May 10, 2014
US Army CPL Patrick Wilcox (discharged)
First Bapitist Church Atlanta
Corporal Patrick Wilcox sat in the second to front row of pews in the gargantuan, elegant chapel. It was the third day of his honorable discharge, and it wasn't really going how he'd planned to be spending it. At the very last minute, Patrick received a funeral invitation, before even reaching the United States.
It was difficult to assimilate back into society. He honestly felt like he had no place.
After three months and two surgeries, his shoulder seemed to be greatly improving. His post-combat psychological exam diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; or PTSD; depression, and anxiety, after his frequent anxiety attacks since ending his service.
He would often break down, or cringe at loud noises. Every night, his slumber was greeted by horrifying nightmares, but he never even told the military psych about it. He was ashamed and absolutely heartbroken after everything he’d endured.
The sanctuary was packed. It was so full that people had to lean against the wall after no seating was left. After hearing that five of their soldiers had been killed in a single day, the city of Atlanta had come to pay its respects. Many outside sang hymns and held candles. Police had to direct traffic, and give parking tickets to those who decided to park on the grass.
Patrick was among the few dozen or so in uniform present. He didn't recognize the other brass, probably just some officers the army sent for funeral purposes, as well as the Brigadier General.
CPL Wilcox wore a tan beret over his head, with a blue-white starred patch sewn to the front, as well as his formal military attire. His purple heart, along with a few other medals, lay pinned to his chest.
A somber, piano and organ tune drowned out light conversation. A projector displayed five names onto a white screen, hanging from the ceiling on each side of the room.
"Private First Class Joseph Campbell"
"Specialist Jose Reyes"
"Specialist Louis Armistead"
"Private First Class Spencer Green"
Across the pulpit, five coffins draped with American flags had respectfully been placed.
Patrick was numb. He sat there, not even thinking, not feeling anything, staring straight ahead. It was a scary thing, to have no emotion, and no thought. He felt dead, burnt out, like he was all used up.
It was well known that he and his friends had enlisted together, which is why their parents had contacted the Army and asked if it would be possible for a joint-funeral. The military granted their request.
Patrick rose up. It was Jose's father, Mr. Reyes.
"Patrick, thank you," he shook his hand. Mr. Reyes’s eyes were red.
"Thank you for coming. It means a lot to us, and all the other parents that you'd show up."
Patrick nodded, but remained silent. He didn't know what to say. He was only here to say good-bye.
"Listen," Mr. Reyes spoke tonelessly. "The other parents and I have been talking. We were wondering if you'd speak today. It would mean a lot to us, since you were the last person with them before…” Mr. Reyes paused.
“If it's just too much, I understand."
Patrick made eye contact with Mr. Reyes, who looked longingly into his own. He couldn't say no.
Patrick nodded, but remained silent.
"Thank you," Mr. Reyes smiled, and returned to his seat with his wife.
Patrick caught a lot of stares from around the room. He also noticed in the balcony, there were TV cameras sporting the logo of a local news channel. He didn't realize that the funeral was going to be broadcasted live. Now, he was nervous.
Still, he'd speak for them. He wasn't really prepared, since the ambush, he barely said anything to anybody. CPL Wilcox’s combat shock wore off long ago, but he definitely felt different since then.
After a long service, the preacher stepped down, and allowed the parents and relatives to begin speaking. Patrick hoped he was going to go last, so he could continue to think about what he was going to say while people gave their testimonies.
Patrick couldn’t come up with some heartwarming testimony on the spot. He was too distraught; maybe he should just speak from the heart. Patrick felt his eyes welling up, and wiped them on his sleeve.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
Finally, Mr. Reyes stepped onto the pulpit, and gave his testimony of his son, SPC Jose Reyes. He recalled all of the boys, including Patrick, growing up together, and having parties at their house. He smiled as he told the story of how Jose dented his truck, and tried to hide it.
There was a tug on Patrick's shoulder. He spun around.
"Patrick," Mrs. Reyes whispered. "After he's done, we'd like you to go up."
He nodded to her, and as Mr. Reyes walked down from the podium, Patrick passed by him in the aisle. He felt self-conscious; all the eyes in the room were on the young man wearing the military uniform. The TV cameras made him nervous, but he needed to be strong.
Patrick took a second to gaze at the flag-draped coffins, and stepped up to the pulpit. A microphone sat built in to the wooden, cross-shaped podium.
He was quiet for a few moments, determined not to shed a single tear, especially with cameras rolling, and a church full of people.
Patrick cleared his throat.
"My name is Corporal Patrick Wilcox," he said, a solemn expression on his face.
"I was in the same unit as the men in these coffins." The entire room was rooted to their seats, and listened intently to the young soldier standing at the podium. He couldn't have been more than nineteen or twenty years old. His face was tired and his eyes reeked of battle fatigue.
Patrick looked at the other uniformed men, sitting in the balcony. They had their arms crossed, and appeared to be higher rank than him. One even shook his head at Patrick subtly. The Corporal didn't really care if he was cleared to talk about it or not.
Patrick briefly ran through the ambush. There was nothing anyone could have done, it had just happened. He explained how Jose was even sitting behind him in the same vehicle.
He tried to end it with a happier note, about how he and his friends had grown up together.
"-And then Ryan thought it would be a good idea to push the thing out the window, which only made everything a lot worse. So now, Spencer’s freaking out. Louis and Mike are still mopping up the keg of beer, Joe and Jose are still passed out on the floor. And then Jose’s dad shows up."
He got a slight chuckle from the crowd, some wiping tears from their faces.
Patrick himself was on the verge of exploding into tears. He didn't know how much longer he could keep this up. It was time to wrap up his testimony, anyway.
"I grew up with these men," Patrick sighed. "We grew up together, we went to school together, a-and we e-enlisted t-together. I-"
And then, it happened.
In front of rolling TV cameras and a church full of people, rivers of tears ran down the young soldier's face.
He stopped speaking, and let out a low sigh, uncontrollably weeping. Corporal Wilcox stared off into the crowd, watching the expressions of congregation change as the tears flowed freely from his eyes. He didn't care who saw anymore. He didn't care if an entire city of people saw him cry like a baby.
Patrick turned around, and put his head face down on one of the flag draped coffins. The room was absolutely silent, minus the sobs of a soldier mourning the deaths of his comrades. His friends.
“Patrick, you there?” somepony waved a blue hoof infront of his face. “Hey motorcycle boy, what are you, lost in memories?” Rainbow Dash crossed her arms as she hovered above the ground.
“Sorry,” Patrick shook his head. “Just… Thinking about something.” Patrick took one last drag of his cigarette and tossed the filter away.
The buzz he felt was incredible. Three days without a cigarette was driving him mad. When he examined his bike and popped the seat off, he nearly fainted.
Patrick nearly jumped for joy right then and tore into the package, withdrawing a cigarette and his lighter quickly, while the Rainbow Dash and her friends eyed him strangely, like he was a meth-addict getting his fix. His carton of 20 packs; 400 cigarettes; was dry, and still wrapped in the package. If he was stuck here forever though, he was merely delaying the inevitable withdrawal he’d have to go through.
Unfortunately tobacco, nor alcohol, seemed to exist in this strange equestrian fairy world. He would quit if it really came down to it. Or become a tobacco farmer. Whichever came first.
“Alright, Patrick, you might get some weird looks but,” Twilight shrugged. “Just ignore them. I promise, everyone will warm up to you eventually.”
“If you say so,” Patrick shrugged. He was wearing his tattered and blood stained jacket and clothing, as well as his boots. His helmet and gloves were tied to his helmet lock on the side of his bike.
His motorcycle would still run, although it had accumulated a thin layer of dust and pollen from being outside for three days.
The fuel gauge indicated he had three quarters of his fuel tank left. With a five gallon tank, and at fifty miles per gallon, that gave him…
Approximately two hundred miles before he’d run out of gas. He wasn’t even sure if gasoline, let alone any kind of fuel, existed in this universe. They seemed to have technology, but it was very limited. “Magic” seemed to be their primary source of anything here. Fluttershy had explained how ponies had to take care of nature, control the weather, and even wake the animals from hibernation in the spring.
He wasn’t sure how long he was supposed to be here, so he figured it would probably be best not to waste any unnecessary gas. Even then, his bike had street tires; most of the roads were just dirt paths. In his current condition though, he was not fit to ride anywhere long, for that matter.
Patrick had learned he’s in a land, or a planet, or a country, or…
Whatever it was, it was called Equestria, ruled by two princesses who controlled the sun and moon. All of its inhabitants were either ponies, or something out of a storybook.
Patrick mounted his bike and turned the key, the digital instruments coming to life. He wiped a smudge of pollen off of the gas tank, looking at his own reflection in it. There were only a few things in this world that really gave him peace: Riding his bike, working on bikes, racing bikes, and a constant stream of nicotine in his bloodstream.
“Just follow Rainbow Dash, and keep moving. Don’t get offended if anyone is scared of you,” Rarity patted Patrick on the shoulder.
“I’ll be fine,” Patrick shrugged. “That is, if Dash won’t be going too slow.”
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow Dash hovered in mid air. “Try and keep up.”
She shot off into Ponyville like a bullet from a rifle.
“You’d better follow her to the library, I’ll meet you there,” Twilight said.
Patrick pressed the starter, the spark plugs chirped and started the engine. Patrick gave it a good rev, the noise coming from the exhaust scared birds out of the trees and making Fluttershy, Applejack, Twilight, and Rarity recoil. He rolled out of the side yard onto the front street of the town square in the vague direction Rainbow Dash went.
The road was cobblestone. It was a little bumpy, but his tires easily found grip. Patrick had reset his trip odometer to zero so he could keep track of his mileage, until he could figure out some other way to power his motorcycle. For all he knew though, he could be going home tonight if he and Twilight could find a way.
Each time he used his fingers, whatever skin was left underneath his bandages writhed in agony. It was difficult to lean forward with the bike’s regular sitting position, he found himself holding himself up awkwardly with the handlebars to ease stress on the wounds across his chest. He rode calmly, taking each turn as gently as possible.
A deep, throaty moan escaped from his exhaust pipes. He suddenly wished his motorcycle hadn’t been so loud. He now hated himself now for installing that performance exhaust, it wasn’t really going to make him any less intimidating.
Ponies stopped what they were doing and stared in fear, rooted to the spot. Some grabbed their foals and ran inside. Others just watched. Ponyville had never seen anything like the biker or his metal and fiberglass steed.
Patrick Felt like a cowboy riding into the Wild West. It made him self-conscious, but he pressed on, steering around market stands and frightened ponies, as he had to ride close to them. The buildings and houses about the town square reminded him of a Victorian village. The roar of his engine, even while traveling at a safe speed, echoed across Ponyville.
He caught a glimpse of Rainbow Dash waiting for him two stories in the air down a street, crossing her arms and pretending to tap her foot as if he was taking too long. Patrick felt many eyes on him, but just stared straight ahead. It was difficult riding in such an injured state, even more difficult when everyone is watching your every move.
Out of seemingly nowhere, a young filly dashed into his path of travel, blinded by his running headlights. As if they were extensions of his body, Patrick pulled in the clutch and put pressure on both brakes. His tires squealed, leaving a thick, black line on the cobblestone ground.
She sat there, blinded by the headlight in fear, looking up at the rider. She was shaking.
A gray pegasus pony with bubbles on her flank broke towards the motorcyclist and the small, gray filly. She glared at Patrick, and then scooped up the small filly in her arms and flew off.
Patrick looked around, some ponies murmuring to themselves or shaking their heads. Yeah, his first visit to the town he might be stuck forever in, and it was going just swimmingly.
Rainbow Dash motioned him forward.
“Come on!” she called to him.
No one was really paying any attention to Rainbow Dash, the entire city of Ponyville seemed to be glaring at Patrick right now. What was it with everyone here and glaring, anyway?
Patrick repressed whatever thoughts he had about the situation, it would have to wait until later. He released the clutch and slowly gained speed as Rainbow Dash led him to the library.
The Ponyville library was a giant building carved into a tree. He coasted his bike onto the grass and shifted into neutral, putting down his kickstand and removing the key as he did so.
“Well, that could have gone better,” Rainbow Dash scratched the back of her head apprehensively.
Patrick didn’t even want to think about what just happened.
“I almost hit a kid. Did you see the way her mother looked at me? This is going to go over well.”
“No, I’m sure- Well, no… Maybe… Let’s just go see if Twilight’s home yet,” Rainbow Dash muttered.
Rainbow Dash and Patrick opened the door, finding it to be dark and empty.
“Hello?” Rainbow Dash called, her voice echoing into the abyss. She and Patrick took another step into the giant tree house.
Patrick nearly jumped out of his skin as the lights flicked on, causing him to drop his helmet from his hands.
His immediate urge was to withdraw his weapon from its holster, but he quickly repressed it.
All around the library, there were party decorations hung on the shelves, and a bowl of punch, which Patrick didn’t doubt was non-alcoholic, sat on a table with a pyramid of glass cups adjacent.
There were many ponies there, as well. Two Pegasi were floating in mid-air, holding a banner bearing “Welcome to Ponyville, Patrick!”
“So, what do you think?” Pinkie Pie beamed.
“Well, I’m just,” Patrick looked for words as he picked up his helmet. “Kind of, surprised.”
“Silly, that’s why it’s called a ‘surprise’ party. It wouldn’t be a surprise party if you weren’t surprised, I mean you should have seen how surprised you were!”
Patrick studied the faces of the ponies around him. They clearly didn’t know what he was, but they were smiling.
“Lighten up, Patrick. If you want to make up for almost running over that filly,” Rainbow Dash whispered in his ear.
After everything that had happened, the last thing he wanted was a party in his honor, at least at the moment. But, he didn’t want to give off a bad impression, so Patrick forced himself to smile and partake in the festivities, suddenly enjoying being the main center of attention here.
This wasn’t really his idea of a party, but it was his welcome party. He had just survived a brutal accident and just got out of a hospital, maybe just kicking back and enjoying himself for a minute or two wouldn’t hurt. He’d have his answers soon. Hopefully.
Patrick took off his jacket, exposing some of his bandages.
Many of the ponies were now very interested to hear about his near death experience, and surviving after being confronted by a manticore.
Patrick was downed a fifth cup of punch, praying for a beer, a shot, a drop of alcohol sometime soon. A large, red stallion approached him, a wooden yoke around his neck.
“Ya’ look like ya’ took a beatin’,” Big Macintosh spoke blandly in a southern accent. “Mighty nice, whatever that thing is outside. We heard y’all comin’ from a mile a way.”
“It’s called a motorcycle,” Patrick replied, noticing a green apple on his flank. “And I’m fine, uh, thanks.”
“So, um,” Patrick tried to make conversation. “What do you do?”
“Ah work the apple farm round these parts, been in mah’ family for generations.”
“Sounds like a lot of work,” Patrick took a sip from the cup, just trying to keep some sort of conversation going.
“Eee-yup,” Big Macintosh looked as though he was staring straight through Patrick. “Applebuck ten acres everyday from dawn til’ dusk, ‘cept today, when Pinkie Pie comes a runnin’ over with a party invite.”
“I really had no idea this was going to happen,” Patrick shrugged.
“A party’s a party,” Big Mac shrugged. “So, what do y’all do?”
“What did ya’ do, before y’all came here?”
“I-uh…” Patrick stopped. A flash of light seemed to perforate his vision for a millisecond, a hot sun beating down from the sky. He could hear voices screaming at him. Rapid, metallic ‘bangs’ seemed to echo in his ears.
“You alright?” Big Mac tilted his head in confusion.
“Y-yeah,” Patrick collected himself and cleared his throat.
Not that he was ashamed of his past, but from what he’s observed about this world’s society so far, he wasn’t sure if he’d receive a warm reception if they knew he was a veteran. For now, it was probably for the best he just keep that all to himself. He could be leaving as soon as Twilight gets back, anyway.
“I, uh,” he tried to think of something. “I worked at a motorcycle shop. I repaired broken-down bikes. Nothing big, I never really did end up making it to college or anything.”
“What in tarnation is this?” Applejack butted into the conversation. “Ah didn’t think Pinkie Pie could pull a hoedown together this fast!”
“Where’s Twilight?” Patrick asked. “She’s supposed to try and help me find a way home.”
“She’ll be here any minute now,” Applejack answered, turning to her big brother.
“Ah’m surprised to see y’all leave the farm for once,” she jeered.
“Ah’m surprised Ah didn’t see you buckin’ in the fields today,” Big Macintosh replied in a mellow tone.
“Now, what’s that supposed ta’ mean?”
“Uh, nothin’, Ah was just-“
Patrick snuck away from the bickering siblings and the party, but only for five minutes, to smoke a cigarette. Each one he smoked, it made him eerily aware of how many he had in stock.
“Okay, I’ll smoke five a day,” Patrick decided. “And I’ve got twenty packs, so that’ll last me for a while.”
Patrick flicked his Marlboro Red and let the ash drift off the balcony.
“Maybe not five, maybe more like six. Or seven. Or-“ Patrick’s mind ran, suddenly remembering he was addicted. An addicted mind would not be able to contain any limits, but it still controlled his stress. If only he could just control those nightmares he seemed to always be having. PTSD is a cruel mistress.
Patrick tossed the short off the balcony window, and turned face to face with a small, purple dragon, standing upright, recoiling slightly.
“Sorry, we didn’t mean to scare you,” Twilight apologized.
Patrick and the dragon looked each other up and down.
“Woah,” Spike gazed up at Patrick’s height. “Get a load of this thing, Twilight.”
“Spike, that’s enough. Patrick, this is Spike. He’s a friend of mine and lives here at the library with me.”
“Hey, nice to meet you, little guy!” Patrick held out his hand, but the miniscule dragon crossed his arms.
“Little guy?” Spike grumbled, and rolled his eyes.
“Oh, I-“ Patrick stammered.
“I was just going to bed anyway. Have fun at your party,” Spike rolled his eyes and grabbed his blanket, yawning as he crawled up the stairs.
“What did I-“ Patrick started, but then just gave up speaking.
“Spike is a little,” Twilight paused. “Sensitive, about his height. He’s just a baby dragon, though. He can be a little immature at times.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Patrick sighed, as Twilight led him back down the stairs to the party.
“So, did you have anything to do with this?” Patrick asked.
“No, I’m just as surprised as you are,” Twilight remarked. “But that’s Pinkie Pie for you, she’s Ponyville’s personal party mare. Even her cutie mark is party-related.”
“Her what?” Patrick stared at the unicorn.
“What, a cutie mark?” Twilight motioned to her flank, an intricate star pattern imprinted there.
“It appears when a pony finds their special talent. Mine is magic, and Pinkie’s is, well, parties.”
“Cutie marks?” Patrick grimaced. What kind of storybook world was this? Everything seemed to be a rip off of his universe.
It still irritated him that he never got the answers he was looking for, particularly how he could be struck by lightning and transported to “Ponyville.” He expressed his concerns to Twilight before they re-entered the party.
“We’ll look for a way to send you back tomorrow, I promise. Until then, maybe you should just enjoy yourself,” Twilight recounted the days where she was too high-strung to ever go to a party, particularly during her arrival to Ponyville.
For the moment, Patrick put on a mask. He played out the party and sincerely thanked each and every pony for making him feel so welcome, and made sure Pinkie Pie knew how grateful he was for the welcome party.
“So long Mr. Hyoo-mann!” Pinkie Pie bounced along the road back into Ponyville.
Patrick waved as Twilight shut the door with her magic, and gave a sigh of relief.
Soon enough, Patrick found himself leaning off the edge of the same balcony, smoking another cigarette.
“Mind if I join you?” Twilight approached him, towing a small chair with her magic.
“Not at all,” he exhaled a cloud of smoke, inadvertently causing Twilight to cough.
“What are those things? They smell terrible,” Twilight coughed. Patrick outted his cigarette by rolling the ember out, and slid it back in his pack. He always thought it was terribly rude to smoke in someone’s home or around non-smokers. He’d just have to go outside the library from now on if he was going to smoke.
“Uh, cigarettes,” he respectfully put his lighter and pack of cigarettes away.
“How could you enjoy something like that?” Twilight argued. “It just seems so… Unhealthy, to be breathing in smoke all the time.”
“Some people do it to look cool. Some people do it to relieve stress,” Patrick answered, studying the strange constellations in the sky.
“Hey Patrick?” Twilight broke the silence.
“What’s this?” Twilight levitated a small, heart-shaped medal over to Patrick’s eye level.
“Hey, where did you get this? That’s mine!” Patrick snatched it from the air, taking good notice of how the lightning and his blood had worn the once pristine Purple Heart.
“Sorry,” Twilight’s ears lowered. “It fell out of your jacket, back at Nurse Redheart’s clinic. Rarity read the inscription on the back, but she wouldn’t tell any of us what it said and slipped it back in your pocket. I was curious, so I just kind of…”
“Stole it?” Patrick glared at her. He was very protective about that medal since he’d received it. He always carried it on him, no matter where he went.
“Sorry, I really didn’t mean anything by it,” Twilight replied. “I just wanted to see what it said.”
Patrick just looked up at the stars, hoping he wasn’t about to be asked to remember anything he had tried to forget.
“For military merit,” Twilight read the inscription as she levitated it up to her face.
“PFC Patrick Wilcox, United States Army?” Twilight looked at the medal, and then back to Patrick.
“Patrick, what did you do before you came here?”
He closed his eyes. No, he wasn’t about to recall anything from that day. It just wasn’t going to happen.
When suddenly, he was running again. Running from a blazing humvee. Looking at Jose’s dead man’s gaze, and the rest of his friends’ bodies littering the ground, still burning. Dust scraping against his face as bullets impacted the rocks mere inches from him.
He was shot in the shoulder again. He was dragged against the desert sand again. He fired his rifle at the enemy again.
“Patrick?” Twilight waved a hoof in front of his face. “Hello?”
“You’ve just been kind of sitting there for the past few minutes, are you alright?”
“Y-yeah,” Patrick croaked. “F-Fine. I think I’m going to go to bed.”
“Was it something I said about that medal?” Twilight’s tone sympathetic.
“Yes. And I’d appreciate it if you never asked me about it again. Good talking to you,” Patrick hated to end the night on a sour note, but he was sure he’d be having nightmares now.
Twilight watched as the human curled up on the floor with a blanket and pillow. She insisted he could sleep in her bed, but he wouldn’t allow her to give it up for him.
She flipped through a few books of spells under candlelight, trying to find anything on what could bring Patrick here, and how to send him back. If she could just somehow examine the magic in that lightning bolt, it would be a snap.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t there when the lightning struck. As she flipped through the pages, she found herself dwelling more and more on what Patrick had said before he went to bed. After she pulled out that medal, he literally froze, staring off into space, for several minutes.
Twilight closed her book and climbed the stairs to her bedroom, Spike snoring peacefully. She lifted the covers with her magic and gently nestled into bed, looking at the full moon out the window.
There was plenty of time and plenty of books they could go through. She was confident she could eventually find out what brought that “human” here. But tomorrow, she would have to write Princess Celestia for help.