More fireworks erupted, further illuminating their creator. As Trixie embraced her self-manufactured praise, Rainbow Dash, scowling, arose from the audience. Her wings beating quickly in frustration, she darted to Trixie. ‘So, Great and Powerful Trixie,’ said Rainbow Dash, ‘What makes you think you’re so awesome anyway?’
Trixie chuckled at the Pegasus before her. ‘Why, only the Great and Powerful Trixie...’ Twilight held her stomach at the use of that nickname. ‘...has magic strong enough to vanquish the dreaded Ursa Major!’
Another burst of fireworks, this assortment creating the image of said Ursa Major in the sky. The roaring beast made the Ponyvillians look upwards in awe, Snips and Snails looking especially flabbergasted.
‘When all hope was lost, the ponies of Puffington had no one else to turn to, but the Great and Powerful Trixie stepped in...’ The illuminated bear was soon joined by a little Trixie. ‘And with her awesome magic...’ The little Trixie waved its wand. ‘...vanquished the Ursa Major...’ With a spark of light, the little bear exploded, with even its own Trixie looking smug. ‘...and sent it back to its cave, deep within the Everfree Forest!’
While the other ponies stood silent from the spectacle, Snips and Snails both cried out, ‘Suh-weet!’ in unison. Hearing this, Twilight’s stomach plunged, but she hoped it wasn’t from jealousy. She turned towards Trixie, the latter standing in the same pose as the lion statues that lined Princess Celestia’s throne.
Snails leapt up to the stage. ‘Trixie truly is the most talented, most magical, most awesome unicorn in Ponyville!’
‘No,’ cried his fatter friend, ‘In all of Equestria!’
Twilight still attempted to raise her stomach, but it fell deeper at Spike’s protests. ‘How do you know?’ Using one of her easier, quicker spells, Twilight changed the dragon’s mouth into a zipper, reducing his rage-filled objections to frustrated mumbles.
Punctuating her point with another pompous giggle, Trixie replied, ‘It’s true, my enthusiastic admirers! Trixie is most certainly the best in Ponyville!’
Looking at her friends’ displeased expressions, Twilight told herself she should say something, but her mouth remained dry.
‘Don’t believe the Great and Powerful Trixie?’ she continued, smirking all the while, ‘Well then, I hereby challenge you Ponyvillians, anything you can do, I can do better!’
The crowd remained silent. ‘Any takers?’ No response. ‘Or is Trixie destined to be the greatest equine who ever lived?’ The last few words were yelled, not said, and thus they deserved their own burst of fireworks.
After unzipping his mouth, Spike clutched Twilight’s legs, simpering in a way that made him sound almost as incoherent as when his mouth was zipped.
Trixie came closer to her audience, and stared at Twilight like a strict teacher would a misbehaving student. ‘How about...you?’
Was that a memory, or a fantasy? No, it was a memory of a fantasy, remembering something she once fantasised about. Actually, one could call it a fantasy of a memory, a memory she would have liked to have. Would have.
Stretching her body on her bed, Tara looked around the room. She did not just look, she scrutinized. When she looked at the door, she described it in detail in her mind. The handle, the texture of the door, the hinges, the screws in the hinges. Then she pondered on where the door might have come from, and how it was made. It was a real door. A door that existed.
She had recovered. Cured. She no longer belonged here.
With that in mind, she stretched again, wrapping the cover of the bed around herself. If her time here was limited, she might as well savour it. While knowing she should leave this place if she had any chance of living a normal life, it had become home, in its own way. Certainly better than that childhood prison.
But she was in a mental institution. An asylum. It may not have been the dungeon she had read about in that one story, but it certainly wasn’t the place someone like her should be living. It was Clarice who sent her here after all. Fuck her.
As much as Tara liked her solitude, she wished for Spike – the real one – to sit on her lap, and let his fur tickle her skin, digging within to eradicate her worries. Spike the fat tomcat who, when she was young, had climbed up the tree outside her window, and leapt in. Upon landing on Tara’s bed, he raised his head up high, and young Tara thought he looked regal then, despite the tangled mess around his body. Clarice would never let Tara have a pet, so Spike became her secret.
Secret. The word once seemed to promise mystical, enlightening things, but now it stung, a warning for her to run. This institution had secrets, Marge had said, secrets that she didn’t like hearing but had to know.
Spike was a secret. The secret that lay under Tara’s bed, his purring washing away the day’s troubles. The secret that Tara would bring table scraps to. The secret that lay beside her as she read quietly to him. As she read the story, one she enjoyed, Spike would look at the book, observe the illustrations and comment from time to time. His reward for the care.
One carelessly opened door and he was no longer a secret.
‘What is this?’
Forced to come downstairs, Tara saw Clarice holding Spike by the scruff of his neck, her other hand also close to his face. Spike did not mew, but wriggled slightly, his eyes bulging wide. In an instant, Clarice’s previous name was deemed worthless.
The present Tara remembered Spike being dropped to the ground, yet remaining still. Present Tara remembered falling to the floor herself, the resulting migraine intensifying Clarice’s screams. Present Tara remembered what else happened to Spike afterwards.
Present Tara laughed.
Years, a decade even, after it all happened, Tara finally found a funny side to it. Whether it was Marge’s therapy or her own mind, she saw in the memories not the nightmare ogre she once feared, but a whiny brat throwing a temper tantrum.
Perhaps she died. That’s right, Clarice died and nobody noticed. She probably had a heart attack or fell down the stairs and nobody knew or nobody cared. Tara laughed again- under her breath, of course.
Clarice. She was afraid of that?
She let that begin the construction of Equestria?
Yes, after that incident, her focus on her studies began to wane. The studies she was forced to take for hours on end seemed to melt away, making way for a reality where Spike was still around, at her side, and she was studying because she wanted to. She had no time for socialising because she was better than those people outside.
That fantasy she had kept in her mind throughout secondary school, throughout high school but not university. Never had a chance to go there. All those years it stayed in her head, growing and stretching slowly, sprouting into a fully formed world. Tara thought up more residents, and slowly expanded the realm’s geography and politics. It was planning for a story she would never write, yet she let it play in her head over and over, it growing stronger each time.
One day she awoke and found herself in Equestria.
Not only did she find herself in a new world, but with a new mind, new memories. No longer did she remember the wrinkled harpy scrutinizing her actions, but now she remembered overcoming evil with her magic, galloping through fields to complete a mission, going on adventures with her friends at her side...
Yes, she had friends. Once she was a loner, but then she discovered that the wonder...the magic of friendship. The ponies that joined her on her many escapades were not just best friends, but the best friends. Rainbow Dash, the energetic go-getter. Rarity, the fashion queen. Applejack, the hardworking farm girl. Fluttershy, the nervous animal lover.
Wait, there was one more, wasn’t there?
How could she forget her?
Five friends for Tara...no, Twilight Sparkle. The smartest pony in Equestria, and the one most talented with magic. Once she feverously studied, but now learned to balance her reading with a healthy social life. With Rainbow Dash’s races, Applejack’s farmwork...
Pinkie Pie’s parties.
It was Equestria that sent Tara to his institution, and that had only made her fantasy elongate even further. She spent the next few years not in this sterile white room with its bed and table, but in a magnificent library, teeming with tomes of spells. She never walked through blank, oppressive halls, but rather she trotted under the gleaming light of glass buildings. She ate pony food, played pony foods, and Spike, oh yes, Spike was there too. The same old person he once was, but now more so.
Marge was there too.
Yes, Margaret Sandson, her psychiatrist.
That one day when Twilight Sparkle groggily awoke to find strange appendages on her hooves. Long tentacles and stubby lumps. Just like that incident with the ‘Poison Joke’, though now, more than her horn had changed. Her limbs had elongated and had become thinner, her face had twisted into something flat, and...
‘Where’s my horn?!’ she screamed as she forced her eyes open. No library, no hooves, no Equestria. Her legs, all four of them, now had these creatures attached, writhing and wriggling seemingly under her command. She was clothed, a white garment draped over her torso, leaving her new legs and arms exposed. This place...no books, no shelves full of spells, just four plain white walls surrounding her.
Her brain told her to scream again, but her mouth was unable to do so. Something about this room was familiar to her, so she knew she had to explore, and yet her body restricted itself to the bed. It was that philosophy wasn’t it? That when something unbelievable happens, it has to be a dream. She remembered the coming of Nightmare Moon, and how, when she made her glorious appearance, Twilight had briefly wondered if it were a dream.
Then she saw a member of the species she had become. This thing wore white like she did, only she wore a black skirt to go with it. This thing’s shape at first sent Twilight backing away, as it resembled a moving tree, but the more she gazed, the more natural this creature seemed.
The thing smiled at her. ‘Judging from that scream,’ she said, sitting at the foot of the bed, ‘you’re back in reality again. Hopefully, you’ll manage to stay there.’
And stay Tara did. She knew she was in reality, she knew every brick, every window, every floorboard of this institution were physical objects, she was a human and not a pony, and she truly needed, or had needed, help. To further solidify this reality, Tara thought back to Marge and her analyses:
‘When you became older,’ she had said, ‘you realised that you never really had any friends, but when you realised that, you feared it was too late to do anything about it, and you became riled when you attempted to make conversation. Thus you created your own imaginary friends to compensate for this.’
Oh, and what about ‘After observing your behaviour and listening to what you’ve been saying, I think I’ve figured out that your...’ That smile she usually had lessened. ‘...“friends” are actually different facets of your personality, most of which you have kept repressed. For example, you feel nervous talking to people, so you created Fluttershy, but your intelligence has given you a sense of superiority to them, which you try to use to compensate for said nervousness, leading to Rarity. You said you were forced to work hard as a child?’
‘You made a pony for that. Rainbow Dash, I believe, could be an answer to your lack of physical activity, or perhaps even sexual frustration.’
She didn’t mention Pinkie Pie though.
‘Look, Tara,’ Marge had said, sitting on the bed, ‘This is the third time you’ve re-emerged, and I hope you stay here with us. Look, I’ll be your friend, and I’ll help you make others too. That’s what we’re here for.’
That’s what they were here for.
True, Marge did let Tara mingle with the other inmates for a while, some of which had even lived in Equestria for a short while. Tara even managed to have a short chat with Gilda. Yes, Gilda actually did exist, but, needless to say, she wasn’t a gryphon or whatever she was in Equestria.
‘Hey, you’re that weird pony girl, aren’t you?’
Tara had chuckled nervously at that. ‘Um, yeah...’ Once again, she felt her body shrink, but at least it didn’t contort into an equine form. ‘B-but I think I’m over it.’
‘I’ve heard that a lot around here.’
Tara pondered for a while on what to respond with, but then began focussing on Gilda’s appearance. The same white garment she wore, under a mess of tangled blonde hair. No feathers, no fur, a nose and a mouth instead of a beak. Wait, if she remembers what happened in Equestria...
‘Oh...yeah...I guess you have.’
‘You weren’t with the ponies just then, were you?’
‘No,’ replied Tara, ‘I was just...remembering something.’
As painful as it was, she tried to remember her human childhood through the conversation, though she didn’t tell Gilda about it. Gilda did briefly mention her own mother, but Tara chose not to elaborate on those points. After they talked a while, both feeling somewhat enlightened, Gilda let Tara shake her hand. As she did, Tara described how the hand felt in her mind. How cold and smooth it was, the palm, how the fingernails looked chewed up. How it was not a claw.
When Tara had returned to her room that day, a sense of pride danced within her gut. She had actually talked to a physical human being, not a fictional pony, not a figment of her mind. A major step on her path to recovery. Who knows, she thought, fists balled with excitement, maybe she’ll be out of here soon. If that Clarice has kicked the bucket, she’ll have an independent life, a quiet life. She’ll get a nice, quiet job, perhaps at an app...ice cream farm. Or at a library. When she gets out, perhaps she’ll even have a party.
Just a week ago, Tara remembered, Marge told her that she was recovering very well, and that both of them would go on a day out. Tara would be able to see more of the real world, further immersing herself in it, and maybe she would even make some new friends while she was at it. All that she missed out on through her delusions, everything she never got a chance to fully experience, she would indulge in. Marge told her there was a nice coffee shop not too far from where the institution was, and there was another place that apparently sold the best donuts. One day out and Marge will be able to tell everyone else at the institution that Tara is perfectly sane and should be released.
It would be the best day ever.