She was shooting through the skies, the wind in her mane and ears, cool and exhilarating. She dodged amongst the clouds as they formed a pseudo obstacle course before her. Her wings beat, strong and steadily, never wavering.
She sprang off of one cloud and did a barrel roll before ducking below the next, her wingtips barely brushing the fluffy white surface.
“Yeah!” she cheered in excitement.
She was young, strong, and in the the prime shape of her life. Nothing would stop her—nothing would ever stop her.
She dropped low and flew just above the ground, fanning the long grass of a field out in her wake. The field gave way to a pond and she dropped a little lower, letting her right hoof skim the across the glasslike surface that reflected the sun above. Twin splashes of water splayed from her hoof, destroying the reflection and shattering the fragile glass that was the pond.
This was the world, bright and beautiful, and she was alive.
Slowly, her tired eyes blinked open. The dull light that met her eyes from the curtained window was enough to cause her discomfort, and she pinched them shut again.
It was exactly nine thirty-two. She always woke up at this time—no earlier, no later. No matter what, rain or shine, it was always nine thirty-two.
gently, she cracked her eyes open again, taking the light much more carefully. It took a moment for her worn eyes to adjust to the filtered light of the sun after twelve hours of sleep. It was never something she looked forward to: waking up; with it brought a new day, and the very same routines.
She found herself staring up at the swirled pattern in the white ceiling. Every swirl rotated exactly two-hundred and thirty degrees, except for the one on the far right; that one was only two-hundred and twenty-nine degrees.
For ten minutes she examined the swirls, wondering who it was that had once made the casual design she found so torturous. When her mental clock rang nine forty-two, she blinked the image of the swirls from her mind and sat up slowly, her back creaking, her bones aching.
Her bed was placed in the back corner of the rectangular room. It was a single bunk, headboard against the wall and right side against another wall; this was done so she would have less chance to fall out of bed were she to stir in her sleep. The bed itself was cheap: a creaky spring mattress cushioned with two rolls of eggcrate. She had one polyester pillow, and a cotton comforter. A woolen blanket lay folded at the foot of the bed, just in case she got cold in the night.
Carefully, she kicked off her cotton blanket and swung her hind legs to the left. She had memorized the distance from her bed to the floor, and as light as a feather, her hooves met the stained cedar. She winced a little as she put weight on her hind legs, enough to lean forward and drop her forehooves to the ground. The wood creaked below her, having never been set correctly on the concrete below.
She stood there for a moment, letting her joints settle. She lifted each leg in turn, testing the muscles and joints just to make sure they would carry her weight correctly. She looked over at the clock on the wall. It was nine forty-four.
As always, she cast a quick glance around the room. The walls were a slightly deeper shade of blue than her coat, and an old Wonderbolts poster hung on the back wall. She had specifically asked for the blue room whenever it was she had moved here.
With absolutely no hurry, she made her way across the room, past an oaken desk decorated with a few random trinkets, and over to a wall-mounted mirror.
A weary mare looked back at her. Her once-pristine, sky-blue coat, was now faded and thinning in places around the shoulders and breast. Her mane and tail, polychromatic in color, still held traces of its old shine. The red was still red, and the green was still green, the purples purple and the blues blue. The orange still looked a lot like orange, and the yellow was still sort of yellow. Her face adorned creased smile lines, although she wasn’t smiling anymore.
Every day she would examine herself, scrutinizing every miniscule detail, and every day she would see herself changing more and more. First, it had been the gray around the base of her tail and mane. Then it had spread, on to her muzzle and the ends of her hooves, in small streaks on her back and flanks. She had been sad the day the gray had begun to creep into the yellow in her mane. She had always liked the yellow; it was bright, like the sun.
She flared her wings, slowly, the motion causing her to wince as the stiff muscles stretched. She sighed, a throaty sound. It has been a while since she had preened herself; there had been no need for it. The once-beautiful feathers had gone just like the rest of her—faded, their once-vivacious luster gone.
She turned away from the mirror, unable to bear the affliction of looking at herself any longer. Seeking a more mirthful view, she crossed the room to the window. The blinds were purple, fashioned of silk and hung from a wooden bar that one of the nurses had been kind enough to fashion out of an old desk left over when the stallion across the hall had died.
Rising up on her hind legs, she parted the curtains and rested her forehooves on the distended frame. The late-morning sun washed through the room, casting its warming rays upon her worn coat. Sometimes, she liked to pretend a grassy field lay outside the window, or clouds, layers upon layers of clouds.
Today, she did not imagine a grassy field, or clouds. Today, she only saw it as it was: a street, somewhere on the outskirts of Ponyville. She had known what street it was at one time, but could no longer recall. Sometimes, she would watch out the window and hope that somepony would decide to walk down that desolate stretch of street, but hardly ever did.
She closed her eyes, letting the sun warm her face. The sun was nice. She would have grumbled silently to herself about the lock on the window that filtered the sun and blocked the breeze, but she had already done that plenty in the past.
There was a knock at the door, painfully loud in the perfect silence. “Miss Dash, are you awake?”
She sighed, ears drooping. “Of course I’m awake,” she said, voice rasping slightly.
The latch clicked and the door creaked open, the top hinge squealing; she had asked them to fix that six times already. A white, earth pony mare trotted into the room, her crimson mane done up in a ponytail. Her face adorned a smile, fake and forced.
“Stop smiling,” Rainbow Dash said irritably. “Only smile unless you mean it.”
The nurse bowed apologetically. “Sorry ma’am. They tell us to smile to make the patients feel better.”
Rainbow eased herself down from the windowsill and turned to face the mare. “I still have enough sense about me to notice my surroundings. It’s just insulting.”
Again, she bowed. “Sorry, ma’am.”
Rainbow didn’t really like this new mare. This nurse had only worked here a week now, and she had not yet learned the customs. “And stop calling me ma’am.” She softened her tone a little as the mare got a nervous look about her. “Please, just call me Rainbow.”
“Yes, ma—” She caught herself. “Yes, Rainbow.” She took up a more firm posture. “As I’m sure you know, I am here to escort you to the cafeteria for brunch.”
Rainbow groaned and attempted to flick a lock of her mane away from her face. The motion, proving slow and lacking strength, did not succeed. Feeling rather embarrassed, she reached up and pushed the lock of hair away. “Yes, I do know very well.” She gave the mare a quick once-over with her eyes. “Let’s go then.”
The mare looked a little confused. “A-are you sure you don’t need anything?”
Rainbow flicked her ears and gave the mare a scrunched look. “I’m not some senile mare that has to carry around a whole life support system with her. Now let’s go.” She started towards the door, trying not to wince every time her left hoof touched the floor—the one that was always sore, more sore than the others.
The mare bobbed her head and followed Rainbow into a narrow hall, closing the door behind her. Rainbow tried to set a steady pace, but found that her heart and lungs just did not want to keep up with her mind. She slowed, the white mare walking beside her all the while.
“Miss Rainbow?” the mare asked after a moment.
Rainbow shot the mare a sidelong glance. “Yes?” she asked, a minorly-condescending tone in her voice. She liked to consider the way she treated the mare as initiation, but it still came off in her mind as a little snappy.
“I was wondering why you have to be escorted around the building.” They passed a rickety old mare in the hall that had only arrived yesterday. Rainbow nodded to the mare, but she didn’t nod back. Rainbow sighed.
“You just seem like...” The nurse paused, looking for words.
“Any other old mare?” Rainbow suggested.
The mare went to nod, then hurriedly stopped herself, flushing a little. “Well, sort of... So, why do you need an escort?” She did a fair job of saving herself.
Rainbow allowed a small smirk to creep onto her face. “Because I get into trouble. It was exactly seven months and fifteen days ago when I broke out.”
The mare squinted. “Broke out?”
“Okay, not exactly broke out.” She shrugged. “The pony in charge of watching the front door fell asleep and I snuck past him... that was back when I could still move faster. The ponies in charge of this place had a fit.” She snickered in a cynical fashion. “You see, if I manage to get outside and get myself injured or killed, it’s the home’s fault.
“They found me in the park... ever since then, they’ve kept a close eye on me.” She switched to a gloomier tone. “As much as I hate to say it, I just can’t cope on my own. I can’t get around without help... and I don’t have anyone to help me.”
Rainbow was finding it hard to keep the emotion out of her voice. She hadn’t spoken of this in quite a while, mostly because she never wanted to. “I just didn’t run my life right; I never planned. Now, I’m here. I don’t want to be here... I have to. I’m in a jail where they pay ponies to smile and pretend they like me, along with fifty other seniles.”
The mare frowned. “But, mi—” She caught herself. “Rainbow, you don’t seem senile.”
She shook her head slowly, closing her eyes. “Not yet, but I can feel it coming. Some days, I can feel it, the confusion, nagging at the back of my head. I’ll find myself lost. I’ll look at a door, and I’ll have to pause to remember how to open it, or I’ll have to think to say my name aloud.” She found that she was blinking more often than normal, and cursed herself for it. “It’s only a matter of time now before I lose myself.”
The mare had no reply to this. She only walked silently beside the once-pristine mare, throwing her occasional glances. Soon, they exited the small hall into a larger one, which eventually led them to a set of double doors. The mare held one open for Rainbow, and she crossed into the cafeteria.
It was the closest thing to bustling Rainbow had heard in a while. There was the constant click and clack of cutlery on the plastic plates, and the quiet murmur of some of the home’s other tenants as they discussed the most uninteresting things, somehow making them interesting.
Today was casserole day, as was every Tuesday.
The nurse stuck by Rainbow’s side as she half-limped her way across the lunchroom. Rainbow felt like saying something to her, telling her to go away, but she knew it would do no good. She fell into the lunchline behind a green mare in a wheelchair being pushed by a pink nurse. Of course they were taking their sweet time. Already, she could feel her legs tiring. She longed to take the weight off them, but at the same time, wished that she could keep herself up. Once, she was able to fly at near-sonic speeds, now... now she couldn’t even stand on her hooves for more than ten minutes at a time without feeling tired.
After what seemed like forever, the slightly-younger old mare ahead decided on her food and was passed a lunch tray, which she placed on her lap.
The pony behind the serving table held up her ladle impatiently as Rainbow took the green mare’s spot. With a sigh, Rainbow pointed towards the least-disgusting looking tub, filled with a whiteish-green goop mixed with inconsistently-chopped chunks of carrot and celery. It didn’t look too much like casserole.
The mare slid the tray to Rainbow and she took it up in her mouth.
The nurse moved forwards. “Let me help you with—”
Rainbow gave the nurse a glare, unable to speak.
They left the unenthusiastic serving mare behind and headed for one of the tables in the middle of the room that had not been taken. She set her tray down, and the nurse made to sit beside her. “Stop,” Rainbow said, her voice rasping more than she would have liked it to. “Go sit with your colleagues. Leave me be.”
The nurse looked over to a table in the corner, where all of the other staff members sat, enthralled in a joyous conversation. Her eyes brightened a little before she looked back to Rainbow. “Thank you.”
“See, now you’re getting it.” She waved the mare off. “Go have fun.”
She breathed another sigh as the nurse left her with a little spring in her step. With nothing better to do, she tucked into her food, which tasted about the same as blended cardboard with some seasoned ranch mixed in. The blend was supposed to keep her healthy, but what ponies didn’t realize is that it wasn’t healthy for the mind to eat food-flavored fiber.
She was about halfway through her pretend-food when a shadow cast itself over her tray. She looked up, and found herself looking at a toothy, orange stallion who had taken a seat across from her. His black mane was thinning and streaked heavily with gray, and the skin around his face sported heavy smile lines and assorted wrinkles. He wore glasses that magnified his green eyes to twice their natural size.
“Heyo!” he said cheerfully, the air whistling a little between his teeth.
She looked at him contemplatively for a second, tilting her head to one side. “Hello?”
He thumped his hooves down on the table and rolled his eyes. “I just saw you sittin’ here all alone an’ figured you’d want to talk to somepony.”
She shrugged. “I don’t do much talking.”
“Well, you should.” He frowned when she didn’t take the bait. “Say, you’re the only pony I ever seen that’s colored up like a rainbow.”
She nodded. “Thanks... It’s something I used to be really proud of.”
He scrunched his brow and made a face that suggested he was slightly uncomfortable. “Well, it seems to me that you’re a bit downin’ right now.”
She folded her ears, not needing to reply verbally.
He gave her a soft look. “Now come on. Ponies like you an’ me don’t have that much time left. You gotta take what you can an’ live it with a smile.” He thought for a moment. “I’ll tell you one thing. When I go down, an’ I know it’s gonna be soon, I’m goin’ down with a bang. I’m gonna do what I loved the most one last time, or die tryin’.”
Rainbow nodded. “That’s a good goal.”
He stooped down low to the table, his voice switching to a hoarse whisper. “But I gotta’ do it soon. It’s only a matter o’ time before these old limbs of mine stop workin’, or them little transistors in my head stop firin’.”
Rainbow perked her ears, intrigued. “What are you going to do?”
He grinned. “I’m gonna see Canterlot one last time... have a day to myself, see some old friends. You see, it’s real hard for ponies without family or friends, cause’ the home don’t want us leavin’ an’ gettin’ into trouble. They’re tryin’ to keep us safe, an’ they have our best interests at heart, but they’re killin’ us slowly an’ that’s what they don’t realize.”
Rainbow couldn’t help but agree. She wished to run again, to see the town. Sometimes, the nurses received special permission to take a tenant out, but that wasn’t very often. It had been months since she had been out, and even then, she had had ponies watching her the whole time and offering unneeded help to the point where she just wanted to smack their hooves away.
“You understand, don’t ya’?” he asked with an air of excitement in his voice.
She nodded, cracking the tiniest of smiles out of the corner of her mouth.
His magnified eyes lit up. “Great!” He looked left, then right. “Could I ask for your help?”
She thought for a moment, unsure of what he meant by, ‘help’. “What is it?”
With haste, he reached under the table and slid a black ball made of paper mâché to her. “I’m gonna’ head for that door over there.” He pointed towards a fire exit across the cafeteria. “An’ when I’m about halfway there, I want you to pull the string and throw it.”
She frowned. “What is it?”
“It’s one of them smoke bombs those kids play with. I picked one up a few months ago when I snuck out an’ went to downtown. They’ve been watching me since, an’ I haven’t had a chance to try it again.” He paused, giving her a desperately-pleading look. “Can you help me?”
She clicked her tongue and tried to pretend that she was having trouble not screaming ‘yes’ aloud. This was the closest she’d ever come to an adventure in... A bolt of sadness struck her. She couldn’t remember the last time she had done something exciting.
“Yes,” said said, taking the black ball.
He grinned and snickered, rubbing his hooves together semi-maniacally. “Great! Thanks, my colored friend.” He pushed himself up and made distance on her, lumbering between the tables on what Rainbow could tell was a bad hip. She watched him, food completely forgotten. She found the string on the device and wrapped it around her hoof.
He looked back at her and nodded. She pulled the string and tossed the ball the best she could, out into the center aisle. There was a loud pop and a hiss, and black smoke began to fill the cafeteria. Ponies muttered and griped as they slunk away from the smoke. The staff in the corner sprang to action, running towards the smoke with looks of confusion and alarm upon their faces. Rainbow couldn’t help but smile.
An alarm sounded somewhere in the building and the overhead sprinkler heads activated with a series of little, ‘pinks’. Hurriedly, Rainbow grabbed up an empty tray from the table beside her and held it over her head to avoid getting wet; it used to be fun to get wet, now it was a hassle to get your coat and mane dried out.
She grinned as tenants and staff bustled about in confusion. She did feel a little bad for one stallion when he slipped on the wet linoleum and landed flat on his back with painful crunch. It would have been comical, had she not known exactly how bad that felt.
It was five minutes before the sprinklers finally shut off and another seven before they finally shut down the alarm. Her tail had gotten a little wet, along with her hooves and some of the hair on her back, but for the most part she was able to enjoy the comfortability of a dry coat. Were there a cloud to nap on somewhere, she would have very-gladly gotten wet, just to let the sun dry her off.
It wasn’t very long before she picked her nurse out of the crowd; the white mare was dodging carefully to and fro between staff and tenants. Her wet mane was plastered to her neck and face and her body language read irritated on six different levels.
She didn’t even bother to try and put on a smile. “I need to get you back to your room. Come on.” She flicked her sopping tail and motioned for Rainbow to follow.
“I’m sorry your brunch was ruined,” Rainbow said, feeling the tiniest bit apologetic. She was glad that she had helped the orange stallion out, but at the expense of everyone in the lunch room seemed a little much.
They made an even slower pace back to her room. It was at the point of which the big hall branched off into the smaller hall that there was a pounding of hoofsteps behind them.
“Blossom!” a yellow mare yelled, panting slightly as she let gravity carry her to a stop before the white nurse. “We lost Bud. All the staff are searching for him, but we haven’t found him yet.
The white nurse frowned. “Well is there anythi—” She was interrupted as the yellow mare took off down the hall.
“We’re having a meeting in the lounge in five minutes! We’re getting paid double for this!” she yelled back over her shoulder.
Rainbow could see the nurse’s eyes widen at the thought of doubled profit. With a look of torn feelings, the mare turned to Rainbow. “Can you walk yourself the rest of the way?”
Rainbow nodded, trying not to let a mischievous grin creep onto her face. “Yes, I can.”
The nurse smiled, genuinely this time. “Thanks Miss Rainbow!” She turned on one hoof and dashed, galloping after the purple mare.
Rainbow watched the nurse go before starting down the hall that would eventually lead to her own room, not quite sure what she was thinking of doing. If she were to get into trouble now, they would never let her out of their sight again. They’d probably go to the extremities of locking her in her room and tying bells around her neck. Then again, would she ever get a chance like this again?
She tried to push the thoughts out of her mind. Those days were over. It was best now if she just sat back, and lived what was left to be lived of her life.
‘Ponies like you an’ me don’t have that much time left.’ The old stallion’s voice rang in her head.
“No,” she muttered. “No, it’s not true.”
‘When I go down, an’ I know it’s gonna be soon, I’m goin’ down with a bang. I’m gonna do what I loved the most one last time, or die tryin’.’
No,” she said, louder. It wasn’t like that. It couldn’t be like that.
Her heart thudded in her chest, tiring her, making her a little woozy. The aching in her joints became more apparent and she was reminded of that never-ending confusion boring into her consciousness at the back of her head.
‘I gotta’ do it soon. It’s only a matter o’ time before these old limbs of mine stop workin, or them little transistors in my head stop firin’.’
“No!” She slammed her hooves down on the ground, sending twin bolts up pain into her shoulders and to her brain. For the first time in years, she felt the tears coming, and she tried to fight them back. “It can’t be so close!” she yelled to no one, her voice failing her for some of the higher notes. “It wasn’t long enough!”
Something sunk itself in her mind. Slowly, she turned, tired eyes spotting a door labeled ‘stairwell’. It was a good two minutes she stared at the door, her mind locked in a desperate battle with itself. One side finally winning, she started towards it, her hooves seeming to carry her in a way her wings used to so many years ago.
Death was upon her. She could feel it. What did she have left? Two years at the most?
She pushed through the door to the stairwell and mounted the first step, body protesting slightly.
It was a scary thought: death. The fear of death was there, but what scared her most was the fear of the unknown. Whatever was ahead was a complete mystery. Would she be reunited with her long lost friends, whom she had lost what seemed like so long ago? Or was death simply, the end—an eternity of nothingness? Did ponies really have souls, or were they just beings, their brains the only thing to them? She liked to hope that when she died, her soul would carry on, on to a better place—that she would be born anew, her body the same as it was in her prime. But the doubt was there, tearing, eating away at her hope. It was more terrifying than everything she had ever faced in her so short-lived life, to think of her death being the very end, the last thing she would ever experience before ceasing to exist. It seemed her life had gone so fast. One day she had been a child, dreaming about fame and of one day joining the Wonderbolts. Then she had been grown up, living her life, working on the weather team, making friends. Now, it was all over like a good dream, and she wished that she could just go to sleep and live it all again, live it forever.
She did not know how long it took to reach the fifth and top floor, but as she scaled the last step, her limbs burned and her heart pounded as fast as it still could.
It was a miraculous stroke of luck that the padlock keeping the maintenance door to the roof under employee access only had only been dummy locked. She pulled the lock out of the ring and pushed the door open.
Warm sunlight bathed her head and back, warming her to the weakened bone. A slight breeze ruffled her thinning mane, working in perfect harmony with the sun on her coat.
The tar-and-gravel roof may not have been made of cloud, or grass, but the open space still filled her with a half-joy.
Slowly, she eased her way across the roof, limbs still protesting the climb up the stairs. Upon reaching the edge of the building, she stopped, hooves right before the end of the gravel and the start of open air. The town of Ponyville sat in the distance, warm and cozy in the late-morning sun. Below, the street she still could not name stretched away in either direction. A ways in the distance was a park, one she so-dearly wished she could be resting in right now, with the friends she had once had.
“Hey!” a stallion called from the street, voice a little faded. “What’s that mare doing up there?”
“Up where?” another voice asked, this one belonging to a mare.
Rainbow didn’t bother to look down. She stared on ahead, mind floating somewhere in the abyss.
She flared her wings stiffly, joins worn, muscles old and enervated. A single feather tugged loose and fluttered away, spiralling cheerfully through the air, down to the ground far below.
‘I’m gonna do what I loved the most one last time, or die tryin’.’
“Oh gosh!” a voice cried from down below. “Is that Rainbow!?” It was the nurse she had tricked. “Rainbow!” the mare called frantically. “What are you doing!?”
The doctor had told her that her wings would no longer support her, that they had grown weak; none of that mattered right now.
She rocked lightly on her haunches, fear and adrenaline flooding her mind for the first time in ages. It was now. The ponies below her no longer mattered. This was her time, her one moment. They still called and cried for her, but their voices were barely heard.
It was only her now. One by one, she had been there as they had left her, went away, and now, she was the only one left. This was for her, for all of them... her friends.
Her right hoof lifted from the roof and hovered over the open air. She pinched her eyes shut, the first true smile spreading across her face since that one fateful day, when the last one had gone, and left her alone.
“One last time,” she whispered, voice as soft as the gentle breeze.
Drawing all the strength she could, she sprang off with her hind legs.
And took to the air.