The room was dark, save for a single lamp. On the desk by the bed was a tray, the bowl of cream of mushroom soup cold and untouched. On the stereo in the room, the same song played that had been going for nearly a week now. In the bed, curled up into a near fetal ball was a young woman, hair covering her face and refusing to move from the spot on the bed, as if her very life depended on it, well deep into a depression. There was a deep symbiosis at work: the droning, rolling psychedelic song fed into the mood of the young woman, and in turn she let the song play, thus continuing the cycle. She was shattered beyond imagination, possibly beyond repair. It was only upon inspection that one would find the young woman was anything but human. She was an alien, something other to this world, the only one of her kind.
But just a few days ago, she found she was no longer alone – and now she wished she could roll the clock back to the day before, when she thought she was, and just leave the clock there forever. She was what people facetiously labeled a pony, both because she was somehow distantly related to horses and from that show from decades ago, My Little Pony. But now she knew there were others of her kind – and every moment she thought of that truth, it filled her with pure, blood-freezing terror. She could feel the rough hooves of the creatures that looked like pegasi ripping off her clothing, trying to pull her away from the tree even as she started screaming for help, demanding that she stop. She saw her father, her best friend, her brother, and her boyfriend, all four slammed to dust by the others of her kind below. The shouts of her neighbors demanding they let go of her. And then that sickening, rocking motion, where all she could see was the love of her life as she was being….
She couldn’t finish the thought. So instead she shut down again, letting the song carry her into oblivion once more, as Daisy Jo Hikaru Martinez, freshman at Winchester Christian High wished that the end would come.
“DJ, don’t do this to yourself!” She opened her eyes and stared at the face of a friend, skin the color of tupelo honey, hair as black as sable, and eyes filled with so much worry. Erica McAllister, one of the two people who were her best friends in the world, the first two outside her family that had seen beyond the horse-like body and into the normal person below. “Everyone’s worried about you, and we can’t help you if you won’t let us. Don’t shut us out.”
“Erica, he doesn’t love me anymore,” she said in a soft, wilted tone. “I’m unclean now. He saw. I’m dirty.”
“Yeah, I won’t lie about that unclean part, girl – you haven’t taken a shower in days, and you only leave this room just to run to the bathroom across the hall. This place is going to need some serious airing out,” Erica replied. “But do you really think that would ever cross Mike’s mind? Honestly, I thought you loved him!”
DJ’s head lifted. “I do!” she gasped. “More than I can ever say!”
“Then why don’t you trust him enough to believe he won’t leave you? You didn’t do anything wrong, DJ, and it certainly wasn’t your fault. Let me repeat that again so you get that through your thick skull: it wasn’t your fault. Besides, Mike’s special – you said so yourself, no one has ever looked at you the way he does.”
“Things can change,” she said, sadly. “Plants die. Pet dogs die. Love dies.”
“True love doesn’t, and I think you two have that. Certainly more than I did with Paul, that creep,” she said bitterly before realizing it wasn’t helping. Finally, she settled on the music to change the topic. “Look, can we at least change the music? Listening to the same song over and over for five straight days can’t be healthy. Fuck, I don’t even know what this is – and what the hell does ‘drunky hot bowls’ mean?”
“‘Sing Swan Song’ by Can, from their album Ege Bamyasi. They were a Krautrock band from the 70s. That particular song was recorded in 1972 – and before you ask, no, after fifty years no one knows what the hell Damo Suzuki is singing.”
“Krautrock? 70s? Girl, you are so weird.” She turned on the computer screen, then hit stop on the song before flitting through the songs on the computer. “The Cure, Flying Lotus, Alan Parsons Project, Yes, Cocteau Twins, REM, David Bowie – is there anything in your music collection that isn’t older than you?”
“Well, there’s the Cibo Matto reunion album. That came out the year after I was born.”
“Not what I meant, but glad to see your sense of humor is still intact,” she said before commenting, “Is there anything modern, like Hey Ocean?”
“No thanks. Ashleigh Ball can’t sing her way out of a paper bag so I stay away from Hey Ocean like the plague. Heck, Lady Gaga can sing better and I don’t care for her, either.”
“Someday, I’m going to force feed you music that doesn’t require an AARP subscription to listen to,” Erica muttered before finally choosing an album by some group called Quiet Village, hoping it sounded a lot less depressing than this Can shit. “Well, here’s the plan: I’m going to take this food out, go take a shower, and then you’re going to take a shower while I carpet bomb this room with Lysol and then afterwards you’re going to go kiss Mike, tell him you love him and then we’re all going to go visit Carlos. In case you weren’t aware, he’s fucked up more than you right now.”
“I know. It’s my fault.”
Erica threw her hands up in frustration. “DJ, none of this was your fault, dammit! It’s not like you woke up that morning and said ‘I’m going to meet people today from wherever I come from and then they’ll maim my family, attempt to rape me and take me back to wherever if not worse.’” She sat down on the bed again and embraced her friend. “I know you. Despite how you look, despite your tail and fur, you’re human. Dad and your parents fought Uncle Sam for five years to prove it, and no amount of pegasuses or whatever—”
“See? You were paying attention,” Erica said triumphantly. “In any case, no one’s going to take away who you are or those who love you. So, at worst case you finally found out you’re not the only one of your kind and that all the others are evil bastards. No biggie, we’ve got your back. Plus, you’ll find out what your species is, and no one will call you a ‘pony’ anymore, like you’re some sort of toy.” A thought suddenly crossed Erica’s mind. “What if they call themselves ponies as well? Wouldn’t that be just fucked?” There was no answer to that, DJ apparently deciding to stew in her own mind again.
Sighing, Erica went and grabbed the tray and left the room. She needed a shower and a way to break her best friend out of the funk she was in. Ironically, this wasn’t much different than what DJ went through when Erica herself was in the hospital late last year and Carlos was taking his parents’ deportation out on DJ. Stepping out of the room, she went to the dining room, where six adults, one teen and one pre-teen sat. “Well…I managed to get her to agree to change the song,” Erica offered as an encouraging sign.
The people at the table looked at her with wan smiles. “Thank you, Erica,” Tyson McAllister said, looking at his daughter. Both he and his wife were here to check up on his friends; so far, things did not look encouraging. Neither of DJ’s parents looked as if they slept anytime recently, and Mike’s parents, also present, were less than happy as well. Mike himself couldn’t tear his eyes off the door, and as for DJ’s younger brother Sam, he was bored as all ten-year-olds tended to be but understood this was too important to break out the Xbox Mobile.
A few more minutes went by before someone said something. “This is just stone cold shit, Matt,” Carl Hengst said. “I was against Mike and DJ dating at the beginning, but now…hell, I regret anything I ever said then. I think he’s the only thing keeping her sane right now.”
“Thanks, Carl,” Matt said, adjusting his eyeglasses.
“Well, now that everyone’s here, I can talk to you all. I’ve already told Beverly,” he said, gesturing to his wife, “and she agrees this is incorrigible.”
“Why am I getting a bad feeling about this?” Anna asked, reaching down to grab her husband’s hand. Their world had been turned upside down in the past few days, and their daughter had been seriously wounded in and out. The two had never cared what their daughter looked like or that she wasn’t human, only that she was theirs – and that now she was hurting.
“Mac, just put it on the table,” Matt said. “We already know it’s probably going to be a world of crap.”
“That’s a good way to put it,” McAllister said. “I found out the day after the attack that the administration has known and been negotiating with DJ’s people for several weeks now. They come from a parallel Earth in a kingdom called Equestria, and they call their species ‘ponies’ – pony is the singular, I’m guessing.”
“Seriously? Oh man, DJ’s not going to like that. She hates being called a pony,” Erica said. “We were just talking about it in there a couple of minutes ago, but I was joking when I said that they called themselves ponies.”
“My Chief of Staff attended a meeting between Secretary of State Patel and members of their delegation a couple of days ago. Their ambassador is a….” He paused, searching for the right word, was it woman or mare? “Female,” he decided, “named Twilight Sparkle. During the meeting, it was revealed that the ones that attacked you were members of their military, and that it was an unauthorized attack.”
“Why don’t I believe that?” Mike muttered.
“There’s more, and this is where it gets ugly. Twilight Sparkle is apparently a very powerful unicorn—”
“Unicorn? You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Matt asked, not sure if he believed this. Of course, his adopted daughter was apparently of equine heritage, so it wasn’t impossible, but even still, it sounded ludicrous – even for someone who wrote fantasy novels for a living.
“Hey, I didn’t believe her either, but Keisha’s never steered me wrong,” Mac answered. “Anyway, she’s supposedly strong enough to do a Greetings from the Death Star through the side of a mountain in just a blink of an eye, and that she’s not the strongest magic user they have.”
“Okay, so now it’s passive-aggressive threats. And Mendoza is negotiating with them? Remind me why she’s president again?”
“Because Romney couldn’t run for a third term, Rubio lost to Patterson, Patterson died in office and left his VP Mendoza as president,” Mac’s wife Beverly quipped sadly. “As to why she was elected to a second term, well, that beats me.”
“Folks, I hate to say this, but even if we had a Republican in the White House right now, we’d still be doing this – a first contact isn’t exactly something you can brush off,” Mac replied. “But I’m not done yet, and this is the part that’s going to hurt: apparently this Twilight Sparkle is DJ’s aunt – apparently DJ’s real name is Sandalwood – and that she’s been searching fifteen years for what they call ‘the Lost Foal.’ Moreover, the Equestriani are offering the administration the chance to reveal the existence of Equestria and the other nations on that parallel Earth, but in turn they want the return of the Lost Foal.” Mac grunted. “If they get their way, Millington can ride this all the way into the Oval Office on the next election.”
“Mac, I don’t care about that,” Anna snarled. “You’re telling me the government, after all that time we spent fighting for her, they want to take away my little girl?”
“I won’t let them, Anna. I’ll do everything I can to stop Mendoza. Fortunately, I have friends on both sides of the aisle, and I guarantee I can get John Miller and Ted Rodriguez to back me off the bat and they’re both Bluesiders from very liberal states.”
“That’s all well and good, but I get the feeling you’re not telling us everything.”
“Because I hadn’t gotten to the worst part of all: Ambassador Sparkle has requested via my office that she be allowed to meet with Sandalwood – that is, DJ – and Keisha already told her that it was dependent on you. Now, I’m sure you very much want to say no, and just want to send Sparkle to wherever she came from and you wouldn’t be the only one. But I recommend that you allow it. The ambassador might have a stake in this, but at the end of the day you’ve raised DJ for fifteen years and she is your daughter. She’ll probably tell the other ponies to go pack sand. Keisha already thought ahead and told them that it would be at least a couple of weeks until DJ feels comfortable enough to do so and they’re willing to go with that.”
Mike rose from his seat, frustrated. “I’ve got to talk to her.”
Erica looked at him. “There’s no guarantee she’ll let you in. She’s afraid you don’t love her anymore.”
“What? How…?” he said, stunned by that. “No. That’s not right. Never. I…I can’t even….”
“‘What is this I don’t even?’” Matt helpfully supplied.
“Er, exactly,” Mike said, wondering just where adults came up with their weird slang.
“Then go, rescue your damsel in distress – because if I hear that Krautrock crap one more time, I’m going to break her computer.”
“118 hours and counting.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” With that, he went over to her bedroom and knocked. “DJ? It’s me. Can I come in?” Silence. “Dee, hon, please don’t shut me out.” More silence. Finally he said, “DJ, I’ve had my left arm broken in two places and it’s in a plaster cast instead of an air one. If you don’t answer I’m going to break down the door with it.” There was a muffled answer that sounded remotely like come in, and that was good enough for him.
As he walked in, the smell hit him. Kinda stable-ish, a definite horse smell. Well, humans start pumping out musk after a few days, so we’re no better, he reminded himself. And then he looked at the girl, huddled into a ball on the bed and wearing Hello Kitty pajamas. Her fur was matted, her hair disheveled. Her violet eyes were streaked with the red of someone who has been crying nonstop for hours. Her tail, of which he could only see a little, looked as if it had snarled into knots.
Seeing that, for the first time, made him truly realize what his girlfriend was. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he knew: after all, they never held hands; instead, he always pressed his against her hoof. She had no separate nose and mouth, but instead a snout. Her ears weren’t on the side as humans were, but instead the pinnae were at the top like any other animal. She had an exterior tail, which no human had unless a birth defect was involved. Her eyes were larger than his, and though the eye color could be found in humans, it was also freakishly rare. Her hair, though covering her head as much as a human’s would, was actually and technically a mane – though, anatomically, so was a human’s. And there was the fur – all that fur, whereas humans had so very little of it that they could technically be called hairless. The blinders came off, and now instead of seeing Daisy Jo Martinez, his girlfriend, he saw Daisy Jo Martinez, an alien not of this world.
“Is something wrong?” Her voice was nervous, frightened. Her voice had been the same when he’d first met her, and he’d been partly (some would say mostly if not entirely) responsible for bring back the smile to her face and the light into her eyes. He never wanted to see her like this again, and yet here she was, once again not through any of her doing.
“I guess…I guess I’ve never seen you as who you really are before,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to her. “On some level I’ve always known, but there’s a difference between just knowing…and realizing.”
There was an awkward silence before DJ spoke. “You should have dated a human, Mike. You would have been happier.”
“Do you really think I would?” he asked.
“Isn’t that what you’re thinking?”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m so glad you seem to know what I’m thinking, because I’m apparently clueless enough not to be able to think of it myself.”
“Isn’t that the job of a girlfriend, though? To think for you until further notice?” she teased, a smile coming to her face.
It was like water to a parched man. “It’s good seeing you smile. I’ve missed that smile.”
A spark lit in her heart, and it showed on her face. “You mean that?”
“Do you really have to ask that question?”
She turned away, unable to look at him. “Mike, I…I had a very bad realization the other day, one that frightens me. As much as I act like one, as much as I feel like one, I’ll never be human. Never. I’ll always have these ears, this snout, this tail. You’ll always have to walk slower to match my speed because I was never meant to be on my hind legs all the time. I’ll never have hands you can hold, feet to rub, a hairless cheek for you to caress,” she said, and it was clear each word was breaking her heart. “It means you were meant to be with one of your kind instead of me. It means that I should be with my own kind…even if they terrify me.”
More awkward silence ensued, and it seemed like a small eternity before he spoke again. “DJ, do you remember what I told you when I asked you to be my girlfriend?”
She nodded. “That you didn’t see me as the horse girl, the alien thing that looks like a pony. That you saw me as a wonderful girl, one that you wanted to be with and that had your heart.”
He looked at her plainly. “What makes you think that’s changed?” He looked down at the bedspread, if for a moment, to compose his thoughts. “Yes, I didn’t see what you really are that day. And I won’t lie: now I can, now I do. But you know what? I still also see that wonderful girl, the one I want to be with and still very much has my heart.”
That spark lit up again. “You mean it?”
“No, I was only about to break your door down because I wanted to come in and listen to Krautrock for over a hundred straight hours.”
“Oh, she told you then.”
“Yup. Personally, My Chemical Romance is so much better for sitting around in a depression, if you ask me.”
She laughed, and it was music to his ears. He asked, “So, do you still want to be with me?”
Her response was to scoot over and lean into him, snuggling against him for all she could. In turn, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. Then the two teenagers looked at each other, alien to human, and then they kissed. Gently at first, and then passionately, with the love of two souls cut apart mending once more by the power of adolescent hormones. As they reluctantly broke apart, mainly because breathing was a necessity for both of them, she looked at him with a loving smile. “Does that answer your question?”
He nodded silently. “DJ, you’ve been through a lot in the past few days. All of us have, and it’s been a nightmare. But I want you to know something: what happened to you was not your fault. It’s going to hurt for a while and things may never be the same again for you, but we’re all here for you, regardless of where you came from, we are your people, not them. Your parents, my parents, Erica’s parents – they’re all worried about you. Hell, Sam’s been freaking out, and he’s just a kid. Plus, there’s Carlos, too….”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“Doctors stabilized him, but he’s going to need some extensive surgery. Cracked skull, broken jaw and nose – if it wasn’t for luck, the thing that hit him would’ve killed him. Your uncle’s trying to get word to his parents down in Mexico, but it’s not easy and who knows if they’ll even be able to come back to see him.”
“My fault again.”
“No, no it’s not. You are not the same as they are, DJ; maybe if you’d grown up there you might have ended up that way, but you didn’t. As far as I can tell, they’re brutal. You’re beautiful and kind. Look at me: I’m a human just like Hitler or Charles Manson, but I’m definitely not like them.”
“He’s got a point, furball,” a voice said at the door. She looked up and saw her parents standing there. Matt smiled and looked at his daughter. “Did you know I’m distantly related to Pancho Villa? Brutal bastard, but it doesn’t make me that way. Our ancestry makes part of who we are, but not what we can be. You share the same blood as those that attacked you, but you’re not them,” he said, suddenly wincing.
She saw. “Dad, you okay?”
“Just the rib. It’ll take a bit to heal, doctor already warned me about that. But Mike’s right. You’re one of them, but you’re not the same as them. We’d never raise you that way and we obviously didn’t.”
“Oh, sweetie, we’ve got news for you. The doctor just emailed over the results of the test.” Anna didn’t have to tell her daughter what test it was; DJ had been obsessing over it the past few days. “Not only were there no signs of…anything, but no indicator of penetration. It might have felt like it, but thankfully, you weren’t raped. I know it still hurts and you were humiliated, but the skies are clearing for you.”
“No they won’t. I already heard – they want me back. Back to whatever hell they’re from.” When Mike and DJ’s parents stared at her in surprise, she wiggled her ears in response. “Remember, I’ve got…well, these.”
“We’re not letting you go, DJ,” her mother said, a fierce look in her eyes. DJ knew that look in those eyes very well, but usually she saw them when she was in trouble. “You’re my little girl, and no one gets between me and my family.”
DJ looked at Mike, and taking the hint, he let go. She walked over to her parents and hugged them fiercely. “I don’t want to leave! You’re my Mom and Dad! I love you both!”
Both parents embraced their daughter, and briefly smiled at each other. “You were a gift from God, DJ,” her father said. “You’re our little girl. You’ll always be our little girl.” The three stood there forever, a family.
Mike grinned and blinked his eyes; he must have suddenly got some dust in them. Going over to DJ’s computer, he turned off the music currently playing then found her favorite song. The soft, soothing ballad, a song from a Japanese television show from twenty years ago played over the speakers, the lyrics flowing into DJ’s ears:
“If I could just be more human,
I would see every little thing with a gleam in my eye
If only I was more human,
I'd embrace every single feeling that came in my life”
She turned around to face him and whispered I love you sotto voce as she continued to find shelter in her parents’ embrace.
But as all things end, so did the hug and Matt Martinez looked down into his daughter’s eyes. “DJ, sweetie?”
Not even bothering to ask, DJ headed for the bathroom. Seeing that, Erica reached into a bag her mother had brought with her, producing several bottles of Febreeze, Lysol and other cleaning gear. Seeing that, Mike chuckled. Things would hopefully be on the mend, and after DJ told that alien ambassador she wanted to stay, the problem would be over, wrapped up and solved simply.