Twist, flip, fold, place.
I have seven white military issue shirts and I spent the first fifteen minutes after waking up folding them methodically. My life is nothing if not adventurous.
Still, I should count myself lucky that I’m even allowed to be here. Had it been anypony else in my position, they would be court-marshalled and prosecuted. Thankfully, there are still some ponies up top that appreciate the last twelve years of my life.
The post-service guidance counsellor suggested that I start this journal in an effort to keep my thoughts as organised as everything else I own. Although, she also told me that now may be a good time to ‘indulge in the freedoms that I have been denied.’ I assume she means I should go to clubs and get drunk, or take up painting or singing. I can’t do those things. As sharp as I like to think my mind is, I’m not very adaptable. Being in the military for so long has conditioned me to behave in a certain way.
I am a transparent, predictable, boring war vet who is living in a two-by-two inch room at a barracks full of stallions who are exactly the same.
Well, maybe not exactly the same. When once I could mingle and get along with almost anypony here, there is a great divide between us now. After all, they know how I treated the last friends I had.
I shouldn’t dwell on that. My day was a lot more interesting than I expected, considering the humble and monotonous beginning.
I should probably go through the most notable events in order to maintain some form of continuity, lest I just start blabbing about waitresses and flatmates with no rhyme or reason.
The first, I believe, was when I exited my room and bumped into a fellow officer. Well, fellow might not be the right word anymore.
He was dressed impeccably in a dark green military coat and cap. His teeth were blindingly white and perfectly arranged as he smiled at me. Every aspect of him screamed perfection, the symmetry of his face matched every wrinkle in his coat.
“Jog Watson!” he exclaimed as if we hadn’t seen each other the day before, and the day before that, and so on.
“Yes, hello Gold Star,” I said quickly as I walked past him, hoping to set a precedent for the whole conversation. Naturally, my efforts were in vain as he followed me, trotting to catch up.
“So where you off to today, Jog?” he asked brightly. I hated how he used my first name. My true friends used to call me Watson, and that was how I liked it.
“Around.” The truth was, I didn’t have any plans whatsoever. A military pension doesn’t leave a lot of room for exploration.
“Maybe going into the city, eh? Check out some apartments? You could get yourself a nice big one with a good view. I’ve heard the cityscape is beautiful at night.”
I snorted. “Gee Gold, you’re not even being subtle about it now.”
He shrugged as we stepped outside into the sunlight. A dozen stallions trotted past in single file, followed by a shouting unicorn. Various ponies were hard at work training or moving cargo around the base. “I’m just thinking of what’s best for my soldiers. No offence, but with you hanging around they can’t really move on from what happened. You’re a constant reminder just by living here.”
I stopped in the middle of the dirt road and turned to him. “Look, I’ll go into town today and search for an apartment if you stop bringing that up. Honestly, I think part of the reason nopony is moving on is because you keep talking about it.”
His smile vanished and he frowned slightly. “Those words were a little sharp, Jog. Might want to dull them down a bit when speaking to an officer.”
“Don’t try to pull rank on me, Gold. I’m a civilian now.” I sighed and kept walking. “Besides, you have the result you wanted. After breakfast I’ll catch a carriage into town and check things out.”
And just like that, his smile returned in full force and he slapped me on the back. “Brilliant! Well, best of luck Jog! Duty calls.”
As he trotted away I wondered if that was a veiled insult. It was never clear with Gold.
The carriage was empty except for me. Not many soldiers went into the city at this time of day… or at all, really. They had exercises and logistics to manage that left them with no time for whimsical forays into the huge metropolis.
The very first thought that entered my mind, interestingly enough, was that this city was not a huge metropolis. While it definitely had skyscrapers and tall buildings and busy streets, it didn’t strike me as a modern wonderland like the papers make you expect. Instead, what I saw was a city with inexplicable character. From the dark roads to the large expanse of lower buildings that seemed like children huddling around the adult skyscrapers, Trottingham spoke to me of age and culture hundreds of years in the making.
As I rolled through the streets and watched the ponies go by, they seemed to reflect and absorb that atmosphere. Yes, sometimes it was dirty and noisy, with cranes on the horizon and smoky, industrialised air, but those features were more akin to a distinguished old man puffing on his pipe, years of stories beneath his receding hairline.
The colours of manes and fur, shops and signs, of the very sky itself, seemed darker yet somehow richer. Rather than try to clean and modernise everything, the citizens had built upon and contributed to the history and by doing so created a much more vivid and interesting place than I expected.
Or perhaps I had become so acclimatised to the sterile military base that even the slightest hint of intellectual flavour sent my imagination into hysterics.
Regardless, I was still reeling from the sights and sounds when I exited the carriage in a small plaza. A stallion with a thick Stalliongrad accent picked up his marefriend and spun her around as she laughed. Two younger fillies raced past me and vanished around a corner. Old and frail, a stallion with a walking stick slowly crossed the plaza, trudging through puddles without a second thought.
It was at that point that I realised I had no idea where to go. Rather than swallow my pride and ask somepony where I was, I entered a diner adjacent to the busy court. A friendly little place with red stools and seats, I slipped into a booth and idly flicked through the menu.
The waitress soon approached me, a friendly pink-maned mare. Unlike Gold, her smile was warm and genuine. “What can I get for you, sir?” The Trottingham accent was absent from her voice.
“Watson,” I said quickly. “Just call me Watson.” She chuckled and I flushed with embarrassment. Why would she care what my name was? I was just a customer. Her face was still friendly and expectant though, so I glanced at the menu and said the first thing I saw. “Uh, a daisy and daffodil sandwich, please.”
“Sure thing, Watson.” Even though I was still staring intently at the menu to avoid eye contact, I could hear the amusement in her voice.
A minute later, she placed the plate down in front of me and I thanked her. To my surprise, rather than leaving me alone, she slipped into the booth and sat opposite me. I took a bite out of the sandwich and looked out the window to avoid her eyes once again.
“You don’t belong here,” she said thoughtfully. I glanced at her and she was also staring through the glass with a little smile on her lips.
“Sorry?” I asked, not sure if I heard her correctly.
“I saw you as soon as you got off that carriage. Your eyes were as big as saucers. Tell me Watson, have you ever been to a city before?”
I chewed and swallowed to buy some time. “Well, yes… but…”
“But none like this?” her purple eyes flicked to me once again.
“You’ve got good eyes, Watson. Most ponies who come here see exactly what they expect to see and nothing more.” The waitress leaned on the table and I subconsciously moved forward as well. “I think you see this city for what it truly is.”
As enthralled as I was by this mare, I couldn’t help asking, “Do you ask every customer these things?”
She looked a bit abashed as she fiddled with a loose strand of hair. “I’m sorry, I always do this. You just want to have lunch in peace.”
I stood up to stop her leaving so quickly that the table shuddered. “No, it’s fine. Please, continue. I was… I am very interested.”
With a smile, she sat back down.
“So why don’t I belong here?” I prompted.
“Because you see the truth where others see falsehood. That makes you a rare kind of pony in this city.”
“But you see it too. Does that mean you don’t belong either?”
She laughed a light musical sound that brought a smile to my face. “Trottingham is in my blood. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. No, I definitely belong here. I only see like you do because somepony pointed everything out to me.” The waitress leaned forward again, lowering her voice. “How the shadows below the cityscape are sometime darker than the night itself. How each and every face of each and every pony has a faint warm glow to it if you look close enough.” She returned to her relaxed posture. “But I didn’t realise those things on my own. You did, and therefore you do not belong.”
I felt slightly out of breath after hearing her speak. If it had been anypony else, at any other time, in any other place, I would have dismissed her words as silly philosophical gibberish. But she was right. I had seen exactly what she described.
“Your friend sounds like a smart pony.”
“My friend?” she raised an eyebrow.
“The pony who told you how to see the city,” I explained.
She laughed again. “I wouldn’t call him a friend. He doesn’t have any friends.”
“Oh.” I felt rather awkward after that revelation.
“He needs them though. I don’t think he realises it, but he does.” The fantastically interesting waitress leaned forward once more and locked eyes with me. “But he needs something else even more. Something that is vital to his future.”
I was more than a bit interested by this point. “Yes?”
“A flatmate.” Laughing, she broke the spellbinding hold she had over me and I chuckled with her.
“Well, as it happens, I’m looking for a flat.”
“How could you possibly know that?”
“You have a note taped to your back.”
I was surprised, to say the least, and sure enough when I reached back I found the note in question. In large black letters it said “LOOKING FOR FLAT”.
“Gold, you son of a-“
“Do you get pranked often?” giggled the waitress.
“It’s just this idiot I know. He’s very eager to get me to move out of the barracks.”
She gasped. “Oh, you’re a soldier?”
“I was. But let’s not get into that. Your not-friend needs a flatmate, does he?”
“Yes, he does. I think you two would be perfect together. When you see him, tell him Birdy sent you. That should give you an edge over any other potential flatmates.”
“That’s my name. Don’t make any jokes, I’ve heard them all.”
“Honestly, I can’t think of one anyway,” I confessed.
“Keep it that way.” She stood up and left the booth with my plate.
“Wait!” I called, “Where is the flat?”
“221b Baker Street! You better hurry if you want to catch him before somepony else does!”
And so it was that I caught another carriage and had them take me to that very flat.
It seemed so unassuming at first glance. On either side of it, there were identical buildings all the way down the street. Only when I knocked did I discover a critical difference. The door handle appeared to be melted into the wood itself somehow.
I knocked three times before anypony answered. He had unkempt dark hair and wore plastic goggles. The landlord, I assumed.
“Which is it?” he said irritably, “I’m in the middle of something.”
“I’m here for the flat-“ I began.
“Yes, Birdy sent you. So which bedroom do you want, upstairs or downstairs?”
“Uh, I haven’t even looked inside yet.”
He seemed exasperated. “Well why not? The door was unlocked.” I gestured at the handle and he gave me a dull look. “So you saw the handle looked melted but you didn’t even try to turn it? I thought I told Birdy to send me good ones.” He turned and vanished back up a short flight of stairs.
Out of curiosity, I reached out and turned the handle easily. The warped golden ball worked perfectly. What purpose could that possibly serve?
I decided to follow the stallion up into the main living area and ask him. He turned away from a bunsen burner and cocked his head. “Intelligence test. Well, no actually. More of a curiosity test. Curious ponies are the most interesting ones. The kinds who touch the bowl even if they are told that it is hot.”
The flat was quite roomy, with two couches, a long table that was already stacked with strange equipment, and an open doorway into a decent kitchen. Another room was closed that I assumed was the downstairs bedroom.
“That sounds like stupidity to me,” I said frankly. “It’s like ignoring an ‘electric fence’ sign and then trying to climb one.”
He turned off the burner and dove onto a couch with surprising agility. “And so we see how the difference between the two depends entirely on the stakes.” Resting his head on one hoof, he looked me over appraisingly. “Now that was an intelligence test.” A grin broke his mouth suddenly and violently, like a lion baring his teeth. Everything about this stallion was lightning fast, his movements, his thoughts, and his speech. I briefly wondered if the rest of the world moved in slow motion to him.
I casually trotted through the flat to inspect it closely. “How did you know that Birdy sent me?”
He curled up in a childlike way, laying his head on the arm rest. It forced me to notice how slender he was, with an almost feminine physique. I write that now and it doesn’t seem quite right. He is very clearly male, as in there is no possibility of mistaking him for a mare, it’s just that some of his characteristics are softer than the average stallion. From his rather obsessive nature, I would assume that is due to a strict, vigorous hygiene routine.
“She’s the only pony I told,” he said simply. Those words seemed to create an intelligent contrast to his previous, rather insightful statements. In moment I could see he was both a stallion of great aptitude and greater irregularity. I confess, he fascinated me.
“I like the flat.”
“You still haven’t given me an answer.”
He reached up and traced a circle in the air with his hoof. “Upstairs or down?”
I leaned against the kitchen doorway. “You’re so confident that I’m going to take it. I actually have several places in mind that-“
“What?” I heard him perfectly. My response was a reflex.
“You’re lying. A military pension doesn’t leave many choices, especially in Trottingham. Not to mention if you had other places in mind you wouldn’t be taking advice from a random amateur philosopher who works in a diner.”
“How could you possibly know that I’m on a military pension?”
He shuffled around on the couch and let his head hang off the front, looking at me upside down. It was a rather ridiculous sight. “Look at yourself. Your hair, your eyes, the way you clench your jaw. Even as you lean against that doorway I can see the rigid lines of habit in your posture. The way you walked in here and looked around, each step methodical and purposeful. You couldn’t look more militaristic if you were wearing camouflage. As for your pension, well, if you were on leave then you wouldn’t be looking for a permanent place.”
“Alright, well done. You’ve picked me apart. I still know nothing about you, though.”
Rolling over and stepping off the couch, my soon-to-be flatmate stepped closer. “Very well. Observe me and all the answers should reveal themselves.”
I found myself complying with his absurd request. It was as I scanned his body closely that I noticed his cutie mark: a magnifying glass. His grey fur had a dark patch where the lens was, giving the illusion of depth.
“There is only so much that can be deduced from staring at my flank,” he said conversationally. I quickly moved on and looked lower, tracing his slim hind legs. He had neatly trimmed fetlocks and very clean hooves. Almost obsessively so.
As for his face, without the goggles on I could get a better picture of him. Two bright blue eyes glinting with unspoken knowledge gazed back at me. I noticed little black tendrils threaded within the blue, adding another layer of intrigue to them.
His face was also quite thin like the rest of him, but nowhere near gaunt. His hair was a mess of black spikes that could half-cover his eyes if he tilted his head forward. Of all of him, the hair was by far the least organised part.
“You have a hygiene routine that borders on the obsessive, your cutie mark means you are good at finding things, like a flatmate, and you have given up trying to tame your hair but can’t be bothered cutting it,” I summarised.
“That’s it? That’s all you managed?”
I shrugged. “I don’t have an instant biography cutie mark.”
Sighing, he listed my mistakes with a decided lack of interest. “My cleanliness must be impeccable due to the nature of my work. My cutie mark does not mean I am good at finding things, although I am, it means that I observe when others merely see. My hair is messy because I was just hanging upside down on the couch. It doesn’t need much provocation to break free from the order I attempt to impose on it every morning.”
“It’s an opponent that I can never defeat.”
He ignored me and returned to the couch. “This is the final time I’ll ask this, soldier colt. Upstairs or down?”
“Upstairs. And my name is Jog Watson.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Watson. I am Fetlock Holmes.”
After that, I returned to the barracks and told Gold the good news. He was thrilled, of course, and helped carry my meagre belongings out to the carriage. Such a helpful idiot. The rent of this place is steep, but splitting it with Holmes has made things considerably easier. We may even get to eat decent food.
I must say, we are getting along far better than I thought we would. I suppose after so many months of being ostracised at the base it is remarkably refreshing to encounter a pony that seems to care what I have to say. Yes, much of our dialogue was me asking him to explain his thought processes and conclusions, and every conversation was like a duel where I desperately defended the bitter remains of my dignity, but Holmes would occasionally concede points and admit fault. Perhaps he doesn't want to completely drive me away, as it seems he can't afford the flat on his own either, or perhaps he is trying to learn one of those pony emotions known as ‘humility’. I’m quite certain it is the former.
It’s my first night in this place and Holmes is still awake downstairs. I can hear him moving things around and muttering.
Others might find it disturbing or annoying, but I just think it’s funny. Quite an eccentric and interesting pony if you can get past the rudeness.
My plans for tomorrow: Take Holmes up on his offer to show me how he earns the bits to pay his share of the rent. Should be quite interesting. I actually have difficulty imagining him doing a regular job, so my expectations are fairly high. I’ll have to wait and see.
Doctor Jog Watson