Five columns, five rows. Twenty-five desks, all facing in the same direction, all occupied by fillies and colts.
Except for one.
In the front row, three desks from the left, a vacant chair was neatly pushed beneath the clean desk. It both attracted and escaped attention. As the odd one out, eyes would flicker to it for a moment before moving away, never given a second thought.
Only when the teacher was forced to acknowledge it did the little ponies all truly look toward the empty space.
“Does anypony know where Whippy is?” she asked, bringing the murmurs of conversation to a halt.
They looked around at each other, each as clueless as the next, shrugging and muttering excuses in a group effort to relinquish responsibility.
“I don’t hang out with him.”
“We’re not really friends.”
“I’ve said five words to him in my whole life.”
A colt with long black hair raised his head from where it had rested on his hooves and looked around. The colt in the desk next to him returned the look, and together they spoke to the teacher.
“Last time we saw Whip was after school yesterday. He was walking home,” said the dark-haired pony.
“Yeah, it was raining pretty hard so we didn’t stick around very long,” added his friend.
The teacher’s natural smile faltered slightly, not that any of the students noticed.
Only the slightest tremble in the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth gave any indication that something might be wrong.
A brightly lit office room. White fluorescent bulbs covered everything in a sickly pale glow. Even the strong wooden desk that dominated the centre seemed to absorb the uncaring light. The window behind the desk was streaked with the aftermath of heavy rain.
Phones rang in the background, neighbouring offices and hallways, always busy, never sleeping. Even the tears that splashed against the floor were simply another part of the atmosphere.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Lash, but it’s important that I have as much information as possible,” said the stallion behind the desk. He wore an office coat and was well built, but his eyes were soft and his words comforting.
“I know,” sniffed the mare, “I’m sorry, please continue.”
He pushed forward a box of tissues with one hoof and pulled a sheet of paper towards himself with the other. Picking up a pen with his teeth with practiced ease, he prepared to write. “So the last time you saw your son was when he left for school on Monday morning, is that correct?”
She nodded, gratefully seizing a tissue.
“You called his teacher, Lemon Seed, and she told you that he was at school all day, correct?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Now, does your son often return late or not at all?”
“No, never. Sometimes he will be a bit late, but he always comes home.”
The stallion leaned forward on the desk and placed the pen down. His narrow face and strong jaw gave him the look of a very serious pony, but his light golden hair helped make him more approachable. “I think, based on what you’ve told me, it’s safe to assume your son went missing just after school as he was walking home.” At the mother’s startled squeak, he quickly continued, “Now I must stress how important it is to not jump to conclusions. Young ponies are always running off or getting lost. It’s possible the storm ruined his sense of direction and he ended up somewhere else. We’ll follow the standard missing pony procedure and see what turns up.”
She nodded, her worries slightly assuaged by his confident words. She held out a hoof and he took it quickly. “Thank you, Detective. You’ve been so patient with me.” A shaky smile graced her lips.
“That’s Inspector, ma’am. Inspector Lestrade.”
A dark alley, framed by tall buildings. Wet shadows slithered along the ground, trying to venture out into the bright street.
An old mare shuffled down the footpath to the mouth of the alley, her broom held in wispy grey magic. Puffs of dust and dirt arose as she swept. Little round glasses were perched upon her nose and she squinted in the morning light.
Every now and then a carriage would rumble past and she would raise a hoof in greeting. Sometimes the ponies waved back, other times they didn’t. She didn’t mind though. A busy pony is a good pony.
The dirt she had gathered was slowly swept toward the alley. Carefully avoiding a puddle so she didn’t splash her knitted sweater, the mare pushed her load further into the alley.
A cool feeling trickled down her spine as the shadows overtook her. This place always unnerved her in the morning, before the sun was high enough to vanquish the dark gap beside her house.
But she was old and experienced in dealing with the terrors that darkness brought. Namely: nothing. So she whistled as she swept and walked further down the narrow path, stepping around large garbage bins and discarded trash that had been there for as long as she had.
The first sense to realise something was wrong was smell.
“Oh my, there’s somethin’ awful rotten around here,” she muttered to herself, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
The second sense was touch.
Her left hoof recoiled from the ground and she scraped it on the concrete furiously. The floor was sticky, and in a place like this that could mean anything from gum to urine. Swallowing her nausea at the thought, the old mare stepped around the little dark stain and ventured past a very large stack of waste bins.
Her hearing was failing, so that was no use.
The only taste on her tongue was medicated denture gum, which contributed nothing.
In that moment of revelation, the only sense that provided useful data was sight.
And it was not a pretty sight.
Lying there, crumpled against the alley wall and slicked in dark crimson, a young colt stared blankly at her. One of his eyes was half closed due to the post mortem twitch of a muscle, and resting on that eyelid was an odd, insect like shape, devoid of colour. His muzzle was crumpled and showing specks of white: shattered bone peeking through the flesh.
Her broom clattered against the ground, the sound echoing loudly even to her old ears.
The old mare’s throat was hoarse from screaming, a noise that only now registered in her brain.
She screamed and screamed, and soon other voices joined her, at first in question and then in alarm. Other ponies rushed down the alley and there were voices everywhere, talking and crying, trying to find out what happened.
Above it all, the old mare shouted with all of her fear and shock.
“Somepony call the police!”
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
Well. Today sure has been eye-opening.
I found out how Holmes pays his half of the rent, but that was just the beginning. A day with Fetlock Holmes is a day like no other. Everything seems so normal at first, but then things keep happening and you find yourself caught up in his excitement. I understand why he chose his job, I really do. There’s never a dull moment.
But perhaps I should take a moment to gather my thoughts. My head is still spinning from the day’s events.
It was as the sun escaped the horizon that I awoke to the sound of somepony torturing a violin. It scraped along every nerve and fibre of my being like metal squealing against metal. Furious, I stormed out of my bedroom and into the main living area.
“What the bloody hay are you doing?” I shouted, though my voice may have lost some of its force as I noticed who else was in the room.
An imposing stallion with light brown fur and a short golden mane stood just inside the room. He spared me a glance before turning back to Holmes, who was reclining calmly on an armchair with the offending violin pressed against his neck. The bow was attached to his other hoof and sat poised just above the strings. He, too, gave me a quick look without so much as an apology.
“Holmes,” grumbled the new stallion, “You made me promise to come get you if something interesting happened. Well, this is right up your alley.”
The pony he addressed sighed in annoyance. “Yes, you have said that already. I’m waiting for some details.” Holmes glanced at me again. “Watson, this is Lestrade. Lestrade, Watson.”
Lestrade cleared his throat. “That’s Inspector Lestrade, thanks.”
I nodded in belated greeting and approached the pair, all thoughts of violins and anger gone from my mind. “And what exactly is a policepony doing here?” I directed the question towards Holmes.
“They come to me when they get stumped. So, often.” Now that definitely piqued my interest.
“Are you a detective or something?”
“Consulting detective, actually. The best in the world.”
Lestrade barked a laugh. “That’s because he’s the only one in the world. The title doesn’t actually exist outside of his head.”
“Do you want my help or not?”
The inspector sobered quickly. “You want details? Right. A little colt was found dead in an alley yesterday morning with his head bashed in.”
I felt my throat close at the revelation and I swallowed repeatedly. I was an army doctor and had seen my fair share of dead stallions and mares, but something about fallen children hit me deep inside.
“Is that all?” Holmes asked casually. “Probably a mugging gone wrong. Young pony skulls can be quite fragile.”
“’Is that all?!’” I exclaimed incredulously. “Don’t you have any shred of compassion?”
Lestrade looked at me with an eyebrow raised. “How long have you known Fetlock Holmes, Mister Watson?”
“Doctor. I’m a doctor. And not very long, but why should that matter?”
“Compassion,” began Holmes conversationally, “Is an odd defect found in the limbic system of the brain. It has no useful function and only serves to make observations subject to the inaccuracies of extreme emotion. If I broke down crying every time I heard of a horrible tragedy, there would still be horrible tragedies. Do you understand?”
“That is why it matters,” muttered Lestrade.
I could barely believe my ears. “So you don’t even care that the little colt is dead?”
“You misunderstand me.” Holmes adjusted his position to look me in the eyes. “I care, definitely. I want the killer to be caught just as much as you do. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do: catch the killer. Would you mind telling me how getting upset would assist me? I’d love to know.”
My mouth worked but nothing came out. By Celestia, I thought, he’s right! I honestly couldn’t think of anything to counter with.
One of the greatest lessons in life is humility. “I’m sorry. I understand now.”
His eyes widened in surprise, which in turn surprised me. It was an expression I didn’t know he had. “You are an odd pony, Watson.”
“Nopony wants to admit they were wrong. It goes against the basic instincts we all have. Arguments are seen as battles, and we all want to win them so badly that most never even consider being wrong.”
Lestrade coughed impatiently. “This is all bloody fascinating and everything, but can you just confirm if you’re taking the case?”
“Yes, I’m taking it. I’ll visit the crime scene soon.”
“Thank you.” With a nod, the inspector left the room and thumped down the stairs.
With all thoughts of arguments and humility gone, I was reminded of the subject at hand. “You didn’t seem very interested in the case before.”
“I changed my mind.”
“Because if it was just a mugging gone wrong, he wouldn’t have come to me. I think there may be more to this.” A little smile graced his lips as he considered the possibilities.
“And that excites you?” I was slightly concerned.
“Of course. The thrill of the hunt, slowly piecing together a mystery, contending with dastardly villains! What’s not exciting about that?”
“The fact that those things rarely happen in real life.”
“Oh really?” He curled up on the armchair. “Tell me, Jog Watson, what does happen in your ‘real life’?”
“Well… Ponies contentedly deal with daily frustrations while trying to slowly piece together a happy and ultimately fulfilling life.”
“Boring! You can keep your real world, I shall have no part in it.” Leaping from the armchair, he pulled a long dark coat from the coat stand and slipped it on. “I have a case to solve. If you’re still curious about how I pay my half of the rent, you are welcome to accompany me.”
With nothing else to do, I took him up on his offer and donned my leather jacket, making a mental note to look for a slightly more modern coat later.
I confess, boredom was not the only reason I followed Holmes down the stairs and into the street, nor was fear of complacency the only reason I climbed into the carriage with him. It was curiosity that stood foremost in my mind, dictating my actions. If that sounds like I am relinquishing responsibility for myself then I apologise, but that is certainly how I felt.
We had an interesting conversation in the carriage on the way there that began when I asked how he knew where to go considering the inspector didn’t give him the address.
“I read the paper. The violent death of a colt in a Trottingham alley? That’s front page material. Naturally, they provided the address so ponies could all go and gawk at the bloodstains, or whatever it is normal ponies do.”
“You must have read the paper before the inspector arrived though. Are you saying you remembered a tiny detail that you didn’t even know you would need?”
“Not at all. I’m saying that due to the big publicity behind this case, Lestrade would want to find the killer quickly. To do that he would put his best ponies onto it.”
“So why did he come to you?” I didn’t mean it in that way, but when Holmes started laughing I couldn’t help but join in. It was refreshing to see him laugh, especially after his anti-emotion speech not too long ago.
“I like your wit, Watson. In answer to your question, he comes to me when his best ponies aren’t enough. I am his ‘ace in the hole’, if you like card game analogies.”
I took a moment to sum everything up for my own benefit. “So you knew just from reading the front page that Lestrade would come to ask for your help?”
“In essence, yes.” He was smirking at my dumbfounded reaction.
“Do you make these kinds of assumptions often?”
Holmes gave a strong laugh that I did not reciprocate, for I had yet to see the humour. “Oh, you have no idea, my dear Watson.”
From those words it became apparent that my clear intellectual inferiority was not a burden on him, and that he was apparently warming to me as a pony. It gave me hope that living with this strange stallion wouldn’t be quite as unbearable as I first imagined.
The crime scene was cordoned off by policeponies, as I expected. They held back a hungry crowd of journalists and a curious pack of pedestrians. Lestrade was standing at the mouth of the alley talking to a little old mare clutching a broomstick like it was her only child.
Our carriage stopped before the police line and we exited to the flash of cameras. In a split second, my comparatively weaker deductive powers decided that Holmes had been in the spotlight before and thus attracted a lot of media attention when in public.
My companion seemed less than thrilled by the attention, turning his coat up and moving past the crowd quickly. I followed, stumbling slightly as I was blinded by the cacophony of white that accompanied my exit from the vehicle. That seemed to only excite the vulture-like journalists and made my progress that much more difficult.
Eventually, I caught up to Holmes as he waited impatiently on the other side of the police line. He jerked his head – ‘follow me, and be quick about it’. I did as much, and the policeponies did not hinder my advance. Whether it was because they had been told about me or I looked like a detective with my jacket and cropped mane, I still don’t know.
We trotted purposefully up to Lestrade and the old mare.
“Ah,” exclaimed the inspector upon spotting us. “There you are, Holmes. And… Doctor Watson too?”
“He was curious about how I work,” explained Holmes.
“Yeah, we’re all a bit curious about how you work, but this is police business. We can’t just let civilians go snooping around crime scenes.”
My companion cocked his head and smiled.
Lestrade sighed, realising his error. “Just this once. I’m breaking enough rules letting you snoop around.
“If those rules are stopping cases from getting solved then perhaps breaking them is the best solution. May we inspect the scene now?”
A nod was all the answer we received as the inspector turned back to the old mare. I followed Holmes through the alley until we reached the marked area. A chalk outline on a dark stain cast quite an image, one that I’ll not soon forget.
“Pity,” muttered Holmes.
“It is,” I agreed.
“They should’ve left the body.”
“The outline can only tell us so much.”
I shook my head. “Why am I even surprised that’s what you’re talking about? Anyway, the poor colt died yesterday morning. It would not look a pretty sight.”
Holmes seemed almost offended. “I can account for decomposition!”
“That’s not really what I meant.”
“Regardless, they should have left the body.”
“They probably have photos of it.”
“Indeed, but I can’t inspect very thoroughly through a picture. We shall have to make do with this.”
He stepped around the stain and outline carefully, eyes darting across the scene and occasionally looking further down the alley. I stood and watched with interest. So this is what he does, I remember thinking. He solves crimes and is apparently o good at it police actually request his help. It certainly fit his personality, that’s for certain.
“I’m done here,” he said, straightening up after looking at the ground a few metres away from the outline.
“Any clues?” I asked, genuinely enjoying myself despite the matter at hand.
Holmes swept past me and I quickly followed. The old mare was sitting on her doorstep being comforted by a policepony.
Lestrade noticed our approach and trotted to meet us. “Well?”
“Do you have a picture of the body?” The inspector flipped one out from his coat pocket and hoofed it over. Holmes glanced at it barely a second before looking up. “Was there anything missing from the body? Any traces that he had been searched?”
“Nothing. He was left where he dropped.”
“Perhaps not a mugging gone wrong then. What’s that object on his right eye?”
Lestrade took a breath before answering and I leaned forward in anticipation. “It’s a butterfly. A dead butterfly. We think it’s unrelated, probably just died and fell out of the sky.”
“That's extremely unlikely.”
“I guess I’ll arrest the bloody dead butterfly then. Case closed,” the inspector replied dryly.
“What kind of butterfly was it?”
“I don’t bloody know – hey, Silvertap!” he called to the mare comforting the old pony.
She trotted over quickly. “Sir?”
“What kind of butterfly was it?”
“A Wet Flier, sir.”
Holmes looked at Silvertap with a smirk. “From its name I assume they are fond of the wet seasons?”
“That’s right, Mister Holmes. Trottingham and the countryside around us has plenty of them around this time of year.”
Lestrade shook his head. “Holmes, if you’re just wasting time because you don’t have any leads-“
“I’m gathering knowledge, Lestrade. Have we not met?”
“Alright, but enough about the damn butterfly. Silvertap, go back to Mrs Oak.”
As the mare quickly trotted away, Holmes didn’t miss a beat. “Who was the colt? Does he have any family?”
“A mother and a father, no siblings. His name was Whippy Feather.”
“Which school did he go to?”
“Trottingham First Start School, near the northern public park.”
“Good. I’m going to interview some ponies, can I trust that you won’t reprimand me?”
Lestrade seemed to argue internally, but it wasn’t long before he nodded. “Alright, but I want some results.”
With that, Holmes and I slipped past the cameras once more and hailed a carriage. I admit I wasn’t very talkative, as I was still trying to absorb all the information I had been subjected to. Strangely, only one question popped into my mind as we rumbled towards the school.
“First Start School?” I asked stupidly.
“They changed the name a few times over the years. Merely politicians and officials trying to justify their jobs.”
“So what is a First Start School in old-pony language then?”
Holmes chuckled. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
When we arrived at the school, the first thing I noticed was how subdued it seemed. There were no shouting or playing children to be seen. It unnerved me slightly.
The receptionist was remarkably helpful, probably assuming we were policeponies. She had been crying a bit, judging from the redness around her eyes, and many of the staff we passed were somewhat haggard in appearance. The death of little ponies would have a large effect on those who spend time with them, I supposed.
The classroom we entered seemed very quiet considering how old the students were. The teacher was writing sums on the blackboard, but nopony was really concentrating. There was a sad aura around an empty desk in the front row. Clearly, Whippy Feather had worked there.
“Can I help you?” asked the teacher.
Holmes stepped forward. “Yes, we were sent here to conduct some interviews with you and your students. I believe my secretary would have called ahead to let you know.”
The lies seemed so natural and believable that for a moment I seriously wondered why I hadn’t met his secretary yet.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t get any messages.”
My companion sighed irritably. “My apologies, ma’am. She often forgets to do this. Is it alright if we conduct the interviews anyway?”
“Of course, of course. The room next to this one is empty. If you want, I can send them in one by one.”
“That’s very much appreciated, ma’am. Though I would like to interview you first.”
The mare nodded and trotted to the door. “Now class, behave yourselves until I come back.” As I followed her out, I noticed that none of the students were particularly thrilled or rowdy at the prospect of being teacherless for a few minutes.
In the next room, we sat behind one of the desks and had the teacher stand.
“So, what is your name?” asked Holmes.
“I am Cheerilot.”
“And why did you become a teacher?” I realised at this point that he was trying to make her feel at ease, and thus more talkable. If there is one thing ponies love to talk about, it’s themselves.
“My sister and I always loved helping other ponies learn and be happy, so we both became teachers. Not here, of course. She works in a lovely little town far away.”
“A very admirable goal in life. Now, I’m sorry if this is blunt, but we need to ask about Whippy.”
She nodded solemnly. “I know. If it helps, I’ll tell you anything.”
“Thank you.” I felt slightly chilled at his display of emotion. It was so convincing! “Did he have any friends in his class?”
“Two. Popluck and Apple Crunch. They…” she bit her lip.
“Yes?” prompted Holmes.
“They… used to bully some of the other ponies. I don’t like speaking ill of the dead, so is it okay if I just leave it at that?”
My heart went out to the teacher at that moment. She swallowed and blinked her eyes quickly. Clearly, she had been maintaining her persona all day and we were cracking it.
“Of course,” my fellow interviewer said soothingly. “That’s all we really need, thank you so much. Please send the first students through.”
She sniffed and straightened her back before leaving the room. How hard it must be to have to hide your emotions all day long. I wouldn’t be able to bear it.
“You only asked her three questions,” I whispered in the few moments that we were alone.
“How observant of you, Watson,” he smirked. I was really starting to hate that smirk.
“So what could you possibly have gained from three questions?”
“Whippy and his friends bullied the other students. His death could be a revenge attack.”
“You’re treating the children as suspects?”
“There is no reason not to.”
My reply was cut short by a little colt walking into the room. He looked very nervous, so I smiled to try and ease his nerves. It only seemed to make him more anxious.
“There’s no need to be scared. We’re policeponies,” I said with a straight face. It felt wrong and right at the same time, conflicting my strict military training with the natural desire to be kind to little ponies.
“What’s your name?” asked Holmes.
“Popluck, sir.” I was surprised. This was one of the bullies? He barely reached my chest!
“So, Popluck, do you like this school?”
“No, the homework is stupid and they make me sit next to fillies.”
I chuckled, as did Holmes. At the sight of our laughter, Popluck visibly relaxed.
“Do you like animals?” I wondered where my companion was going with that question.
“Yeah. I have a dog at home and he’s awesome. We run around all day and never get tired.”
“He sounds very cool. What about bugs? Do you like bugs?”
“I like spiders and stuff. They look cool.”
I saw the slightest twitch on Holmes’ lips. “What about butterflies?” In an instant, I understood his angle of questioning.
“Butterflies are lame! They're stupid and only fillies like them!” Popluck proclaimed vehemently.
“Of course they are. Well, thank you very much Popluck. You can go back to your class now.” The colt did as much, clearly happy with himself and his answers.
Beyond that first interview, they all followed the same formulae and I confess that I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. However, I will still list the ones I can remember. Perhaps I should have written them down at the time, but alas the thought did not cross my mind.
A little filly named Mariposa, who had pink fur and red hair, claimed that she loved butterflies.
Another filly named Goldentap, with a brown mane and white fur, also claimed she loved butterflies.
The colt named Apple Crunch, who had orange fur and a dark brown mane, expressed dislike for butterflies, considering them for fillies just like Popluck did.
A third filly, Crimsqueak, liked butterflies. Her fur was a muddy red and her mane was light brown.
A colt named Red liked butterflies. His fur was grey and his mane was black.
Another colt, named Dupe, expressed venomous dislike of butterflies, much like Popluck and Apple Crunch, though he wasn’t actually friends with them and admitted to being bullied by the trio.
That was all I could remember, but Holmes was kind enough to fill in the remaining seventeen students:
Sunny Daze, filly, yes.
Ruby Pinch, filly, yes.
Compass, colt, no.
Jazz Hooves, colt, no.
Comet, colt, no.
Cinnabelle, filly, yes.
Ballad, colt, no.
Gumdrop, filly, yes.
Wind Whistler, colt, no.
Flash, filly, no.
Ferio, colt, no.
Sugar Grape, filly, yes.
Riverdance, filly, yes.
Parula, filly, yes.
Papermoon, colt, no.
Mini Medley, filly, yes.
Heart Bob, colt, no.
Not quite as descriptive as I wanted, considering these children are potential suspects, but I doubt I would remember their individual colours anyway. That list should come in handy if one of the students is caught doing something they shouldn’t be, even though I do still think it’s a little ridiculous to suspect them.
After the interviews were complete, we left the school and caught yet another carriage. I was surprised that Holmes would willingly spend so much money to avoid walking. When I said as much, the reply was surprising.
“Riding in these things helps me think. I’m always moving forward which helps my mind process information quicker.”
“And what are you processing right now?”
“That it was strange how much the colts at that school hated butterflies. I understand the normal young colt behaviour, but they seemed quite enthusiastic with their hatred.”
“They are young, they get enthusiastic about everything.”
“Possibly. Or one of them is the killer and they placed a butterfly on the dead colt because they associated him with something else they hated.”
I barked a laugh. “That’s quite an assumption.”
Holmes smiled and looked out the window. “Yes, it’s not a very strong theory. But you asked what I was thinking and I told you.”
“Thank you. So besides that, do you think you gained anything from those interviews?”
“Not really, no. I simply had to try and rule out the students.”
“And have you?”
“Almost. There are a couple of possible suspects among them, but I don’t have enough to go on.”
I thought for a moment, scratching my chin. “You know, now that I think about it I’m not sure a colt or filly as young as they were would have the strength to beat somepony to death.”
“Even children can access adrenaline. Surprising feats of strength are uncommon but not impossible.”
“Alright,” I conceded that point. “But maybe we should find out the autopsy results before making any more assumptions.”
Holmes laughed heartily. “Jog Watson, you are a stallion after my own heart. Where do you think I told the drivers to go?”
Looking out the window, I saw we were approaching a large double story building that obviously was the police station, judging from the blue and white stripes across many surfaces.
“You know they don’t keep the bodies at the police station, right?” I had to make sure.
“Other window, Watson.”
And there I saw the small grey building. A more fitting description for a morgue there has yet to be. Inside, it was just as emotionless as expected. But then, putting bright colours everywhere would not distract from the fact that dead ponies ended up here. In a way, the dull atmosphere was perfect.
The receptionist (I never knew that morgues had receptionists) apparently knew Holmes and showed us through one of the doors where a stallion with grey hair and a white coat sat behind a desk.
“Holmes,” he said gruffly, but he stood to shake hooves with us.
“Clockwork, this is Doctor Watson.”
“Hello,” I said with a reserved smile.
“Pleasure. I take it you’re here about that colt?” My companion nodded. “Right. Repeated blunt force trauma to the muzzle, broke the bones and pushed them up into the brain. Didn’t suffer much and death was quick.” It seemed Holmes wasn’t the only one who didn’t like mincing words.
“Is the damage consistent with any type of weaponry?”
“No. Bare hooves did it.”
“Now that is interesting. Watson, what do you think?”
I thought back to every wound I had seen while in service, from the small to the deadly. I knew what kind of damage ponies could take. “A full-grown stallion could accomplish that in one or two strikes, but you say repeated, so perhaps a mare did it.”
“Mares are biologically weaker in that department, yes, but you’re ignoring a possibility.”
Sighing, I cocked my head. “Alright, let me hear it.”
“A full grown stallion could accomplish this effect in one or two strikes, you said. How about a colt?”
“Not this again.”
“Simply answer the question.”
“Alright, a colt would clearly need to strike the victim quite a few times to do it.”
“Good. Clockwork, how big were the hooves that beat little Whippy to death?”
The coroner growled. “I hate knowing their names, Holmes. They were small, judging from the bruising. It was a small pony, be it mare, colt, or filly.”
“Excellent.” Holmes swept out the door without another word and I once again had to hurry to catch up.
“What exactly is ‘excellent’, if I might ask?”
“More evidence for my student theory.”
As we stepped into the afternoon musk, I couldn’t help but chuckle. “You’re really not going to drop that, are you?”
My companion looked up at the cloudy monochrome skies before replying. “The rains are coming, Watson. I’m trying to build us a raft so that we are not swept away.”
“You think this isn’t a one-time killing?”
His smile was all the answer I needed.
Our return to the flat was accompanied by the setting of the sun. Tomorrow, we will be interviewing Whippy Feather’s parents and see where that takes us. It’s a vague plan, and I know there are a hundred things that Holmes is not telling me, but I’ve become somewhat invested in this case so I put up with the lack of specificity.
It’s strange, a couple of days ago I had never met this odd stallion whose emotions seem to have an on and off switch that only he can access. I never imagined I’d be going all over the city tracking down clues to catch a murderer.
And to think I was worried about drifting into my older years on the coattails of complacency. I have honestly never felt more alive and alert than I do now. Living and spending time with Fetlock Holmes is like taking a cocktail of military-grade stimulants, and I’m forming an addiction.
Doctor Jog Watson
I had barely gotten any sleep, so my morning was somewhat slow and full of groans. I don’t know how Holmes can stay up late every night while still being up before me, but he refuses to share the secret, merely dismissing my queries with abstract suggestions such as “Don’t sleep, think. Always think.”
Regardless of his standard eccentricities, the morning was rather dull. Over breakfast, Holmes regaled me with a most fascinating retelling of one of his previous cases. I use the word ‘fascinating’ extremely loosely; most of the story was him making derogatory comments regarding the competence of the Trottingham police force (though he wasn’t very harsh on Lestrade, which I found unusual) and claiming that without his help the case would have gone unsolved.
I nodded in all the right places, chuckled at each mention of the bumbling officers, and gasped at every revelation. It was quite a convincing performance, if I say so myself, and by the end Holmes was in a rather jovial mood, as reliving one’s accomplishments tends to do.
In fact, his demeanour remained positive even as he revealed the day’s plans to me. Apparently, he was going to interview the dead colt’s parents and I was welcome to come along. My somewhat sarcastic response (that I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do more) was lost on him, and thus he thought I was happy to accompany him. Of course, I didn’t actually have anything else to do, so I suppose it’s good that he saved me from a day of boredom.
It’s rather peculiar, when I think about it. We met only a few days ago and already we are living together and I am playing the role of witness to Holmes’ crime solving activities. The only friends I had before him were made over years of spilt blood and battle-hardened trust. Compared to them, my flatmate is more of a passing acquaintance.
And yet, it doesn’t feel that way. I believe this to be a true friendship, albeit in its early stages. The overused term ‘fast friends’ comes to mind, but I will refrain from inflicting it upon my journal. Instead I shall opt for a more apt description of our relationship. ‘Partners’ seems to work well, for as I will reveal in this journal, my presence can actually be of help to the case, probably more so than anypony expected, including myself.
But enough reflection.
Despite the fact that there are several families with the name Feather, Holmes acquired the address from a phone book. I considered asking him if he was certain it was the correct one, but decided against it for obvious reasons. A mercifully quick carriage ride took us to the small, ugly flat. If Trottingham was a chessboard and the skyscrapers were aged wooden queens and bishops carved from ebony, this flat was a pawn made of tough oak, neither attractive aesthetically nor geographically.
In a way, the robust sturdiness of that dark grey building suited the neighbourhood perfectly. Everything was coated in the shadows of taller, prettier buildings that drew attention away from this place like a businessmare looking away from a homeless stallion.
Stepping out of the carriage, Holmes took a deep breath and looked around. “I love this type of neighbourhood,” he said, surprising me.
“You do? I thought you were more into high class locales.”
“This is the true city, Watson. All the glimmer from the glass-peaked buildings is meant to distract us from this: the blood and veins of Trottingham, the ugly organs and nervous system that nopony wants to acknowledge for fear of getting squeamish.” His grin was almost animalistic. “Didn’t Birdy tell you what I told her?”
I nodded, glancing in the direction I knew her diner lay. “The shadows are darker than the night, and the ponies glow to those who look close enough.”
“Oh, but that is just the start. There is so much more to this city. I saw the distasteful twinge at the corner of your mouth when you spotted our destination, how you brought your guard up as we exited the carriage as if expecting attack.”
“It seems an unsavoury part of town is all.”
We stepped onto the sidewalk but a hoof on my chest stopped me from proceeding to the door. It was Holmes, and he was looking me straight in the eyes, blue speckled with black boring into my mind. “Look around Watson. Truly observe and you will see why you are wrong.”
I did so, turning and casting my eyes across the street once more. Chipped paint and rusty gates only confirmed what I expected. Continuing to look but feeling increasingly silly, I wondered if perhaps Holmes was seeing something that could not be shared. When I made to tell him that, I felt his breath on my ear. “Look,” he hissed.
If you ask me why it was at that moment I noticed something, I cannot give you a satisfying answer. The sudden pressure, perhaps, or maybe my eyes just happened to focus in the correct area.
The object I spied was an innocent skipping rope lying not far down the path from us. How alien, I remember thinking as if it was an artefact not known to this land. But like a chain of dominos, it ignited a series of revelations within my mind.
I looked around at an increasingly sharp pace, searching for and finding more evidence to support the forthcoming conclusion. Roller skates lined up neatly just outside a doorway, faint chalk lines on the road that even the rain couldn’t remove, a single red crayon half-stomped into the ground by a passer-by. Toys. More than that, children’s toys. Little ponies had played in this street and I could almost see them skipping, laughing, and running around cheerfully. This was not a slum.
“This is a family neighbourhood,” I said softly. Oh, how my first impressions had been wrong. The weight of my mistake crashed down on my shoulders, reminding me once more why my companion places so much emphasis on observation. I had dismissed this street like so many others, but Holmes showed me the truth.
Perhaps you are wondering why this is such a big deal to me. When I was in the military, I had to trust every sense implicitly. There was no room for mistakes or guesses. My eyes had failed me once before and the consequences were fatal. I thought that I had learned from it, that the devastating result would prevent me from making the same mistake. Evidently not.
Holmes looked confused as I sank to the ground. “What is it?”
“Take my eyes, for I am blind,” I whispered.
“You were blind but now you see,” he corrected.
I looked up at him slowly. “Yes… Now I see.” And I did, truly. My mind seemed to reorganise itself at those words. There would be time to sort through my thoughts later, but we still had a goal at that moment. The parents, the murderer, the case. A case is similar to a mission, isn’t it? Perhaps that is why I stood up once more and did as I had always done: soldiered on.
“Are you alright?” asked Holmes. I smirked at his expression; he was clearly not accustomed to asking such things.
“Yes, I am fine. Forgive my momentary malaise of the mind.”
Accepting the response, he led the way to the door and paused before knocking. “Please refrain from using alliteration in all future conversations, Watson.”
Three firm pounds and four seconds later, the doorway cleared and revealed a stallion with pale yellow fur and a dark orange mane that barely reached his shoulders. He was well built, far more muscular than either Holmes or I, yet his expression was slightly pained, diminishing his imposing aura. “Yeah?” he grunted.
My partner stepped forward. “Hello, I am Detective Greystone and this is Private Teevee. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
I understood the need for fake names, but it still felt a little ridiculous knowing I would have to be ‘Private Teevee’, even for a few minutes.
The stallion looked suspiciously between us. “My house is small, y’know. I heard you talkin’ as you got to the door. Why’d you call him Watson if his name is Teevee?”
Holmes didn’t miss a beat. “Watson is his first name. As my partner, I often call him by his first name. May we enter?”
Shaking his head and muttering, the stallion stood aside and let us in. He wasn’t joking about how small his home was. As we entered the equivalent of a living room, we could see the kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. A mare with similar fur to the stallion sat on the couch watching us curiously. Pushing past us, her husband sat beside her. “Hun, this is Detective Greystone and Private Watson Teevee.” Holmes made a short, choking noise but quickly regained his composure. “They… they want to ask us some questions.”
“Is it about my boy? The police have already talked to us,” the mare said quietly. Every aspect of her posture and voice was subdued as if weighed down by her son’s death. It was a sad sight.
“Yes. It will only take a few minutes of your time and it might help the case.”
“What good does the case do?” she spat. “My son is dead and nothing can change that.”
The father nuzzled his wife softly. “We want to find who did it, hun.”
She buried her head in his chest and wept quietly. I felt very awkward being witness to such a raw display of sorrow and being unable to do anything about it.
After a few minutes, she stopped crying but kept her face out of sight. “Alright,” she whispered, her voice slightly muffled, “Ask your questions.”
Holmes did not falter in the face of such humbling grief. “Do you know if your son had any enemies?”
“Enemies?” said the stallion.
“Ponies who didn’t like him. Teachers, children, neighbours.”
“No, Whippy was a kind boy.”
“Alright then. How did he get to school every day?”
The mother turned to face us again with a slight smile. “He walked there, ever since he could. He was so independent and strong, never asked us for carriage money or anything.”
“Did he take a particular route?”
“Yes. Every day for a week we walked with him so he would remember. Main roads all the way to school, nice and safe.”
When I saw Holmes’ lips twitch, I knew something had just been revealed. Alas, his tongue was faster than my mind. “Then how was he found in an alley far from the main roads?”
“Are you saying he went there on purpose? How dare you!” she pushed herself up from the couch on shaky legs so she could stare my companion in the eyes. The height difference was still considerable but she tried her best.
“I’m not saying that at all. It’s just curious, don’t you think?” I almost slammed my hoof into my face at his approach. We were quickly outstaying our welcome.
“Alright, that’s enough from you two!” roared Whippy’s father as he stood up and shoved Holmes back a few paces. His wife soon joined the yelling, perhaps encouraged by the show of strength.
“What kind of detective would say things like that?!”
Backing away, Holmes muttered to me under the commotion, “Watson, I think we should take our leave.”
“You think?” I sarcastically replied as we quickly departed the flat, chased by the hollering of emotional parents.
It is disturbing how my mind wondered if I should refer to them as ‘ex-parents’ as I write this. Perhaps Holmes’ nature is rubbing off on me.
Once outside and with a thick door between us and the couple, I rounded on my companion. “What the hay was that?”
“Hm?” he was looking around the street as I had done before entering.
“They were grieving! How could you be so… so callous?”
His reply was swift and immovable. “Watson, since you clearly haven’t realised, let me spell it out for you. Regarding serious emotions, I am extremely reserved. I was not thinking of their feelings, I was thinking of their knowledge and how I can use it to catch their son’s killer. I have been called a freak, a sociopath, a heartless monster, yet I still solve crimes, save lives, and stop criminals.” He raised his head high and looked me square in the eyes. “In fact, the only effects I have ever seen from strong emotions have been negative ones. More often than not, they caused the crime. Lust, anger and jealousy kill more ponies than they save. Can you truly blame me for attempting to rid myself of them?”
My mouth was open but I didn’t speak. I knew I couldn't blame him because he made complete sense, and I hated him for it. “But,” I croaked, quickly wetting my lips, “But you laugh at things, you show frustration! Is everything you do a lie?”
“You heard but you did not listen. I said strong emotions. Humour and mild annoyance are weaker than rage and fear, but no less genuine.”
"What of pity? It is a weak emotion, especially in comparison to rage and lust."
"Wrong. Pity and compassion can cloud the mind and affect judgement just as much. It's an influence on your behaviour, only more subtle. I must distance myself from it if I want to retain logical thought progression."
"If that is the case, why do you let yourself feel any emotion at all? Every feeling could sway your mind in a particular direction."
He sighed. “Because despite myself, I am still a pony. I can never truly be free of emotion, so I simply moderate it.”
It was an odd few seconds as our conversation sank in. His last words seemed like an island in a calm sea, or an oasis in a silent desert. Simply knowing that Holmes could feel, that he wasn’t joking and laughing with a mask, was enough to restore some hope for our odd partnership.
What happened next still shocks me just thinking about it.
“Watson… I’m sorry.” I looked at him and his expression was conflicted, expelling each word like spitting gum that had gone sour. “I’ve worked alone for a very long time and the… simplicities of basic pony interaction were never my strong point.”
“You don’t say.”
“What I am attempting to divulge is that… I know that I am difficult to work with, and I thank you for persevering despite that. I do value your company.” He awkwardly raised a hoof, hesitated, and then placed it on my shoulder. The act was so oddly executed that he was probably trying to emulate somepony he had seen doing the same thing.
My tensions were eased significantly and I smiled. A more genuine smile I have never shown. Holmes returned it, his face regaining the normal, calm expression that suited him so well.
“You can take your hoof away now,” I said.
“Thank Celestia.” He pulled it back and wiped it on his coat a few times.
“Well, Holmes, I believe we have a case to solve.”
Seemingly grateful for the re-focusing statement, he nodded. “Indeed we do, Watson. And I know where the next clue is.” He set off, crossing the street and following the footpath. I trotted to catch up. As we walked, Holmes regaled me with yet another tale. However, rather than a stylised version of a past case, it was of his childhood.
Do not take that to mean Holmes had changed intrinsically due to our bond-strengthening conversation. The story was very relatable to the situation and served as an easy-to-understand method of explaining his thoughts.
“I walked to school every day, just like Whippy. However, I was a rather suspicious colt and I decided to take a different route to school every day to throw off any ponies tailing me.”
“What kind of colt thinks about that sort of thing?” I was amused but not really surprised. It was hard enough imagining a little Fetlock Holmes.
Ignoring me, he continued. “I was very thorough. No two routes were the same. Eventually, my travel time started increasing exponentially as I was forced to take longer and more complicated paths. By the third month, I was taking over seven hours to get to school.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that. He smiled in an almost sheepish manner. “Of course, this affected my performance in class. I could not get good marks if I was not present to complete the work, could I?”
“I’m guessing your teachers and parents finally stepped in?”
“Neither. My brother did, on their behalf.”
“You have a brother?”
“Yes. He told me that he had been observing my routes and that I was being very predictable. To demonstrate, he skipped school one day and waited in the middle of a footpath for several hours until I reached him. After that, I listened to him. He… explained the flaws in my logic. Flaws that I could not ignore. It was at this point that he alerted our mother and forced me to walk with him. So, thoroughly beaten, I devised a new plan. Knowing that our mother watched me from the front window every single morning, I waited until we passed out of sight before ducking into an alleyway and taking a series of complex turns. My brother chased me, but he soon realised what I was doing. By using the intricate little alleyways instead of the streets, I was still able to vary my routes using a new formula that allowed for the same route to be used more than once by randomly decided the days I used particular routes on. In essence, every morning a route was calculated and there was no possible way to know which one I would take in advance. I wasn’t late for school and I was safe from my imaginary stalkers.”
“Don’t get me wrong, that was actually rather interesting, but what does it have to do with Whippy?”
We rounded the street corner and he patiently explained. “This is the most likely path that Whippy’s mother would make him take. It’s a main road and leads in the general direction of the school. However, once around this corner, he would be out of sight from his house. Clearly he didn’t take the route his parents made him take. Why is that?”
He knew, but this was like a pop quiz in highschool. Holmes was checking if I was turned on, if my mind was sharp and focused. It was. “Well, we already know he was a bully. But when we spoke to his mother, she thought of him as a kind little colt. It’s fair to say that he was a very different pony when not under his mother’s eye.” Holmes was nodding, encouraging me to continue. “So as soon as he rounded this corner, he would take whatever route caught his fancy. That’s how he ended up in an alley.”
I was panting slightly but grinning widely. It was an incredible feeling, seeing everything come together in your mind as you speak. My companion was smiling too, and he chuckled at my expression. “Excellent work, my dear Watson. Another piece of the puzzle slides into place.”
“It doesn’t really help us though, does it? We know why he was in the alley, not why he was killed.”
“But we can eliminate the possibility that he was forced into the alley, which opens up an entirely new perspective I have to consider.” After a pause for thought, he nodded resolutely. “I need to see the crime scene again.”
“Alright, I’ll pay for the carriage this time.”
“No. We can find it on foot.” I looked at him questioningly and he gestured further down the street at a sweets shop. “You are a colt with some lunch money on your way to school. Which path do you take, the most efficient one or the one with a candy shop?”
I chuckled at the simplicity of it and we quickly reach the store. It was closed, but that didn’t deter my partner. From where we stood, I could see three obvious routes. Two were ordinary, but one had a very colourful daycare centre beside it.
Once again, Holmes changed our perspective. “You are a bully with candy on your way to school. Which path do you take, one of the normal ones or the one with little foals that you can tease? In addition, you are a little colt. The most colourful and exciting option would capture your attention more than any other.”
We trotted across another street and came to the mouth of an alley hidden behind the daycare. “Alright Holmes, let’s hear it. There’s nothing even remotely interesting in the alley or further down the street.”
He grinned. “Ah, but this is not a leisurely walk, is it? You are going to school; you have a goal. This alley leads in the general direction of the school.”
I wasn’t so certain, but as we exited the alley into the next street I could see one of the taller, more distinctive skyscrapers over the rooftops. My sense of direction reasserted itself and I realised Holmes was correct. “I stand corrected. Where to from here?” I saw two possible routes.
“You see that street and alley and as you approach you wonder which one to take. They both lead to the exact same place in a parallel road so the decision is made based on the environment. In between the two paths is a gym. On the street side are windows that view the mare’s section. On the alley side, the stallion section awaits. Your thoughts?”
“I take the street side,” I said instantly.
“Because that’s where the mares are?” I trailed off as he shook his head.
“You are a little colt. You and your friends find the opposite gender disgusting.”
“But what if he just acts like that around them? This little pony has two faces, why not three?” I asked.
“Perhaps. There’s no biological reason for little colts to hate fillies; it’s a social construct. But you are alone and walking to school, so which path do you take?”
A separate issue popped into my mind. “But what if I’m gay?” My face reddened from embarrassment. “I mean, what if Whippy was gay?”
Thankfully, Holmes didn’t take advantage of my slip up. “He was far too young to know his sexuality. That’s a non-issue.”
My train of thought hit a brick wall. “I don’t know then. Which path did he take?”
Sighing, Holmes led the way into the alley. “Again, you hear but you do not listen. I said that both paths lead to the exact same place on a parallel road. It doesn’t matter which way he took.”
“Now you’re just messing with me.” Admittedly, I did feel quite disappointed in the answer.
“You are thinking too narrowly, Watson. By considering only the most complicated possibilities, you missed the simple truth,” replied my companion. He wasn’t being condescending or mocking me, just offering simple criticisms.
Grudgingly, I saw his point and resolved to try and broaden my considerations. I was tested at three more diverging routes, and managed to get two of them correct. As we trotted down an alley, I mentally prepared myself for the next part, ready to observe and listen to the best of my ability. That was until we reached an alley intersection and I realised we had reached our goal.
Not the school, which I had taken to thinking of as our destination, but the crime scene. We approached the spot where the chalk outline had been. Holmes looked almost frantic, eyes darting around and seeing things behind the lens of the knowledge we had gathered. I could only watch and envy his lightning-fast mind, no doubt piecing together-
-rain thundered from the sky, pounding against bins and drains. In the noise, the pony was silent. They saw him, the one they sought, and crept closer. Not a single ray of light pierced the heavens, and not a single shred of mercy pierced their heart. Closing quickly, the pony slammed into him, throwing him against a bin. Two quick slams of their hooves and the first drop of blood flew from his muzzle-
-the scene in his mind using a deductive process I could only dream of. He dove to each little dark splatter almost desperately, hungrily, fulfilling the need for information and carving the puzzle pieces. Almost-
-he cried but the pony didn’t care. The pathetic gasps and whines as he tried to breathe through a broken nose meant nothing to them. But it wasn’t finished. The pony stepped forward and brought a hoof up. He was weakened and only watched with wide eyes as the hoof rushed towards him. Smash, smash, smash, crunch! Satisfaction. The pony lowers their bloody hoof to the ground as he crumples. He stares but he sees nothing. The pony brings something out from their side. It’s small and insect-like. The pony places it gently on his eye. They leave, walking calmly. The rain washes the blood from their-
-seventeen seconds after reaching the scene, Holmes declared that he was done. He panted heavily and his eyes were wide but focused.
“What have you found?” I asked reasonably. After a display like that, there wasn’t really any other question to ask.
“This was planned,” he said with a dark smile. “Premeditated. Whippy was hunted through the streets. You thought I was strange for taking precautions when I was little?” Holmes thrust a hoof at the biggest bloodstain. “Look what happens when you don’t.”
“How do you know it was planned?”
“The blood splatters. The killer must have been following him for a while and saw this alley as the optimal place to do the deed. They rushed at him from behind, threw him around a bit, and finished the job quickly. Then he went back the way he came!” A hoarse laugh escaped Holmes’ lips. “Don’t you see? Everything about this scene screams purpose! Motivation! The will to follow through!”
He was truly excited, almost euphoric at this discovery, breathing quickly and laughing every few seconds. To other eyes, he would seem a madpony. To mine, he was Fetlock Holmes at his finest. “What does that say about the killer?” I said, for once being the one to do the prompting.
“They are cold-hearted, merciless, and complete their goals with unstoppable determination! They are-“
“You?” I said quietly. His laughter broke, his grin shattered. I saw his ecstasy drain like blood in the rain. Head lowered, he stood silently, panting in the wake of his excitement.
“You’re right,” he whispered. “They are everything I try to be.”
I stepped closer to him and put a hoof on his shoulder. “You can’t be like that. Being who you are, right now, is the only way to stop the killer. You might think emotions are a disadvantage, a weakness. But that murderer has no emotions, and look at what he has done. A trail of clues and mistakes that only you could notice. Without emotions, the killer is far from perfect. All they are doing is denying their very nature, and that will be their downfall.”
Holmes raised his head slowly and looked into my eyes. The black specks seemed dwarfed by an ocean of steadily-strengthening blue as my reassuring words hit home.
“We’re dealing with a very dangerous pony, Watson.”
Even as I sit here and write, those words send a shiver down my spine. From any other pony, I would consider them redundant. Of course a murderer is dangerous, right?
But from Holmes, a stallion whose words had brought criminals to justice countless times before and who remained stoic in the face of even the most extreme adversity, they scared me.
I think we’re both scared.
I think we're uneasy and frightened.
But I know we're going to catch the killer.
Doctor Jog Watson
It has been two days since we spoke to Whippy’s parents. They have been... uneventful, to say the least.
After the quick progress Holmes and I made in the initial stages of our investigation (strange how I now think of it as ‘ours’), the sudden lack of activity was almost violent. The entirety of yesterday was spent lounging around the flat bickering like an old married couple.
Without constant nourishment, it’s like Holmes’ mind stagnates. He seizes anything that might have some form of intellectual entertainment with both hooves and wrings it out. At one point, he conducted a grand monologue on the effectiveness of various killing methods, rating our killer as one of the least efficient murderers he had ever encountered, though they apparently received extra points for “sheer ferocity”.
This morning was different, however. My partner stood by the biggest window overlooking the street, though his eyes were turned upwards. He watched a pitch-black cloud slowly approach from the distant coast.
I silently joined his humble observation. In the toiling, writhing mass, I could almost see the dark waves crashing against grey sand reflected in the sky. In the face of nature and all her glory, I found myself thinking: does the ocean mimic the sky, or does the sky capture the essence of the water and carry it over land? Are deserts simply nature’s impression of the deepest places under the sea, only represented not through elevation but rather liquid saturation? And what does it mean that pegasus ponies control the weather in some towns? Are they defying nature?
Strangely enough, I wondered whether Birdy could shed any philosophical light on my comparatively barbaric ponderings. My boredom was resolved in that moment. There was a diner that I needed to visit.
Just as I turned to leave, Holmes said something. “That storm will hit us tonight, Watson. We’ll barely be able to hear each other over the noise it will make.”
“I should consider it a blessing, then,” I quipped, rather callously in the face of his grave tone.
He didn’t turn back to look at me, nor did he smile or give any indication that he heard me. “Just…” he hesitated, “Don’t stay out late tonight.”
“How do you know I’m going out?”
He raised a hoof dismissively. “You turned towards the door. Don’t let Birdy keep you from getting back before the rain. She can talk for hours without stopping.”
“And how can you possibly know that I’m going to see her? I only just reached that conclusion myself.”
“Who else would you visit? Lestrade?” Finally, a bit of humour in his voice.
“I could be going shopping,” I ventured.
“You restocked our food supply earlier today,” he countered.
“Fine, you win, Holmes. I’ll be back later.” Taking my leather jacket and brand new black fedora (which I bought with this month’s leftover pension money – another perk to having a flatmate), I exited the flat before I could be dragged into another argument.
The air outside wasn’t cold, yet it was so still that it sent a shiver down my spine nonetheless. Oh yes, I remember thinking, it will rain tonight. The heavens will shake with thunder, of that I had no doubt. One way to describe the feel of the city was like the moments before a tidal wave. The tide was going out and all was calm, yet you knew something was coming. By the time it became evident, it would be far too late.
It was among these ominous thoughts that I caught a carriage to the plaza where I arrived on that initial foray into the city. This time I was not greeted by the talk and laughter of ponies at ease. Instead, the court was empty. For some reason, perhaps because my mind’s eye was still full of clouds, the bushes and buildings were grey, washed out, lifeless. Do not ask me to explain because I cannot. I am simply writing what I saw.
Every little spark of colour was coated in liquid smoke, like an artist who spilt their cleaning water over their work and could only watch as the poly became mono, chromatically speaking. It was more than a little eerie, so I was thankful when my destination drew close enough.
Remarkably, the diner had retained its colour. The red-rimmed roof almost seemed to glow in the overcast gloom. Like a moth tantalised by flames, or a colt running for shelter amidst a storm, I quickly trotted up to the door and entered. Within the boundaries of that wonderful diner, warmth returned to my cheeks and the feeling of impending danger eased significantly. Everything seemed so normal, so untouched by the strangeness outside, that it was easy to feel safe.
And so began my second encounter with Birdy the waitress. Barely moments after taking my seat in a booth, she slid into the opposite chair and smiled at me. I returned the expression, and my troubles melted away.
I read back through my notes, particularly the section where I described Birdy for the first time. “A friendly pink-maned mare” is what I wrote. That simply does not do her justice.
Her coat was the tone of cream, soft and light, sometimes sparkling like diamond dust if you caught the right angle. I loved catching it at the right angle.
Rather than simply “pink”, her mane was more akin to the dusk horizon before a sunny day, caught between yellow and magenta in such a way that if she proclaimed that her blood was royal I would not doubt it. When I saw her, that mane was pulled back into a serving-mare bun. I ached to see it loose.
On her right cheek there was a small black spot. Some would call it an imperfection, but I thought it only added to her beauty. It suited her so well; matching those dark, intelligent eyes in such a way that my breath hitched every time she glanced my way… which was quite often.
I ordered the daisy and daffodil sandwich, as I had the first time I visited the diner, but she made no move to go get it.
“You didn’t come here for a sandwich, Watson.”
Closing the menu, I placed it slowly on the table. “No, I suppose I didn’t.”
“So why are you here then?” she asked, leaning forward on her hooves.
“Why don’t you tell me?” My words surprised both of us. It seemed my subconscious had an agenda.
“What do you mean?” Her confusion made me feel absurdly guilty, so I elaborated.
“It seems that everypony understands my actions better than I do, lately.”
“Ah!” Her smile returned. “You took the flat then?”
“You didn’t already know?” It was my turn to be confused.
That laugh! Musical, I described it. My mind has yet to conjure any better words. “Oh, Watson, I'm not Fetlock Holmes. Although, I’m flattered that you think so much of my skills.”
“Yes, well,” I cleared my throat; “I suppose that between you and Holmes, I’ve learned to assume that everypony is smarter than I am.”
“That’s very wise of you, ironically. If you always think other ponies are ten steps ahead of you and plan accordingly, you’ll soon be twenty steps ahead of them.”
“Well, maybe not him.” We shared a laugh at our mutual admiration for my partner’s intellect. “You know,” she continued, “You haven’t answered my question yet. Why are you here?”
“I was thinking about the storm…” I began.
And there I went, launching into every stray idea that crossed my mind regarding nature and our place in the world. Rather than dismissing my ponderings, she polished them and created reformed thoughts of eloquent elegance. Together, we eventually reached an impasse; the philosophical form of closure. When I described it as such, she giggled in a very pretty way, covering her mouth with one hoof as if to prevent me from seeing her mirth.
It was just after we finished our discussion, mentally drained yet fulfilled, that I suggested we take a walk in the plaza. With a total disregard for her work, she trotted beside me past the many stalls and shops.
I would say we engaged in small talk, but when I speak with her nothing is unimportant or frivolous. In fact, when I said “Strange weather today,” we couldn’t help but laugh at how simple a statement it was after everything we had discussed in the diner.
I didn’t notice it at the time, being distracted by my lovely company, but colour had returned to the world around us. Noise, too, now flowed through the air, just simple sounds like talking or trotting, but noise nonetheless. The strange greyness had vanished and normalcy was restored.
Hours passed, yet it seemed as though I lost all concept of time. The sky was beset with sickly yellow haze as the sun began to fade. Not that we could actually see the sun; it was still tucked away behind the sinister mass that now encompassed the sky. Instead, we saw glimpses of orange in the thinner areas of the air.
When Celestia’s charge finally sank behind the buildings and left all but the skyscrapers amongst cold shadows, Birdy and I decided that our day together had reached its conclusion. I walked her back to the diner, where I was surprised to see not a single angry co-worker waiting for her. She might own the diner, actually. I’ll ask her that the next time I see her.
The diamond-coated mare pecked my cheek and asked that I would visit again soon, as if I wasn’t already planning our next outing. Once she disappeared behind the counter, I cheerfully trotted out into the evening.
The air was brisk but my heart was warm. Too long had I been without such good company. The hard roads did nothing to quell the spring in my hooves. I must have looked quite the sight: a full-grown stallion prancing down streets without a care in the world.
It wasn’t long, however, before my good mood was killed by rain. Not a single ray of light still reached my path. In almost complete darkness I walked cautiously. My jacket was soaked, as was my new hat.
There is that moment of isolation when alone in the rain. It’s simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating not being able to see another pony in any direction, nor a flicker of light from any window. Just black skies, black buildings, black roads.
And the noise! Holmes was certainly correct about that! I couldn’t hear my own hoofsteps, let alone if anypony else around me.
That was the thought that gave me the first taste of true fear I had felt in Trottingham. Somepony in this city was a murderer. If they were cold-blooded enough to kill a little colt, I doubted they would hesitate before killing me.
My breathing quickened as irrational paranoia surged in my mind. What if the killer was a pegasus pony? They were rare here in Trottingham, yes, but wouldn’t that give them an advantage? Those living in an earth pony city wouldn’t anticipate an air attack.
Of course, while writing this I can see how silly it was. Holmes had confirmed that the killer walked away from the scene and that they had small hooves. While a full-grown pegasus might walk away from a crime scene to throw suspicion off, the problem of age remained. There were no flight schools in Trottingham, so there were no young pegasus children. Therefore, the killer had to be a unicorn or an earth pony like myself.
I hastened through the streets, regretting not catching another carriage. It seemed they were hesitant to do business in bad weather. Splashing through a final, street-encompassing puddle, I reached the flat. I looked behind myself as if watching for followers, then turned the melted door handle and stepped inside.
Warmth! It seemed Holmes was not so detached from the world that he had no need for a fire, and for that I was grateful. I climbed the entryway stairs and entered the living area, where the fireplace was indeed performing admirably. The crackle of burning wood was punctuated by little hisses every few moments as rain drops found their way into our chimney.
I was absolutely soaking, so I made a beeline for the bathroom. As I crossed the room, I noticed that Holmes had fallen asleep on the floor beside the window where I left him. He was curled up in that odd way he does, like a little colt in front of the fire. It brought a smile to my face; not out of mocking but rather because seeing my partner completely unguarded is truly a heart-warming sight.
After bathing and hanging my coat and hat up to dry, I quietly made some tea as the rain thundered outside. It was oddly peaceful, and I felt that I could truly relax. All thoughts of the case drifted away.
At least until Holmes woke up.
“Oh good, you’re back,” he muttered, pushing himself to his hooves and throwing me a bored glance. “How was Birdy?”
“She was good. It was all very… good.” I couldn’t help but smile at the memory.
“I trust she won’t affect your concentration?” What a typical response.
“My mind is as sharp as it was two days ago.”
“Indeed? Then perhaps I should buy you a whetstone.”
I laughed at that, and after a few seconds his demeanour softened and he chuckled along with me. It was becoming easier for him to do that, I think, perhaps due to the amount of time spent with me. Being forced to converse and live with another pony was doing wonders for his social skills.
Of course, I doubt that he will ever be an extrovert, but it’s still progress.
We contemplated going out for dinner, but the rain showed no signs of ceasing and I wasn’t very eager to get drenched again. In the end we settled for a hearty meal of hayfries and sunflower soup, prepared by yours truly. When I suggested that he could help me make it, our flat was filled with derisive laughter for a good seven minutes.
Over dinner, he regaled me with yet another tale of a previous case. A most peculiar one, I found.
There was an arsonist a few months ago, in the hot seasons. After three apartment buildings were set alight on the same night, Holmes took the case.
After two weeks and six more fires, he still had no leads. It was driving him crazy.
But one day, while sitting in a diner pouring over papers and maps, a waitress asked him to give her a tip and she would give him one in return. Intrigued, Holmes gave her a couple of bits.
“She looked at the papers on my table and smiled. ‘Try looking at things from my point of view, Mister Holmes,’ she said. At first I thought she was playing with me and I had wasted those bits. But one glance at the nametag pinned in her bun gave me the perspective I needed.”
I leaned forward intently, a single hayfry half-raised towards my mouth. “How?”
Holmes grinned. “Her name was Birdy. She was telling me to look at things from a birds-eye view. Sure enough, when I plotted the fires out on a map of the city, I found they were starting to spell a word.”
Choking on my food, I coughed out an exclamation, “What?!”
He nodded. “Indeed. I used the map to predict the next fire and we ambushed him.”
“Birdy insisted on accompanying me, and I did owe her for the assistance.”
“So who was the arsonist? What was the word he almost spelled?”
“A young stallion by the name of Loop. He was trying to spell out the name of his marefriend.”
“Oh wow…” My surprise was genuine. I had heard of young ponies doing stupid things for love, but this?
“Afterwards, Birdy attempted to pursue some sort of romantic relationship with me.” Oh dear. “Don’t fear, though. After seeing what a stallion could be driven to do in the name of romance, I was even more disillusioned than I had been before meeting her.”
So Holmes had only just reached this apex of antisocial behaviour a few months ago? I had imagined him as being like this from birth. Clearly there was more to him that I could ever assume.
He continued talking, “I resolved to eat at the diner every now and then and speak with her. With romance out of the question, I was able to focus on teaching her a few things, such as how to begin seeing the city properly.”
“I see. And did she ever attempt to initiate anything again?” It was awkward, but I had to ask.
“No. As I said, my attention was no longer focused on mares, and she was astute enough to notice that.” Well, that was a very different way of wording it.
“Oh… so you’re…?”
“I mean, the way you say it, it sounds like you are…”
“Like I’m what? Honestly, Watson, finish your sentences.”
“Are – you know what? I don’t need to know. It’s your business.”
Holmes frowned and silently ate a hayfry. I, too, focused on my meal. And that was that.
After dinner, he returned to the window and I retired to my room, where I began writing this. My journal is quickly becoming a lot more interesting than I thought it would, considering I'm no longer in the army.
It seems I learn more about my partner every day. Our friendship is getting stronger with each conversation. He’s sharing things with me that I don’t think he has shared with anypony before. The trust between us seems unbalanced, though.
Holmes has a life full of secrets and mysteries, and I’m just me. How can I give him something important enough that he knows I trust him when I’m just not important?
There might be one thing. Something my fellow soldiers knew back at the base. The story they whispered to the fresh-faced privates to scare them into concentrating. My worst memory.
It’s decided. Someday soon, I’m going to tell Holmes what happened to the last ponies I was friends with. Whether our friendship will survive that, I don’t know.
Doctor Jog Watson
It was easier to cry in the rain. He could sniffle and choke and nopony could hear him or make fun of him. The constant white noise made him feel free to let go.
Popluck hated school now. All those hours of sitting next to Whip and I used to play in the puddles after storms and pretend we were sea monsters-
No. He was almost home, he couldn’t start blubbering again. What if his dad saw? His father loved it when Popluck was tough, always said he raised a strong colt. Strong colts didn’t cry.
Strong colts didn’t wish that Whip and I used to stay awake really late and tell ghost stories-
No. Popluck shook his head violently to get rid of the thoughts. Thinking wasn’t good right now; he could think later when he was in bed. That was how it had to be. Nopony else was allowed to see.
He pushed the door open and trudged inside. Ears ringing from the sudden lack of noise, he shook himself off and aimed a lazy kick at the door behind him. The smell of onions wafted through the house. His father was cooking?
“Popluck? Is that you?” a voice called from the kitchen.
“Yeah,” the colt replied, trotting into the living area.
His father walked in and looked at him with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Did you h-have a nice day at school?”
It was starting to get scary. “Yeah…” Popluck replied slowly.
“That’s good. You j-just sit down and relax, s-son. Dinner’s almost ready.”
The stallion watched his child climb onto an armchair and curl up. For the briefest of moments, he thought about telling him to get a towel or a blanket so he didn’t drip everywhere. The thought was crushed quickly. Popluck could do whatever he wanted. He would have a delicious, hearty meal, and then go to sleep happily and nothing bad would ever happen to him.
Because the father was scared.
More scared than he had ever been in his entire life.
And in the light of this new fear, he saw things clearly.
Popluck was the most important thing in his life. Finding out that little Whippy was gone… well, who could have seen that coming? It could happen to anypony! Instantly, with no warning! And the little colt had spent enough play dates at Popluck’s house that the father couldn’t detach himself from it.
He returned to the stove and stirred some of the pots, just to keep busy. If he thought too hard about it, he’s end up barricading the whole house and guarding his son’s room with a knife.
Just make dinner. Just… dinner. Dinner. For Popluck. Don’t think. Just make dinner.
The stallion stirred more forcefully, splashing a few droplets out.
Every colt needs a good, healthy dinner to give them energy to learn and to play and to have friends and to shout and to run and to live-
Popluck stood in the kitchen doorway, watching his father shakily drop a wooden spoon on the counter. He dropped back down to four hooves and slowly turned to face his son. Water was splattered everywhere from the increasingly violent mixing.
“Dad, you’re scaring me.”
The stallion’s eyes widened and he dived forward, pulling his son into a hug. “I’m so sorry, so sorry, sorry, sorry. Are y-you okay?”
“Yeah – Yeah, I’m fine dad.” Popluck hugged his father back tightly. “Are you?”
He barked a short laugh. “Of course you’re fine, you’re my little colt, aren’t you? Tough as tough can be.”
“Nothing can bother you because you’re always fine, and you’ll always be fine, always fine.”
“I’m not gonna go like Whip, dad.” The words hurt, but somehow Popluck knew they had to be said.
There was a shocked silence in which the stallion slowly let go of his son. They looked at each other for a long minute. His strained expression softened and they hugged again, warmly and comfortingly this time.
“I’m sorry,” breathed the stallion. He swallowed to try and clear the lump in his throat. “I want you to know that you mean everything to me. You are my world, Popluck. I don’t think I could keep going if I lost you.” Tears ran from his burning eyes and into his son’s mane.
There are few things more horrible than seeing your father cry. The colt hugged him tighter than ever before and felt his own eyes begin to leak. “I love you daddy. I promise I won’t go.”
They wept together, father and son, for the fear of things to come.
“Daddy, I miss Whip,” Popluck couldn’t help it, now that everything was coming out there was no pretending anymore. One of his best friends was gone.
“I know. I know.” Celestia help him, the stallion missed him too. He was the perfect playmate for Popluck, brave and rowdy, always up for another adventure. How his parents must feel…
He pulled back and kissed his son on the forehead. And then again. And then he hugged him once more, determined to never let him go.
“Um…” whispered Popluck, “After dinner… can you sleep next to me, dad?” He felt like a little foal asking that, but he couldn’t be tough. Not right now.
His father smiled and nuzzled his cheek. “Of course.”
This was a new level of bonding. He had never seen Popluck open up like this before, and it really felt as if things were changing. They needed to spend more time together, just the two of them, so the bad memories could get further away.
“I think we should take a little holiday to grandpa’s farm for a week. What do you think?”
The colt sniffed. “Can we help herd cows and stuff?”
Finally, he smiled. “That sounds like fun.”
His father smiled too. “Yeah?”
Popluck giggled. “Yeah! And we can go camping too!”
“Good idea! I’ll pack your things while you’re at school tomorrow and we’ll catch the train when you get home. How does that sound?”
“You’re the best dad ever!” The colt embraced him with renewed enthusiasm.
They laughed together, father and son, for the hope of things to come.
He had slept peacefully for the first time in recent memory. The stallion’s dreams were full of forests and fields, green and fresh, and Popluck ran and giggled beside him. Whippy’s death had brought them together again, and as he lay on the floor beside his son’s bed, he whispered ‘thank you’, hoping it would reach wherever the poor colt was.
After all, thought the father, isn’t that the best way to cope with death? To not let yourself get burdened by sadness, and instead honour the fallen by being happy? The final insult toward death itself, the reaper who takes so many of us, is to continue living without fear of it.
And so he smiled, and sat up to wake his son with a hug.
He embraced his son and kissed him gently on the forehead.
Popluck would go to school, and then the pair would spend a week of recovery out on the farm. Everything would be okay.
“Come on, you need to get ready,” he whispered, pulling back the sheets.
Glazed eyes met his, but his smile only grew.
Red stained everything, dripping onto the floor.
His hooves and face were soaked.
He started to laugh, almost choking on mirth.
The colt’s throat was torn open, chunks of flesh and muscle glistening in the morning light.
An exposed blue vein twitched back and forth as the father shook his son. Drops of blood that hadn’t dried were flung out of the hole, splattering on his cheek.
He laughed and laughed, trickles of saliva hanging from his curled lips.
The stallion shook him harder, watching the head flop back and forth as the hole tore itself open more.
Something small and black fell off the colt’s face, twirling to the floor and floating in the sea of crimson.