April 15th 2012
My camp site at Burrinjuck Nature Reserve looked as if it were a scene from a bad horror film. My tent had been torn open and my belongings had been thrown everywhere. Clothing, blankets, and food littered the ground both inside and outside of the tent. Lying on the ground were two humans. One of them, Fluttershy, was unconscious after recently fainting. The other one was me, as I was nursing a sore shin that had recently been kicked by the white-haired boy who had been responsible for wrecking my camp site. Nearby, Pinkie Pie observed the scene with a mixture of confusion and amusement.
I looked to the white-haired boy who was crouching between the girls and myself. "Angel, if that's really you then we need to have a talk about patience and how I possess very little of it for people who kick me," I growled. The boy merely frowned at me, so I ignored him and looked over to Pinkie. "But first, Pinkie can you help me up? We need to help Fluttershy into the tent so she can rest. It will do her no good to be lying on this hard ground out here."
"Sure thing, Captain!" Pinkie said with a quick salute. She stepped away from the car and over one of the tent's guy ropes, and was soon helping me to my feet.
Once I had been helped up I spent a few moments testing my footing before following Pinkie towards the car where Fluttershy lay. The going was slow because of my sore leg, but the pain had faded to a dull ache by the time I was halfway there. When we arrived, Fluttershy was still unconscious. I gingerly knelt beside her and prepared to gently awaken her, but as soon as I reached out to her I noticed something was wrong.
"Rise and shine, Fluttershy!" Pinkie said with a giggle. "There's no sleeping on-duty allowed out here, that's Rainbow Dash's job!"
My heart seemed to skip a beat as I began to notice more things that were wrong. Fluttershy's forehead was covered with sweat and her cheeks were flushed red. Her breathing seemed off, as if she were subconsciously struggling for air. I quickly grabbed one of her small hands and placed it in my own. Everything was all wrong, she should have been awake by then.
"Fluttershy?" I asked softly. "Hey Fluttershy, can you hear me?" There was no response.
Oh no. Please, not this.
Pinkie appeared by my side and looked over my shoulder as I moved my hand to Fluttershy's forehead. "Hey, why isn't she waking up?" she asked, her smile being replaced with a look of concern.
"She's sick," I replied as I brushed Fluttershy's hair away from her neck and checked her shoulders. "She has a fever and her breathing is labored. This is... this could be bad. It looks like... " my voice trailed off as I spotted a small red mark on her right shoulder near the neck.
"It looks like what?" Pinkie asked. The white-haired boy who claimed to be Angel crawled towards us for a closer look, his face unreadable.
Pinkie's question went unnoticed, however, as I began to panic while I tried to think of what to do. The red mark meant she had been bitten, and judging by its size it had most likely been a spider. Figuring out what kind of spider had bitten her was crucial, but then what would I do? Hospitalization would lead to questions about her identity, but her body was reacting severely and she could need antivenom. What spider could it be though, I wondered. Maybe a white tail, but they generally stayed on the ground. Was she bitten before or after she passed out? She had been feeling faint back at the park, and even seemed a bit ill in Target. Had something bitten her that long ago? White tail bites usually don't lead to breathing complications though. A redback then? That would be bad. Those were usually very painful though, and she hadn't complained of any pain. Or had she? I couldn't remember.
A small pair of hands grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, bringing my mind back to what I was doing. I glanced over to see the white-haired boy staring at me with those strange eyes he had. In them could be seen no annoyance, as there had been earlier. In its place seemed to be desperation, or perhaps the boy was panicking as well. He raised his hands up and pointed at me, then gestured toward Fluttershy and mimicked putting a bandage on. Once this was done he raised his hands in the air as if in celebration, then looked back to me with his brow furrowed and a questioning look upon his face.
"Right. Yes, I'm going to try to help her," I told him. I looked over at Pinkie, who was staring wide-eyed at Fluttershy. "Pinkie, go look in the cooler and see if there is any ice left in there. Quickly!" I commanded.
Pinkie looked up and blinked, then said, "Right! To the... uh, cooler?" She looked at me questioningly.
"Where all the Coke was before you drank it all," I explained.
"Coke! Right!" she said and ran into the tent.
I watched as Pinkie left, then turned to the boy. "Okay uh, Angel. Do you know what a pillow is?" I asked him.
His brow lowered and he crossed his arms, unimpressed.
"Okay, of course you do. Go get me two of them from the tent, please. Quickly!" I said as I bent down to check on Fluttershy's breathing again. A sharp tug on my shirt sleeve brought my attention back to the boy. "What?" I growled. "I said to hurry!"
He pointed at his legs and shrugged, then pointed at me and crossed his arms again. I had forgotten that he couldn't walk.
"Bloody hell," I swore. It wasn't the boy's fault, I knew. I was scared and confused as to what to do. I knew senior first aid, but this might require more than what I was capable of doing. Under normal circumstances I would leave Fluttershy where she was, but everything I needed was in the tent. As carefully as I could, I reached my arms underneath her body and lifted her from the ground, then made my way into the tent with a slight limp. I brought her to my air mattress and laid her down gently.
Pinkie Pie appeared by my side and held out a chunk of ice cubes that had melted together. I gratefully took them from her and quickly untied my right shoe and took it off, followed by my sock. I then filled the sock with the ice and moved Fluttershy's hair out of the way so I could press the ice to the bite mark. Ordinarily I would have used a clean sock, but with my tent basically ransacked there was no time to look for one. I took one of my pillows and placed it under Fluttershy's feet to elevate her legs. That wasn't something to help with spider bites. It was for people who were in shock, but I wasn't thinking properly and thought it was a good idea at the time. If anything, I hoped it would help make her comfortable.
"Doug?" Pinkie asked quietly. I turned to look at her. Pinkie usually had a bright smile on her face, but that was not the case here. Her lower lip trembled slightly, and her eyes were wide and pleading. I reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek. "What do we do now?" she asked.
I don't know, I thought.
I closed my eyes and thought about the options. Both carried severe risks. I felt Pinkie's hand brush a tear from my cheek before I answered.
"We wait," I decided. I opened my eyes and looked at Pinkie, but then looked away. I could not look her in the eyes. Not after the decision I had come to.
The white-haired boy then appeared at the hole in my tent and crawled inside. I somewhat regretted leaving him alone outside, but getting Fluttershy comfortable and taken care of was more important than the kid's feelings as far as I was concerned. I took the ice away from Fluttershy's bite and held it briefly on her forehead to help with the fever, then brought it back to the bite again. Her breathing had become regular again, which was a major relief. The boy arrived by my side at that point and I handed the ice to him.
"Hold this onto the bite on her neck, but take it away from time to time so it doesn't burn her skin," I told the boy.
He took the ice-filled sock and nodded, staring at me with his mouth agape. I ignored him and stood up on shaky knees.
"Fluttershy was bitten by a spider," I explained. "A venemous one. She's breathing normally again, but she still has a fever. Keep an eye on her, Pinkie. If she begins breathing erratically again, call out for me. I need to go sit by the lake for a while."
Pinkie and the boy both stared at me as I exited the tent through the hole in its side. I would need to clean the place up later, but it definitely wasn't the time for it. I stepped over the guy ropes and trekked over the hard earth and down a steady slope towards Lake Burrinjuck. I barely noticed the trees as I passed them, as my eyes couldn't seem to look at anything higher than the ground. I eventually reached the lakeside and found a rock to sit on, then stared at the water in contemplation. Questions formed unbidden in my mind. What if Fluttershy died? I had chosen to wait it out, knowing that death was a possibility. Could I have taken her to a hospital without an ID card for her? Probably, but the questions would begin getting asked eventually. Who was she, did she have insurance, where was her birth certificate, where did she live? I didn't know how many answers I could bluff my way through before I was caught in a lie. Was it worth risking her life to try to protect their identity?
The events of the past few days replayed in my head as I watched the gentle waves lap against the shore. For whatever reason, I had come to meet two former ponies and possibly a bunny from a land that wasn't supposed to actually exist. Ever since witnessing Pinkie Pie bend the laws of physics, I had been convinced that they were who they said they were. But the implications of such a thing hadn't quite sunk in until now. If Equestria and the ponies within it were real and existed on some other planet or dimension, then did that mean every cartoon was a representation of something real that existed elsewhere? Did that possibility extend to movies, as well? Books? What did that say about God and religion? For that matter, what did it say about our current understanding of science? There was more to this than just other dimensions that didn't follow the laws of science as we understood them. Pinkie had somehow climbed a tree that had been in front of me when she had clearly been behind me seconds beforehand. Could she disregard gravity here on Earth in the same way she did in Equestria? Could she teach humans how to do it?
The more I thought about things, the more I began to realize that I might be in over my head. Why was I the one to find them? There was nothing special about me that I could think of. The fact of the matter was, I had done some fairly awful things in my life. Things that I was not proud of. Surely there were people far more deserving than I was to find and take care of the three transfigured and misplaced friends. Maybe there were other people who had found ponies or animals from Equestria. Maybe I was the odd one out. The one bad seed in a group of otherwise good people who were chosen, or destined, or just plain lucky to find a pony or two. The girls had mentioned that Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna had all been present when a spell had gone wrong and sent them here. Were the other ponies on Earth, too? Were they in Australia? I had already found three of them. I scratched my beard as I thought about that. If the boy really was Angel, then where had he been when the girls were fighting Discord? If he was at Fluttershy's house like he usually was, then the magic shock wave the girls had described would have travelled a fair distance to get there. How many other ponies and creatures had been caught in it? Perhaps every creature in Equestria had been transformed into humans and sent to Earth. That could become a major problem.
I heard the grass rustling behind me and turned to see Pinkie Pie climbing down the slope. She walked over and sat on the rock beside me, then looked at me until I finally met her eyes. She had the touch of a smile on her lips.
"What's up, Pinkie?" I asked. "You were supposed to stay with Fluttershy."
"She's awake," Pinkie replied, and I felt an immediate wave of relief wash over me. She picked up a stone and tossed it into the lake, where it landed with a splash. She then continued, "She's pretty tired, and she says the bite hurts a whole bunch now, but she's awake and otherwise feeling peachy keen. All thanks to you."
I tried to look away, but Pinkie leaned over until I was looking at her again. All I had done was give Fluttershy's bite some ice. It had really just been luck that she had recovered so well. Or perhaps she retained some equine characteristics within her body that differed from that of normal humans, and therefore had better immunity to the poison. I wasn't even certain how a horse or pony would react to various spider bites.
"I didn't do much," I grunted. "We should have taken her to a hospital."
Pinkie studied my eyes for a moment before speaking. "You did all that you could," she said quietly. Her tone was far more serious than I had ever heard before. "I saw the way you acted when you tried to help Fluttershy. You totally care for her safety, don't you? You know, I wasn't so sure about you at first. You actually broke a Pinkie Promise, which is just about the worst thing ever. But since then, you've proven that you aren't bad at all in my eyes, Captain. You really are one of the good guys."
"If you say so," I mumbled. I let my gaze wander back to the lake and watched the sparkles that the sun created on its surface. "So you left Fluttershy with that boy. Do you think he's really Angel?" I asked.
Pinkie nodded. "Oh yes, that's definitely him all right. I'd recognize that frowny face from anywhere. Don't you worry about him though. He really does love Fluttershy, even if he acts like a little meanie sometimes. He gave her a big old hug when she woke up, and that seemed to cheer her right up."
I pictured Fluttershy smiling, and discovered one forming on my own face. Pinkie and Fluttershy both seemed to have the same personalities as their cartoon counterparts, and they would both make amazing friends. I looked at Pinkie and saw that she was smiling again as well.
"Pinkie," I began, somewhat embarrassed. "Would you say that we're friends?"
Pinkie gave a small chuckle, then she leaned over and surprised me with a warm hug. "Of course we're friends, silly Dougie!" she giggled. "You've only run away from me once, and that was because I was chasing you when you broke your Pinkie Promise. Some ponies run away lots of times before I finally win them over, and there was this donkey named Cranky who ran all over Equestria and even then wouldn't become my friend until I put two and two and two together and figured out that his long, lost sweetheart from his youth was in Ponyville and had her come over to his place for a visit. You should have seen his face when he saw her. It was one of my better moments," she finished with a grin.
I could only chuckle and shake my head in wonder. How I had ever doubted that the girl sitting beside me was Pinkie Pie was beyond me at that point. I doubted anyone could roleplay a character for so well for so long.
"Let's get back to camp," I finally said, standing up. I held out my hand and helped Pinkie to her feet. "I want to see Fluttershy, and I still have to clean up the camp. I should probably help teach Angel how to walk like a human, too."
Pinkie agreed and we climbed up the steady slope until the tent came into sight. There was something different about the camp site, however.
"Who cleaned up the mess?" I asked absently. Pinkie merely shrugged and followed.
I carefully avoided the guy ropes and bent over to enter the tent through the hole in its side. Inside, the tent was relatively spotless. Fluttershy was sitting up on the air mattress near the back of the tent and watching Angel as he scooped up some pieces of Nutri-Grain that was on the tent floor and placed them in a plastic bag. She looked up as Pinkie and I entered and gave a squeak.
"Oh, you startled me," she said quietly. "I thought you might be a, um... "
"Monster?" I finished for her. "Technically I am, to you. But I'm a friendly monster." I smiled at her. "I'm glad to see you're doing better. So, you got Angel to clean up the mess he made?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, not at all! He wanted to clean it up all by himself. He felt so ashamed of how he treated you earlier," she responded, looking in Angel's direction.
I glanced at the boy. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders with a sheepish grin, then went back to cleaning up. The tent looked to be in good condition, with the only exception being the hole we had just entered. I had some duct tape in the back of the car, and it would do the job for the time being. I walked over to Fluttershy and gave her a hug, leading to her cheeks becoming quite red.
"Sorry, Fluttershy," I said. "I know that was awkward, but I was really worried about you." My eyes met hers, and I had to look away. I really was very happy that she was feeling better, but I still regretted my decision to risk her life.
"It's okay," she said. "Pinkie told me what you did for me. Thank you."
"No worries," I said. "I just did what anyone would do. We need to focus on finding your friends, though." I stood up and began to pace.
"You're going to help us find the others? All right, this calls for a party!" Pinkie shouted and raised her hands in the air.
"Yes, I'm going to help you find them. It's the least I can do after... " I hesitated and didn't finish.
Pinkie blinked at me. "After what?" she asked.
After putting your friend's life at risk, I thought. "Nothing. There are things we can use to look for signs that your friends might have been found. That's one good thing about living in this time period - news travels fast," I said.
"Ooh, what kind of things? Telescopes? Binoculars?" Pinkie asked.
"No," I replied. "The internet."
"Oh wow, the internet!" Pinkie bounced up and down in excitement. "I can't wait to use it. Wait, what's the internet?"
"You'll find out soon enough," I replied. "I'm going to make us up some food now, especially for Angel who looks to be particularly hungry." Angel nodded his head quickly in agreement. I continued. "We need to eat, then get an early night's rest. We're packing up camp early tomorrow."
"You mean you don't live out here?" Fluttershy asked. She looked at the tent doubtfully.
"No, I don't live here," I replied. "Tomorrow we head back to where I live. Tomorrow, we're going to Sydney."