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Five Score and One For The Road July 7 2021

By hyreia
Created: 7th July 2021 03:01:55 PM
1st December 2022 11:04:57 PM

  1. Five Score And One For The Road
  2. Part 1. Where They Have To Take You In
  3. Chapter 1: Living Like Barry
  4. I woke up when my face hit the carpet. The rest of me was still hanging off so I brought the rest down with me. My leg clipped something on the way down. My shoulder landed in a spot that was unmistakably old vomit. Graceful.
  5. My stomach felt worn out and nauseous. My throat, mouth and eyes burned. My limbs were heavy. My head pounded in time with my heart. Shit. I was alive.
  6. I peeled the black mess of hair and beard from my face and pulled myself up to get off the vomit. Plus I had to figure out where the hell I was. I actually couldn't completely remember last night. Which is rare; I haven't blacked out in years.
  7. After some difficult thinking I realized at some point during the party last night I had fallen asleep on the couch. With all the furniture still pushed against the walls, couch included, I hardly recognized the space. Someone had stuck throw pillows on the couch behind me to keep me from rolling onto my back. So instead, I had rolled off.
  8. My dry eyes scanned over the beer bottles and plastic cups on the table in front of me until I spotted one that was half full; I really wanted to get the taste of vomit out of my mouth. After a swig of stale ale to clean my mouth I started taking in the full scene.
  9. Every surface of the living room and what I could see in the kitchen was covered with beer bottles, cans and plastic cups: The TV stand, the side table, the card table, the kitchen table. Even the floor was littered. Not all from the night before admittedly, but most of them were new. I took another swig. Past the smell of liquor vomit there was also a faint smell of permanent markers nearby.
  10. On the card table against one wall my birthday presents glistened in the morning light. Some were drunk out of more than others. Some were hilariously cheap, some were old favorites and some were quite nice. They were all perfect: Aristocrat and Old Crow. Jameson and Jack. Grapes in homemade moonshine in a Mason jar. 25 year old port wine. And the green fairy herself was here; a bottle of absinthe from the Leopold Brothers’. That last one was a gift to myself. It seemed right to treat myself one last time... before...
  11. On the same table as the liquor was an empty box that once contained 30 cans of PBR; those cans now being room decoration. The adorning bottles were mostly typical American brews but I bought some Mexican and local stuff too. The party litter and my bank account showed no expense was spared. I was trying to go out with a bang and with the furniture haphazardly pushed against the wall and a shrapnel of cups and bottles everywhere it looked like the place exploded.
  12. From where I sat on the floor I could see the cake someone brought still sitting out on the kitchen table. I thought we were civilized with forks and plates but it looks like we gave up at some point and just started tearing handfuls off. I don’t remember seeing that. Next to the cake sat a punch bowl emptied. That one was me; I emptied that. I made a mean punch. I should have probably written the recipe down.
  13. I downed the rest of my bottle. The stale lemon and citrus notes got even funkier at the bottom. And I could smell permanent markers again. That was when I finally noticed the tapestry of colored marker drawings and writing all over my arms. It looked like I crashed well before everyone left. It beat the hell out of birthday cards at least. They were mostly Happy Birthday, Thanks, penis drawings, a Get Well Soon, a Good Luck in pink highlighter, and several mentions of somebody named Barry. There were also tally marks. I remember now the idea with the markers was to track how much I was drinking but I kept finding more groups of them. There had to be at least 50 across both arms, but there were a bunch of incomplete sets. Next to one group of tally marks circled with it was a message was drawn with a preposterously shaky hand: “DICKS SUCKD”
  14. My sudden laughter surprised me; I didn't realize how quiet it had been. In response, I heard a moan of protest come from across the room from the other couch. Connor was still here! He blended in well with the blanket. His normally neat hair was a mess. I saw him turn and stuff his head into the corner of the couch cushion and pull the blanket over himself. Doing that revealed the fact he had taken his pants off at some point.
  15. Connor had his own plans yesterday but those wrapped up early and my party was still going strong. At my insistence he finally came over and I helped him ‘catch up’. First with the spiked punch, which was more alcohol than punch, then when he was well-lubricated with that I opened the 25 year old port wine and shared a few glasses on the rocks with him. It seemed appropriate, seeing as we had both just turned 25 as well.
  16. Well then, if I'm up I might as well check on the other birthday boy.
  17. I steadied myself onto my knees, then onto the couch, and then onto my feet. My hands were shaking more than normal today but the stiffness in my legs was fine, though they were a little heavy. I must have slept a while because I felt almost sober.
  18. I tiptoed around the cans and bottles towards Connor and leered over his sleeping body. I tried to think of something clever to say but after a minute staring at his blanketed form I fell back on keeping it simple.
  19. “Happy Birthday, Comet!” I cheered a little too loud; it even hurt my ears a bit. I plastered the shit-eating-est grin on my face I could muster. I heard a sigh under the blanket and then he slowly pulled the blanket from his face. He looked like a mummy brought back from the dead unwillingly. But when he saw my face his scowl broke into a reluctant acceptance.
  20. “Happy Birthday, Berry,” he rasped from his cocoon. There was that name again. I looked at the mentions of it on my arm then back at him.
  21. “‘No... Who the fuck is Barry?” I asked. He answered me with a confused look and rolled over to go back to sleep.
  22. I got up and left him alone on the couch for a moment to head into the kitchen. I was thirsty and my flat beer was empty. I stumbled past the kitchen table with the half-eaten birthday cake and stepped around the puddle of what I hoped was beer by the knocked over keg on my way to the sink. I made for the counter of unused red plastic cups and filled one at the sink. I impatiently downed the lukewarm water when it was half-full then refilled it again. This time it got to the top before I drained it.
  23. While I was refilling the cup for the third time, I noticed from the light streaming in from the window over the sink that I was wearing a deep purple shirt.
  24. I didn’t own a purple shirt.
  25. Well, I mean, I did now I guess.
  26. I took the third refill back into the living room and walked back over to Connor still lying on the couch. Accidentally kicking a bottle and swearing at the spill made him stir again. He strained his eyes open again to look at me. I offered the cup. When he saw what I was offering him he moaned angrily and put his hand up to shoo it away.
  27. “It’s fucking water,” I hissed at his protests. Hearing that he got him to sit up. He didn’t say thanks but he accepted the cup appreciatively and sipped it like a man unsure what his stomach was going to do with it. I let him enjoy a moment of silence before I tried my question again, “Alright Professor, who's Barry?”
  28. “You told everyone last night to call you ‘Barry’. And kept asking about someone named ‘Ruby’,” Connor explained this new ‘Barry’ persona to me.
  29. “I don’t think I even know a ‘Ruby’,” I said, more amused than anything. Hearing about my own drunk adventures was great; they were true stories, starring me, that I never heard before. It had been years since I blacked out, at least around others. I didn’t even know I still did that.
  30. “Yeah, everybody played along... but I don’t think nobody knew who Ruby was,” Connor said with a bit of his Arkansas showing. “She wasn’t at the party.” He finished his water and handed the cup back to me. I racked my brain trying to remember ‘Ruby’ from somewhere. The only places I had been to lately had been the liquor store and the grocery store. Was there someone named ‘Ruby’ who worked at one of those? Did she call me ‘Barry’? In my grogginess I couldn’t think of a single instance where I was ever called ‘Barry’. Maybe if I was ‘Barry’ she also had a different name. Then it’d be hopeless.
  31. “Did I do anything else?” I asked for more.
  32. “You went upstairs for a bit. You started hitting the alcohol real hard after the whole 'Barry’ thing so we thought you went too fast and crashed. But before I could come check on you, you came back down. You smelled like you threw up but you kept drinking and telling everyone to take care of you so they kept giving you more drinks,” he narrated, swallowed a bit and continued. “Then you started telling Rosie how much you liked her shirt over and over so she eventually agreed to trade you since it was your birthday,” he motioned to the purple shirt I was wearing.
  33. I was a little on the short side so I didn’t even notice it was a girl’s shirt. Once I started looking for it though I could tell from the cut that it was indeed a girl’s shirt. Well, that was at least one mystery solved; the shirt was Rosie’s. But that led to a new mystery.
  34. “I don’t know a ‘Rosie’,” I said, feeling the amused grin spread across my tired face.
  35. “She was Harry’s friend,” he informed me while rubbing a headache with one hand.
  36. “I don’t know a ‘Harry’ either,” I said as I chuckled a bit awkwardly. How many friends of friends showed up?
  37. “Really? You acted like you knew each other. Black hair? Told a lot of bad jokes?” Connor tried to fill in the gaps in my memory but there were no gaps to fill in; there wasn’t anything. I shrugged and dropped it. I looked back at my new shirt from the ordeal.
  38. “Well, I guess it’s an alright color,” I said with a shrug. My favorite color was still light green though; the color of absinthe. I looked over at the bottle of absinthe on the table to confirm it was still my favorite. The bottle seemed to answer with the way it shined in the light.
  39. I left my line of questioning with Connor to go check the bottle. Also, you know, I did need to steel myself. So while I was there I uncapped it and took just a short sip. A smooth anise violently shook the jitters from me. The long lingering numbness in my mouth left me feeling refreshed and in control.
  40. Before I could do another sip the doorbell rang. Being the least dead in the living room I assigned myself to answer it. I hadn’t realized what time it was, but when I opened the door the intense light of the afternoon jumped out and stabbed me right in the eyes. I unscrewed my stinging eyes to see who brought the sun with them.
  41. The face of the person standing at my door was immediately recognizable but my fumbling brain was having a hard time giving me a name for the face. She looked different. The god rays behind her weren’t helping.
  42. A girl my age was standing there in a blue, flashy top and distressed, heavily torn jeans with colorful tights on underneath. Her face was complemented with long brown hair, a button nose, and a flawless smile. She was a bit more stout than I remembered her last, but it made her cuter. Other than that last bit she was the perfect match to the person from my memories. She held a green Gatorade at her side.
  43. Before I could ask why she was there, or even stop acting surprised, she closed the distance between us and gave me a long, firm hug. The intensity of her shampoo was intoxicating but I eventually managed to put my own arms around her and return the hug. I could tell from the way the wetness of my shirt squished I was transferring some of my throw-up to her but she didn’t squirm from it. At least all the alcohol in it killed most of the smell. After a few seconds she finally released me but stayed nearly nose-to-nose to me. I could trip and fall into those chestnut eyes.
  44. “Happy Birthday, Brian!” she said with her cheerful tone and beamed that wonderful smile again. It felt like a lifetime since we last met. Her greeting reminded me that ‘words’ were a thing and after a moment I found my voice again.
  45. “...Morning, ...Monica?” I replied in confusion. In the silence that followed I tried to adjust my eyes to the light but that made the head beat harder.
  46. “Morning, Brian,” she broke the silence and greeted me again. This time the smile was sadder. “How are you feeling?” she started before her voice trailed off. After a beat her smile returned with a giggle. “Did I come by too early? Do you need a few more minutes?” Monica’s smile grew as she nodded down. I looked down to see what was the matter. And then I understood why she asked.
  47. I was in a girl’s shirt stained with vomit, with my arms covered in penis drawings, still holding a fifth of alcohol... and in my boxers.
  48. “Oh. No, now’s a great time! What are you doing here?” I played it off by leaning against the door frame. Maybe ‘Barry’ answers the door in his underwear?
  49. “Uh,” she seemed surprised by my question. “You... were texting me last night,” she sounded unsure. “Do you remember that?”
  50. “Not exactly. It might have been Barry,” I said, feeding the inside joke some more. I instinctively searched the pockets I didn’t have on the jeans I wasn’t wearing for the phone that wasn’t on me. I turned back to look into the living room; I wasn’t sure where my pants were. “Come on in for a sec,” I said and gestured for her to follow. She made no refusals and came in so I could shut the door behind her and begin the search for my pants.
  51. “Hey, Comet! Have you seen my pants?” I called out as I walked back into the living room. When I turned the corner I saw Comet was up and about now, standing among the party’s aftermath. The long top of his hair was slicked to the side and a little neater now. He had also gotten himself more water. He seemed to still be looking for his own pants as well though.
  52. “No,” he looked around the living room ineffectually as to help.
  53. “Hi, Connor!” Monica called out to my fellow pantsless friend. I turned back to look at the girl who walked in behind me. The look on her face told me she was barely holding in a joyful giggle. “Happy Birthday!” she added. She was also clearly in awe at the state of the living room.
  54. Connor froze unsure for a moment but then relaxed and smiled. The realization of the silliness of the situation seemed to put him in a good mood. “Happy Birthday, Monica.”
  55. I turned back to look at the girl still standing behind me. In my shock of seeing her I had nearly forgotten that since it was May 2nd now, it was her birthday.
  56. “Happy Birthday, Monica,” I said trying to hide the hint of the sudden realization in my voice. “Sorry I didn’t get you anything.“
  57. “Oh, don’t worry about that. Seeing you guys again was the best gift I could get from you! Plus...” She giggled and gestured at our pantsless legs. “What a reunion! I forgot how wild these things got…” She took in the disaster area before her eyes fell back onto the bottle in my hand. “Oh! I got you this though! Trade you,” she gently pawned the green Gatorade she had been carrying off on me and reached for the absinthe in my hands.
  58. I let her take it and she walked it over to the table with all the other liquors to set it down. She looked over all the liquor, cans and bottles on and around the table.
  59. “It looks like you had a lot of... ‘fun’ last night,” she said while looking at the bottles. She turned around and spread her arms out towards the living room. ”So how many were here? You two, your roommates, and ...Barry?”
  60. “No, I’m Barry,” I corrected her. “There were about nine of us when Comet showed up.”
  61. “I think there were around 15 or so at one point,“ Comet added then went back to babying his cup of water.
  62. “Oh,” Monica looked between the two of us as she tried to understand something more complicated. “So you’re ‘Barry’... and you’re ‘Comet’?”. She made air quotes when she said the names. I looked back at Connor. Was I calling him ‘Comet’? ...‘Vomit Comet’? Did he throw up last night and I forget? “Is that from some kind of party game?”
  63. “I guess? I don’t know when it started,” my friend said, unphased by the name swap.
  64. After a quick look around the living room and the kitchen I was stumped, thinking one of our pants should have turned up by now. After Monica offered to call my phone we finally found my phone, my pants, as well as Connor’s, thrown into the closet by the door where we kept the broom and vacuum. After we found them a vague enough memory of “putting our pants up so we could find them again” came to me. It seemed like it had some drunk logic to it but the thinking space in my sobering brain was being crowded out with a headache.
  65. “So, about last night’s texts…” Monica started again now that Connor and I had our respective pants back on.
  66. “Er. Hey, if you guys want, imma head out,” Connor tried to get past me to the door. He wasn’t drunk but he still looked like shit so I gently stopped him with a hand on the shoulder.
  67. “Hey no, stay a bit,” I pulled my crumbled pack of cigarettes and lighter from my back pocket and offered them to him. “Go wake up first. We’ll go talk upstairs. Right?” I turned at that last part to confirm that was alright with Monica. She nodded approvingly.
  68. “...alright,” he accepted after a moment of consideration. “Thanks. I’ll go make some coffee then,” Connor took my gifts and headed for the kitchen.
  69. I cracked open the Gatorade and took several large pulls. The electrolytes were just as much of a shock as the absinthe. When I finally stopped gulping it down I motioned Monica towards the stairs to say I was ready. As we ascended the stairs I started thumbing through my texts last night to figure out what this was about. Monica and I hadn’t dated since high school. And I hadn’t seen her in probably three years. What made me think last night that reaching out to her was a good idea?
  70. In my phone there were a few unread texts from people thanking me for the party and wishing me Happy Birthday, some not in my contacts. I thumbed past those to find the ones with Monica.They started around 1 am:
  71. Me: “M I know you don't appreciate drink texts but I need some hrlp
  72. throwing one more part then I don't know what to do with mydelfm
  73. I'm getting ficking lld and the only reason I'm still alive is because I wanted to see Brianna sjccesed.
  74. Nit I have no money the car is trash and I can't hold down a job.becjsdr I'm a wkrthlesd.alcohol just my dad”
  75. At this point she responded:
  76. Monica: “Are you okay? Where are you?”
  77. And the conversation continued:
  78. Me: “Upstairs.tjrkeknf up in the bathroom I think I'm done. I drink too fast”
  79. Monica: “Where upstairs? At your house?”
  80. Me: “Ye sorry I left the part.”
  81. Monica: “Is anyone still there?”
  82. Me: “Everyone's here”
  83. Monica: “Find someone and talk to them. Tell them to take care of you. Go down the stairs carefully too. I'll be by in the morning.”
  84. Me: “ok i love.you mini you're by.mest.frkend”
  85. Then three hours ago she started sending texts asking if I was still at home. And here we were. True to her word, she showed up.
  86. I had the urge to flee back downstairs and not have whatever conversation we were about to have. But she had showed up and now I was obligated to spill my guts further. Shit. Why would I send this to her? Because we were dating during my last crisis? Damn it, Barry, what were you thinking?
  87. Chapter 2: The Life of Brian
  88. We walked past Ian’s room and Markus’s to mine and I sat down at the end of my unmade bed. She plopped down next to me with a refreshing lack of grace. I turned to look at her but in an effort to avoid eye contact I looked down and spotted the brightest patches of the colors underneath her jeans again. When I looked up at her I saw she was looking around my room, I assumed to gauge how I’ve been doing. I looked around too to see what she was seeing, really taking in the state of my room for the first time in a while.
  89. There were various piles of clothes in and around my laundry baskets, a few empty and one nearly empty bottle of Aristocrat on my chipped wooden desk where a laptop from the last decade sat. Along with a few dirty dishes and cups. There were old packages and wrappers from fast food everywhere that I had been meaning to throw away… eventually. The posters I haven’t actually looked at in years, which were of bands I no longer listened to, were still pinned up. The thing that stood out the most in the room was a large opened shipping box in the corner. I could tell this caught her eye but she didn’t ask about it.
  90. Over the smell of her shampoo I became self-conscious the vomit on my shirt might smell and started apologizing as I stood up to search for a cleaner shirt. I stripped my vomit-covered put on an old band shirt from the floor. After I changed and turned to sit back down I saw the smile on her face looked strained.
  91. “What?” I questioned that look.
  92. “You’re just... so thin now,” she worded carefully. “You should eat more!” Not knowing how to respond to my malnutrition I just gave an awkward ‘sorry’ and sat back down.
  93. “So, are you doing any better this morning?” she questioned again with a strain in her voice. The kind of strain that wanted a positive response, but also for an honest one and knew she couldn’t get both.
  94. I first answered by sipping the Gatorade some more. I didn’t realize how badly I needed electrolytes. I decided to not answer her question directly.
  95. “Thanks for coming over. I’m kind of in a rut right now, I guess,” I started. I focused on the label of the bottle. “I still haven’t paid my share of last month’s rent. And Ian is starting to get on my ass about finding another job...“
  96. She nodded understandingly but interrupted by rambling with “Have you considered AA?”
  97. I scoffed. Not at her but the suggestion. “Yeah, my probation officer makes me go to that. And do community service,” I said bitterly. I chased my words with more of the green drink in my hands. My avoiding glance fell onto the bottles on the desk... faderade? ...maybe just a little? ‘Hair of dog’ and all that.
  98. “Probation officer? Are you alright? What happened?” she leaned forward to distract me from thoughts of an impromptu cocktail. The lack of judgement in her voice made me willing to answer.
  99. “I… ran over a traffic sign. And crashed my truck against a dividing wall. I got a DUI, a suspended license and then fined a bunch of money,” I said as I shrugged as if it was no big deal.
  100. “When was this? Was this after you lost your job?” she said, putting this together from the texts.
  101. “A few months ago. I... lost my job a little after that,” I looked over into an empty corner of the room before continuing, not wanting to look at her or myself right now. “A friend at work told me management was going to surprise me with a piss test. I called in sick then stopped going.”
  102. “Okay, well, maybe instead of AA you should go somewhere to rehabilitate?” She made another suggestion I already decided against.
  103. “And get into even more debt and waste all that time and effort when I go right back to drinking,” I explained to her the outcome.
  104. “That’s not necessarily true. Plus your life is more important than money. You need to get better,” she insisted. “There’s programs... and aid you can apply to... and sliding scale payment plans for-”
  105. “I’ve quit before, but…I can’t deal with life when I’m sober; everything is crap,” I vented bitterly like a fifteen year old. “It’s better if I just stay drunk until I kill myself; at least I’ll be functional in the meantime. Like my Dad.” The last sentence came out of my mouth before I could think it and long before I could stop it.
  106. “Brian, you’re nothing like your dad,” she said firmly and put a hand on my shoulder to reassure her point. That beautiful smile beamed at me, making me feel like a flower in the sun’s rays. “You’re a wonderful person to be around. You love everyone you meet. And you’re really cheerful when you’re drunk. You’d never hit Brianna.“
  107. The thought of my twin sister filled me with guilt over my poor life choices. But I thought about Monica’s words. When we were young we argued and yelled but it’s true, I never hit her. I was her older brother, even if only by half a dozen hours (technically it was her birthday now). I tried to act like a big brother for her. She was Mom's favorite, especially after I got caught helping make moonshine with Dad in the shed. I don’t blame Mom though, Brianna was my favorite between the two of us too. Brianna was beautiful and talented and incredibly smart and I was an alcoholic like Dad. She had changed majors a few times in school so she was still going but she was already making money selling crafts online; supplementing Mom’s income.
  108. I couldn’t remember a time when Dad was nice to Mom. Mom defended him when we were young, saying he was just tired and grumpy but as we got older and he became more violent she defended him to us less and less. When he wrapped his truck around a telephone pole it was unfortunately the best thing to happen to us.
  109. “I… I guess I’m not like him,” I admitted. Not yet anyway. If I never went back there I couldn’t ever do anything I would regret. “But this day-to-day stuff… I thought I would find something to do by now. But at the end of the day, it’s just so I can come home and drink. The highlight of my weeks are when I drink with others. Last night I was trying to throw the best party I could, to top all the others in the past. One last party to go out on... doing what I do best. ”
  110. “You were trying to kill yourself?” Monica confirmed with my texts as she moved her hand from my shoulder to my hand. The warmth of which made me realize how cold I was. I involuntarily shivered.
  111. “I figured if I made it look like an accident... everyone would get over it quicker. Plus, it’d mean I could go out the way I lived,” I said as I started picking at the label on the Gatorade. “I’m tired. I’ve been tired for a long time now. I don’t want to live anymore.”
  112. “Brian, you’re my friend. Whether it was an accident or on purpose if you died I would be really sad! All of your friends would be,” she said as that hand of hers slipped around my body. The physical affection was nice but I knew it didn’t mean anything. She was just an affectionate person. “If you’re hurting you’re not supposed to hide, you’re supposed to surround yourself with people you care about so they can help you.” She explained. “And you are! You got a hold of me. You have Connor here!”
  113. Suddenly she slipped closer to me and held her arms around me. Quietly she said to me, “was this your first attempt?” I thought about the rope in my closet I had contemplated for a while. But I was too much of a coward to act on that one. So I nodded.
  114. “So what about Brianna? You just weren’t going to see her again?” she asked. I felt the mountain of guilt and shame inside of me creek and sway under its own weight as a few more scoops were added on top.
  115. “After the job situation I realized I was fucked. I didn’t want to face Mom and Brianna after that,” I said.
  116. “Because you felt ashamed?” she asked. I nodded. “Brian, you know Brianna would still love you. And you know your friends still love you too. In fact, I’m surprised you didn’t ask Connor for a ride to go see her today. Or did you?”
  117. I shook my head before I responded, “I didn’t want to trouble him. He’s a busy guy now. Everyone’s busy because they have lives now.”
  118. She smiled at me when she spoke, “And yet Connor and I both still showed up when you invited us. You’re our friend; we’re not going to just turn on you because you’re going through rough stuff right now! Even after you told me what you did, I still showed up. And I’m not leaving because of what you told me when I got here. You still have a will to live, Brian, inside of you somewhere, because you’re still grasping for help.”
  119. Or I’m a coward. Or it’s just a natural reaction to dying. But… if there was one way I could tell I was still human, it was from the sense of shame and guilt I had. I was tired of being a living failure but maybe it wasn’t the right time to die. That left a gap in my agenda though.
  120. “So what the hell am I supposed to do now? Have Comet watch me 24/7 so I don’t drink and make you drag me around to job interviews?”
  121. “Yes!” Monica said without hesitation. “If it comes down to it I’d be more than happy! And I know… ‘Comet’ would help you too.” She did the air quotes again around ‘Comet’. “I know how it is to struggle between jobs. I was helped by my fiance then and I would be more than happy to help you,” Monica tried to empathize with me but the sounds of ‘fiance’ distracted me. Last I recalled Claudia was her roommate. It looks like she moved in with someone else. “I work at an antique shop now,” she added.
  122. “That... sounds like a pretty comfy job,” I said. I was happy for her.
  123. “It is! Beats being a waitress. I love seeing the old, well-loved stuff people bring in. Everything has a story to it. I end up buying so much junk so I can fix it up at home. With just a little love you can bring so much value back to something neglected. I always plan to sell it when I’m finished but I usually end up keeping it. I’ve started quite the antique collection myself!” she giggled awkwardly.
  124. “You should come thrifting with me some time. Or do some stuff with Connor! Something other than drinking,” she offered. I nodded quietly but didn’t take her up on the offer. “Alright!” She hit her open palm with her fist. She beamed that award winning smile at me. “So, let’s start figuring all this out. How long until you’re out of money?”
  125. I chuckled nervously. “I’m totally in the red right now. But I can probably withdraw a little bit still until all the transactions go through.”
  126. “So… ” she smiled. “You spent every last bit to give everyone a fun time?” She giggled like an angel. “That sounds like you!”
  127. “I mean, I wanted to ‘go out with a bang’” I reminded her it was a failed suicide plan.
  128. “Yeah, but if you didn’t care about anyone you would just have had more for yourself! You like making others happy. That’s what you were trying to do, one last time, wasn’t it?”
  129. I reflected on her words. I didn’t have to invite Connor, did I? I didn’t have to buy all that beer for everyone or make that punch. If I was just drinking for myself I’d have stuck to the liquor. It was frightening how well this girl could still read me. Was I really still the same person after all these years? How is she finding the good in a suicide plan?
  130. I started to understand why in the blacked out haze I reached out to Monica. Because she would show up. Of all people I had ever met, the person sitting next to me was the strongest force of positivity in human form. Maybe I needed some of that right now.
  131. Okay, Barry, maybe I see what you were doing.
  132. “You’re a selfless person, Brian. I know all you want is for others to be happy. But everyone else wants you happy too!” She rebegan with a renewed smile. “I know if Connor was feeling this way you would be there for him. So why can’t you give yourself what you give others? Be there for yourself. Let others in,” she pleaded. “And not just to drink up all your money!” She giggled at her own joke and got a smile out of me.
  133. I looked over at the large opened shipping box sitting in the corner. Monica’s gaze followed mine. “There was… also something else I bought with the last of my money.”
  134. I stood up. The initial dizziness started stinging my headache. The gatorade was too little too late to stop the hangover from happening. I walked over to the box and brought it back to where we were sitting.
  135. Monica leaned forward in interest, wondering what I had bought. I began to smile knowing she would appreciate this too. “It’s Brianna’s birthday present. It showed up about a month ago; before I was fired. I had to open it to make sure it was perfect. And, well…”
  136. With that I undid the folded flaps and pulled a large, yellow pegasus with a pink mane and tail out of the box.
  137. “Fluttershy!” Monica's eyes lit up. “She’s beautiful!” Her smile lit up the room. God, I loved that smile. She instinctively reached out to take her. “Can I hold her? Please?” I handed her over and Monica held the stuffed toy like a baby.
  138. “She looks amazing! Brianna is going to love her,” Monica said as she rotated around to examine it more. She gently traced a finger over the subtle stitching around Fluttershy’s muzzle and gently petted her mane. “She’s tall, isn’t she? She must have cost a lot!“
  139. “It did,” I admitted. “Brianna always gave the better present. This year I had to top her. I was going to give it to her for our birthday, but, you know, no car, so I couldn’t make the trip...” ...and I figured it would get to her eventually in the event of my death. “She has a store-bought Fluttershy but this is going to put that one to shame.”
  140. “I’ll say; I’ve never known anyone personally with one this nice before,” Monica admired the detail of the butterflies on Fluttershy’s flank and ran a hand through the tail before gently handing it back to me. “I haven’t watched My Little Pony in years! I still collect the figures when they show up at the shop though. And I have a few bits of clothing I wear from time to time. Like these tights!” The colors poking out underneath the tears in her jeans caught my attention again.
  141. “Did you just... grow out of it?” I remembered my sister and her bonded really well over My Little Pony in high school. I thought it was just a cute thing girls liked at first, like a modern-day Hello Kitty but it had huge nerd appeal apparently. It was hard to go anywhere online without seeing it back in the day. They tried to drag me to a convention one time; a whole convention just for My Little Pony! They kept trying to get me into it but I told them it wasn’t my thing. I watched some with Markus when we got stoned a few times but I didn't remember much.
  142. “Well, no. When the show ended I just kind of stopped rewatching it eventually,” she told me while I carefully set Fluttershy down on my liquor desk.
  143. “Wait. Wait, the show’s over?” I asked as I swerved back to her. I felt a falling sensation in my gut. Did I get Brianna the perfect present too late? I could have sworn she was still drawing ponies. Didn’t she still make My Little Pony stuff and sell it online?
  144. “Yeah, it ended quite a while ago. Really downer ending too; Discord admitted he wasn’t reformed and found the perfect time to turn on them. He threw Celestia down a fiery pit. Then he banished Twilight somewhere with a spell,” Monica didn’t seem to be joking but it sounded made up to me. Not only has it been over for a while but it ended with them killing off important characters?
  145. “What the hell? I thought the target audience was like six!” I was surprised at how much I suddenly cared. Maybe it was the fact that my present wouldn’t have as much of an impact as I thought. What if it reminded Brianna of this shitty ending? Why did this never come up with Brianna? ”Why did it end that way??”
  146. “There’s a couple of theories. Either the second part was supposed to be a movie or maybe Twilight was supposed to reappear in a new season in a new place and get back home with the magic of friendship to save it… “ Monica theorized. “...But then it just didn’t get renewed. I remember the writer said that’s just how the series was supposed to end; ‘it was the original vision’ and all that from on high. Some people thought maybe Hasbro was wanting to start a new generation to distance itself from the Bronies and wanted the old ones written off so they canceled the show early. But then nothing else came out,” Monica’s eyes glistened with somber memories. “Maybe they just never got a solid Generation 5 My Little Pony idea figured out,” she seemed somber thinking about this. I felt bad for reminding her about something she was a diehard fan of ending prematurely.
  147. “Buck,” I grumbled. She looked up at me when I said that, a bit of spirit returned to her eyes and an amused curl back on her lips. She never seemed amused by my cursing before. Maybe it was my caring for this show she liked. We met eyes.
  148. At this angle, looking down at her and her looking up at me, reminded me of elementary school when she was still a good bit shorter than me instead of just two inches; she was “Mini”. I could still imagine the braces on her teeth when she gave those big, beautiful smiles.
  149. In junior high I wanted to be close to that smile. I wanted to know what made her so happy and just stand closer to it to feel its warmth. Getting to know her made me find out there was no inside joke or insecurity hiding behind it, just affection and joy for the world. That childlike joy to her outlook on life that somehow survived into adulthood. Her smile was representative of her positivity. It was obvious why I wanted to date her but I never understood why she agreed to it. Maybe I was a project for her and after three years and my dad dying she finally gave up on me. Maybe she was just around me a lot because of how much she hung out with my sister.
  150. “Brianna is still going to love her present,” she reassured me. “I only feel sad about My Little Pony when I think about the ending. I had a lot of fun being in that fandom. I would be blown away if I got a plushie of Twilight that looked as good as her Fluttershy.“
  151. Right, Twilight Twinkle, Monica’s favorite pony. I kept looking at her eyes. They were reminding me of something more recent in my mind but I couldn’t remember what. Was there something different about her? Not her weight, but her face? Were we just getting older?
  152. “So,” Monica broke eye contact. Shit, I was staring. “You and Brianna are practically best friends. But… you guys talk still, right? When was it last?”
  153. "Yesterday. She wished me ‘happy birthday’. She sends pictures of things she's making all the time," I said, thinking of how fussy she is about all the details in her graphic design work that I can't even notice.
  154. "And you talk-talk to her; you call?" Monica said as she encouraged a smile out of me with her own.
  155. "I try to call her at least once a week. I love hearing her enthusiasm when she's talking about art," I thought about the oil pastels she bought recently that she was trying to use for absolutely everything.
  156. "And you talk about your life with her?" Monica asked.
  157. "I do. Just not in as much detail or enthusiasm as she does. She knows what you know, minus the depression and... stuff" I said then finished my Gatorade.
  158. "When was the last time you saw each other?" Monica asked. She had found where I lacked Brianna in my life.
  159. "Months ago. Before I turned my car into scrap," I waved the empty bottle towards 'months ago' as I spoke.
  160. “You need to see her again! Do you want a ride some time to give Fluttershy to Brianna? I would love to take you! It would be fun seeing her again. And her reaction when she sees her favorite pony,” she offered. I had moved away from that little town to the city when a lot of my friends did. Brianna was doing community college closer by. She was about 45 minutes away by car now.
  161. “That would be great actually. You two could catch up,” I agreed.
  162. “When did you want to go? I got nothing going on today,” Monica volunteered then checked her phone to make sure. I glanced over at it and saw it was a little after noon now. Whoops.
  163. “Actually, I can’t today. I gotta go do my community service,” I admitted reluctantly. “It'll be too late after. Tomorrow?”
  164. “Tomorrow it is,” she agreed. “I could give you a ride to work too! When do you go?” Monica offered more of her services. Despite how giving she was I didn’t feel like a charity case with her. It felt like back then, when she was just giving because we were friends.
  165. “Nah, it’s fine. I’ll just take the bus. It’s in a few hours but I need to take a shower first and scrub all my graffiti off,” I showed her the marker drawings on my arms. “The old folks at the retirement home probably won’t appreciate all the penises.“ I paused and thought about that some more. The retirees seemed to quite like me actually. “Or maybe they would, the staff definitely wouldn’t though.“
  166. Monica laughed a little at that. “A retirement home, huh? Yeah, your arms are very colorful, but penises are kind of distracting.”
  167. Mentioning colors, I looked at her legs and the tights on them again. They were literally eye catching. That’s one thing that show did well, catching your attention. I studied a few of the pony characters from the slits in her jeans. I could only see Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy well but a sliver of a pink one caught my eye. I suddenly had the urge to see it.
  168. “Hey, could you take your pants off?” I asked her.
  169. She laughed a little and crossed her legs. She looked at me, trying to figure out what was going on. “What? Why?”
  170. “No, I want to see the ponies on your tights,” I pointed at the ones exposed. She followed where I was pointing with her eyes.
  171. “Oh. Um… well,” she uncrossed legs, stood up and looked at me to see if I was still serious before pulling her jeans down a little to expose more of her tights. “It’s just the mane six minus Applejack on them. I’ve been having dreams about ponies lately. So I dug my tights out this morning.”
  172. I saw the pink one I spotted was the really outgoing one with blue eyes and fluffy hair, ‘Pinky Pie’, I think. There was also the main character, Twilight Twinkle. And a white unicorn. With Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash that would be five... My eyes scanned the crowd on her legs, suddenly feeling like I was missing someone.
  173. “Wasn't there another pink one?” I looked at the other leg trying to see if she was over there. Nope.
  174. “There’s a lot of pink ones. But not on these. Which one are you thinking of? Princess Cadence? Cheerilee? Pinkie Peach?”
  175. Those names sounded familiar but they didn’t click. “I don’t know. She’s one of the main ones,” I suggested. There was an itch in my brain where my headache was; I needed to find her. I needed to see her.
  176. “You’re probably thinking of Princess Cadence then. She’s not exactly a main character but she had focus in a few episodes. Tall, horns and wings? Multicolored mane and tail?” Monica suggested as she pulled her pants back up and buttoned them.
  177. “No, that’s not it. She was a little unicorn. And she was in a lot of episodes,” I tried to imagine her more but I couldn’t. I was suddenly really caught up in this. It seemed really important I saw her again.
  178. “Well, the only other kind of main one is Cheerilee then. She’s the same size as the main characters but she's not a unicorn and she's more purple really. Three flowers on her flank?”
  179. “No. I don't think she had a symbol. Or maybe she did?”
  180. “If she didn't have a mark in the show she was a filly. The only main unicorn filly was Sweetie Belle. Oh! Sweetie Belle was white but had a pink and purple mane. She got her mark later. Did you mean her? Or maybe it was Pinkie Peach? She was a pegasus but had a unicorn and earth pony sister? They were triplets Pinkie Pie watched once.”
  181. Monica was being extremely helpful but I didn't have a concrete picture of who I was thinking of or why it seemed important. I shook my head and shrugged the whole thing off.
  182. “No idea. Maybe it was from some pony knock off thing. Or maybe your leggings are just reminding me of some crap I watched with Markus one time.”
  183. Chapter 3: Permanent Markers
  184. Before Monica left she hugged me one last time and told me she was excited to see my sister tomorrow. With her heading home and my focus shifted from cartoon ponies back to reality I decided to head downstairs and go see Comet a bit before I had to scrub myself clean for my community service. I appreciated the love put into the marker on my arms and I was considering taking pictures of them before I scrubbed them off, but I still wasn't looking forward to the work to get them off of me. At least they didn’t mark up my face.
  185. Downstairs I followed the smell of the coffee to its maker but didn’t find a Comet anywhere nearby. Instead, Markus was in the darkened kitchen with a cup and assessing the damage done by the party. As I was walking in, his attention was on the mysterious puddle by the kitchen table. His dull eyes with black circles and his wrecked, curly short hair told me he had barely survived last night as well. When he saw me approach he frowned.
  186. “I’m kind of surprised you’re alive,” he half-mumbled half-growled at me.
  187. “Yeah... I think I broke my record,” I showed him the impossible number of tally marks on my arm. “Everyone get home alright?”
  188. “I think so. Your boyfriend stayed over though,” he gestured to the sliding glass door in the kitchen. He must have meant Comet.
  189. “Did I... do something last night I’d regret?” I asked him as I poured some coffee for myself into a cleanish-looking plastic cup. “I don’t remember much of last night,” I admitted.
  190. “No, not like that,” Markus quelled my fears. “But I am kind of mad at you still. You said there’d be like 10 people. There was like 20,” he explained to me. “This house is a fucking wreck. You need to get this shit cleaned up, like, today. I’m not putting up with the house stuck like this like last time.”
  191. “I mean, I will,” I promised, my words being spoken into my coffee. I took a sip. “But I got work soon.”
  192. “You mean spoon-feeding those old people, right?,” Markus said then sighed. “You’re a fun guy but you gotta get some income coming in or Ian is going to kick you out.” Markus checked his phone and started walking out of the kitchen. “Just start cleaning up some today, alright?” He called back to me.
  193. I needed a cigarette. I headed for the sliding glass door and headed outside with my coffee. Sure enough Comet was out here, smoking and squatting like a slav against the wall with his coffee in his other hand. He looked disturbed, like he just saw a ghost.
  194. "Hey. Somebody die?," I sipped my coffee cup and leaned against the wall next to him. At his worried glance I started to fear I got it right. He didn't offer me my smokes back yet but I gave him time; something was on his mind.
  195. "I got tattoos," he started what sounded like a new topic. I went along with it.
  196. "No shit?" I asked, surprised. Comet didn't seem like the type. He never talked about wanting one before. “What are they? When did you get them?"
  197. "Last night I guess. They're like, blue stars falling with blue trails behind them," he made a swooshing movement in the air with his hand, presumably tracing the trail. "Falling stars." He tossed his cigarette butt and lit up another cigarette. With my pack out he realized he was holding out on me and gave my bic and cigarettes back.
  198. "Because... you're an astronomy teacher?" I asked him as I lit a cigarette for myself. It dawned on me: maybe that was why I had been calling him 'Comet'? Was that something I started doing because he showed me the tattoos and then I just forgot about them?
  199. I tried to imagine his new tattoos. "Eh. They sound kind of gay, no offense. Is it still sore? Can you show me?"
  200. "No, you ain’t getting me," he looked away from the calm neighborhood vista and looked up at me from his squat. His normally calm surface was becoming choppy. "I didn't get’em; I found’em when I woke up this morning. They're on my sides, right on my hips; Like a branding," he stood up and pulled the side of his pants and underwear down to show me.
  201. I flinched back a bit not knowing how much of Comet I was going to see today. I relaxed a bit when I saw just his upper thigh. Sure enough, in perfect, solid colors was a large blue star falling with a swooping trail behind it. It kind of looked like generic clip art.
  202. "You said you had stars though. That's only one." I said to get him to show me the other one. I had to see it. He turned to show me his other side. Same clip art but it was mirrored. The skin around this one looked red and dry like he had tried to scrub it off.
  203. "If you woke up with those they're just temporary. Real ones look bruised and angry for a while. They should just come off with soap?”
  204. "I already tried gettin’em off in the bathroom. They ain’t coming off," he pulled his pants back up to hide his new shame.
  205. "They're just some weird new type then. It'll come off somehow," I took out my phone to start looking for something that matched this type of tattoo.
  206. "Even if they are, what kinda weird joke is this? Putting semi-permanent tattoos on unconscious strangers? Underneath their underwear? That's bucked."
  207. I had no retort. He was right: you don't do this. Comet was passed out on the couch for who knows how long. Whoever did it either did it right in front of a room full of people who just watched or had him alone for a while, with his underwear pulled down. What else did they do? Was he sexually violated?
  208. I had no answers for him, but I gave him as many names and numbers as I could of people who were at the party. Maybe someone saw who did it. We found something about temporary waterproof tattoos online. They were a bit expensive for a prank but that must have been in it. Something as big as those would have left bruising if done with a needle. And the spots seemed picked precisely so it could be found later but hidden easily. That would make the prank as harmless as possible.
  209. When we went back inside and finished off the pot of coffee it quietly dawned on me I hadn't checked myself yet. I was asleep in the same room as Comet. If a person had enough time to do two on one person...
  210. "You... didn't go to the bathroom yet?" Comet asked as he read the realization on my face.
  211. Without a response I headed for the downstairs bathroom. He showed me his, but I felt like I needed to discover mine alone. Before I pulled my pants down in front of the mirror I already had my suspicions.
  212. I had them too. Same spot. One on each side. I stared at mine for a bit, trying to figure out why I had weird-shaped red stars with weird bubbly purple trails until my brain started processing what was actually there: a strawberry and a bunch of grapes. Mirrored on each side. They were individualized? Were they themed to us? Comet's being stars was too much of a coincidence. They must have known he majored in astronomy and taught some classes. And mine was... because of my punch? I could see a connection being made but they weren't exact fits. They must have been from a set and the closest was picked. Which would explain why they look like generic clip art with their thick outlines and bright simple colors.
  213. I came out of the bathroom to a waiting friend. Instead of saying anything I pulled down my side like he did and showed him. When he saw mine he seemed way more surprised than I thought he would.
  214. "Oh shit," he said as it dawned on him, "they're cutie marks." Cute? I felt myself blush. Since when did I blush? Comet never called anything about me cute before. My embarrassment quickly got backed up by anger.
  215. “They aren’t that cute! Buck you!” I swore at him. Comet looked confused then a calm, amused smile spread on his face.
  216. “No, cutie marks; the butt marks on My Little Pony,” he explained and dug his phone out to show me. He started going through pictures of ponies and stopped on one with a familiar butt mark.
  217. It was mine.
  218. Well not mine. The one on me.
  219. I also saw what time it was. Now there really wasn’t time to deal with this booty mark problem. If I was going to scrub the drawings off my arms before I go do my community service, and I had to, I was going to have to go shower immediately.
  220. “Horse apples,” I grumbled.” Listen, we’re going to have to switch to text; I have to go get ready for work.”
  221. And with that, we parted but agreed to keep looking into this thing. Comet headed off to work. I went to scrub my arms raw in the shower. I skipped everything else in that shower; I needed time to call Brianna. There was just enough time. I needed to talk to her.
  222. I was going to spill my guts about everything. I was even going to tell her about the weird 'cutie marks' that didn't scrub off in the shower the way the marker did, but once we got talking none of it seemed important. While I treasured every phone call with my sister, the contents only gave me more to think about. I thought about it the entire walk to the bus stop, while waiting around for it, and while on the bus:
  223. "It's about time you call," she teased me when she picked up.
  224. "Sorry, I slept in," I physically shrugged to the person on the other end. "Happy birthday."
  225. "Thanks. Did you have a fun party last night?" she said with a tone that told me she was working on something.
  226. "I did. Everyone and everyone’s friends showed up. What are you up to?"
  227. "Oh, just... working on a sketch," she said, clearly staring at it.
  228. "Oh yeah? Is it for business or pleasure?" I asked.
  229. "It's just for fun," she seemed surprisingly shy to tell me what it was. "I was in a pony-kick lately for whatever reason. So I'm drawing some."
  230. "Oh? Is it your favorite pony? Butterfly?" as I said it I couldn't keep the grin from leaking into my voice.
  231. "No, not Shutterfly," she said back amused then paused for a moment before continuing. "It's just a few background fillies. I'm ready to paint them and I think I know what colors I want them to be but I want them perfect so I'm going to see if I can find a list of them online to get the shades right."
  232. "That's awesome. I can't wait to see it," I hinted. With what seemed like the best segue I could get I started a new topic. "Speaking of ponies and stuff; Monica came over today."
  233. "Monica?? Really?" she practically squealed. I suddenly had her undivided attention. "Was she at the party?! I didn't know you two were still hanging out together."
  234. "We don't really. I guess I sent her a few weird drunk texts last night and she came over today to make sure I didn't die from alcohol poisoning."
  235. "Aww. That was nice of her. So how were you? Did you die from alcohol poisoning?"
  236. If only she knew.
  237. "Nope. Still breathing. Monica was doing good too. In fact, she said she wanted to see you again too. I think she's going to give me a ride tomorrow to come see you. I still have my present to give you. You're going to love it."
  238. "Monica is coming over??" she sounded incredibly surprised and I heard papers shuffling and things getting put up on the other end of the phone. "You remembered it was her birthday, right?"
  239. "I did. I wished her a happy birthday," I told her.
  240. "If she's coming over tomorrow I'm going to have to make her a present then. Does she still like Twilight Sparkle??"
  241. "Oh yeah. When she-," I stopped myself from mentioning when I showed Monica the plush I got Brianna. Spoilers! Wait. "she was wearing pony tights today." Smooth.
  242. "Works for me! I'm going to make her an oil pastel drawing!" she announced.
  243. "Well alright, it sounds like you're getting busy so I'll leave you alone. I need to get ready for my 'date' at the retirement home," I started. I knew she would stay up late until she finished her present for Monica and I didn't want to keep her awake any longer than she already was going to be.
  244. "Okay, you have fun. Oh! And tell Comet I said 'Happy Birthday' too" she said. She already sounded distracted with sketching.
  245. "I will," I promised. I looked over at the Fluttershy plushie on my desk and returned the plushie’s soft smile. "And I'll see you tomorrow. Love you, Ruby" I said my goodbye.
  246. "Okay. Looking forward to it. Love you too, Mom," she said, already sounding distracted as she hung up.
  247. "Mom..." I repeated the word aloud on the bus. A large lady standing in front of me gave me a concerned glare for a moment before she went back to looking at her phone.
  248. Brianna seemed distracted so it was probably just a force of habit. But I had called her Ruby, the person I, well 'Barry', was looking for last night. I don't think she even noticed though. My subconscious must have had a one-track mind.
  249. Then there were the tattoos on me now. Comet Tail said he didn't recognize his own but he knew my tattoos were the branding on Berry Punch. He admitted he watched a few seasons back in high school until something called "Twilicorn" happened. When we looked it up we found references to a theory that Berry Punch was a mom to "Ruby Pinch".
  250. And I was “Barry" last night. Looking for “Ruby”.
  251. Our current theory was someone was offering 'temporary' tattoos last night at the party and when drunk-me got that one, he told me about Berry and Ruby and encouraged me to go on a drunken search for her at the party. Leading to everyone calling me Barry. Maybe I was badly drunk flirting, looking for ‘my Ruby’? The theory kind of fit. Sort of. Assuming drunk-me wasn’t paying attention to the mother-daughter part.
  252. Comet's "cutie mark" was much harder to match it seems. There were apparently a lot of star and astronomy-related marks. I was passing the time on the bus trying to search the Internet with my phone for results when I received a text from Monica.
  253. Monica: “I crashed my car :c I'm ok but they think I have a concussion.”
  254. My heart sank. I immediately replied,
  255. Me: “Are you sure you're ok? You should still go to the ER to get everything checked out.”
  256. Monica: “I am. Someone is giving me a ride. I'm so sorry Berry the car isn't going to be drivable by tomorrow.”
  257. Beyond my fear for my friend I almost didn’t notice the name she used until I read the message a third time. "Berry"? Was it her concussion? Auto-correct?
  258. Even if she was referencing me being “Barry” at a time like this she spelled it like the character. Did she make the connection too somehow? I couldn't ask her about this now though.
  259. Me: “Don't worry about that! I'm just glad you're not seriously hurt. Let me know when you get a clean bill of health.”
  260. Monica: “Ok. I will when I know more. I have to get off the phone now the screen is hurting my eyes.”
  261. When I was finally off that packed bus and at the retirement center I couldn't focus on anything. I would have rushed to check on her if I didn’t know missing community service could land me behind bars. Beyond just Monica getting in a car accident and the My Little Pony tattoos on my mind I felt like garbage: my forehead was pounding and I was having the sweats and shakes. I knew what was happening. I drank some of the port wine before leaving for work but maybe because I didn't wake up with any in my system or maybe because of all I had last night I needed more.
  262. I did my best to make it through my shift. By supper prep time I was really feeling it.
  263. Others in the kitchen preparing dinner were staring at me. I think they could tell I felt like shit. Maybe they could smell it coming through my pores. Some new employee said she liked my hair. She was cute and I thanked her, knowing some chicks dug the black curly locks, but I couldn't flirt while feeling the way I did. Instead I just concentrated on chopping the vegetables and running them through the food processor. The overwhelming varieties of cooking smells in the kitchen was making me nauseated. When I was finally done running everything through I left the food processor unclean and on the counter. I had to get out of there and go see the one guy nearby who would help me out.
  264. Mr. Brown was a 95 year old World War 2 veteran. He attributed his long life and health to bourbon and cigars. When we met we immediately hit it off. He said I reminded him of his son when he was younger. When he showed me his old Playboy collection I knew he would get a kick out of having my dad's old ones. After giving him those he started to share his other stash with me. It was just Wild Turkey and I wasn't ever taking much but he became my favorite resident to hide with during my shift.
  265. When I walked into his room he was sitting in his chair with his feet up on the other chair, watching TV at his normal loud volume. It was what he always did before dinner. He muted the TV when he saw me but his expression changed to surprise.
  266. "Bobby! I like what you did with your hair!" Mr. Brown said as he gestured towards the top of his own head. He frequently slipped up and called me his son's name. "You look like shit though."
  267. "It's Berry actually. I gave you my dad's Playboy's," I told him to jog his memory. Wondering what he meant by my hair, I undid the hair tie. Maybe he just thought it was shorter because it was up?
  268. "I know who you are. I just have trouble with names," he insisted. "Is it time for dinner already?" He held his old calculator wrist watch out in front of him to check for himself.
  269. "No, but it's soon,” I answered. “But… hey, I’m kind of in a weird funk today: my friend was in a car accident. She's fine but I think I'm still a little shaken up from it. I was wondering if maybe I could steal a before-dinner pick-me-up," I told him some of the truth since it sounded good enough.
  270. "Of course! You know where it is. Help yourself," He motioned towards his closet from his seat.
  271. Before I went towards the closet I shut his room door and wiped the sweat from my forehead onto my shirt. I realized now I was still wearing my apron from the kitchen. There was a splash of purple in my face but when I looked up it was gone.
  272. "Shit. I'm losing it," I said as I threw the apron off and headed for his closet.
  273. "You should see a doctor about that! At your age you really shouldn't be losing your shits yet," Mr. Brown gave me a wide, white smile with his full set of false teeth.
  274. "You're absolutely right," I agreed with him while I carefully took the Wild Turkey 101 out of the red sweater in his suitcase. It was dark in his closet without the light on but I knew exactly where we hid it. When I pulled it out into the light I admired the color of the liquid inside the bottle for a second with awe. I wasn't sure how a brown could be that warm.
  275. Before I unscrewed it I remembered my manners and offered some to him. I ended up pouring him a finger into the nightstand glass he used for his dentures and I poured a few into his coffee mug for myself. He put his feet down and I sat down in his chair opposite of him. We enjoyed the first sips in meditative silence: Mr. Brown left the TV on mute because he couldn’t hear anyone talking otherwise.
  276. There was always something about the afterburn of alcohol that cleared my mind: it slowed everything down and made me feel like I could think. I think it did the same to Mr. Brown; he always seemed sharper with bourbon in hand. It was his bourbon so I let him break the silence.
  277. "You said your friend was in a car accident?" He remembered what brought about the drinking. I confirmed. "He wasn't drunk driving too, was he?"
  278. "She," I corrected him. "She's not like me. I'm sure she was sober. I'm not sure what happened yet but she's still at the ER I think. She said she just had a concussion," I filled him in. I finished my mug a little too quickly.
  279. "Oh," he nodded and sipped his cup a little more. "Yeah, ladies usually don't have drinking problems. What's your friend's name? Is she something more?”
  280. "Minuette,” I said. “We used to date in high school. About..." I stopped talking so I could do math. "Eight years ago? She's just a good friend now though."
  281. "She must be a great friend if you two are still friends after breaking up,” he paused for just a moment. “What did you say her name was?," he said as he gestured his empty cup towards me.
  282. "Monica," I repeated. "She really is. I've never met someone as compassionate as her." I poured a little more bourbon back into his cup and more into mine.
  283. He studied me carefully for a moment, I thought maybe I misread him and he didn't want more. He eventually stopped staring and sipped the bourbon anyway.
  284. A new silence began and it was eventually broken again. This time by a knock on the door.
  285. "Come in!" he called towards the door then down his cup off in one shot. I did mine as well and pushed my mug and the bottle under his bed.
  286. Nurse Reed came in with his dinner. She was a heavy set woman with dyed-red hair and glasses. When she saw me her face went from pleasant to surprised.
  287. “That’s... an interesting look. Purple streaks?,” she said while looking right at me.
  288. I looked over at Mr. Brown then back at the nurse. I couldn’t understand where they were looking. It was at me but... purple? I looked down at my chest remembering the purple shirt from this morning. But I changed out of that? As I did black and purple curls fell down in front of my face.
  289. No, not quite purple. It was a purplish red. More red than purple. Maybe dark fuchsia? Rose? I stared at the color in front of my face trying to recall a particular word I heard Ruby use for this color before.
  290. Mulberry. My hair was mulberry. I remembered the image results of ‘Berry Punch’. It was that exact shade as her hair. Except it wasn’t her hair it was my hair.
  291. “What... in... HELL?,” I stammered out. I couldn’t understand this. Mr. Brown and Nurse Reed silently watched me rush to Mr. Brown’s bathroom. I stopped dead in the doorway when I saw what my hair looked like in the mirror. The image scared me.
  292. Not only were half of the curls mulberry now but my hair had gotten longer since I saw it this morning. The back of it had been brushing the top of my shoulders but now it was down to my shoulder blades. I hadn’t noticed it growing longer with it up all afternoon.
  293. How did my hair turn mulberry? How could someone dye parts of my hair without me noticing? How did it get so long?
  294. I finally dared myself to step closer for a better look. As I walked closer to the mirror I blinked just once. And when I did I suddenly noticed something else that froze me to my place.
  295. The person in the mirror had red eyes. Not bloodshot eyes; but red irises.
  296. I suddenly felt a disassociation with the person in the mirror. It was not me. Not that it didn’t look like me, but it wasn’t me. Someone else was standing in front of me in the mirror looking out. He was pretending to be me. All the childhood stories of demons and poltergeists summoned in the mirrors came to mind. I felt like a child helpless before a monster adults couldn’t see.
  297. As if the thoughts manifest, I felt something burst itself out of the top of my skull. I saw one mangled blue horn grow out of one side from the distorted, frozen image of me before me. I wanted to touch the top of my head. I needed to know if this was really happening to me or just the demon in the mirror but my arms and legs didn’t respond to my signals.
  298. His eyes grew wide and I felt my eyes grow wide. He grinned and it made me grin. I understood now: I was the reflection now. He was in control. I was the one in the mirror looking out at him. He was real, not me.
  299. I saw the whites of his eyes yellow with jaundice. Another sharp pain burst from the opposite side of the top of my head. A full, adult deer antler twisted out of the headache in my brain, through my skull, spiraling and tearing through my flesh as it did so. My eyes crossed in pain and everything grew white hot then black. I heard a loud thud and hysterical laughter.
  300. And then silence extinguished everything.
  301. Chapter 4: Too Sober For This
  302. “Mom! Please get up!”
  303. As quickly as the fleeting voice brought me back alive it left me in that darkness again.
  304. I heard people calling a different name now. Someone named ‘Brian’ needed to wake up. It took me a while to feel a floor underneath me and orientate that the voices coming from above me. Me. I became aware I had a body again. I was heavy and awkwardly shaped. I found my legs and found the end where my head was. I found my eyes on my head. I could move my eyes but everything was still black.
  305. “Brian, please open your eyes!”
  306. Open my eyes? With that clue I found the switch I was looking for and my eyelids came up. Nurse Reed was kneeling over me and Mr. Brown was leaning against the door frame. Another nurse stood behind him. Everyone was looking at me. They were expecting me to say something.
  307. Looking at them and seeing how their bodies were shaped I started remembering how to move mine. I felt my brain haphazardly reprogram everything back in again. Speech came back online.
  308. “Sorry,” I told them with a distant voice. I stayed on the ground.
  309. “Brian, you passed out in Mr. Brown’s room. Do you know what year it is?” Mrs. Reed was talking to me.
  310. At first I wondered if this was a trick question. Then replied, “2020?”
  311. “What month is it?” she asked another question.
  312. I wondered what this was about and answered her again, “May.”
  313. “I need you to repeat five words back to me, okay? The five words are: pumpkin. calendar. hay. sand... rose.”
  314. I stared at her for a second then repeated the words back to her. She nodded approvingly when I finished and told me to do it again. I did so. She then asked me to do it one more time.
  315. “Do I have to?” I asked annoyed. There were nurses and residents gathering near the bathroom door now to see what was going on.
  316. “No, fine,” she submitted. “Do you know where you are? What state are we in?”
  317. “...Misery,” I replied. There was awkward laughter among the people crowding in the door. The nurse sighed and I could just see her roll her eyes.
  318. “Close enough. I think he’s going to be fine,” Reed told the nurses and residents who had gathered nearby. Soon enough they started to disperse until it was just Nurse Reed and Mr. Brown with me in the bathroom. I started to get up slowly to a sitting position.
  319. ‘I got up too fast’ is what Nurse Reed said had happened earlier. Then I passed out when I got to the bathroom and fell. I didn’t tell her about the demonic hallucination I had in the bathroom. The horns were gone but all the mulberry in my hair was still there. I figured my eyes weren’t red and yellow anymore because no one said anything. So, everything before stepping into the bathroom really happened and everything after that was the hallucination? According to them I was out for less than a minute and considering I was only now feeling the effects of the bourbon I drank I believed them.
  320. I was terrified because I knew what was happening: the hallucination must have been from alcohol withdrawal. It was never this bad before though. Usually I could have a drink in the morning then not start drinking until I got home. I was worried the only reason I was okay now was because I had alcohol back in my system.
  321. And to make my day even worse, someone was clearly playing tricks on me today. Somehow they dyed parts of my hair without me knowing and I still had that cutie mark. The hair color was the same as Berry Punch’s and I had her cutie mark now. The pranks had to have been by the same person. Was there a way to delay hair dye? ...something that gets stronger with time? Exposure to sunlight? Maybe they make something like that?
  322. I sat with Mr. Brown while he ate. He was keeping me company instead of the other way around. The TV was back to its usual loud volume so we couldn’t talk. After a while sitting idly I did what everyone usually did in my situation: I took my phone out of my pocket to look at it. As I did my hair fell in front of my face. Oh yeah, it was longer now too somehow. I had to find an answer to the dark purple at least.
  323. Before I could begin researching my hair I saw I had a dozen messages and two missed calls. I had set my phone to silent because I couldn’t risk getting fired. It looks like today that was a mistake.
  324. Connor, Monica, Brianna and my roommates Ian and Markus had been texting me. I had two missed calls from Connor.
  325. Naturally I needed to check on Monica first. Her messages read:
  326. Monica: “Waiting to get CT scans now.”
  327. Monica: “Your phone’s on silent, right? There’s nothing on TV. I’ll keep you updated.”
  328. Monica: “The CT scans came back normal. They’re telling me the double vision is from subtle bruising. And the dizziness and headaches are from the double vision. And when the swelling goes down it’ll all go away. I’m free to go. I’m supposed to come back if the symptoms don’t go away.”
  329. Monica: “I’m okay though. It doesn’t look that bad, right?”
  330. She then sent me a picture of herself. It looked like she was sitting on a hospital bed. The bruising wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Despite the bruising she was beaming as happily as the day she got her braces off.
  331. Monica: “Carrot Top was nearby so she dropped me off at home. She said she had to get back to work though but Chad’s getting off work early to watch me.”
  332. I had never heard Monica call her Carrot Top before, but I knew she probably meant her old roommate Claudia. She was a red-head. Monica insisted Claudia was a good person but she always came off as a cold beauty queen to me so I thought this sounded in character.
  333. Connor seemed the most desperate so I checked his text messages next:
  334. Conner: “There’s a couple of different waterproof and semi-permanent tattoo products. I tried the removal methods for all of them off their websites and none of them worked. I’m starting to think these are legit.”
  335. Conner: “I’m going to send some texts at work and see if anyone at the party saw anything suspicious.”
  336. Conner: “I tried to be vague but no one I texted or called had any weird marks on them after the party. But a bunch of people think I need to go see a doctor, one friend thinks I have an STD now and one person thinks I was abducted. So that’s cool.”
  337. Conner: “What the hell my hair is longer and it’s blue. Please please please tell me that this is happening to you?”
  338. Comet sent a picture of himself standing in front of a bathroom mirror. His hair was indeed a cobalt blue. Just this morning the sides of his head were a shaved fade but now his hair covered his ears.
  339. Comet made two attempts to call me about an hour after this. It looks like he gave up and started texting me again afterwards:
  340. Conner: “We’re cursed. This is a weird curse and I don’t believe in magic but I’ve been in an office all alone all day grading tests and my hair won’t stop growing and it’s blue.”
  341. Conner: “Didn’t you date a Wiccan once? What else could happen? Am I turning goth? Are piercings going to appear?”
  342. Conner: “Please tell me I’m going crazy but do my eyes look different? That’s impossible right?”
  343. I scrolled down to the picture Comet sent and saw his eye color. It was a close up picture of his eyes but they were still blue like they always had been. I felt a sigh of relief escape me that I didn’t know I was holding. They did look like a lighter shade of blue but I think it was just lighting and him being paranoid. It’s not like they turned red and he sprouted horns.
  344. I sent a message back to him saying my hair got longer and turned purple. I also told him he was overreacting about his eye color.
  345. I wasn’t so eager to read Ian and Markus’s texts. From the preview I could tell they were just bitching about the house being destroyed and about me needing to pick up. They both knew I was at ‘work’ so I couldn’t do anything right now. I skipped those for now because I could tell Brianna sent me pictures.
  346. I clicked her name and was greeted with a large drawing of Twilight Sparkle half finished against a blue background. She was looking back over her ‘shoulder’ at the viewer. Her wings were gently outstretched, her horn was longer than I remembered, her mane and tail were blowing in the wind, some in front of her face, and she was giving a graceful grin towards the viewer. Her whole head and particularly her muzzle were slightly more pronounced and less cartoon-like than in the show, making her look more horse-like but still diminutive. I never saw Brianna draw one of the ponies in this style before. She was usually a stickler about making it look just like the show. I loved it, it looked more mature. Something to be proudly hung up. The detail in the shape of the wings and feathers told me she must have been looking at pictures of birds because they looked absolutely lifelike.
  347. What really blew me away was the coloring job so far though. The wings looked soft and the coat looked fuzzy. I wasn’t sure how she did that. A special blending technique?. I didn’t even realize there were that many shades of light purple. Her body outline was thin but present. Her mane and tail were what was left to color.
  348. Brianna: “Almost done! Just gotta do the hair. I just had to make it hard on myself and have it blowing in the wind. I'm feeling really good about this though.”
  349. Before I could comment I finished scrolling to see a pencil sketch of three little fillies bounding down a steep hill after each other. Two were unicorns and one was a regular pony. I enlarged it to get a better look at them. They were about the same style she had drawn Twilight Sparkle. I could make out all the happy expressions on their faces.
  350. Brianna: “This is the sketch I was working on this morning. The unicorn in the front is Dinky, the earth pony is Aura and the unicorn in the back is Ruby Pinch. They're playing on a big hill somewhere between Sweet Apple Acres and Whitetail Woods. I'm wanting to capture that childhood joy of playing with friends. You have no idea how many times I redrew the expressions on their faces."
  351. Brianna: "I'm really eager to color this."
  352. I studied the fillies better. I had looked at a picture of Ruby Pinch when we made the connection of our tattoos with My Little Pony. Brianna had drawn her mane and tail longer than the pictures I saw online. I liked her version better.
  353. Me: “I'm eager to see that colored! And Monica is going to love that Twilight."
  354. Oh shit. She doesn't know about the car wreck. Comet doesn't know either. I informed them both.
  355. Me: "I'm sorry, it's been a weird day. I forgot to tell you about Monica. She was in a wreck earlier today. She went to the ER but she's fine! Her car’s in the shop now. I don't think we can make it there tomorrow."
  356. I forwarded Monica's selfie to quell any fears that Monica wasn't fine. Then informed Comet as well:
  357. Me: "Monica was in a car wreck. She's totally fine and home now but a little shook up. I don't suppose you want to give us a ride to go see my sis tomorrow?"
  358. It was worth a shot.
  359. I heard the television go silent. I looked up at it to see it was off. I looked to Mr. Brown. He was looking at me concerned.
  360. "...Bobby?" he asked as he stared me down with uncertainty. When I looked up at him, he seemed even more scared. His fear infected me.
  361. I let my phone fall to the ground and searched the top of my head for horns in my hair. My hands found nothing but thick curly hair. I was relieved but still scared: there was one thing I couldn't check without a mirror.
  362. "Your hair’s all purple now and...," He said bewildered as he kept eye contact with me. "...and... your eyes."
  363. ***
  364. I left straight from Mr. Brown’s room and waited for my ride. When Comet’s brown Civic pulled up I got in. When we saw each other we just stared bewildered at each other for a while. With Comet’s shaggy dull blue hair and long bangs I hardly recognized him from earlier this morning. I imagine I was a sight too.
  365. After gawking, we agreed on a plan. It made sense to go back to my place, where it started. Comet had exhausted our phone leads but maybe among the party refuse there was still a clue.
  366. Other than the furniture put back in place, the living room and kitchen were still a huge mess. Ian was in the living room playing some video game, sitting among the celebratory debris. I was picking up bottles and cans while looking for anything else. Markus and Ian were giving me shit about picking up anyway. Comet was checking trash cans carefully for any suspicious packaging that might explain our current situation.
  367. By the time I filled three garbage bags Comet came to me empty-handed, there was apparently nothing suspicious in any trash cans anywhere. No tattoo papers, no weird product packaging or bottles.
  368. Comet said he needed a cigarette. I readily agreed.
  369. We stood and smoked in relative silence in the dark until Comet finally shared what he was reading on his phone.
  370. “Eye color can change because of genetics, injury or illness,” Comet read from his phone screen.
  371. I took a drag from my cigarette as I thought about that. Comet was pressing links on his phone. Probably looking at the same things I was wondering. “What are the illnesses?” I finally asked.
  372. “Says things like pigmentary glaucoma. It says that’ll occur in your 20s and 30s,” he read off his screen.
  373. “Alright. But can it make your eyes go from brown to mulberry?”
  374. “It doesn’t say, but I know purple is a really rare eye color. Albinos with some blue pigment in their eyes and the red underneath make’em purple,” he said.
  375. He held the cigarette in his mouth as he searched something else. I took the time to flick my butt away and light another. Aftew I drew mine out, I quietly made a mental note there was one left in the pack now.
  376. We sat in the dark. I quietly watched Comet read his screen. In the light of his phone I could make out his long blue bangs were swept to the side away from me. The reflection of the phone screen made his eyes nearly glow. He took a drag from his cigarette and then took it out to talk again.
  377. “It’s not pigmentary glaucoma. It doesn’t usually develop in both of the eyes at the same time.”
  378. “Alright, then what are the injuries?”
  379. “Blunt trauma to the eyes. You don’t have any swelling around your eyes so it’s not that,” Comet shut down that possibility. He flicked the last bit of ash from his butt, inspected it, then grinded it against the sole of his shoe before tossing it into the coffee can next to us.
  380. “So, we’re cursed,” I admitted. I drank from the bottle of Old Crow as we arrived back at our original hypothesis.
  381. “I can’t think of what else is going on,” he agreed and put his phone away. He pointed towards my cigarette. “You got one more for me?”
  382. I smiled at him before I answered, “Of course.”
  383. I put the cigarette in my mouth and lit it for him. Then carefully put the crinkled, empty pack back into my pocket. “No more though, you gotta start buying your own.”
  384. He nodded as he took the lit cigarette. “You know, I only smoke when I’m hanging out with you,” he informed me. “You’re a bad influence.”
  385. “Yeah, I get that a lot. Thirsty?” I offered him the whiskey.
  386. He took it, took a shot and handed it back to me. We leaned against the house in the dark for a while. There was a strange sense of calmness being in the dark with a friend. I thought we were both watching distant streetlights until I saw his face was tilted upwards; he was looking for stars through the urban light pollution. I looked up as well to see if he could actually make out anything. I certainly couldn’t.
  387. “So. I’m Comet Tail,” he finally broke the silence. “The blue hair made the search easier.”
  388. “‘Comet Tail’? I like it. What does Comet Tail do?” I asked Comet.
  389. “I have no idea. I don’t remember him. He must have just been a background pony,” he sounded a little somber about that.
  390. “Like Berry Punch?” I offered. “Were they ever in the background together?”
  391. “Like I said, I don’t even remember Comet Tail. It’s been like seven years since I watched that show. I only remember Berry because some things she did in the show made us think she was an alcoholic. Which was funny for a kid’s show.”
  392. And I had her cutie mark, hair color and eye color now. Was that what the person who cursed me was trying to say; that this is how I was going to be remembered? They were probably right. Was Comet contemplating being forgotten? I took a few gulps of Old Crow. The nail polish was just swallowable but it complimented the bitterness in the back of my mouth well.
  393. “I’m sorry I talked you into coming over to my party. I know it’s my fault you got the tattoos and hair, “ I apologized.
  394. “Nah, you didn’t make me come over. I wanted to. Besides, my eye color didn’t really change. I can just dye and cut my hair back. You can too,” he told me.
  395. “What if something else changes though? My eye color changed,” I reminded him.
  396. “I’ll admit the eye color thing is throwing off the easy theories,” he started, “Your eyes match your hair now, right? And my hair and eyes match now. Maybe whatever reaction causes the color changes is being… ‘expelled’ and this is just how it’s released? Like it’s a poison leaving? Then it clears up?” Comet didn’t sound like he believed himself. If it was the truth then this was some weird science.
  397. “And what about the tattoos?”
  398. “This is going to sound crazy but the cutie mark is kind of growing on me. And I think it kind of suits me: I like the colors and it is astronomy related. Plus it’s easy enough to hide,” he was avoiding the question about how we got them. But I knew he didn’t know either. We had no theories left. “It’s a blackout tattoo from your birthday party. I couldn’t ask for a better story for how I got a cutie mark.”
  399. I noticed him turn to look at me. I couldn’t quite make out his face in the dark but I thought I heard a grin when he spoke, “Besides I had to come to your party. You were always there for me when no one else wanted to be my friend. You supported me at the track meets when my parents didn’t even come. I know it’s been a while since we talked but… when I got your text the other day I knew I couldn’t miss your party.”
  400. I’m glad it was dark because I could feel my face grow warm. Since when did I blush? Something he said reminded me of something I meant to ask. Ideally at a time when I didn’t risk ruining a happy moment. “So, uh, did you hang out with your parents yesterday?”
  401. “No. But Mom called. First time they talked to me in a while. She wanted me to come visit but...” he hesitated. “I had already made plans with some of my college friends to go to this restaurant downtown. Didn’t want to cancel on them either.”
  402. “Anyone I know?” I humored a change in topic.
  403. “Trevor and Adam?” he questioned.
  404. “Is Trevor the one you like?” I asked. I strained my old memories of his friends to its breaking point.
  405. “No? You’re thinking of Tim. We dated and broke up like a year ago.”
  406. “Oh. Shit. Sorry to hear that,” I apologized. He gave a shrug and an apathetic grunt that told me he was long over it.
  407. “Anyway, I’m heading to the store later to buy some hair dye. I wanna get it back to normal before we go pick up Monica tomorrow. You want me to get you some black?”
  408. The plan to pick up Monica and go see Brianna as a group was on. Monica didn’t want a little car wreck to ruin a fun trip and a reunion.
  409. “Sure,” I accepted. “I’m fine going to my AA meeting tonight with purple hair but I’d rather not see my sister looking like a cartoon character.”
  410. My cigarette was done and I flicked the end. Comet quickly followed suit and we went back inside. The living room was mostly cleared but the kitchen was still a wreck. Ian was still on the couch playing some video game.
  411. “Did you hurt your ankle?” Comet asked me as he followed me in. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about but I looked down at my feet to see. I was standing with my heels raised. I hadn’t even noticed. I felt a little less certain with my steps but I blamed it on the alcohol. I pressed my heels down to the ground, they were stiff and complained. Maybe I did hurt them? Wait a minute...
  412. “You’re doing it too,” I said pointing down at his feet. He looked down confused at his own feet and saw I wasn’t lying. He tried several times to push his ankles to the ground like mine but seemingly couldn’t.
  413. “Stiff ankles,” he pondered this development trying one last time then looked at me. He took in my purple hair and eyes. We both knew this must have been related to the color changes and cutie marks somehow. “What the hell is this supposed to mean?”
  414. “Hey,” Ian interrupted us from his seat on the couch. “If you two are done flirting with each other, all this shit still needs to get thrown out.”
  415. Chapter 5: You Don’t Have To Go Home
  416. Since I needed a ride to AA anyway I went with Comet to the store to buy the hair dye. I normally didn’t take my flask anywhere since it didn’t hold enough but this seemed like a good time. I filled it up with the absinthe, something I could sip slowly and really enjoy.
  417. “You’re going to get me pulled over,” he complained on the way there when he saw me drinking from the flask.
  418. “It’s not illegal for the passenger to drink in the state of Missouri,” I recited.
  419. “I’m taking you to your AA meeting in almost an hour and you’re still drinking,” Comet protested again as he pulled into the supercenter’s parking lot. “You know you have a problem, right?”
  420. “Yup,” I acknowledged. “That’s step one, you see.” I said without any attempt at hiding the smirk on my face.
  421. “And step two is believing in a higher power that can fix you, right?” Comet replied as he parked the car.
  422. “I’m still working on that one,” I slid the flask into the back pocket of my jeans. We got out of the car.
  423. “You know, if you’re ever needing some support for this…” Comet began. We looked at each other over the roof of his car. “...I’m your friend. I’ll be there for you.”
  424. I really didn’t have a reply to that so after an awkward silence I just told him, “Thanks”.
  425. With our hair colored the way it was, we were getting stares in the store from the customers and employees. A lot more than I was used to. Some laughed, some pointed us out to others, I could have sworn I saw a cell phone come out of someone’s pocket to take a picture. I could have dealt with this fine alone but when you’re walking with your heels raised next to someone who looks just as ridiculous also walking with their heels raised it’s hard to look nonchalant.
  426. We found the hair dye just fine across from the shampoo and conditioner. My black was simple enough. I wanted it to match my beard which thankfully stayed black. Comet seemed more caught up in his choice though. It didn’t help there were like five shades between brown and blonde.
  427. “I probably need to bleach my hair to kill the blue as well,” Comet admitted as he was comparing two of the boxes.
  428. “Don’t any of the kits already have that?” I tried to speed this up.
  429. “Probably not strong enough to go from blue to blonde,” he said. He took two kits off the shelf and held them up for me. “Do you think my hair was more of a ‘Light Ash Blonde’ or a ‘Medium Champagne’?”
  430. I signed and began to protest. “I don-” I looked at the boxes he was holding and the ones on the shelf. “...what about ‘Light Golden Blonde’?”
  431. He put the ‘Medium Champagne’ kit up and looked at the ‘Light Golden Blonde’ one. After studying the box with a little consideration he took out his phone.
  432. “I’ll compare them to a picture of me,” he told me his plan. I quietly rolled my eyes. I forgot what a perfectionist Comet was. While he sorted through pictures on his social media he paused at his most recent profile pic. “You know, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to buzz the sides and cut some of the length off. I should buy a cheap trimmer and a pair of hair clippers. Less hair would make applying the dye easier too.” He began fiddling with the back of his hair. “Or at least get rid of the mullet thing I got going on. -wow, it’s even thicker down at the bottom.”
  433. My impatient, grumbling stomach gave me a better idea than waiting for Comet to figure out his hair color. “Hey, I’m going to go grab a sandwich or something real quick.” I wandered off. He made no effort to stop me. On the way over towards the deli I passed by the electronics. I was still too poor to care about electronics but I felt like looking for something particular for a laugh.
  434. Sure enough, in the kid’s entertainment section between Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was a slew of My Little Pony DVD and Blu-Ray sets for sale. Looks like the latest season was five. Some of the boxes had subtitles, there was even a blu-ray of the old 80’s stuff. I picked up one Blu-Ray called ‘Equestria Girls’ since that sounded generic. On the cover was Twilight staring into a mirror and on the other side was a lavender human that looked like her. ‘A human that looked like a pony’? I was intrigued enough I sat my hair dye down to pick it up and read the description on the back.
  435. ‘Humans in high school’ seemed like a lazy concept. I saw art of this back in the day and I was confused when I thought it was fanart. If the appeal is they’re ponies why would they make them human? Were there dolls? It looked like it came after Season 3 chronologically, so maybe the show’s popularity was waning.
  436. “Ma’am? Can I help you find something?” I heard a male employee say something quite loud behind me to another customer. “Ma’am?” I heard him draw closer. I turned to look at what was going on.
  437. “O-oh. Sorry! S-sir?” the employee was looking right at me now. He was maybe a few years younger than me. Oh. He was talking to me?
  438. “It’s cool,” I said as I dismissed the ma’am with a wave.
  439. “Sorry. I didn’t see the beard. The pink hair and the ears threw me off. Can I help you find something?”
  440. “No, I was just browsing,” I said as I looked back at the Equestria Girls movie in my hands and put it back on the shelf. I saw a glimmer of recognition in the employee’s eyes when he spotted what I was holding.
  441. “Seems like something you would already have,” he said gesturing to my hair. I looked at him confused. He seemed unsure of himself when he read my reaction.
  442. “Because my hair is dyed you think I like ponies?”
  443. “N-no. Because of the pony ears,” he said as he held up both index fingers to the top of his head to gesture ‘pony ears’. We both seemed to be getting more and more confused as the conversation continued. “Are those like the electronic cat ears that respond to your emotions? I didn’t know they made pony ears. Where did you get them?” And now I was more confused than him.
  444. “Pony ears?” I asked if I heard him right. I became aware something was moving in my hair. I reached up towards where I felt the movement in my mane. I grabbed soft, pointed ears. They shifted forward in alertness, then flopped down in dread then stood up in surprise. When I rubbed the inside of them I could even hear myself rubbing them. I have pony ears.
  445. I searched for my ears; my human ears, on the side of my head. I knew they were parallel to my eyes but not only could I not find them. I think my inner horror was bleeding out onto my face because the employee standing there watching me frantically search my hair was backing away slowly and starting to look worried.
  446. “I... I think I dropped something somewhere,” I backed away from that encounter as calmly as possible. There was no way to make this less awkward. I just had to leave.
  447. I ignored the confused looks and rushed around slow customers to beeline it to where Comet was. The extent of this curse just escalated and the only thing calming me was the hope that this was happening to him too so that I wasn’t alone.
  448. I didn’t have to make it all the way to Pharmacy and Personal Care to spot Comet rushing in my direction. We both slowed down as we approached each other. When I saw pointed, light yellow ears poking up from his hair I felt a little saner again. Comet grew paler staring at me. He stopped and his arms slowly creaked up towards his own head and found his new ears. He also looked for his old ears, mirroring my actions a moment ago and also found them missing.
  449. “We got pony ears,” he stated the obvious, sounding stunned.
  450. “If you didn’t know about the pony ears why were you running to come get me?” I asked, confused.
  451. “Because we got pony tails,” he replied with a grim look on his face. I grabbed the back of my hair, praying someone snuck up behind us with hair ties. Comet shook his head solemnly. “No...”
  452. I then grabbed the back of my jeans and felt around. I found a hard protrusion just above my ass. With my wallet, flask, empty pack of cigarettes and lighter all in my back pockets it was just lost among them. When I moved the protrusion with my fingers I could feel something tickling me back there now. I knew what it was and was creeped out by the sensation of long hair growing in my pants.
  453. Without a word we headed for the closest bathroom. I could feel the hairs tickling but I had to see it. I think Comet felt the same way.
  454. Once inside Comet went straight to the long mirror above the sinks to see what his new ears looked like. I was a bit more terrified by the tail revelation but curiosity got me too. Before I even looked in the mirror I had my suspicions what color mine were going to be, and I’m sure Comet did too.
  455. Sure enough, a light pink-purple, just like Berry Punch’s. Seeing as Comet’s were light yellow, I figured that meant Comet Tail was light yellow.
  456. “Do I look… different to you?” he turned to look at me concerned.
  457. “Yeah, you have blue hair and yellow pony ears,” I raised an eyebrow at him.
  458. “That’s not what I meant,” he sounded exasperated. “I mean my face.” He pulled his phone back out, he had pictures of himself still up.
  459. He held his phone up to my eyes so I could see what he meant. There was a picture of him sitting around a table with his friends, it looked like his birthday dinner yesterday. That felt longer ago now.
  460. I took his phone from him and zoomed in on his face and looked at the person standing in front of me. Comet helpfully swooped his blue bangs back with one hand, in between his pony ears, so I could compare the faces better. I stepped to the side to get the angle identical. There was a difference, but I couldn’t quite pin down what the difference was. I stepped closer to get a better look without realizing it. The person in front of me looked… younger? But at the same time maybe his jawline was more defined? Or was it just different? Comet was more... handsome?
  461. “M-maybe the stress, it just- it’s just getting to you,” I stammered out. What was wrong with me? Comet was staring down at me as I studied his face, straight into my eyes, and it was making me self-conscious. I felt like I only now was appreciating how much a height difference five inches made. I realized I was standing way too close and gave him back his phone. “I think, maybe, you just look tired, a little.”
  462. “...alright,” he said, not quite accepting that stuttered answer as he put his phone back into his pocket. “I’m going to go look at… my tail,” Comet said as he stepped inside a bathroom stall and closed it behind him.
  463. I understood the feeling. While we knew we both had one now, we needed to discover these alone. I entered my own stall then unzipped and pulled my pants down.
  464. The same dull purple colored hair on my head spilled down to cover my ass.
  465. I twisted around and grabbed it to look at it better. It was thick and curly like the hair on top of my head but thankfully not as long. I touched where it was coming out of; the fleshy nub protruding above my butt was covered in the same soft little furs that were on my ears. I could feel my spine tingling as I pulled and moved it. I squirmed. It was real and completely part of me.
  466. I pulled the tail more taut to see just how long it was without the curls and was surprised to see that straightened out the curls were several feet long. I let it go and it sprung back in place. I looked at it as it hung there. Did I straighten it out a bit or did it get longer? I started pulling it back out. I thought I was careful not to pull it any harder but it did look longer now. Was it still growing? How long was my tail going to get? ‘My tail.’ I have a tail.
  467. “I’m going crazy,” I said out loud. I wanted to believe it.
  468. I heard shuffling and fabric sliding in the stall next to mine. As if to answer my curiosity Comet told me through the stall wall what he was doing. “There’s fur growing around my cutie mark… and on my feet.”
  469. I checked my own and saw he was right about the cutie mark, the same light purple fur on my ears and tails was spreading outwards from my cutie mark.
  470. I started taking off my shoes and socks to look at my feet. It looked like it had started near my heels but it had spread down past the heel of my foot, which wasn’t much of a heel anymore, and it was making its way to my toes.
  471. My toes. Particularly my middle toe was of interest. It looked wider and the nail looked thicker, like nearly a big toe. I saw my shoes were still fitting because what was originally my big toe had shrunk to accommodate it. It looked like my toes had swapped places.
  472. “Comet…” I felt pained to ask. I wanted to sit down before I asked but I also didn’t want my tail to get in the toilet water. “Did your middle toe get bigger?”
  473. “Yes,” he admitted with a guilty tone to his voice. I heard pants, awkward adjusting and a zipper go up. Then I heard him leave his stall. “I don’t see no more fur anywhere. Will you check if it’s growing on my back?”
  474. I put my socks back on and started pulling my underwear back up. When it came time to get the tail back in I saw how awkward this was. I forced nearly two feet of a curly mass of cherise hair out the left leg opening of my underwear. Then when I pulled my pants back up I had to stuff it back down because it was threatening to spill out of the top of my jeans.
  475. That closet of a stall was getting frustrating to get dressed in so I just left my shoes off and kicked them out underneath the stall door. I walked out in my socks.
  476. Standing there waiting for me was Comet. Without a word he awkwardly took his shirt off. He was in surprisingly good shape. At least compared to me. Then when he turned around to show me his back I noticed I could just make out the bump of the tail in the back of his pants. But if I didn’t know any better I wouldn’t have guessed what it was.
  477. I scanned his back for light yellow fur, which in retrospect was probably a lot harder than him looking for the pink-purple on me.
  478. “No, you’re clean,” I told him the good news.
  479. He sighed but I didn’t hear very much relief in it. He looked into the mirror at us. “I wonder how long it’s going to take?” he asked me. I knew what he was thinking.
  480. “Until... we’re ponies?” I was the first to say it. Hearing it out loud didn’t make the idea sound any less crazy but it was happening. I looked at myself in the mirror then I looked over at Comet in the mirror and saw he was looking at me. He looked like he was too scared to say something and it was freaking me out even more than the ears and tail.
  481. “What is it?” I looked down at myself then at me in the mirror. I studied my purple hair and light purple ears. I stepped closer to study my face and looked for color in my beard.
  482. “Berry Punch is female. You realize that right?”
  483. I’m turning into Berry Punch. Berry Punch is a female pony.
  484. I felt a chill run down my spine and end with a shake in my tail. In the mirror I saw the terror in Comet’s eyes creep into mine.
  485. “But… I’m a guy,” I defended against my fear.
  486. “I know. But…” Comet frowned sadly. “We just grew horse ears and tails.”
  487. I took out my flask and the lid came off. I emptied some of the absinthe down my throat. The burning mint didn’t sooth my chills. Comet was watching me with worry.
  488. I didn’t have time to come to terms with this. The bathroom door burst open and I physically jumped in response towards Comet. I nearly knocked him over. A middle-aged man with a strong five o’clock shadow and a heavy gut walked in. He got just a few feet in when he saw us and stopped.
  489. I looked at him and he looked at us. He looked visibly disgusted. I looked in the bathroom mirror at us to see what he saw. Two incompletely dressed guys with long, unnaturally colored hair were standing in the bathroom together; Comet still had his shirt off and both of us were missing our shoes. I could easily see my fear being misconstrued. Instead of yelling or saying anything to us the man turned and left in a hurry.
  490. It was suddenly time for us to go.
  491. From the bathroom at the back of the store to the front doors was a relatively straight path. I took another pull from my flask on the walk towards the front.
  492. “Berry, really?” Comet questioned me and my flask.
  493. “I’m too sober to deal with this!” I told him, sounding more shrill than I planned. His argument stopped there.
  494. “Yeah, I could use a cigarette myself,” he admitted. “It’s my turn to buy.”
  495. The store was rather dead and we went to the only register open by the ‘smoke shop’. As we approached I could see Comet looking around, presumably for the guy who ‘walked in on us’.
  496. The slightly older looking cashier took a second glance at us but otherwise was completely unphased by our hair, ears or my eyes. When I got a good look at him I recognized him. I recognized him from all the times I came in. His nametag reminded me he was “Joe”. I told him my brand. When he returned with the pack he logged into his register and scanned the pack.
  497. “Can I see some ID?,” Joe prompted me. I tried my best to look stable. Instead it looked like I was having my morning withdrawal symptoms: shakes, shivers and sweat.
  498. “Joe. It’s me, Berry,” I told him as I got out my ID anyway and handed it to him. I nearly dropped it from the weakness in my hands.
  499. “Brian,” he corrected me as he looked at my ID. He seemed unsure of me now. “It says your name’s Brian.”
  500. “Th-that’s what I meant. It’s been a long night,” I told him and sighed. People forget their own name sometimes, right? “Joe, I come in here all the time. Remember I came in a few days ago and bought all that alcohol for my party? I invited you.”
  501. He looked at my ID then looked at me then back at my ID. I saw an ember of recognition slowly grow brighter in his eyes as he remembered what I was talking about. He looked awake now.
  502. “Huh. Yeah, it is you. Sorry, didn’t recognize you with the pink hair,” he shook his head. “It’s been a long night for me too. What’s with the horse ears? Costume party?”
  503. “Yeah. I didn’t want to go though,” I agreed to his guess. “I’m losing control of my life,” I reflected. It got a laugh out of Joe. He handed me my ID back.
  504. “Aren’t we all?” Joe replied as I put my ID back. He turned to look at my friend. “I need to see yours too, blue.”
  505. When Comet finished paying we headed for the only open exit this time of night.
  506. As we approached the store exit I realized there was someone standing there waiting for us. It was an employee in his early 40’s. When we got close enough to read his nametag I saw he was a shift manager. Comet and I both knew what this was about. I didn’t feel like I was able to deal with this right now so I stopped short. Comet took the lead.
  507. “Boys, I heard there was some trouble in the bathroom,” he began. He looked like he was already tired of this situation. Or maybe that was just how he felt about his job in general.
  508. “No. There was a misunderstandin’,” Comet responded with less of a delay than I thought. His southern accent was suddenly really thick and slow. “We were out huntin’ today’n I found a tick on me in the bathroom. I was havin’ my friend check my back for me when that old guy came in’n ran out shoutin’ about fags.”
  509. The manager thought about what Comet was telling him then asked, “what were you two hunting?”
  510. “Turkey. Season just started,” Comet replied like it was obvious. “Didn’t get a one.”
  511. After thinking some more the manager shrugged and nodded his head. “Yeah, works for me. You two have a good night.”
  512. With that we walked out wordlessly back to the car. When we got there Comet took out the cigarettes and asked me for my lighter. I gave it to him.
  513. We stood by the car while Comet smoked. Neither of us said a word. After a moment of looking at the flask in my hands I cracked it open and took another sip.
  514. “So isn’t that public intoxication?” Comet asked me with only mild concern in his voice.
  515. “No law against that here,” I told him. The taste of wormwood and anise numbed my brain. Without a word Comet handed me back my lighter and his cigarettes. I lit one in the momentary silence.
  516. It was looking like a storm was approaching and I could tell it was a decently warm night but I had to concentrate to stop my legs from shaking. There was a chill and only I could feel it. I knew Comet could tell what was eating me. And I knew he had his own transformation to worry about too but I didn’t want to talk about it. I was powerless. Comet looked up at the looming storm with mild interest.
  517. “Can’t see the stars tonight,” he chimed.
  518. “Was something supposed to happen?” I said eager for a new topic.
  519. “No,” Comet admitted. “But it always relaxes me; looking up at the stars.”
  520. Comet hesitated then continued, “there’s so much chaos happening in the universe. But because so much of it is happening so far away and because we can see so much of it at once, we can get a bigger picture of it. And all of it looks so calm and peaceful from afar like that. Out there, looking back here, our chaotic little world would look the same. It kind of puts everything into perspective. Like if we could just see what’s going on in the grand scheme of things, we would see it all makes sense.”
  521. I thought about what he said then unscrewed the cap to the flask and took one more sip before I replaced the lid.
  522. “I forgot about that; you told me about that before,” I smiled weakly at my fond memories. “When you took me stargazing.”
  523. After my dad died I didn’t want to do anything but Comet insisted I go with him. So finally we took my old truck and drove out to his favorite spot out in the sticks. I brought the moonshine and cigarettes and he brought his telescope. Being miles away from everything, just looking at stars with a friend was therapeutic. I liked it enough that we started going so often Monica started to ‘get worried about us’.
  524. Monica.
  525. “So, you still up for taking me and Mini to see my sister tomorrow?” I asked him.
  526. “Do you still want to? Because I said I would,” Comet said without taking his cigarette out of his mouth. Then looked at his hands. “Assuming I can still drive tomorrow.”
  527. I looked at my own hands. Were we going to still have them when we woke up? For how long? I drank to that and replied, “Yeah. I do. I know it’ll take an hour or two out of our day but I was really wanting to see her one more time. Just in case.”
  528. “‘Just in case’? You think this is going to kill us?” Comet questioned by wording.
  529. “I keep calling myself Berry. I keep calling you Comet. So our brains are being affected too. What if when this finishes I can’t remember who I am? If our outsides and our insides change are we still the same person? Or are we effectively dead?”
  530. Wouldn’t it be better if someone else existed instead of you anyway?
  531. “Other than the name thing I don’t think anything else was affected; nothing seems unfamiliar anyway. I can still recognize people and I think I can remember everything. Maybe the name thing is all there is to that,” Comet suggested. He took a drag from his cigarette while he thought about this further. I took that cue and dragged mine down feverishly, holding it as long as I could, trying to warm myself from the inside.
  532. “You ever hear about the Ship of Theseus?” He asked me what sounded like a distraction from my shaking.
  533. “Lay it on me, Professor,” I encouraged as I brought the flask up to ready it for another go.
  534. “It’s a thought experiment. About a ship that is replaced board by board, plank by plank, over the years. After over one hundred years, every board has been slowly replaced when broken or worn down at some point at least once. Is it still the same ship? If not, at what point was it a different ship? The last board? The first board? At the fifty percent mark? What if we painted it? What if we renamed it? Would it still be the same ship then?”
  535. I could see why he brought this up but had no answer to this paradox so instead I swallowed some more minty medicine. “So what’s the answer?”
  536. “There’s not really one. It’s about the concept of how things change gradually over time. The human body replaces everything bit by bit as it repairs and cells split. Bone, brain, muscle. We grow and change. Yet we’re still considered the same person,” Comet explained. “I think… we’re always the same person. We exist on a continuum, and even though we change as we go down it, what travels that continuum is still the same concept; the same self.”
  537. I drank to that. My body wanted to reject it but I breathed out slowly. The warm fuzzies were starting to replace the cold shakes. I finally felt like I reached the bare minimum alcohol and nicotine to address my worries.
  538. “I don’t want to be a girl,” I finally protested. My legs felt more unsure so I slumped a little more against the car. My tail protested being laid against.
  539. “I’ll still consider you a guy if you want me too,” Comet promised me.
  540. “What? You’re going to ‘respect my pronouns’?” I spat at him bitterly.
  541. “Yes, yes I will,” Comet promised me again. “Besides, we don’t even know how this is happening. That might not happen. Or maybe whatever is causing this will wear off because we’re not still exposed to whatever is causing this,” Comet tried to reassure me of an unlikely situation.
  542. “What could be causing this though? Black magic? Nanomachines? Why did it target us? How did it target us??” I thought out loud. I started thinking of what we could have done that no one else did. “The 25 year old port wine? I don’t think anyone else had any last night.”
  543. “No, I saw Ian take some too and he looked fine earlier,” Comet dismissed. “Plus the pony choices seem intentional.”
  544. With that we were back into silence again trying to figure out why. I offered my flask to him and was surprised he took it and it gave it a sip. He grimaced hard and looked like he wanted to spit it out but instead he swallowed and sighed.
  545. “Okay,” Comet said weakly, “we don’t have any leads left. I was going to try a priest and then maybe, worst case scenario, we can try the hospital.”
  546. “‘Ah yes, a simple case of pone-itis’,” I mocked. “They wouldn’t know how this happened! They’ll think this is contagious and call the CDC and FBI and the rest of the alphabet. I don’t want to be experimented on.”
  547. Comet considered that for a moment as he tapped the ash from the end of his cigarette.
  548. “It’s not impossible this’ll wear off eventually. I’m already skipping work tomorrow. And some friends owe me, so I could skip out of grading the last of the finals Monday too,” Comet began planning. “Maybe we can lay low for a while while we think more on it. Even if this finishes we can still try to figure out how to reverse it.”
  549. “Where are we going to ‘lay low’?” I said. ‘Doing nothing’ didn’t seem too bad of a plan when there was nothing else left to do. I was good at doing nothing.
  550. I knew Ian and Markus were already getting sick of my shit. If I turned into a pony hiding away from the world I would never be able to pay them any rent or probably even pick anything up. I would be even more of a burden on them. Would they kick me out? Sell me?
  551. “We’ll go to the place where they have to take you in,” Comet said with a smile. Home. “I’ll take my mom up on her invitation. You could stay with your mom and Brianna.”
  552. “Pretty sure my mom would call animal control on me,” I told him. I took another drink to quench my dry laugh. The numb world was starting to spin faster. My empty stomach was angry at me. I was angry at it. I was angry at everything because I couldn’t do anything.
  553. “But your sister wouldn’t let her send you away,” Comet brought me out of my gloom. “Don’t tell me she wouldn’t love her very own pony,” Comet teased. He dropped his cigarette butt and stomped it out. He looked like he was contemplating lighting another one. It hinged on how long this conversation was going to take; did I accept the plan or did we need to keep talking?
  554. ‘Returning home’ meant two things: being under my mother’s authority and rules and seeing my sister as much as I want. I felt differently about those things when I left seven years ago, but now when I weighed those two along with my priorities with my current situation, my decision was different.
  555. Well, that was it then.
  556. “Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll pack tonight. Tomorrow when you take Mini and me to see my sister I’ll stay with her. If you can’t make the drive to your parents’ you can always have Mini drive you there.”
  557. “I better pack tonight too. Fingers will make it easier,” Comet considered further. “Let’s go by my place. I’ll pack then come crash on your couch again. We need to stick together. We’ll keep in touch after we get back home.”
  558. “Agreed, pony bros have to stick together,” I said mockingly as I raised my flask. There was just a tiny sliver left. I offered some to Comet. To another surprise he finished it off.
  559. “Alright let’s roll,” he said as he handed me back the flask and unlocked his car to get in.
  560. I went around to the passenger side of the car and got in. I immediately realized I was sitting on my tail and tried to sit on my side but that was even more uncomfortable. If I pushed my butt out and craned my back I could get pressure off the base but I was still sitting on a big bundle of hair. I saw Comet was having trouble adjusting himself too but finally gave up and sat at an angle.
  561. When Comet started the car I saw his dash light up and saw the time. It was getting late, in fact I was late; I suddenly remembered what we were going to do after we got the hair dye we had given up on.
  562. “Oh shit. I have to go to AA,” I facepalmed.
  563. “Berry, you’re drunk. I’m taking you home,” Comet scolded me as he started the car.
  564. “If I don’t go once a week my parole office will issue a warrant out for my arrest,” I protested. Comet was taken aback by that. The car sat idling in the parking spot.
  565. “How long does the meeting last?” he asked as he began to be swayed.
  566. “There’s a speaker tonight so probably like an hour and a half,” I said bitterly.
  567. “What if more changes happen while we’re there? Can you leave early?” Comet said as he was thinking the same thing.
  568. “I guess. But I have to go for most of it,” I said defeatedly. As I thought about the uncomfortable stares I’d get for an hour and a half for my hair and ears.
  569. “Okay, where is it?” Comet said as he started to head out of the parking lot. I told him the address.
  570. “I’ll drop you off and go pack my stuff while you’re there. I’ll come pick you up after and we head back to your place.”
  571. “This is going to be a long night.”
  572. Chapter 6: Last Call
  573. “So how was it?” Comet asked me after I rejoined him in his car an hour later. I saw his telescope case and another bag in his back seat. He was wearing a blue hoodie with a yellow kangaroo on it with the hood up. It covered his ears surprisingly well.
  574. “There’s a special kind of shame you get for showing up late, drunk and with dyed hair and pony ears to an AA meeting,” I said as I tried to slump in my seat but my tail wouldn’t let me.
  575. “You’re not going to get into trouble, are you?” my friend asked, concerned.
  576. “Probably not. I did show up. Being late is fine, shit happens,” I hesitated before continuing. “And... this wasn’t the first time I showed up with alcohol on my breath. And the pony ears and mane… well, that’s not breaking any rules,” I said with a shrug.
  577. “Speaking of that,” Comet reached into the back seat and lifted up the flap to his bag; a white hoodie sat on top. Other than the white hoodie, in the dim light I could mostly make out yellow and blue clothing. Knowing him, he was coordinating with his future coat color. He handed me the white hoodie. “Put it on; it’ll cover the ears.”
  578. I recognized what it was. It was the hoodie he wore when he was in track in high school to warm up. “LAWSON” was written across the front in red letters. Reluctantly I pulled his hoodie on over my head and let the back of my hair stay tucked inside. I pulled the hood up to cover my own ears.
  579. “You can keep it, it goes pretty well with the dark red hair,” Comet complimented me as he started to drive back to my place. I pulled the bottom of the sweatshirt down all the way to check the size. It was a little big but it was warm.
  580. “Yeah, well, maybe you should stay here and become the new mascot. You’re going to be yellow and blue, right?” I teased him.
  581. “You know I wouldn’t like the attention,” Comet said with a smile as he watched the road.
  582. When I thought Comet wasn’t looking I casually sniff tested the inside of the hoodie. While I knew it was clean, I had a strange feeling like the hoodie still smelled like him. I had seen him wear this countless times. It made me feel funny or something to wear this particular hoodie of his. Other than ‘weird’ I couldn’t process the rest of the feelings wearing it gave me. ‘Safe’?
  583. My stomach growled loud enough to interrupt my thoughts and for Comet to hear. He caught me with the hoodie covering the lower half of my face.
  584. “Hungry?” he asked me. I had been hungry for the last several hours but there had been more pressing matters.
  585. “Actually, yeah. Now that I thought about it...” I said before I paused and double checked my memory. “I… I think I forgot to eat today,” I admitted.
  586. “Berrrry...” Comet whined my name like I hurt him. I felt my ears under my hood fold in shame. “It’s no wonder you’ve been cold and shaking then.”
  587. Without my input Comet turned into a parking lot to a fast food place still open and pulled into the drive thru.
  588. “What would you like? Get whatever you want, I’m buying,” Comet reassured me with a smile. I really didn’t like the leverage of him buying me food while I was wearing his hoodie. I felt powerless yet coddled.
  589. “No it’s fine, I’ll eat something when we get back to my place,” I tried to reassure him.
  590. “What do you have to eat at home?” Comet asked. I tried to think of food I had on hand. Were there snacks left over from the party? Stale cake? Was thrown out. I had nothing to eat but plenty to drink. I looked over at Comet and could tell I was doing a bad job hiding from my face how shitty my answers were going to be.
  591. So we sat in his car in the parking lot and ate because driving while in awkward, uncomfortable positions because of our tails and eating at the same time would have been too much. Just sitting in normal positions was uncomfortable. Comet was almost on his side and I was leaning forward to give the base of my tail as much clearance as possible.
  592. My chicken tenders tasted wrong. I didn’t know how they could mess up fried chicken but they managed. The breading was great but the chicken itself tasted ‘sad’. Like it had been frozen too long and lost all its flavor. Maybe I had too much on my mind to taste it but I got it down before my friend finished half of his.
  593. Comet was also picking at his burger and examining it as he ate it. It seemed like both of our meals were disappointments. We both finished our sad meals but neither of us seemed satisfied. Our situation didn’t seem any better with food in our stomachs.
  594. “Are you still hungry?” Comet asked with motherly concern. “You don’t eat enough.”
  595. “It’s fine; I drink plenty,” I quipped bitterly.
  596. “Speaking of...” Comet began as he fiddled with something in his hoodie pouch. “You said back at the store you acknowledged you have an alcohol problem, right?”
  597. “Um… yeah?” I agreed slowly. “Is this about the next step? ‘The greater power’? Did you get me a bible or something?”
  598. “No. Nothin’ like that,” Comet shook his hooded head and turned to face me. “Berry Punch, you’re my friend,” he began. “And I’m your friend too, right? And so is Monica? And you wouldn’t do anything to harm yourself, Brianna’s brother, right?” My ponifying friend was scaring me.
  599. “Y-yeah? We’re all friends...” I agreed slowly.
  600. “Can friendship be your higher power? Can you believe in ‘us’ watching out for you? In keeping in touch with you? In us forgiving you when you slip? In Brianna’s unconditional love for her brother as she tries to help you? In us all trying to help you?” he asked of me in what sounded like semi-rehearsed but effective words. I took a moment to think about the words, let out a sigh and nodded.
  601. My friend’s sharp blue eyes scanned the parking lot around us and then took a small bag full of a dozen pills out of his pocket. I recognized the mark on the pills: I knew yellow meant they were five milligrams. “I bought some valium from a guy I know on campus, for when you get withdrawal symptoms from alcohol.”
  602. “Comet!” I smiled up at my wonderful friend. “You bought me drugs??” I felt so loved. If I was seriously cutting back then benzos would mean I could be functional while I detox. Maybe I wouldn’t snap at Brianna or yell at Mom. I went in for a hug and my hooded friend readily returned it. He was so warm. “I promise I’ll try,” I said while we hugged and I wanted to mean it.
  603. With the pills now in my hoodie and our fast food trash taken care of, we headed for my place. My lower back was protesting all the walking and awkward sitting and Comet complained about the same when we got back to my place. We left Comet’s stuff in his car and went in with an empty suitcase and a backpack for me to pack.
  604. Ian and Markus were both on the couch playing something when we came back in. When they saw us enter they paused their game; they were waiting for me.
  605. “What are you doing with that suitcase?” Ian said when he got up to talk to me. I knew what this looked like, and I was basically doing just that. He knew what I was doing too. This was serious. I looked down at the suitcase, feeling extremely guilty.
  606. “I’m… moving back home for awhile,” I admitted. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I knew they were both sick of my shit. The mess from the party probably annoyed them further.
  607. “You can’t move out yet. The lease isn’t up for three months. You’re going to owe us four months of rent. And if all your shit’s still in there we can’t even rent it out to someone else,” Ian said as he crossed his arms. I forgot how big Ian’s arms were.
  608. “Listen, I woke up with strange tattoos on me today, my hair and eyes changed a different color, I have horse ears and a tail, I’m growing fur, and I think it’s going to keep getting worse; I think we’re turning into ponies” I laid it out to him. Markus stood up from the couch and watched the situation curiously from the living room.
  609. “What? Are you, like, roleplaying with your boyfriend? You expect me to believe that shit? You’re wearing contacts,” he said annoyed by the truth.
  610. I put my hood down to show him the ears. I found I could swivel them decently if I ‘pretended’ I heard something behind me then in front of me.
  611. Ian looked at me bewildered. Comet took his own hood down to show he was going through the same thing. Ian reached out to touch my ears and I didn’t stop him until I felt him pull. Hard. I yelled and smacked his hand away. Apparently he felt enough to believe they were real.
  612. “You two need a fucking priest!” Ian said as he backed away slowly with his hands away from him. “I don’t want you spending the night here; you might infect us.” He headed for the kitchen, presumably to bleach his hands.
  613. “You still owe us four months of rent if you’re moving out,” Markus picked up in Ian’s absence.
  614. “You know I just don’t have that. I wouldn’t even if I sold everything. You’re just going to have to tell the landlord I left and can’t pay,” I told him. Markus looked down at the floor and nodded.
  615. “I know, man. So that means if you leave you’re not going to get to come back,” Markus warned me. “And if all your stuff isn’t out soon Ian and I are going to have to toss what’s left so that we can rent out the room.”
  616. I agreed to the terms and Comet and I headed upstairs to begin packing what wasn’t going to get thrown out. It was easier than I thought once I started looking around my room. There was nothing here I really wanted. My music stopped interesting me years ago, my computer was shit. My furniture? Chipped and stained. Trash. There was trash everywhere.
  617. There was one book I was taking, my birthday present from last year from Brianna. It was an informational book on mixology and had a long list of recipes on cocktails in the second section. It was partially a joke gift but I found the talk about theory and balance very interesting.
  618. “What did you pack?” I turned to Comet for advice.
  619. “Well, I didn’t pack any more pants because I figured ponies can’t wear pants. I did bring my running shorts though. Those might still fit.”
  620. “You didn’t have anything more flexible? Like sweatpants or pajama bottoms?” I asked him as I checked my dirty pile of clothes and hamper for similar items. I didn’t really own shorts but I did have sweatpants. Somewhere.
  621. “Sweatpants are tacky. And I normally sleep in the nude,” Comet explained to me. I tried to physically shake that mental image from my head.
  622. I ended up packing a few shirts, my found sweatpants, boxers, and Comet’s old backpack on top of those. Then I began to look over my birthday ‘presents’ sitting on my desk. Some of them weren’t even drunk out of yet.
  623. “Do you think you’ll need those?” Comet tested me.
  624. “Just in case. If I use a little booze to taper as well I can cut off more gradually,” I reasoned with him. In my head I knew I also wanted them just in case I needed a drink. I began to wrap some of the bottles up in the clothes in my suitcase.
  625. Comet watched as I put them in my suitcase. I put in the Jameson, the absinthe, the moonshine grapes, the 25 year old port wine and the Jack. Few enough bottles everything could get properly wrapped in my clothes.
  626. “Are you sure you need all those?” Comet asked me with concern. I let out a long sigh as I looked over my chosen booze. Five bottles. But I was going to quit, right?
  627. “I guess not,” I agreed in defeat. I set the moonshine grapes aside, as cute as they were they weren’t that high in alcohol. Then took out the port wine and rum and considered them both. My fellow hooded-friend quietly watched me decide to keep the Jack and leave the port wine.
  628. I zipped up my suitcase with three bottles in it. I picked up the port wine I had set aside. It would be a shame if wine waited around 25 years just to not get drunk. I gestured the bottle to him with a grin. “A toast to sobriety?”
  629. A warm, amused smile spread on his face. “And friendship,” he added. I uncorked the re-corked bottle and gave the fortified wine a good, long pull and offered him the bottle. He took a small swig and set it aside on the ground next to him with the cork gently resting in it.
  630. I took a look around my room one last time. Besides Fluttershy there wasn’t anything else: my life fit inside a suitcase with alcohol and room to spare. I tried not to care about this fact but I felt heavy.
  631. “Alright,” I tried to pick up my suitcase. The wobbly balls of my feet could just hold it and keep my balance. “Could you grab Brianna’s present?” I asked my companion.
  632. Comet took the box holding Fluttershy and I left that room for the last time. Abandoned alcohol sat on the floor and table.
  633. The stairs were hell. By the front door to the house Ian and Markus were waiting for us. I looked around the living room one last time to confirm to myself that there wasn’t anything of mine down here. There wasn’t. And just some crappy furniture, old clothes and alcohol in my room upstairs. Everything that Comet and I weren’t holding was probably getting thrown out. That’s fine, most of the stuff in my life was apparently not worth bringing anyway. Everything I wanted or needed to keep in my life fit in a suitcase and the suitcase was half alcohol.
  634. “You can throw everything else out if you want,” I told them. I could tell they heard me but had no reply to my words.
  635. “I don’t want you to think we’re being jerks but you’re not exactly the most reliable person with rent and helping out around here,” Ian said. He was searching for his next words before he spoke. “The parties have been fun. We’ve had a lot of good memories and you’re a good friend but you haven’t been a very good roommate. You’ve never really pulled your weight around here. The bathrooms, the garbage, the kitchen, the cigarette butts...” There was a lull as he searched for how to follow that. “I hope you get back on your feet, Brian. I hope things work out better when you get home. Let us know if the pony thing gets any better.”
  636. “Yeah,” I agreed with an awkward nod. I wanted to get out of this situation and that meant leaving for good. So with nothing left to say Comet and I left.
  637. We couldn’t stay there and we couldn’t stay at Comet’s place; it was some cramped apartment on the third floor smack dab in the middle of campus. Both of us felt too tired to drive to our hometown now and we didn’t feel comfortable with crashing at Monica’s place. We also wanted to sleep before we had to explain what was going on to Monica, even though we both feared what could happen while we slept. And we couldn’t even sit in the car comfortably, let alone sleep in it.
  638. While sitting in the car deciding on where to spend the night, as if reading the mood, the dark clouds in the sky finally gave up. A downpour started. The white noise was loud enough to drown out my broken thoughts. I was thankful for it.
  639. Comet was talking to me about the motel he picked. I could hear his words but they just washed off me. I didn’t want to respond. I didn’t want to acknowledge me. I was tired and wanted to hide. I wanted this terrible day to end. I focused on the rain. Comet must have got the idea after a while because the rest of the ride there was in silence.
  640. Chapter 7: Your Own Personal Demon
  641. I stared into that mirror longer than anyone should have.
  642.  
  643. The first thing I noticed was the taste of hair in my mouth. I woke up from my troubled, dreamless sleep drenched in acetone sweat. I thought my mane had got in my mouth but when I went to pull it away it was coming off in my hands. That shook the sleep from me completely.
  644. I sat up in the dark and turned to the night stand between our beds. It was the time of night when no one had any right to be up. There was a full glass of water next to the alarm clock on my side. Comet must have placed that there for me.
  645. I picked it up with both hands because I didn’t trust either shaking hand to work alone. When I tried to tip it into my mouth for a sip I couldn’t get it down: I got hair in it. More hair in my mouth. I spit out. I was so thirsty but I couldn’t drink. This hair was getting in the way. I put the glass back down on the nightstand. I could make out a large clump of hair floating in it now. I grabbed at my beard to figure out what the hell was going on. I could grab it but it came off effortlessly in my hands. There was a large dark pile down the front of my shirt and covers.
  646. The sting of my sweat made my eyes hurt. I tried to rub them with the back of my hand. Somehow the beard hair got there too and now it was in my eye. It was everywhere. The tickling black mess felt like spiders crawling all over me. I fought the panic rising in my chest. I had to get this off of me.
  647.  
  648. I peeled the covers coated in my hair and sweat off of my body and tried to stand. Something was wrong with my legs. I still had to stand on my toes but now my feet felt impossibly long. I went to take a step and felt my joints move. They were all there but they were in the wrong place. My legs were too short but my knees were too high. I was stepping on my socks. I held onto the wall as I made my way to the bathroom in the dark. I was too scared to make any noise, as if it’d wake up whatever deity I pissed off and they would cause more changes.
  649. Slowly, carefully, I miraculously made it to the bathroom in the dark on my misshapen legs. My feet clicked as I stepped onto the tiles. I flicked the bathroom light on and was hit by the yellow fluorescent light. I powered through my momentary blindness to see who or what I was in the mirror.
  650. Purple eyes. The long, curly matching hair. The pony ears. My beard was no longer where it was supposed to be though. Instead of being attached by normal means It was stuck to my face and shirt in sweaty clumps. This wasn’t like being shaved in your sleep, I could see places where it was completely gone; perfectly smooth, pale skin dotted with stray hairs.
  651. I looked sickly pale. The clumps of hair coming off my sweat-coated face into my hands reminded me of a molting, diseased animal. Or like I was irradiated and my beard was falling out now. At that thought I grabbed part of my mane and pulled to test it. The dark pink hair on my head was firmly rooted in place.
  652. I washed my face.
  653. The cold water felt good and I could wipe off the hair sticking to my face. I clogged the sink several times doing so. Each time I did I pulled the black tendrils of wet hair out of the drain and threw it off to the side on the counter so I could keep going.
  654. I was in a hypnotic state, trying to detach myself from what I was doing and just finish. I didn’t want to think about what was happening to me.
  655. I discovered there were a few stray patches of beard that were still attached. Testing one, I found it came off with just a tug, as if hanging on by just a thread. I started tearing the rest of it out.
  656. After several minutes of trying to clear all the hair off my face, all I could find left were my eyebrows and eyelashes. They were apparently staying. I felt over my face again. I think I got it all. I slurped several handfuls of hair-less water to celebrate. I felt better.
  657. I looked up in the mirror to see if I did indeed get it all. It had been years since I had seen my chin and jaw. I thought my face would look bigger without all the hair covering it but instead, even up close, I thought it looked smaller. I thought my chin and jaw had been wider. I had a baby face. Did I even look my age now without even a little beard shadow? Would my ID even look like me now? It’s not like my eye and hair color matched it now. The weight didn’t match either considering how little I ate anymore.
  658.  
  659. I took a motel towel to pat the water off my face. My face felt naked. I looked at my face again. It looked naked. Without the beard I didn’t even look like me anymore. I remembered why I grew the beard out in the first place again, I wanted to look older. With my wide, panicked eyes and clean baby face I looked like a teenager. An effeminate teenager. That was just from the lack of a beard and the purple hair, right?
  660.  
  661. I had to pee. I walked over to the toilet and pulled my boxers aside to pee. But when I looked down I pulled my hands away. I was afraid to touch it. It.
  662.  
  663. I stared at the remains of my male genitalia. I was horrified at what I was looking at but like a train wreck I couldn’t look away. I didn’t understand what it was. I couldn’t bring myself to touch it but I needed to see what was going on. I carefully pulled my boxers off trying not to touch it.
  664. I turned to look at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t see my testicles but I could tell there was something else in its place. I stared at that spot in the mirror waiting for myself to blink and for it to be normal again. The strange sight wouldn’t go away no matter how many times I blinked.
  665. What the hell was wrong with my legs? My entire body from the waist down looked alien and strange. The purple fur that was growing in around my heels when I went to bed had grown all the way up to my knees; but my knees were further up my legs now somehow.
  666. ...Were my hips always that much wider than my torso? What used to be my heel was just a crook. I didn’t understand my own anatomy.
  667. I took the socks off that were sliding off my feet. I looked down at my toes. No, I couldn’t see any toes. I had no toes. I couldn’t feel my toes either. My feet were almost perfectly vertical, longer and ended abruptly with something hard. A big nail? A hoof?
  668.  
  669. What I was seeing was impossible. The room was spinning. I wasn’t human anymore. Was I even male? What was I? A freak of nature? Whatever I was at that moment shouldn’t exist - I couldn’t exist. My body was a violation.
  670. I felt bile rise up my throat and I vomited into the sink. I vomited so hard I couldn’t hold my bladder anymore. I started pissing onto the floor. I let myself finish. I couldn’t tell where it was coming out and that made me gag more.
  671.  
  672. When the dry heaving slowed I had to tear my eyes away from the sink to look back at the creature in the mirror. I didn’t want to look but I had to see it. Was it still me in the mirror?
  673.  
  674. I stared in that mirror longer than anyone should have.
  675.  
  676. I studied my genitalia again through the mirror. I felt like I was staring for hours. While I was trying to familiarize myself with what I was seeing. it felt like I would notice more changes. I don’t know how long I had been staring but I was starting to realize I had been staring for so long I could verify it looked different from when I started: what was a few inches was a bit more than an inch now. Then as I stared longer what was an inch was almost nothing. I was sinking in. A groove was forming. There was more definition where there shouldn’t be. There was nothing where I thought there should be something.
  677. I spent more than an hour looking at it, I wasn’t certain how much time I spent beyond that.
  678. I thought the skin was turning purple around it until I realized that fur was growing there now. This wasn’t a human vagina. It was something like one though. Was I actually female now? I definitely couldn’t say I had a dick anymore.
  679. Not long after I felt it slip inside me, rubbing against my new insides. I felt compact and hollow. I tentatively felt around it. I was scared to get too close but for some reason I just had to make sure I could still feel myself there; that this form replacing mine was actually still me and not someone else’s body. Nothing was numb, it was all my flesh and I could feel it. My fingers brushed across some kind of sensitive puffy nub and I yanked my hand away as if it bit me.
  680. What I thought were just two ‘spots’ were something else. What the hell were those? The flesh around them gave a little more than above it. Were these…?
  681.  
  682. I felt my chest through my sweat-laden shirt and was relieved to find I didn’t have breasts but I couldn’t deny my shirt looked at least two sizes too big now - too wide and too long. I studied the width of my torso. My shirt looked bigger on me. It was probably always a size too big but now I was drowning in it. I pulled my beard-covered shirt off over my head to double-check my chest. The nipples on my chest were... gone, those fleshy mounds above my… ‘genitalia’ were apparently replacements, just in the wrong place. What the hell happened to the hair on my chest? Did it fall out too?
  683.  
  684. I looked at the stranger in the mirror and tried to analyze what this person was. The only hair on my body was shades of pink and purple. Pony ears lay flat against my head as I stared into large, scared eyes. I wasn’t sure who I was looking at. I didn’t recognize this face; this soft, girly face. From the waist up… yet from the waist down as well… A hooved nightmare from the girl’s pink aisle.
  685.  
  686. I looked away with disgust. That couldn’t be me. This mirror. This face. I touched my own face. There was no beard left, just smooth, soft flesh on my face. But how long until it was covered in the same purple coat eating up my skin?
  687.  
  688. ‘Fuck this shit’, I thought. I couldn’t think about this right now. I needed to escape and stop thinking. At that thought my mouth felt too wet, my head too sharp. I knew how to fix this. I had the perfect solution to all these problems tucked away in my suitcase.
  689. But as I stepped towards the door with a clip-clop and tried to open it I found it didn’t want to budge. The knob turned but I couldn’t pull it open. It was as if there was a large weight resting against it. Assuming it was some weird lock I checked the knob and was unable to find a lock. I tried pushing then pulling again - the door didn’t budge.
  690. “Oh, NOW you stop staring at me?” came an unfamiliar male voice from the mirror. I turned to look at who was talking. My eyes met my reflection but my reflection wasn’t mirroring me; she was leaning her weight against the bathroom door in the mirror and smiling.
  691. I stepped away from the doppelganger across the sink from me. He -she? he- didn’t budge from his spot by the mirror door, but his eyes followed me. I could feel my own mouth hanging open in shock but his was in a dopey grin. That mirror monster from the retirement center had the same grin. This time, closer, I could make out an oversized fang in one side of his mouth.
  692. “We didn’t have much time to talk last time, did we?” he asked. I didn’t know how to reply. I was scared to look away from his eyes. The whites of his eyes were sickeningly yellow. His pupils were dilated differently. He seemed unbalanced; chaotic.
  693. “Well? Do you have any questions for me, Barry? It’s not everyday I give somepony an audience,” he pushed me to talk.
  694. I wasn’t sure why, but the way he said my name felt wrong. Questions? Somepony? My brain was struggling processing this conversation and the words he was using. I was scared to talk to this creature in my mirror. I was already staring though. That probably meant he was about to devour me and he was just giving me last requests.
  695. “Do you… did this?” I fumbled the words.
  696. The dopey grin on his face dropped for a second to a confused frown. When he understood what I meant he reopened his mouth to return the silly grin to his face. That one fang was on the other side of his mouth now.
  697. “I did! And now it’s wearing off. Unfortunately you’ve made a mess of yourself here, haven’t you? Withdrawal symptoms so bad you’re hallucinating that I’m talking to you through your reflection in the mirror. What does that say about the way you see yourself, you think?”
  698. I struggled trying to understand what he was saying. It’s wearing off? I’m hallucinating? But he’s responsible? But who is he? He’s my hallucination? So does that mean he’s me? This is my fault?
  699. “Well, I gotta fly!” he said to the struggling look on my face. He stepped towards me. I saw two large wings unhinge and spread out behind him. A large, blue feathered one and a darker purple batwing. The wingspan took up the whole mirror. “Don’t hurt your head thinking about all this too much… allow me to hurt your head for you!”
  700. “W-what?” I struggled as I stepped back. As he grew closer to the surface of the mirror he seemed to be taller than me. His wings no longer fit within the frame of the mirror. He hunched over to look me in the eyes. The mischievous grin on his face seamlessly warped into an evil sneer with way too many teeth. His eyes were bigger now. One was bigger than the other.
  701. His jaundiced, red eyes were glued on me but he didn’t move. He stared into my eyes for several minutes behind the glass. I didn’t dare look away. His glare made my knees weak and my hands shake.
  702. As if the glass wasn’t there, he leapt through the mirror onto my counter and gripped the edge of it with clawed hands. His mouth opened wide. “Boo!”
  703. I jumped backwards away from him and fell into the tub. The shower rod came down on my head with a crack. The shower curtain followed and blanketed my view. I quickly pulled them off of me to see my oncoming attacker.
  704. He was gone from the mirror. I looked around the bathroom and saw I was apparently alone again. I sat waiting for some sign he was still here.
  705. The only sound was my own ragged, shaky breath. When the hot tears slid down my cheeks I realized I started crying in fear. If I hadn’t just pissed all over the floor I would have probably done it there in the tub. I waited longer for him to return. It felt like an hour had passed sitting naked in the bathtub with the curtain draped around me.
  706. After I was thoroughly emotionally and physically exhausted I finally accepted he was gone. At least for now. I climbed out of the tub and tried to stand. It took several minutes for the shaking to stop enough that I could stand again on those hooved monster legs. I studied them as I stood up. Purple fur legs ending in hard, purple hooves.
  707. I looked at my hands. They seemed normal but maybe shorter? It was hard to tell without thinking I was seeing things. ‘Seeing things’...
  708. My gaze fell between my fingers to the floor. It traveled across the floor where my socks and piss lay and up past the sink and counter where black tendrils of beard still laid in clumps towards the mirror. I looked at the person in the mirror. A confused, naked and scared girl with wide purple eyes and dull purple hair was staring back at me. Those horse ears glued down to the top of her head. Her tail was the only thing visible between those purple horse legs.
  709. I walked towards the door; she walked towards the door. I took a step back; she took a step back. Can I trust the mirror? Can I trust my eyes? Was everything real? My thoughts were racing. They needed to stop. The hallucinations had to stop. I knew how to push them away.
  710.  
  711. I opened the bathroom door and passed back into the dark motel room. I just turned the bathroom light off and walked back towards my bed. At the foot of it was my suitcase. I unzipped it and tugged the bottle out from the shirt that it was wrapped in. I knew the shape of the bottle by heart. Seeing the clothes I became aware I was completely naked now. I should get dressed and cover this new, alien shame.
  712. But first, I had to take care of these thoughts. I walked over to the one chair in the room and sat down. I studied the bottle. Even in the dark, just knowing the color of the liquid inside it eased my brain.
  713. That pale green absinthe; my favorite color. Jagermeister bottles were too vibrant. Jameson’s were close. Tanqueray was too saturated. But the liquor here within was the right color. It was love at first sight and the flavors surpassed my expectations.
  714. I opened the bottle and tasted the liquid inside. Something about the taste of anise and that the minty tingle with a slight grape overtone comforted me. It tasted like forgotten holidays from long ago; like dusty memories found decades later, tucked away in a corner, sweetly fermented to perfection among herbs and bitters. But there were no memories associated with this taste. Nothing I ever stole from the liquor cabinet was this perfect.
  715. But scent and taste were strong associations, right? ‘Maybe if I just had enough the memory would return.’ It was always a good enough reason to taste it again.
  716. I pulled another drink. The darkness in the room was warm and wrapped around my bare skin. The sound of Comet mumbling and kicking in his sleep put me at ease; I wasn’t alone. I could almost distance myself from what just happened in the bathroom. Almost.
  717. I took another drink. The wetness in my mouth was balanced out. A hearth was beginning to light in my stomach to dry my emotions. My throat was a chimney expelling heat. My insides warmed my outsides. With the tension melting in my body I realized there wasn’t enough strength left in my muscles to keep me upright. I slumped exhausted from the day into my seat. My body and mind wanted sleep but I wasn’t ready. I struggled to sit up and took another sip instead.
  718. I wanted to forget why I was drinking: the failures in my life leading up to last night. The party. The blackout. The cutie marks and this pony transformation. The loss of my dick. The loss of my humanity. The demon in the mirror. I was powerless to it all.
  719. Another few drinks. My mind was sluggish. My thoughts were drowning in the alcohol but I could still make them out beneath the surface. An occasional thought breached the waters. A sea of broken thoughts needed an ocean of alcohol to drown it all.
  720. Another drink and the muddled thoughts were smashed again to the rocks: Dad’s white truck wrapped around that pole. The way the shattered glass from my headlights shimmered across the highway. The police. The courtroom. All of the disapproving faces looking down and through me. The anise shielded me from their eyes. My room of worthless possessions washed away in a sea of green. No worthwhile possessions and no accomplishments. Why was I such a failure?
  721. The way the room rocked reminded me of a ship. Or maybe being comforted in a rocking chair. I imagined I was out there on that green sea of alcohol, looking for answers.
  722. The bottle in my hands glistened in the low light. My little pony. I knew why I was such a failure but what brought me down the road? Nature? Nurture? Chaos? Chance? I had no choice in or say in the events, I was just reacting to them. Hooves. I took another drink from the bottle. It was emptying and even in the dark I could see there were no answers at the bottom.
  723. I’ve changed. In a single day the person I was is gone. Down to my gender. Were my insides different now too? Could I get violated? Could I get pregnant?
  724. Comet turned over in his sleep restlessly and mumbled something about “digging”. I studied my friend’s shadowed outline for changes. ‘Digging’? Tunnels?
  725. My friends. Comet Tail, Minuette, my sister. Blame. Shame. I took what felt like the penultimate drink from the bottle. Why did they still associate with me? Was I another broken antique for Minuette to fix? Was Comet Tail lonely? If my sister was a bigger part of my life would I hurt her? Could I be weak in front of my sister?
  726. No.
  727. One more drink to clear my brain. I lifted the bottle high to my mouth. The last of the green fairy was brought into my mouth. It was slightly more than I was expecting. I let the magic burn and numb my mouth for a while then I swallowed. My esophagus and gut were numb but on fire. My eyes watered and my nose ran. All I could taste was the fairy; that forgotten green memory. I focused on its silhouette until the world slipped away.
  728. Sleep.
  729. Ruby.
  730. Chapter 8: In Good Company
  731.  
  732. “Berry? Berry, what happened in the bathroom?” I heard Comet talk to me. My neck hurt. My head hurt even more. When I tried to move I found I was slumped in a chair with a blanket over me. I was naked and sore under it. I was confused why I wasn’t in my room. Then I remembered.
  733. “Buck,” I growled. Right, I was awake but this was a nightmare. I opened my eyes.
  734. There was a Comet Tail wrapped in a bed sheet standing over me. There was something jutting out of his forehead that spiraled out to a soft point.
  735. “Do you... have a horn?” I said as I looked him over for more changes. His still-human hands held a bedsheet around him. I could make out that his bare chest underneath the sheet didn’t have fur on it. I took in what was wrapped around me. It was the comforter from his bed.
  736. I tried to figure out what was wrong, why Comet looked so concerned, but my sleepy head told me to just sleep it off so I closed my eyes again. Did I sleep at all last night?
  737. “Yeah, I have a horn now; imma unicorn,” he brushed aside my worry. “Berry, stay awake,” Comet said as he shook my shoulder. I growled a little at him for bothering me in my sleep. “How much did you drink?”
  738. “All of it,” I groaned thinking about that bottle of green fairy. Hearing rustling, I forced one eye open through the pounding headache. Comet Tail was rooting through my belongings. He unwrapped a few of the remaining bottles to check their contents. Eventually he put my bottles away and stood back up. He seemed to struggle staying balanced on his legs as he walked towards the bathroom. Eventually he dropped the blanket. A short, blue tail and a yellow pony ass with yellow horse legs disappeared around the corner. As fascinating as that was, it was gone now. So I did exactly what I wanted to do and went back to sleep again.
  739.  
  740. I was shaken again from the sleep I desperately needed. I opened my eyes to see a cup of water taking up most of my vision; an oasis in my desert. I took it and drank the entire thing without question.
  741. “What happened in the bathroom?” Comet tried his question again on me.
  742. The bathroom? Right… the demon in the mirror, the girl in the mirror, my facial hair, vomit, my penis.
  743. I sat up at that last thought and tried to cover my already covered body. Comet frowned worriedly at my concern but waited for me to answer.
  744. “I saw a monster... in the mirror,” I gave it to him straight. “He said he was responsible for this. Then I got drunk to try and forget about seeing him.”
  745. “So you saw the monster then got drunk?” Comet clarified the order as he sat down at the foot of his bed across from me. Comet was wearing underwear now over his horse crotch but they weren’t helping. I was staring quietly at the odd bulge enough that Comet tried to cross his horse legs to hide it.
  746. “Hey!” Comet protested as he got up and went towards his suitcase, presumably for pants. He gave me a good shot of his back side as he walked away. I could make out all the more horse-like muscles working underneath the soft yellow coat of his lower back side and it was strangely hypnotic. Especially the way the tail swished back and forth along with it.
  747. I laid like a sore sack of potatoes in the chair and just lamely watched him fumble with his jeans. Seeing him getting dressed reminded me of my own nudity under the blanket and a slow rising shame started to raise me to action.
  748. Wait, this was Comet’s comforter on me, right? He put this on me? That means...
  749. “Hey, uh, Comet?” I asked without sitting up.
  750. “Yeah, buddy?” Comet could just get the jeans stretched over his horse thighs but with him turned my way I could tell he was trying to get too much down the front. ‘My god, brain, stop.’
  751. “Did you see it? Me?” I asked. Comet delayed his answer as he tried to shove more of himself into his pants. They weren’t going to fit. Evidently horse genitalia didn’t quite sit the way human genitalia did.
  752. “Yeah. I saw. It’s fine. I’ll still consider you a man,” Comet promised.
  753. “Even though I have a weird horse vagina now?” I asked with a defeated, distant tone.
  754. “It isn’t that weird,” my friend tried to reassure me.
  755. “It kind of is though; it’s not human,” I pressed as I contemplated getting up and dressed. My head needed to be held together though. Otherwise the headache would split my head in half.
  756. “No, no… that doesn’t make it weird,” Comet said distractedly. He sat down and took his jeans off. He huffed hard in frustration at his pants predicament.
  757. “It kind of does,” I protested.
  758. “I mean, we’re turnin’ into equines so it makes sense we’d have equine genitalia. It’s no weirder lookin’ than mine,” said my ‘unicorn’ friend as he sat on the edge of his bed turned to me.
  759. “...can I see yours?” I asked in my half-groggy curiosity.
  760. “You want to see my dick?” he asked as his ears swiveled towards me in more surprise than shock. He studied my face for a moment then chuckled a bit and shook his head. “Maybe later. We need to get dressed. Can I borrow your sweatpants?” He tried to ignore my request.
  761. “If you let me see yours,” I bargained. “You saw mine, right? What does a horse dick even look like?”
  762. “I think you’re still drunk,” he said as he went over to my suitcase and got my sweatpants out. “I think your jeans’ll still fit you. But mine won’t. Can I borrow these?”
  763. “Yeah but come on, show me,” I said as I sat up more to show him I totally wasn’t drunk at all, nope. “Make me feel less weird about mine.”
  764. He hesitated then rolled his eyes before his hands went to his waistband. He pulled down his underwear to show me what the outline was hiding.
  765. “That’s what I thought! How the fuck is that fair!” I pointed in protest.
  766. My exposed friend covered himself back up and started putting the gray sweatpants on to further cover what was pointed out. “If it makes you feel any better, typical horse anatomy means not all of it can penetrate; horses don’t bottom out.”
  767. “Oh? Where the hell did you learn that? College?” I asked him with a grin taking hold on my sleep-dulled face. In response he tossed a pair of boxers from my suitcase and my jeans at me. I dropped it; a man’s search history was his own business.
  768. Honestly, seeing Comet’s junk looked kind of alien made me feel a little better about mine. They just weren’t ours. I couldn’t identify with it or any of the body replacing mine.
  769. “Are we still human?” I asked him while I studied the clothes in my blanketed lap.
  770. “It’s a little early for philosophical questions,” my roommate grumbled. “But yeah, we are.”
  771. “How though? I look like something Frankenstein’s girly daughter made,” I complained.
  772. “Do you still remember growing up human? Did those events not cause the person you are today? What is a man?” the astronomy professor waxed philosophy at me. Ship of Theseus, right?
  773. I did remember my childhood, as much as I thought I could the day before anyway. No odd pony ‘memories’ came to me. Despite evidence to the contrary, I was still me. I just couldn’t prove it.
  774. “I guess so. But… physically? What if we can’t change back?” I complained.
  775. “Then we’ll be humans in pony bodies and life goes on. You’ll still have your friends and your sister,” he said as he finished putting his shirt on. “Get dressed. We’re going to go see her, remember?”
  776.  
  777. I studied the boxers in my hand. They were kind of impractical now, just like shoes were going to be. There was no tail hole and a useless hole in the front. Should I even wear these under my jeans? All these layers were getting awkward with a tail.
  778. A weird idea crossed my mind. I put them on backwards underneath the comforter and pulled my tail out of the hole. As I stood up I let the cover slide her off my body.
  779. I looked down at my pink-purple legs coming out of my boxers and the hooves they ended in. I looked back at the mulberry-colored tail now pulled out through the back. It was certainly more functional.
  780. “That looks cute,” I heard my friend say. I thought my face was going to turn the shade of my coat; I didn’t know how to take that compliment.
  781. “Yeah, buck you,” I told him half-heartedly as I put my jeans on. They still fit me despite my hips seeming wider. If anything they were baggier.
  782. “Do you want my belt? I’m not using it,” he said as he offered it to me. As he passed it to me I could assess our height difference again. I came up to the top of his chest; combined with how my pants fit I could definitely say I was smaller now. I turned away from him when I took the belt and put it on to keep my pants up.
  783. Lengthwise, the jeans fit but the way the legs of the jeans bent didn’t line up with my knees, which I found were even further up my legs now. I could still walk in my pants but they felt poorly designed. As long as no one asked me to run, it should work fine.
  784. We finished getting dressed in silence. We put our hoodies back on with the hoods up to hide the ears. Comet didn’t seem to do anything about his horn. Probably because he couldn’t think of anything. Put a sock on it? Socks and shoes on our hooves were attempted but we agreed they were a lost cause. We didn’t plan on being out in public much today anyway.
  785. Packing up, I remembered the shirt and underwear I left in the bathroom. I headed back into there to retrieve them. To my surprise, there were no black tendrils of hair on the countertop or vomit that missed the sink. On the ground there was no puddle that smelled like pee. The shower curtain and rod were hanging back up. My shirt and underwear, covered in beard and piss were in the trash. Comet had cleaned up my mess before he woke me without a word of complaint.
  786. “Ready to go?” he asked from the motel door. He was wearing blue polarized sunglasses. He had his suitcase in one hand and his telescope under the other.
  787. “Sorry about the bathroom,” I apologized as I walked back to the bed and grabbed my suitcase and Ruby’s present.
  788. “I just didn’t want to wake you or leave it. Remember that time I had the flu and we were downing Fireball? Don’t worry about it, It happens,” Comet reassured me with a smile. I laughed at the memory.
  789. “I swear I could still smell cinnamon in that bathroom like a year later,” I reminded him.
  790. “It was that or the diarrhea,” he shook his head. “I still can’t drink that stuff without remembering,” he made an unpleasant look at the thought of it.
  791. I sighed fondly at the recollection and came back to the present. “But seriously, sorry. You’re a good friend. I’ll do better,” I promised.
  792. “I know you will,” my ‘unicorn’ friend agreed simply. “Got the valium still?”
  793. “In my pocket.”
  794. “Alright then, let’s mosey.”
  795.  
  796. It was a horrible day for a hangover. A nice, bright clear sky. The parking lot was mostly empty. The roads were not. Especially not the highway. Sitting didn’t feel as awkward anymore; our tails were higher up compared to our rumps. After Comet noticed how much squinting I was doing he gave me his sunglasses. I made no complaints about the offer as it was saving my eyes.
  797. “Comet, can I smoke in here?” I asked him with one cigarette already in my mouth. I found myself pouting a little in a plea. He frowned a bit but didn’t take his eyes off the road.
  798. “Normally no, but all things considered… crack the window and light me one too,” he admitted in defeat. I did so and he took his lit cigarette from me.
  799. “Anyway, we should get some food. And you should take a valium before you start feeling worse,” the driver explained his detour. My stomach hurt and it didn’t feel like hunger but I didn’t have the energy to argue against food. So we went through the drive-thru again. Even with our hoods up and most of our colorful hair tucked away Comet’s horn still drew the fast food workers’ eyes. Comet did his best ‘I am normal. What horn?’ act and ignored their dumb-founded expressions. I suppose that’s all he could do.
  800. “So, I had a really vivid dream last night,” Comet spoke as he drove. We ate greasy hash browns and croissant sandwiches. Once again the meat tasted off. You would think it would taste fresher during breakfast hours. Regardless, the salt and grease felt like they were helping as much as the coffee and the valium. “We were full-pony and we were on guard in this underground cave system. Then…” Comet stopped to take a bite and chewed. Then swallowed. “We got distracted... and then these creatures dug up from outta the ground. They were like these jagged gorilla-looking things with weird rib cages and tapered heads. I saved you but then we had to get back to the others to warn them. There were a whole bunch of ponies underground. I think we were all hiding. But then Discord found us with those things.”
  801. “Who?” I interrupted his story. That name sounded familiar. He took the next exit off the highway towards Minnie’s.
  802. “He was the spirit of disharmony on My Little Pony. A draconequus; half-dragon-half horse. But he had a buncha different parts from other creatures. Like wings and horns from different creatures.”
  803. That was familiar. That was my mirror demon. “And red eyes with yellowed whites? And a single fang?”
  804. “That’s the one. He was a bad guy until he was reformed but apparently he faked it. In the finale he took over Tartarus and started making the ponies disappear. I think that’s where my dream picked up. I guess I was thinking about the show a lot yesterday, cause, you know. I was tryin’ to think if there were any clues in it.”
  805. “That’s what my mirror demon looked like,” I admitted. “I mean, he looked like me because it was a mirror but he always had red and yellow eyes. And sometimes those horns or wings.”
  806. My friend was looking at me for so long he suddenly had to swerve to stay on the road. After assuring to himself we were fine he resumed the conversation, with his eyes staying on the road this time.
  807. “Did he… he say anything?”
  808. “He said he was responsible for this but that it was wearing off. But he also said he was just a hallucination brought about from alcohol withdrawal,” I told him about as well as I could reiterate.
  809. Comet seemed to work the words over in his head before he spoke. “That doesn’t make any sense. If it’s wearing off why is it still progressing? And if he’s just a hallucination then he’s not real and can’t be responsible.”
  810. “It kind of is gibberish,” I admitted. “Maybe it’s part of the curse? Seeing hallucinations? Have you seen him?”
  811. “No hallucinations. I only saw him in that dream last night. He showed up at the end and cast this spell on us that tore us apart. I woke up from that. Have you been dreaming about ponies and cave demons?”
  812. “I can’t remember the last time I dreamed,” I said as I shook my head. “Is that why I see him in hallucinations?”
  813. Comet thought about my hypothesis as he turned into Minuette’s neighborhood. “Maybe. I hope this isn’t part of the curse.”
  814. We pulled into the driveway of a little, old house with a blue door and blue shutters. The yard was well landscaped with bushes, a single tree and an immaculate lawn. This was Minuette’s place. She was quite proud of this house. It was a fixer-upper and Carrot Top put in just as much work if I recall, especially the landscaping. But at some point apparently Carrot Top moved out and her fiance moved in. It looked about the same from what I could remember on Facebook.
  815. Comet turned the engine off and we glanced at each other in the car knowing how awkward this was going to go. We put out our cigarettes in an empty plastic cup from breakfast. Then without a word we got out and headed for the door. I rang the bell and we heard movement inside.
  816. A man a whole head taller than Comet answered. He was tan and had a spiked crew cut and was wearing a black v-neck. He looked at us. He looked at Comet’s horn. He looked down at our bare ‘feet’. He seemed confused, but after assessing us, it seemed like he was going to take this strangeness in stride.
  817. “Are you... Monica’s friends?” He clarified with us. We nodded. “She was in an accident yesterday and isn’t feeling very well,” he informed us.
  818. “Yeah, she told us. But last night she said she was still up for going to see my sister with us. Is she doing any better today?” I asked the giant looking down at me. If Comet made me feel small, this guy made me feel like a child. He seemed more confused.
  819. “She’s doing a little worse actually. Sorry, but we’re heading back to the hospital right now,” he said as he showed us the car keys in his hand as evidence.
  820. “Chad? I feel fine! Let me talk to them for a sec,” a familiar voice from further inside spoke. Chad obediently pushed the door further open and stepped aside for her.
  821. Monica stepped into the gap created for her and she looked at the two weirdos standing on her front porch.
  822. Monica’s once brown hair now matched the blue tank top she was wearing, all except for the silver lock that crossed her forehead. Her hair was a brighter shade than Comet’s. Not unlike her brilliant blue eyes that were brown the day before since she was born. As she looked us over the confusion in her eyes was overpowered by a building relief and excitement in her eyes.
  823. “Berry Punch! Comet Tail!” She exclaimed our names as she stepped towards us and wrapped her arms around our necks, pulling us toward her. “Oh thank goodness it’s not just me! What’s going on? Do you have cutie marks too? Does the horn work? We look like ponies!”
  824. “We don’t know, but you haven’t even seen the half of it,” I warned her as I removed my hood to reveal the pony ears. Comet took my cue and put his hood down as well. “We have tails and fur too.”
  825. “This... this is pretty serious! You guys want to come to the hospital with us?” she offered.
  826. “I dunno what they can do for us. We’ve exhausted all the leads we had,” Comet filled her in. “We were gonna just lay low and try to keep figuring this out and see if it wears off.”
  827. “Plus I don’t want to get tested on,” I added. I could see Comet’s horn bob in agreement in my peripheral vision.
  828. “Do you think it’s contagious? How are Ian and Markus?” she asked before gasping again at another thought. “Do you think it happened at the party??”
  829. “Well we thought it was just the two of us. But if this only happened to you today I’m not so sure now. There might be a dormant period and Berry and I were exposed early. I think we need to recheck on everyone at the party last night now,” Comet said as he took out his phone as if to begin right away. There was a glimmer of hope now that there was still an explanation. Somehow Comet and I were just apparently the first?
  830. “So you guys don’t want to go to the hospital with us? How far do you think this is going to go?”
  831. “We woke up with hooves and horse... junk today, ” I started vaguely. “I think this is going all the way.”
  832. “Honey, we should still go. The doctors might be able to figure something out,” Chad put an arm around her. She looked up at him, her expression torn.
  833. “Minnie, there’s never been nothing like this ever reported publicly; people don’t just turn into cartoon horses,” Comet warned. “The first thing the CDC is gonna do is quarantine us from everyone while they try to hunt down the source so they can find a cure. Meanwhile we’re going to get poked and prodded from ear to tail. But I don’t think a virus can change a whole person into something else. I think this is witchcraft or something.”
  834. “Maybe even nanomachines!” I butted in. Comet made a face but didn’t argue with the possibility. “The CDC aren’t gonna do any better at reversing this than we are because it’s not a disease. We know who most of the people at the party were. We’ll be able to track down where this came from faster than they will. And once we figure out how it happened we’ll know who to ask for help. Whether it’s the CDC, the Ghostbusters or the pope.”
  835. “I suppose a little longer won’t hurt,” Minnie began nodding in agreement. “Let’s figure out if anyone else is going through this too, then we can get help for everyone! You guys want to come in? I can make some tea.”
  836. This was all a good idea, but the goal today was to see my sister. How long would these calls take? Last time it was half a day. When I went to check the time on my phone I saw I had missed a message from Brianna earlier. When I read it I realized our messed up situation just got messier.
  837. “Berry? You coming in? What’s on your phone?” Minuette asked when she saw I wasn’t budging. The words on my screen left me stuck. This was even more impossible.
  838. “It’s... Brianna. She’s going through this too,” I fessed up to the crowd in the doorway. I offered my phone to Minuette so she could read the message:
  839.  
  840. Brianna: “Something is going on. I woke up with tattoos and pink hair.”
  841.  
  842. The new information put us all into an overwhelmed silence. Chad awkwardly fiddled with his car keys as we all tried to figure out how this could have happened. There was no immediate connection; it had been months since I had seen her. What was turning us into ponies? How many were there like us?
  843. “This could be really big. She couldn’t of gotten it from us,” Comet voiced our concerns.
  844. “Right. We need to go see her. Figure out what we all... have in common...” I trailed off. As I spoke, the answer came to me. From the sparkle in Minuette’s eyes she seemed to catch on to what I was thinking. “...our birthdays? We all just turned 25.”
  845. “And you two seem to be further along because your birthdays happened first,” Minuette added.
  846. “Okay, but I’m 28?” Chad chimed in. “How does turning 25 make you turn into a pony?” There was still no ‘how’ but this had to be related.
  847. “Let’s try to figure this out on the way. I want to get to her as soon as possible so she doesn’t go through this alone,” I told them. They agreed. Chad understandably wanted to come with us.
  848. After some discussion we decided since we needed to talk on the way and Comet had the only car that fit four, Comet would drive. Minuette used Comet’s phone and tried reaching out to other party-goers in the back seat with Chad, even though the party was beginning to seem like less of a connection than our birthdays. From the front seat I was quick to get my sister in on the loop:
  849. Me: “We’re going through the same thing. Me and Comet started changing yesterday. We were trying to figure out what was going on but now Minuette started today. We’re on our way. We’ll figure this out.”
  850.  
  851. Brianna: “Changes? What changes?”
  852.  
  853. Me: “We’re turning into ponies.”
  854.  
  855. Brianna: “What? What does that mean?
  856. Can I call?”
  857.  
  858. Eager to hear her voice, I called her. When the ringing turned to breathing I said the only thing I could think of. “Hey.”
  859. “Hey?” she answered in equal awkwardness. “What do you mean we’re turning into ponies?”
  860. “Comet and I have pony ears and tails now. And fur on our legs. Minuette is about where you are right now,” I laid it all out.
  861. “And hooves. And genitals. And I have a horn,” Comet added from the driver seat. “And it’s not technically fur, it’s a coat of hair.”
  862. “Thank you, Professor Horse,” I sarcastically thanked him. “Yeah, did you hear him? Basically, we’re ponies from the waist down and the ears up right now. And it looks like it’s not stopping.”
  863. “...and you don’t know what’s causing it,” she finished. “So you realize you’re calling Connor ‘Comet’? And Minnie ‘Minuette’? Is that because that’s who they’re turning into?”
  864. “...Minuette?” I repeated, confused that this was suddenly pointed out to me.
  865. “Yeah? What’s up?” Minuette piped up from the back seat. I could only imagine what the look on Chad’s face was as he was sitting directly behind me.
  866. “Nothing, Minnie,” I reassured her before turning back to my sister on the phone. “I… wasn’t aware of the Minuette one. Me and Comet have been calling each other pony names since yesterday though. It just kind of slips out,” I admitted.
  867. “So… we’re turning into ponies?” she asked again.
  868. “Yeah, that’s what it looks like,” I said.
  869. “So if Monica is turning into Minuette and Connor is turning into a pony named Comet, ...then who are you turning into?”
  870. “Berry Punch,” I admitted.
  871. “But Berry Punch is a mare…” she unhelpfully reminded me.
  872. “Yeah, I know that very well now,” I said, unable to hide the frown in my voice. “And I think I know who you’re turning into.”
  873. “Ruby Pinch,” she answered confidently. I was awestruck.
  874. “How did you know that?” I asked.
  875. “Because I’ve been dreaming about her. She’s the pink unicorn in my drawing. And I have her cutie mark,” she said.
  876. “What’s your cutie mark?” I had to ask. I needed to know.
  877. “Three pink rubies,” she told me. “It has something to do with gem cutting.”
  878. “How do you know that?”
  879. “In my dream she was casting a spell for cutting stones. So I assume that’s what it means,” she explained her deduction.
  880. “What was your pony dream like? Minuette and Comet have been dreaming about ponies too,” I said. I felt like I had all the eyes in the car on me.
  881. “It was just the end of the show. But more detailed,” she elaborated dismissively.
  882. “What was her dream like? Was she dreaming about the ending too??” I heard a voice closer to my other ear and slowly turned to see Minuette’s sparkling visage inches from my face.
  883. “I… yeah, she was,” I told my ex who was getting very close to me in front of her boyfriend -scratch that- fiance. I turned back towards my other side. “Ruby, I’m going to put you on speaker phone."
  884. “‘Kay,” she agreed.
  885. “Hi, Ruby!” Minuette greeted my phone as soon as I hit the button.
  886. “Hi, Minuette!” my sister replied from the other end. “It’s been a while! What was your dream like?”
  887. “It was just the end of the show too!” Minuette shrugged. “You know, a bunch of ponies protecting some children from Discord before he sent them all away to wherever he sends ponies.”
  888. “That’s what I’ve been dreaming about too. Okay, so we’re all dreaming about the ending,” Ruby said deep in thought.
  889. “We have? Was the cave stuff in the ending?” Comet asked our distant telecommuter.
  890. “A cave? Oh Yeah! It was just a short part but it was part of it. You don’t remember that?”
  891. “I never saw the ending. I stopped watching after Twilight became an alicorn,” Comet admitted.
  892. “Oooh, you stopped pulling the wagon, huh?” Minuette giggled. “That was totally in the finale though! Maybe you saw a clip somewhere?”
  893. “Maybe? That was like five years ago. Someone might of showed me something since then,” our driver shrugged.
  894. “Okay, but then that leaves Berry Punch,” Ruby said on the line. “Mom? Have you been having any pony dreams at all?
  895. ‘Mom’. I repeated the word in my head a few times. I remembered how last time she called me that it sounded like a silly mistake. This time it didn’t sound silly, it sounded eerily normal.
  896. “Hello?” Ruby snapped me out of my daze.
  897. “Buck! Sorry,” I said startled. “You-you called me Mom.”
  898. “Oh,” she sounded taken back. “Sorry. That… was weird. Did you have any pony dreams?”
  899. “No, but I’ve been having hallucinations of me in the mirror with Discord features. Last time he talked to me and jumped out at me in the mirror.”
  900. “That sounds horrible! Are you alright?” Minuette asked me from the back of the car.
  901. “I’m fine now,” I said, not sounding fine. “Really, I’m fine.” I tried again slightly more convincingly. “I’m more bothered by the changes than the hallucinations.”
  902. “Yeah, I thought blue hair was trippy; you guys woke up half a pony today!” Minuette said bewildered. “Speaking of… now that I think about it. Does that mean you’re… a mare now?” she asked. I sunk into my seat not wanting to deal with this conversation. I didn’t want to be reminded of what was currently in my pants, or what wasn’t. Before I could answer Comet answered for me.
  903. “Berry identifies as a male human. Just like me,” he answered succinctly.
  904. “Oh!” Minuette physically slapped her forehead. “Right, of course you do! -I mean, you are! Sorry, Berry! I phrased that really badly! I guess that’s none of my business anyway.”
  905. “Wait, what, that’s Barry?” Chad spoke up from the back seat. “The guy whose sister we’re going to go see? I thought it was the guy with the horn.” Chad spoke up. “Shit! Sorry dude, I thought you were a girl.”
  906. “It’s cool. After the beard fell out I kind of got androgynous,” I accepted his apology. “But... you couldn’t tell from my voice?”
  907. “Not really. I thought you were a dyke.”
  908. “What?? But I still sound the same, don’t I?” I asked as I turned to Comet Tail concerned. Why wouldn’t he tell me?
  909. “You do sound the same? You just sound like you. I don’t think you sound female?” Comet defended, equally as confused as I was.
  910. “Yeah, your voice hasn’t really changed,” Minuette agreed further. “Chad? Could you really not tell?”
  911. “You really think so? Damn. I’m not trying to be an asshole or anything. I genuinely couldn’t tell. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. Sorry.”
  912.  
  913. “Okay, so, if we’re done defending my brother’s masculinity…” Ruby piped up from the speaker. “Do we have any ideas what’s causing this? Or how widespread this is?”
  914. “Not really,” I admitted. “The current theory is it has something to do with our birthdays. Because it started around our 25th birthdays and you two seem a day behind us, just like the order of our birthdays.”
  915. “And,” Comet chimed in as he passed a car. “It’s some kind of supernatural or conspiratorial act because nothing biological is this specific and particular about its targets. It’s targeting us specifically and location didn’t matter.”
  916. “Minuette? Did you find anyone at the party who is starting to go through with this?” I asked the backseat, hopeful.
  917. “Nope! Not yet. But some of them haven’t replied back yet,” Minuette replied back.
  918. I sighed and tried to slump more in my seat but my tail bunched up in my pants. We were still stuck where we were yesterday, going over the same leads. If it was a curse or whatever then we still had no way to undo it. Or figure out who ‘cast’ it.
  919. “Hey, do you guys know there was an explosion at a comic shop in Seattle?” Chad spoke up. “When they investigated, the only thing apparently missing was the show bible to My Little Pony.”
  920. “What?? When was this??” Minuette replied for us. I lifted up in my seat with my hopes. “Was it used as some kind of voodoo item? Was it secretly a spell book? ‘Necroponicon’?” Minuette spitballed theories out loud.
  921. “Last night apparently? I searched for ‘My Little Pony’ because I was trying to look up the finale and a news article came up,” Chad explained. “It says they didn’t catch anybody. But sure enough the owner took inventory and the only thing taken in the one case broken into was that bible thing,” Chad said.
  922. “That has to be related somehow,” Ruby spoked what we were all thinking. “Even if it was after Berry Punch and Comet Tail started changing.”
  923. “Maybe if it wasn’t the person who did this, it was someone else turning into a pony?” Minuette asked the car. “Maybe someone in Seattle who thought there might be something in the book to undo this?”
  924. “That makes sense but… all the way in Seattle?” I questioned her. “Do you think this is nationwide? Like everyone turning twenty-five this month is going to turn into a pony?”
  925. “There has to be some rhyme or reason to it,” Minuette insisted. “Maybe someone from our school moved to Seattle? Who was born May 1st or 2nd? Was there anyone like that?”
  926. “You’re asking me to remember the birthdays of people who I used to go to school with like seven years ago,” I countered. I sighed and thought for a second. “I think Tyler’s birthday was near mine? Didn’t he move away?”
  927. “He went out east on a music scholarship I think?” Minuette thought.
  928. “I probably have a yearbook or two at my parent’s house,” Comet offered. “Maybe use social media to try and find people born early May at our school. That might help us find more people going through this?”
  929. “It’s something,” I agreed. There might be more of us. Maybe we had our school in common? Did we ever get a weird shot? Or something? I couldn’t think of anything, but most of my high school years were a blur anyway. I only remembered Tyler because he played guitar and had a garage band. I brought beer to his “concerts” sometimes.
  930. I felt more hopeful about our predicament. Maybe if we can find enough people-turned-ponies one of them will have some idea or memory that leads us to the solution.
  931. Chad couldn’t find any more news stories about My Little Pony, Minuette was fruitlessly harassing the party guests with Comet’s phone and eventually Ruby got off the phone to ‘get ready for us’. And so the car was reduced to idle chatter.
  932.  
  933. The road to Lawson felt longer than I remembered. The town didn’t come into existence like a city but gradually the little houses and shops littering the plains became more and more concentrated. The only way to know you were in a town was the city limits sign. In my absence the town still hadn’t yet hit a population of three thousand. The town was just as slow and dull as in my memories. Driving through the main streets the only differences seemed to be the trees have grown in and a few small shops being swapped out for other ones.
  934. And then there was my mom’s house. Exactly as I remember except the changes to the bushes and trees. A three bedroom house on a quiet street. The shed still stood in the backyard in disrepair, presumably filled with Mom’s stuff and none of Dad’s old stuff anymore. The lawn looked freshly mowed. We pulled in behind Mom’s old van. I sent Ruby a text saying we were here.
  935. “This should be interesting,” I said looking from Comet Tail to Chad to Minuette.
  936. “Is your mom going to be surprised to see you?” Minuette asked.
  937. “That’s one way to put it,” I agreed. “If you guys want to stay in the car for a bit I’d understand.”
  938. “No. We’re here for you,” Comet reminded me. “You two will stay more level-headed if you have an audience.”
  939. I smiled at those words, popped a valium and motioned for us to get out. My unicorn friend carried my suitcase behind me, followed by Minuette and Chad for emotional support. I awkwardly carried Ruby’s birthday present up to the front door and rang the doorbell.
  940. My mom answered. She looked grayer and older than I remembered but seven years is a long time when you’re an overweight diabetic. I didn’t speak, instead I took off the sunglasses I forgot I was wearing and looked her in the eye.
  941. “Brian?” My mom recognized me. There was a flash of anger then of surprise. She looked at the people behind me then back to me. “What are you doing here? What have you done to yourself?”
  942. “I didn’t do it,” I said as I put my free hand up in submission. “I don’t know why, but we’re turning into ponies. I came to bring Ruby her present.”
  943. “What? ...who?” My mom questioned me. In the moment it took me to catch my mistake I heard her voice.
  944. “Mom, let him in,” Ruby/Brianna protested from behind her. Mom turned to behind her then back at me. She looked hesitant, maybe even overprotective, but she relented and stepped away from the door.
  945. I pushed the front door open and spotted, just behind where Mom was, was my favorite person sitting there in her chair. Her long brown hair was now two tones of pink. In her lap she had three presents. One I recognized to be the size of a canvas, for Minuette. The other was smaller and flatter. The last was book-sized.
  946. Without any faltering she wheeled her chair closer without dropping the presents. She offered the book-shaped one to me with a smile, “Happy Birthday, Mom!”
  947. “H-happy birthday, Ruby,” I exchanged with her.
  948. I was going to set the large pony-containing box on her lap as trade but stopped myself. What stole my attention and left me speechless was her large formerly-blue eyes. Her eyes were the most beautiful, perfect shade of yellow-green I had ever seen.
  949.  
  950. Part 2. Where You’re Wanted
  951. Chapter 9: Call Your Mother
  952. I wasn’t sure where all the tears came from, but the flood began when I saw her again. This was her: My reason for living and dying. My regret and shame and pride. I was so stupid. I didn’t deserve to be loved by someone so smart and beautiful; someone so pure yet so wise.
  953. I didn’t have a specific reason why I cried and I think that made it worse. I was so happy to see her and so sorry for the circumstances. I felt self-pity and sorrow for what’s happening to her as well as all of my friends. I cried for the loss of my masculinity and my humanity being on its deathbed. I cried for the end of my life as I knew it. I cried out of shame for my suicide attempt and never telling her how I really felt all the time. I cried at the idea of losing her forever. I didn’t want to die if it meant I would never see her again but I didn’t have it in me to become the version of me she deserved. But I also cried because we were together again.
  954. Ruby was crying as well, but her cries were different. Instead of the choking sobs hers sounded like sad, pained cries of sympathy. She knew I was hurt and we were scared so she cried with me about ourselves and about the world.
  955. My friends and Mom didn’t make us stop. I didn’t realize they had left the room until the emotional vomit coming out of me finally turned into a steady, manageable leak. I apologized to Ruby and she understood it was for more than just for the waterworks.
  956. “Don’t leave me, okay? You’re my favorite person,” she spoke softly into my pony ears flattened against my head. I nodded quickly in between sniffs.
  957. “I know. I won’t. I promise. You’re my favorite person,” I responded.
  958. “Whatever is happening, please don’t hide it from me any more,” the rose-haired filly whispered at me. I knew she wasn’t talking about the transformation. I nodded. It was foolish to try to hide my shame from someone so sharp.
  959.  
  960. When we finally parted and began wiping our faces I saw the others had quietly moved towards the kitchen. The smell of warm coffee was a blessing after that rainfall. With all the presents still unopened we headed to the kitchen.
  961.  
  962. I shouldn’t have been surprised when we rejoined them that there was a mug of black coffee waiting for me and something that looked more like milk than coffee for Ruby.
  963. “Do you want any coffee with that cream?” I teased her out of tradition.
  964. “Nope! It’s perfect,” she sassed back and took a sip out of her decorative coffee mug.
  965.  
  966. “So, we were explaining to your mom about what’s been going on and what we think is going to be the end state of this,” Comet began filling me in.
  967. “I still don’t understand why you would do this,” Mom said, shaking her head. “Or why you would get Brianna involved in this.”
  968. Comet practically leapt to intercept the look of disgust that I threw at my mother to answer for me.
  969. “Ms. Peters, No one here wants this to happen. None of us are behind this. Even if there was, Berry hasn’t seen Ruby for months. There’s no way he could have infected her.”
  970. “Why do you keep calling each other those names?” my mom asked without acknowledging the answer she got to the last question she asked.
  971. “It just happens,” Minuette spoke up. “It’s part of this whole transformation thing. I know everyone’s real name here but the pony name just… ‘slips out’ instead.”
  972. I just knew that they had already explained all of this to her. She just wanted to throw these accusations at me; she ‘knew’ somehow it was my fault.
  973.  
  974. “I think it’s time to open presents!” Ruby interrupted. She picked up the book-shaped package and set it on the table in front of me then set the flatter package on the table towards Comet. The manila envelope handed to Comet had the name ‘Comet’ written on it, crossed out, the name Connor written below that crossed out as well and Comet written again below that.
  975. “You two had your birthdays first so you’ve waited longer. So you get to open yours first!”
  976. “Aw, Ruby, I didn’t even get you anything! You didn’t have to get me anything…” Comet said while still picking up the manilla envelope with care and interest.
  977. “Nonsense, you brought me my mother!” Ruby said. There was a lingering awkwardness in the air. Mom was looking at us, including Chad and Comet’s horn. “I mean… my brother,” she corrected. “Plus It was your birthday too! I just… didn’t know you were coming so it was kind of last minute, but I hope you like it,” Ruby reassured.
  978. Comet looked over at me and the package in front of me. I gestured for him to open his and took a sip of coffee to stall for time. He gently smiled at me then at Minuette and back at Ruby. Finally he undid his envelope. He gently pulled out the drawing and sat it down on the table in front of him. From my vantage point I could tell it was a unicorn stallion drawn professionally in colored pencils. It was in the same style as the Twilight Sparkle I knew she drew for Minuette.
  979. “You drew me as a pony?” Comet said in awe. “But you only knew I was turning into Comet Tail 30 minutes ago. You just drew this? It looks great!”
  980. Ruby shook her pink head. “I’ve been dreaming about ponies a lot lately. You were… Well, Comet Tail was in a lot of them.
  981. Without prompting I opened my present. A book on the history and science of moonshine and distilleries. I could see our mom frowned over the book topic and that was a nice bonus gift. Maybe it was bad the only inspiration for presents she had for me was alcohol, but I was probably hard to buy for. And while she knew as much as I loved and cherished everything she ever drew for me, I’d insist she keep all her good work for her portfolio. There were a number of cool griffons and dragons returned to her for ‘safekeeping’ when I moved out.
  982. “I could use something interesting to read. Something to take my mind off this pony thing,” I admitted to Ruby as I hugged her.
  983. “Pinchy, I…” Minuette looked at the wrapped canvas then at Connor’s gift and over at Ruby. She seemed uncertain about something until a grin spread across her face. “Before I open my present, I actually have something… a little unorthodox for you!” I made a mental note of how much I liked that nickname.
  984. Minuette’s hand slyly unhooked a gold chain from her belt loop. “It came into the antique store a few weeks ago,” Minuette said as she lifted the chain up and a small lady’s gold watch came out of her pocket with it. “I know it looks valuable but it’s not, not financially anyway; without the original band it’s just worth what it is as scrap! But I thought it was pretty so I shined it up and bought it! It was made in 1946.”
  985. Minuette set the watch on the table and gently slid it closer to Ruby who picked it up in surprise. “Oh, wow. Are you sure? Wow, the face is really pretty.”
  986. “Of course! Watches never get thrown out so they’re not as valuable as people think they are. Besides, I have a ton of watches! They come in all the time,” Minuette said with a handwave.
  987. “She really does,” Chad spoke up from his quiet spot next to her. “Please take it. If we don’t start giving away the things she collects we’re going to run out of living space.”
  988. Minuette laughed and prodded Chad in the stomach for that remark. “Yeah, honestly because of how much stuff I hoard maybe it’d be more appropriate for me to turn into a dragon than a pony!”
  989. She laughed a bit at her own joke before finally opening her own present. The pastel Twilight drawing greeted Minuette. Minuette gasped and showed Chad and the rest of us. The Twilight I saw before was complete with her soft mane and tail. “Princess Twilight Sparkle! She’s never looked prettier! This is going over the fireplace!” We all smiled or chuckled because we knew she was being serious.
  990. Finally, Ruby had no more way to delay her own. She saw all of us looking at her in anticipation and looked down at the plain cardboard box to avoid our staring. She undid the flaps and when she lifted them up I saw those beautiful green eyes shimmer when she saw the contents.
  991. “Mom… how?” She said in shock as she pulled out the Fluttershy plushie. She looked it over, unable to believe what she was holding. She felt the wings and brushed her hand across the mane. The look on her face shifted between awe and shock. “She’s beautiful! You got this for me??”
  992. I nodded and smiled. “You always got me the better gift, when I remembered to get you a gift. I wanted to top you this year.”
  993. She turned her chair to face me and wheeled closer for a hug. I met her outstretched arms and hugged her back.
  994. “You really shouldn’t have. This is… the most precious thing I own now,” Ruby said as she hugged Fluttershy to her chest. “She must have been really expensive.”
  995. “And yet you deserve so much more, Pinchy,” I told her as I reached out and mock-pinched her shoulder.
  996.  
  997. Mom bent over and asked Comet sitting next to her a little loudly, “Are those really rare or something?”
  998. “Not rare exactly,” Comet said as he shook his head. “But to get a plushie like that you have to get it custom made by someone. They can run several hundred dollars.”
  999. Mom looked over the stuffed pegasus and eyed me suspiciously. Here we bucking go.
  1000. “Are you getting better at saving up money?”
  1001. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I said as I glared her down. She matched my intensity.
  1002. “Just curious about the sudden jump in income. Brianna was telling me you were fired last month. What kind of job did you get?”
  1003. “What are you accusing me of?” I asked her rhetorically. I knew what she was accusing me of. “I’ve been saving up money for almost a year for Fluttershy. You know, back when I did have a job. Something you haven’t had in over a decade.”
  1004. “Mom,” Ruby grabbed my arm and I looked at her. The tension eased. She looked from me to over at our mom across the table. “...Mom, this is a special occasion. Let’s behave like adults.”
  1005. Mom needed in agreement.
  1006. “Ms. Peters,” Comet broke the silence. “Do you mind if I make more coffee?”
  1007. “That would be fine, Connor,” Mom acknowledged. “Are y’all getting hungry? I could order us a pizza.”
  1008. “Oh! Actually, can we order?” Chad piped up from his checking phone. “You’re being such a gracious host to let us all into your home.”
  1009. Minuetted nodded readily. “Please! We kind of just invited ourselves into your home!”
  1010.  
  1011. Mom was happy to take advantage of her guests’ offer. She hosted us for a few hours as we ate pizza and talked over our strategy: yearbooks, Facebook, local and nationwide news. We couldn’t find any more information about the show bible being stolen in Seattle and there weren’t any other relevant-looking news stories. Minuette was searching through a decade of forum posts trying to find relevant posts about turning into ponies that weren’t roleplaying. She couldn’t find one that looked genuine.
  1012. “They stole the show bible,” Comet thought out loud. “They were looking for something; something in the official media. Some kind of clarification; some hint. Why? What do they know that we don’t? What tipped them off?”
  1013. Somewhere around my fourth cup of coffee and second slice of mushroom pizza we were starting to debate sitting down and watching the entire series. The math broke down to days and days worth of pony. There was absolutely not enough time for that.
  1014. I checked the dexterity in my hand for not the first time that day. My fingers were stiff and all but my middle fingers were starting to look shorter. The whole thing shook but I don’t think Comet’s was doing that. I sighed.
  1015. “Comet, I need a cigarette,” I stood up carefully from my seat and gestured towards the door. Comet looked up from the episode script he was reading on his laptop and quietly nodded and stood.
  1016. “Please don’t flick your cigarettes into my yard like you used to,” Mom called out after us. I vaguely acknowledged her with a hand wave. When we got outside Comet lit a cigarette up and handed the pack to me to do the same. I took a long drag off of it. While standing was awkward at this point, neither of us wanted to try sitting down because we knew it would be hard to get back up.
  1017. “If I stay here with that nag I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I complained.
  1018. “Try to get along with her,” Comet insisted. “For Ruby and yours sake.”
  1019. “I’ll… I’ll try,” I muttered around my cigarette. “For Ruby.”
  1020. “I’m gonna have to get going soon to see my parents; I won’t be able by sunset. Minuette and Chad said they wanted to tag along. It’d help seeing as my family situation is… you know, a little rocky too.”
  1021. “Right,” I acknowledged.
  1022. “If things don’t work out at your house you can come stay at mine, okay?”
  1023. I smiled at the offer. I made him a similar one over ten years ago. I agreed.
  1024. “Thanks, Comet. You’re a good friend,” I said.
  1025. “You too, Berry Punch.”
  1026.  
  1027. Comet promised we’d stay in touch. He told me to find something to use as a stylus and to rely on voice-to-text. We could even video chat if we were up to seeing what we all looked like as ponies. I shivered a bit at that thought and took another valium.
  1028. I promised him I’d be okay. I promised him I’d tell them when I had more problems and I tried to mean it when I said it. My friends were going to be there for me, at least in text. I had to believe that.
  1029. When they left we all exchanged hugs; Minuette started it. The only people not to exchange hugs were me, Ruby and Mom, seeing as we were the ones left together.
  1030.  
  1031. My old room had been turned into storage, so I laid on Ruby’s floor half-awake while she was at her desk. She had a yearbook in her lap and online profiles pulled up on her computer in front of her. My phone was charging, so I was just laying there being useless and doing my best to just try and recollect people I knew from high school. Which lasted about five minutes until I just started looking around the room and thinking about other things instead.
  1032. There were so many drawings, crafts and rewards on Ruby’s walls. I was glad she hung them all up with pride. I recognized all of them but couldn’t recall when most of them were done.
  1033. The ones I could date were sketches and older drawings once given to me in middle school or high school. Even some that I gave back to her for her portfolio. I remembered showing some of them to friends once, bragging what my shy little sister could do. She was upset at first but when Lyra approached her to draw his band’s one and only album cover she loved doing it. She made Sweet Death look cooler than they sounded.
  1034.  
  1035. I got up to hug her again and kiss her on her pink-haired head. Her pony ears had come in and undoubtedly a tail by now. But sitting on it didn’t seem to bother her. I thought she also seemed a bit shorter but all I could go off was her head height to the back of her chair or how far I bent over.
  1036. By the time my phone was reasonably charged again, I went to go inspect myself for changes in the storage room. Taking my shirt off revealed the fur on my body finished taking over my chest and starting down my arms. I also found standing straight to be harder than it had any right to be. I sent a group text with my stubborn thumbs to report my situation. Comet verified the same state and pointed out to me that our teeth were flattened out like a herbivore. So bone was definitely changing too. We were probably finishing this tonight.
  1037.  
  1038. “Mom! Minuette found somepony” Ruby called me back to her room. I pulled my shirt back on and went to hear the news. I saw at the same time mom approach the hallway towards Ruby’s door from the other way.
  1039. “She means me,” I unintentionally scowled at her while standing in Ruby’s door frame, blocking her.
  1040. “That’s not funny, Brian. I’m not playing this weird mindgame,” she pressed to be let in.
  1041. “Sorry, Mom. it’s just slipping out. I meant Brian,” Ruby cleared up the ambiguity. I felt a strange sense of smugness as I closed the door on our mother and turned back to Ruby.
  1042. “So who did she find?”
  1043. Ruby, with her Fluttershy back in her lap, held up her yearbook and pointed at someone who I could recognize from across the room.
  1044. “Derpy? Really? She’s turning into a pony too? Who?”
  1045. “Read her name in the yearbook,” Ruby guided my sight with her finger over to her name. I stepped toward her to read it.
  1046. “Yeah? Maggie Smills.” I read aloud then realized what I just said earlier. “Wait, ‘Derpy’? That’s the gray one with the cross eyes!” I was proud to get that one. “Huh. Maggie had a lazy eye in elementary.”
  1047. Ruby nodded. “And she’s… kind of clumsy.” Ruby cringed a little, probably recalling the time Derpy sat on Lyra’s guitar. “Whatever is doing this seems to make each pony match us on some level. And more importantly, we can recognize others turning into ponies subconsciously like you just did.”
  1048. “So where’s Derpy now? Didn’t she work at like, a bakery or something? How far along is she? I didn’t even know her birthday was in May.”
  1049. “I didn’t either. She never brought it up. And Minuette hasn’t gotten ahold of her yet, her phone keeps going to voicemail. There’s no telling if she’s started turning into a pony yet.”
  1050. “Shit, so she’s a dead end?” I asked.
  1051. “For now, but we might have a method to find other ponies now,” Ruby flipped through the yearbook and stopped on a page at seeming random. When she flipped it my way it was pictures from the computer club. She covered one photo’s caption with her hand. “Who do you recognize?”
  1052. “Uh… Caleb, don’t know, Kevin, Michael, I think, and... I don’t know anyone else,” I gave it my best shot. Ruby looked at the photo too then flipped to the next page and repeated the procedure. It was the Gardening Club. “And whose names do you know in this one?”
  1053. “Uh. Well that’s Carrot Top. And Michelle, Rose, Amber, Kayla, Lily, Daisy and… that’s all I got.”
  1054. “Aha!” Ruby turned the book back to verify something. “Carrot Top’s a pony name! Her human name’s Claudia Hayes!”
  1055. “Minnie’s old roommate?” I frowned then remembered. “Right, she called her Carrot Top yesterday… but you’d think Minuette would have remembered if her birthday was close to hers? She gave her a ride home yesterday from the hospital.”
  1056. “...maybe… she didn’t ever bring up her birthday either?” Ruby guessed hopefully.
  1057. “Or maybe it doesn’t have to be around May 1st?”
  1058. “Maybe?” Ruby sighed. “But that’s two ponies we didn’t know about before.”
  1059. “Maybe. Unless it’s just the names in our heads getting replaced with pony names?”
  1060. Ruby thought about the grave implications of that then shook her head. “No. I’ll ask Minnie and Comet to do the same thing. If we all blindly guess the right names then they must be turning into ponies. If we’re just assigning names what are the odds we all assign the same people the same names?”
  1061. Ruby’s phone and mine both buzzed at the same time. I went to go unplug mine and check it. It was a message in the group chat we set up:
  1062.  
  1063. Monica: Claudia is Carrot Top! She’s not answering her phone either though.
  1064.  
  1065. “Well, so much for asking Comet,” I said aloud. As we spoke there was another buzz. We both looked back down at our phones to see the reply:
  1066.  
  1067. Connor: She might not be able to. Maybe Derpy and Carrot are full pony now? No hands.
  1068.  
  1069. “Well, shine,” I cursed.
  1070. “How are we going to find them anyway if we’re fully pony?” Ruby asked. “We can’t go out looking like ponies. Someone will call the cops thinking we’re aliens,” Ruby pointed out.
  1071. To that I had no answer. And neither did the group chat. We had to keep in touch and if we couldn’t do that we would need to stick together. But who was going to host four, six, or however many ponies we’ll have after we’re done transforming? And for how long? Comet was just being optimistic saying it could just reverse itself as easily as it happened. Who was to say this curse will undo itself at all?
  1072. I hugged Ruby one more time and kissed her on the forehead before I laid back down on her floor. I got almost no sleep last night and I could feel a nap coming on. I didn’t want to deal with anything right now. I just wanted to sleep. And maybe drink.
  1073. I dug the bag of valium out of my pocket and counted them. Eight left. I popped one and rolled over to sleep.
  1074.  
  1075. ***
  1076. “Mom!” she screamed. “ Wake up! It hurts!”
  1077. I jolted awake immediately and clambered towards the voice before I even knew what was going on. Ruby lay there on the floor, having apparently thrown herself out of her chair. She was clutching her leg and shaking in agony.
  1078. “What is it?” I felt around her leg for the cause of her pain, I couldn’t find any sign of pain. I looked over her face for some explanation. Her green eyes were tearing up and her lips were shaking. Her ears were flat to her pink hair.
  1079. “It all hurts! My legs!” she screamed at me in exasperation. There were tears streaking her face now. I could hear Mom stomping through the house towards the room before she threw the door open.
  1080. “What’s going on?! What did you do?!” Mom howled at me as she tried to smack me away from my daughter. I huffed at Mom and only pushed closer to Ruby. I held her around the shoulders while she made sounds of sobbing agony into mine. My daughter felt so small wrapped in my arms. Every ounce of me wanted to help but I didn’t know how. I was worried any minute she was going to crumble to pieces in my hooves and I had to be there to hold her together.
  1081. “What did you do?! What did you do?!” our Mom shouted at us, she tried to tear me from my daughter again. I resisted my urge to bite that crazy woman.
  1082. “I didn’t do jack or jenny!” I snarled at Mom. “Ruby’s legs just started hurting!”
  1083. I tried to move Ruby a little to straighten her body out and she called out in renewed pain.
  1084. “Don’t move her!” Mom yelled. “That’s it, I’m calling 911!”
  1085. “Don’t you bucking dare!” I shouted at Mom as she stomped away. “If you do that they’ll take her away! They’ll take us both away!”
  1086. I heard no reply and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. I turned back to Ruby’s tear-streaked face. She was scared and in pain and our yelling wasn’t helping.
  1087. “I’ll be right back, Pinchy. I promise. I have to stop her,” I told her. She reacted by biting her lip and trying to control her breathing more.
  1088. “Don’t. Hurt. Her,” Ruby said between deep breaths. I nodded as I laid her back down gently and tried to run after that overweight nag.
  1089.  
  1090. My half-and-half anatomy threw me against the wall across from Ruby’s door. I left a hole in the drywall. I used the wall to help me stand again and I took after her.
  1091. She could only waddle but my flight or fight response was pushing me so hard I tripped again. I had the back of the couch to catch me this time, but it was with my arms, not my hands.
  1092. Mom’s flat, boisterous stomps entered the kitchen. I chased after her, hunched over from whatever was wrong with my back. When I rounded the corner she already had the phone in her hand. I did the only thing I could do with the time I had and dive tackled her to the ground. There was a house-shaking crash as we fell together onto the floor. Her cell phone went flying wide. I didn’t care about that now. I held this excuse-of-a-mother down and brayed in her face.
  1093. “You will not risk my daughter! You will not turn her over to the police!” I yelled into her face. I was so mad I snorted and I could have sworn I could see the hot air escape my nostrils.
  1094. The silver-haired lady pinned under me started crying in wide-eye fear. She wouldn’t answer me so I held her chin as best as I could with my deformed hand and got so close my spit and snot was dripping onto her face.
  1095. “Do you understand me, you fat sow? You’re not calling the cops!” I repeated to her. She blubbered louder. Underneath the quivering chins I felt her nod quickly. “If they take away Ruby you’re bucking dead! Do you understand?? Should I speak slower for you?! She is my everything! If they take her, they’ll hurt her! If they hurt her, you’re bucking dead!”
  1096. She blubbered and cried. Satisfied I put the fear of me into her, I clambered off of her and crawled to where I saw her phone go. When I found it I saw the screen had a few cracks to it now. I tried to throw it but my arm wouldn’t function and it just fell to the floor.
  1097. “Dock!” I shouted at my fumbling, failing hands. They would be useless hooves soon. Or maybe…
  1098. I used the countertop to get up. I could tell from how high it came up to me I was almost a foot shorter than I was this morning, but I was far more angry now. I held onto the countertop to stable myself while I stomped down hard onto the phone with my hoof. The screen splintered into a million pieces but it still lit up. I stomped again and the screen went black. It was dead. Mom couldn’t call the cops. They wouldn’t take Ruby away from me.
  1099.  
  1100. I sighed in relief. My limbs were shaking so hard I could barely hold onto the countertop while I tried to calm my racing heart. I was almost sure my heart was going to explode but instead it eventually started to calm and I could hear the world again.
  1101. Mom was sat up but still crying on the kitchen floor. I used the countertop to steady myself while I stepped out of the kitchen. As I passed Mom I threw one more angry glare at her. She looked away and kept crying. Good.
  1102. I traced the walls of the hallway with my body back to Ruby’s door frame and leaned against it. Ruby still laid on the floor. She wasn’t crying any longer but her paradise-colored eyes still looked pained and there was a new emotion in her eyes I had never seen before: fear. Not scared, but fear. Despite the eye and hair color change Ruby still loosely looked like a younger version of Mom… and I saw the same expression of fear in her eyes that I left in the woman on the kitchen floor.
  1103. “Is Mom okay?” Ruby asked me. The words sounded wrong. I was Mom, but I knew who she meant.
  1104. “I didn’t hurt her,” I started. It was true... right? I didn’t hit her! “She’s fine,” I finished.
  1105. I took a few steps towards Ruby and fell down. my legs were willing to support me but my spine wasn’t.
  1106. “Brian! Are you okay?” Ruby called out to me. Who the fuck was Brian? It sounded wrong. Why was Ruby calling me that? What had I done?
  1107. “I’m fine,” I lied where I lay. “Are you okay?”
  1108. She looked down at her limp legs out in front of her. Her leggings hung past her feet, confirmation to my suspicion she was shrinking. She looked like she was trying to say something but first she nodded.
  1109. “They were... asleep. I felt them. It was like when your arm falls asleep but it was from... my pelvis down. It was pins and needles but the worst I ever felt in my life.”
  1110. I crawled closer to her on my ‘paddles’ and back hooves, something akin to a lazy bear crawl. I collapsed just next to her. She nearly jumped from my clumsy crash. I ignored it.
  1111. “Your legs… were asleep? And they don’t hurt anymore?” I clarified her statement. She nodded slowly.
  1112. I reached out to her leg and ran the remains of my fingers up her shin to her knee. She gasped in shock.
  1113. Chapter 10: Dreams and Nightmares
  1114. I woke up without any sign I was human anymore. I probably couldn’t leave the house without fear of being captured and experimented on. And yet, it was the happiest day I had in years.
  1115. The loss of my hands was a bit of a bummer but I could expect no more bodily changes. I was a technicolor pony now, but I was a finished technicolor pony. Ruby’s full-length mirror confirmed that all the build-up led to me becoming the spitting image of the pony Berry Punch. While I thought I looked a bit more like a horse than the show’s art style allowed, there was no mistaking me for anyone or anything else than that specific little horse from a discontinued little girl’s cartoon.
  1116. With my spine bent that way it was now and how long my neck was, I had no choice but to walk on my former fingers and toes. Four hooves. Ruby could only watch me practice walking around her bedroom for so long until she suggested she ride on my back. For practice. Of course.
  1117. Ruby had shrunk even more overnight, becoming a precious partial-pony preteen. She even had an adorably stubby horn half the size of Comet’s. So her weight was no issue on my four legs. I walked slowly enough she mostly just held onto my shirt for turns. I kept my boxers on as well for my own sense of security and shame.
  1118. Ruby rarely wore pants, seeing as they were a pain to put on without the use of legs, so she had plenty of dresses that still fit for now. Her transformation had given her feeling below her waist but she never learned how to walk in the first place and her legs were completely atrophied.
  1119. Not that she was sitting in her chair all that much anymore. The “for practice” pony rides quickly turned into her main form of transportation around the house. She clearly enjoyed it and I loved feeling useful to her. On my back she was the perfect height to cook and she cooked breakfast and lunch for all three of us. I had no complaints about eating the same vegetarian meals she did because my Ruby cooked them.
  1120. I didn’t spend every moment with her that day, but I only snuck away to try and get a benzo out of my hoodie pocket in secret when I knew Mom wasn’t going to catch me. Pills were incredibly hard to handle without fingers and I accidentally crushed some. So much so they didn’t last through the day. Oh well, I had Ruby. She was a great drug. I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol that day.
  1121.  
  1122. Later that night, since Ruby still had fingers, she was straight with me and told me I smelled and wanted to give me a bath. I was hesitant to be naked in front of her, but eventually I sucked it up and let her wash me; I didn’t want to make her stink and I wasn’t sure how to wash this body by myself. It wasn’t my weird horse vagina anyway, right? It was Berry Punch’s.
  1123. Ruby for her part, was clearly enjoying washing a heliotrope-colored talking pony. Maybe a little too much, but I have to admit I was enjoying being the idol of her affection. That Fluttershy plushie didn’t leave her lap yesterday but now she was hardly leaving my back.
  1124. “You know, Pinchy, pretty soon I’m going to be giving you the baths,” I told her while she was drying me off. I patted the top of her pink little head for emphasis; if she could stand she had to be less than four feet tall now. I wasn’t sure how young she was becoming but I didn’t think she looked more than ten now.
  1125. She responded to that by pulling the towel she was using on my mane down over my eyes and poking me in the muzzle. I flexed it away from her touch and she giggled at me. I stepped on the end of the towel and pushed the towel off my head.
  1126. “I won’t mind that,” she said. “You’ll probably still need help as well. We can do a buddy system.”
  1127. That seemed like a solid idea to me.
  1128.  
  1129. “Are- ...you’re worried about turning into a pony too, right?” I asked my almost fully-ponified daughter. Her hooved legs had some strength to them now but she couldn’t do more than flail them or gently squeeze them around my barrel as I walked. I could see the fur creeping around her collar bone and it was mostly down her lithe arms now. Her beautiful lime green eyes seemed enormous on her little face. I could stare at those saucers forever.
  1130. “I was terrified,” she admitted. “But I’m going to have you and all of our friends as ponies too. And I’m going to get to walk! At least for now until we figure out how to reverse it.”
  1131. “But you’re going to lose your hands!” I said as I showed her my own forehoof. “You saw me today, I can barely operate a door knob! You’re so talented and not going to be able to draw or make any of the things that you do.”
  1132. “I guess I’m going to have to get good at using my magic then,” she said tapping her horn. I looked at it warily.
  1133. “You actually think that thing might work?”
  1134. “Mom, you’re a talking purple pony from a cartoon. Magic is real.”
  1135. I smiled at her logic. I couldn’t argue with her.
  1136. “If anyone can do it, I know you can, Pinchy. I believe in you,” I encouraged.
  1137. “I know. And that’s one of the reasons I know I can do it,” she said. Ruby was rubbing my barrel and back as she said this. At first I thought she was petting me until she nodded approvingly. “Dry enough!” she said as she grabbed my fresh-ish clothes and assisted me getting them on. I survived my bath.
  1138. With me now clad in boxers and shirt she wordlessly clambered on top of me as per our new mode of transportation. She kicked futilely and slid a bit trying to get up. I instinctively knelt down and offered a hoof to assist her onto my back. Once she was up and secure I walked us back to her bedroom and helped her onto her bed. Once she was situated she patted the spot next to her.
  1139. “Don’t sleep on the floor tonight; you’re clean. I don’t think you’ll stink up my bed,” she said.
  1140. “I don’t know…” I replied with a grin already stuck to my face. “I’ve heard horses fart in their sleep and that might get pretty rank.”
  1141. A melodious giggle escaped my little girl on the bed. “You dork! Get up here before I change my mind.”
  1142. I hopped up onto the bed and curled my body around her. Ruby leaned against my middle and picked up her phone.
  1143. Throughout the day, Ruby was keeping in touch with our pony friends since she was the one still with the fingers.
  1144. Minuette and Chad were staying nearby in a motel while they looked for more ponies. Derpy called Minuette back! For at least a minute. According to her, Derpy said she flew to London to see a doctor. A doctor. In London. She tried to get answers and warn her not to go to a doctor but Derpy said she had to go and hung up. She couldn’t get a hold of her again.
  1145. Meanwhile, Carrot Top’s phone would still ring but she never answered. They were also trying to find a way to contact a person who might be a ‘Daisy’ pony and hit a dead-end for a pony named Sunshower Raindrops.
  1146. Comet Tail, like me, spent most of his day getting reacquainted with his family. Thanks to Minuette showing up with him to show he wasn’t the only one and Chad to show it wasn’t infectious his parents seemed to handle it better than Mom did. When he got away from them he was trying to pull some strings and get someone to pull some surface-level information on students from the university. Comet was sure, statistically, there had to be at least a couple of human-turned-ponies who passed through the school system. While waiting around for people to call him back he watched the series finale and said it wasn’t what he remembered so he was marathoning all the other episodes he never saw to figure out where the scenes he remembered were from.
  1147. Ruby made an adorable yawn and sat her phone off to the side.
  1148. “No new developments,” she informed me as she slumped down beside me. She giggled when I wrapped my hoof around her and tucked her to my chest like a plushie. She squirmed a little and I let up slightly but she stayed put as my little spoon.
  1149. My future was potentially ruined. Considering a few days ago I was ready to throw it away anyway though, I was very content with where I was now.
  1150. The night was young but the only thing I wanted to do was hold her.
  1151.  
  1152. ***
  1153. We had to keep the light dim and the sound low in these tunnels. We couldn’t risk them finding us. Comet Tail provided the low light from his horn and I provided the liquid courage. I took a swig of the wine I brought out to our shift and offered the bottle to him. He accepted it and took a pull.
  1154. “I hope Twilight and her friends can find us here,” I whispered. It had been over a day down in these tunnels. Over a day since Ponyville was attacked. Where was that librarian? Where were the guards? The princesses?
  1155. Comet Tail put a hoof around my back to console my worries. Even in the low light I could see he was scared too so I put one of mine around him. All the ponies taking refuge down here were scared. As spotters we were on the lookout for those...creatures.
  1156. At least, we assumed they were creatures. They shifted and changed as they crawled over our roofs, like shadows around a campfire. One minute I thought they were giant spiders, then dragons, then horses. They could slip under one door and tear another one off its hinges. When I got too close I saw they had too many faces. Too many wings. I couldn’t begin to count their legs.
  1157. The worst part wasn’t that we couldn’t figure out what they were. Ponyville being so close to the Everfree Woods you were used to seeing something weird every other weekend. The terrifying part is that they were scooping us up and carrying us away to where that giant… volcano-thing had erupted. No one knew what they were doing but we feared the worst.
  1158. So we ran. Away from the fire, away from the Everfree and away from the open plains and towards distant Canterlot. There were so many of us at first, but they picked us off until we took refuge into one of the cave systems. They scuttled after us for a while but they fell behind and eventually stopped chasing us completely.
  1159. What could keep creatures like that away?
  1160.  
  1161. “What if...” I whispered carefully into Comet’s ear, “what if they didn’t follow us because there’s something worse down here?”
  1162. Comet Tail frowned at me in a way that said ‘you’re not helping’. I wanted to laugh at his adorable frown but it died in my throat; I had been drinking, but I wasn’t crazy. So instead I booped his nose.
  1163. That got a smile out of him. I picked the bottle up by my teeth and took another few swigs and set it down gently in front of him. We had to ration the food and water we had and with so many foals the adults weren’t eating. But damn it, I was thirsty and the foals sure weren’t going to start drinking now.
  1164. Comet picked the bottle with his magic, studied it, then took a small sip for himself. When he set the bottle back down I got curious and went to check its contents for myself. A yellow hoof stopped me by the nose; he booped me.
  1165. I grinned up at this stallion and saw him looking smug. I had to retaliate. So I booped him back... with my own nose… and then a kiss.
  1166. At first he tentatively reciprocated and his tongue found mine. Our breath was wine. His musk was strong and feral… but then he just stopped and pushed me away.
  1167. “Berry, no,” Comet rejected softly. “Not again. Not now.”
  1168. “I wasn’t asking you for a foal, you conehead,” I hushly whispered. “I’m just… “
  1169. “Drunk?” Comet offered.
  1170. “...scared,” I admitted before adding “...I’m drinking because I’m scared. And you...” my voice trailed off.
  1171. Comet held me as consolation and petted the back of my mane. His body was so much warmer than the cave.
  1172. “If anything happens… ” I whispered. “...keep Ruby safe. She’s the only thing that matters.”
  1173. “That ain’t true, you matter to-,” Comet cut himself off. I saw his horn flare brighter and he hugged me closer.
  1174. “Comet?” I asked. Then I felt it too: the cave was vibrating. It was getting stronger. The vibrating was building until I could hear it. Comet let go of me and pushed me towards the way we came. I saw the cave around me glow brighter and realized I was glowing now; Comet cast an illumination spell on me.
  1175. “Go! Warn the others!” Comet directed me as he stood his ground. I barely heard him over the reverberating grinding noise all around us now.
  1176. “You’re not staying here!” I shouted over the noise.
  1177. “I’ll delay’em! Don’t worry, I’ll catch up!” he shouted as he gestured to his horn. Before the argument could continue the ground in front of him started splintering and sinking away. I saw giant stone claws tear through the gap and several stone limbs emerge…
  1178. Then the piles of rock flew straight up to the ceiling of the cave several meters above us with a thud. They looked like a pile of moving, coiling rocks sliding over each other. The deafening grinding rock noise died down.
  1179. “Useless piles of spawn!” came an articulate voice from below. A familiar gray horse head with two long mismatching horns poked its head up out of the hole. “I knew we should have taken a left at Albuckquer-” The head stopped speaking and looked at us. A crooked, toothy grin grew clear from one ear to another. “Why hello, my little ponies! Am I interrupting?”
  1180. I knew this creature. Was he the one behind it all?
  1181. “Discord!” I called. Apparently too loudly as his expression immediately soured. He plucked one of his horns off his head and dug into his ear with it.
  1182. “Howl harder, why don’t you?? I don’t think they heard you on the moon,” he scolded.
  1183. “Discord, do you know what’s going on up there?” Comet Tail asked.
  1184. “Beautiful, ugly chaos!” Discord smiled happily. He clutched his still detached horn to his chest. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.”
  1185. “I… what? Do you know where the princesses are? Are they safe?”
  1186. “...what?” Discord looked incredibly amused with himself. It looked like he was trying to hold in a laugh “Have you been... ‘living under a rock’?” He snickered. “You’re completely... ‘in the dark’?”
  1187. “What happened?!” Comet pleaded for answers.
  1188.  
  1189. “Well, ...let me just show you,” Discord offered. When he smiled his teeth became rows of razor sharp teeth. There was a strange metallic smell in the air. He brought the tip of his still-removed horn to his lips and blew into it.
  1190. A long, flat trumpet note echoed through the caverns. It grew louder and the walls all around began vibrating in response. As he played, strange red markings appeared down his serpentine body. The red glow overwhelmed Comet’s magic and extinguished it. We were awash in nothing but that red light.
  1191. When he stopped playing his note a chorus of hundreds of tortured voices cried out in response all around us. The shrieking calls carried through the stone walls and reverberated inside of me. I became keenly aware that the ‘grinding’ noise was actually a symphony of individual claws digging through solid rock. They were all around and all digging now towards the draconequus who called them. The draconequus who was now laughing so hard he was in tears.
  1192. “Run!” Comet shouted. We both ran in the only direction available: back to the chamber we were hiding in. Surely they felt the earth around us shake and they’re already packing up and fleeing? Surely Ruby and Minuette and all the other ponies are okay?
  1193.  
  1194. The tunnel collapsed around me. The rocks squeezed me and picked me up. I thought I was in a claw then a mouth and finally a ribcage. My stone prison galloped back towards the laughing chimeric monster. I panicked and screamed. The vise coiled around me until I couldn’t breath.
  1195. I flailed and kicked my legs at the ribs for breath. They splintered. When I kicked again they broke. The bones were full of hissing snakes. They licked up my legs and tickled my barrel with their tongues. With my gulp of air I screamed and kicked more. Discord’s sinister laughter beat at my chest.
  1196.  
  1197. “Mom! -Mom!”
  1198. ***
  1199. My consciousness was dragged out from my dreams by that voice. I didn’t remember opening my eyes. I was just suddenly aware that I was gripping that little rose-colored filly too tightly. She was strangling against my deathgrip and practically beating at my chest and screaming for me to let go. I did.
  1200. She suddenly fell backwards off the bed and beyond. There was a thud and a small “ow” as she hit the floor.
  1201. “Ruby!” I called out as I tumbled off the bed after her. I barely missed her as I ragdolled onto the floor right next to her. We lay there in shock for a moment before we both tried to sit up.
  1202. I stared at her face. I knew her face: It was Ruby. I could tell it was the same Brianna I grew up with but her pony transformation was complete: she was finished.
  1203. While she caught her breath I couldn’t help but study her: her soft coat completely covering her face, her little barrel rising up with each breath, her mesmerizingly large eyes, her little muzzle scrunched up as she fought to untangle her nightgown...
  1204. I sat up onto my back haunches and began trying to figure out where the clothes ended and the little filly began. Once those were sorted it was only a matter of time to untangle them from each other. I tried to push the sliding underwear back up onto her rump for the sake of her decency but couldn’t push the tail away and pull up on the fabric with just my stubby hooves. Just as I felt we were starting to get situated there was a knock on the door.
  1205. Without waiting for a response Mom let herself in. She looked still awake. Likely up looking at Facebook or watching TV before she heard a little filly calling for her mom. We had done our best to avoid each other all day. But, now there was a squirming filly needing help. We exchanged glances for just a moment before both turning back to Ruby.
  1206. “Are you alright?” Mom asked her as she approached and bent down slowly to help fix her clothes. It took her all of three seconds to effortlessly fix everything and sit her upright.
  1207. “I’m okay...” Ruby mumbled irritably. She tried to rub the sleep from one of her oversized eyes. After she did she looked down at the forehoof she used. Then at the other. I could tell from how her ears worked up and down and how her nostrils flared she was trying to fully process the loss of her hands. A mix of horror and fascination quickly passed over her features as she worked her ‘wrists’. She studied the nails of what felt like your only remaining finger on each ‘leg’. I was going to give her a moment to work through it but Mom had other plans.
  1208. Mom smiled at the tiny filly before her and brushed Ruby’s pink mane to one side of her face with one of her hands, robbing her attention from her hooves.
  1209. “Oh, sweetie,” Mom said with glistening eyes. “You’re so adorable! You look like one of your little ponies. Like Pinkie Pied.”
  1210. “P-Pinkie Pie...” Ruby corrected.. Without a response to the correction and without warning, Mom picked her up. A small “eep!” escaped Ruby as she did so. Ruby’s legs instinctively kicked and tried to find purchase before an arm came around to hold her bottom and held her like a baby.
  1211. I stood up immediately at this action. I was half the height of this woman but I was ready to knock her down if she tried anything funny while she held her.
  1212. “What happened, baby?” Mom asked as she intrusively ran a finger over Ruby’s jawline in examination of Ruby’s new features. “You were shouting.”
  1213. I remembered why we woke up. Those predatorial eyes glaring down at me. I could still see those razor sharp teeth curling into a red grin. The world seemed to still be shaking under my hooves. I sat down before I fell down. My rump felt carpet but my hooves could make out the texture of the cave floor.
  1214. Ruby squirmed uncomfortably and looked down at me then back up at the lady holding her. “M-… Brian was having a bad dream and was holding me too tight.”
  1215. Just a ‘bad dream’. Right. That was a dream, wasn’t it? It seemed so real. Then again, I haven’t had a dream in years. Maybe I just forgot what dreams felt like?
  1216. “Brian?” Mom asked timidly. “Are you alright?”
  1217. I nodded wordlessly.
  1218. “Were you dreaming about the My Little Pony finale?” Ruby guessed. I nodded again before I spoke.
  1219. “Y-yeah. I was dreaming about when Discord captured us,” I told her before I caught what I said. “I mean… when Discord captured them.” In my defense, that was a very vivid dream. Ruby tilted her fuzzy little head and thought carefully before replying.
  1220. “But you never saw the finale,” Ruby pointed out. I thought about that and realized she was right. She turned back to Mom. “Can you get my phone? This could be another clue to all this. And I want to see if Minuette finished turning into a pony too.”
  1221. I checked the clock on Ruby’s nightstand. It was only 10 o’clock at night. Minuette would surely still be up. Probably Comet Tail too. I wondered if he was alright? Last I saw him he was in the stomach of one of those stone creatures too.
  1222. Wait no, that was the dream. Before that…
  1223.  
  1224. I could remember a smoke that choked the pegasi out of the sky. I could hear the screams of ponies being plucked off their hooves and carried away by those writhing amalgamations of sooty body parts. I remembered a little filly’s voice crying out as she was dragged away.
  1225. “Brian?” Ruby called me back from wherever I was. Mom was holding her and her phone. “I asked if you were alright?”
  1226. Honestly, I felt hot in my own coat. My limbs shook and I could feel a phantom prick in my legs where my fingers used to be. I felt nauseous and weak like I usually felt in the morning. I put on a brave face and nodded.
  1227. “I’ll be okay. I’m always a little shaky when I wake up,” I insisted. “Hey, let me know how Minuette and Comet Tail are doing, alright?”
  1228. Ruby frowned, not quite believing my lie but looked at her phone in Mom’s hand then back at me. “Okay… Mom is going to take me to the living room so she can sit down to text for me. Do you want anything to drink?”
  1229. I thought about the alcohol still in my bag. I shook my head. “No. I’m good.”
  1230.  
  1231. With reluctance still on Ruby’s filly face, Mom carried her out of the room. I was alone.
  1232. I walked with uncoordinated legs over to my bag in the corner of the room and just went limp and fell down next to it. It was an odd feeling laying on my stomach and still feeling somewhat upright because of how long my neck was.
  1233. I rolled over onto my side to get a feeling of normalcy. That didn’t cut it either though; since waking up as a full pony, my field of vision had been somewhat widened and even in the dim light of the room I could make out colors better than I thought I should. These heightened senses disagreed with my stomach so I closed my eyes and focused on the carpet bristles against my face.
  1234. I wasn’t that bad. I had my last benzo about five hours ago. I didn’t need to dip into the Jameson just yet. I would be fine. I just had to sleep this off…
  1235. I pretended the carpet was Comet’s fuzzy chest from my dream. I remembered the world falling apart around us and the rocks crashing down on us…
  1236. And that was as far ahead as I could remember. I knew Ruby was in it. I thought there was a poem... but it slipped just past my thoughts and back into my subconscious. Dreams were like that, weren’t they? Once you stopped thinking about them they grew fuzzy.
  1237. But there was more. I remembered the beginning of that episode from somewhere. And I remembered Minuette said Celestia was thrown into a ‘volcano’. That must have been that giant fire on the horizon where those soot-covered creatures carried off the ponies.
  1238. Surely those creatures weren’t in that episode. Not in a cartoon for 6 year old girls. I wondered if I was blending nightmares with things I saw in video games or movies. There were the stone creatures that came with Discord as well.
  1239. I hadn’t remembered a dream for most of the last decade but this one was so vivid. I remembered the smell of ash those creatures carried. How they left little handprints as they climbed over thatched-roof cottages. And their multiple faces of different creatures full of burning eyes. The countless wings on their backs… Did I come up with those? Were they from a video game? Did Comet Tail remember these creatures? He only mentioned the stone ones.
  1240. I had so many questions and once again no answers. I was a talking cartoon pony: who was to say these monsters weren’t out there too now? What if people turned into those things just like how I turned into a pony?
  1241. What if the soot on the creatures was from that inferno? If Celestia fell into the fire… if ponies were being thrown into it...
  1242. My thoughts were all over the place and I didn’t want them anywhere. My mouth felt too wet. I kept worrying the dirt under my hooves would shift and shake from those monsters digging toward us from every direction. I felt wet and sticky. I felt like I was drowning. Once the panic set in I remembered I was safe and dry on Ruby’s bedroom floor.
  1243. I didn’t want to have that dream again. I didn’t want answers, I wanted obliviousness. I needed alcohol. Just enough to stop this encroaching nightmare. Comet would understand.
  1244. I climbed back to my hooves and then sat down in front of my bag onto my haunches. My hooves slipped several times as I worked the zipper open. I saw my phone sitting right there on its side. The bottle of Jameson rested next to it, the shirt it was wrapped in on me now.
  1245. With one hoof on the front and one on the back I carefully threaded the bottle out. After several attempts I managed to drop it gently onto the floor. Using my hooves like this was a bit like using chopsticks.
  1246.  
  1247. I was terrible with chopsticks.
  1248.  
  1249. I tried holding the bottle between my thighs and twisting the cap in my stubby front hooves. I couldn’t get a grip on the metal cap. Finally I grasped the sides of the bottle with my hooves, bit down on the cap and twisted the bottle.
  1250.  
  1251. The cap came loose. I twisted the bottle instead of the cap until the cap was screwed off and spat it off.
  1252.  
  1253. I pressed the tip of my muzzle to the open bottle and inhaled. I could smell the malt but also grass. Vanilla. Trees. Earth. There was even an odd fruity smell that I didn’t notice before. It had to have been this pony nose. The smell was so much better and stronger than when I was human. I was almost certain my boxers became a little wet.
  1254. I tipped the bottle up and took several long pulls. My longer face meant deeper pulls and my longer neck meant longer build up until the dry heat of the alcohol finally was too much and I stopped. I pulled the bottle away and sighed out the heat. Jameson had been a treat for years but now I could taste and appreciate more than I used to thanks to my new pony tastebuds. It was so good I was shamefully aroused. It was exactly what I needed.
  1255. The noise inside my head became more distant. The wetness was gone and I was warm instead of hot. I brought the less-full bottle back to my mouth and took another pull just for good measure. My stomach got a little overwhelmed but I was an expert at holding my liquor down. Satisfied, I stood up to get the cap and put it away when the unthinkable happened: I knocked the bottle over.
  1256.  
  1257. I panicked and tried to pick it up. Hooves clinked on the bottle as it gushed out onto Ruby’s carpet. I tried to grasp the neck, it rolled and poured out more. Finally I bent my head down and bit down on the mouth of it. I picked it up with my teeth. I carried it over to the cap.
  1258.  
  1259. Of course I heard those unmistakably heavy steps coming back to the room at the worst time. When she came in I was trying to pick up that damn cap and get it back onto the bottle.
  1260.  
  1261. “Brian!” she cursed my name. I gave up trying to get the cap back on. I sighed and looked up at her. I didn’t care about the pissed off look on her face. I cared about the hurt look on Ruby’s little filly face.
  1262. “What?” I asked her knowing full well ‘what’.
  1263. “You know not to bring alcohol into my house!” she talked down at me. I stood up on all fours and stood my ground. I did my best best not to look Ruby in the eye.
  1264. “Yeah, I know how you feel about alcohol. This is the first drink I’ve had since I got here. I’m tapering off.”
  1265. “Is that what that is? You spilled it? Brianna’s room?”
  1266. “I did! It was an accident” I defended myself. “I have to be sneaking around because you would have dumped it out!”
  1267. “Yes I would have! This is unacceptable! I won’t put up with this in my hou-”
  1268.  
  1269.  
  1270. “Brian?” Ruby cut us both off. We looked at her. “How much did you bring?”
  1271. “J-just two bottles! There’s that and a bottle of Jack. They weren’t even full!”
  1272. “Can we check?” Ruby asked.
  1273. “Yeah! Go ahead! I was only trying to keep you in the dark because they’d get dumped.”
  1274. With that Mom sat Ruby down gently on the floor next to my bag and began going through my nearly empty suitcase. She found the Jack Daniel’s easily enough. Then she found the white Lawson hoodie and I saw the little baggy for the benzos hanging out of it. There was crushed, loose powder still in the bag.
  1275. Oh shine. This looked pretty bad.
  1276. “And what was this for?” She accused me as she showed the baggy to Ruby. Ruby looked over at me, shocked and hurt.
  1277.  
  1278. “Valium. For the withdrawal symptoms. For the alcohol,” I told her the truth.
  1279. “So you’re drinking and doing drugs under my roof?”
  1280.  
  1281. “This is hardly my biggest problem right now,” I sighed into my hoof. “Listen. I’ll admit I’m an alcoholic. This is how I’m dealing with it! I’m stressed out and feeling sick, alright? This whole thing is stressing me out. You’re stressing me out!”
  1282. I pointed a hoof at Mom and she flinched. I was almost satisfied with my power until Ruby spoke up from her spot on the carpet.
  1283. “Brian, please be nice to Mom,” she pleaded. She looked up at Mom next, “Don’t yell at him. I know he’s doing his best.”
  1284.  
  1285. “Brianna, don’t defend him,” Mom warned. “I’m glad you two are close, but he’s no good. It’s his fault you’re in this predicament right now. I’ll let him stay but I don’t want any of these drugs or alcohol under my roof.”
  1286.  
  1287. “You stupid bich!” I growled at her. There was a strange trill to my voice, almost like a whinny. She flinched but not as hard as I expected. This was unbelievable! She honestly believed this pony transformation was all my fault. After all my friends told her otherwise. Several times. “What would I have to gain from this? You think I like dealing with you?? I’m here for Ruby!”
  1288.  
  1289. “Brian!” a tiny voice cracked angrily, it was Ruby. “Please. Stop yelling at her. She’s stressed out too. We all are.”
  1290. I sighed and looked up at the mountain of a human in the room. Mom really did look even bigger now that my head barely came up to the widest part of her. But Ruby was right, this situation was probably stressing her out too. I know I would be upset if someone I hated might have done something to Ruby.
  1291. “I’m... sorry for yelling,” I told her. I tried to mean it. At least for the sake of peace.
  1292. Mom nodded then crossed her arms uncomfortably. “I’m sorry for accusing you of things you said you didn’t do. But what you did admit to doing was drinking and doing drugs here. You knew I wouldn’t put up with that.”
  1293. “What are you suggesting?” I asked her openly.
  1294. “No more,” she told me. “If you don’t want to follow my rules go somewhere else. You’ve seen what it does. For our safety I won’t allow it.”
  1295. I swallowed my anger. I knew where she saw it. I saw it first hoof too. The yelling, the violence, the abuse. I wasn’t him though; I wouldn’t hurt Ruby!
  1296. I looked over at my pink little pony to show myself she was fine. But those large green eyes looked pained. I was confused until I understood and looked away.
  1297.  
  1298. We were tearing her apart. People she loved couldn’t get along. Even sober yesterday we couldn’t stand each other. We’ve been fighting and yelling at each other for over a decade. We would never get along. But now there was even more tension between us and we all understood why:
  1299. We were both Ruby’s Mom.
  1300. It was stupid, I knew she wasn’t actually my daughter, she was my sister but she was so crap and I understood a bit more why I became Berry Punch.
  1301. I was there to love her and protect her and encourage her. Compared to this human, I was always better. If anything Ruby took care of our Mom. Ruby would be safer with me. My friends and I would fix this pony thing. Not her. All Mom was good at was eating food and drinking soda. It made perfect sense why I turned into Ruby’s pony mom.
  1302. So it was decided.
  1303. “You don’t want me here,” I told Mom. “And I don’t want to be here. Sober or not, we don’t get along. We’ll go stay with Comet.”
  1304. “Mom...” Ruby whimpered at me. Her ears were folded back and those beautiful yellow-green eyes were about to break. “I can’t leave Mom; our Mom. She’s my best friend. She needs me.”
  1305. “But I need you!” I pleaded.
  1306. She looked down at her little hooves and shook her head. “Please don’t make me choose,” she begged. “This isn’t fair! I can’t choose between you two.”
  1307.  
  1308. I wouldn’t let anyone hurt Ruby. Yet I was doing just that. Just by being here. By making her choose between her family. Even if I didn’t like part of that family.
  1309.  
  1310. So that was it then. There was only one way to stop the fighting.
  1311.  
  1312. I ambled over to my little pink filly and sat down in front of her. I hugged her and she reciprocated. I petted her mane with my foreleg.
  1313. “I’ll be strong,” I promised her. “You stay here and take care of Mom. I’ll go stay with Comet Tail until we fix this.”
  1314. “Brian, don’t go!” she pleaded. “You’re being stupid! You can stay! Just stop drinking!” She hugged me way harder than I thought a filly her size could.
  1315. “It’s not the alcohol. Mom and I are going to keep fighting no matter what,” I told her. I thought about all the fights Mom and I had while I was growing up. “This pony thing is making it worse. I feel like… I’m your mom. And you feel the same weird connection.”
  1316. She answered by constricting around me harder.
  1317. “We shouldn’t be under the same roof,” I heard myself say. “And I know you need to be here for… her. Comet Tail will keep an eye on me. When we figure out the cure you’ll be the first person we fix.”
  1318. Ruby cried and wouldn’t let go, “Please stay. Please. I don’t want to lose you.”
  1319. “We’ll stay in touch. Everything will be fine.”
  1320. I looked up at our Mom towering over us. We made eye contact. In that exchange we made an agreement. “Take care of her. Protect her,” I told her.
  1321. “I will.” She agreed.
  1322.  
  1323. Mom and Ruby helped me pack my backpack and secure it to my torso. It was nearly 11pm in Lawson, Missouri. There was hardly anyone out at this hour. Which is a good thing because I wasn’t spending another night in this house.
  1324. I was wearing a shirt, hoodie, boxers and sweatpants. My backpack was secured carefully to my left flank. Mom and Ruby saw me out the back door. It would be a relatively short walk through the dark town to Comet’s place. I made the walk countless times in high school.
  1325.  
  1326. When I left with my tail between my legs I forced myself to not look back.
  1327.  
  1328. I wouldn’t let them see me cry.
  1329.  
  1330.  
  1331. Chapter 11: Nathan
  1332.  
  1333. I walked my hometown alone.
  1334.  
  1335. At night this town was nearly abandoned. My ears swiveled at every sound. Every lone car was all the more terrifying. Every time I went to hide behind the nearest parked car or crouch behind a bush and prayed they were stoned or drunk out of their mind and didn’t see me.
  1336. I had made this walk as a human many times. But that was long ago and on two feet. Now, on all four hooves, it was terrifying.
  1337. I imagined being spotted and what they would think. I was a monster on the prowl at midnight. On a full moon, no less. At first I tip-hoofed through the backyards of houses. Whenever I encountered an impenetrable wall of fences I had to cross across the front yard instead.
  1338. Just one pair of wandering eyes from a dark windowed house could call the police on me. I was the definition of suspicious activity.
  1339. One house’s backyard had motion-detection lights. A barking dog at night was annoying as a human. As a pony sneaking through town, I nearly shit my pants. After that I swore off backyards.
  1340. My clopping hooves made a loud and distinct noise on the paved roads and sidewalks so I crunched through the grass between them. There were parked cars and brick mailboxes to hide behind until I left the neighborhoods.
  1341. It was a slow crawl to Pennsylvania Avenue but I had made it. It would be a straight shot up to Comet’s place but now I was staring down a long road of storefronts with very few places to hide. I lurked in the last bush to hide in, trying to formulate a plan. This street would be a simple path to take, but so very far at this rate. Any alcohol left in my system had burned off from fear long ago.
  1342.  
  1343. A car with one headlight passed. I flattened myself to the ground on instinct. I saw it pull into the nearby mobile home park. I watched the car and waited for the person to get out and go inside their home. To my surprise, by the light of the street light I recognized this person.
  1344.  
  1345. That was Nathan coming home from his job at the grocery store. His hair was the same, his baggy pants were the same. I guess some things never changed. I got drunk and smoked pot with him on occasion. He was a little odd and didn’t have a lot of friends besides me. So I felt shitty when he still wanted to hang out after I moved away. Our friendship was alright, but not strong enough to justify the drive. Whenever I came home to see Ruby I never thought to see him.
  1346. He was carrying an armful of groceries to his mobile home. As he awkwardly fished out the keys to his front door I was surprised my ears could pick out the distinct sound of bottles clinking together and the rustle of snacks from across the streets.
  1347. The times we hung out came back to me and something stuck out in my mind: he always wanted me to watch My Little Pony with him and I always declined. Nathan was a brony. And I was a pony right now. If it was anyone else I would be wary of these facts, but I knew Nathan was awkward and harmless.
  1348.  
  1349. I took one more glance down that long avenue of storefronts towards Comet’s place then made my decision.
  1350.  
  1351. I crossed the street in a dash of clip-clops. I snuck along the mix of dirt and gravel along the edge of his dented up car to his front door, I braced myself as I knocked with a hoof on his door.
  1352.  
  1353. There was an awkward, vulnerable pause before he opened the door. A person my age with greasy, curly hair, a three-day beard, glasses and a slack jaw met my gaze through the screen door. He stared down at me, looked around in confusion then back down at me. He might have been in shock so I made the first move.
  1354. “Hay, Nathan!” I waved a hoof and put on a smile. “It’s me, Berry Punch! I was in town and needed a place to crash. Can I come in?”
  1355.  
  1356. To my surprise he wordlessly closed the door on me. I heard him lock it. I blinked at the door, confused. Maybe I scared him? Oh wait, I used the wrong name again.
  1357.  
  1358. “Nathan? It’s me, Brian Peters,” I called. I looked around and behind me to see the coast was still clear. When I turned back I saw his blinds of his window pulled to the side and him peeking out. I waved a hoof at him again in what I assumed still looked like a friendly handwave gesture without the hand.
  1359. He left the window and I heard the mobile home’s foundation creak as he came back to the door and unlocked it again. I took a few steps back this time to give him some more space. He opened the door and looked at me again. He tilted his head to the side and I couldn’t help but tilt my head back.
  1360. “Is... this a prank?” he asked cautiously.
  1361. “Nope! It’s me, Brian! I turned into a pony,” I explained. I checked behind me again. “It’s… kind of a long story. Can I come in? I’m a sitting duck out here.”
  1362. After a second of hesitation he opened the door wider and let me step inside. I looked around his place to make sure no one else was there. His place showed it was mostly the same as I last saw it. Just messier and dirtier. He still lived alone. I let out a sigh of relief that I was finally back in a safe and familiar environment. I turned back to my host.
  1363.  
  1364. “Hay! So, uh, how have you been?” I greeted him. He looked down at me still unsure of what he was seeing.
  1365. “Um… fine,” he answered indecisively. “You- can I touch you? Are you real?”
  1366. Without waiting for an answer he bent down to my eye level and touched my mane. This close to him I could smell a bit of body odor and dried sweat. It wasn’t horrible but it was a little stronger than I expected. He ran his hand through my mane and touched my ear. I flicked it in response to get the tickling to stop. He kept touching it so I shooed his hand away with a foreleg. He stepped back apologetically.
  1367. “Yeah. I’m really real,” I assured him.
  1368. “But you’re Berry Punch! You’re a cartoon pony!” he gave his analysis. I concurred with a nod.
  1369. “I mean, that’s what I look like,” I said as I double checked the bottom of my hoof to see that, yup, it was still a hoof. “But like I said, it’s me, Brian Peters? We used to smoke together back in high school? ...your older brother sold you his bong? You had pony stickers on it.”
  1370. He studied me a little longer this time. A twinkle of recognition caught his eye. “Brian? It’s really you? How did you turn into a pony?”
  1371. I looked over at the bag of groceries still sitting on his counter. I could feel my tail in my sweatpants wag a bit in anticipation. I looked back at him and gave an award-winning smile. “How about I tell you over some beers?”
  1372.  
  1373. ***
  1374. We ended up settling on the couch in comfier clothing. He was in shorts and a ratty t-shirt and I stripped down to my shirt and boxers. It was nice to get my backpack off and my tail back out.
  1375. By the time I finished telling him about my past few days we were a few beers in. Considerate of my handicap, Nathan was opening my cans for me. I found I had just enough grip with the side of what used to feel like the ‘palms’ of my forelegs to get the can up my lips and back down between my legs.
  1376.  
  1377. “Huh, that sucks,” Nathan started. “So are you going to text your friends and let them know you’re safe?”
  1378. “I would,” I agreed, “but uh…” I bent the joint that seemed to have been my wrist: it was halfway up my foreleg. “I got no thumbs. Would you do it for me? My phone’s in my bag.”
  1379. Happy to help, Nathan got up and dug my phone out of my bag.
  1380. “Hey, can we have some of this?” Nathan said as he held up the Jameson from my bag as well. He didn’t have to rummage far, they were practically just sitting in there at this point.
  1381. “Hmm,” I hesitated. I wanted to be nice to the guy who let me into his place. And it would make him self-conscious if I let him drink it alone. So… “I think it’s a Jack and coke night actually.”
  1382. Nathan agreed and brought the phone and Jack Daniel’s back over to the couch. I got him to unlock and directed him to put the message in the group chat. Nathan fired off a message letting them know where I was and that I was fine. He left the phone and bottle with me as he went up to get the soda. To my slight disgust he brought a two liter bottle of Pepsi back to the coffee table with the cups. I debated teasing him but let him pour out our drinks instead. I was no snob. I polished off my beer and accepted the glass of Jack and sugar.
  1383.  
  1384. “So is it really so bad to be a pony?” he asked as he turned on his game console, probably to get some background noise going.
  1385. “Well, yeah? I look gay, I have to walk on all fours, I have no hands, and I lost my dick,” I complained. As if to confirm he looked down at the crotch of my boxers. With how high I was wearing them in order to repurpose the hole as a tailhole and how thick my flanks were the remaining fabric made it clear I wasn’t packing.
  1386. I took a long drink in memory of my lost dick. Jack and Pepsi was terrible but I was used to basically nail polish. Nathan smiled.
  1387. “Yeah. I was going to ask about that...” Nathan started as he fiddled with his game controller. “On the show they don’t have genitals because it’s a show for little kids. But… do you… have them?”
  1388. “Yeah, I got a weird horse vagina,” I confirmed. I took another drink of my waste of Jack Daniel’s and swallowed. Nathan started chuckling loudly so I turned to see what the matter was. “What?”
  1389. “I can tell you don’t like that!” he said, grinning. “Whenever you take a drink your ears pin down and your muzzle scrunches. It’s really cute.”
  1390.  
  1391. “Oh,” I looked away feeling self-conscious. My tail pinned by the couch cushion behind me twitched instinctively to try and cover myself. “Don’t-don’t call me cute. That makes me uncomfortable.”
  1392. “But you are! Ponies are cute and you’re a pony,” he stated it as fact.
  1393. “Yeah, maybe, I guess? I know what I look like right now but I’m straight and I know you’re straight so that makes me uncomfortable,” I explained.
  1394. “But... you’re a mare?” he countered. “Aren’t you attracted to stallions now?”
  1395. “That’s not bucking funny,” I scowled at him. I thought of the way Comet phrased it and repeated it, “I still... identify as a male human; a straight male human.”
  1396. “Oh, right. That makes sense. Sorry,” he apologized.
  1397. I took another drink from my glass, a little angry this time. Apparently the fine hairs on the side of my forelegs were no match for the condensation building up on the outside of the glass. The glass slipped and its contents ended up dumped onto my shirt and lap.
  1398. “Applebucker!” I swore.
  1399. While Nathan removed the glass and got a towel I went to my backpack to see what clothes I had on hoof to switch into. I ended up biting down on a shirt and my sweatpants and dragging those into the bathroom to change.
  1400.  
  1401. After about ten minutes of wrestling to push my wet clothes off and pull my new ones on there was a knock on the bathroom door.
  1402. “Brian?” Nathan called through the door. “Are you alright?”
  1403. At that I gave up in my half-dressed clothes and laid down on the bathroom floor. I could smell piss and see hairs of questionable origin from my vantage point.
  1404. “Yeaaaah...” I said with a sigh. “...could you come in and help me?”
  1405. Nathan came in and saw my shirt wrapped around my neck and my sweatpants hanging off just one leg. He gave me a pitying smile and started to help clothe me.
  1406. “The ponies on the show seem to have a lot easier time doing stuff than you do,” he pointed out as he helped thread my forelegs through my shirt sleeves and even untuck my mane from inside my shirt. “They could build houses and bake cupcakes and balance baskets full of apples on their backs...”
  1407. “Yeah well I’m real and they’re not,” I pointed out. “They normally didn’t wear clothes either.”
  1408. I turned around to let him help me pull my sweatpants up. My tail was firmly tucked to cover my shame.
  1409. “I mean… why are you wearing clothes?” Nathan asked. He took a second to admire my cutie mark.
  1410. “Because it’s weird to be naked around other people?” I suggested innocently.
  1411. “Yeah, but you’re all furry now,” he tried. “You don’t look naked when you’re naked.”
  1412. “Nathan, I know you’re a brony,” I turned back to face him. I was shutting this man down. “I know what ‘clop’ is.”
  1413. “Hey! Not every brony clops!” Nathan insisted.
  1414. “Yeah, whatever,” I dismissed with an eye roll. “Are you going to help me get my pants back on or what?”
  1415. After Nathan helped me out we went back to the living room. After a bit of brainstorming, we salvaged a straw from one of the many empty plastic cups decorating the coffee table. I switched to lying on my stomach and then I was sitting with a fresh Jack and Sugar!
  1416. “So, you always said ‘no’ when I suggested we watch My Little Pony in the past…” he said as he navigated his game console to his Netflix application. I saw where this was going and groaned.
  1417. “I think I have enough pony in my life right now,” I complained.
  1418. “Yeah but maybe you need to, like, learn more about how to be a pony? Like carrying objects. And see what Berry Punch is like,” he tried me.
  1419. “I heard she’s an alcoholic,” I said dismissively right before I hypocritically sipped on my mixed drink. I could see Nathan’s spirits getting crushed.
  1420. Okay, maybe I was being a horse’s ass. He did just help me get dressed and fixed me another drink (with my Jack and sugar piss, but still).
  1421. “Have you ever watched the show?” Nathan tried me. “I think... if you started from the beginning you’d actually like it.”
  1422. “Oh, because I’m a little pony I must like My Little Pony?” I feigned insult. “That’s racist!”
  1423. Nathan laughed then offered, “Sorry. So… something else then?”
  1424.  
  1425. Honestly, I didn’t really want to watch anything at that moment, but since everything would be equally unpleasant I made up my mind. Feeling I would need it, I slurped my sugary alcohol down.
  1426. “Nah,” I dismissed. “Top me off and let’s do this.”
  1427.  
  1428. ***
  1429. Twilight Sparkle: "You see, Nightmare Moon, when those Elements are ignited by the... the spark, that resides in the heart of us all, it creates the sixth element: the element of... magic!"
  1430.  
  1431. Twilight and her friends were lifted up from the ground by the light of the Elements of Harmony which quickly became necklaces and a tiara adorning their respective ponies. Nightmare Moon watched in awe and denial as those elements ‘activated’ and their light combined into a rainbow helix which spiraled up and up until crashing down like a tidal wave which continued to spin and envelop her. Twilight, still floating with her friends with the power of friendship, opened her eyes and the screen blared to white as Nightmare Moon’s scream faded into nothingness.
  1432.  
  1433. By the time the credits rolled and I was taken out of the show by the outro I had to admit, “Okay, that was pretty awesome.”
  1434. “See? I told you!” Nathan insisted with drunken enthusiasm. He brought one of his hands on top of my head and vigorously rubbed me right behind the ear like I was a dog. I was feeling well-buzzed and the petting felt nice so I only stopped him gently by pushing his hand away.
  1435. “Sorry. I just really wanted to pet you again,” he apologized for what his liquid bravery got him to do.
  1436. “Nah, you’re fine. It felt… nice,” I admitted. I couldn’t be too upset, my head was sort of right there and at the perfect level. He started petting me again. It was a little creepy how easily the gentle tingling it caused relaxed my muscles and spread down my neck and my back.
  1437. “...okay, okay,” I stopped him after a moment. “I didn’t say you could keep doing it.”
  1438. “Sorry, sorry,” he apologized awkwardly. “So do you want to keep watching?”
  1439. I glanced down at my drink. By the end of the two part-er we ran out of Pepsi and were low on Jack Daniel’s. Nathan had already switched back to his Keystone. We were low, but that was a really strong opening. I could see why people would want to keep watching.
  1440. “Yeah, why not! The night is young,” I exclaimed. It most certainly wasn’t. “Top me off with more Jack and scoot the chips closer.”
  1441.  
  1442. And so we watched our new technicolor pony friends we just met squabble about a ticket to some fancy ball for twenty minutes. I thought the conclusion Twilight reached at the end was surprisingly mature but then Princess Celestia just sent her more tickets and made the episode’s whole predicament kind of pointless.
  1443. By the time Spike ran off giggling with his golden ticket I was a little checked out of the show. It might have been because of the alcohol. It might have been because of the less fantastical plot. It might have been Nathan feeding me chips in exchange for head scratches.
  1444. “So what did you think?” Nathan interrupted our post-outro silence.
  1445. “I don’t know,” I hesitated. “It was kind of a boring plot compared to the pilot.”
  1446. “Yeah, they get better,” he promised. “I really like the Zecora episode coming up soon.”
  1447. “That’s a weird name for a pony.”
  1448. “She’s a zebra actually.”
  1449. “Huh,” I replied. They added a zebra? I was still looking for other ponies. “So I see myself a lot and I see Minuette... When do Comet Tail and Ruby Pinch show up?”
  1450. “Later. And I don’t remember seeing them as much,” Nathan admitted. “I only know who Comet Tail is because the fandom was shipping him with Twilight.” I had just enough knowledge of ‘shipping’ and ‘waifus’ from exposure to know what that meant.
  1451. “No kidding? Does Comet Tail talk to her?”
  1452. “I don’t think so? The shipping started because they were standing next to each other in a crowd in The Last Roundup.”
  1453. I blew a raspberry at the absurdity. “Yeah, that makes sense! Horny bronies...”
  1454. “Hey, we worked with what we had! They were both astronomy-related unicorns. It did make sense!”
  1455. “Yeah, well, the real Comet Tail’s gay. So the bronies were wrong there,” I gossiped.
  1456. “The real… ?“ Nathan looked confused for a moment until it clicked. “Oh! You mean Connor?”
  1457. “Well, duh,” I waved a hoof. “And we have a ton in common with the ponies we turned into. So obviously something must have happened to make it more obvious in the show or the show bible or whatever.”
  1458. “That doesn’t make sense: you’re Berry Punch. I forgot about that teenage pregnancy you had... and you giving birth to your sister,” Nathan patted my barrel for emphasis. I felt a little angry that his counterargument made more sense.
  1459. “I still care about her a lot!” I defended myself with all the drunk passion I had. “Ruby is... my everything! Even before all of this…” I gestured to all of me. “horse apples, she was sort of the reason I didn’t… drown myself in a bottle.” I confessed.
  1460. “Oh. Drown as in… kill yourself?” Nathan asked. I nodded solemnly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” He leaned in a little closer to rub my side and thigh for emphasis. It felt nice. It was probably the liquor loosening me up more. I leaned in in order to half-complete a sort of hug. I could smell that odd body odor and dried sweat smell on him again but I still didn’t really mind. There was something funny about it. Like maybe it came from a weird diet. If it wasn’t for the sour overtone I thought my more sensitive nose would have actually found it… nice.
  1461. The TV was playing the next episode but I barely paid attention to it. Applejack and her brother were talking. He was… a really big stallion.
  1462. “You know...” Nathan halted the silent petting I was allowing in my drunken stupor. It was probably stupid to hit the whiskey harder instead of going back to light beer with him: the world beyond our couch felt like it was rocking back and forth. At the very least our ship was comfortable. Smelly, but comfortable. “You said you’re not gay… but… what if you’re still not gay?”
  1463. “That’s... how orientation generally works. Yes,” I agreed while slipping lower and laying my head on his leg. Between the stress of my walk and the alcohol I was feeling quite relaxed. He gently placed a hand down onto the side of my jaw and stroked it. He liked petting ponies and I kind of liked the sensation; this was fine.
  1464. “But, like, you’re a mare now,” Nathan reminded me again. “And Berry Punch apparently had a kid. So if you’re both straight that means you would like stallions.”
  1465.  
  1466. I sat up with great effort at that and looked up at him to see if he was joking. He was not. He had to make this weird, didn’t he? I was going to have to set him straight again.
  1467. “I’m a straight human male. My name is Brian,” I reminded him. “He/Him.” I emphasized with two soft jabs at his leg. “This… this just isn’t my body; it’s Berry Punch’s.”
  1468.  
  1469. “But then if it’s Berry Punch’s body then how is it gay? Maybe your ‘weird horse vagina’ would like stallions?” he argued while quoting me.
  1470. I thought about all those funny feelings I had been having about Comet Tail’s body during this transformation. I was never interested in Connor before this all started. Something clearly flipped when this whole process started. I thought about what we were doing in my dream before Discord came and crashed our moment. Maybe my brain was trying to tell me something?
  1471.  
  1472. “...I bet it’s not even that weird looking,” he mumbled and brought me out of my thoughts. Nathan was patiently waiting for an answer.
  1473. “So… are you being serious right now? Are you... actually talking about me having sex like this? Like... with you?”
  1474. “I mean… yeah,” Nathan admitted. “I want to fuck a pony. You’re a pony. You’re pretty hot and cute and in the bathroom I really wanted to lift your tail and see what you looked like.”
  1475. I scooted back a little from his admission. I was thankful my face was already covered in purple fur because I felt my skin absolutely flush with embarrassment at what he was telling me. I was stunned. I knew he was kind of a weirdo but a horsefucker?
  1476.  
  1477. “This could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us,” he insisted. “I could sleep with a pony and you could see what sex is like as a girl. It’s not gay if you’re female and I’m male, right? Plus, like, zero consequences: a human can’t get a pony pregnant.”
  1478. “But… my identity and... stuff?” I stammered. I identified as a guy. Nathan said he could understand that but here he was saying we should have sex and it wouldn’t be gay. As if he couldn’t see me as ‘Brian’ anymore despite knowing it was me.
  1479. “I mean… if you don’t want to...” Nathan backed off a bit with his eagerness. “I know you’re probably not all that attracted to me anyway...”
  1480. “I mean, you’re not terrible but… if you were me, would you have sex as a mare? Like… take it? Just to see what it’s like?” I questioned him more out of curiosity than accusation.
  1481. “I totally would,” Nathan agreed surprisingly fast.
  1482. “Huh. And you... don’t think that’d be a little gay?” I asked for more clarification. “Or that it’s a little gay to fuck somebody who normally has a dick but they just don’t at the moment?”
  1483. “It’s sort of whatever,” Nathan admitted. “It’s so outside of normal definitions why not just... call it whatever you want?”
  1484.  
  1485. I thought about that line of logic. It seemed consistent to my alcohol-laden brain. Nathan reached out to gently stroke under my chin like you would a dog. It reminded me of how a girl would stroke my beard in the afterglow. Him touching me was comforting. I wondered if my coat somehow made my skin more sensitive.
  1486.  
  1487. “So… what do you think?” Nathan asked.
  1488. “I think…” I started and laughed. “...that I’m not nearly drunk enough for that. Sorry.”
  1489.  
  1490. “Could I... do something to make it better for you? Like… I could do whatever you want. Or I could get you something to make it worth it for you? Whatever you want.”
  1491.  
  1492. I was a little confused with myself why I was considering it. Maybe it was the half hour of drunken pets. Maybe it was an emotional rebound from the rejection from my family. Maybe this body was feeding me weird hormones. Or I wanted to help a friend out who smelled funny but in a good way… He really wanted this.
  1493.  
  1494. I thought about what I wanted. I wanted my old body back. But what I wanted most was to be cuddled up with Ruby and away from that woman. I wanted to look Ruby in her beautiful eyes without seeing that rejection... The color of which I associated with absinthe for so many years.
  1495. That stuff felt like the closest approximation. What would that be like with my new sense of smell? I remembered the intensity of the smells of the Jameson. The raw shuddering heat it drew out of my body. I felt part of my body wetten in anticipation and it wasn’t my mouth. I was piqued. Maybe?
  1496. “...absinthe?” I tried him without making eye contact.
  1497. “The... alcohol? The store’s closed,” he looked defeated.
  1498. “Yeah, but... Judy’s over on 6th is still open, right?” I recalled. The clerks there back in the day never carded me.
  1499. Nathan checked the time on his phone then looked up to me. “So… I’ll get you absinthe and then... will you show me?”
  1500. I felt my face warm up again. The blush probably wasn’t noticeable but I felt my ears slacken a bit. I realized the expression on my face betrayed any hidden blush just as well.
  1501. “We’ll… talk,” I promised what I could.
  1502. A saw a twinkle of focus in his eyes. He smiled and agreed. “Alright, yeah! I’ll be right back!”
  1503. He immediately went to go put his shoes on, still in the t-shirt and shorts he changed into earlier. He locked up as he went out and I heard his car start up and leave.
  1504. When he got up I saw a very obvious erection. The surrealness of this situation was about on par with the first time I saw my pony ears.
  1505. “Berry, what the hell did you agree to?” I asked out loud.
  1506. After a moment of gathering my focus I climbed off the couch and carefully sauntered over to the bottle of Jameson still out of its bag. I unscrewed the bottle from the cap and spat the cap away like last time. I took a long whiff and explored the earthy scents in my nose. It was warm and musky, almost like a cologne.
  1507. “What the hell is wrong with me?” I asked the bottle of whiskey. When it didn’t speak I took a long pull from it. The warmth filled my mouth and gently warmed my insides like a fire. My body shuddered a bit as the smell lingered in my nostrils. With my drunken hooves I had to sit down before it knocked me down.
  1508.  
  1509. So my sense of smell definitely got stronger when the transformation finished. But what if something else changed: my sexual preferences? What if we were still changing, but mentally now?
  1510. I decided to do an informal scientific test. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the last guy I saw in porn. I tried to really visualize him and…
  1511. Nothing. Not disgust. Just... nothing.
  1512. I thought about the woman involved instead. Her breasts, her hips, her voice...
  1513. When that proved boring I tried to think about past girlfriends. I thought about the dates I went on, the pictures we exchanged, the dates ending in the back of the pickup truck or in somebody else’s bed…
  1514.  
  1515. There was still something there, I thought. My body still seemed to respond to those old memories. I thought harder about one night, in the afterglow where we finished off the wine and I tried to impress her with the astronomy I picked up from Comet…
  1516.  
  1517. “But... you’re a mare? Aren’t you attracted to stallions now?”
  1518.  
  1519. My vivid dream from earlier came back. I could still feel Comet’s tongue pressed into mine, our sweetened breath mingling together and my hoof finding its way up his fuzzy chest. My breath quickened in my dream and in reality. My body felt like it did on the first long pull of Jameson.
  1520. “Oh buck,” I muttered to myself. I was ambivalent to the heat building between my legs. I took another pull from the bottle in my grasp. The burn tracing its way down my esophagus complemented the burning under my tail well. I could almost swear they met in my lower half somewhere. Yeah, the alcohol definitely wasn’t helping.
  1521.  
  1522. I definitely still liked the curves on human females… but there was something exciting about the musculature on a stallion. I remembered when I saw Comet’s well-toned flanks and when he showed me what a horsecock looked like. I tried to imagine what that thing would look like erect and I started to feel uncomfortable sitting on my haunches.
  1523.  
  1524. There was definitely something about stallions. But if I still like human females and just like male ponies as well… maybe this arousal of stallions was just from this body? Something about her personality that sits with mine now, like my name. If they both still existed separately then maybe they could co-exist? I was just… temporarily bisexual?
  1525. This was... acceptable. I was still me, regardless of what this body changed. Regardless of what happened or what I did I was still me.
  1526. I tried to get to my four hooves. My brain was too drunk to make them work automatically. The cadance to walking felt as complicated as dancing. I focused on each leg as I moved it and fell down right in front of the couch. I was too drunk to walk. I was going to beat myself up over how drunk I was but decided against it. I deserved alcohol for putting up with this stupid pony thing.
  1527. I got back up onto my hooves and struggled back onto the couch. With my mind distracted by incomplete thoughts of ponies swimming through overly sweet whiskey, Nathan barely felt like he was gone five minutes.
  1528. “I’m back!” he said as he came in and kicked his shoes off. He was carrying another two-liter of Pepsi and an off-green bottle of absinthe. He sat the bottle down on the coffee table in front of me. “Is this right? This shit’s expensive.”
  1529. I sat up and looked at the bottle’s label. A fresh bottle of absinthe, just like that? I excitedly nodded. “That’ll work! But if you try to mix that Pepsi with it I’ll put it up your butt sideways.”
  1530. Nathan chuckled at that and went to go put up the Pepsi. “So, do you just drink that straight? The guy at the store warned me to dilute it with sugar and water.”
  1531. “That’s how I did it at first, yeah. But nah, it’ll be fine,” I waved it off with a hoof. “Come open this thing for me!”
  1532. I was eager and found myself salivating. From the odd throbbing under my tail I wasn’t sure if my body understood this was for my mouth. Nathan obediently plopped down right next to me and satisfyingly cracked the bottle. He handed it over.
  1533. I wrapped my hooves around it and brought it close. I could smell the fennel wafting off the bottle. I inhaled deeper and shuddered at the smell. An earthy, bitter anise assaulted my senses but I gave in to the smell. My nostrils flared up involuntarily like I had to sneeze but instead I felt my nostrils pucker like my mouth did when chewing sour candy. My face relaxed and inhaled the smell deeply all over again. My nostrils flared again as it wafted through my nose and mouth. My whole jaw tensed and then relaxed into a shudder that made its way down my spine and out my tail.
  1534. “Buck me,” I muttered happily. I thought I could feel my tail try to swish around in my sweatpants. I gestured to the bottle for Nathan. He took it and sniffed curiously. He frowned.
  1535. “It smells like licorice,” he complained. I rolled my eyes. I was used to hearing that. He poured a little into my empty cup anyway. And then a little for himself. I lay down so that I could get my long neck over the straw.
  1536. I put my mouth on the straw and sucked slowly with my eyes shut in concentration. For my efforts a steady, fiery spirit spilled into my mouth. Once I had a good mouthful I played with it in my mouth and let it dance across my tongue. The taste of anise and fennel flooded my senses. There were citrus notes, a bunch of things I didn’t recognize, and coriander. The latter I only knew about because I used to chop it at the old folk’s place. My palette satisfied, I swallowed it down. A deep sigh from inside me escaped. It was good absinthe. Very good. It was strong, aromatic, and complex. The balance of botanicals commanded to be enjoyed, obeyed. But it didn’t taste like forgotten memories and it didn’t remind me of Ruby. It just tasted like good absinthe.
  1537. I turned to see what Nathan thought and saw he had been watching me instead of trying it. His hand was doing a poor job trying to hide a boner. His awkwardness was almost cute.
  1538. “Do you always drink like that?” he asked.
  1539. “Like what? It’s good stuff,” I said while encouraging him to try it. Nathan brought his glass up to his mouth and tried a tentative sip. I saw his brain immediately reject it.
  1540. “Oh my god,” Nathan croaked. There was a painfully soured expression on his face. He looked betrayed. I laughed at him and it came out more like a giggle. “You like that?”
  1541. “It’s delicious,” I insisted with a grin. I grasped my glass between my hooves and poured the rest of it into my mouth. The absinthe threatened to burn me from the inside out. I welcomed it and swallowed. I felt like I could breathe fire. The heat radiated from me.
  1542. My whole muzzle was dried out from the wafting heat of the alcohol but there was still another part of me wetting for attention. A part of me that spoke simply enough but with an unfamiliar accent.
  1543. “I don’t see how you can handle that,” he said as he poured the remains of his glass into mine. I happily went to sip my new dose. This time a little slower so as to not totally shock my body and make me vomit; I was admittedly quite drunk already.
  1544. Nathan took the opportunity to rub the back of my neck again, right across my mane and a little down my spine. I could tell what he was doing but I was so relaxed and already aroused so I didn’t want him to stop petting me.
  1545. “So,” Nathan started. With his other hand he fiddled with the sleeve of my shirt. “How about we get you ready for bed?”
  1546.  
  1547. Yeah, why not.
  1548. Buck it. Buck me.
  1549. The world wanted to bend me over, why not let a friend do the same? At least he would be grateful. Even I couldn’t deny I was curious. And I couldn’t deny that between thoughts of past sexual encounters, imagining stallions and all the alcohol in my system that I was horny.
  1550. I nodded my approval and saw him light up like a kid on Christmas morning. He was kind of cute in an awkward dorky way.
  1551. He tried to pick me up and carry me back to his bedroom. I was clearly way heavier than he thought though because instead of picking me up he ended up just dragging me off the couch. I barely caught myself just enough to get my hooves down before my face. I crumpled onto the ground and laughed.
  1552. “Horny bastard!” I scolded him and giggled. “Just let me walk,” I told him. I looked down at my mess of limbs and for a moment I couldn't tell the difference between my ‘feet’ and my ‘hands’. I sorted out my appendages and tried to stand again. I just ended up falling sideways.
  1553. “Berry? Are you alright?” Nathan asked as he came over to help. With his help I was able to stand again.
  1554. “You’d think walking drunk with four legs would be easier,” I told him. I told Nathan to grab the absinthe and help me. I used Nathan as a guide and a crutch to get down his hall and to his bedroom. A terrible smell assaulted my muzzle as we came into his bedroom. It smelled like him but saltier and less warm and musky. I didn’t want to bring it up and insult my host.
  1555.  
  1556. My walking aid sat my absinthe down onto his dresser that was otherwise covered in My Little Pony toys. As soon as his hands were empty and I had the edge of the bed to keep me upright he began stripping down. He was predictably pasty and pudgy. His body hair had grown wild without any intervention. When he was down to his tented underwear he turned to me with a grin.
  1557. “Let’s get you up on the bed,” he said as he directed my drunk hooves up onto the bed. He had to help me climb onto the elevated mattress by pushing my ass up onto it. He gave the cheeks a not very subtle squeeze as he did so.
  1558. Once I was on the bed he helped pull my shirt off and then rolled me over onto my back to help me get my sweatpants off. I was naked on someone else’s bed, a guy’s bed, but I was still aroused.
  1559. I felt awkwardly manhandled but still drunk and warm. On my back, because of my new anatomy, my hind legs stuck straight up and out by themselves.
  1560. Nathan just stood over me and appreciated my body for a moment before caressing my tummy with a hand. I felt my whole torso relax a little at the touch.
  1561. “Berry, you’re beautiful,” he whispered. I didn’t know how to feel about those words. His hand started working down between my legs but got caught up on my teats. My leg involuntarily kicked a little at his touch.
  1562. “Hey... those things are sensitive,” I whined as I watched what he was doing. He checked my facial expression before he started caressing one. My leg twitched involuntarily again. The sensation of him playing with it made my spine feel like it was squirming and I wanted to curl away from it. He started playing with the other one as well and I couldn’t squirm fast enough. I whined again at the touching and it came out more like a moan. It was a moan.
  1563. “Aww, they are sensitive, huh?” he smiled at me in his best ‘mischievous’ look as he traced one slowly.
  1564. “Y-yeah, a little,” I admitted. I felt needy but bashful. This was so out of my normal experience. He gave me one of his cute and goofy smiles before climbing on top of me. He caressed my face and let his fingers follow my jawline. He gently scratched me just under the chin; a comforting gesture of contentment.
  1565. “You’re such a pretty pony,” he insisted. I don’t think I had ever been called pretty before. It was a bit coddling but I had to admit it made me feel… wanted.
  1566. “You’re just saying that because I said you could buck me,” I teased him.
  1567. “Berry Punch, you are a pretty pony,” he insisted again. He bent down so that we were muzzle-to-nose.
  1568. He wouldn’t.
  1569. He kissed me right on the lips. Long, slow and romantic.
  1570. He did.
  1571. I pushed him away as quickly as I could. He pulled back immediately.
  1572. “No,” I scolded him. I rubbed my lips with the side of my hoof. “No kissing. That’s too personal.”
  1573. “Oh. Strictly ‘business’ then?” he said as he idly scratched at the little bit of extra fluff on the front of my chest. I nodded.
  1574. “Okay. Just tell me if I go too far,” He conceded. “Can I kiss you in... other places?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Seeing my indecision he decided to test the waters instead. He bent down to kiss my tummy. I flinched feeling his lips tickle me. His tongue found my belly button and licked at it. It felt ticklish and sensitive at the same time. I tried to slow my breath but my attempt at controlling my breaths just gave him an easier target. A shudder shook my system again and I felt another one of those weak moans escape my lips.
  1575. Encouraged by my noises his lips went lower and he started sucking and teasing my teats. I squirmed and moaned again at the attention they were getting. I was the definition of hot and bothered. I could feel my inner thighs tremble even though they were relaxed and to the side. I felt wet and overheated. I could smell myself over the smell of the room and bedsheets and there was no way he couldn’t too.
  1576. He gently teethed my nipple and I felt a nerve of lightning spark from the bite to between my legs accompanied by an involuntary squeak escaping my lips. He lapped at the bitten teat almost apologetically and I moaned louder at the sensitive teat’s mix of pleasure and pain. Finally he ended it by kissing it and then the other.
  1577. With that finality, I felt his tongue trace down lower until he found the area needing the most attention. I anticipated the beginning of my relief but he immediately stopped right where I needed him the most.
  1578. “So, uh, I’m not totally sure what to do here,” he admitted.
  1579. “Seriously?” I groaned in frustration. “You were doing so good and you stop now? With the amount of porn you probably watch?”
  1580. He looked a little hurt by that comment.
  1581. “Sorry, that was mean,” I apologized. “I’m just... frustrated you stopped. Just…”
  1582. In my drunken stupor I reached down with my hoof to masturbate before I realized the skills learned as a teenage boy alone didn’t quite transfer over.
  1583. I hesitated until later knowledge kicked in. I started slowly and gently grinding my hoof against the part of me that was boiling over in frustration and needing attention the most. I didn’t like how hard my hoof was but my tinier friend sputtered and crackled appreciatively to my petting either way. When I felt a familiar but concentrated tension begin to tease itself awake I knew I had found the method.
  1584. “Mmm. Yeah, right there,” I cooed with satisfaction. I laid back down. “Just… touch me here. And give those weird horse bits plenty of love too.”
  1585. Nathan took over again, licking and sucking right where I told him to. He was hesitant and had no confidence in his tongue but each lick still made me shudder and pant. It was like receiving someone’s first blowjob where they didn’t know what to do but somehow they could already deepthroat you. He wasn’t going to bring me to climax, but it felt overwhelming and amazing.
  1586. I felt a strange pulse inside of me like my heartbeat but slower. He seemed to sense it and respond more eagerly. I tried brushing the top of his head encouragingly and just let him continue that way for a bit as I melted into his bed.
  1587. I was jolted out of my relaxation by him grabbing my teat and roughly squeezing.
  1588. “Ah! Bit!” I moaned and tried to snap my legs closed. Instead, because of where his head was, my hind legs just wrapped around his head. He took that as encouragement and kept going. He squeezed and kneaded them even harder. I moaned more out of pain than pleasure.
  1589. “N-no. Stop!” I finally found my words again between the moans escaping me. He finally stopped.
  1590. “Am I doing okay?” he asked me, confused. I sat up a bit.
  1591. “Not... terrible? But... go easier on those things! And mix up the licking more: don’t just do the same direction, pace and pressure,” I instructed. Nathan nodded as if he understood.
  1592. “Do you want to try switching?” he asked. For a second I didn’t know what he meant.
  1593. “Switch? Like... my mouth on you?”
  1594. “Yeah.”
  1595. “Yeah... no. I’m not sucking you off,” I put my hoof down metaphorically.
  1596. “What? But I’m… can I still stick it in?” he asked. He started caressing me between the legs again, this time with his fingers. Now he wasn’t ignoring those engorged lips. He was teasing me by slipping a finger in and out but not doing any probing or caressing inside. It made me realize how empty I felt. I felt my sex throb in need.
  1597. “Yeah, I need something in me,” I admitted. I was too well-lubricated with heat and alcohol to let any shame stick at this point.
  1598. Nathan stripped his underwear immediately. I had inadvertently seen plenty of guys down there in my life but it was surreal to look at one knowing that he was erect for me. I was probably staring a little too much.
  1599. “Keep winking for me,” he commanded. I was confused why he was asking for this so I winked an eye at him then the other.
  1600. He shook his head and then started touching me again. He was teasing me just against the sopping lips again, the tip of his finger only barely caressing the inside. It made my insides ache. I felt myself throb again. This time I was watching and immediately knew what he was talking about. I was surprised it could do that, but then again, it was larger than a human one.
  1601. “Just like that! That’s the hottest shit. Do that on my cock,” he instructed me as he clambered on top of me. I couldn’t help but notice just how jiggly his pasty body was as he moved. As he positioned an arm next to both of my shoulders he was able to position his face just above mine so that we could look into each other’s eyes. I became soberingly aware of the fact that this guy was going to put himself inside of me and something seemed off.
  1602. I needed something inside of me. This alcohol-fueled fire burning in my loins needed to be put out. And while Nathan was present, an alright friend, and the sheen of my juices still on his lips and chin was hot... my flight or fight response still kicked in. I covered myself with a hoof.
  1603. “Wait, I…” I started before I knew what to say. I thought about how to fix this scenario. I wanted relief but the truth was not with Nathan. My brain wasn’t angry that he wasn’t handsome. There was something more fundamentaly wrong: he wasn’t a stallion. He seemed… alien above my fuzzy body.
  1604. “Are you alright?” he asked, worryingly. I looked away in shame and didn’t know how to explain the problem. I spotted the absinthe sitting pretty on his dresser. Instead of lying there as a mare and taking it from the stallion who wasn’t present, I thought instead about how ‘Brian’ would handle this situation: I wanted sex but not really with the person interested.
  1605. “Do you want to… do it from behind? Like... ‘pony style’?” I asked. I only assumed that was a term bronies threw around.
  1606. “Whatever you want to,” he agreed. He gave my tummy one last rub before sliding off to give me space to roll over.
  1607. “Hay, while you’re up… get me a shot of that?” I said gesturing to my green muse. He brought the bottle over to me while I tried to sit up. Instead of letting me hold the bottle he uncapped it and held it to my lips.
  1608. “Open up, Berry,” he teased me. I opened my mouth for the bottle and he poured the shot onto my waiting tongue with a little too much zeal. I wasn’t one to waste a drop though. I swallowed the burning anise fire down, barely letting it pass over my tongue on the way down. My snout puckered and I felt my nose leak a bit. I felt the fire plop into the inferno that was my insides right now.
  1609. “Good girl,” Nathan praised me suggestively. He put the absinthe back up and climbed back onto the bed.
  1610. “Don’t call me that,” I drunkenly hissed, even as I turned around to assume the position. My body begged for someone to deal with the heat radiating from my other end. I was grateful I didn’t have to look him in the eye now.
  1611. I heard a mumbled apology from him but he was already far away in my mind. When he grabbed me by the flanks I tried to imagine someone else was behind me, someone that would ‘work’ for this situation. The first pony that came to mind was immediately shot down. My brain spun until it came up with Applejack’s brother. He seemed more than capable of making me feel like a ‘mare’.
  1612. I felt the stallion lower my rear so that my entrance was lined up against him. I felt the head brush against my begging lips, testing me. My tail raised itself out of the way. I felt my insides quiver in anticipation of his entry. I needed it. I winked.
  1613. Chapter 12: Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder
  1614. Nathan had to go to work in the morning. He left me food, water and turned his game console on. He promised me he would pick some things up for me when he got off work. So until then, I had the trailer to myself. I was left alone all day with my thoughts.
  1615. My thoughts and I were not friends.
  1616.  
  1617. The couch smelled and I couldn’t stand that bedroom so I was laying out on the floor in the dusty guest blanket. The blanket originally ended up there because I didn’t want to sleep in that bed after what I did on it. So I left to go sleep on the couch with the blanket. The couch proved too smelly though so I eventually moved it to the floor and tried sleeping there.
  1618. Nathan found me there, in my fitful sleep, during a trip to the bathroom. Feeling pity on me sleeping on the floor he convinced me to do what I was reluctant to do: I slept in bed with him. He wanted to spoon. So I agreed to it. I never asked him to help me get redressed. At this point the clothes were just a nuisance and I had no shame left around him since he had seen everything. I was still lying around his home naked from the night before.
  1619.  
  1620. When you want to forget the night before, it’s never too early to drink. So as soon as Nathan left I started finishing off the Jameson that was left open all night next to the couch. It still had all its notes but if it were a bouquet, then each of the flowers had withered. Something beautiful was gone from it now.
  1621. I left the water and food Nathan put out for me on the coffee table untouched. He was well-meaning when he put the water and cereal both into bowls for me, I was clearly having trouble with cups last night, but I wasn’t his pet. I wasn’t human either though. My name can’t be Brian if even I don’t call myself that.
  1622.  
  1623. My name was Berry Punch and I was an alcoholic. I was ashamed of what I did for alcohol. I felt ashamed of the person I was. I was ashamed of the way alcohol was crippling all of my relationships.
  1624. I thought about my friendship with Nathan in school. Looking back at it, I realized most of the time I hung out with him because he always invited me over to smoke. At some point he must have realized this, but he kept buying and inviting me over. Sometimes he even tempted me with beer. He didn’t have a lot of friends, so I thought I was being a good friend by coming over and smoking his weed. Was that a good friend? I didn’t ever watch ponies with him until last night. He was an awkward person; I could have tried harder to introduce him to my friends. I knew he had some kind of social disorder and would need help with that kind of thing. Instead, I just used him. And now, in a way, I was still using him. Far more than he used me last night.
  1625. I didn’t have to drink last night. I didn’t have to agree to share the alcohol I had on me and I didn’t have to agree to let him buy absinthe for me. But I did all of those things. And then I even let him have sex with this body because I was weirdly horny and Nathan was there. I knew that Nathan would be grateful. He was always ‘grateful’ for what I did ‘for him’.
  1626. This morning though I realized it meant far more to him than it did to me. He hugged me and nuzzled me. He put out food and water. He asked me if I needed anything and said he’d get it. He promised he’d bring back dinner.
  1627. But what he was doing became clear to me when he dropped the question on me. Right before he had to go out the door:
  1628.  
  1629. Nathan got down on my eye level and asked, “Do… Do you want to be my boyfriend? Or my girlfriend?”
  1630. “What?? Why would you ask me that?” I asked bluntly.
  1631. “Well, I mean, we had fun last night,” he said, chuckling awkwardly. “We could do that every day, if you want. And you can stay here for as long as you want! I promise I’ll take care of you. I’m even buying some weed from a friend today so we can smoke like we used to. So... you’d sort of already be a girlfriend kind of, right? What’s the harm in making it ‘official’?’
  1632. “Nathan, those things were fun, but-”
  1633. “You can think about it! Please? I have to go but spend some time thinking about it, okay?”
  1634.  
  1635. So I did think about it. And then I started drinking about it.
  1636.  
  1637. I heard my cell phone buzz again. There had been over a dozen messages that morning but I couldn’t get beyond my lock screen and the only thing the previews told me was that most of them were in our group chat and there was one new person in there that wasn’t in my contacts. I had at least one missed call from Ruby as well. I could have probably fumbled with my phone enough to answer that but I didn’t.
  1638. I was ashamed to tell Ruby I had fallen off the wagon again. After one day. And I was ashamed I butted heads with Mom. I was ashamed I attacked her. I scared her and I knew what she saw in me so I used it against her. That woman was only trying to protect her daughter from a monster coming back into her life and I would have done the same thing. She was right to want me to stay away. Things worked out better when I wasn’t involved.
  1639. I thought about Comet Tail and how he would be disappointed that the valium was not only already gone but that I was back to drinking. He wanted me to give myself over to our friendships but in all the talking we had done this weekend I didn’t even bring up with him the fact I was depressed or what my ulterior plans were for that party. I wanted to be a better friend, like he was: when someone called on him, he came...
  1640.  
  1641. For the third day in a row I cried out of self-pity.
  1642.  
  1643. I finished the bottle of Jameson by noon. Looking for something to distract myself from my sorrow and the absinthe waiting for me in the other room, I turned to Nathan’s video game console. The reason for leaving the console on was as obvious as the bright red app on the home screen: Netflix. Ponies.
  1644. It was easy enough to operate the analog sticks and buttons with the controller sitting in front of me. I started up the episode we left off on.
  1645. “Applebuck Season…” I read, unconvinced I was making the right decision.
  1646. ***
  1647. “Cause tomorrow spring is here! ‘Cause tomorrow spring is here! ‘Cause tomorrow spring is here~!” I sang along with the ponies on the tv as loudly and as off-key as I dared. I don’t think I had ever heard this song before, but something about it made me feel good and excited. So much so that after I first heard it I immediately needed to hear it again. I fiddled with the game controller and went back to listen to it over and over again. I hadn’t even bothered to rewind like this when I saw my doppelganger pull Ruby inside the house to protect her from the ‘scary’ zebra.
  1648. Incidentally, Ruby, Minuette and I were singing in this episode. The whole town was singing. In perfect harmony, all together. Something about the song resonated with me. It made me feel like I did when I was with Minuette. I saw her smile on the faces of all the ponies in that episode.
  1649. I needed to apologize to her for not trying harder. I needed to thank her for being a source of warmth in the cold world that I made around me. And I needed to tell her that I finally watched ‘that little pony show’ and that I finally understood why everyone around me liked it. It was inviting me into a whimsical and silly world and I wanted to go. If only because of the promise of friends.
  1650. After watching the whole episode of Winter Wrap Up again from the beginning I finally let the next episode play.
  1651. I saw Pinchy was invited to a classmate’s ‘cuteciñera’ and apparently I was a chaperone. Instead of keeping an eye on the foals though, and catching Diamond Tiara bullying Apple Bloom, this was apparently the episode I drank straight out of the punch bowl.
  1652. “Welp, there it is…” I sighed and pointed it out to no one else but myself. “I see the resemblance now...”
  1653. I felt like scolding myself for what she did because I could have seen myself doing something similar if I was properly drunk already. I wondered if I was an embarrassment like that to my Ruby as well?
  1654. After dealing with the self-reflection that episode brought up, I felt the need to rewatch Winter Wrap Up again. Not to avoid thinking about my flaws, but to remind me of who was there for me. I heard my phone buzz a few times again during that trip through Winter Wrap Up. I was eager to be able to check my phone and hear from them again...
  1655.  
  1656. It was during the reprise of Winter Wrap Up when I heard a clunker pull up outside the trailer. I knew that could be only one person. After crying my eyes out and being indoctrinated into ponies I was eager for company again. I met Nathan at the door.
  1657. “Welcome home, Nathan!” I greeted him as he stepped in. I couldn’t prevent my tail from wagging a little bit.
  1658. “It’s good to be home,” Nathan greeted me with that funny smile of his. It was good to see another person, even if he now smelled a little worse than the night before now. He had a few bags with him and one of them contained the promised food. He even had a carrier for two chocolate shakes. I still wasn’t sure if I was hungry or just felt tired but I knew either way we needed to take care of the food first while it was warm.
  1659. We sat on the couch where I suspected he ate most of his meals. He offered to help me eat but I insisted I wanted to try to feed myself. Which started with me just holding the box of fries between my hooves and pouring them into my open muzzle.
  1660. I asked Nathan how his day went. He told me about some people at work who didn’t like him and about some customers who were impatient with him because he “wasn’t a mind-reader”.
  1661. I nodded along and offered my ear. I didn’t comment much because he clearly wanted to talk and I wasn’t totally sure who was at fault for most of the stuff he brought up.
  1662. While he talked with his mouth full I started picking up a new awful smell. At first I thought it was just him; maybe he ate something gross earlier or just had bad breath. However when I went to unwrap my own burger I found the same smell coming from it. I sniffed it and looked it over. What was going on here?
  1663. “Um, Nathan?” I interrupted him. I sniffed my burger again. It smelled… ‘off’. “What’s on this thing?”
  1664. “Nothing,” Nathan insisted. “It’s just a plain cheeseburger. I only like when they’re plain and I wasn’t sure what you liked.”
  1665. With Nathan’s assurance I took a bite. As I chewed I was almost sure there was something wrong with it. Lingering with the grease and seasoning was the taste of death. Almost like the meat rotted a bit before being cooked. I refused to swallow it so instead I spat it out. The taste made me gag and retch but I had nothing to vomit up.
  1666. “How can you eat that?” I asked Nathan before I poured some fries into my mouth to cover up the lingering taste. Nathan watched me confused for a bit, smelled his own burger and then, as if struck by epiphany, slapped his own forehead.
  1667. “Ponies don’t eat meat!” he scolded himself. “I’m sorry. I should have got you a salad or something. I can’t believe I was so stupid.”
  1668. “No no, it’s fine! I wasn’t hungry. And… I didn’t know,” I admitted. I thought back to the fast food I had eaten in the past few days. My consistent disappointment with the ‘Crappy Meals’ started to make more sense.
  1669. “So, is that in the show? They’re vegetarian?” I asked. “I don’t think I got to that yet.”
  1670. “Yeah! In the song in Over a Barrel. Pinkie Pie says the ponies and buffalo are both vegetarians,” Nathan shared.
  1671. After biting my straw wrapper open and making sure my shake was palatable I shared my thoughts on the My Little Pony show so far. Nathan was more than eager to talk about ponies with someone.
  1672. He explained fan theories on zebras and told me about Trixie’s return and the layout of Equestria. He spoilered future episodes for me and told me about fanfics he had read. It was a bit of an information overload and I didn’t follow all of it but I told myself to try and be a better friend and take in what I could.
  1673. It wasn’t until I heard my phone buzz again did I finally find a good reason to stop him. When asked, he dug through the shopping bag. Among the shower puff, body wash and towel he retrieved the item I needed the most: a phone stylus. He tore the pony-proof packaging open for me and slipped the blunt end into my mouth.
  1674. I bee-lined it for my phone to finally see what was going on in the outside world. Ever since I had turned into a pony my world had shrunk considerably. A few tentative taps with the stylus in my mouth and my phone was unlocked. I took in my unread messages.
  1675. “Cheese, I missed a lot,” I muttered around my stylus. The group chat and just about everyone in it had messaged me. Especially Ruby.
  1676. “Is everything okay?” Nathan asked from the couch.
  1677. “I… don’t know,” I said, my ears faltering at my admission. The stylus bounced in my mouth like a familiar cigarette. “This might take a while to figure out…”
  1678. I first checked Ruby’s messages. They started last night:
  1679.  
  1680. Brianna: “I still need you too Brian. We shouldn’t have to choose between family members. I still think things can work out.”
  1681. Brianna: “Please don’t drink too much.”
  1682.  
  1683. And continued into this morning:
  1684.  
  1685. Brianna: “I had the same dream again.”
  1686. Brianna: “I know you don’t have a stylus. Find something conductive and voice-to-text when you can.”
  1687. t
  1688.  
  1689. I know she didn’t mean to hurt me. But that message did. I should have been there for her to see her take her first steps. I should have been Mom...
  1690. “So, I didn’t get the weed yet,” Nathan spoke up, snapping me out of my thoughts. “But my friend said he could just come by with it.” I had forgotten all about him mentioning weed this morning. I was far more concerned with the rest of that conversation.
  1691. “Oh. You didn’t have to do that. We don’t need to smoke. I barely do that anymore,” I explained. Of course, one of the reasons I stopped was because I wanted to have more money for my more important vice.
  1692. “But you like to. And I want to take care of you,” he said. He got up from the couch to come over to me.
  1693. I could feel what conversation was coming just like I could smell Nathan as he approached me. “So did you think about what I asked? This morning? Do you… can I be your boyfriend?”
  1694. “Nathan, I can’t. Our friendship isn’t like that,” I tried with him after putting my stylus down. He tried to hold my hoof and I took it from him.
  1695. “But it’s just like it. You’re living with me and we’re having sex. You’re a pony and my friend and amazing. Why can’t you just say yes?”
  1696. “Okay, first off, that was a one time thing,” I explained. “I didn’t do it for you. I did it for myself. I used you and I’m sorry,” I said, channeling my inner Twilight Sparkle.
  1697. “I don’t care that you used me. We can keep doing it anyway,” Nathan insisted. “And you can keep living here.”
  1698. “Well… thank you. But I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to be your boyfriend or whatever. I got off, a little, to what we did but I can’t date you. I’m not… you’re not my type,” I explained. “Is that going to be okay?”
  1699. He was quiet and upset but reluctantly agreed. Understandably disappointed he lost some of his benefits with my friendship. I placed a hoof on his hand and put on a smile.
  1700. “You’re still friends with someone who’s a pony, you know? And we can still watch ponies together,” I promised.
  1701. He gave a wavering smile. Then looked away and asked, “Can we still cuddle?”
  1702. “Like… in bed? Just cuddling? ...non-sexually?” I asked. He nodded emphatically. I finally understood just how touch-starved the person before me was. My heart went out to him. It wasn’t that bad being the little spoon...
  1703.  
  1704. “We can,” I promised. He smiled happily. Then I caveated, “but you need to wash those sheets. And yourself.” I was going to suggest the whole trailer but then I would be getting hypocritical. I knew how easy it was to live in filth when none of it seemed to matter.
  1705. “It’s a deal!” He agreed. He grabbed my foreleg by the hoof and made us shake on it. “I’ll go wash them right now!”
  1706. He got up to do just that. Feeling a little better about myself and my situation I turned back to my messages:
  1707.  
  1708. Brianna: “I think I’m getting the hang of it. But it’s more annoying than I thought it would be. I think I’m going to try to learn magic instead.”
  1709. Brianna: “Sweet Celestial Carrot Top responded. This is important. Check the group chat.”
  1710. There were more messages from Ruby beyond that one but I obeyed. I bit down on my stylus and then tapped it on the group chat icon. There were pages of messages to go through. I started skimming as well as I could. A lot of discussion seemed to be thoughts on the show. I stopped when I saw pictures.
  1711. There was a blue unicorn with a white shock in her hair. She was standing on what was unmistakably hotel room carpet and was waving up at the person taking the photo, presumably Chad, and giving her biggest, happiest pony smile possible. As if infected by an electronic-borne virus I started smiling too. I didn’t think her smile could get better.
  1712. Shortly following her was the most precious pink unicorn smiling into her camera that seemed propped up on her desk. Her tablet stylus still held in her mouth. I felt so much love seeing her face… and so ashamed of myself.
  1713. Next there was the yellow unicorn stallion from my dreams standing awkwardly for a photo. His blue bangs were swept to one side of his horn. He looked like he was taking the photo out of obligation.
  1714. I scrolled past a few more messages and saw that new contact’s first message:
  1715. “Monica: She responded!“
  1716. “Monica: Welcome Carrot Top!”
  1717. “I’m so glad you found me I thought I was going crazy turns out I’m just a little hoarse”
  1718. And then with more scrolling I found that the phone call that I thought was from my filly was actually a group video call that I missed.
  1719. “Someone catch Barry up”
  1720. Conner: “I’ll fill him in.”
  1721.  
  1722. Wondering what that was all about I went to check Comet’s messages. I scrolled past the ones that had already been read to me by Ruby and found the first new one:
  1723. Conner: “Are you alright?”
  1724. Conner: “Carrot Top says we got a place we can all stay. It’s her grandparent’s old farm in Creighton. Apparently they were Doomsday preppers.”
  1725.  
  1726. “A place-” I started rereading before a loud, rhythmic knock on the trailer door caused me to jump up. I hid crouched behind the coffee table and waited.
  1727. The knocking came again.
  1728. “Nathan! I know you’re fucking home. Put your dick away and answer the door!” came a male voice from beyond the door. This was followed by Nathan’s phone on the couch vibrating. I galloped off for the bedroom to find him and met him on the way there.
  1729. “Nathan! Why didn’t you tell me he was on his way??” I questioned him.
  1730. “Sorry. I thought I did,” Nathan apologized. There was another knock on the door. I turned my head to look back at the noise. Surprisingly, I could turn my head around enough to see completely down my back. I looked back to Nathan.
  1731. “Alright. Have fun!” I darted past him and went to go hide under his bed. As I introduced myself to the soda bottles and lost socks I heard Nathan answer the door and let in his dealer.
  1732. I heard Nathan mumble some kind of apology and a voice let himself in. My ears picked up a second new voice as well. Settled into my hiding spot I found nothing else to do than eavesdrop.
  1733. “What’s with the food? ‘You eating for two now?” came the first voice.
  1734. “N-no. I had a friend over.”
  1735. “Oh yeah? Where’s he? Is he smoking too?”
  1736. “Uh. No. He’s gone now.”
  1737. “...didn’t even finish his burger… can we sit down for a bit?”
  1738.  
  1739. A ‘bit’ dragged on to five minutes. That telltale smell hit my nostrils. It seems like they were going to smoke him out. Five minutes dragged onto twenty. The majority of the dead air in the conversation was filled with the sound of video clips and laughter. At first I thought Nathan was being polite. Then I thought he was just in no hurry to get them to leave.
  1740. Around the twenty minute mark of talks about video games and movies I started to wonder if Nathan had forgotten about me. After I started zoning out of the conversation and just heard their voices as noise I started to pick up just how little Nathan was contributing to it. I began to suspect Nathan was too polite or intimidated to ask them to leave.
  1741.  
  1742. “Hey, you got two phones?” the second ‘guest’ asked. Despite not being in the room, I figured out what he was talking about before the other two present: I had left my phone out on the coffee table.
  1743. “...what?” Nathan asked from within his high. “...oh. No, that’s... my friend’s phone. She, uh, forgot it.”
  1744. “She?” came the dealer. “Shit. Nate. ‘you get a girlfriend?”
  1745. “No. I meant he. He’s a he. It’s okay. She’s coming by tomorrow for it,” Nathan tried to backtrack his statement. Nathan, of course, was lost in a haze.
  1746. “Oh... it’s one of those trans things?” dismissed the dealer. “So this is all their shit? That makes more sense. I was wondering what the hell you were doing with body wash and a loofah.”
  1747. There was a loud cackle of laughter from the third person. The dealer joined him.
  1748. “You could learn something from your friend,” came the second-in-command. Nathan mumbled something inaudible as a reply.
  1749. “They probably aren’t doing much better! They left all of tha shit here!” the dealer added. They both laughed again. Once the laughter died down again the dealer cleared his throat and resumed talking.
  1750. “So, seriously... you two fucking?” The dealer asked. “‘’Cause if you’re putting it in anything besides a cum jar... I’m happy for you, dude.”
  1751. If that was anything like a piss bottle I really didn’t want to know.
  1752. There was an awkwardly long pause while they seemed to wait for Nathan’s response. Which told me Nathan was either way higher than the other two or he was thinking up a lie.
  1753. “Um. Yeah! Actually she’s a pony,” Nathan boasted.
  1754. There was a long silence in the living room. During which I wanted to slap my forehead in frustration but held off because I figured the sound of my hoof hitting my skull would alert them. I assumed Nathan was trying to impress these people and not thinking clearly.
  1755. “Like your toys? So… like an imaginary friend?” the dealer struggled from his elevation to figure out what was going on.
  1756. “So are you just fucking lying then?” the guest accused. “You leave all this shit out to make us think you had a girlfriend?”
  1757. “No-no! She’s real! She’s… hiding. Because she’s shy,” Nathan claimed. I wished Nathan would stop talking. I tried scooting further under the bed to hide better. My rump hit wall.
  1758.  
  1759. “Alright. That’s fine,” the dealer said, clearly losing interest. “Your friend is ‘shy’.”
  1760. There was another short silence.
  1761. “So, uh, you guys hear about this bat flu thing?” the guest suggested.
  1762. Instead of the conversation continuing though I heard the couch squeak followed by footsteps. Coming towards the bedroom. I knew who was coming. As a last resort I covered my face with a leg. Maybe he won’t see me?
  1763. “Berry. Come and smoke with us,” offered Nathan’s voice before me.
  1764. “You don’t see me. I’m not here,” I pretended behind my hoof.
  1765. “Yes you are! Come on!” he asserted, pulling my hoof away from my face. I gave my half-baked friend a pleading look.
  1766. “Yo! Nathan! You got anything to eat besides cereal?” shouted the guest.
  1767. “Yeah!” Nathan shouted for him but at me.
  1768. My back legs dragged against the carpet as he pulled me out against my wishes. As I fought to keep my place I grunted and huffed in protest which sounded remarkably similar to neighing.
  1769. “The fuck are you doing in there?” came the guest. I heard him come down the hallway. Nathan let go of my foreleg now that it seemed the horse was already out of the barn. I gave up as well and decided to just stand up to have some dignity.
  1770. ‘The guest’ walked in on us and I finally had a face to one of the voices. He was a baby-faced guy with shaggy blonde hair. I saw his half-baked eyes open slightly wider in surprise.
  1771. “Woah... Nathan, you got a purple horse?” he asked my friend.
  1772. “I’m… a pony actually,” I spoke up. It had the intended effect of draining the color from his flushed face.
  1773. Chapter 13: Special Talent
  1774. Nathan ended up getting his wish and I ended up joining them in the living room. After the initial obligatory declarations and a long explanation on the nature of what and who I am, Nathan’s high acquaintances took a talking purple pony in good stride. They both instinctively wanted to pet me; I guess I just had that effect on people now. It felt awkward being around three guys completely naked but they didn’t seem to bat an eye at my nudity. Naturally, they wanted ‘the purple cartoon pony’ to smoke with them. I understood the appeal from their point of view and I didn’t like to disappoint. Pretty soon we were gathered around the coffee table passing the bong. ‘The guest’, who I learned was named Cody, and ‘the dealer’ took the couch. The dealer was a slightly older guy with long hair and a goatee named Garrett. I appreciated Nathan sitting next to me on the floor so that I didn’t feel like a pet not allowed on the furniture.
  1775. Garrett demonstrated some smoke rings before he passed the bong over to Cody. The bong was the old one of Nathan’s, still complete with pony stickers. Friendship is Magic was playing on the TV on low volume because to them there was nothing more perfect in this situation as background noise.
  1776. “So... what’s she like?” Garrett asked Nathan as he gestured to me.
  1777. “What do you mean?” Nathan asked him as he idly rubbed my back.
  1778. “I’m a guy; he/him, please,” I reminded Garrett. To Garret’s credit he nodded in agreement and clarified his statement.
  1779. “Like in bed. When you’re fucking. What’s his horse pussy like?”
  1780. Cody added laughter to the conversation before he started his hit. I thought I was humiliated from that. And then Nathan answered.
  1781. “It’s amazing. It’s hot and slippery and it’s got this... grip. And when she winks she flexes. And I can feel it, like, it feels like it’s milking my cock.”
  1782. Nathan, high as a kite, went into horrific, praise-worthy detail about my pony sex. I was mortified and once again my burning blush went unnoticed thanks to the purple hue of my coat.
  1783.  
  1784. “God damn,” Garrett reacted to the raving review. He turned to me and gave me a playful wink. “Think you can give me a ride sometime?” Before I could answer Cody interrupted, just as he was passing the bong to Nathan.
  1785. “You’d actually fuck her?” Cody asked his friend. “What if you catch a disease or something? What if... whatever the fuck she has infects you?”
  1786. “It’s he/him. And I don’t think I’m contagious,” I told him. Then looked back to Garrett. “And this pony doesn’t give any more ‘rides’. That was just… friends experimenting. I’m still trying to figure this body out.”
  1787. Nathan finished his hit and slid the bong over to me. He was ready with the lighter for my turn. I was definitely needing to relax. My muzzle fit well over the tube and Nathan helped light. I found my pony lungs were deeper and stronger than they ever were as a human. I held it way longer than I could have before.
  1788. Muscles in my neck and back I didn’t know I was tensing up relaxed. I exhaled. Everyone stopped to watch the purple pony nearly disappear in a puff of smoke.
  1789. As if to congratulate me, Nathan’s hand found the spot on my head right behind my ears and began to massage. I immediately liked it. From my loosening posture Nathan seemed to have caught onto this fact. I pressed my head into that hand and closed my eyes.
  1790. “So you two really aren’t going to fuck anymore?” Garrett asked. “You made it sound awesome.”
  1791. “It was! But it was like… a trade. I bought her absinthe,” Nathan tried to explain.
  1792. “He/him,” I chimed again while lolling from my head rub. Seeing as I was incapacitated, Nathan took the bong from me with his free hand and sat it down on the table closer to Garrett.
  1793. Forget the weed, I was defeated by Nathan’s endless rubbing. It felt like Nathan’s fingertips were kneading my worries out of my brain.
  1794. “So. Do you guys do other stuff now then?” Nathan asked.
  1795. “N-no. We’re just... going to be cuddle buddies now,” Nathan answered solemnly.
  1796. “Well what did you do before that then? What’s that muzzle feel like?” he said to Nathan. Cody was chuckling. I didn’t like this conversation.
  1797. I craned my neck upright from its relaxed state and re-opened my eyes to check on this man. His eyes seemed noticeably more focused than Cody’s and Nathan’s. I wouldn’t have thought much of this except for the fact he was studying me intently with those eyes. A deep, primitive part of my brain interpreted that look as one of a predator.
  1798. Cody gave Nathan and Garrett a skeptical look.
  1799. “Are you asking... a horse for a blowjob?” He asked his long-haired friend who shrugged.
  1800. “Honestly?” he replied. “I’d probably settle for a hoofjob. If vaginal costs a bottle of absinthe, how much for a hoofjob?”
  1801. For emphasis Garrett blew me a kiss. I mockingly gagged on it.
  1802. “Berry isn’t a whore,” Nathan came to the defense of my character. Garrett waved dismissively.
  1803. “You say that, but it sounds like that’s her best skill. If you aren’t fucking, what is she to you now?”
  1804. “It’s he,” I tried one last time.
  1805. “What? Berry’s my friend,” Nathan said as he put an arm around me. I leaned into him for emphasis.
  1806. “Is she?” Garrett questioned. He seemed to pretend he was confused. My way higher companions didn’t seem to notice the difference. “She’s crashing here. You buy her whatever she wants, you pet her, you feed her. What is she doing for you now? She’s not cleaning. I bet she’s not cooking… and she’s not putting out... that sounds like either a pet or a shit girlfriend.”
  1807. “Dude, how can she pick up anything… she’s got hooves…” Cody contributed.
  1808. “Berry’s… my friend,” Nathan repeated like a waning mantra. I looked around at these people trying to figure out what was going on. They were all talking about me as if I had no say in the matter.
  1809. “Friends still give back, don’t they? It sounds like she’s taking advantage of you,” Garrett pointed out. I remembered all the times I most certainly did take advantage of Nathan. I was still taking advantage of him in a way. Apparently I was wearing my emotions on my face because Garrett looked more smug as he continued.
  1810. “So really, if you think about it, she should be doing something for you to show you how grateful she is. I let my friends know I appreciate them. And I’m just saying, it sounds like she’s amazing at taking cock,” Garrett said before shrugging innocently.
  1811. “She said she doesn’t want to,” Nathan said, looking at anything other than him now. Without Nathan’s eye contact Garrett’s piercing eyes settled onto mine. He stared at me like I was nothing; like he was looking right through me.
  1812. “Well you know, sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes our friends have to do things they don’t want to do too. And if they aren’t doing them? Sometimes they just need a little push. What’s she going to do if she doesn’t like it? Call the police?”
  1813.  
  1814. This was wrong. What he was suggesting. What he was trying to plant in Nathan’s brain. It was a web of twisted logic and appeals to desire. There was no empathy. Only manipulation.
  1815.  
  1816. “What are you trying to do?” I demanded. He finally acknowledged my words and grinned down at me with authority.
  1817. “I’m just looking out for my friends. I don’t want you taking advantage of Nathan,” he replied confidently.
  1818. “No. You’re a psychopath,” I corrected him. “You’re the one confusing and taking advantage of him. You need to leave!” I commanded as I pointed a hoof at the door. Garrett smiled at me like I said something funny.
  1819. “You can’t kick me out. This is Nathan’s home. You’re not in charge here.”
  1820. I turned to Nathan.
  1821. “Nathan, please tell him to leave,” I begged and shook the person beside me. Nathan looked a little confused but sympathetic. “Nathan, this person is a manipulator.”
  1822. After searching my eyes Nathan finally nodded in agreement. He turned back to Garrett.
  1823. “Please go,” Nathan told him.
  1824. “Okay. You’re the boss, Nathan,” Garrett agreed and stood up to his full height. He turned to his friend and gestured. “Come on, Cody.”
  1825. “Aww, I was wanting to see what the new dresses looked like,” Cody said, gesturing to the My Little Pony episode playing on the TV. After seeing the room was against him, he mumbled something while staggering to his feet to follow.
  1826. I helped Nathan walk them to the door. Once they were outside Cody ambled towards his friend’s car but had to wait because Garrett turned to get the last word in.
  1827. “This is your home, Nathan. Don’t let that pussy control you,” he said pointing right at me. “Especially if you aren’t getting any of it.”
  1828.  
  1829. Once they had left, Nathan and I went back inside. In mostly silence we finished off the weed to ease the tension in the air. What little relaxation I got from smoking was replaced by paranoia. I helped finish off the bud still in the bong but Garrett’s words were bothering me.
  1830.  
  1831. My phone on the table buzzed. After all that excitement with our ‘guests’ I wasn’t able to check my messages. I got up to pick up my phone and stylus. Taking a note from what I learned from the My Little Pony show, I carried my germy phone and stylus back to the couch in my mouth. I got to checking my phone while Nathan continued watching ponies. I got past my lock screen and reread the message there:
  1832. Conner: “Carrot Top says we got a place we can all stay. It’s her grandparent’s old farm in Creighton. Apparently they were Doomsday preppers.”
  1833. Conner: “It’s a bit of a drive but that’s for the best since I want to check a lead I got for a Joseph Revert. She’s got the right birthday. Her alumni info puts her in the Kansas City area. ”
  1834. Conner: “Do you want us to come pick you up? Chad’s driving us all down tomorrow.”
  1835.  
  1836. A place to stay with more ponies! With my friends. With my daughter. I immediately tapped out a short response, which was all I cared to do with the stylus in my mouth:
  1837. Me: “Yes”
  1838.  
  1839. I turned to Nathan to give him the news.
  1840. “So, it turns out all my friends are going somewhere,” I started. “They’re going to come pick me up tomorrow.”
  1841. Nathan looked shocked and a little hurt. He remained mostly silent. So much that I asked, “Are you going to be okay?”
  1842. “Can… can I come too?” he asked. I felt my ears deflate a bit.
  1843. “I… I don’t know,” I admitted. I remembered all the times I should have introduced him to my friends. All the times I should have stood up for him and invited him along. “I… I’ll ask,” I promised.
  1844. I saw the outro to My Little Pony playing on the TV. I still felt awkward doing voice-to-text, especially in front of others and I had a lot of messages to reply to, so I asked Nathan to go shower while I asked about him and told everyone I was alright. Reluctantly he agreed.
  1845. I asked the group, specifically Carrot Top, if Nathan could come along. Minuette’s and Comet Tail’s texts were mostly just asking how I was and how they were handling being a pony. Ruby’s were a little different though:
  1846. Brianna: “I spent an hour trying to move a pencil across my desk. I have a headache.”
  1847. “I remembered a step-by-step process I was taught when I was in my dream and tried to follow it but in my dreams I could feel the objects in my mind before I moved them.”
  1848. “Maybe Ruby can only move minerals. I’m starting to regret giving my rock collection away.”
  1849. “I think I can make my watch run slower? Aren’t there gems in old watches?”
  1850. “Okay it might just be a bad watch.”
  1851.  
  1852. If anyone could figure it out it would be her. I noticed my other unicorn friends didn’t seem to be interested in trying to figure out if they could do magic. I suppose they knew there was probably a limit to even what the curse would do. After all, this was a curse, wasn’t it? Nothing good was supposed to come from curses.
  1853.  
  1854. Carrot Top sent a new message:
  1855. “Absolutely not I don’t want any humans here the only one I’m allowing is Chad because he’s Minuette’s fiance”
  1856.  
  1857. Yeah, that sounded like the Claudia I knew. I thought it was odd she referred to herself as not human. I suppose I knew what she meant though: we didn’t look the part and people could be dangerous.
  1858.  
  1859. A cleaner, less smelly and still slightly damp Nathan rejoined me on the couch. I had to give him the bad news. He took it about as well I would have expected. He was crushed. I felt like I needed to spin this. Somehow.
  1860. “Nathan, I really appreciate all you’ve done for me,” I started. “Tonight might be our last time to hang out for a while. So… let’s live it up!”
  1861.  
  1862. Seeing as I declared it a party and I wanted to thank Nathan for taking me in, I wanted to start the evening off right. I shared what I could with him with what I had on hoof and I walked him through how to properly louche absinthe. As well as one could with a spoonful of loose sugar and tap water anyway. Nathan found the cloudy, diluted and sweetened absinthe much easier than the straight stuff. I thought the sweetness was appropriate for pony watching, which is what Nathan and I both wanted to do. I drank. Just a little. Enough to keep the headaches and tremors at bay. And to make sure Nathan’s drinks were properly balanced, sweetened and emulsified. The weed that he did manage to buy though, that was fair game.
  1863.  
  1864. Nathan and I were both getting the munchies so he ordered a pizza. Nathan promised me the next episode was really good and I was piqued. With a stomach full of pizza, a gentle buzz and a small high, by the time we started up the following episode, Sonic Rainboom, I could tell we were both feeling better. Nathan was idly petting my back, probably enjoying the sensation of my coat while half-baked. In my state of mind I was quite content with the petting as well.
  1865.  
  1866.  
  1867. All petting stopped though when Rarity had literally flown too close to the sun. I was so emotionally invested in the show when Rarity plummeted to the earth, I didn’t even realize I was standing on the couch.
  1868. The Wonderbolts dived into action to save her but were knocked out by her panicked kicking. It reminded me of the stories of people being pulled under by panicked drowning victims.
  1869. With the rescue attempt failed, there were now three ponies falling to their death thousands of feet from the bottomless arena. There were screams and ponies covered their faces or looked away. A tragedy was going to occur, far too late now to rescue the ponies now falling in a group.
  1870.  
  1871. But Rainbow Dash tried anyway. She didn’t give up. Not when her friends’ lives were at stake.
  1872. Rainbow Dash dived.
  1873.  
  1874. It was silly to get worked up by a children’s show. Of course she would save her friend. This was that kind of story and I knew Rarity would survive… but I knew what was going to happen. I was excited anyway when what they called “impossible” earlier in the episode did indeed happen: One little pony broke the sound barrier to save her friend. A burst of light accompanying the sonic boom radiated outward at the moment it broke. That sweeping stretch of rainbow must have stretched out for miles at that height. At the speed she was now diving, she should have caught up to her friends and hit the ground in a matter of seconds. Somehow, with a rainbow trail following her, she made a 90 degree correction. She flew parallel over the ground at Mach one then pulled up to rejoin her friends and a cheering crowd in what was a matter of seconds.
  1875.  
  1876. The whole crowd was cheering. She was immediately gifted first place for the competition she was in. The Princess came to congratulate Rainbow Dash. Rarity gave her friendship lesson but as the episode winded down it seemed so surreal to me. Like something too good to be true had happened. What she did was impossible. What she did was a miracle in their world.
  1877. “That was awesome!” I turned to tell Nathan. Maybe it was just the alcohol talking. Or the pizza or weed. It would have been true either way. Rainbow Dash earned the word ‘awesome’ in my book. She was just as cool as the Elements of Harmony in the beginning to me. Nathan was happy to see how much I was enjoying this.
  1878.  
  1879. We continued more episodes, talking longer and longer in between. He wanted to talk about ponies and the nature of my curse.
  1880. “Do you think some people turned into the mane six?” Nathan asked. I was surprised I hadn’t thought of that sooner. But if there were so many ponies that I was Berry Punch there might have been the mane six too. Maybe they were even the ones responsible?
  1881. We discussed what the mane six would be like as humans and tried to figure out what gender they would be.
  1882. We agreed on Rarity and Pinkie Pie being female. Rarity had to be a fashion designer. We brainstormed Pinkie Pie was probably an overnight baker who liked their ‘powder sugar’ a little too much and maybe even had an exotic pet or two. Nathan insisted Fluttershy was female but I disagreed. There were plenty of shy, quiet guys like that. They were the type to want to date a Fluttershy. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were probably guys. Twilight Sparkle was probably a huge nerd and a genius but apparently found time for their five friends. Twilight was smart; maybe she got a hold of some dark magic bullshit and that’s how this came about?
  1883.  
  1884. “Do you think the pegasi can fly?” Nathan asked while rubbing that little extra bit of fluff on my chest. I shook my head.
  1885. “I have three friends who are all unicorns. They don’t seem to be able to do anything like magic and Ruby is trying her hardest. Plus pegasus wings would be too small to help them fly,” I reasoned before I paused and looked at the television in thought. “But if there is a Rainbow Dash, from what I’ve seen of her, she’s probably already tried to jump off of her roof to fly and broke a leg.”
  1886. Nathan snickered and it was funny but I’d hope the hypothetical pony would be okay.
  1887. “What about bees? Bees aren’t supposed to be able to fly but they do, right?”
  1888. “Yeah but have you seen how those things fly? Imagine a 200 lb horse flying like that. You would think she was bucking drunk!”
  1889.  
  1890. The rest of the night went much smoother. We got increasingly more drunk and finished off every bit of food in front of us. We just nearly finished off Season 1 before Nathan started nodding off on the couch. I guess it was bedtime.
  1891.  
  1892. “Hey, you want to go cuddle?” I suggested to him. He ran a hand all the way down my mane and rubbed me under the chin. He then agreed. He tried to carry me off to bed again. This time, being more familiar with my weight, he got a step further, but I was still a small horse and Nathan was very drunk and very full.
  1893. Despite how drunk I was, I managed to get up onto his bed on my own this time. The sheets smelled and felt so much better. The room as a whole had a salty smell still but it was an improvement.
  1894. “Do you want me to get the absinthe?” Nathan asked as he started stripping. I was a little surprised but then calmed myself figuring he just slept in the nude.
  1895. “Uh, no. I’m good,” I said as I rolled over and claimed some of the pillow for myself. The main light turned off and I felt Nathan climb into bed and lay down in front of me. He started stroking and rubbing me right under the jawline. I smiled. Nathan was really affectionate.
  1896. “Roll over,” he breathed on me. I rolled over and tucked into him, figuring he wanted to spoon with his pony friend. He pressed into my back and began massaging my chest with the arm wrapped around me.
  1897. I guessed he was just an affectionate drunk... that made sense.
  1898.  
  1899. He kissed me on the back of the head and his hand slipped lower and began rubbing my belly. The long, slow strokes were ticklish. A few giggles escaped me before I pushed his hand off of it.
  1900. “Don’t do that. I’m ticklish there,” I complained. His hand rested there for a moment before he started up again. I grabbed hold of it with both front hooves. “I mean it, stop.”
  1901. His hand stopped tickling me but I started to feel a peppering of kisses just right behind my ear.
  1902.  
  1903. “Can we do it one more time?,” Nathan asked me in a hushed whisper. I hesitated for a moment, trying to think of what he meant other than that. To remove any shadow of a doubt his hand found its way under my tail and I felt a finger slither across my entrance. I went rigid.
  1904.  
  1905. “Nathan, no,” I said firmly as I started to push him away and get up. He was just drunk, I told myself. Nathan’s arm didn’t release me though; instead his arm pinned me back down to the bed and pulled me back towards him. Nearly under him.
  1906.  
  1907. “It’ll be the last time though. ‘It’s a party’,” he breathed his answer onto the side of my face. A fragrance of alcohol, weed and pizza made me tuck my head away.
  1908. “Nathan, I said we’re not doing this anymore!” I said into the bed as I found myself just about pinned under him. “Stop!”
  1909. “But you owe me,” Nathan explained as he applied more weight to my back to keep me in place while he physically lifted my tail out of the way. “I bought you food... and body wash... and weed and… and you’re just going to leave me.”
  1910. “I said thank you! Nathan! Stop,” my lower legs were splayed out behind me. “I don’t owe you this.”
  1911. “It’s not that big of a deal. We already did it,” he said dismissively as I felt him try to enter me. My body was much less receptive than it was last night.
  1912. “It’s gay! I don’t want it! Stop,” I insisted as I tried to lift him off of me. For my squirming he crushed me with more body weight. I tried again to push himself inside of me. “Thi-this is rape!”
  1913. “Just let me have this again,” he begged, hot breath tickling my ear. “You’re so good at it. Just do what you’re good at. Wink for me.”
  1914. Whether it was the crushing weight or my fear my body started trembling. He met resistance again but he was determined and hurt me. I started to wonder if it would be easier and less painful to just give in.
  1915.  
  1916. “You used me. Just let me use you. Then it’s fair,” he said into my ear. I realized how close his face was to me and turned to face him. For the second time today, I was surprised how far my neck turned. I panicked. WIth no other opportunity present I bit his nose. Just hard enough to scare him, I thought.
  1917. He immediately jumped away and I could breathe again. With just one good breath in my lung I threw myself off the bed. I landed on some old plates and plastic bags.
  1918. I was surprised how quickly my legs worked with the amount of shaking they did. I galloped to his cracked bedroom door but when I went to open it my stupid hoof closed the door shut with a click. I looked at the door knob. There was no way I could open that.
  1919. Sound started registering again in my head just as my attacker wrapped his arms around my middle.
  1920. “Berry! Come on!”
  1921. My back legs went out to kick him away. They met mostly air and stomach but it pushed him back. I reared my back legs up and blindly bucked again.
  1922. I felt something snap behind me and I heard a great topple to the floor. The longest moment of my day happened within that second of silence.
  1923.  
  1924. Nathan started screaming and he didn’t let up. I finally looked back to see what I had done. He was sitting there among clothes and cans and attempting to hold his arm against his body but it looked like his arm had a new spot in it where it bent.
  1925. No. No, that bone was not supposed to bend that way. Even in the low-light I could clearly make out swelling now. I stood there in shock as he continued screaming. How did I break his arm like that with just a kick?
  1926. I saw lights come on outside. Other people in other mobile homes were waking up to the sound of his screaming. Finally my panicking pushed me to action.
  1927. “Nathan! Stop screaming! We’ll call 911!” I stepped toward him to reassure him. He pushed himself away from me. “It’ll be okay! Let’s get your phone!”
  1928. “I’m sorry!” he screamed in between the hoarse calls of pain. “I’m sorry!”
  1929. “It’s okay! It’s okay! Let’s just call the police for you!” I told him. Of course, I prayed they wouldn’t find me here.
  1930. There was a banging on the front door and shouts from outside. The neighbors were coming to investigate what was going on. People were going to come in here to help him. They were going to ask questions and they were going to find me.
  1931. I made my decision then. I couldn’t let them find me the way I was. I had to not get caught or dissected. I had to see my pony friends again and my daughter. So I had to leave Nathan. There was more pounding on the front door. Nathan’s screaming was down to loud, sporadic moans.
  1932. I initially thought I was trapped but my panicked fight-or-flight brain saw a way out. “I’m sorry, Nathan,” I told him as I approached his window and peaked out. The rear of the mobile home was clear.
  1933. “...it’s… o-kay,” he moaned out. “I… I’m sorry…” He looked pale and was shaking. I thought his neighbors were going to break his front door open. I couldn’t wait. I tu rned around and bucked the window. To my relief, it shattered. As easily as…
  1934.  
  1935. I knew I had no time to wait now. I carefully stepped through the window and jumped out. I hit the ground running. Distant screams and shadows danced in the corner of my vision as I ran.
  1936.  
  1937. I could still hear his screaming when I saw the red and blue emergency lights in the distance, it played in my head. The sirens sounded like pained wails.
  1938.  
  1939. My adrenaline was pumping so hard the only reason I wasn’t running at a full gallop was fear of being caught that night. Instead I was taking blocks in sprints at a time. I hid behind trees, parked cars and trash cans. I went a block over when I saw a human walking their dog. The dog had seen me and started barking like crazy. The human fortunately seemed oblivious and annoyed.
  1940. The street Comet’s parents lived on came into view. Beyond the street lights the street was otherwise bathed in shadows. Seeing the coast seemed clear enough I just booked it the last few hundred yards to their yard, up their driveway and onto their porch. I didn’t stop until I knocked on their door.
  1941. Still somewhat in shock I noticed how despite the tremoring I wasn’t the least out of breath. After a few minutes I knocked again with my hoof against the door. For a split second I wondered if they weren’t home. I wondered how else I could get their attention and stood up on my hind legs to ring their door bell as well.
  1942.  
  1943. After what felt like far too long, the porch light came on and a middle aged man with short gray hair and a trimmed goatee tentatively answered the door in sweatpants and an old t-shirt. For some reason I had expected Comet Tail and was thrown off until the face started to register again from nearly a decade ago. I had only met Comet’s parents a handful of times.
  1944. When he saw me he looked relieved. “It’s Connor’s friend,” he called out behind him in a gruff, tired voice. He turned back to me. “It’s Brian, right? Are you alright?”
  1945. I really didn’t know anymore but nodded. He beckoned me inside where an equally aged woman in a bathrobe and a yellow unicorn closer to my size were waiting for me. His clean, light yellow coat was fully nude. His large, tired sapphire eyes were tired and worried.
  1946.  
  1947. It was so good to see a friend I felt safe around. Especially a pony friend. When I saw Comet I broke. I felt guilty for what I had done. I went to him with my head hung low. Without a word Comet Tail sat down on his haunches and embraced me with forelegs. He pet my mane and I cried.
  1948.  
  1949. Chapter 14: Homestead
  1950. It was good to be with my friends again. Even if it was piled on the back seat of Comet’s Civic. Ruby and I shared a seat belt while Comet took the other side. Minuette plopped herself right in the middle of us and was happy to be able to reach everyone else in the car, including Chad who was driving. The passenger windows had sun shades placed over them and the back window had a blanket stuffed in front of it. It was a reasonable precaution, but I couldn’t help think Chad looked lonely up there being made to drive us around.
  1951. Ruby’s leg stayed curled around mine for a long time on the drive. It might have been to help control the slight tremors in my own legs but I think she needed it for support too. She spent a lot of time squirming like a small dog in a car. She said it was because she was getting motion-sick. There wasn’t much we could do about it but Minuette jokingly offered to barf with her if she did get sick so that she wouldn’t feel so bad for being the only one.
  1952. Chad and Minuette had come and picked Comet and me up first, seeing as it was Comet’s car he was driving. The two had offered us to swing back and pick up my stuff at Nathan’s but I declined. As much as I wanted one of those cigarettes that morning, I didn’t know if Nathan would be home or if it would even be safe to go back there right now. Comet’s dad couldn’t offer me as much as a glass of wine that morning either, being the staunch clergyman he was, so I just did my best to ignore the shaking in my hooves. At least, despite how cramped the back seat was, the air conditioning was helping my symptoms too.
  1953. I did my best to keep myself composed while we stopped at my mom’s house. I wanted to look strong in front of her as well as be strong for Ruby. Chad had gone to the door and came back with Ruby’s stuff. Meanwhile Mom carried little Ruby out. Anyone looking outside at us would probably mistake her for a bigger version of that Fluttershy plush sticking out of her bag.
  1954. When Mom sat Ruby down in the back seat with me I couldn’t hide my happiness to see Ruby again. She expressed equal enthusiasm that I was okay as well, knowing ‘something’ had happened with Nathan, and hugged me tightly. The shivering escaped me with her in my embrace but when I looked back up at that old woman I steeled myself again.
  1955. Mom had nothing to say to me, only making sure Ruby had everything, asking one last time if she was sure she wanted to go with us and then kissing my little filly on the top of her muzzle before relenting. Carrot Top refused to let Mom come as well. She wanted ‘no humans’ to come. Apparently she had to be convinced to even allow Chad. One of the arguments probably being we needed someone to drive us.
  1956.  
  1957. Once we got going Ruby tried to show us her progress with ‘magic’. She gestured to the pocket watch from Minuette she took to wearing like a necklace and seemed to concentrate. Something around her horn seemed to catch the sunlight just right and shimmer. The second hand of the watch seemed to stop intermittently but when she let up I saw the watch didn’t quite tick consistently regardless.
  1958. “I’m sorry, Minnie, I think I messed it up from constantly trying to stop it,” she admitted.
  1959. “Psha! Don’t be sorry! That thing is probably getting more use now than it has in the last sixty years,” Minuette brushed it off. “Besides, when you think you got a handle on it, you have to show us how to do it too!” I smiled and agreed. If my friends' horns did much, Ruby would be the one to figure it out first.
  1960.  
  1961. Besides the watch Ruby wore around her neck, Ruby was naked like the rest of us. My reservations and insecurities from just yesterday seemed silly now. I wondered if maybe it wasn’t so weird now because I was around others naked. With no clothes to break up the color of their coats, I started to really admire just how vibrant my friends were in the daylight.
  1962. It wasn’t just their coats and manes either. I got lost watching Minuette’s large expressive eyes and ears add to her gestures as she recounted trying to find Sunshower Raindrops.
  1963. “...so, it turns out if you ask somepony’s family where they are, eventually their family starts looking too, figures out they’ve been missing and then they calls the police,” Minuette shrugs apologetically with an equally awkward and silly smile stretched across her muzzle. I liked how the end of her muzzle curled up a bit occasionally while she talked.
  1964. “At least you were smart and said you were from her work. If you didn’t have an alibi for calling you would have probably come off the reason she was hiding,” Comet pointed out.
  1965. “Oh. You mean like a drug dealer?” she asked thoughtfully. The way Comet’s ears curled forward told me he seemed a little surprised by that example but he hesitantly agreed. “You know, that reminds me about this time I bought shoes from a drug dealer.” I facehoofed, which kind of hurt, knowing where this was going. “I don’t know what he laced them with but I was tripping all day!”
  1966. A collection of giggles and good-humored groans filled the car. I saw Comet try to hide a shy grin by looking out through the sun shade. Even if he managed to turn away his perked ears told me he was amused one way or another by the pun.
  1967.  
  1968. And of course, I had to bring the reunion down. All of my friends were here. And Chad was here, too. So I finally had a chance to admit to all of them about my attempt to drink myself to death on my birthday. Ruby took to petting my tail to comfort me while I talked and Comet seemed solemn and listened intently. I explained apologetically how quickly the valium went and how much I had been drinking at Nathan’s and how much I got him to drink. I only hinted at what Nathan had wanted to do but I did fully admit to accidentally hurting Nathan and how I escaped.
  1969. Comet interrupted only once there to ask about Nathan again. I insisted he wouldn’t call the police or try to follow us. Nathan was a good person, he was just drunk and lonely. Besides, there was no address to follow us on my phone. While I vouched for Nathan’s character Minuette smiled at me. The world made a bit more sense when she did that. I felt brave and got to my point.
  1970. “...So, Comet, when you asked if friendship could ‘be my higher power’ I agreed but I didn’t think too much about it at the time. But I was thinking about friendship a lot at Nathan’s… probably because I was watching a lot of My Little Pony,” I admitted. I saw Minuette visibly perk up. Before I went on, I pulled my own little pony closer to me and fussed with her mane playfully so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact. “Can you guys forgive me and... help me stop? Help me be... a better pony?”
  1971. “Of course,” Comet replied quickly.
  1972. Minuette added, “you’re always worth forgiving, Berry Punch.”
  1973. “I’ll be there for you, Mom,” Ruby said as she turned to hug me around the middle.
  1974. As I put my hooves around her to hug her back I could tell my hooves were trembling harder now; I was overwhelmed and thought I was going to cry again.
  1975. “Hey Comet, you got the whole show on your laptop, right?” Minuette brought the attention of the car away from me.
  1976. “I do, yeah. But it’s packed up in the back,” Comet gestured to the trunk behind us.
  1977. “That’s fine! We should watch more of the show when we get to Carrot Top’s place and see if we find anything else,” she suggested.
  1978. “That sounds like a good idea,” Ruby chimed in. “I really don’t want to try watching anything right now,” Ruby said, still laying against my barrel. I rubbed her back to try to help with her motion-sickness.
  1979.  
  1980. So it seemed like we were going to watch more My Little Pony when we got there. We weren’t going straight there though. First we had to take a detour in the outskirts of Kansas City to see if we could pick up another pony. The address that Comet Tail had led us to a multi-story apartment building. We pulled into a parking spot off to the side.
  1981. “Joseph Revert should be living on the fourth floor; 4C,” Comet instructed Chad. The rest of us just looked up at the building.
  1982. “So, just knock and if anybody’s home check if they’re a pony?” Chad asked Comet unsure. Comet shrugged.
  1983. “She’s prolly living with a roommate. So she could be hiding out at home easy,” Comet reasoned.
  1984. “Okay. But what if she’s home alone, what do I say to get to come to the door?”
  1985. “Tell her about us. And If I figured out how the face-to-name recall trick works, her name’s Blossomforth. You can use that to get her trust,” Comet offered.
  1986. “Oh. I know that one! She’s white with purple and green hair. And freckles!” Minuette added. Chad thought it over and seemed satisfied with that much.
  1987. “Alright. I’ll give it a shot. Don’t drive off,” Chad teased as he got out of the car and headed for the lobby.
  1988. After a moment of silence Minuette crawled up to the front seat to activate the car’s power locks and quickly crawled back to us. “Now we can’t go anywhere,” Minuette jested, her intent likely to keep others out rather than us in.
  1989. We waited in silence for a long while in anticipation of our potential new pony friend. A conversation topic came to me.
  1990. “So you said you know her? What’s she like? On the show, I mean,” I asked.
  1991. “Well, she’s really flexible! And, uh, she’s a pegasus,” Minuette filled us in. One by one, a thought seemed to occur to all of us and we would all look up the building. We were all looking up at the fourth floor where she apparently lived. All the apartments had balconies.
  1992. “Do you think… “ Minuette said with hesitation, “...she learned how to fly?”
  1993. “If you woke up with wings, wouldn’t you?” Ruby asked rhetorically.
  1994. “Pegasuses are just as big as us though, right?” I clarified. “And their wings are kind of small on the show. Do you really think she could fly?”
  1995. “Pegasi fly with magic, not aerodynamics,” Comet clarified. “It’s the same magic that lets them control the weather.”
  1996. I knew I wasn’t the most graceful person, but I really didn’t think a pony body was built for flight. I was skeptical but wanted to believe.
  1997. “Flight and magic. It sounds like I got the short end of the stick,” I said half-jokingly.
  1998. “Earth ponies have magic too. It lets them be stronger and grow plants better,” Comet tried to make me feel more special.
  1999. “Stronk and a green hoof!” Minuette rephrased.
  2000. “Yeah that still doesn’t really sound fair,” I muttered to my be-horned friends.
  2001. “They’re really strong and can grow things really well!” Minuette doubled down for emphasis. I thought about how I nearly kicked Nathan’s arm off and wondered if that was why it was so easy. So was Berry Punch’s calling to work the land then? While other ponies were supposed to fly? I looked up at the fourth floor balconies hoping for some clue but saw no sign someone left through their balcony. I didn’t think there would be anyway, besides maybe an open balcony door.
  2002.  
  2003. After a long while Chad came out of the building by himself. He shrugged at us on the way back to the car. After an awkward fiddling with the door locks, Minuette let Chad back into the car.
  2004. “Nopony home?” Minuette asked her fiance from the front passenger seat.
  2005. “Someone got to him,” he said with a sigh. He looked over to the blue unicorn next to him and pet her mane. “I asked a neighbor. She says a few nights ago there were a bunch of people in military gear and some really loud explosions. She thinks it was a police raid.”
  2006. “Oh. We... should probably get out of here then,” Comet Tail suggested. We all agreed with the sentiment and left our lead.
  2007.  
  2008. With no reason to stay, we put the Kansas City metropolitan area behind us. We got back onto the interstate and headed south to Creighton. Our path had us crossing smaller and smaller cities until we finally got to our exit. After that, the towns became increasingly smaller and less populated. Creighton’s city limit sign said it had a few hundred but I didn’t know where they were hiding. If I blinked I would have missed their downtown. As we drove further into the country I watched the asphalt below us slowly gain cracks and wear as we went. It was starting to look like nowhere.
  2009. “So, Minnie, Carrot gave you a ride home from urgent care just a few days ago, right? Why is she all the way out here?” I asked. I had a suspicion this was answered in the video call.
  2010. “She was getting supplies from her home. She was trying to get her grandma’s place ready to sell,” Minuette explained.
  2011. “Oh. And while that happened she turned into a pony,” I finished for her. “So, did... her grandma pass?”
  2012. Minuette nodded solemnly. “Yeah. A few months ago. I went with her to the funeral.”
  2013.  
  2014. I took that in quietly as we traveled down the country roads to our destination. It was mostly woods interspersed with large open fields for grazing cattle. I saw Chad look down at his phone several times and start to slow down at a heavily wooded area. With the car slowed down to a crawl he looked around outside. When we saw what he was doing we all looked too.
  2015. “There!” Minuette pointed her hoof further up the road. She had climbed up into the front passenger seat and pointed again. Chad drove forward to see a metal farm gate. There was a green bandana tied around one of the low bars of the gate, apparently an agreed upon sign.
  2016. Chad got out and after a moment figured out how to get the gate pushed open and a nearby rope on a tree to loop around it and hold it in place while he drove through. After which he got back out to close the gate. Apparently according to Carrot’s wishes, he removed the bandana and took the lock hanging behind the gate post and locked it up behind us. He came back and drove us further down the narrow dirt path lined by trees.
  2017.  
  2018. The treeline broke soon after and we were in an opening about an acre in size surrounded by woods on all sides. On the far side of the field dotted with trees was a humble one-story farmhouse with a few solar panels on top and a few additional ones standing freely in front of it. Next to the house was a long wooden shed with faded paint.
  2019. As Chad followed the curve of the dirt path up to the farmhouse, the other half of the farm was on our left. Beyond the low wooden fences and chicken wire was a dense garden of vegetation. There were some bare spots and some plants that looked replanted. There were rows of plants, most of which I didn’t recognize. Some looked like stalks and others looked more like bushes or little trees. On the end of the garden nearest the house was a flower garden and another shed. This shed looked smaller and more utilitarian. I saw the door to the shed was open and next to it was a gardening trolly loaded down with tools, fertilizer and some uprooted plants with white roots.
  2020. Just as we started to pass it, a small yellow head with a straw hat cautiously poked itself past the shed door to look at us. It was unmistakable who it was.
  2021.  
  2022. “There she is!” Minuette said, still in the passenger seat, pointing across Chad’s vision to the pony that had appeared. When she thought Carrot Top saw her she started waving frantically to her.
  2023. Chad took his cue and stopped the car right there, still some distance from the farm house. Chad unbuckled himself first and reached over to open the passenger door for Minuette. Excited as a dog to get out of the car, Minuette pushed the door open and jumped out to run and see her friend.
  2024. Chad got out and opened the back door to let us out as well. Comet slipped out while I turned to Ruby to see how she wanted to get down. It was only two feet but when you weren’t three foot that was a lot. I wordlessly offered my back and Ruby agreed to climb on top of me.
  2025. By the time we got out, Carrot Top had stepped out further and Minuette was hugging her and laughing in relief. As we approached I saw in addition to the straw hat on her head there was some kind of gardening apron tied around her middle and an armband on her lower foreleg holding her phone and various small utensils. Other than her equipment she had ‘gone native’ and wasn’t wearing regular clothes like us either.
  2026.  
  2027. “Welcome to the homestead! It’s so good to finally see some other ponies,” Carrot Top said to all of us after Minuette stopped hugging her. She made a note to look over each of us. I thought her green eyes lingered on me a little longer. Compared to my friends I probably looked like a disheveled, hungover dog.
  2028. “I see you’ve been staying busy!” Minuette teased her old friend.
  2029. “Yeah. I guess I lost track of time,” she said apologetically. She raised her foreleg holding her phone and it briefly came on to show her the time. Apparently pleased, she put her hoof back down. “Did you shut the gate?”
  2030. “I did,” Chad said as he showed her the green bandana.
  2031. “Good. Let me clean up and we can head inside. Lunch is probably ready,” Carrot offered.
  2032. Carrot accepted no protests about lunch as she put her hat and apron up in the garden shed and walked us to her front porch. There was a bucket of water and a rag by the door which she used to wipe the dirt off of each of her hooves. Comet Tail, Minuette and I wordlessly followed suit, not wanting to be rude. Ruby slipped off my back when it was my turn.
  2033. “Ruby, you’re probably fine,” Carrot told her. She then turned to Comet. “So, I guess no Blossomforth?” Comet shook his head.
  2034. “Someone got to her first,” he said. “We think it was a police raid.”
  2035. “Oh no! That’s awful...” Carrot said. As if suddenly remembering something else she looked at me. “I’m glad you’re joining us, Berry Punch, but your friend doesn’t know where we are, right?”
  2036. I shook my head.
  2037. Satisfied with our hooves and our company, Carrot led us into her home. She made no attempt to turn on any lights. From the windows in the living room I made out a couch, an easy chair and a rug all from several decades ago. There were bookcases and family photos covering the available wallspace. There was a brick fireplace on the far wall and hanging above it was a flat screen TV. I noticed I couldn’t make out the distinct electric hum of any idle appliances but there was a soft crackling like a fire, despite the fireplace being unlit.
  2038. What there was though, was a warm, savory smell of food permeating the entire home.
  2039. “This is the living room,” Carrot gestured around us. “We’re off the grid so I’m kind of conservative about the power. There’s not a huge need though, everything is pretty energy-efficient in here. Feel free to turn on lights, just turn them back off when you’re done. The extra power is stored in a battery bank in the crawlspace so we have power at night too.”
  2040. Carrot turned and pointed down the hallway. “Bedroom and bathroom are down there. The water pump and hot water are on a switch. Although if you’re feeling up to it, there’s a compost pile out back,” Carrot said with a slight giggle. Minuette’s laughter joined hers. “And... the kitchen is this way! Let’s plate up!”
  2041.  
  2042. On a black iron stovetop, Carrot Top had a rich tomato and carrot stew, a pie-plate of cornbread and some kind of amazing oatmeal-carrot cookies. From the cooking and the way she ladled out food she displayed a surprising amount of hoof and mouth dexterity. Although she did relent and let Chad help cut and serve the cornbread.
  2043. “I have plenty of food and recipes that aren’t carrots but I figured that’s what you were expecting from me and I didn’t want to disappoint!” she explained with mirth.
  2044. With so many guests, including a little one, she opted for us to all sit and lay on the shaggy rug in the living room. In the late morning light, five ponies and a human ate lunch. I was somewhat surprised my stomach didn’t mind the food. I must have been more hungry than the dull ache suggested.
  2045. Comet Tail asked more about the property and Carrot was happy to share.
  2046. “The shed is where most of the foodstuff is kept. Just about everything is canned or jarred and dated. My grandparents grew or traded most of it. The rest, like all of the grain, they bought. The grains are stored down below in the hidden cool room. I’ll show you that later.”
  2047. “The barn is mostly in disuse but it’s safe. There’s not really any rusting metal and from the looks of the hay in there, I don’t think there’s that many leaks in the roof. With summer coming, ponies could sleep out there no problem. There’s even an old distillery out there if you get interested,” Carrot Top teased me. I frowned and Carrot took notice.
  2048. “I’m… trying to cut back. A lot,” I admitted. Carrot apologized and went on with her breakdown of the property.
  2049. She told us about how her grandparents thought the world as we knew it was going to end a few decades ago and started building the property. Carrot Top said growing up this place was the summer home she wasn’t allowed to tell any of her friends about. When Carrot graduated and moved out, her grandparents decided to retire here.
  2050. “Papa passed a few years ago but Meemaw didn’t want to leave; they built this place together,” she explained while inspecting her cornbread. “When Meemaw passed, my relatives were given a few things but… she left her home to me. And the garden... She kept right on planting as much as they did every year so I would come help her when it came time to plant and prep. The last of what we planted is ready to harvest now though... I was trying to get it all up and prepped before it goes bad.”
  2051. “If you’d like, I’d be happy to help!” Minuette offered. “You’ll have to show me what to do though.”
  2052. We all chimed in as well. Carrot Top smiled humbly at the offers.
  2053. “None of you have to do anything while you’re here. I’m just happy we’re together again,” she insisted. “But if you want, I would love to walk you through the whole harvest process. They would be happy knowing I was passing along what they taught me.”
  2054. Carrot Top was more talkative than I remembered Claudia being. I assumed she had been lonely and was happy to finally have someone to talk to again. Her large green eyes easily telegraphed a follow-up thought before it hesitantly escaped her muzzle.
  2055. “They were good people, you know? My relatives disputed custody of me with them... saying they weren’t fit to raise me because of their crazy beliefs. Papa had been listening to end of the world predictions since 1972,” Carrot Top admitted sheepishly. “They were... eccentric but they eased up a lot as they got older. Like we weren’t supposed to celebrate birthdays but they had me now feeling left out. So, being spoiling grandparents, they started celebrating the date they adopted me instead. They gave me something to look forward to that time of year instead.”
  2056. “So that’s why I thought your birthday was in October,” Minuette pieced together.
  2057. “I didn’t want to steal any attention away from you on your birthday either. When I got older I kept celebrating it like it was out of tradition. And out of respect I guess.”
  2058. “Right. I know you loved them. When I was with you for ‘meemaw’s passing, you told me you learned your love of gardening from them.”
  2059. “My parents did too. But those memories have gotten kind of fuzzy,” she admitted. She looked back at her cutie mark: the three carrots adorning her flank.
  2060. “And of course, then those really old memories started coming back to me and it started to make even more sense. But of course, at first I thought I was going crazy! But then I was in town when I realized others could see the body changes too. One of the good ol’ boys threatened to shoot me! So I came back here and just… hid until I finally figured out what was going on,” She shook her head disapprovingly. “I’m such a silly pony.”
  2061. A phone rang before I could ask her what she meant. I looked around until I spotted Chad pulling one from his pocket. He looked at the contact name.
  2062. “Maggie S?” he read off and looked to Minuette expectantly.
  2063. “DERPY!” came a resounding shout from everyone else in the room.
  2064. “Answer it! Put it on speaker phone!” Minuette instructed excitedly and pointed to a space in the middle of our circle. Chad obeyed and set the phone down. We heard the sound of multiple ponies galloping.
  2065. “H-hello?” came a gentle, panting voice on the other end.
  2066. Minuette approached her phone and said “Derpy! Is that you? It’s me, Minuette! I used to be Monica!”
  2067. “Oh hay! Yeah it’s me. I saw you called. What’s up?” came a cheerful tone on the other end. There was some shouting and a clattering crash of dozens of metal objects hitting the floor.
  2068. “Derpy! Where are you? Are you safe?”
  2069. “Oh, I’ll be fine! I’m with The Doctor!” she said before the blown out sound of an explosion came through the phone. We all stared in shock at the phone until we heard hoof steps again and then flapping.
  2070. “Derpy?” Minuette asked, concerned. “Derpy, are you running from something?”
  2071. “No! I’m flying!” Derpy corrected. “It’s part of the plan! I’m supposed to lure them into the-” Derpy’s said before her voice fell away as the phone apparently clattered to the ground. There was a small, distant ‘oops’ and a sudden, short crunch that ended the call.
  2072. End time: 43 seconds
  2073.  
  2074. We all stared at the phone in a dazed silence for a moment. That broke when Minuette let out a slight giggle.
  2075. “I guess you shouldn’t talk on the phone while flying,” she said. “I think she’ll be okay; She sounded pretty confident about her plan.”
  2076. “Huh. So... I guess we know pegasi can fly now,” I said. Carrot Top looked at me like I said something funny.
  2077. “Of course they can. They could fly in Equestria, why couldn’t they fly here?” she asked.
  2078. “Because... Equestria is a place in a cartoon and physics and stuff don’t really need to apply there?” I suggested. I turned to Comet Tail for someone to back me up. I saw hesitation in his eyes. “I mean, right, ‘magic’ or whatever but, come on…” I looked to Ruby and Minuette who seemed equally as confused as me.
  2079. Carrot Top looked around at our group and something dawned on her.
  2080. “You haven’t all figured it out? The dreams?” she asked. She turned to Comet Tail. “Why didn’t you tell them yet?”
  2081. “I was waiting to do it in person,” Comet Tail explained. “And Berry hasn’t been having any dreams and he hasn’t seen any of the Discord episodes yet.”
  2082. “What is this about?” Ruby asked the group. She placed a hoof onto my foreleg which I responded to by wrapping my leg around her and pulling her close.
  2083. Carrot looked at us warily. Then glanced over to Minuette and Chad with a hint of reluctance.
  2084. “I... think we need to watch a few things after lunch then,” Carrot suggested. “Did any of you bring a copy of the show?”
  2085.  
  2086. Carrot was thankful for everypony and Chad helping her clean up. Which mostly just amounted to washing the plates and bowls and rekindling the stove to keep the stew warm for tonight. The cornbread was finished off and the leftover cookies didn’t survive long after lunch.
  2087. Chad parked the car around the side of the house next to Carrot’s and we brought all of our stuff in. We ended up camping out in the living room again. This time in front of the flat screen. Carrot turning the TV on was the first sign to us that there was indeed electricity in the home. Carrot directed Comet to the episodes she was wanting to show us and to ‘cast’ the video to the TV. The TV picked it up and started playing the first episode she picked out.
  2088. ***
  2089. It was unsettling to see Discord’s face again, even in 2D. From the way everyone else squirmed and looked away from the screen I could tell everyone else felt that way too.
  2090. I had been told Discord was the ‘spirit of disharmony’ but he didn’t do things out of some cosmic obligation to cause disorder but out of glee. He seemed more like an all-powerful, uncaring ‘god’ just trying to amuse himself. Whether he helped create their universe or not, the fabric of it bent to his will like he did.
  2091. The ponies strove to keep harmony, order, around them and yet Discord took that all away in an afternoon. With little effort, even the bearers of the Elements of Harmony saw the world his way and turned on each other.
  2092. After the second part got going I saw just how much Ponyville had changed to his whimsy. I expected him to come off as more malevolent. Instead he just didn’t seem to care about the ponies beyond what amusement they could give him. Like materializing a giant pepper shaker and making me in the cartoon sneeze buildings down like they were cardboard cutouts on a stage.
  2093. When Twilight’s spirit was finally broken and she decided to pack up and leave Ponyville forever, she found Princess Celestia had been sending back her friendship lessons. Since all of her friends were ‘Discorded’ and acting the opposite of their normal character, I took this to mean even Princess Celestia fell to him. That everything and everyone could fall to Discord.
  2094. But that’s not how Twilight took it. Twilight found meaning in the chaos. She read the lessons she wrote to her mentor and they reminded her that there were things worth fighting for. Like friendship.
  2095. One-by-one she reminded her friends what they meant to her. Once they returned to harmony they confronted Discord again. This time they were able to put him back into stone and return the world back to the way it was. There was a big celebration for the return to the status quo.
  2096. But I knew from what my friends told me that he would just get out again. This victory was temporary; this celebration was hollow. Order would fall to chaos again.
  2097.  
  2098. “That climax still gives me goosebumps!” Minuette cheered as she rubbed her forelegs together.
  2099. “It’s one of my favorites too,” Ruby piped up next to me.
  2100. While I quietly wondered if I took away the wrong message, Carrot directed Comet to put on the next episode Discord was in.
  2101.  
  2102. In this one, Discord was redeemed by spending a day or two with Fluttershy. Fluttershy was a doormat the entire time and Discord seemed to take advantage of her kindness. And yet by getting to know her, by the end of it he felt bad for how he treated her. He could have just discorded her and made her enjoy the way he treated her, but instead he apologized. It seemed like what he wanted was the friendship and kindness that she freely gave, not what he could take from her.
  2103. So caring about Fluttershy meant he cared about something beyond his own amusement and he realized if he wanted to not upset Fluttershy he couldn’t harass the rest of ponykind either. This meant Discord was considered ‘good’ now. By the loosest terms.
  2104. “See? He can be a real sweetheart once you get to know him,” said Fluttershy as the last line to the episode. Almost prophetically, all of the other ponies on screen looked reluctant to agree.
  2105.  
  2106. “So they tried to reign in chaos with kindness,” I commented. “Isn’t the definition of chaos to not follow order? Why would he have a morality system? Why would he care?”
  2107. “He was sort of possessive of her,” Ruby admitted. “Like a bad boyfriend.”
  2108. Or an irresponsible kid with a pet. Something to obsess with until he got bored. And then it was back to doing whatever.
  2109.  
  2110. “And that’s okay,” Minuette piped up. “Sometimes someone takes advantage of a kind act. Kindness is knowing that can happen and doing it anyway, giving them the benefit of the doubt. It’s not Fluttershy’s fault he betrayed them.”
  2111. “So did Fluttershy ever have doubts about Discord?” I asked my friends. Minuette seemed to think carefully before answering.
  2112. “No. I think she just always believed that he could care. And then that he did.”
  2113.  
  2114. Without any prompting Comet Tail seemed to know what episode to go to next. He skipped straight to the very last one.
  2115. “Wait,” Carrot Top stopped him. “You’re skipping an important part.”
  2116. “Um… is there another episode with Discord?” Comet asked.
  2117. “Not that. Do you have Equestria Girls?” Carrot asked. Comet frowned at that question. I recognized the name of that. That was the one where they were humans?
  2118. “I don’t,” Comet Tail shook his head. Something seemed to click for him. “Are you... suggesting that actually happened?”
  2119. “I have it!” Minuette piped up. “I can stream it from my phone! Let’s watch it and debate if it’s canon after!”
  2120.  
  2121. Satisfied with that, Carrot asked for Minuette to get everything set up with her phone while she put the kettle on. With Chad’s help with a few finicky login screens and taps, they got the animation starting on the tv. Just a few minutes in, Carrot’s kettle was whistling. With everyone given a mug of hot herbal tea and a straw, I finally got to see what ‘Equestria Girls’ was.
  2122.  
  2123. ***
  2124. Twilight Sparkle: “The crown may be upon your head, Sunset Shimmer, but you cannot wield it, because you do not possess the most powerful magic of all: the magic of friendship!”
  2125. Sunset Shimmer: “No! What’s happening?!
  2126.  
  2127. The Elements of Harmony did their thing and Sunset Shimmer was blasted into a crater, stripped of her demonic and the students were returned to normal.
  2128.  
  2129. Sunset Shimmer: “I-I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't know there was another way.”
  2130. Twilight Sparkle: “The magic of friendship doesn't just exist in Equestria. It's everywhere. You can seek it out, or you can forever be alone. The choice is yours.”
  2131. Sunset Shimmer: “But... But all I've ever done since being here is drive everyone apart. I don't know the first thing about friendship.”
  2132. Twilight Sparkle: “I bet they can teach you.”
  2133. Twilight Sparkle gestured to the human copies of her friends she met on that side of the portal. Then there was the dance, the humans she met promised to take care of Sunset, and then Twilight went home and then she and ponies laughed before the credits started.
  2134.  
  2135. Princess Twilight’s crown ended up on the other side of a portal thanks to a unicorn named Sunset Shimmer. On the other side of the portal was a school full of colorful humans. Sunset Shimmer stole the crown and used it to turn into a demon and mind controlled the school. Twilight Sparkle and alternate universe versions of her friends used the magic of friendship to take the crown back and defeat her.
  2136. “So what do you think?” Carrot asked Comet specifically when the credits rolled.
  2137. “You might be right,” Comet acquiesced. “If there’s a special connection between the human world and the pony world like the movie suggests, it would explain why we ended up here.”
  2138. “Wait, I think I get it,” I interrupted them. “You think Equestria is another world on the other side of a portal?” I asked our host. She smiled and nodded at my understanding. Last week I would have called horseapples but here I was: a walking, talking technicolor horse making horse euphemisms instead of actually cursing.
  2139. I looked down at my forelegs and considered the bottom of my hooves. I only had one other body to go off of, but this one felt too perfect to be some kind of cruel curse. This body was fully functional and after seeing all that Carrot Top could do, I saw that these bodies weren’t that less dexterous than a human’s if you were determined enough. The forms themselves weren’t a curse.
  2140. With all the evidence present, it seemed there was a world out there, reachable by a portal somewhere, that was home to colorful talking ponies and I turned into one. Not only that, but somehow it was documented and turned into a cartoon for children.
  2141. Carrot Top had waited patiently for me to continue while I reflected on my body. When I finally looked up she asked me “And guess how we got into this mess?”
  2142. “Discord,” I stated the obvious answer. Carrot nodded gravely.
  2143. “So he’s really real,” Minuette said from her spot, curled up securely in Chad’s lap. Her voice was strained and defeated. “In the series finale? When he destroyed all of those ponies... All of those ponies that we loved were real people and they died? And now he’s turning humans into those ponies?”
  2144. “No,” Carrot stopped her. “They didn’t die. You’re remembering the series finale wrong. I bet all of us are.” She looked to Comet Tail and gave a ‘go ahead’ nod for the final episode.
  2145.  
  2146. ***
  2147. The series finale played out just like Minuette had told me: Discord had tricked the ponies. Whether he snuck around this entire time to prevent himself from getting put back into stone or not, it didn’t matter. In the end, he played the long con for the same reason he did anything: it brought him joy. He didn’t care about the ponies.
  2148. Twilight’s friends disappeared. Princess Luna disappeared. Princess Celestia was confronted. Discord effortlessly stripped her powers and tossed her weakened body into the fiery abyss that he was responsible for summoning. The same one from my fleeting dreams: the one that the monsters covered in ash came from. But I saw none of those monsters in the show.
  2149. By the time Twilight Sparkle figured out Discord was behind it all it was too late. The final confrontation between them lasted less than thirty seconds. Discord casted a spell, Twilight’s counterspell failed and she disintegrated. Discord laughed and the credits rolled. The series ended.
  2150.  
  2151. There was no cave. There were no ponies fleeing their homes and hiding from the spirit of chaos. There was no shift to less important characters after the mane six disappeared on them and left them feeling hopeless. The series ended with Twilight. And yet we remembered what happened afterwards… somehow.
  2152.  
  2153. The room sat in silence.
  2154.  
  2155. The ‘moral’ at the end seemed dark but consistent to me with Discord’s first appearance: any perceived order was flimsy and was easily washed away. Eventually the status quo gives way to the indifferent forces of chaos. Was it trying to say appreciate what you have before it’s gone? If it all goes away, what’s the point of the experience at all? Was it trying to say the universe was cruel and indifferent?
  2156.  
  2157. “Wow...” Minuette said in disbelief. “This whole time…”
  2158. “What kind of bucked children’s show was this?” I commented. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something stirring: my favorite little pink unicorn.
  2159. I looked at her and she looked up at me with large, absinthe-colored eyes.
  2160. She was hurt. I didn’t know how yet but she was hurt. I immediately pulled her up into my legs and held her. She clung to me tightly and croaked out a vulnerable, “Mom...”
  2161. “Pinchy, what’s wrong?”
  2162. “You’re Mom! You’re my mom!” she choked out. While she had called me that many times by now it usually felt good. This time there was something uncomfortable about it. She believed it. Without any restraint or exception and in horrifying realization.
  2163. While her love and safety filled my life with meaning and I would die for her, at the end of the day, I couldn’t live up to that title. I was a failure. These feelings she had must have just been from Ruby Pinch’s love for her mother confused with the love for her brother.
  2164. “Pinchy…” I rubbed her back to console the starting hiccups. “I’ve only been your mom for like a week.” She shook her head still pressed against my chest.
  2165. “No. You’ve always been my mom. All those drawings. The way you protected and encouraged me. All that time wanting your approval...”
  2166. “You’ve always had my approval. You’re the smartest, most talented pony in the world. But I’m your brother. That’s why I protect you. We’re the same age; we grew up together. Remember?”
  2167. Ruby began to cry in earnest and my heart broke. I felt hot sympathetic tears stream down my own face. What could I do to take away this pain from her?
  2168. “It-it was... a lie!” Ruby made out between sobs. “My-our child-hood wa-was a curse! A-and I d-don’t rem-ember my real one wh-when you... ”
  2169. “Ruby, I’m sorry. I don’t understand...” I said as I rubbed her back and quietly tried to console her.
  2170.  
  2171. “Chad! We’re ponies!” Minuette stated in shock.
  2172. “Uh... yeah? I noticed?” he replied, confused.
  2173. “No! I’ve been a pony this whole time! I’m not human! This is the real me! I’ve only been Monica for twenty-five years!”
  2174. “Monkey, you’re only twenty-five… right? You’re scaring me,” Chad held his fiance and petted her mane.
  2175.  
  2176. “No! It makes sense now!” Minuette claimed, sounding near hysterical. “Twenty-five: Five score divided by four,” Minuette recited. I felt Ruby’s grip tighten around me and her sobs renewed.
  2177. “...your me-memories removed... y-your body... confused!” my filly strained out.
  2178. “For your insolence you must pay...” Comet Tail continued.
  2179. “Cast off to a land far, far away,” Carrot Top added.
  2180.  
  2181. I knew this poem and I knew how the second part went. From a dusty memory, tucked away in a forgotten cellar in my mind I found what I was looking for.
  2182. It was a fermented fairy tale. And In the last drops in the nearly-empty bottle I found the last lines to the poem.
  2183.  
  2184. “I’ve scattered the six, and that’s just the start of my tricks,” I shared. Ruby’s convulsing sobs grew quieter as she listened. I felt everyone’s eyes on me so I continued. “Your mind shall be weak, your outlook bleak. Forgetting everything and living like a fool, you have all lost, now no one can stop my rule."
  2185.  
  2186. It was Discord’s poem: the last thing I heard in Equestria. It was about the mane six, me and everyone I loved.
  2187. The ponies didn’t die, not forever. They were us and we were them.
  2188. This body was my old body: I was a mare. Before and now again. My masculinity was… a lie?
  2189. I felt dizzy at the revelation and if I wasn’t weighed down I would have fallen over.
  2190. Discord took my old life and my memories from it. All I had was a body for it. And my human life had the opposite problem: I remembered a shitty life in a human world that I could no longer participate in. I had nothing I wanted. Just pieces, lies and failures.
  2191. ‘Am I even whole?’ I thought. ‘If Berry can’t remember her life and if Brian was a dream I woke up from then who am I? Am I either? Both? Nothing?’
  2192. I didn’t even have an identity anymore. Discord had taken everything and just left me with pieces that don’t fit together.
  2193.  
  2194. I felt the small bundle in my hooves stir and I looked down at her. Ruby was sobbing in my embrace. The sound of her crying meant she was near and alive. The feeling of her sobs against my chest meant I could hold her and protect her. I hugged her tightly and she clung to me. We fit together.
  2195.  
  2196. I felt a new pair of hooves wrap around us and opened my eyes. Comet Tail was hugging us. Carrot Top and Minuette approached and quickly joined in too. We group hugged. We fit together. I saw it on the show and I felt it now.
  2197.  
  2198. We were ponies and we had friendship.
  2199.  
  2200. My name was Berry Punch... and I was a mother.
  2201.  
  2202. Chapter 15: Can Ponies Even Vomit?
  2203. I thought I was handling sobriety well today. But after we got all of our hugging and crying out of our systems everyone else was feeling better and I was feeling worse. The shakiness I could ignore. The way the sweat stuck to my coat and the dizziness I felt from my racing heart, I couldn’t.
  2204. As soon as Ruby insisted she was okay I got out of that stuffy house and sat outside on the porch waiting to vomit. When I got like this vomiting always made me feel better. At the very least, the heat leaving my body with my lunch would cool me off a little. I needed to vomit. I wanted this feeling of wrongness out of me.
  2205. The vomiting didn’t come. Instead, going from a dark house into the bright spring afternoon brought on a headache. There was so much weakness in my body and I was emotionally exhausted. The light hurt.
  2206. I really wanted a cigarette.
  2207. As I started to wonder if ponies could even vomit, the front door opened. Carrot Top, the pony I least expected, came out with what I least expected: a Mason jar hanging in a towel from her mouth.
  2208. “Hay,” I croaked. She came over and set down the jar.
  2209. “It’s moonshine actually,” she teased coolly. “Comet told me you were going through withdrawal.”
  2210. “Yeah. I’m trying to quit,” I said, eyeing the jar. It seemed to glisten in the daylight.
  2211. “That’s great but you look bad. I don’t want you seizing in front of your daughter. And I can’t exactly call an ambulance if you do either.” She scooted the jar closer to me. This was the Claudia I knew. She could help you and insult you in the same breath. And of course, she wanted everything her way. I’d let her have this. I wanted this anyway.
  2212. “...you’re right,” I relented. I straddled the jar and worked on trying to unscrew the lid with my fore hooves. Carrot stood there and watched me carefully. After some grunts and effort I got it open.
  2213. “How long since your last drink?” she asked as she was undoubtedly getting ready to judge me.
  2214. “Last night. Kind of late,” I said while I got the lid off and raised the jar up to get a sniff. Satisfied it was the drinkable kind of poison, I took a shot’s worth. With Carrot watching and the lack of diluents, there wasn’t much joy in it. The heat did nothing for me but the dryness helped.
  2215. Wait, no.
  2216. No, it didn’t.
  2217. I ran to the edge of the porch and every muscle in my throat, chest and barrel violently seized before I reached it. My legs locked. Reddish-orange sludge projected out of me before I even made it to the end of the porch. The tomato and stomach acid burned everything on the way out and got into my oversized pony nasal cavity. By the time I started dry retching my strength was gone and my legs didn’t want to hold me anymore. I plopped onto my stomach in front of my mess. I was so weak I felt hollow. Finished. Vomiting usually made me feel better; that felt like it nearly killed me. Maybe it should have.
  2218. If I wasn’t ashamed for throwing up onto Carrot’s porch right in front of her I would have just laid down and slept it off right there.
  2219. “Feel any better?” Carrot Top asked.
  2220. “Yeah,” I burped and looked over my shoulder. “You want a shot? It’s pretty smooth.”
  2221. Carrot sighed. “I’ll get some water and we can try again,” Carrot promised as she left me there with my puddle of shame.
  2222. I watched the half-digested clumps of cornbread and vegetables sail across the red lake towards the edge of the porch. There were some distant birds chirping away. My brain latched onto the repetitive chirping. I could really use a cold toilet bowl to press my head against.
  2223. Carrot eventually came back with a bowl of sloshing water clutched in her bite. She sat it down next to me. I could feel the coolness radiating off of it. My throat needed the water so badly I didn’t even hesitate to drink out of a bowl. I stuck my whole muzzle in and drank. I only let up when I finally needed to breath again. Some water got up my nostrils and the coughing was worth the cooling effect in my nasal cavity.
  2224. While I was drinking Carrot Top disappeared from my vision and reappeared when I came back up for air. She held the Mason jar in her hooves and poured some of its contents right onto my remaining water.
  2225. “Drink,” she ordered curtly. Feeling low, I obeyed her again without protest. It wasn’t good as water or moonshine. I gagged a bit but kept it down. In a display of passion Carrot brushed my mane back out of my face.
  2226. “You need to get better, Berry Punch,” she stated simply. “She’s going to need you.”
  2227. “...I know,” I acknowledged without looking up from the bowl. She brushed my mane a bit more with her fetlock.
  2228. “And you know...” she hesitated. “...after all of this is done? We’re all going to need you. We’re going to need everypony to pitch in to rebuild.” At that I looked around at her little farm operation, confused. Turning my neck hurt from my jaw down. Every muscle was sore. I think I even tensed up my legs too hard.
  2229. “Rebuild what?” I asked weakly.
  2230. “Equestria: our home,” she explained simply. I finally looked up at her to try and figure out if that was a joke. It wasn’t.
  2231. “That’s... not our home,” I rasped. “That’s Discord’s home now.” The burning in my throat still lingered: I wondered if I tore something.
  2232. “For now. But not forever. We’ll stop Discord like all the other times. If the Mane Six can get the Elements of Harmony back, they can put him back into stone. Then it’ll be up to us to rebuild.”
  2233. She had to know she was oversimplifying this.
  2234. “Those ponies are probably in the same boat as us though, right? Twilight without her spells. Rainbow Dash without her Sonic Rainboom?” I questioned. Not to mention this hinged on The Elements still existing. And working for the Mane Six. And for Discord being able to be put back into stone.
  2235. “Right. And that’s why they’ll need all our help.”
  2236. I shook my head slowly. This pony was crazy.
  2237. “You’re talking about fighting Discord. You saw what he could do in a day... Equestria might not even exist anymore.”
  2238. “It has to. It’s where we belong,” she insisted.
  2239. “‘Why? ‘Because we’re ponies’?” I glared at her. She nodded as if it was such an obvious fact.
  2240. “What if… we just look like it? That was literally a lifetime ago,” I reminded her. “I don’t remember that place. That’s not my home. Fighting Discord would be stupid. We just learned how to walk again a few days ago.”
  2241. “So... what are you going to do? Just stay here? You’re just... giving up?” she asked me, getting frustrated.
  2242. “On ‘Equestria’?” I clarified hoarsely. Carrot nodded. “My ‘Equestria’ is in there,” I said, gesturing back inside the house. I had Ruby and some friends, friends from both lives. They wanted me here, they brought me here, despite how worthless I was. That was my home, them wanting me. I was fortunate. Far more fortunate than Blossomforth and other ponies who probably ended up just like her.
  2243. Equestria wasn’t real anymore. It would never be again. If it was ever like it was on a little girl’s cartoon show. It was hardly a memory to a lost species that I suddenly learned I was part of. Was it even a complete concept?
  2244. “Don’t you want Ruby safe?” Carrot asked. It was rhetorical but it still made me angry she would ask me that. She was trying to appeal to my emotions and I wasn’t in the mood for it. She started screwing the lid back onto the moonshine jar and packing it back up into the towel. She was clearly done with me. I was done with her too. “There’s only one place safe for us: an Equestria without Discord. We have to try. If you’re not willing to defend what you love, it’ll get taken from you,” Carrot philosophized at me.
  2245. “Assuming you win!” I spat back. Even if we could get there it would be suicide. Of course if we found a way, Carrot would try to convince all of them to go too. She was the organized one. She was the one in control. She would convince them all eventually. She would lead us to our death. I had no control.
  2246. Of course, no one really has any control.
  2247. My thoughts about the finale came floating back to me and before Carrot could leave me I verbalized them: this mare needed a reminder.
  2248. “Yeah, try your best, doesn’t mean anything will happen! The universe isn’t fair. It doesn’t care about you,” I said while my throat burned. I wondered if I had torn something. Carrot Top turned and stared at me, surprised at my yelling.
  2249. “Maybe Discord left! Maybe we’ll show up and all starve on a dead world. Or maybe he’s waiting for us. The smartest mare lasted thirty seconds. I bet the greatest flyer was swatted down. In the end they amounted to nothing. We have no control. We’re nothing and it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters! The only guarantee is we’ll all die eventually so just-” I was cut off from my own coughing. Eventually the tickling in my throat ceased but I took it as a sign to stop myself. I laid my head down.
  2250. I didn’t want to fight and die. I didn’t want to risk what we had for what we lost. We didn’t even remember it. I just wanted to be with my friends for as long as I could. Before entropy took us from each other.
  2251. Carrot looked angry at me, upset even.
  2252. Just as quickly as the anger grew on her face I saw it wash off and get replaced by something more somber. She stepped towards me and brought a hoof out to my head.
  2253. I flinched.
  2254. She gently petted my mane again.
  2255. I expected her to try and convince me again. Tell me I was being pathetic. Tell me I was wrong. I mentally dared her. I watched her emerald eyes for some warning that her fire was coming. I didn’t see it. Instead I just saw her eyes glisten for a while until she finally spoke.
  2256. “I’m sorry,” she said softly while looking into my eyes. “This whole thing is a lot to take in all at once. You need time to heal and process it all. We all do.”
  2257. “I need to sleep,” I croaked to her as I looked away and closed my eyes. She stopped petting me and I heard her take a few hoof steps away then pause.
  2258. “Can you... get up for me first?” she asked. I opened my eyes to look back at her. She gestured to the vomit in front of me. “That’s going to stain.”
  2259. I still felt guilty about throwing up. Without protest, I placed one heavy foreleg under me, then two, then tried pushing. My vision went black for a second but my forelegs held easier than I thought.
  2260. I got one hind leg under me and then the other. Slowly, I lifted up onto four shaking, bent legs spaced evenly apart. I felt nauseous but I didn’t think I had the strength to vomit again.
  2261. Carrot Top got to work immediately. With a pained look, she dragged her full hoof-washing bucket over to me by her teeth and unceremoniously dumped it out across the red puddle. The chunky red paste was washed off the edge of the porch.
  2262. I took a few clumsy steps backwards and fell down onto a dry spot. Carrot Top bit down on the bucket’s handle and carried it back to where it went. Then she hesitated.
  2263. “Thank you,” she said apologetically. “If you want more stew before supper you know where it is,” she gently reminded me. After a beat she pointed at my bowl. “Don’t forget to finish your alcohol.” She went back inside, with the jar of moonshine.
  2264. My stomach hurt, especially after landing on it again. I rolled over onto my side and gave into my new warm spot on the porch. I let the warmth and blackness overtake me.
  2265. The blackness didn’t last long.
  2266. The screen door creaked open. There were footsteps shortly followed with hoofsteps. I lifted my head slightly to see who it was. Minuette had stopped on the porch while Chad stepped off and was heading around the house to where the car was parked. I decided to ask the obvious despite my body’s protests.
  2267. “Going somewhere?”
  2268. She looked at me concerned, not bothering to ask if I felt bad because she could just tell. I wondered if they heard me vomiting and complaining and waited to come out.
  2269. “I was wanting to see my parents. Now that I know what’s going on I want to tell them,” Minuette hesitated before continuing. “I feel like I need to see them,” she explained with a longing look on her face while she stared off at where Chad had gone. She looked like she wanted to follow him but couldn’t. Even in my state I could tell something was going on between them. Something was wrong.
  2270. I rolled onto my sore stomach and examined my friend closer. I was so used to seeing her happy it was clear to me she was bothered, she didn’t even look like the same pony. There was no spring in her gait or the perk to her ears.
  2271. “Are you alright?” I asked her while I laid curled up on the ground. She gave me a more endearing smile than I was expecting.
  2272. “I’ll be okay,” Minuette promised. “Chad and I have a lot to talk about... We had plans, you know? We were going to get married in the fall and... buy a minivan and everything!” A giggle fell out of her mouth at her choice of words. “This was going to be our crazy little adventure and we’d figure it out and everything was going to go back to normal…” Minuette trailed off. “Now that I know I’m the real Minuette though…” She smiled and made a point to look for eavesdroppers before turning back to me. “Don’t tell anyone but... I really like being a pony... I want to stay one,” she stage whispered. She smiled a little bigger sharing her ‘secret’ and I couldn’t help but smile back. She had been taking this in stride and I had assumed it was entirely because she had Chad with her. She was enjoying this though and that made sense.
  2273. “It suits you,” I admitted.
  2274. “It does!” Minuette nodded in agreement. Minuette and I both looked to the sound of the car coming around the house to the front porch. “I’m not sure if it suits us though.”
  2275. “Right,” I acknowledged dumbly. “You’re going to be okay though?”
  2276. “Yes,” she stated matter-of-factly. “Everything will work out one way or another! And whatever way that is they’ll be something positive to find in it. So it’s important to look for it.”
  2277. I looked at her confused. I felt like she was talking more to herself than to me. Her eyes came back to me from wherever she was looking.
  2278. “How are you doing though? You’re a mom! ...again!” she stressed. Putting together what she said about minivans and her emphasis made me think she was almost jealous.
  2279. Oh.
  2280. The only comfort was the knowledge she couldn’t have been pregnant during the transformation: she would have told everyone the good news when we first saw each other again.
  2281. She was waiting for me to answer.
  2282. “Ruby and I’ll be okay. ” I said dismissively. “We’ve always been close. Now we’ll just have different names for each other, I guess. She’s a better adult than me so it’s not like she needs to be raised ...much.” I thought about what she said between sniffles about her ‘lost childhood’ and second guessed my statement a little. “...the weird part is biological. Like I... gave birth to her.”
  2283. I tried imagining a vacancy inside of me where she must have been and it made me feel hollow and vulnerable. The idea of being impregnated made me uncomfortable. How long was pony pregnancy? How painful was birth?
  2284. “The whole... being a mare thing, really. I really thought I was a guy and this is just… I still don’t know what I am.”
  2285. Chad had pulled the car around to just before the porch steps and got out. He waited quietly by the running car, seemingly not wanting to interrupt our conversation. Minuette seemed to search her thoughts quietly until she found a smile to give.
  2286. “What do you want to be?” she asked simply. I gave it a little thought. My immediate response was ‘I don’t know’ so I thought a little longer. My second response was ‘it doesn’t matter’. So I thought about what I didn’t want to be and that gave me something. I didn’t want to be dead, really. But our lives were terrifying now and I was scared what would happen to us. I was scared how helpless we were. But if I had a choice in the matter?
  2287. “I want to be with my friends. And my daughter. I don’t want to be alone. I... want to get better,” I said looking down at the water bowl and then at my hooved legs. “I guess... being ‘the real me’ would be okay too, whatever that is. If it’s something different. But I don’t know what that is or how to do that.”
  2288. Minuette replied by bending over to wrap a hoof around my neck and hug me. I reciprocated by leaning into her fuzzy blue chest. I swear I could smell something minty to her.
  2289. “We can be little ponies together! And we’ll relearn what that means together!” Minuette said enthusiastically as she ruffled my mane up with her hoof.
  2290. “That... doesn’t sound awful,” I conceded. It was better than Carrot’s plan.
  2291. “Great!” She said before turning to Chad, giving him a nod and then turning back to me. “I’ll be back! If you need to talk to anyone before I get back you know the rest of our friends will listen, right?”
  2292. It felt like Minuette found me nearly naked and covered in vomit again. I didn’t feel as good as last time.
  2293. I nodded.
  2294. “Okay. Be a good pony!” Minuette said before she gently booped me right on the end of my muzzle and headed for the car. Chad quietly got the door for her and I watched them leave the way we came in.
  2295. I pulled myself forward and drank more of the water-ethanol mixture down. It really was awful. Not enough cold water and the moonshine had been warm. But I was alone now, and didn’t feel too ashamed to take my ‘medicine’.
  2296. As if on cue, Comet stepped out onto the porch. He held the screen door open and stood in the opening.
  2297. “Ah shoot, we missed her,” Comet said with a bit more indifference than I would have expected.
  2298. Ruby stepped out from under his leg propping the door open. It was the first time I had seen her walk more than a few short steps. It lacked a rhythm like I had gotten down days ago and I noticed her tail wasn’t quite as ‘up’ as mine when I walked; telling me she wasn’t confident in her steps yet. But my daughter was walking. It was mesmerizing.
  2299. Ruby caught me staring at her and she smiled.
  2300. “Mom? Feeling better?” She asked.
  2301. “I-I am,” I croaked out. My throat felt tight like I was going to cry but I really didn’t have the strength in my diaphragm to do that.
  2302. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be my fault she spent her time as a human in a wheelchair. There had been complications during our birth and she was the second out after several grueling hours. Things just… happen. And they’re not fair. And of course, that meant I couldn’t blame that old lady either. But the facts remained I came out first, unscathed, and she didn’t. I often wondered if I was born second, then if our situations would have been reversed. And I often wondered if the woman who birthed us had the same thought. Our daughter deserved better. And I didn’t. At least now she was getting back some of what she lost twenty-five years ago.
  2303. I was going to ask why they were looking for Minuette but my attention came right back to the filly when she shuffled over to me and sat down against me. I immediately slid her against me to hug her and got my hug reciprocated.
  2304. “So, you’re better?” Comet asked while visibly taking notice that the water bucket Carrot used to wash her hooves had been dumped out near me.
  2305. “Yeah, I just… overheated a bit. From all the love,” I said facetiously and rubbed my face against the little pink foal’s. She playfully tried to squirm away but I refused to let her go.
  2306. “Well don’t get started again and puke on me!” she teased.
  2307. I responded by pretending to retch onto her. She giggled and I slackened my smothering grip on her so she could move away a bit. After our little antics were out of us we looked up at Comet who was just standing there amused at us.
  2308. “So,” I gathered my strength for my next words. “What’s going on?” I asked the stallion.
  2309. “Nothin,” Comet Tail said with a dismissive head shake. “I heard Minuette was gonna go see her parents and tell them she’s a pony from another world and Ruby and I almost considered going with them.”
  2310. “And maybe go see yours?” Ruby asked Comet. That was an interesting thought.
  2311. “How do you think they’d take that?” I asked. Comet’s expression soured a bit and he shrugged.
  2312. “Probably pretty well. I think they’d be happy they could say they don’t have a son; they were just raising a stranger.”
  2313. A somber quietness overtook the porch. There was clearly something I was missing.
  2314. “I… never asked how your reunion went, did I?” I realized.
  2315. “It went… okay,” Comet reassured me and himself. “The funny thing is it felt like coming out again: they asked if I could stop it. Asked if I got into drugs. Or if my friends convinced me it was a good idea. Then asked if I prayed for intervention or if I did anything to deserve it. They weren’t angry. Just confused and emotional.”
  2316. He shrugged that off. “They housed me and hoped it would all go away eventually while I tried to figure out why it happened.” Comet gave a tired smile. “... all those similarities made me start to wonder if this was just who I’d always been.”
  2317. My friend from two lifetimes and I smiled at each other. He knew I was there for him still just like he was for me.
  2318. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you didn’t want to tell them,” Ruby spoke up, sounding small.
  2319. “No, it’s fine. I did. A little at first. But I changed my mind,” Comet insisted.
  2320. We fell into silence again and I tried to think how to cheer Comet up. A thought came to mind.
  2321. “You... want to look at some stars later?” I suggested. A smile grew on Comet’s face.
  2322. “Absolutely!” he enthused. After a beat he sat down on his haunches. “Tonight though.”
  2323. Well, obviously.
  2324. “For now, if you don’t mind me asking again: how are you, Berry Punch?”
  2325. I really didn’t want to answer that question. I didn’t want to even think about myself right now.
  2326. “You were pretty... bothered last night and didn’t really talk about how you felt about it,” Comet explained. Oh. He wanted to know about that.
  2327. “I’m fine,” I half-lied. “Nathan and I got drunk and carried away and... we did some things I regret,” I reiterated weakly. For a moment, I thought to not talk about this in front of Pinchy, but reminded myself she’s over twenty-five years old and knows and accepts most of my flaws.
  2328. “Who is Nathan?” Ruby spoke up. “Did I ever meet him?” I didn’t blame her for not remembering him, I barely mentioned him to the rest of my friends.
  2329. “Maybe? I used to smoke with him. He lives over in the trailer park and drives that shitty Fusion,” I tried jogging her memory. She shook her head, not remembering.
  2330. I needed to give Nathan more justice than that then. I gathered my strength and forced my tired chest to work. “He’s a good person, really. Really awkward but good. He likes ponies. Works hard. Good host. We just got drunk and… messed around. I regret it now. I told him the next day that was a one time thing and he seemed okay with it. Then his dealer came over and I think he got into his head.”
  2331. I sighed but made myself continue. I needed to get to the end.
  2332. “He wanted to do it again and just about got it. He was drunk and really sad and...” I would have been negligent to stop there. “And... I accidentally broke his arm to get away. Then… people heard him screaming and called the cops. So I ran away.”
  2333. My foal hugged me tighter. It was a terrible story of a terrible night. I hugged her back. My slight muscle tremor from vomiting probably made me seem more upset than I was. I was just disappointed and sad we hurt each other.
  2334. “So,” Comet started what sounded like a delicate question. “Why did you agree to have sex the first time?”
  2335. “I was stupid. And horny. And drunk. I... kind of feel like a whore about it now,” I came clean.
  2336. “Mom! You’re not a whore!” Ruby turned to face me quickly, yanking my tail a little in the process. “It was just a mistake; a learning experience!”
  2337. “I know, I know,” I relented to the filly. I was probably being hard on myself.
  2338. “So… do you think you would have done it if you were sober?” Comet interrogated. I assumed it was a leading question to get me to denounce alcohol.
  2339. “Definitely not. I’m not attracted to men,” I said without thinking about my wording. Comet acted like he found what he was looking for.
  2340. “That’s what I was wondering about actually,” Comet conceded. “I’d known you for over a decade.” Comet stopped and smiled at his own wording. “Well, I’d known you as Brian for over a decade. You never seemed bicurious or nothing. You knew you could’ve opened up to me and I wouldn’t've judged you about any of it just like you didn’t judge me. But all the times we drank together you never did anything you regretted with me - not that I wanted to, I don’t think of you like that- but... I’ve noticed changes in your behavior since we started changing back and it got me wondering. Are you... now...” Comet stopped to reform his question carefully. “Berry Punch, are you attracted to stallions?”
  2341. I felt myself blush and my tail pull back to cower between my hind legs. I knew the answer and it was written on my face. All the way from how my ears flopped to the crinkle at the end of my muzzle. I nodded somewhat shamefully to my stallion friend.
  2342. “Huh,” Comet said, more intrigued than surprised. “I can’t say mine’s changed any, but there ain’t exactly been a ton of stallions around to test that.”
  2343. That surprised me. I thought we were really affectionate in my ‘dream’. Either he was mistaken or worse, I was disgustingly promiscuous when I drank and my friend tolerated my unwanted advances. I was too scared of what might be the truth to ask for it.
  2344. He looked down to little Ruby. “I don’t suppose you feel any different?”
  2345. “I haven’t given it any thought. But I’ve only been around you guys since this started,” my little filly replied and gave a shrug. I didn’t think she had that many boyfriends when we were growing up together either though.
  2346. Comet put a hoof to his chin and thought out loud. “This might be some classic nature vs nurture stuff. Or two natures and nurtures, I guess. Or something to do with hormones and subtle brain changes or-” The Professor stopped himself. Comet’s eyes fell back to me. “Actually, I didn’t even ask. Are you still attracted to human women? What about mares?”
  2347. I didn’t like such a fundamental aspect of myself being the center of discussion, but I answered for his apparent scientific curiosity.
  2348. “I’m not sure about mares but I think I still like women. But I feel a little… inept for that now.”
  2349. “You know you don’t need a penis to please a woman,” Comet needlessly reminded me. At the mention of ‘penis’ I couldn't help but steal a look at his sheath and balls sitting out in plain view before looking away immediately.
  2350. “I’m aware of that. I wasn’t that selfish as a guy.”
  2351. “I’m sure you weren’t,” Ruby butted in, “but, we’re not going to get into details about this, right?” Ruby stopped me just in case I was going to get started. “I don’t really want to hear about my mom or my friends having sex.”
  2352. “Right, we won’t,” Comet promised. “But there’s still another side to this I’m curious about now. There’s like a basis to sexuality in how we see our role in our relationships: our identity. So I’m kinda curious if you feel any different about that now too.” Comet dropped the academic tone and put on a different one.
  2353. “I promised I’d respect your gender identity and that’s still true. How should I see you? Has that grown any like your sexuality?”
  2354. Ruby turned to look up at me, curious about my answer.
  2355. “I don't know,” I answered, feeling a little dismissive to the question. Was I anything?
  2356. “That’s okay. How do you feel about they/them?” Comet suggested. I shook my head.
  2357. “No. That doesn’t sound right to me,” I explained. “I guess he/him is still fine? That’s how you know me.”
  2358. “If that’s okay I’ll still use it,” Comet said with a nod. “How does she/her sound to you though?”
  2359. “...I don’t know,” I hesitated. I knew Comet was only asking to make sure I was considering it. Nathan and his acquaintances ignored my wishes and called me that. But the disrespect I felt from them blatantly ignoring me and how they didn’t treat me human was what really made me uncomfortable.
  2360. My masculinity was a lie apparently but I didn’t feel like I was all that feminine. I started to wonder if I was still masculine or if I had ever found out what it takes to be a man. It wasn’t like I had a role model for it.
  2361. I wondered if pronouns even mattered. If it was how others saw me, I wasn’t sure if I even had a say in that. People were going to see me how they wanted anyway. Everyone was going to end up using certain words regardless, I knew what I looked like.
  2362. I looked down at my little ruby and she looked back up at me with those precious yellow-green eyes. I suppose that pronoun choice might please one person at least. One important person.
  2363. “I’m ‘Mom’, right?” I asked for her input. She smiled at that and nodded.
  2364. “Unless you want to be ‘Dad’,” she teased me a little too quickly. An immediate look of terror struck her across the face. “I-I didn’t mean it like that! I’m sorry!”
  2365. “I know, I know. It’s okay,” I calmed her. I wasn’t anything like Dad. Except in the ways that I was.
  2366. I rubbed my tired face into her mane to soothe any fear I was upset. When I breathed in I noticed her hair smelled a bit like rain somehow. It was my new favorite smell.
  2367. For her sake, I knew what I wanted: whatever she wanted. It didn’t really matter how I felt. Conveniently, what she wanted was also what everyone would eventually be calling me anyway. I pulled away from her head and looked towards Comet.
  2368. “Yeah. Let’s try out she/her,” I finally relented. Comet nodded.
  2369. “Alright. Miss Berry Punch,” he tried out the change. It didn’t sound wrong to me, just different. That seemed like a good start. I snuck a glance down at Ruby to see how she felt about it. She had no strong reaction to it either.
  2370. There was a lull in the conversation and I desperately wanted the topic off of me.
  2371. “So, what about you then?” I asked my little gem. She looked confused. “New look, new you. Do you want to be a ‘Mr. Pinchy’?”
  2372. She made the cutest snort.
  2373. “I’m okay,” she assured me. “Thank you though.”
  2374. “If you say so. You can be my daughter then,” I told her. I lifted a leadened hoof around her and kissed her on the cheek. She nuzzled me back. She barely avoided making me a pirate with that horn of hers.
  2375. “Is there anything you want to do today?” I asked her, thinking back to what she said about her lost childhood. With how I felt I hoped she was going to suggest ‘take a nap’.
  2376. She looked over at Comet then back at me. “Comet and I were thinking if all of us unicorns put together what we can remember, maybe we could figure out how to use telekinesis?”
  2377. I nodded. That made sense. “But Minnie’s going to be gone for a while.”
  2378. “Yeah…” Ruby sighed. “When she gets back I want us to watch the second Equestria Girls movie together too; see if there’s any hints about magic working differently on Earth.”
  2379. I was surprised to hear there was a second movie. That sounded important. Or at least, interesting. I nodded in agreement.
  2380. “Hopefully that one’s even less accurate. I couldn’t play an instrument even with hands,” Comet quipped. Before I could ask what he was talking about we all heard a slithering sound coming from beyond the porch and turned to see what it was.
  2381. Carrot Top came around the side of the house wearing her straw hat and gardening apron again. Clutched in her teeth was one end of a garden hose that was getting dragged along behind her, the slithering sound. She trotted up the steps nonchalantly and dropped the end into her empty hoof-washing bucket. She seemed satisfied with that and turned to look up at her staring guests.
  2382. “Just refilling the washing station before I get back to it; you don’t want to try cleaning up with muddy hooves,” she explained.
  2383. “Do you need any help with that?” Ruby offered. Carrot seemed to think for a moment.
  2384. “I suppose you can make sure the hose stays in while I pump?”
  2385. “Oh. Okay!” Ruby said as she pulled herself out from under my leg and got up onto all fours. She did about as good of a job as I did earlier. She did her little shuffle over to Carrot to hold the hose. “Can I help more after that though?”
  2386. “Oh. Of course! We’ll walk through the whole canning process today if you want,” Carrot promised. Ruby's tail swished a bit in anticipation.
  2387. “That sounds interesting,” Comet perked up before he stood up and joined them.
  2388. “Great!” Carrot cheered. She looked away from her gathered volunteers over at me, right where she left me. “Berry? How are you feeling?”
  2389. “A little better,” I exaggerated. I drank from that bowl of disappointment one more time to appease Carrot and my slight tremor. “I’m good though. I'm going to try grabbing a nap." I rolled over onto my side to do so. "Wake me up for the movie," I said with a yawn.
  2390. If Carrot had expected any more or less from me she did a good job hiding it. They left me be, alone behind my eyelids.
  2391. Chapter 16: Shine Together
  2392. Mercifully, there were no dreams. I must have been extremely tired though, because I didn’t even remember any blackness, there was just an immediate loss of time. As if my little filly had just walked back over to me and nudged me awake. The sky looked darker, like it was late afternoon and I spotted Minuette standing behind her. Time had passed. The soreness was replaced with stiffness and a heavy numbness like I was one big bruise now. The tiny pink unicorn asked me if I wanted to watch cartoons though. I couldn’t say no to that.
  2393.  
  2394. Stiffly I got up and followed into the house in a lightheaded daze. Ruby was excitedly explaining to me and Minuette canning and where the food was stored. I was listening to the sound of her voice excitedly rise and fall more than her actual words.
  2395. “You wouldn’t even know it if you were looking right at it! Carrot says it’s designed that way in case you have to hide from people. And the way the air and water comes in and the way it’s stocked with supplies it even functions as a fallout shelter!”
  2396. “Meemaw and Papa were worried the bombs were going to fall,” Carrot explained shyly. “It made sense to build the shelter around the cool room. Although realistically I’m pretty sure you’d go stir-crazy down there.”
  2397. “There’s so much food though!” Ruby defended the grandeur of this bunker to us. Carrot shook her head as we stopped in the living room.
  2398. “It only looks like a lot lined up like that. I remember us rotating through the food. Nothing was ever more than a year or two old and there were only three of us. It would have taken a lot of effort to regrow after the bombs fell. All the topsoil in the garden would get thrown out. The fruit off the trees wouldn’t be safe to eat for a long time. If ever.”
  2399. There was a depressed silence.
  2400. “Sorry. I thought about this a lot growing up,” Carrot remarked embarrassed and rubbing the back of her hoof.
  2401. “You’re fine!” Minuette waved it off. “Hey! Speaking of thinking a lot, how about those ponies?”
  2402. I didn’t understand the segue but I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to.
  2403. “You mean Rainbow Rocks?” Comet corrected.
  2404. “Yeah, that! I’ll put it on,” Minuette volunteered as she walked over to where she left her phone and stared down at it. “Um. Hey, Carrot, can I borrow your stylus?”
  2405. It was at that point I realized who was missing. I looked around to confirm it.
  2406. “Where’s Chad?” I asked the room.
  2407. “He headed home. He needed some time to think,” Minuette offered an explanation to me as Carrot offered her her leg brace. Minuette bit down awkwardly on the stylus and pulled it from its sleeve. With it out I noticed it looked homemade. Like someone had stuck a tiny, crude bit of sponge into the end of a metal pen.
  2408. “I’ll put some tea on,” Carrot volunteered as she walked towards the kitchen. “Berry? Would you come help me?”
  2409. It felt like everyone was looking at me. I didn’t know what she wanted but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I stood and followed her in.
  2410. The kitchen wasn’t all that big. Against the far wall a series of small buckets lined the wall filled with various grains and dried goods. There used to be shelves of spices and canned goods on the wall but those shelves were leaning against the corner now and their contents stacked in front of them, some dented and dinged. There was a metal ice box behind me but I wasn’t sure how it worked or if it did at all.
  2411. “Would you put a few logs into the stove?” she pointed towards the stove and the chopped firewood sitting next to it. Wordlessly I went about it while she mouthed a pot’s handle and stood up onto her hind legs at the sink. She worked a hand pump while I carefully dragged some logs off the stack and pushed some into the stove. I wondered how long those logs would last. I wondered how many she had stockpiled and how a pony could chop wood.
  2412. Careful not to burn herself she sat the smaller pot in front of the leftover stew. She turned to look at me, inches from my face.
  2413. “Do you want anything, other than tea?” Carrot asked me softly.
  2414. “A cigarette?” I asked, knowing what she really meant. She frowned at me.
  2415. “I don’t have any tobacco. But I’m going to go grab some applesauce and a few other things. Did you want any moonshine?” she asked again.
  2416. I was feeling bad but not exceptionally. My body just felt heavy and dull. I could feel my heartbeat at the bottom of my hooves. I don’t think ponies were supposed to vomit.
  2417. “...yeah,” I vaguely accepted her offer. Carrot nodded.
  2418. “Watch the water for me,” she said stepping towards the backdoor. She then turned and raised her voice to the living room. “Do you ponies want chocolate or peanut butter??”
  2419. “Both!” came back an excited adult mare’s voice. Carrot shook her head, realizing she shouldn’t have bothered asking.
  2420. “‘Both’ is fine,” came a filly a second later.
  2421. “Yeah,” a stallion added passively. “...what is this for?”
  2422.  
  2423. ***
  2424. Applejack: Sure wish you could stay longer.
  2425. Twilight Sparkle: Me too. But I have responsibilities in Equestria that I have to get back to. Its citizens need me. But now I can go through the portal whenever I need to. This isn't goodbye. It's just goodbye 'til next time. Ready?
  2426. Spike: Ready!
  2427.  
  2428. Sunset Shimmer seemed to turn her life around in Rainbow Rocks. She seemed apologetic like a good children’s villain at the end of the first movie. In this one, the school still hated her and her only friends were the people Twilight told to befriend her. They didn’t really seem to believe in her but they were nice to her. She wanted to prove she changed though. The movie’s subplot was about her.
  2429. The use of Equestrian magic at the end of the first movie got the attention of some immortal teenage sirens exiled in our world. They used their voices and magical amulets to turn the student body on itself and fall in love with them so they could root out the source of the Equestrian magic and take it for themselves.
  2430. Meanwhile, the humans who befriended Twilight in the first movie ‘ponied up’ and gained ears and tails whenever they played music now. Something to do with direct exposure to Equestrian magic, something that didn’t exist in our world until then apparently. They didn’t understand why it happened specifically when playing music though.
  2431. So naturally, it was a musical. It ended with two ‘bands’ battling with the student body between them. The good guys played a song human Fluttershy wrote on a hill overlooking the stage while the sirens were singing high and hypnotic pop-rock notes. The sirens’ sheer vocal power, powered up from stealing emotions from the students, overpowered the humans.
  2432. Then Sunset, not participating in the band until now, took up the microphone. The DJ gave her a beat and she started singing some kind of uniting song. Twilight joined in. Then the whole band. Then the whole school. Sunset Shimmer ‘ponied up’ with ears and tails like the rest of the good guys had been doing and then some kind of giant rainbow alicorn made of light came from their magic and crippled the sirens’ magic and singing voices. The defeated sirens ran off, cursed to be regular humans.
  2433. I wondered if there were actually other magical creatures on Earth like them. Or magical artifacts like their amulets. If this movie happened because a little bit of Equestrian magic was used on Earth, what would happen now with all the magical ponies appearing?
  2434.  
  2435. Sunset Shimmer: [voiceover] Dear Princess Twilight,
  2436. Missing you already, and I hope you'll be back soon. Things are definitely looking up for me here at Canterlot High. But I know I still have a lot to learn about friendship. Hope you don't mind if I write to you for advice when I need it.
  2437. Your friend, Sunset Shimmer.
  2438. Rainbow Dash: You ready or what?
  2439. Sunset Shimmer: Ready!
  2440. Pinkie Pie: One! Two! Three! Four!
  2441.  
  2442. The credits started but nobody made an effort to get up or stop the movie. There was another song playing and it was beautiful. It was about how when with our friends we shined like rainbows. We all listened in silence. Minuette didn’t even finish the chocolate peanut butter cookie pie slice sticking out of her mouth.
  2443. I wondered if Sunset Shimmer was still out there somewhere. Maybe she was behind the show. If she didn’t get caught up in the “Five Score” curse and lived out her life as a human she’d probably be in her forties now. She had seemed content to give up her old life and her old body and stay on this side of the portal as a human because she had friends. They made her into a better person and she was happy with them. Nothing was more important to her than the bonds she made. It hurt how relevant that was to me now.
  2444. Ruby looked up at me and smiled. Then wrapped herself around me and nuzzled into my chest. “It’s okay, Mom,” Ruby consoled me. I didn’t even realize I had been tearing up.
  2445.  
  2446. The conversation on Rainbow Rocks and the nature of Equestria Girls lasted for hours. We had no way to know where it took place, besides near a school. Maybe. We didn't know how accurate it was, considering twenty-five years ago cell phones weren’t a huge thing, humans didn’t come in those colors or those names and it would take a conspiracy to cover up what apparently happened. But we had information, a lot of information, and no way to find the exact line between fact and fiction. Ruby was especially interested in figuring out the nature of Equestrian magic and if the way it worked for the humans in the movie gave any hints to how it worked for ponies.
  2447. Eventually we had more carrot stew and it started to get dark. Since we were going to have to turn on some lights or burn some candles anyway, Comet Tail suggested a change of scenery and everyone liked the idea.
  2448.  
  2449. It felt like a long time since I had looked up just for the sake of stargazing. It was a perfect, clear night for it. We all sat out on a blanket Carrot provided. A dimmed electric lantern sat nearby so that we didn’t trip over each other.
  2450. I wasn’t sure if it was our larger eyes or just because Carrot’s homestead was in the middle of nowhere but the sky was absolutely speckled with stars tonight. It looked even better than what I remembered from Comet’s favorite spot outside Lawson.
  2451. When we got out there Comet quizzed me on what I remembered. It was easy to explain where the North Star was at our latitude. And from there, you had the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major and could orientate the rest. I got a little lost among all the new stars trying to draw out the Herdsman though. Well, I had the essentials down at least. Comet was happy to point out a few more then went about setting his telescope up for some planets.
  2452. Ruby started talking more about her theory on magic.
  2453. “So... music is magic?” Comet summarized what Ruby had said while he tried to carefully adjust the focus knob on his telescope with hooves.
  2454. “Wait, no, I thought friendship was magic?” I butted in. Minuette snickered next to me.
  2455. “That just means friendship is music,” Minuette transposed. I heard a bit of stifled laughter, this time from Carrot. The long conversation was finally getting to us. Carrot cleared her throat politely and ‘hmm’ed.
  2456. “If that’s true, then when we ‘face the music’... is it like we’re seeing an old friend again?” Carrot pondered, not sounding entirely serious.
  2457. “Just as a metaphor,” Ruby said with a sigh, slightly annoyed at our antics. She was still deeply invested into this conversation. “Like the way music rhymes. You know how you can expect part of a song’s melody from the parts before it? You're expecting to hear something and then it happens. And then there’s a rhythm and tempo to it. That’s like a sine wave, like it’s a form of energy. And then you’re applying meaning on top of that energy, like lyrics or other instruments, like you’re encoding a message onto the wave.”
  2458. “...Ruby, I love you... and I’m listening... but honest question, did you ever smoke weed and not tell me?” I asked, feeling like this thinking sounded familiar.
  2459. “What? No!”
  2460. “...alright, that’s Venus,” Comet announced looking up from the telescope satisfied. He pointed out towards the west horizon. “You got Mercury right above it too.”
  2461. Carrot Top, standing next to him, took the first peek. She looked down into the eyepiece for a moment then looked up with her naked eyes to where the planets were.
  2462. “Huh. You’d think they were just stars,” Carrot said appreciatively.
  2463. “You would but they’re so much closer,” Comet said longingly. “Do you know what the word ‘planet’ means?”
  2464. “Wanderer,” Carrot answered.
  2465. “Right. And that’s how they got our attention back in the day, because they didn’t move with the rest of the stars through the seasons, they appear to move in a spiral, because we move around the sun with them at different distances.”
  2466. Comet was in ‘professor mode’. I had heard all of this before, multiple times: it was like a familiar song and it was usually therapeutic to hear. Looking up at all the stars that night though I couldn't help but feel small. Those stars were there before I got here and they would be there when I left. And It didn't matter how close any of it was when I couldn't ever reach them.
  2467. There was something going on closer though, Ruby was still explaining her magic theory to Minuette and me.
  2468. “...all doing a different part, is harmony. That’s why when they played together, they could tap into harmony magic. The Equestrian magic now in them manifested during songs the way it normally manifests when a spell is cast. But there aren’t instructions for the magic in a song like there is in a spell to it, so it just kind of… gave off magical radiation. Like the filament in a light bulb.”
  2469. “Huh,” Minuette nodded, trying to take it all in.
  2470. “Minuette? Did you want to look?” Carrot asked. Minuette nodded emphatically and got up to look in the telescope. Carrot took her place on the blanket.
  2471. “And you... read this in your last memory in Equestria?” I asked my little scholar. I think I figured out the parts I zoned out on.
  2472. “No. I was trying to cast a spell I never did before and I was trying to remember the fundamentals I read about in magic kindergarten. But I didn’t really understand the context of the explanation anymore. Not until I saw them playing music in Rainbow Rocks. It was about rhythm and instinct from muscle memory like when playing music.”
  2473. “So... does that help? Did you figure it out?”
  2474. “Maybe. But the only spell I remember the ‘melody’ to was the one I couldn’t cast, a magic beam. And I only remember fumbling over it. I... think all I’ve been doing the past few days is bashing keys,” she grumbled and tried to look down at the broken pocket watch around her neck.
  2475. “I think I remember the ‘melody’ or whatever to telekinesis,” Comet said as he entered the conversation. “I knew a couple of spells back then. Telekinesis felt like, if I had to put it into words… ‘It is familiar. You feel the edges of it. It is a part of you. You can feel the joints connecting it to you and.. you move it along that axis…’. if that makes any sense.”
  2476. “A little,” Ruby said, nodded contemplatively.
  2477. “That’s cool,” Minuette said to seemingly nothing in particular. She walked back over to the blanket. “Pinchy? Did you want a go?” She gestured to the telescope.
  2478. Ruby nodded, stood up and walked over to it. She was bending and lifting her back legs more now but there was still an odd fumble here and there when she tried to step with the wrong leg or too fast. Still though, my little unicorn was walking more confidently than even this morning. It made me wonder how much that old lady had been coddling her while I was at Nathan’s.
  2479. “Um,” Ruby mumbled and looked back over at us. “Comet Tail? A little help?” Ruby gestured to the height of the eyepiece, it was above her eye level.
  2480. “Shoot! Sorry,” Comet apologized and trotted over to mess with the tripod legs. They were already as low as they went. “Rubes, bring the light over?”
  2481. I watched Ruby walk over to the lantern next to Carrot and bite down on the handle. As she was walking it back to the telescope though, she suddenly stopped and sat it down. Then sat down in front of it and lifted it up in her hooves to look at it, like she suddenly noticed something new about it.
  2482. From nowhere, an eerie yellow-green light grew into existence right above Ruby’s head. Everyone else turned to look at the sudden light but Ruby ignored it and continued to stare at the lantern.
  2483. “Get away from that!” I shouted at her. I stood up but before I could pull her away the intensity of the light magnified over and over.
  2484. We were awash in a green daylight. Our long shadows stretched out to the now clearly visible treeline. Then at its brightest there was a sound of glass exploding and we were dumped into pitch blackness.
  2485. “Ruby??” I fumbled towards where I last saw her and tripped over something soft and fluffy. Minuette started screaming and kicking from underneath me. Something tackled me to the ground from the side and pinned me. It had hooves. She had hooves. “Carrot Top?”
  2486. “Berry Punch,” she acknowledged from on top of me and felt around my chest for my neck, then my muzzle. When she found my mouth I felt her hoof recede then come back for one gentle poke.
  2487. “Minuette,” she called out her own name. “Sorry... I thought you were abducting me.”
  2488. “Ruby? Comet?” I asked while my eyes readjusted from the light. I could start to make out Carrot’s outline then the stars behind her.
  2489. Gentler this time, that green glow came back and we could see again. We all turned to look at it. Ruby stood right under it. Then I realized it was actually touching her. It was her horn. Her horn was glowing. We stared in awe.
  2490. “It has a resonance!” she declared with a proud smile.
  2491. ***
  2492. It understandably turned into a very late night.
  2493.  
  2494. Being a dirt horse who didn’t take high school physics or music theory, it mostly all went over my hornless head. It was fascinating to watch though. We moved indoors and Carrot sat out some candles and a second battery-powered lantern. The lantern was understably tucked away safely in the corner, away from the unicorns relearning ‘how to magic’ from their smallest member.
  2495. Comet Tail was the second to relearn how to ignite his horn. His magic glowed a blue. Which started a short-lived and discredited theory that Minuette’s would be blue too based on eye color. Hers was a golden color.
  2496. Once they each had a new flashlight, they started trying to move objects with them. It was apparently a little more complicated than just ‘willing’ it over, otherwise you might accidentally move things. They discussed Ruby’s theory about confidence and muscle memory and figured familiar objects would be easier and require less effort.
  2497. With this theory, Comet Tail walked over to his telescope case and smiled down at its latches. They glowed when his horn glowed. And then flipped open. He even managed to swing the case lid open after dropping it a few times.
  2498. Minuette figured it out with a cookie. She said it was something about the anticipation and the expected joy. Ruby tried to explain that that was similar to the melody and cause-effect nature of it.
  2499. Surprising us all, Ruby had the most trouble. We tried pencils, clothes, her pocket watch, her Fluttershy plushie, rocks, scissors, cookies, Comet’s telescope, the broken lantern, I volunteered myself, and, after some persuasion, the working lantern was tried. She couldn’t seem to do the ‘spell’.
  2500. We asked if it was her age. She claimed it was a confidence and rhythm issue.
  2501. “I know you’ll get it. You’re a genius! You’re the one who figured it out,” I reminded her. She nodded quietly, but was starting to look tired and contemplative. I wondered how early her bedtime was supposed to be. She really wanted to get this.
  2502. Yet the most she did was put a fleeting glimmer on an object that quickly sputtered out. While Comet Tail and Minuette were pushing and pulling things over and picking them in their magical grasps, Ruby was struggling to get a grip. She tried a metronome phone app. Then something that made awful noise pitches in specific frequencies. Then we tried playing pony songs.
  2503. After another hour of frustration and seeing her friends get it, Ruby finally gave up. I rarely saw her do that. She said the doubt and exhaustion was doing more harm than good at that point. She wanted to go to bed and would try again in the morning.
  2504.  
  2505. That’s when we found out there was only one bed in the house. After a short, tired discussion of sleeping arrangements about who gets the bed, Minuette suggested everypony got the bed. It was fair and simple so we all piled onto it.
  2506. It turns out four and a half little ponies fit not too uncomfortably on a queen-sized bed if they’re willing to cuddle a little. To none of our surprise, little ponies like to cuddle.
  2507. Ruby fit perfectly in my legs and Comet Tail slept with his back against mine. Carrot slept across from me and Minuette used Carrot’s cutie mark as a pillow and her rear legs brushed against mine. With so many warm, fuzzy bodies we had no need for blankets. I thought because of my nap in the middle of the afternoon I would have trouble sleeping yet the body heat from all my fuzzy friends in the uncirculated air of the room pushed me into a light-headed, heat-induced coma. It was almost as good as getting blackout drunk. I could almost imagine the room slowly spinning me to sleep.
  2508.  
  2509. ***
  2510.  
  2511. Chapter 17: Keep In Touch
  2512. Comet pulled me through the shadowy tendrils and out of its stoney chest. We galloped through the twisting cave as fast as we dared, scraping over jagged rocks and fumbling around stalagmites. The glowing aura from our bounding bodies lit the way. Those things chasing us had no eyes, so it wasn’t light they were chasing. They could feel us over their own tumbling grinding bodies made of stone. Discord didn’t chase but his laughter followed us all the way to our cavern.
  2513. When we came into the antechamber, I could see into the larger one and see most of the ponies had already taken off, having obviously heard all of the noise coming down the tunnels. I saw Roseluck’s tail disappear down the other end of the tunnel, telling me how we were escaping. We still had a chance.
  2514. The one pony I didn’t want to see hanging back though, was waiting right in front of me.
  2515. “Mom!” Ruby called out and tried running to me before Minuette stopped her. Comet and I came barreling up to them. I didn’t stop, I didn’t talk, I ducked, stuck my head under her and slid my little filly down the back of my neck onto my back.
  2516. Minuette took our cue and chased after us until I heard her skid to a stop.
  2517. “Carrot! Come on!” she shouted.
  2518. “Okay, okay!”
  2519. The back exit did a sudden turn and I slipped several body widths down smoothed rock. There was a drop two ponies tall waiting at the end. I plopped down into some new cave vein surprisingly gracefully.
  2520. I looked behind me and then in front of us, the light from Comet’s spell was the only light around us.
  2521. “It’s Discord,” I heard Comet inform back as he fell down next to me. “He’s taken Twilight and the Princesses. I bet he even unleashed those ash creatures.”
  2522.  
  2523. “Does this go anywhere?” I called out, frustrated and looking both ways.
  2524. “The Oscura forest!” I heard Carrot’s voice echo down to me, soon after followed by Carrot herself. She was burdened down with sacks and bags draped around her neck and body. Comet caught the overencumbered Carrot as she fell. Minuette landed relatively gracefully. “Go down!” she pointed forward.
  2525. Carrot took off down the way and I followed, Ruby still clinging around my neck.
  2526. “But isn’t the fire there?” I asked, wary of our destination.
  2527. “The fire’s on top!” Carrot called out, sounding exhausted from the extra weight she carried. “Cloud Kicker said… this leads out… near the valley floor…”
  2528. We all caught up to Carrot easily but kept pace with her, not wanting to lose her. We rounded a corner and then Carrot skidded to a stop without warning. I plowed right into her and Comet Tail and Minuette crashed into me. Supplies spilled everywhere and Minuette managed to roll right over me and land on a sack of flour.
  2529. “Other way! Other way!” Carrot shouted as she back to her hooves and took off back the way we came. By that time I saw what she had spotted.
  2530. It was Discord standing before us in a large opening, smiling sinisterly and waving casually.
  2531. We all turned and galloped back up the tunnel we came through. The path the other way eventually winded down as well. Once again Carrot Top stopped suddenly. This time we were more ready and collapsed into each other a little easier.
  2532. “What? No no no,” Carrot said. We peaked around her.
  2533. Discord was standing there again, facing the other way, impatiently tapping his foot. He looked down at his arm of his eagle claw, shook it, held it up to his ear, then twisted his clawed arm around several times, as if winding it up.
  2534. He turned around and made a show like he just now spotted us. “Oh there you are! You’re late. It’s not nice to hold up a date, you know.”
  2535. Without waiting any longer we all turned and fled back the way we came again. The tunnel didn’t go up at all this time. As we rounded the corner we all stopped once again. There was Discord standing there in the chamber again.
  2536. “Nonono,” Carrot stammered. “This isn’t right. This is impossible.”
  2537. Discord heard her and brought his arms out wide, presenting himself like a showman. “My dear, I am the impossible.”
  2538. I heard hoofsteps take off behind me and looked back. I saw Comet Tail bound out of sight without warning. This time I didn’t follow. After a few seconds I heard the hoofsteps again, this time in front of me. Comet Tail appeared on the other end of the chamber. I saw the color drain from his illuminated face and his light from his spell dim a little.
  2539. “Mom, where do we go?” Ruby asked from my back. I looked at my friends standing with me, at Discord standing expectantly to the side then at Comet Tail ahead of me. I bolted across the chamber past Discord to Comet Tail. Discord watched as I passed with Ruby, Minuette and Carrot Top.
  2540. We took off down the tunnel again. Only for it to end shortly back where we started. There weren’t nearly enough turns for us to be back here again. Discord grinned down at us with his shark teeth and yellow eyes.
  2541. “Before you run off again, can I interest you in a drink, Barry? You look like you could use one,” Discord said as he brought a bottle of wine out from behind him. I recognized the label immediately. It was the one Comet Tail and I were drinking earlier. He brought it to his mouth, took a short sip and then let out a long belch. He tapped his tongue to the hoof of his mouth, trying to assess the taste. “You know…” he started, a drip of venom entering his voice. “I think... it needs something!”
  2542. Discord let go of the bottle. As it hung there suspended in air he snapped his claw. My world drowned in a dark red liquid. I gasped and wine flooded my lungs. My head exploded into an asphyxiation of colors. My eyes stung and my limbs went rigid as I felt my world turn upside down on me. The weight of the wine crushed down on me, washing me down a glass funnel. My hooves tried to find a surface to grab onto inside the slippery glass walls. I pushed against the inside of the glass tunnel with all my strength, staring down into the dark abyss waiting below me for just one slip.
  2543. The force of the last of the wine rushing past me made me slide further down. I took another instinctive gasp and I felt air again. I coughed and gasped and used my regained strength to push more.
  2544. “Let her go!” I heard Comet Tail say from far away, the sound of his voice resonating inside my glass tomb. Just as I started to catch my breath I felt my world turn upside down on me again. I plummeted to the other end of the glass tank and a fresh torrent of wine pounded me against the glass bottom.
  2545. Ponies were shouting but they sounded underwater. I heard explosions and saw lights and then suddenly felt weightless.
  2546. My world exploded into a sticky mess of glass, rocks and pain. Before I could figure out which way was up again a yellow light grabbed me and dragged me after it. My legs full of glass and pebbles tumbled under me until I felt them regain a familiar rhythm. The world was a blur of light and shadows and then the shadows disappeared. I fell into the light and crashed muzzle-first into a stone wall. I lay on something sharp and sticky. There was an explosion and the world threatened to collapse in on itself. I couldn’t tell what was going on anymore.
  2547. I laid there in shock as I heard a cave-in and manic laughter echoing off the walls around me reverberated in my bones.
  2548. “Mom! Please get up!”
  2549. “Pinchy, No! We’re going now!”
  2550. “No! What about Mom?! Mom!”
  2551. I crawled towards where I thought I heard the voices. My legs rolled out from underneath me and then someone caught me. I recognized his smell. I clung to him.
  2552. “Where is she?” I asked into his neck.
  2553. “Sssh,” Comet shushed me and pressed a hoof to my mouth to keep me quiet. If we were hiding it didn’t last.
  2554. “Well aren’t you an interesting family,” echoed the draconequus voice around us. “I got just the idea for you! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” He cleared his throat before beginning:
  2555. “Five score divided by four!
  2556. Your memories removed, your body confused!
  2557. For your insolence you must pay,
  2558. Cast off to a land far, far away.
  2559. I've scattered the six, and that's just the start of my tricks!
  2560. Your mind shall be weak, your outlook bleak.
  2561. Forgetting everything and living like a fool.
  2562. You have all lost, now no one can stop my rule!”
  2563.  
  2564. And then reality burned out.
  2565. ***
  2566. I gasped for breath and startled myself awake. I woke up and looked around at the unfamiliar room. Where was He? The world was painfully bright. I rolled onto my stomach to look around the sharply contrasted and defined space. The room smelled like dust, sunshine, aged wood and horse.
  2567. It took me a moment but I figured out where I was. I was at Carrot Top’s.
  2568. I scanned the room looking for signs of Him. There was a pile of bed covers in the corner next to the bookshelf. Open blinds appropriately blinding me, casting dusty sunbeams across the room. Picture frames full of people I didn’t know were on the wallpaper-covered walls and in frames sitting on the heavy wooden dresser. I checked the corners where the walls met and scanned the floor for cracks in reality. I dared a peek towards the mirror on the dresser: its world looked appropriately mirrored.
  2569. He wasn’t here. I was alone. Why was I alone? Where were my friends? I sat there quietly just trying to breathe. I was getting dizzy. I held my breath. And then let it out slowly. I took one more breath and forced it deeper, held it, and then let it out slowly.
  2570. I forced myself to take several more deeper, slower breaths to try to calm my racing heart. In the quiet concentration my mind picked up the slack.
  2571. The bedroom looked different in the daylight. Sadder. Sober.
  2572. I didn’t know where my friends were. I tried to figure out where I saw them last. Comet Tail was holding me and then…
  2573. No. That was a long time ago. Before I died. And before I was reborn. Back when we were cursed out of Equestria just because.
  2574. I didn’t want to be alone right now.
  2575. I crawled to the edge of the bed and slid off. I landed with an ‘oof’ and my forelegs just about gave out under me but I forced myself to walk forward. They were trembling with each step, a bit like my arms did in the morning.
  2576. ...arms?
  2577. The old muscle memory of walking on two legs kicked in and I fumbled and fell. I shook the phantom sensation that I was missing digits out of my head and got back up to all four limbs. There was a dizzying head rush when I did. My first several steps were very manual and self-conscious until my legs seemed to slowly start taking over again. I clip-clopped unsteadily out the bedroom and down the hallway.
  2578. When I finally got to the living room I spotted a friend. My stallion friend was laying on the rug in front of his laptop. My beautiful pony friend. Alive. I couldn’t hide the relieved look on my face any more than I could hide the shakiness in my legs.
  2579. “There she is,” he said to no one else in the room. I felt surprisingly irritated he was apparently going out of his way to test the pronoun again. I didn’t want to think about that right now.
  2580. I quickly stumbled over to him and he looked up at me, confused at my speed and off steps. I collapsed my forelegs around his neck, nearly knocking him over and rubbed our fuzzy faces together. When I felt how real he was I started tearing up more and sniffling.
  2581. “Are you okay?” he asked when he eventually recovered. I was. We were. We survived that horrible nightmare. Even if our survival from it was just for a cruel, unfunny joke dragged out for a twenty-five years punchline. I had a more urgent issue.
  2582. “Where is she?” I asked instead, exactly as I said it last.
  2583. “...she’s with Carrot and Minuette out in-” Comet stopped himself. He recognized what I said. “Oh.” He put his own forelegs around me. His fur was soft but there was a comforting strength underneath it. “You had the dream?” I nodded my muzzle into his neck.
  2584. “You... could have run,” I said while I held the sobs back. “But... you didn’t.”
  2585. “You’ve always stayed with me,” Comet reassured me.
  2586. “Not always-” I started, thinking about our fight as teenagers. Or more accurately, the time I decked the shit out of him.
  2587. “That doesn’t count,” Comet seemed to realize exactly what I was thinking. “I never held that against you. ...you’re always worth forgiving, Berry Punch.”
  2588. I choked up. I felt I really wasn’t. I sniffled. When I did I couldn’t help but notice he smelled really nice. As I calmed down and he petted my neck I nuzzled into him a little deeper. He didn’t mind. I gave a few unnecessary extra sniffs. It made my heart race. There was something incredibly comforting and… virile to his scent. I arched my back to push into him and I felt my tail lift.
  2589. Oh.
  2590. A pang of shame struck me and I pulled away from my friend. Comet looked at me a little confused but I wouldn’t meet his gaze. I tried to calm myself and told myself I was just relieved and emotional. We sat in silence for a moment.
  2591. I told myself I was just relieved and emotional.
  2592. “So, are you hungry?” Comet started a new conversation. I swallowed the saliva that was built up in my mouth. My mouth felt too wet.
  2593. “I think I need a drink,” I declared. Comet’s ears faltered with surprise but recovered to face me again.
  2594. “How about some food and water first?” he suggested.
  2595.