“Get... the hell... away FROM ME!” The mechanic shouted between the impacts of his shoe connecting with the face of some guy he had never met before in his life, but was frothing at the mouth an squealing like he was possessed by the devil himself trying to bit a chunk off of his leg. The guy stank of blood and puke. His skin was pale. His eyes were void.
And he had just attacked Ellis with no reason or provocation.
With one final powerful kick, the guy flew backwards. Seeing that he was sufficiently stunned, Ellis rolled over and scrambled to his feet, running fast down the sidewalk. That guy wasn’t the only one acting up; there were others, too. They all made incoherent babbling sounds as they furiously chased after him. Some of them, Ellis knew personally.
”What the hell is going on?!”
He raced through the streets, heading towards the one place that contained the one person he could always count on. The apartment building wasn’t far, just a few blocks from his house, where he left to start out his day when everybody freakin’ attacked him! Ellis nearly tore the front doorknob off as he darted inside, a group of madmen still on his tail. He scrambled up the stairs on all fours to the fourth level. There, he found the apartment door he was looking for. The pursuers were still trying to mindlessly stumble up the second and third flight. It wouldn’t be long until they caught up with him. Quickly, he ran up to the door and knocked furiously, warily glancing at his converging attackers.
“Keith! Open up! It’s me, Ellis! Some crazies are trying tah kill me here! Please!”
The first attacker arrived on Ellis’s level. He looked like a slightly overweight office junkie, vomit-colored spittle dripping from his gaping maw. He looked at the mechanic with empty eyes. God, they pierced his very soul. The man charged at him without hesitation, squealing insanely. Ellis attempted to defend himself by feebly raising his arms when the apartment door opened. Eyes still locked on the man running after him, he dashed into the small, tobacco-smelling room.
The man’s face and arm got caught in the doorway as Ellis attempted to shut it. He yelped in pain amid his animalistic growling, waving his limb and clawing at the air in desperation.
There was a loud bang that made Ellis’s ears ring. He felt something wet and warm spatter on his face. The struggling stopped and the door gave way. Without thinking, he shut it and locked the deadbolt. His chest heaved as he ran his fingers down his face and brought his hand to his eyes.
Ellis turned around. There, cradling a smoking under-over, was his buddy Keith. A cigarette glowed between his lips. Keith quit that vice years ago, but Ellis could see why it was a good time to start again. He took the coffin-nail out of his mouth and blew a cloud of grey smoke before flicking it to the ground and putting it out with a stomp.
“Glad ya could make, man.”
Ellis could have said he was happy to see him too, but he was still taken aback by what he just did to that man.
“Jesus Christ, Keith! Ya killed ‘em!”
Keith nodded, his long, jet-black hair bobbing with him. Unlike most guys, he preferred long hair over short. Fear of conformity, mostly. Old, slightly shiny burn scars patched across his thin, gaunt face. He wore a simple Megadeth t-shirt and faded jeans. Oh his feet he wore boots. He always wore boots. Hell, he’d go to a fancy dinner party wearing boots, that is, if he was ever invited to one. His expression was unchanged as he glanced at the bloodstains and reloaded his shotgun.
“They ain’t human no more, Ellis. Ya saw it yerself. Is that any way a normal person would act?”
“But... still...” Ellis protested weakly.
Keith continued. “I saw the signs, man. A lotta people gettin’ sick, the government gettin’ involved, news black-out from the East Coast, military showin’ up... This ain’t a regular flu, man. It’s a zombie virus.”
He gestured to the tables in his small living room that had been recently re-arranged. On top of their wooden surfaces sat nearly everything. Guns, ammo, food, folding knives, first-aid kits, radios, canteens, and anything else one would need if they were going on a hardcore survival trip... If that included taking your own weight in shotgun shells.
“I’ve been stockin’ up. Planned to wait it out here, but that won’t work. This ain’t a regular zombie infestation. The military won’t be saving this place, they’ll be bombin’ it soon.”
“What?!” Ellis nearly shouted. This was their hometown, for Christ’s sake! How could they do that?
“Ya heard me,” He replied in his flat, monotonous voice. “The infection’s already spread ‘cross the coast, and the military is pullin’ out all the stops to get it contained. It’s SNAFU. No option’s out the window at this point.” He continued after a slight pause. “There’s a military evac over at the downtown high-rise. If we can get there before the day after tomorrow, we’ll be choppered outta this place.”
“But what about-”
“All dead an’ gone.” He interrupted. Ellis reeled with the revulsion of this whole situation. All the rest of their friends... dead. He slowly slumped down the surface of the door before finally hitting the ground. Tears started to form around his eyelids, sorrow threatening to completely overtake him. They were dead... they were dead...
“Hey.” Keith stood over him, hand held out. “You an’ me, we’ve been through some tough shit. Maybe not as tough as this, but were gonna get through it, so help us God.” He smiled. It was a genuine, meaningful smile that could only come from the bestest buddy in the whole-wide world. Ellis had known him for so long. He was like a brother to him, and Keith thought the same. Sure, the naive mechanic got him hurt and mangled a lot of the time due to his carelessness or downright stupidity, but their companionship went a lot deeper than a few dozen sorrys and a get-well-soon card. They understood each other. They’ve also had their share of ups and downs, but if any true friendship existed on this damnable planet, it would be theirs.
Ellis slapped his palm and gripped tight, hoisting himself up with Keith’s aid. His tears were long forgotten.
“Yer right, man. We’re gonna do this. Were gonna get outta here and were gonna kill a few hunnerd zombies while were at it!”
Ellis turned and raised his right sleeve. Keith did likewise and raised his left. They both had matching tattoos on their arms.
“You an’ me,” Keith rephrased. “We’re badass zombie killin’ machines.”
Ellis nodded. “Hell yeah.”
To Ellis, everything suddenly became distant and muffled, like he was being lifted and flown away by some ethereal force. He could hear a voice calling... calling his name... calling...
The human snorted back to reality. His head seared with agony. He reached up with his hand and felt a lump on his forehead. Sawdust and Ball-Peen stood over him, worried looks planted on their otherworldly equine faces.
“Aww shit... the hell happened?” He tried to sit up. His head throbbed and almost beat him back down.
“You were running and you tripped. Fell flat on your face.” It was Ball-Peen who spoke this time. He hovered with his wings while holding up Ellis’s discarded hardhat with his front hooves. “I told ya, safety first.”
His memory was fuzzy. “Why was ah runnin’ again?”
Sawdust moved aside and gestured to Rainbow Dash, who was shuffling awkwardly, looking at the ground in shame. Ellis suddenly remembered.
The cyan pegasus stepped closer to the bipedal sitting figure. “I’m really, really sorry. I- I just... lost my cool...”
Ellis scrunched his face and chuckled. The chuckle turned into a short burst of laughter. He didn’t know why he laughed, but it felt good in a way, His head still smarted, though. Dash looked him funny, like she broke him or something with that head injury.
“We’ve all done our share of stupid shit, ma- girl.” He quickly corrected himself. “Some of us way more than others...” He really had to drill it in his head to remember that she’s a female. He could admit that her voice would be quite high for a guy. In hindsight, he really couldn’t determine why he assumed her gender incorrectly in the first place. Or her sexual orientation. Maybe it was the hair...
“No, I really mean it.” She insisted with guilt laced in her voice. “If Twilight hadn’t shown up, I probably would have strangled you while you were unconscious.”
Said lavender unicorn stepped forward. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, Rainbow. It’s over, it’s done, let’s just drop it.” She looked at Ellis with concern. “Are you ok?”
“Ah’ve had worse.” He wasn’t lying.
“See? He’s fine and he forgives you. You can stop blaming yourself now.”
Ellis finally got a good look at Rainbow Dash. Her eyes were really red and stained with tears. Her lips still quivered and she sniffed softly as she watched the human with emotional turmoil. The sight hit him through the chest where it counted.
“Aww... come now, girl.” He spread his arms open and took her in an embrace. “S’all good. Ya done nothin’ wrong. It’s mah own fault, really.” She whimpered in his gentle hug. Twilight noted that she looked incredibly flustered when he ran his fingers through her mane, trembling a little more than usual. They broke the embrace and Dash stepped back, more maladroit than she intended and blushed brightly. Ellis slowly got on his feet. He wobbled a bit and cupped his forehead, but he soon stabilized.
“How long was ah out?” He asked Twilight.
“A good five minutes. You scared us for a while. We were close to calling a doctor, but I’m not sure if anypony here is qualified to treat a human.”
“Like ah said, I’ve had worse. I’ll be fine, just gotta walk it off.” He stumbled over, catching himself as he tried to move forward. The ponies started in surprise.
“Are you sure, man?” Sawdust asked. “You were going pretty fast, then you just pulled the breaks with your face. Stopped on a dime.”
“Man, I’ve been beaten, crushed, burned, nearly torn apart... hell, I’ve been shot a couple times! Rochelle didn’t have the best aim. This here’s a paper cut compared to what I’ve been through.”
Twilight understood exactly what he was saying, thought the other three were confused and worried beyond belief. He picked himself up once again, acceptably balanced this time.
“Well,” Sawdust said. “I guess it’s back to work, man.”
All five of them headed back to the west district where they would resume repairing the roof. Ball-Peen gathered more two-by-fours and set to hammering the rest of them in. They were almost to the point where they would start covering it with plywood. Then, they would shingle it. Twilight and Rainbow Dash watched Ellis as he rested on a bench. They were still worried about him. He just didn’t seem himself after he woke up.
“Ellis, if there’s anything you need...” Twilight offered.
“Jus’ some time to recover.”
She sighed. He was tough, that was evident. He was tougher than most ponies she knew. Applejack was the only one she could think of that shared his unwillingness to be phased by pain or injury. So far, she assumed that she was the only one to see him in any state of weakness, back in her library when he almost had a mental breakdown. Celestia, that gave her quite a scare. Despite their continued offerings of help, he politely refused. Not because of pride, but because he didn’t want to trouble them more than he had to.
“Ok.” The unicorn concluded, finally giving in. “If you say you’re fine, we’ll just leave you to your job. Come on, Rainbow.”
The pegasus huffed indignantly. “What if I wanna stay and talk to him some more?”
Twilight gave an annoyed glance to the stray clouds that listed overhead. “Didn’t the weather call for clear skies?”
“Oh. Whoops.” She sped off to catch up on her neglected weather-control. Twilight sighed and once again addressed the human.
“Well, Ellis, we all have things to do, so... I guess I’ll be off.” She turned to head back to the library.
“Wait.” Ellis called after. She stopped and turned around.
“Ah jus’ wanted tah thank ya for all the things ya did for me. Ya never asked anything of me in return, though.”
Twilight smiled. “You’re very welcome, but I don’t need you to do anything for me to make up for the things I did for you. After all, what are friends for?” She left to resume her day on that note.
Ellis laughed softly to himself, shaking his head. “Ah have a magical unicorn as a friend now... Imagine that...”
Spike put his face to the floor and sniffed. His scaly nostrils opened and closed with each inhale. On all fours, he traversed the library, sniffing like some kind of tiny purple bloodhound. His eyes were closed; he was diverting all of his attention to his sense of smell, which, in all honesty, wasn’t as good as Pinkie’s, but just barely enough to get the job done.
He caught the trail. An ever so faint musk of saltwater and fish tickled his olfactory nerves. The pearls! Twilight took them away from him, but that wasn’t fair. He bought them with his own money! She had no right to take them from him. Well, maybe a little, but still he at least deserved a taste. He hasn’t even had a lick of them yet. Why didn’t he have a couple when he was coming back to the library from buying them? Either fear of his mouth turning a different color and Twilight noticing or savoring the moment until he was in his favorite eating spot... Probably a little of both. It didn’t matter now, she didn’t count on Spike finding it with his sense of smell. Why should minerals smell like anything? Usually, they don’t, but these were pearls. They’ve been marinated in the mouth of a clam for years. They practically reeked of marine residue.
His dogged hunting brought him up the stairs to Twilight’s bedroom. There, snout still scanning the ground, he circled around the room several times, gauging the intensity of the scent carefully before it became too familiar and undetectable to him. It got stronger as he came to her bed. Spike rose up and took a large breath of air through his nose, tasting for his oh-so sought after delicacies. It was here, he was sure of it. He climbed up the pristine bedsheets and covers, taking care not to leave too much of a mark. Twilight could tell. Her OCD gave her an attention to detail almost akin to Rarity’s.
His hunt came to an end at the head of the bed, or so he thought. The scent was overpowering here, but there was nothing here. Just a blank wall. The wavy grain of the wood lined its natural non-planar surface. ”Funny...” He thought. ”Could have sworn there was a shelf here...” He reached out with his stubby claw to feel the wall.
He yelp as his weight gave way. The surface rippled around his wrist. In his sudden panic, he quickly pulled away. The wall distorted slowly until finally returning to its original guise. Spike blinked as he realized it wasn’t evil sorcery, but Twilight’s doing. He had no idea she could do that, too! Then again, the unicorn was Celestia’s prodigy. She was full of surprises. Hesitantly, he reached in again, the ghostly wall contorting and shimmering to his touch. He felt around blindly for his bag. His claws ran over a few books, unsurprisingly. Probably late-night reading material. He felt the first non-book object, a strap, and pulled it out.
What came out was not his bag. It was some kind of thin, flat sheath. Perfectly straight, make of super-tightly woven, yet flexible tan material. It was heavy; something resided inside of it. He found something sticking out of one end. Some hard dull-orange thing wrapped in black tape. He smelled a faint metallic tang on it. He manipulated it with his claws, curious. He had never seen anything like it before. Turning it handle down, the thing slipped out slightly, revealing a shiny surface. He grabbed the tape-wrapped knob and pulled it out the object, dropping the sheath.
It was metal. Flat metal attached to a handle. It sprouted fourth from the base, the width gradually crescendo’d until one side curved to meet the other at a 90 degree angle. With closer inspection, Spike could see that it was sharpened, albeit thoroughly chipped. The flat was stained with flecks blackish-reddish stuff which the dragon could not identify. It was just a weird knife. Why would Twilight keep something like this hidden?
He held it out, both of his meager claws holding the handle. Without thinking, he swung it side to side. A peculiar emotion thumped in his chest. He felt slightly lighter, elated. He swung it again, the sharpened side forward. The indescribable feeling came yet again, more powerful than last time. It felt... good. Like he was made to do this. Like a young pony would feel when he or she would get his or her cutie mark. He gripped it tighter.
Suddenly, he wasn’t in Twilight’s bedroom anymore. There was an encompassing whooshing sound as Spike closed his eyes and his mind was sucked into another place. It was dark. Pitch-black, in fact. Nothing could be seen beyond himself. Something appeared to his right. Glowing, red dots. Blood-colored specks against the ebony background. It moved and bobbed, seeming getting closer. Eight of them. More appeared to his left, then behind him, then in front, then off to the side. With them a sound finally ushered above the howling wind. Chittering, the sound of chitin on chitin, clacking together. Raspy, hungry, sucking growls came too. Their nightmarish forms became outlined. Shapeless, inky, slender figures. Their bodies seemed to fluctuate and shift, blending together into a mass of evil and malevolence. There were dozens upon dozens of them, all short of a perfect circle around Spike, reaching out with their obsidian talons in need of something to rip and tear. Darkened spittle dribbled from their frothing mandibles. They were ready to slaughter.
Spike was not afraid. He should have been, but something kept him calm. He felt as if he was wearing the skin of an entirely different dragon. Sure enough, he was not the same. Gone was the stumpy, cherub-like form of a baby dragon. In its place was a 7-foot tall rigid individual. His toned legs were taunt with anticipation. His broad chest spanned over rippling muscle underneath his matured, hardened scales. Armor covered his shoulders, complete with a flowing red cape. His cleft jutted heroically outwards from his lower face. He definitely was not afraid. With his well-trained, powerful arms, he raised his weapon. Braided steel two-handed grip, deadly morning star pommel, a visage of a great, awe-inspiring dragon head on the hilt. It had glorious, shining rubies for eyes, and from its gaping, golden maw sprouted forth a wicked blade composed of a metal only known to dragon-kind, sharpened to an impossible edge. Snaking, grooved patterns traced along the flat, which was also embedded with smooth, glittering gems. It extended above Spike’s head as he rose it to a vertical position, coiled and ready to strike. It was more than just perfectly balanced in his claws; it was an extension of himself. The horde of twisted monsters continued to snarl and jeer, itching, aching to get a taste of his blood. Spike’s brow intensified as he uttered but four words:
“Come at me bro.”
With an unholy screech, the first of them leapt, malformed limbs ending in bladed fingers outstretched. Spike turned and swung. His sword sang the Cantus Mortem as it sailed and hit the atramentous shell, splitting it like a reed. The monster screamed as he met his demise the blade clearing all the way through its chest. Toxic ichor splattered from the cut, staining Spike’s blade, his chest, and his face before the two halves of the lifeless body thumped to the ground and dissolved into black smoke. Another sprang forward. Spike reacted with a downward horizontal, slicing it first through its slender, barbed arm, then through its skull, cleanly and easily as the last. More came, one after the other. They clawed, they thrashed, they bit... but to no avail. One by one, he slayed them all. Corpse after smoking corpse hit the dust. Spike danced a deadly ballad, sword flying and wounding, smiting and vanquishing, stabbing red eyes and hacking piceous chitin. Dark fog rose from the dissolved bodies of the fallen, which he dispersed with a swirling whirlwind of razors. At last the monsters were defeated, their slowly dissipating, mangled forms covered the ground around him as Spike breathed in and out, relishing in the afterglow of combat. He had won. He was victorious.
Spike snapped back to reality. He blinked at the plain machete in front of him, mind reeling from what he had just experienced. To an onlooker, he would have appeared to stand still for several seconds, staring blankly into space with the blade in his claws. He turned the knife end over end once more, exhilarated by the effect it had on him.
“Woah.” He breathed.
There was a familiar sound of the library door opening.
“Spike! I’m back!”
Panicked, he quickly re-sheathed the machete and placed it back into the enchanted cubbyhole. He then jumped off the bed and straightened out the covers, leaving it as straight and tidy as before. Twilight Sparkle came up to the bedroom to find her assistant nonchalantly dusting the furniture, whistling while he worked.
“Oh hey Twilight!” He said, injecting innocent cheer into his voice and succeeding all too well. The librarian found nothing out of order.
“Anything happen while I was gone? Did anypony visit?”
“Uh... nope. Nothing happened. I was only dusting.” He said hurriedly while the feathered tool swiped the bookshelves.
“Well, alright. Carry on.” She walked off downstairs.
Spike sighed in relief. “That was close...”
It was just a little past 11:00 and the roof was going along swimmingly. All the beams had been repaired and they had just begun trimming plywood to cover it. To haul the sheets up, ropes had to be looped around the corners so Ball-Peen could lift it by the rope. They would be carefully set into place and then fastened in while Ellis and Sawdust were busy cutting them to fit.
Said human wiped the perspiration from his forehead with his arm and set back to sawing. His limbs were starting to get sore, but he kept working none-the-less. Sawdust said that lunch was at 12 sharp, so it was less than an hour until a 20 minute break. The teeth of the blade divided the wood, leaving particles of tan dust to float to the ground and collect on his overalls, which he shook off every now and then. Ponyville was at the height of activity now. The pastel equines trotted about and occasionally stopped to see the human. A journalist even came to ask the human some more questions, which Ellis answered. The pony flashed his camera and went back to the printing house to put it on tomorrow’s paper. Nopony impeded his job too much. Not until...
“Dude, Quick! Hide!” Sawdust suddenly shouted.
“What?” Ellis replied, confused.
The unicorn didn’t wait to explain. Using his magic, he tossed Ellis behind a stack of uncut lumber. Ellis didn’t know why he had to hide, but he trusted Sawdust’s word and laid on the ground, not moving or making a sound. He strained his ears to catch wind of what was going on. A grinding sound signaled that Saw picked up where he left off.
“Where is he?” A unfamiliar voice spoke. It sounded female, slightly tense.
“Oh hey Lyra-” He heard the ochre pony half-reply.
“WHERE IS HE?!”
“He’s not here.” Sawdust sounded like he was trying to remain calm.
“I know he’s here! Somepony said he was here!”
“Sorry, that’s a wrong-a-runo. He’s actually working on the post office in the north-east district.”
“GAH!” The one Saw called “Lyra” exclaimed in frustration and stomped off. Ellis still remained noiseless.
“You can come out now, she’s gone.”
Ellis rolled over and got to his feet. “Who the hell was that?”
“That was Lyra.” He explained. “Got tipped off that she was looking for you this morning.”
“Don’t know, but this isn’t the first time she’s acted up. She ain’t right in the head, man.”
The whole situation wasn’t any closer to making sense for Ellis. Why would she be after him? Did she hate him?
“Look, dude,” Sawdust gave a worried glance in the direction where Lyra left. “Just look out for her. Don’t let her see you, don’t let her find you. She’s a unicorn, minty color, white highlights in her mane, lyre cutie mark.” He looked back at the human. “I’ll watch out for you.”
“Ok...” Ellis still wasn’t clear, but he merely returned to sawing. He casted wary side to side takes, watching out for that barmy pony.
Apple Bloom galloped toward the bright red barn of Sweet Apple Acres. The little filly giggled with delight as she passed the corn, alfalfa, and other secondary crops that grew close to the structure. A friendly cow waved her a hello, but she paid no attention as she sped past her, too. She was trying to get to the house before Ellis left for Ponyville.
As she came closer to the barn, Big Macintosh waved her to slow down. She obeyed. It was her brother, after all. She held respect for the stoic work-pony. He was hitching a bucket-filled cart to his yoke, prepared to haul it out into the fields to resume his work from yesterday. His wheat stalk shifted to the other side of his mouth and looked at Apple Bloom with lethargic eyes.
“Now what’s the hurry here, sister?”
The yellow filly bounced up and down. “Ahm tryin’ tah get tah Ellis before he leaves! I wanna ask him somethin’!”
Big Mac sighed. “Ya just missed ‘em. He an’ Applejack already left for town.”
Apple Bloom hung her head in disappointment. Her bow-tie sagged.
“But,” Her brother continued. “AJ wanted me to give ya this.” He fished into his saddle bag, pulled out a black square, and lightly tossed it to her. She caught it and turned it up with her teeth so she could see it in front of her face.
“Wuw is it?” She muffled.
“It’s Ellis’s wallet. He gave it to ya.”
Apple Bloom grinned widely, her eyes sparkled with wonder.
“Now you go off n’ play fer now. I’ve got some work for ya later...” He trailed off as his sister ignored him and made a beeline for the house, eager to inspect her new gift.
“Guess ah shoulda mentioned that before ah gave it to ya.”
Apple Bloom shut the door of her room and hopped up onto her tiny bed. She set the wallet in front of her, tilting her head and scrutinizing it vividly. She flipped it over with her petite forehooves and prodded it some more. She was completely clueless on how it worked. So, she did what she always did when confronted with a stubborn small object. She took it into her teeth and shook it vigorously.
The tri-fold came open and out flew rectangular pieces of paper, plastic cards, and other stuff. Apple Bloom set the wallet down and inspected the green papers. They were intricate in design, double-sided, too. One side had a human face on it, the other a picture of some building. They each varied slightly: different faces, different symbols and such. The plastic cards didn’t have too much on them. To her they looked like useless hunks of whatever. Apple Bloom sighed. She shook the wallet again to see if anything else would fall out, but to no avail. This was all boring junk! They were just bits of paper and plastic!
But they’re alien bits of paper and plastic.
Apple Bloom considered the new perspective on the items strewn out on her bed, but it didn’t help make them any more interesting. She was hoping for some out-of-this-world magic device like the aliens have in Scootaloo’s comic books. Awesome technology that could shoot lasers and control somepony’s mind! She plodded and stared at the papers once more. Apple Bloom was starting to think that Ellis wasn’t an alien at all!
Something caught her eye, something she hadn’t noticed before. A small, white piece of paper. It looked kind of old, too. She could tell instantly that there was more to it. She took the paper and flipped it so the other side was facing up. Apple Bloom’s eyes widened.
It was a photograph of Ellis, but another human was in it as well. This human, however, had long a black mane, instead of Ellis’s short brown one. He stood behind Ellis, one arm around his shoulders, the other hand held up with two fingers raised. They were both smiling. Apple Bloom didn’t know why, but she knew that this must be Ellis’s friend. They just looked and acted like they’ve been with each other for a long time.
The little filly felt a pang of sadness for the human. When he came to Equestria, he didn’t have this other guy with him. But why? Couldn’t he come? Maybe he couldn’t afford a ticket for the spaceship, or something. Ellis must miss him. They looked so happy together...
Apple Bloom gathered all the paper, plastic, and the wallet together and put it in a little woven basket for safe-keeping. She stopped herself before putting the photo with the rest of the stuff. With a moment of consideration, she decided to keep the picture in a more special place than the rest. Storing the basket under her bed, she placed the photo on her nightstand and gazed at it for a short while.
“Ah could ask Ellis about him when he gets back! Ahm sure he’ll love to tell a story about him!”
It was finally noon, lunchtime for the construction workers. Big Boss came around for another pass. His narrowed eyes watched for mistakes and any signs of indolent behavior. Finding none, he noisily rang a bell attached to the side of his office trailer.
“Alright! Lunch break! Back to work in twenty minutes!” He trotted off to his favorite diner, the one he always went to for lunch every day. Sawdust and Ball-Peen exhaled and unpacked their lunches out of metal containers. Ellis’s stomach growled, his internal clock signaling it was time to eat.
Only he hadn’t packed a lunch. He flicked himself in the forehead for being so forgetful.
Ball-Peen saw Ellis’s distress and flew up beside him.
“Hey. You want some of mine?” The achromatic pegasus offered his sandwich. Ellis only had to glance at it to see that it was stuffed with raw oats, hay, and flowers. Horse food.
“Naw, thanks. I’ll get by.” Back during the apocalypse, he sometimes went days without food. That was the true nightmare: not the zombies, not the bombs, but trudging on with nothing in your belly but a cup of water and a single strip of beef jerky. He didn’t like skipping lunch, but he knew he could survive it.
“Well, alright.” Ball-Peen returned and unceremoniously chomped into his food, munching at what another, likely Rarity, would consider a rude volume. The pegasus seemed distant most of the time, seemingly thinking to himself and keeping quiet. Sawdust could bring him out of his shell once in a while, but he was very reserved. He decided that he would ask what was on his mind sometime.
Ellis walked over to sit on a bench just on the side of the street, intent on passing the rest of his break relaxing and observing the townfolk. He smiled to the citizen, and they smiled back. He started to see common street-goers. Ponyville must have a incredibly small population, Ellis thought. He’s seen the brown colt with the hourglass cutie mark nine times already!
Then he saw a familiar face that he didn’t think he’d see for a while. It was Applejack, heading his way, saddlebags on her back. Ellis’s face brightened dramatically as he waved to her. She didn’t look as enthusiastic. In fact, she looked a bit melancholy. He formulated a plan to better her mood.
“Hey Ellis.” She said as she came up to an audible distance with the human.
“Hey AJ. Just wanted tah ask ya something...” He took a pair of shades from his pocket and put them on. “Why the long face?”
“Where’d ya get those?” The orange mare inquired.
“Oh. Uh... Dash let me borrow them fer a while.” He took off the shades and stowed them back in his pocket, disappointed that his joke had missed.
“So ya talked to her, then? Ah haven’t seen her since yesterday.” Applejack hesitated before going on. “...And ah really ain’t the type tah listen to rumors, but ah heard you two got in a scuffle. Is that true?”
He took off his hardhat and displayed the dark bruise on his forehead. “Jus’ a small one. S’all right.”
“Oh mah gosh! Did she do that tah you?!”
“Naw... this was all me. I fell. Got knocked out cold, too. She was just chasing me.” He replied somberly.
“I... uh... may have miscalculated her... gender... by a bit er so...”
“You thought she was a colt?!”
Ellis searched for proper words to respond to that. Finding none, he simply raised his arms and shrugged, like the whole damn thing was just a cheeky little mistake.
That did it for Applejack. She completely broke the frown on her face and started chortling, the hilarious spasms squeezing her for every last breath in a decrescendo’ing chuckle before taking a deep gulp of air and laughing even harder. Her legs gave out and she was brought to her knees, then her belly. She buried her face in her front foreleg and pounded the ground with the other. Ellis merely sat awkwardly as the farmpony lost control of herself for a good half-minute. When she was finally done, she stood back up on wobbly legs, a grin still stuck on her face.
“This is just too much. Why the hay did ya think she wasn’t a filly?”
“I dunno... ah guess it was just the way she acted and all...” She could tell that he regretted that screw-up more than he cared to admit.
“Ah didn’t mean tah laugh at you. Ahm sorry.”
“Don’t be, girl. It’s always nice tah make people laugh.” He put his hardhat on, wincing at the pressure it applied to his tender bruise. “S’ides, ya have a nice smile.”
But that smile disappeared after he said that. Ellis was worried that he may have said something wrong; something unintentionally insulting. On her face was an expression that almost looked like... surprise? He couldn’t be sure. The flash of facial movement only lasted a split-second.
“Well thanks, Elli.” She then reached around into her saddlebag and took out a paper-covered parcel. “Ah noticed ya didn’t bring a lunch with ya, so ah brought ya some. Peanut and apple-butter!”
Ellis took the sandwich and unwrapped it. “Don’t ya mean peanut-butter an’ apples?” He inquired.
“Nope.” Applejack replied plainly.
The human was intrigued, so he gave it a bite. She wasn’t lying when she said it peanut and apple-butter. Crunchy nuts smothered in some kinda creamy and smooth apple jam. It was delicious.
“Mmm...” He expressed his contentment through a stuffed mouth before gulping it down. “T’is is good! Thanks, Applejack!”
“Aww, it’s no problem at all. I was happy tah make it for ya.”
He quietly ate his sandwich as the conversation shifted to awkward small-talk.
“So... how’s work going for ya? Findin’ everything to be alright?”
“Yep.” He said with a bread-filled mouth.
“Anything else happen?”
He wanted to tell her about Lyra, but he couldn’t grasp the situation with her enough to make sense of it. He had no idea why she wanted to see him so badly. None of the other ponies acted this strongly to his appearance.
“Naw, jus’ business an’ all.”
Applejack looked around, apparently trying to find something to talk about. She sighed.
“Alright, Ellis, I’ll leave y’all to it an’ see ya later.”
“See ya!” Ellis waved while she walked off. “Thanks again for the food!”
“Yer welcome!” She called back from the distance.
”A nice smile...” Applejack pondered while she walked. “That’s a first.” Ellis was either quite good at flattery or that was a genuine compliment. She wasn’t too sure about the latter. Aren’t smiles all the same?
She discarded the thought, setting on getting to Sugarcube Corner where Fluttershy had asked for her help getting Pinkie Pie out of her room. Applejack couldn’t believe that she was still in there. Even she needed to eat once in a while, right? Though this wasn’t the first time Pinkie had acted like such, the orange earth pony still worried due to the fact she had no clear reason to do so. Ellis has been proven to be completely harmless, and the rest of the town knows that. Pinkie was the only one still locked in her home. Maybe she was just regretting the fact that she caused this problem in the first place. Not likely... she’s done the same during the last Nightmare Night, and although, as it turned out, she was just doing it for harmless fun, one would think she would feel something for alienating the princess.
Applejack entered the front door of the bakery. The smell of fresh pastries tantalized her senses, made her mouth water. She reminded herself that she wasn’t here for sweets. Mrs. Cake was busy at the counter, cleaning the surface with a moist cloth. She looked up and smiled at the newcomer.
“Applejack, good to see you.” She greeted. “I haven’t seen you around here for a while. Come for lunch?”
“Naw, ma’am, ahm here for Pinkie.”
Mrs. Cake frowned. “Oh. She’s still upstairs. I think your friends Rarity and Fluttershy are up there too, trying to get her to come out.”
Sure enough, she could hear the calls of the fashionista, dampened through the walls between them accompanied by the faint but punctual knocking sound of a hoof on a door.
“Mrs. Cake, aren't you her employer? Can’t y’all just tell her to get her flank downstairs and git back tah work?”
The pudgy blue baker sighed. “I wish it were that easy, dearie. Working with Pinkie is kind of... non-standard. She’s half the reason why this bakery is so successful. Her extravagant baking, her festive arrangements; she even decorated it when she first started working here! Me and my hubby put up with her quirks and shenanigans because of that.”
Applejack wasn’t convinced. “Is that so?”
“Not really...” Her voice trailed off. “It’s complicated. You’re free to go upstairs and help out. Good luck, though, nothing has worked so far with her.”
“Thanks.” Applejack nodded and ascended the steps to Pinkie Pie’s room, where the alabaster and canary ponies stood right outside the door. The farm pony cleared her throat and both Rarity and Fluttershy looked round to meet her. The pegasus was the first to speak.
“I’m so glad you could come, Applejack. We’ve tried everything to get her out of there.” She said in her soft, breathy voice.
“My patience as just about run thin with that girl.” Rarity stated as she idly trimmed her hooves with a file. “She’s been rather difficult before, but never like this.”
“She still thinks Ellis would hurt her or something.” Fluttershy explained. “I really don’t know much about him, but he doesn’t seem like the type to go around hurting other ponies.”
Applejack groaned. “Alright, lemme give it a try.” She walked up to the bedroom door and knocked. “Pinkie Pie! It’s me, Applejack!”
There was a pause before a reply came from behind the locked barrier. “You’re not getting me out!”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Look, Pinkie, ah can tell you right now, and ah swear- no... ah Pinkie Promise that Ellis don’t wanna hurt ya.” She made the silly gestures that came with the rite of the “Pinkie Promise” and chanted the signature rhyme:
“Cross mah heart an’ hope tah fly, stick a cupcake in mah- OW! Eye...” She accidentally thrust her hoof into her socket a little harder than she intended. There was a short moment of silence. Then, the deadbolt slid and the door creaked open a smidgen. Pinkie Pie could be seen on the other side, but just barely. The room was dark; the shades were drawn shut. Applejack could make out her cotton-candy mane, all frizzy and unkempt from having the bed covers pulled over her head for so long. She could see her eyes. Unease was written all over them.
She whimpered. “You promise?”
“Pinkie, when ah make promises, ah darn well keep ‘em! You should know that!” She lowered her voice. “Can ya tell me why ya still scared a’ him?”
She opened the door a little further. “His smell.”
“His smell? Really? He doesn’t stink that bad. In fact, he took a shower last night. All cleaned up.”
“No, Applejack,” Nopony had ever seen her this quiet or forlorn. It scared them, to be honest. “He smells... he smells like blood.”
“Blood?!” Rarity exclaimed. Fluttershy was also taken aback.
“He was coated in it. I could smell him. I can smell a lot of things other ponies can’t.”
“Oh, darling, you must be imagining it. He does not look like the kind of creature who would... do that.” Rarity suddenly became unsure of herself in mid-sentence. All three turned to Applejack, who looked back with an expression of equivocation.
“Applejack? Do you know something that has to do with this?” The ivory unicorn inquired.
“Ah... ah didn’t wanna tell ya. Ah didn’t want any more cause for alarm. There was a reason he had that knife with him. Last night, he gave me the story of what he went through before he got himself here.” She wavered, not sure how to convey what she had been told.
“Go on.” Rarity insisted.
“Y’all won’t believe me. Ah didn’t think ah could believe it mahself. The place where he came from... it was full of zombies.”
“Zombies? That’s absurd!”
“Ah ain’t lying. That’s what his machete was fer, defending himself against other infected humans. Trying to survive when the whole darned world is out tah kill ya.” She looked at their faces. They were all near-mortified except for Fluttershy’s, who seemed strangely reserved in her reaction, only displaying despondency. “He said he didn’t have a choice. Ah personally think that he did the right thing, puttin’ the tortured souls in a better place. Ah honestly wouldn’t want to be in his place.”
Applejack focused on the pink mare. “Pinks, he’s had it worse than anypony we know combined, and by a stroke a’ chance, he got outta that hole and ended up here. Don’t you think he deserves a chance?”
“Well...” Pinkie Pie was indecisive. “I... uh...”
“One more thing...” Applejack got within whispering distance. “...he really likes yer cupcakes.”
By some force of unknown Pinkie-magic, her eyes brightened and her hair phased back into its normal, neatly poofy state. A bubbly smile spread across her face.
“Then let’s throw him a PAR-!”
“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” Mrs. Cake appeared behind them. “You’re not doing any parties until you’ve made up for skipping out on me for yesterday and this morning!”
Bemusement slapped her face. “Wha-? But... Ok...” She hung her head and trudged downstairs, her boss scowling close behind her.
“Maybe tomorrow, Pinkie!” Applejack called. She was glad that was all taken care of. Hopefully, that would be the last of her problems.
“Alright, dude.” Sawdust vocalized. “Here comes the next part: re-shingling.”
Lunch was over, and so was the process of covering the beams with sturdy plywood. After a quick session of shouting from Big Boss, they prepared their next designated task. All three helped haul the crate of roof tiles from the cart and set it next to the wall of the building in repair. They would all be working on this from the roof. With their combined efforts, they should have it done in no time at all.
“Ok, Ellis, we just need a ladder. I think it’s ‘round back. You think you can get it?”
“No problem.” The human did a two-finger salute and jogged off to the other side of the building. When he got there, he immediately saw the wooden implement. Taking care not to acquire any unneeded splinters, he placed his hands on the side of the rungs and-
A strange and eerie feeling struck Ellis. He felt like he was being watched. Hands still holding the ladder, he slowly turned his head around.
A pony sat behind him. A unicorn, to be exact. If he discerned the gender correctly, the muzzle shape dictated that according to Rainbow Dash, she was a female. She was completely still. Absolutely unmoving. The first thing Ellis noticed was her eyes. The irises were shrunk down to about the size of a golf ball, but the pupils were so dilated that it almost entirely covered the eye color. Only a thin outline of yellow could barely be worked out. The next was the full-toothed grin. Her demented smile. It nearly split her face in half. Ellis really started to feel creeped-out.
Then he noticed her color. Green. Her mane had a white highlight in it. She had a lyre cutie mark. Ellis realized who this was.
“You’re that one...” He trailed off, pointing at her.
She nodded her head.
“Who was lookin’...”
She nodded again. He swore he could hear the creaking sound of rusty hinges as she flexed her neck. Her chilling expression remained the same.
“An’ ya wanna...”
She nodded once more.
Ellis sighed. He knew exactly what was coming next.
“Ok... here we go...” He breathed while he limbered up his legs.
And so, the citizens of the small town turned their head to the sound of commotion - again - to see the now well-know bipedal creature hollering at the top of his lungs - again - being chased by a maniacal green unicorn for whatever reason most could not fathom.
Ponyville was going to need a bigger insane asylum.
“COME BACK HERE!” Wailed the sea-foam madmare. “I WANT YOUR BOOODDDYYYYY!!!”
“Can’t ah go fer five minutes without being chased?!” Ellis yelled over her hysterics.
Sawdust caught the uproar and called out to the human.
“I told you about Lyra, bro! I warned you!”
“IT KEEPS HAPPENING!”