appeared at “AE,” Daily Science Fiction” and “Flash Fiction Online,” and he has stories forthcoming in “Amazing Stories,” “Deep Magic” and “Lightspeed.” He tweets at @stephenspower, his site is, and he lives in Maplewood, NJ.

digital illustration © Mobius

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