April 17th 2012
The apartment was still dark, but I could see the sun beginning to rise from the kitchen window. I opened a cabinet and removed a large frying pan, then quietly placed it upon the stovetop. A moment later I had retrieved a carton of eggs, a jug of milk, a few strips of bacon, some lettuce, a tomato, a cucumber, and some shredded cheese from the refrigerator. I cracked ten of the eggs into the pan, using a spatula to break the yolks, then added a small amount of milk and shredded cheese. I set the heat to medium, then turned my attention to the vegetables.
The lettuce was shredded and placed into a large bowl, then was topped with sliced tomato and cucumber. I put the remaining two eggs into a pot of boiling water and added some cheese to the salad. After a few minutes of careful turning with the spatula, and the addition of a little salt and onion powder, the cheesy scrambled eggs were finished and I pushed them to the side of the pan and added the bacon. It emitted a satisfying sizzle. After the boiled eggs were ready, I removed them and placed them on a wire rack to cool; they would be sliced and added to the salad later.
I was just adding bread to the toaster when a ruffled Angel shuffled into the kitchen, his nose pushed forward and sniffing rapidly. His strange black eyes located the food and widened with curiosity, then shifted to glance at me. I indicated the salad, then lifted the bag of cheese and raised an eyebrow. He moved closer and I offered him a small piece of cheese, which he accepted and put into his mouth. A moment later, his eyes lit up and he gave me a thumbs-up. I added a small amount of cheese to the salad, then served it up along with the scrambled eggs and a slice of toast onto four plates, adding the bacon to my own plate. Angel took two plates and set them on the dining table, while I took two to the bedroom for the girls.
Pinkie’s snoring had settled down to a quiet rumble, but Fluttershy slept without making a sound. The pony toys that represented their friends were lying in a row next to Pinkie, snuggled under the covers as if they were the real thing. It almost felt wrong to wake the girls, but I was saved the trouble when Fluttershy blinked open her eyes and looked up at me.
“Hey,” I whispered. “Are you feeling any better today?”
She smiled and nodded, then noticed the plates I was holding and maneuvered herself so that she was sitting up in bed. I handed a plate to her, which she accepted graciously, then turned to wake Pinkie only to discover that her eyes were already open as well.
“Oh my gosh, is that breakfast? But we can’t have breakfast, we’re still in bed. Wait a minute... ” Pinkie thought for a moment. “It’s breakfast... in bed!?” Her eyes lit up as I nodded. “Yay! Thank you, Captain!”
At that moment, Angel walked into the bedroom carrying my plate and wearing a scowl. He offered me the plate and crossed his arms while glaring at me.
“Ah, thank you Angel. Sorry, I guess we can eat in here instead of at the table,” I said. He threw his hands into the air and left to retrieve his plate. I turned to the girls. “So, what would you like to do today? We have a few days before we can do anything about the Cutie Mark Crusaders or Princess Celestia, so we may as well make the most of it.”
“We should have another party!” Pinkie shouted, showering bread crumbs onto her plate.
“We could... well, um. Whatever you want to do,” Fluttershy said, smiling weakly.
I thought about how Fluttershy had reacted to her reflection earlier as I ate my breakfast. She said she was feeling better, but she had been through a lot in a very short period of time. Since we had just had a party last night, I decided to find out what Fluttershy had in mind.
“Maybe we can have another party a little later,” I said. I focused on Fluttershy. “What would you like to do?”
Fluttershy froze in mid-chew, then she swallowed. “Who, me?” she asked, blinking. “Um, well. Maybe we could go and... oh, nevermind.”
“Come on, Fluttershy!” Pinkie encouraged. “What do you want to do?”
“Well,” Fluttershy began. “If it’s okay with you, and nobody wants to do anything else, maybe we can go see some more of the native fauna?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Well, I do have a few days left on my campsite registration,” I said. “We could head back to Burrinjuck for the day.”
“Burnt what?” Pinkie asked.
“Burrinjuck. It’s where I found you three,” I explained. “There is plenty of wildlife out there, and this time we can be a little more careful about the spiders.”
Pinkie picked up the Rarity toy. “Oh, spiders are so very dreadful. Not elegant or beautiful at all!” she said, imitating her unicorn friend’s voice before breaking into another fit of giggles.
With our day planned out, we finished our breakfast and began preparing for the trip. Angel washed the dishes while the girls and I prepared a picnic lunch and packed a few supplies such as more Coke, a pair of binoculars, and some additional fishing gear into the car. I wondered if ponies would mind the act of fishing, but neither of the girls commented so I supposed I was in the clear.
Once everything was packed into the car, I logged onto my computer and checked my email. Seeing nothing of interest, I logged off with a sigh. It was probably too early to expect a reply from Fullmetal_Pony or DragonLS. It would be the middle of the night in the United States right now anyway.
A few minutes later, I was ushering everyone out the front door and down the stairs toward the parking area. We were soon all in the car, buckled into our seats, and ready to leave. I put a CD into the player and hit the play button while the others got settled in.
“Let’s see if Equestria is ready for some Breaking Benjamin,” I said with a grin.
I started the engine, put the car in reverse, and backed out of my parking spot as the first few rifts began to play. We were soon back on the road and heading towards Burrinjuck Nature Reserve.
“So what do they put into Coke to make it so unbelievably yummy?” Pinkie asked. She was on her second Coke of the day, and we hadn’t even reached Yass yet. “It’s kind of like sarsaparilla, but even better!”
“Well, the flavor comes from kola nuts,” I explained. “But the large amounts of sugar and caffeine may have something to do with it too.”
Pinkie nodded and continued drinking. The drive had already been somewhat successful, as I had pulled the car over to the side of the road when the girls noticed some cows in a field we had been driving past. It had been a somewhat exciting experience at first, as this was the first time they had seen what cows on Earth were like. Pinkie, however, soon realized just how boring they were. Fluttershy found them to be cute, and managed to somehow persuade one to come stand by the gate to be petted, but she seemed confused at the fact that it could not speak when she tried to ask it if it enjoyed life on Earth. Angel merely shrugged and waited patiently for Fluttershy to finish.
We had also spied several varieties of birds that the Equestrians were unfamiliar with as we drove along the highway, but we did not stop the car again. Fluttershy had become noticeably excited when I explained that kangaroos were often seen at Burrinjuck Nature Reserve, and that they would occasionally allow you to hand-feed them if you had some of the special feed that the rangers used. I had been lucky enough to acquire some when I registered my campsite, but my discovery of the Equestrians had distracted me from using it. Even if we didn’t see any kangaroos this time, the possums and various birds in the area would probably come eat the feed if we tossed some onto the ground.
I took a moment to take in the sights around me. There weren’t many trees in the area, though there would be plenty more when we neared Burrinjuck. Instead, we were mostly surrounded by large, open fields of tall grass bordered by small shrubs and bushes by the side of the road. There were no other cars on the road for as far as we could see, and the sky was clear and blue; the perfect kind of day for a drive.
It was while I was admiring my surroundings when I thought I saw a small flash in the distance off the side of the road. I barely had time to ponder it before the largest dingo I had ever seen began to run across the highway directly in front of us. My foot hovered over the brake. I had been certain the dingo would clear the road with plenty of time to spare, but I was forced to slam my foot against the brake when it tripped over its front legs and landed snout-first on the pavement.
“Shit!” I yelled.
The girls both screamed as the car’s tires squealed in protest. It was too late to avoid the animal, but I attempted to steer around it anyway. It raised its head and calmly looked at the oncoming car with a look of resignation. Then a loud thump was heard moments before the car came to a complete stop. I wondered at the fact that I thought the animal had sighed as well, but I chalked that up to an overactive imagination due to the mild panic I was feeling. I had just hit an animal with my car while Fluttershy was a passenger, after all.
We all sat in silence as the reality of what had just occurred sank in. Angel placed a hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder, but she didn’t seem to notice; she was staring straight ahead without blinking. Pinkie was wisely being quiet for once, and was busy staring at the floor. I knew I couldn’t just drive off, so I pulled the car over to the side of the road.
“I’ll go check on it,” I said. “Just stay here.”
I got out of the car and was not surprised to see Fluttershy do the same. I would have rather spared her from the sight of what was probably a dead animal, but it would do no good to argue. We walked over to the prone form of the dingo together, where I bent down to examine it.
“Just keep your distance,” I warned Fluttershy. “Remember, animals aren’t as friendly here as they are in Equestria.” She nodded, but was otherwise silent.
To my surprise, I found the creature to still be alive. I wondered what the hell a dingo was doing this close to Sydney as I looked it over. Its eyes were shut and it was breathing in quick, shallow bursts. Thankfully it didn’t sound raspy, and a quick check of its ribs and abdomen showed no signs of broken bones or internal bleeding. The only real sign of damage I could find was that its tail was bent in several places.
I looked at Fluttershy and said, “I don’t understand, it looks fine to me. I can’t see any real injuries.” Standing up and looking over at the front of my car, I saw that it was barely damaged. “Maybe it just got knocked out. We’ll need to move it away from here before any more cars show up, though.” Having the animal unconscious would be good; we could move it without fear of getting bitten. I wasn’t looking forward to moving an injured an dangerous animal to the side of the road. Especially one this large, but Fluttershy was having a rough couple of days and I felt I owed her this much.
I knelt down beside the animal again and gently moved it into a better position so that I could lift it. It was huge for a dingo, at least twice the size of the largest one I had previously seen. The bugger was heavy too, but I was more concerned with moving it to safety without being bitten than I was with its abnormal size. I reached under its body and lifted with my knees. Bloody hell, was it heavy. I began moving towards the side of the road when it opened its eyes and stared at me.
I half-dropped, half-threw the beast to the side of the road and took a step backward towards Fluttershy. She appeared beside me and observed the animal calmly. It almost looked as if the dingo was considering its next move, and I had a strange feeling that things were going to get weird soon.
“I thought you said animals weren’t sentient here on Earth.” Fluttershy said.
I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” I asked.
She walked towards the dingo and knelt down to playfully scratch behind one of its ears. “It’s okay,” she said soothingly. “Doug didn’t mean to hit you. Why don’t you tell me your name?”
My mind was caught halfway between preparing to save Fluttershy from a potentially dangerous animal or simply watching her as she consoled the wounded dingo. Suddenly, it either sneezed or it blew a very messy raspberry - I couldn’t tell which. Its tongue dangled out of its mouth as its eyes darted between Fluttershy and myself.
“What was that it just did now?” I asked Fluttershy. I had never seen an animal act in such a peculiar way. Could Fluttershy have retained some of her empathy with animals in the same way that Pinkie could still ignore the laws of physics? Was the dingo trying to communicate in some way?
“Aw, the poor thing is scared,” Fluttershy replied. She looked back down at the dingo. “It’s okay, we’ll make you all better.” The dingo looked up at Fluttershy, then glanced over towards where I was standing. I heard the car doors opening as Pinkie and Angel came out to investigate.
“Well, I guess you haven’t lost your touch at all,” I told Fluttershy. “It really does look like it knows what you’re saying.” I wondered at how this would have gone differently if Fluttershy wasn’t with us. Probably very poorly.
The dingo blinked, tilted its head to one side, and then nearly gave me a heart attack when it addressed me. “Excuse me, but did this pink-haired young woman just call you ‘Doug’?” it asked.
I stared at the animal for at least three full minutes as it bared its teeth in what might have been a broad smile and wagged its tail once. My grasp on the laws of what was possible had been fairly strained the past few days, but this was an entirely new and unexpected situation. It was difficult to wrap my mind around the concept that fictional ponies from another world or dimension could end up becoming trapped on Earth in human bodies. It dented my views on modern science and religion to think that such a thing was possible, and yet I had somehow managed to continue functioning at a reasonable level. Visitors from another world? Okay. Fiction becoming reality? I guess I can deal with that in small bursts. Pinkie destroying my concept of physics? Fine.
Talking animals? Not fine. Not fine at all.
To be fair; Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Angel were all technically talking animals. But they were from another world or dimension, and were currently in human bodies. For some reason, that made it more acceptable. Finding an ordinary, albeit very large, dingo in the middle of the highway, and having it ask me if my name was indeed Doug, was somehow much more difficult to simply roll with.
Fluttershy broke the silence. “Oh yes, this is my good friend Doug. I’m sure he would never mean to hit you on purpose,” she said, giving the animal a gentle hug.
The dingo sniffed. “Hmph, well he hasn’t said that he’s sorry!” it said indignantly, glaring in my direction.
I threw my hands into the air, turned, and walked away a few steps. Not only did I have to deal with a talking animal, but it also expected an apology. Thinking about it, the beast had a point, but I wasn’t quite ready for a situation like the one I was in. I took a seat on the pavement and leaned up against the car, then spoke to Pinkie.
“Tell the dingo I’m sorry, and get Fluttershy to convince it to leave or something,” I said quietly. Pinkie winked and skipped over to where Fluttershy was tending to the dingo.
“Hey dingo, Doug says he’s sorry!” she said loudly. “Oh, and he said you need to tell the dingo to go away,” she told Fluttershy without lowering her volume at all. So much for discretion.
The dingo frowned at me. “You know what, I don’t think he’s sincere at all,” it growled. “I finally decide to speak to one of you and it turns out nobody wants to listen. Well fine, whatever!” The animal squirmed out of Fluttershy’s grip and began to limp away, grunting and moaning in obviously exaggerated pain with each step. I stared after it in disbelief for a moment before making a decision I would likely regret.
“Fine! I’m sorry we hit you,” I called out. “You just kind of tripped in the middle of the road, and I couldn’t swerve in time to avoid you.” Why was I even talking to this thing? Well, maybe it was really another pony from Equestria or something. Perhaps they had been turned into more than just humans. I took a deep breath and continued. “Are you okay? Come on back here.”
The dingo craned its neck to look back at me. After a moment it walked back towards us, forgetting to limp this time, but still moving slowly. “So, you are called Doug, right?” it asked.
Well, at least it wasn’t aggressive. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to answer its question. “Yes,” I replied. “My name is Doug.”
“Hi, I’m Pinkie!” Pinkie exclaimed, kneeling down beside the dingo and smiling. “This here is Fluttershy, and the white-haired one is Angel. Welcome to Earth! We’re going to become the best of friends!”
Everything was silent for the next thirty seconds or so. No cars drove past, no birds called out, and nobody spoke another word. The dingo and I were both staring at Pinkie with wide eyes. How was I going to keep the Equestrian’s identities a secret if she always greeted strangers in this way? I could only imagine what the dingo was thinking. Eventually, it seemed to remember that it had just been spoken to.
“Okaaay nice to meet you, strange person who I absolutely have never heard of before in any way ever,” it said to Pinkie. It then looked back over to me. “So... I have finally found you then! You have no idea how long I have been searching for you!”
I wasn’t expecting to have anyone, or anything, looking for me for any reason. Much less a talking wild dog of Australia.
“Well, how long have you been searching for me, and why?” I asked. Angel pulled a pocket watch out from somewhere and gave it a look. Then, apparently having seen enough, opened the car door and climbed back into the car to wait.
The dingo ignored the impatient former bunny and thought for a moment before answering. “Well, gee,” it began, “it hasn’t been all that... wait. You really don’t know?” The animal seemed to gasp. “You mean to say you don’t remember me?”
“Uh,” I said as I looked back and forth between the dingo, Pinkie, and Fluttershy. “No, I guess I don’t?” It came out as a question.
The dingo buried its nose between its front paws. “Oh no,” it said miserably. “Oh, this is not good at all... ”
I stood up and moved closer to where the animal was lying. As strange and fascinating as this was, it wouldn’t be long before some random passerby in a car noticed me talking to a large dingo with two pink-haired women and stopped to ask questions. We needed to get to the point.
“Okay, so I don’t remember you,” I admitted. The dingo groaned, but I continued. “But you can still tell me why you were looking for me.”
The animal sighed and looked up at me. “Well, this is going to be really hard to explain, Dougery... “ it started.
Dougery? I thought.
“... but this isn’t really your world. You don’t belong here.” it stated.
“Um, I thought you said you were born on Earth,” Fluttershy said to me quizzically. Pinkie was looking between the dingo and myself while biting her lower lip. I was simply stunned.
“I... I was,” I said confidently. “I have the baby pictures to prove it.” I turned to the dingo. “What do you mean?”
“Winter has come!” the dingo said suddenly. “Winterfell is being overrun! Don’t you remember? Only a Stark can fight and hold off the Others, but they have all fallen!” The dingo’s eyes seemed to bore into me. “All but one. The last remaining Stark: Dougery Stark.” It stood up and moved closer. “I’ve come to take you home.”
For the third time since meeting the dingo, I found myself at a loss for words. Winterfell? The Starks? I had memories of my childhood. Common sense was telling me that none of this could be true. However, the realities of what could be true or not had shifted dramatically when I met the Equestrians. Perhaps I had been correct. Perhaps all works of fiction were actually alternate realities that could be accessed through magic or science. It seemed strange that I was meeting fictional characters that I was familiar with, but upon further thought, perhaps everyone I had met was a work of fiction that I was unfamiliar with.
I blinked when I realized everyone was looking at me, waiting for some kind of answer or acknowledgement. Was this what it felt like to be insane? To believe in things that weren’t real, and to think I could achieve things that were impossible? This was the sort of thing I had never really worried about. I was the kind of guy who took things as they came, and dealt with the present as opposed to worrying about the past or the future. If something strange happened, it happened. No use wondering why or how.
But all of that was beginning to change. I looked to the dingo and thought about my answer for a few moments before finally giving it.
“I... can’t go home just yet,” I said. The dingo bared its teeth, though it did not growl. “Listen, if I really am a Stark, then I can’t go back right now. I need to take care of these young women and escort them back to their own world. They, too, don’t belong here.”
I wasn’t entirely certain if I believed what the animal had told me, but I was open to any kind of possibilities. Regardless, I had promised to get the Equestrians back to their home, and I couldn’t afford to take on any new quests from other alternate realities until this one was completed. One thing at a time, I reminded myself. The girls were silently listening to the conversation with unreadable expressions on their faces.
The dingo cocked its head to the side. “Okay then,” it said, trotting towards my car. “I’ll just chill with you guys until you can get that sorted out.” It stopped near the rear door and looked back expectantly.
“What?” I blurted. “No... no no no! I can’t take in any more visitors from other worlds or dimensions, and I surely can’t... “ I stopped in mid-sentence as I realized something. “Wait, what did you just say?” I asked the dingo.
The animal rolled its eyes. “I said I’ll just chill with you guys and... “ it stopped as it noticed the look on my face. It bared its teeth again in what I guessed was a grin. “Uh, you know. Chill. You’re a Stark, I thought you’d appreciate the pun!”
My brow furrowed into a frown as I stood up to my full height and crossed my arms. Pinkie and Fluttershy, sensing trouble, backed away from the animal. “I may not be a Stark,” I growled, “but even I know that they don’t use the term ‘chill’ in that manner. Who are you really?”
The dingo blinked. “Oh... oh! Wait, you’re not the last Stark! I was confused by that amazing beard of yours, and... “ it stopped when it noticed my look of impatience. “Oh... oh come on!” It bared its teeth again. “Can’t we just forget about this and maybe enjoy a few cold Cokes together?”
“Yes!” Pinkie squealed.
“No!” I bellowed. The dingo and I frowned and glared at each other.
Fluttershy squeaked and dragged Pinkie back into the car with her with amazing speed. Once they were both safely in the car, they appeared at the windows to peek and observe what was going on.
“Last chance,” I growled. “Who are you, really?”
The dingo looked away and seemed to pout. “Bah! Fine, the name’s Ashton,” it said, finally. “Nice to meet ya, Doug.”
I knelt down beside the dingo and met its eye. “So, Ashton. Were you always a talking dingo?” I asked.
The dingo glared at me. “Oh gee, I wish! It’s just so fun getting run over by crazy Australians. We’re in Australia, right? Anyways, no. I’ve only been a dingo for ten, maybe fifteen minutes.”
For some reason I was beginning to regret not blindly believing I was a Stark, if only to see where this... thing would take me. Now I had to deal with someone, or something, that had apparently turned into a dingo somehow. If that wasn’t a lie as well.
“Right. Yes, we’re in Australia. No, I probably won’t believe anything you tell me anymore,” I said. The dingo, or Ashton, began humming “Land Down Under” by Men At Work. “But, seeing as you’re the only talking animal other than a bird that I’ve met, I’m willing to hear your story. Just don’t lie to me again, or else.”
Ashton the dingo rolled his eyes again. “Yeah, yeah. I won’t lie to you again,” it said. “I think we’re even now for the whole You-Running-Me-Over-Like-a-Madman tidbit, anyway.”
I frowned. “Wait, so you just made that up to get back at me for hitting you?” Rage began to build up from within, but I closed my eyes and breathed slowly. Fair enough, it got its revenge. At least it hadn’t bitten anyone.
Ashton bared his teeth again. “Yes, that’s all me! I did that.” He seemed to chuckle. “Also, I’m pretty jealous that you found Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. You lucky dog.”
I looked at the car and the Equestrians inside of it. “Yeah, about them,” I said. “I don’t know who you are, other than someone or something that was turned into a dingo, but I think it would be best to forget you ever saw them.” I made sure I caught Ashton’s eye. “Understand?”
“Yeah, yeah. We’re kind of in the same boat, dude,” Ashton replied. “How do you think I got turned into a dingo in the first place?”
“Well, with all that has happened lately, I suppose it could be any number of things,” I admitted. “Were you a human before this happened?”
“Yes,” Ashton said. “I was in America, too. Wait, this seems a little weird. Do we have to discuss this on the side of the road?”
The pot had just called the kettle black. We did need to get off the road, as a few cars passed by now and then, but I wasn’t letting some strange were-dingo into my car without knowing a little more about him. Besides that, he might not even need my help anyway. My previous thoughts remained: I couldn’t really get involved in anything else until I managed to return the Equestrians to their rightful home. For some reason, fate or the universe had decided I was the one to come to when strange things happened.
Ashton was looking at me expectantly. The Equestrians were watching expectantly. It was time to make a decision.
“Fine,” I said, opening the rear car door. “Hop in and we can discuss this on the way to my camp.”
“Thanks!” Ashton said, his tail wagging. He waited for Angel to scoot towards the middle of the seat before hopping in.
I sighed and looked into the sky before getting into the car. God, Celestia, fate... whichever of you is doing this to me, just knock it off already, okay? I thought. I climbed into the car and looked at Ashton through the rearview mirror.
“Oh, and Ashton?” I said.
The dingo returned my look. “Yeah, yeah. As if I would ever do anything to Pinkie or Fluttershy. Sheesh!” He seemed to shrug. “Anyhow, I like small, furry animals. I love cupcakes, and rabbits are okay, I guess.”
I smiled. It looked like the newcomer caught on quickly. After ensuring everyone was buckled in, including Ashton with some difficulty, I put the car in drive and we were soon speeding along the Hume highway towards Burrinjuck Nature Reserve and, hopefully, some answers.