By John Thomas Tuft

For Laurel, Jennifer, and my other Jennifer, and Haley…and anyone else who wants to listen…

Eleven year old Krystal wanted to do something to make the world a better place, as those who think and imagine like any-year-old girls are wont to do. As we all know, horses, unicorns and dolphins are the purview of any-year-old girls, for they are the gatekeepers of the borderland that holds the portals to other worlds that only our imaginations dare to enter. And when it comes right down to it, horses, unicorns and dolphins are some of the best ever companions to roam the earth; they are beautiful, and they are both needing and giving of nurture. When it comes right down to it, who among us does not seek such nurturing companions? And who among us dares to disagree with Krystal when she says about unicorns, “Unless you believe in them, they won’t show themselves to you. They are like a pure spirit.” And, as we all know, eleven year old girls are simply hoping that we will recognize that they are the secretly beautiful, magical and nurturing creatures that they see themselves to be. Pure spirits. We tread lightly in such realms…

Krystal rose every day to go out to the shed to care for her best friend, War Ship. Five years ago, Krystal first met the calico pony. It was her birthday, naturally, and the child was so excited she didn’t want to leave her new, best companion ever. When her mother insisted that she come get ready to go to church services, Krystal insisted on knowing why. “So we can worship together, of course,” replied her mother, with a western Pennsylvania accent. And thus, to a five year old’s ears, a name was born for the new pony. Krystal and War Ship grew closer over the years, riding all over the place: through fields and pastures, up and down the hills, and both of their favorites, in the woods. Krystal’s parents admonished her to be sure to stay on the trails in the woods and they did their best to mind them. But friends are for adventures, and as Krystal and War Ship got older, they wanted to explore—as children, horses, unicorns and dolphins from all over are wont to do.

“War Ship, I’ve got a new book. Let’s find some place new where we can read it,” Krystal said one day. They wandered over the hills, galloped across the fields to much laughter and shrieks of delight, and left the trails in the woods to explore. That’s when they found it: a secret place. A clearing in the woods with a circle of big, towering rocks. They could slip through the opening and have complete privacy. Sweet grass for War Ship and solitude and sunshine for Krystal. They returned again and again to their secret place. In her special diary where she kept her deepest and most personal thoughts, poems and prayers…and wishes, Krystal noted its name: Castle Trailfaron. “War Ship, if everybody came to Castle Trailfaron, then it wouldn’t be a secret, special place. So, swear a unicorn oath that we can never tell anybody.” And the calico pony, of course, agreed to these terms. Special friends keep solemn oaths.

Then the summer came, the one when Krystal was thinking about wanting to make the world a better place. What didn’t come was rain. For a long time, no rain. The fields and pastures got dried and brown. The leaves on the trees in the woods drooped and sagged. The sun beat down mercilessly. But for some reason, maybe magical, Castle Trailfaron remained a spot of blessed coolness. Until one day, maybe it was lightning, maybe that ubiquitous careless hunter, a fire started in the forest. While Krystal and War Ship were in Castle Trailfaron. Flames leaped high and smoke billowed. The wind changed direction and drove the fire toward the town. Krystal buried her face in War Ship’s beautiful mane, scared. Uncertain. “Should we go, War Ship? I’m just a little girl, and you’re just a pony. What can we do? It’s safe here. Maybe the others will be okay.”

And then it happened. A little bunny hopped into Castle Trailfaron. Then another. Then a fawn, on spindly legs. Krystal leaped onto the pony’s back, yelling, “Let’s go War Ship! We can do this!” The girl who wanted to make the world a better place spurred War Ship through the smoke and flames, determined to warn her momma and daddy, and the rest of the town about the fire. As cinders flew through the air and smoke choked their lungs, the girl and the pony rode from door to door, telling people how to get to safety at Castle Trailfaron. “Don’t be afraid,” she cried to them. Each one of them. All of them. “I’ve been there, on War Ship. There’s room for everyone.”

The good townspeople found their way through the danger to Castle Trailfaron and waited. And waited some more. But the brave girl and the faithful pony didn’t come back. And still they didn’t come. They never returned. Sad and heartbroken, the people did find Krystal’s special diary, there in her secret place. Which is why, if you go outside at sunset, and turn to face Castle Trailfaron, as the sky turns gold and pink and purple, you will see the robes of a royal princess. And if you listen closely, you will hear laughter and shrieks of delight, as Krystal crosses the sky on her faithful companion, War Ship.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.