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Just a Memory
The normally pristine Equestrian countryside was in ruins. The area was dying a slow, painful death as chains of war squeezed the very last drops of life from it. The lush green grass had withered long ago, leaving a swatch of monotone brown, scarred by battle. Large, majestic trees had been cut down for resources, and in some areas burned to the ground, leaving patches of soot and ash where there once was life. The air was thick with smoke and disease. A sense of death hung over the entire field. Nothing moved. Silence in its most devastating form. It was a field of death.
On opposite sides of the battlefield were deep trenches dug into the ground, disfiguring the landscape. Ramparts and barriers were placed around them, made from the bodies of slain trees, as if they would help to fend off attackers. Behind both trenches and barricades was a small grouping of tents that had long seen better days. They were battered and worn by numerous days in service, becoming a permanent monument to death.
In between the trenches was a pock-marked, desolate no-pony’s land. Large puddles of deep red blood pooled in the bare dirt. The expanse of red was broken up by the multitudes of ponies, long since dead, haphazardly piled on one another. Coats of white, blue, yellow, green and black, soiled by grime and dried blood, created a crude rainbow, offsetting the seriousness of the scene. Their bodies littered the area, their comrades unable to drag them back to camp for burial. They were turned a blind eye to, forgotten by the world. Unknown by their friends and family.
Some of them had been lucky. Some of them had died quick, painless deaths. A shot through the head. A bolt of lightning from a unicorn to the eyes. A quick stomp to the ribcage. But others were not so fortunate. Some clutched at stumps that once had limbs attached, a look of anguish still on their faces. Some were just a still smoldering husk of what used to be a pony, caught aflame in the midst of battle. Some blindly groped at their fellow soldiers as one last comfort as they bled to death from gut shot. Here, the only sound was the buzzing of flies as they alighted on their feast. They were the only ones who cared for the fallen.
In stark contrast, the trenches were teeming with life. Stallions dressed in gore stained, rusted armor ran to and fro through the maze, like an overturned anthill. The smell of fear permeated the air, overwhelming the death around them. The trenches themselves were flooded with bilge water. Most everypony had come down with hoof rot, causing most to give up walking for the rest of their lives. Monstrous rats ran rampant through the ditches, spreading disease and eating what little provisions were left. The soldiers were gaunt and bitter, stripped by the horrors of war. What forces allowed them to live while all five colts in their unit were shelled, ending their lives and dreams? Celestia? That name seemed like the whispers of a good dream. They had no hope anymore. Nothing to live for but their enforced participation in the battle.
Their thoughts and actions had long since degraded into only simple movements, shattered by war. They moved as automatons, sheep, unable to do anything but what they were told. Their usually plump bodies were racked by hunger, reduced to shadows. Their days were blistering and agonizing, and the nights were icy and unforgiving. Both minds and bodies were quickly withering into nothingness.
As the sun disappeared below the horizon, a chill swept the camp. The battered soldiers huddled together, sharing what meager warmth the other provided, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the next day would end their suffering. For better or for worse.
Their families seemed like a distant dream. A fantasy they had thought up one day to distract themselves from the life of death and destruction. What was beyond their bleak ditches and battle lines? Some say they remembered a colorful world filled with love. Love? There was no love here. All there was was all-consuming war. What were they fighting for? Who were they fighting for? Nopony was sure anymore. The days and nights blurred both past and present experiences. Who’s to say this isn’t just a dream? A nightmare?
But even here, in this hub of life surrounded by so much destruction, death still seeped in. Ponies were stacked irregularly in mounds outside the small shack used as an infirmary. There was no time left for their burials, and nopony had enough heart left to mourn them. The deaths had long since become desensitized to the remaining soldiers. A part of their lives.
Moans of pain and torture came from the small hovel used as a sickbay. The stench of the vomit, blood and piss of the infirm billowed from the shack, adding to the already miserable atmosphere of the camp. Inside, ponies of all shapes and sizes were packed wall to wall, floor to ceiling in bunks. Several beds had three or more ponies to them, all with horrific injuries. The amount of injuries far outnumbered the skills of the medics and their supplies. This many months into battle, with supplies in such short supply, the only they could do to numb the pain was get their patients drunk.
The more serious patients rested there, numbed to their pain in their drunken stupor. Their wounds were left to fester in the heat, the doctors unable to clean them, as water stocks ran lower and lower. The most unforgiving wounds were wrapped with soiled bandages; as fresh gauze had run out months ago. The patient’s eyes were glassed over in a mixture of pain and alcohol. None of the doctors expected anypony to pull through. Once you were injured, there wasn’t any hope. Sure, there were smiles, friendly pats on backs and promises that they’d try to save you. And maybe for a few days you were hopeful. Maybe fresh supplies would come in and their promises would hold true. But deep down, you know that there was nothing they could do. And as the days pass with no change, and with wounds only getting worse, those lingering hopes are shattered. You gave yourself in to the pain, accepting it, and it becomes your life sentence. Soon after that, the delirium sets in, and the days fly by in a haze, with alcohol as the only relaxation.
Amidst these troubles was a lean, blue pegasus. A guard, stationed within the walls surrounding camp, keeping a look out for the enemy. That was his job, his post. To protect the lives of the ponies behind him. He rested against a beam, his uniform drawn close to his body as protection against Luna’s brutal night. His eyes drifted lazily across the horizon, half-heartedly keeping watch. His thoughts wandered, thinking of home, and the distant memory it was. Thinking of the two pink ponies that he would see once he got home. But for now, his only company was a bone dry canteen, emptied countless hours ago in the heat of day. His weapon left back in the camp, because he knew he wouldn’t need it that day. Blinking drowsily, he shivered and clutched his uniform closer to stave off the cold. He breathed out, his breath visible in the frigid night. Closing his eyes again, he drifted off to sleep, dreaming of home. Of love. Perhaps some of the longest rest he’d gotten since his draft.
The pegasus awoke with a start, seemingly seconds later. Startled, he grasped for a weapon he should’ve had. His hooves fell on his canteen. Something seemed off about the night, but what it was, he couldn’t place. The moon was several hours higher in the sky, casting eerie shadows across the already unnerving landscape. Suddenly alert, he scanned the battlefield, watching for signs of movement. Guiltily, he thought about his weapon, sitting in his barracks. Clutching his canteen, he unsteadily stood up, joints creaking in the cold. Nothing seemed to be disturbed anywhere on the field. The enemy wasn’t marching across in attack. A fire wasn’t raging through the area, fuelled by the dry conditions. But then why had he woken up?
Suddenly, he saw it. A plume of smoke rose on the horizon, stretching into the inky black sky. Seconds later, a thundering boom shook him, the barricades, and the camp. Stars were blotted out as a large shape moved in front of them. A shrill whistle of something flying through the air filled the night. The shape in the sky glinted in the moonlight, revealing its metal outer casing. The blue stallion’s eyes shot wide open as he realized what was happening. Scrambling, he grabbed his canteen and dashed back through the battlements towards the camp intent on raising the alarm as he went. Only that never happened.
Before he made it five steps, the loud shriek of the shell abruptly stopped, blowing apart the ramparts where it landed. A bellow of pain filled the now silent night. A cry of agony. But also a cry of regret and grief at dreams unfulfilled. A cry of sadness. A cry of relief. Just as sudden as it began, that too fell to a halt. An end.
On the other side of the camp, a small canteen, still smoking, fell to the ground with a thud, burying itself in the mud. Seconds later, a hat fluttered down beside it.
My eyes shot open in alarm, and unceremoniously, I fell to the floor in a tangle of sheets. I quelled a yelp before it could form in my throat. Caught up in the thrills of my dream, I hastily checked my body, making sure everything was still there. Partway to my head, I froze. Sluggishly, my brain caught up with my actions, recognizing what happened night after night. My hoof gently fell to the floor next to me, landing with a soft thwump.
As the last vestiges of sleep cleared my mind, I sat up. Mindlessly, I pawed at the covers twisted around me, my heart’s beating slowly returning to normal. It was the middle of the night. A night just like any other. Moonlight shone through my shutters casting slits of light to fall across the floor, illuminating the room. The only other source of light in my rooms was a small analog clock, enchanted to glow during the night. I glanced towards it. 3:26. One of the longest rests I’d had in a while.
Grunting, I fell backwards to lie on the cold wood floor. I counted the cracks in the ceiling. The cracks in the walls. I knew this ceiling, these walls. How many nights had I lain here, on either floor or bed, and stared, watching the ceiling? Too many nights. With a groan, I rubbed my eyes, driving away the last of my dream. The dream. The only dream I ever had anymore. It clung to my mind, replaying the same scene over and over every night. Every night I get to see my father die. Every night I wake up, feeling the same.
I felt drained. Emotionally and physically. These constant nightmares bore their marks on my body. My youthful eyes had dark, deep shadows under them. My coat had lost its sheen, and I found it increasingly harder to stay awake during school hours. Most days now, after coming home from school, I would immediately collapse in bed, hoping I would fall asleep. Not a night had gone by for over a year now that I've gotten a full night’s sleep. Not a night that I didn't think of father.
Shivering, I pulled the twisted mass of blankets closer. My body was drenched in sweat, even more susceptible to the frigid night. It had been over a year since the nightmares started. A year since I had truly realized father wasn’t coming back home.
The first hundred times I woke screaming, crying out for the embrace of mother. But after that, I grew used to the nightly terrors. The sudden jolt of waking up still contained the same shock as before, but I quickly learned not to make any noise. Not to wake mother. Too many times I found myself lying on the floor, having fallen out of bed in the middle of the night. Most nights I woke up already crying, tears streaking my face. I quickly realized the worst dreams were always the ones that found me on the floor.
There was a crack starting in the northeast corner of the ceiling running all the way to the middle of the room. Paint flaked around it, creating crude looking shapes. Crude looking shadows. A crack ran from the south west corner to halfway down the east wall, connecting with a crack from a few feet down, flowing down the wall and into the left side of the window I laid beneath. The paint around that window peeled as well. A crack ran down from the bottom of it, heading right, before stopping just before the floor.
Things hadn’t been the same since father had died. When I was young, I was oblivious to it. To mother’s strife and sadness. I remembered being taken by mother to a wall. A very large wall with names. She stood there for a few hours, staring at it. Tears fell freely from her face, bunching together on the ground. I sat in the grass, playing imaginary games with dolls. When we left, mother had left flowers. A bouquet of red and white. As we walked away, I remember glancing backwards towards the flowers. As we grew more distant, the red and white of the flowers began to blur into pink. I've never returned to that wall.
But as I grew, I began to understand father was never to return to us. To return to me. In a span of a year, I realized how much foals depend on both their parents. Father was never there to push my swing, or to catch me on the slide. He was never there to play ball or to read stories. He was never there to love me.
Of course, mother loved and supported me as well, but even she wasn’t there all the time. Suddenly a single parent, she had her own issues to work out. She was forced to work more than usual, taking up jobs as a secretary and as a book salespony. But even then, she always took time to keep me safe. To love me. Even now, at this early hour, she was probably already getting ready for work, leaving me to depart for school myself.
Still on the floor, I pushed my head up to get a good look at the clock. 5:50. Had so much time passed? Had I spent over two, almost three, hours on the floor? I looked towards the window. Beams of sunlight shone in as the sun crested the horizon. The day was starting. I guess mother would’ve left a while ago.
Groggily, I sat up again, joints stiff from resting on the floor. Another sleepless night. I’d come to expect these nights though. The ones where I slept peacefully were the surprises.
Painstakingly, I untangled myself from the knot of sheets I was wrapped in and stood up. I stretched, joints cracking and popping as sunlight warmed my aching body. Stifling a yawn, I leaned on my window and looked out. Outside, the streets were already alive with the bustle and hustle of ponies going about their lives. Serenely, I observed the same thing I saw every day. Stallions going to work in expensive suits. Foals talking animatedly among themselves. Taxi drivers pulling their carriages, looking for customers. A father and son walking side by side.
A lump formed in my throat as my eyes followed the father and son as they walked down the sidewalk. I could see the love in both their eyes as they walked by. My ears fell as sadness formed in the pit of my stomach. I shivered again, despite the pleasant warmth shining through the window.
I never had that. I never had a father to look up to. To hold when I was scared. Never had somepony to sweep me off my feet when I was feeling sad and get a piggy-back ride from. Never had a father to love. I missed out on my foalhood. All because of a war. A war that still hasn’t been resolved, years later.
As I watched them, I felt myself growing angry. Angry at what, I wasn’t sure, but fury bubbled up from the recesses of my mind and took over. Anger at the war for taking my father away. Anger at myself. Anger at other foals for having fathers while I had none. Angry at Equestria for treating his death as just another casualty. Gritting my teeth, I snorted in disgust and turned away, unable to watch anymore. The thoughts were too painful.
Irritated, I stomped to the other side of the room, and began to dress for school. We all had a uniform we were forced to wear. A gray tweed jacket, shorts, and a small red bowtie. The clothes itched and chafed my coat to no end, but there wasn’t much I could do. In the middle of flinging on my clothes, I caught a glimpse of myself in my mirror. Freezing partway with my trousers on, I stared at my reflection.
A vile looking ghost looked back at me. My bright gray eyes looked dull and were sunk into my skull, casting shadows over my sockets. My coat was pale and disheveled, as was my brown colored mane. My face was twisted into a fearful looking snarl. I looked like a demon.
On this wall, cracks ran up from the floor, products of faulty construction. They rose up, disappearing behind the dresser, and reappeared out the top. This wall was covered with wallpaper depicting rose vines twisting and curling around ornate lattice. It was ugly as hell, but mother thought it looked nice, so it stayed. As it were, most of the stuff has peeled off on its own, large strips unstuck from the wall. It was faded and a numerous air pockets had formed under the paper, giving the roses an eerie look.
Closing my eyes, I leaned on my dresser, holding my head in my hooves. My nightmares were taking their toll on me. Things weren’t as simple as they were just a few years ago, when I was still a baby foal. I opened my eyes again and glanced forward. My gaze fell on the doll my father made for me many moons ago. Ace. I'm not sure when I realized that Ace was a crude puppet of my father, but when I had, the doll was already far past its prime. The years had not been kind to it.
His formally blue coat had faded to a dull pink, tainted by some unknown process. Only a few splotches of blue remained on the doll. One of his wings had fallen off, the stitching unraveling long ago, and lost forever. His previously lush mane and tail had begun to fall out, leaving bald patches in places. I had once thought about having him restored, but decided against it. Time may destroy his appearance, but it couldn’t take away the memories he held. He was a wreck, but it was the only thing of father’s he’d left for me.
Smiling, I picked him up and gave him a quick hug and went back to dressing. Despite being a young schoolcolt now, Ace always comforted me. I suppose it was the fact father made him for me. He and a few photos in the album were the only things I had to remember the blue pegasus by. Other than that, all that remained of father’s was the box of possessions we received from the army.
To most ponies, the objects in the box would seem to be junk. A razor. Scraps of bloodied fabric. A few bent, misshapen coins. A charred canteen. A watch. Cracked reading glasses. To us, though, they were all that remained of father. All that remained of a stallion I never knew.
As I finished dressing, I examined myself in the mirror, grooming myself. The school was meticulous about appearances. I wasn’t looking for their punishment today. I ran a hoof through my mane, satisfied, and turned to leave. At the door, I stopped and checked the calendar I had hanging on the wall for the date.
My eyes narrowed as I saw the date. It was three years to the day since the soldiers informed us of father’s death. It was the day that lost me my father. Familiar feelings set in as the memory filled my head once more. This was never a good day for me. I could only imagine how mother must feel. I snarled in a mix of anger, confusion and fear. Emotions ran rampant through my head, setting my blood to a boil in fury. Quickly, I turned and thrust my backhooves into the wall, as hard as I could, leaving a deep imprint. I kicked it again for good measure.
For a moment, I stood there, panting, surveying the damage I did to my wall. I exhaled, letting go of tension I didn't know I had. That felt good. It was good release for my feelings. I’d explain to mother later why I had kicked my wall. She’d understand. It was the anniversary, after all. Today was just a passing phase. Just one of my turns. Smiling slightly to myself, I swept my gaze once more over my untidy room, and trotted downstairs to go to school.
At the impact site, my kick left even more cracks in the walls of my room. They radiated out from the center reaching all the way down to the baseboard, splintering even that. At the bottom of the wall, the plaster had begun to fall off, weakened by the cracks. Slowly, it crumbled off, revealing the brick wall behind. Revealing the very foundations.
Based on “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)” by Pink Floyd
The Wall, Pink Floyd, lyrics, and other events belong to Pink Floyd.
My Little Pony belongs to Hasbro.