Autumn Gallery and Bristol must accompany the Selectponies on a trip to Baltimare. They therefore have to explain their duties to HurryUp Ann and JoNeigh who will be covering for them while they are gone.
JoNeigh’s orientation went quickly, since JoNeigh already knows her way around the stacks, the stamps, card catalog, and so forth. When Dr Sir Jekyll Steele needs to process an inter-library loan, JoNeigh and Aurora Jane make use of Aunt Arctica’s magic dragon figurine to send the request in hopes the book can arrive on the next stage from Dodge Junction. HurryUp Ann spends on entire day with Autumn Gallery, getting distracted throughout, but is certain she’s ready to handle the job. The next day, before the Selectponies, Bristol Index, and Autumn Gallery board the stagecoach, HurryUp Ann’s grandmother, Vera Long Whately, takes her aside to emphasize while everyone is gone that Constable Hobb is in charge, not HurryUp Ann.
HurryUp Ann is busy seeing how fast she can spin in the chair at city hall when Constable Hobb tells her he’s going to deal with a problem report: Old Sleepy Oats got into the salt lick again and is dancing on Walnut Meadow’s roof.
Shortly after Hobb leaves, Shucks MacKorn arrives to file his flood abatement certification. And it’s due today. And Miss Gallery always helps him with the forms because they’re just so confusing! He’s very nervous that he’s going to do it wrong. HurryUp Ann sets him up with the form.
Meanwhile JoNeigh’s day started off with a surprise gift of fresh coffee delivered thanks to Aurora Jane, but then the day takes a bad turn when Ruby Wishes chains herself to the library front door because she has received a Vacate the Premises notice for failure to pay back taxes. She has swallowed the keys, including the key to the magic “unpickable padlock.” When JoNeigh asks her why she’s chained herself to the library instead of city hall, Ruby Wishes explains that the columns and grand stairs of the library facade make a more dramatic presentation.
A crowd forms, and Jimmy MacKorn begins selling popcorn (and sets aside the profits for a fund to help pay Ruby’s back taxes).
HurryUp Ann starts to empty out an old drawer to make room for her new gossip forms, then decides that’s too much work, and starts filing the forms in a bucket. But she notices a strange scratching sound coming from behind one of the filing cabinets.
Some pony comes in to report that Ember Cake and Cinnamon Song are having a gigantic argument. Ember Cake has had to take shelter in his garden shed as his wife throws tools, dishes, and random household items at him. HurryUp Ann takes the report to give to Constable Hobb when he gets back.
Aurora Jane arrives at the library in hopes of running into Doctor Steel when he arrives to pick up his book. She attempts to use magic to undo Ruby Wishes’s locks, but the magic of the padlock resists, even re-locking most of the other locks. The magic padlock even reweaves the chains after Aurora Jane destroys one of the links. Aurora Jane, upon learning how big the back tax bill is, heads over to City Hall to pay the bill and end the protest.
By this point Shucks has finished writing his first name, then needs HurryUp Ann to explain to him that “surname” means his family name, MacKorn.
HurryUp Ann starts looking for the tax payment ledger book, and notices that the scratching noise is getting louder. She convinces Aurora Jane to magically move the filing cabinet out so they can see what is making the noise. They find a door with two locks on it, one of which HurryUp Ann realizes she has, but she can’t remember who Autumn Gallery said has the matching key. (She didn’t, quite sensibly.)
Before they find the ledger, Sleepy Oats arrives, very inebriated, and shackled. He explains that Hobb cuffed him and told him to go turn himself in to be locked up, because Hobb had to go take care of… something… Sleepy Oats can’t remember what. And Hobb wanted Sleepy Oats to tell HurryUp Ann where Hobb had gone, but Sleepy Oats has forgotten that, too.
HurryUp Ann tells Shucks to tell people she will be right back, and she and Aurora Jane take Sleepy Oats up the hill to the jail, which is a small building at the base of the town water tower.
Velvet Eclipse, an extremely elderly unicorn, comes into the library to return a book she found while cleaning out her grandson’s room, which has been sealed up since he died 37 years ago. She is trying to convince her great-great grandniece, Twilight Paradise, to move in with her. Velvet Eclipse is afraid there will be a fine. JoNeigh looks up the book (Unmentionable Varmints, by Scorch von Klimpt) and sees that both Bristol Index and his predecessor have unsuccessfully tried to find another copy of the rare old book to purchase. Since the book had been written off, but has been returned in good shape, there is no fine.
Velvet Eclipse asks about the pony chained to the door, and JoNeigh explains about the tax situation and that Aurora Jane is going to pay the tax bill. As Velvet Eclipse is leaving the library, she tells the ponies outside that Borealis James Buckminster-Kimblewick is paying the back taxes.
JoNeigh is looking over Unmentionable Varmints more closely, and finds that the book opens naturally to a chapter on Changelings. As soon as she opens the book, she starts hearing a scratching/scuffling sound from behind the door (just past the break room) that requires two keys to open and is marked “Authorized Ponies Only”.
JoNeigh decides it’s time for some tea, but when she turns on the tap, no water comes out. When she heads to the general store to find out where the plumber is today, she hears a number of other ponies discovering that there is no water. She decides to go to the water tower to see what has happened to the pump.
Aurora Jane and HurryUp Ann arrive at the jail, and notice that nopony is working the treadmill that powers the water pump. A pegasus pony named Midnight Skies is supposed to be working off his own recent drunk and disorderly arrest. The ponies figure out how to lock Sleepy Oats into a cell. Aurora Jane, searching for keys to take the cuffs off her own hoof, discovers that Constable Hobb has developed a habit of doodling some portraits of her on his scratch paper. HurryUp Ann, with the help of Sleepy Oats (who knows every procedure at the jail all too well), realizes that she has a key that will unlock the cuffs. Aurora Jane draws a little heart on the inside of each cuff, then uses them to attach the constable’s chair to his desk so it can’t be pulled out. Aurora Jane proudly declares, “Mischief managed!” and is surprised when her magic seems to activate on its own. But she doesn’t know why.
Meanwhile, JoNeigh is talking with Ruby Wishes again, and Ruby hiccups suddenly. The magical key pops out of her mouth, glowing with aurora-colored magic. JoNeigh unlocks the locks, and while helping Ruby pack away her chains and padlocks, slips the magic lock and key into her own pack.
When the HurryUp Ann and Aurora Jane get back to city hall, there is a big crowd of ponies wanting to report about the water problem, the escalating argument between Ember Cake and Cinnamon Song, and other issues. JoNeigh is at the very back of the line wanting to report a few things of her own. The Elderflower sisters want report that the Cherry brothers are selling scrumble out of their backyard without a license. Another pony wants to report that she thinks Cloudy Flowers appears to have been attacked and abducted from her own front porch, leaving behind a suspicions scene. Old widow Amber Glitter wants Constable Hobb to do something about “immoral goings-on” she claims are occurring in the old shack where Twilight Paradise lives and very suspicious sounds that come out two or three times a day when Dr Steel visits. And Shucks interrupts because he has finished writing his surname, and now needs help with the next blank, because he knows how to add one and one, but doesn’t know how to add dresses.
HurryUp Ann deputizes as many of the crowd as will to go search the town for Constable Hobb. Aurora Jane, troubled about the gossip about her boyfriend, pretends to go searching for Hobb, but actually intends to discover what is going on with Twilight Paradise. When she finds the latter’s shack, she peeks in a window and discovers that the unicorn has some sort of ailment or curse that causes her horn to grow painfully whenever she uses magic. Aurora decides this is probably a legitimate ailment the doctor is treating and goes away.
Meanwhile, Jimmy has learned that the water tower is empty and that it’s causing trouble for everypony in town who doesn’t have their own well (most of them), so he heads up to the treadmill to pump water.
After completing her spying Aurora Jane hears the ongoing fight between Cinnamon Song and Ember Cake, and intervenes. She discovers that for many years Ember Cake has been secretly disposing of his wife’s homemade pickles and replacing them with pickles purchased from yet another old widow, Willow Hurricane. Aurora Jane turns on all her charm and convinces Cinnamon Song that this was simply an act of charity for the struggling widow, and not intended to disparage the pickles at all. The spouses are reconciled and Aurora leaves the scene richer by one jar of pickles.
Jimmy was being too enthusiastic at the pump, and soon water is spewing out of pipes and flooding many pony homes. Jimmy is stopped before the tower explodes.
HurryUp Ann, JoNeigh, and Aurora Jane meet up at Cloudy Flowers’s home. HurryUp Ann remembers that Midnight Skies and Cloudy Flowers had been seeing each other romantically for some time. There is evidence that Midnight Skies may have taken her. They move on to Midnight Skies’s home. At his house they find evidence that he has been sending away for mail order remedies. There is a family tree he has reconstructed showing that he has several relatives from Windsmouth. He apparently was beginning to transform, his feathers being replaced with scales, his eyes changing, and his ears becoming more like antennae. JoNeigh recognizes the list of exotic ingredients on one of the remedies and double-checks Old Doc Leechwell’s apothecary book. The recipe is a tonic that speeds up the transmorgrification of pegasus ponies with the Windsmouth look.
Jimmy arrives, having joined the search for the constable. He shows the others the silken remains of a pony-sized cocoon he found at the treadmill where Midnight Skies should have been. Jimmy accompanies the others to Walnut Meadows’s house, since that is where Hobb was last seen. Walnut Meadows says that something flew overhead just as Hobb was cuffing Sleepy Oats. She also remembers hearing a scream, but by the time she looked it was gone. Hobb apparently saw it, and he told her he needed to get to the swamp.
So the ponies go to the swamp. They find the location where Hobb converted his personal cart/rickshaw into a water taxi, and eventually find it at the base of a gigantic tree. The tree has a large number of watermelon-sized fruit which appear black to everyone but JoNeigh, who says they glow and are beautiful. There are signs that Hobb has attached crampons to his hooves and gone up into the tree. JoNeigh investigates.
JoNeigh is confronted by Midnight Skies, whose wings have become like giant moth wings, his eyes are double cat slits, and ears are fluffy antennae like a moth’s. He wants her to go away and take the constable with her. He retrieves Hobb, who is partially encased in a cocoon. He drops the constable so JoNeigh has to catch him. JoNeigh takes Hobb to the ground, then goes back up. JoNeigh calls up to Cloudy Flowers, who says she has been unharmed, and pleads with everyone to let her reason with Midnight Skies on her own.
The others cut Hobb loose. He changes to large crampons then attaches a battle lance and some sort of gun harness to his body, and heads back up to rescue Cloudy Flowers. Jimmy gives him a boost.
JoNeigh is trying to reason with everypony, thinking Cloudy Flowers and Midnight Skies can work everything out on their own. Aurora Jane is convinced that Cloudy Flowers is in danger, so she puts on the other crampons and starts following Hobb. Jimmy, meanwhile, listens to where Cloudy Flowers’s voice is coming from for several minutes, then gets into position, and kicks the tree once. Cloudy Flowers is knocked loose, and it becomes obvious that she had been webbed to a branch much like the constable. Aurora and Jimmy catch her. When Midnight Skies dives to attack, Hobb catches him with the net gun.
It becomes clear that Midnight Skies believed that if Cloudy Flowers would eat the fruit of the tree, she would be transformed into a moth pony like him. He had been trying to make her eat the fruit. The captures Midnight Skies is transported to town and locked up in one of Old Doc Leechwell’s treatment rooms. Dr Steel is going to attempt to stabilize his moods. Cloudy Flowers is returned home unharmed.
Constable Hobb takes care of several of the other trouble reports. Shucks completes his form and to the surprise of everypony it is a masterpiece of calligraphic art. HurryUp Ann stamps it. It is only when Shucks asks if it really is stamped with the correct date that HurryUp Ann realizes she has been stamping everything with the previous day’s date. HurryUp Ann is surprised that the crowd is so small, and only then learns that a bunch of unscheduled stage coaches arrived while they were out, and the Marelem Brisk Trotters, the most famous hoofhoop ball players in Equestria (with team captain Meadow Lark) has come to Brindlebury by mistake, and have agreed to an exhibition game. Jimmy runs off to join the rest of the town, cheering.
HurryUp Ann can’t go: she has to help file all the reports. She arrives barely in time to see Meadow Lark and Maneless sink the last basket as the referee blows the final whistle. Then she sees Jimmy and Meadow Lark bump hooves, and hears Jimmy say, “Great game. Again!”
Ruby Wishes arrives at City Hall with a very old savings bond. She explains that when she went home, she couldn’t find the family heirloom magic lock, and while searching for it, found this old bond that had been purchased by her grandmother, Ruby Tiara. The bank redeems it for a large sum. Ruby is able to reimburse Aurora Jane for the back taxes, and has a goodly sum left over.
The next night, HurryUp Ann becomes suspicious about her father’s sudden leaving in the middle of dinner. She follows him… and wakes up the next day with a bump on her head and no memory of what happened. She has a suspicion it has something to do with whatever is behind the doors in city hall and the library… the doors that, when she looked through the keyhole, she saw her own eyeball reflect a multitude of times in some sort of large compound eye!