• Published 27th Feb 2013
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Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate - Sprocket Doggingsworth



A young filly in present day Ponyville is cursed with nightmares of post-apocalyptic Equestria. She finds herself influencing the course of future history in ways that she cannot understand.

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Bad Pudding

* * *


BOOK TWO
NO MARE'S LAND


* * *

CHAPTER ELEVEN - BAD PUDDING
"We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.” - J.R.R. Tolkien


I never dreamt of Trottica again. I didn’t dream of the Wasteland at all. Not for a little while anyway. You’d think that would be a relief, but it wasn’t. Not after the way I was yanked away from my friends – away from Twinkle Eyes.

When I got back from the Wasteland the first time, a little piece of me had been left behind. I could kinda sorta catch glimpses of what was going on, (and doodle on construction paper to figure out the rest). But now the mission was over with. Done. There were no hints. No clues. No pictures in my head. Nothing.

Strawberry Lemonade was safe at last, and that was all that fucking mattered apparently.

I opened my eyes. Just barely. It was like staring straight up into the Sun.

“Twinkle.” I moaned, and shut them again.

My voice sounded like it was a million miles away. My throat felt real up close, like it was full of broken glass.

There were other voices all around me. Panicked voices. Excited voices. I couldn’t quite place them. It sounded like echoes on the other end of a long hallway. I forced my eyes open and grunted. Somepony must have noticed, because they clutched my hoof in reply.

“Rose Petal,” she said. It sounded sweet – laughing and crying at the same time.

The sound split my head open like a great big old hammer made out of all-that-is-loud-in-this-world, but it was still a voice that was good to hear.

“Roseluck?” My voice creaked.

“Get over here, get over here, get over here!” Yapped a voice that sounded like Cliff Diver’s.

The sound of urgent hoof-clopping that followed shook me so much that I forced my eyes open again, as much as I hated it.

“Whu?” I said.

The walls were bare. No Sapphire Shores poster, no toys, no construction paper doodles. Nada. In a moment of stupid panic, I thought my room had been packed away – that Roseluck had fretted over me one too many times, and decided that she was sick of it. Sick of me. But her joyous relief and giddy hug told me that that was a stupid thing to think.




That annoying hoof-clopping sound gathered closer around me, and with it, a smug murmur followed. The kinda sound that only a gaggle of doctors could ever make. I was in a hospital.
Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

I hate hospitals.

“Rose Petal, can you hear me?” A condescending voice.

It was a doctor. I hate doctors.

“How many hooves am I holding up?” He shoved a single hoof in my face.

“Shut up,” I groaned.

Cliff Diver snickered. When I squinted, I could finally see him.

“What are you doing here?” I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was just confused.

Cliff frowned and hid behind his mane.

“Sweetie, I need you to tell me how many hooves I’m holding up,” the doctor sang.

“Too many,” I said.

I looked past the army of lab coats, “Thanks for coming, Cliff.”

“Mumble mumble mumble,” I added for good measure.

“Anytime,” he chuckled and chewed on his blue hair.

“Rose, you’re in the hospital,” said my sister as she squeezed my good hoof again.

“I know.”

“Do me a favor and answer the geese, okay?”

My brain snapped wide awake. Just for a moment. I’d completely forgotten! When I was very young, Mom used to call doctors that. Geese. It was all the white coats. The way they followed the Mama Doctor around, taking notes. The tight little clusters they made as they wandered the hospital doing their rounds. Sometimes she dubbed them silly geese if she thought they were being particularly annoying.

Answer the geese. I had to hoof it to Roseluck. She always knew just what to say. I looked to her and nodded.

“One hoof,” I told the doctor.

He smiled. All his little doctor goslings scribbled in their notepads.

“But you already knew that, didn’t you?” It hurt like crazy to talk, but I just couldn’t resist mouthing off. “You seem like a smart guy.”

One of the goslings brought a hoof to his mouth to cover up his smirk. The rest of them just scribbled sternly.

“Hehehe.” Mama Goose forced a joyless chuckle and looked to my sister. “You’ve got a spunky one on your hooves. That’s good.”

I hated him. Hated his guts. I didn’t go to Hell and back, destroy a town full of filly-slavers, and watch my own best friend die in my hooves to have some dope talk down to me when I got back, just because he was a grown-up with a big fat fancy degree.

“So Rose Stem,” Mama Goose continued.

“Rose Petal,”

He lit up his horn, levitated his clipboard and murmured to himself.

“Can you tell me what happened to your hoof?”

“It’s Evil.” I said dryly.

A long uncomfortable silence followed. Nothing but the whirring of some unseen machinery on the other side of the room, and the shrill chirps of my own medical bleep-a-majig.

“I see,” said the doctor.

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

“Ms. Roseluck,” said Mama Goose. “I’d like to talk with you in private please.”

He paced all the way around to the other side of my bed, and went right up to Roseluck.

Cliff and I looked at one another in confusion. How exactly was standing right next to me supposed to be “in private”? It seemed to make perfect sense to Mama Goose, though. He just pretended like I wasn’t there.

The flock of goslings migrated around the bed to be with him. One tall blue mare in a white coat tripped on the wheel of my hospital bed mid-yawn.

“Ms. Roseluck, your sister is going to be fine. The results came back from last week’s tests…”

“Last week?!”

No. That couldn’t be right. It was just tea!

The doctor grunted. Roseluck looked over his shoulder and nodded at me with a shrug. It really had been a whole week. She held up an apologetic hoof. She knew I was freaking out, but she was also trying to get answers out of the goose.

I glanced at Cliff Diver who just kinda shrugged and tip-hooved over to me till he was standing right by my side, where the goslings had perched just a few moments before.

“How do you feel?”

“Fantastic,” I said dryly.

Cliff snorted and ran his hoof through his ratty tangled-up mane. Either he’d had a terrible accident involving an egg-beater and a drum of paste, or the poor bastard hadn’t slept.

“Have you been here all week?” I groaned.

“Well, sorta.” He said. “Not all week, I mean, mostly…”

“Thanks.” I said.

He smiled. After a long silence, he tapped my shoulder to get my attention even though I was already right next to him and already looking in his direction.

“Yes?”

“Did you save the kid you saw?” He whispered.

“I-I don’t know.” I thought about it. “I think I might have. I can’t be sure.”

“Oh.” He scratched his head.

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

“What about the girl in the drawing?”

“She’s fantastic.” I said, venom on my tongue.

The whole damn Universe would just shrivel up and die if Strawberry Fucking Lemonade wasn’t safe.

“Oh,” said Cliff. “Well, that’s good I guess.”

I looked down. He was touching the Bad Hoof. The moment I realized he was doing it, I yanked my whole leg away. Covered it with a blanket. I moved so suddenly that Cliff jumped back. It left me huddling there. Like a huddley huddling thing. Cliff made a point of putting his hoof on mine. Unwrapping it from the blanket, and just holding it to show he wasn't afraid.

Like Twinkle had.

“Thanks,” I whispered meekly.

I was not about to get caught crying in front of all these other ponies, so I just shut my eyes - drifted for a while.




* * *




Twink was gone. Actually gone. Every time I tried to rest, that fact just came creeping out of my chest to kick me in the brain. Twinkle Eyes was dead.

I’m not sure how long I lay there with my eyes shut. Wading through hazy memories, kicking myself for every single one.

I hated myself for judging Twink when she’d kicked the Nurse’s ass. I hated myself for throwing that stupid tantrum over the last potion - getting her all worked up and worried. How many times had I allowed Twinkle to stop everything and comfort me? She had even held my hoof right before she got shot. Told me to fucking swim when she should have been paying attention.

I was afraid of the dark like a pathetic little foal. Twink didn’t even see the pony who shot her because of me. She should've been blowing every last one of those cockmuffins away. Why couldn’t she have just smacked me and told me to quit being such a wuss? Why the fuck did Twink have to be so kind? I ran it over in my head a thousand times. She died cause she took her eye off the ball. There was no way around it. It all lead to one terrible conclusion.

“I killed her,” I whispered faintly.

The Most Horrible Friend Ever To Walk Equestria. Even Priestess Happy Sad was better. She at least had stood by her cloak. Loyal to the very end.

Clonk! As I swam through random memories of Twinkle, I hit one that physically hurt. Like a 2x4 to the head.

“Nopony picks on my friends.” Twinkle had said.

What?

“You’re my friend. And you’re picking on yourself. And if I ever catch you doing it again, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

I stared at the Twink in my head as she boiled with rage. Even through veils of memory, that little girl was still scarier than fire.

Nopony picks on my friends. Nopony.”





Twink had a point. I hadn't killed her. I’d done everything right. It was Fate.

I mean that not in the serene “it was meant to be,” kinda way, but in the, “if I could condense all that mystical mumbo-jumbo tossing me through space and time, stick it into one pony - something with a body and a face - I would have shot the fucker with one of those giant battle saddles, and set the body on fire” kinda way. And I’d have had the right.

I’d been used.

The more I let that realization ferment, the more I finally started to understand Twinkle’s slave rage. I was not my own pony. I was a puppet. I didn't even know who or what was standing above the strings, but it was fucking heartless. The Way It’s Supposed to Happen was nothing more than a twisted joke. The idea of doing any more dream favors for It made me sick to my empty little stomach. But the shadows were coming for me, and all that Fate Junk was gonna end up getting involved all over again. I didn’t have any choice at all. It pissed me the fuck off.




* * *




With a sigh, I pulled my eyes open. There was Cliff, sitting right by my side. Watching. Fretting over what he could do to help. The answer of course, was nothing, but there he was just the same. That was worth, at the very least, a smile.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I said.

He nodded and made a faint smile back at me.

“How long have you been here?” I asked him.

“A while,” he replied sheepishly.

I licked my lips. Dry as dust.

“Don’t your parents mind?”

“Naw,” he boasted. “They’re cool about this sorta thing.”

“This happen to your friends a lot?” I snorted meekly.

“All the time,” he rolled his eyes.

“What about Miss Cheerilee?”

Cliff Diver froze in place like a deer in the woods. He said one word. “Oooh!” And was off. Bolted right out the door. I was left lying there just sort of drowsy and confused. He couldn’t possibly have forgotten about school for an entire week!

I turned my head and groaned. On the other side of me, the doctor was still yammering science at my sister.

“Science, science, science, science, science, science, science,” said Mama Goose.

“But what about science, science, science, science, science, science, science?” Snapped Roseluck.

Mama Goose grimaced. Roseluck had science’d right back at him. She was always just that kinda smart. I was not. I couldn't even figure out how to keep my gums from itching. Out of the whole great big giant buffet o' pain that was my body, that stupid itch was the one thing that my brain really decided to go hog wild and feast upon. It was that fucking annoying. I tongued at it while the grown-ups blah blah blah'd their science crap.

One of the goslings turned to face me. A green colt with a pink mane. RX notepad for a cutie mark.

“How you holding up, champ?”

I groaned in confusion and smacked my crusty old lips. He can’t possibly be talking to me. If I could have, I would’ve looked over my shoulder to see what was going on. Instead I just sorta shifted my eyes.

“Um…okay,” I said at long last.

“Science, science, science, science,” said Mama Goose.

“Oh!” Said the kind young doctor.

“Hang in there,” he whispered back at me in a hurry and went back to scribbling notes.

Then more silence. So much for that.





I wasn’t really aware of much of anything going on around me till I caught a couple of words that I actually understood.

“The pain in her hoof was caused by cellular damage,” said the doctor. “Oddly enough, it resembled the opening stages of frost bite.”

My heart skipped a beat. That shadowy cockface gave me frost bite.

“What?!” Said Roseluck.

“Oh, no, no, no. Calm down, Miss. We can save the leg.”

Save the leg?! It had never even occurred to me that I was in any danger of losing it.

Roseluck snapped. She had an entire anxiety attack in the span of a few seconds. I could see it. And when it was up, she lunged up at the doctor and stared him down – eyeball-to-eyeball.

“What.” She backed him into a literal corner until he had no place to go but down. “Is wrong. With my sister’s. Leg?!”

“Nothing. Nothing. Medically, she’s fine!” He pleaded desperately, a thousand breaths a minute. “She’ll make a full recovery.”

“Geez!” Roseluck sighed relief, her old self again.

When Rose got mad, it was terrifying. But she couldn’t hold on it too long.

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

“Well,” the doctor laughed nervously. “It’s a funny thing…”

He looked over and suddenly noticed all the little goslings snickering at him, and snapped back to attention like a member of the Royal Guard.

“Ahem.” He cleared his throat with authority - Big Mama Goose once again. “While her hoof is not necrotic…”

I could tell just by looking that Roseluck was on edge again.

“And there’s absolutely medially nothing wrong with it,” the doctor added in a hurry.

“It’s still black, and shows no signs of regaining coloration even though tests confirm that it’s almost completely healed.”

“I don’t understand.” Said my sister.

“Ms. Roseluck, I’m afraid that leg is just plain Evil.”

Hospital silence. Even the sound of pencil scribbling stopped. The whole room was nothing but a pool of dull whirring sounds, and that old familiar bleep-bleep, bleep-bleep. One-by-one, the goslings’ heads turned to my direction. Two-by-two, all eyes were on me. I waved at them with my Hoof O' Evil.

I told them so.

“Heh-heh.” I laughed nervously.

I hated being belle of the ball.

“Guess what?!” Cliff darted back into the room with a smile and a crash.

He was waving a giant piece of oak tag that left a cloud of glitter behind it wherever it went.

“The whole class made you a card!”

He flashed the sort of grin that squeaked, but the room was still somber and quiet.

“What?” He asked innocently.




* * *




By the time the geese finally left us all alone, I felt like my brain had been pounded down flat like some kinda brain-dough. I wanted to crawl in a hole somewhere and simply cease to exist, but I didn’t have that luxury. The hospital was fresh out of holes.

I opened my eyes and turned to Roseluck. “There are no do-overs, are there?”

She shook her head “no.”

I nodded solemnly and stared off into space for Luna-only-knows how long.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Asked Cliff.

I shook my head “no.” How could I possibly explain what had happened? Where would I even begin?

No way. I said to myself firmly. The shadow thing was coming - at least I thought it would be. I had to cut straight to business. Any other train of thought just sent me careening down Memory Lane anyway. Face first into a 2x4 of Guilt from Dream Twinkle. Nopony talks that way about my friends.

“Cliff,” I groaned. “Is the library open yet?”

“Yeah. The dragon wouldn’t send the letter.”

“Figures. What about books on zebras?”

“A couple of rare plant books by zebras, nothing about them.”

“Ooh, I should check those out,” said Roseluck, always the plant enthusiast.

“But I got the next best thing!”

Cliff rummaged through a saddlebag full of candy wrappers and crumpled up old assignments. Finally he produced a notebook.

“Miss Cheerilee said we could do our Hearth’s Warming Eve assignment together so you don’t fall behind.”

He flipped the book to a sketch of the Equestrian flag and shoved it in front of me.

“What do you see there?”

“The flag.”

“A Sun Alicorn and a Moon Alicorn.”

“Like I said. The flag.”

I messed with that sore spot in my gums some more.

Cliff stared at me. “This flag was made hundreds of years before Princess Celestia and Luna!”

He beamed a bright enthusiastic smile. I turned to Roseluck as he passed his notebook over to her. She examined it closely.

“I never thought about it before,” she said. "You're right."

“Maybe the flag we use is just wrong.” I said. “Like all our pageants are just bad history or something.”

“No!” He snatched the book out of Roseluck’s hooves.

“Excuse me?” She said with polite indignance.

“Ssh, he’s on a roll.” I whispered.

“I checked it out! I did my research,” said Cliff. “Twilight Sparkle even dug up some bound copies of old records and stuff. The flag is older.”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep, Bleep-bleep. Hospital silence.

“You think somepony like Rose Petal might have seen it in their dreams?” She leaned forward with interest.

“And leaked a spoiler.” I added.

The smile fell from Cliff Diver's face. He scratched at his chin.

“I suppose that would explain it too.”

He rummaged a pencil out of his bag, frantically whipped some pages around, scribbling notes here and there and everywhere.

“Nope.” said Cliff at last, snapping his notebook closed. “My explanation is way better.”

He went back to rummaging, spilling trinkets and peanut shells and homework assignments from last year everywhere. Roseluck visibly tensed up – always the neat freak.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Yes,” he said, sticking his tongue out as he dug. “See I’ve been reading up – the kind of books you don’t see in the library.”

Roseluck and I glanced at each other with raised eyebrows.

“They’re afraid of the truth,” He continued.

“Out with it.” I said.

“A ha!” Cliff Diver dug out the book he had apparently been looking for.

He shoved it in my face. Literally.

Other Worlds and You: Applications of Interdimensional Theoretical Physics in the Everyday World,” I read the cover out loud. “By Professor Science? What is this?”

“Let me see that,” said Roseluck.

As I passed it to her, Cliff yanked more books out of the bottom of his bag. Papers spilled over onto the hospital floor. They were like cedar chips in a hamster cage, or balls in one of those ball pits that little foals go to. Only those ball pits are fucking cool.

Piercing the Veil

Searching for Otherworld

Lower the Moon – Fluctuations in the Celestio-Lunar Balance Field – A Dialectic Analysis of How

Nightmare Moon Tore a Hole in the Fabric of Existence.

All by “Professor Science.”

“Careful with that last one.” Said Cliff. “It’s rare. The Professor’s first published book. A bit more academic than the rest.”

He beamed.

“Ummm okay.” I said. “What are you getting at?”

“Alright, here’s what I figure. You ready?”

“I’m all ears,” said Roseluck, genuinely curious, even if not exactly a believer.

I have to admit, I was curious too. Cliff Diver’s enthusiasm was adorable and, in its own way, kinda contagious.

“The flag was the symbol of the union of the pony races. A symbol of friendship and unity and stuff. You follow?”

“Yes.”

“When Discord reigned, millions and millions and millions of ponies were in misery, right? They looked to that symbol for hope. Thought about unity and stuff. And all those thoughts rolled together and blasted across Universes all the way to some other world like one of those comic book superhero symbols shining in the sky.

'And, um...in those dimensions, the rules are maybe different – like all sorts of things are real there that can’t be real here. And the two alicorns came when they were needed the most, from the distant magical land of Awesome cause of all that hope energy and stuff.

Another one of those show-stopping tooth grins.

He was met with stunned silence. Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

It’s no wonder he believed my story about dreaming my way into the future. Cliff was out of his bucking mind.

“This is what Professor, um…Science says?” Roseluck hooved through one of the books.

“No! This is my discovery!” He squeaked. “Applying the principles Professor Science wrote about in Chapter 17 of the book you’re holding.”

“Of course,” said Roseluck.

“Cliff?” I asked nervously. “Is this what our Hearth’s Warming Eve report is going to be about?”

“No, no, no, no, no.” He said. “They’re not ready for the truth.”

Cliff winked at me.

“Ok, Cliff.” I said. “Can you do me a favor?”

Time to get down to business. I didn’t know how much longer I would have the energy to talk.

“Anything.” He replied.

“Can you go back to the library and find a way to look up the address of a colt named Misty Mountain.”

“Who’s that?”

“A friend. He lives in Fillydelphia. We’ve got a lot of figuring-out-of-things to do and I think he might be able to, you know, get us some answers.”

That pierogie-eating douche knew something about the shadows. I could smell it on him. He seemed to know his way around the Wasteland pretty damn good too. I didn’t really have a plan, or even an idea of what exactly I hoped to find out from him, but Misty was still my best and only lead.

I was gonna track that son of a bitch down if it killed me.

“Ummm…okay.” Cliff lowered his eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well,” he laughed nervously. “It’s kinda awkward.”

“What?”

“I was so excited about my discovery that I kinda shared it with Twilight Sparkle before I could prove it, and she kinda...well, she didn’t mean to be discouraging, but she shoved a bunch of ‘real science’ books at me.”

Cliff put his hooves up in the air and made quotation marks of contempt.

“You’re a kid,” said Roseluck. “You can get away with it. I’m sure you’re welcome back there anytime.”

“Besides,” I said. “What’s the point of being a weirdo if you’ve got to be ashamed of it all the time?”

“I’m a weirdo?”

Sad eyes of doom.

“Don’t worry.” I shrugged, though my shoulders felt like rocks. “You get used to it.”




* * *



Hospital hours are long. I needed real rest. Exhausted as I was, it just wasn’t gonna happen. It felt a lot like that cage room in the Trottica Town Hall basement. You spend so much time drifting out of bad sleep, that night and day start to blur together into a sort of terrible pudding, and before you know it, you can’t even tell the difference between a couple of hours and a couple of weeks anymore.

But Cliff and Rose were there a real long time. Whenever I opened my eyes, boom - there they were. Haggard. Tired. Cheerily supportive.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Roseluck filling out paperwork, chewing on her mane as she wrote. I knew that face. She was worried about making ends meet. You know, boring grown-up stuff.

“Hey there.” I groaned.

Like a kid caught red-handed doodling during class, her hooves casually drifted over her lap to cover up the papers.

“When’s the last time you sold any flowers?” I cut to the chase.

“The flowers are fine.” She held my hoof. “We’re fine.”

“I’m not stupid.”

I let that sink in. “That a big order?” I glanced at her lap.

“Don’t worry, I’ll--;”

“Looks big,” It sounded like there was some kind of frog jamboree in my throat.

“It is.” Roseluck sighed. “It’s a wedding. I wish I--;”

I held up my hoof, all dangly with wires and tubes and stuff.

“Do it.” I said.

“What?”

“Go home. Get your flower on. Come back. I’ll be fine.” I lied through my itchy teeth.

I would rather rot there alone and afraid than be responsible for the family downfall.

“Zzznnnnngggggg...” Cliff Diver was on the floor to my right, snoring up a storm.

“No, really,” said Roseluck. “It’s not that bad. Besides, what would you have me do? Just leave you here?”

“Do the wedding. You’ll be able to afford to take off later,” I said with a perky smile.

“Who cares about taking off later? You need me now.”

“But I’m gonna need you more later.” I said.

My connection to the Wasteland might have been gone, but there was more apocalypse drama on the horizon. I could feel it in my bones.

“You know,” I added with a smirk. “In case something serious happens with all this Wasteland stuff.”

“Something serious?!” She snapped.

Grown-ups have no sense of humor.

“You almost died!”

“Oh, yeah. That.” The old guilt-knife was twisting in my sides.

Roseluck shook her head at me. “Do you even care?”

Suddenly Twink’s words in my head all over again. Do I even care? It was a low blow, and my sister didn’t even know it.

“Sorry.” I whimpered.

“Cause I do. I care.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. The whole dam broke and I was left lying there sobbing. Heaving. Wheezing. Wailing inarticulately. You can only push your whiny piratetry aside for so long before it sneaks up on you and explodes. Then explodes again. It can do that.

Rose didn’t say a word. She just sat there, let me get it all out of my system, and pumped out tissues when I reached for them. Then, when it was over, she said, “Need more?”

I shook my head.

A calm silence followed. Then my sister looked down at me with great big eyes and pleaded. “I have your back, Rose Petal. You know that.”

I nodded.

“So does that lump over there.”

Cliff Diver was still asleep on the floor. “Zzzzzzzzznnnggg!”

“Thanks,” I sniffed.

“But enough is enough. You have to meet me halfway.”

I frowned. I was kinda hoping that, if nothing else, breaking down into a great big blubbering mess would have a silver lining, and I’d get a little space.

“You know you’re not protecting us with this ‘everything’s fine’ stuff.” She gripped my hoof in desperation. “Come on. What the buck is going on?”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

Roseluck never cursed. In Ponyville, “buck” was the closest thing we had. It made me stop for a second just to make sure I’d heard her right. Then I thought on what she'd said. Twink had hated it when I acted all secretive like this – when I tried to be a one-mare army. Roseluck hated it too apparently. I couldn’t stand the stress of talking about Trottica - not so soon anyway - but no matter how I tossed it around in my brain, it’s what Twinkle Eyes would have wanted me to do.

“Alright,” I said at last. “But you gotta do your flowers.”

Roseluck considered it. I could see the gears turning in her brain.

“I can handle it,” I said firmly and calmly.

I survived Trottica. I survived the Priestess. I survived the fucking shadow. I could be left alone in the hospital for a day or two.

Roseluck took a deep breath. Shut her eyes.

“I swear, sometimes..." She grumbled. “...Alright. Deal.”

“Cupcake?” I said.

“You drive a hard bargain.”

“In the eye, or the deal’s off.”

We both brought our hooves to our faces and made the appropriate gesture. When I lowered my hoof, she was staring at me. Waiting.

Oh, yeah. Time to fulfill my end of the bargain. I gulped. It hurt.

“I think—“ I started to tell her, but didn’t have the courage to finish my thought.

Instead I just sort of drifted off and stared into space.

“Whatever’s happening,” I said at last. “Whatever’s going on – it’s gonna get worse.”

I examined my Evil Hoof. It was inky. Still a little bit cold even. It was wrong. Just plain wrong. The damn thing terrified me.

“When you dreamt your way through time, you know, all that Pona Lisa stuff, did you ever meet anything not-entirely-pony­? Like, made out of shadows and stuff?"

I finally looked Roseluck in the eye. She just sort of shook her head slowly. She was as confused as ever.

“I’m sorry.” I said softly. “I think I might have bought something back with me.”

A not-entirely-pony?”

I nodded.

“Made out of shadows?”

I nodded again. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“But how?”

“It was, um…”

I thought back to my experience in the tunnel. The fear. The helplessness. The guilt.

“…Inside my head.” I said with a whimper.

Roseluck, like me, is a cream-colored pony. When she realized what I meant, she turned marshmallow white.

“Do you still feel it?” Tremors in her voice.

I thought about it. Felt around inside. If that makes any sense.

“Hmmm. No, not a trace,” I said at last.

If anything, it was too quiet. The shadow was nowhere near us. But it was still watching somehow. Just hanging back, waiting. It had to be. I’d seen its thoughts back in the tunnel when we were connected. One way or another, it was coming to Ponyville.





“Something’s wrong.” I said. “I can’t figure it out, it’s just...wrong. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“You’re not really making a compelling argument for why I should leave you here.”

“You promised!” I whined.

Roseluck stared me down. She couldn’t go back on a cupcake promise. Not no way. Not nohow. Didn’t mean it wasn’t eating her up inside, though.

“Think of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So.” I smiled. “Could you really deprive them of the best floral arrangement Ponyville has to offer?”

“Lyra and Bon-Bon.”

“Really?”

Roseluck nodded.

“About time.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“Yup!” I smiled.

She rolled her eyes.

“Look, I’ll be fine, I just--;” I couldn’t explain it.

I had a feeling. Not quite like the brain hornets from my dream, but still, something I couldn’t put my hoof on. This one came straight from my chest. I suddenly understood the expression 'gut feeling'.

“It’s important I do this.” I said. “That you do this.”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

“I’ll miss you.” She said.

“Me too.” I sighed. “But I’m in a giant building full of grown-ups, and I can’t even get out of bed to get into any trouble. I’ll be fine.”

She nodded.

I didn’t tell her that I no longer trusted grown-ups. Fact is, I could barely bring myself to tolerate being around anypony taller than me. But that was besides the point.

For a long long while we just sat there. She held my good hoof. The one with all the tubes and wires sticking out of it.

Finally, she asked, “You wanna tell me about this Twinkle?”

I sighed. “She was the most amazing filly I ever met.”

Roseluck nodded.

For a long time, we just sort of hung there, side by side, my hoof in hers. I didn’t really have anything more to say, and she was done pressing me.

“It’s wrong.” She said at last. “Leaving you here like this.”

“I know,” I said, patting her as she finally let go of my hoof. “But you gotta do what you gotta do.”




* * *



I sent Cliff on his way too. I appreciated the support, and liked having them both around, but really, it could only help so much.

“ZZZZzzzznnnnng!” Cliff snored.

Rose actually had to trot back in and kick on him ‘til he rolled over.

“Whu, wuh, wuuhh?” Said Cliff.

"Time to go."

"I really, really, really need you to get that address for Misty Mountain before the library closes again for another stupid wedding or something."

"It was a royal wedding " said Roseluck.

"Pfft!” I said. “I flunked my science project ‘cause of it. They locked up that darn treebrary for a week without warning anypony."

"We did have a whole month to do it." Said Cliff. "You should have-;"

"Humph". I said.

"So uh..." Cliff diver yawned. "Misty Mountain."

"Yes."

He hugged me. "Leaving you here doesn't feel right."

"Would you guys stop with that? Please just get going before the library closes. I'll be fine. Promise."

Not a moment to lose! At least that was the official story. I tried not to think about it or even admit it, but the more time he spent away from me, the safer Cliff Diver was gonna be. I could just picture his adorkable face covered in mine dust and blood, wincing and gasping like Twinkle had.

No. Not Cliff.

“Are you sure it’ll be okay?” He said to me.

“What?” I froze. "Did I just say my brain-thoughts out loud?"

“I’m worried what Twilight Sparkle will say. She seemed to think I was stupid.”

“You’ll be fine,” I replied. “You’re just looking up an address. Geez! What did she even say to you, anyway?”

“Well, you know how in Chapter 32 of Piercing the Veil, Professor Science writes about how some of these worlds might be so similar to our own, that they might be home to only slightly different-ish versions of ourselves?”

Roseluck and I looked at one another.

“Um...yeah?” I said.

“Well, I was trying to explain how close these Universes are together, right? Because you know, that might make a visit from pan-dimensional alicorns more plausible, right? I mean, that’s totally obvious.”

“Um...yeah.” Said Roseluck.

"...Totally obvious." I added.

“Well, you know what Twilight did when I told her about all this alternate world stuff? That there was alternate everything. Me, you, her.”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep. Hospital silence.

“No.”

“She laughed at me! She laughed and she said at me all sarcastical, ‘Alicorns. Mirror Worlds.’"

Cliff did his best Twilight Sparkle impression, which wasn't very good, "’...What next? A world where I grow wings and fly?’”

Cliff was mad. I could see him shaking. "She patted me on the head with her hoof and laughed at me. Can you believe that?”

“You'll be fine." I said. "Pleeeease? Misty has answers."

He nodded. Kissed my black hoof which, I'll be honest, came as a surprise.

"Go on, get outta here," I laughed. "Fly on over to the library before it's too late."

Cliff cringed, and scuttled away shyly before I could figure out what the hell was going on.




* * *




Rose left right after him. Hugs, kisses, promises to check on me, promises to come back in the morning.

It was the right thing to do - sending them away - the fair thing to do. The moment they actually set their hooves out the door, though, I regretted it. I was alone. At my worst.

I lay there for who knows how long. It was horribly quiet. Well, hospital quiet.

Finally I got bored enough to reach for the giant glittery get well card from my classmates. There was literally nothing else to do.

Get healthier. It’s what you want to do.

From, Scootaloo

They all rhymed. Every last one.

No better friends than you and me,

Your personal idol, Diamond T.

Diamond Tiara was piggybacking on the class’ sympathy for me to boost her own popularity. A couple of days before, that might have gotten under my skin, but honestly, at that point, I couldn’t be paid to care. I looked over the signatures, and the bright colors, and the hearts, and scribbles, and the little cut-outs that got pasted on. I couldn’t even tell what half of them were supposed to be.

It didn’t cheer me up any. If anything, I felt like all those happy children - all those well-wishes - were ten-hundred-million-thousand miles away. It was just so sweet. So innocent. They had everything that the Wasteland had stolen from Twinkle Eyes.

“You know, I wasn’t going to say anything,” came a squeaky little voice off somewhere to my left. “But I’d kill to have friends like yours.

The owner of the voice let that sink in for a minute. “Why you wanna shove them away?”

A judgemental judgehead from the Land of Sunshine. Great. I craned my neck as best I could, but saw only curtain.

“I’m not shoving them away,” I said. “I wish they were here, but there’s, well, all this stuff that needs to happen.”

I don’t even know why I bothered to answer.

“Oh.” The filly on the other side of the curtain fell silent.

I kicked myself for blah-blah-blah’ing so openly. I hadn’t even asked if we were alone in the room! Cliff’s crazy theories, my mourning Twink, my argument with Rose. I must have looked like a real jerk. I brought my bad hoof to my face. The other one was still covered with tubes and wires.

As I looked at its inky inky blackness, I suddenly realized the sorts of conversations I’d been having. Evil hooves. Dead friends Not-quite-ponies. What else had she heard?

“Uh...uh. I don’t wanna bother you,” the voice said, quaking. “But is there a shadow monster after you?”

She spoke in whispers. The poor thing had trouble even drawing breath.

Clonk! Clonk! Clonk! Clonk! Clonk! I smacked myself in the head with my bad hoof.

“No,” I said with a sigh. “There’s no such thing as monsters.”

I was so stupid. I’d been so careless!

“Oh. Ok.” Said the filly behind the curtain, not terribly reassured.

For a long, long while, the voice was quiet, and I was left again with nothing but my own thinkiness. Bored out of my mind.

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

I took a deep breath and sighed again. Curtain Girl was right. I shouldn’t have sent my family away. I turned to the giant get-well card. I had this image in my head of glitter getting in all of the medical machinery. Sparks flying out. Explosions. The whole nine yards. I almost wished it would happen. Anything would be better than just lying around.

I read all the other passages.

Hope you heal up real, real soon.

Yours in Apples,

Apple Bloom

Underneath it was Cliff Diver’s entry. Dark black writing. The only friend who had actually come to see me. The only message not written in pastel.

You haven’t died, you’re a survivor.

By Your Side,

Cliff Diver

By your side. That part stuck with me. I stared a long while at his scribbley hoofwriting. I didn’t deserve a friend like him.

The giganto page was covered with a whole bunch more notes that barely even rhymed, and a couple of random doodles of Power Ponies drawn by Luna-only-knows-who. Last was Blueberry Milkshake's.

“I’m so sorry,” was all she wrote.

That and her name. No rhyme.

It hit me pretty hard. My almost dying had probably hit her pretty hard. She wasn’t my rock like Cliff and Rose were, but that didn’t mean she was heartless. We’d known each other our whole lives. We’d been through a lot together.

I could see her in my head, standing outside the hospital, itching to go inside. She’s always been terrifiededly afraid of hospitals. Who could blame her? I hated them too.

She meant well.

I ran my hoof absent-mindedly over the inside of the card as I thought about her. Blueberry might not have had all that crazy psychotic loyalty that Cliff did, but that’s an unfair comparison. Cliff was unusual. He thought the princesses were aliens. I still cared about Blue, and if my tea poisoning had affected her so bad, I was willing to bet I'd underestimated how hard it had been on everypony else.

I stared at that card. Put my hoof against it, for what good it could possibly do. I knew I couldn't reach through the oaktag and stroke Blueberry Milkshake's mane or anything, but still.

Eventually, I noticed the rough patch. The paper by her message that felt weird to the touch.

I brought it in for a closer look. Underneath Blueberry Milkshake’s message was something else that she had apparently gone to a lot of effort to cross out. Under some glitter marker paste-ish crusty stuff was something that had been scribbled down frantically. I could just barely make out the words. “PS WE NEED TO TALK.”

It was unsettling.

Why had she written that? Why cross it out?

“Are you sure there aren’t any monsters?” The voice from behind the curtain interrupted.

“Yes,” I snapped.

“Ok. Sorry.”

After another long, awful silence, I gave up.

“I’m sorry too,” I said. “I’m lousy company right now.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t really wanna talk about it.”

“Maybe I can help.”

“No offense,” I said. “But I doubt it.”

“Ok.”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.





So much time to kill. I actually started reading Professor Science’s nonsensical ramblings just to have something to do. Two chapters into Lower the Moon – Fluctuations in the Celestio-Lunar Balance Field – A Dialectic Analysis of How Nightmare Moon Tore a Hole in the Fabric of Existence, I heard the voice again.

“Rose? That is your name, right?”

“Yeah.” I sighed.

“I’m sorry for your loss.” She said.

I closed the book.

I was being a jerk. There was no way around it.

“Thanks,” I replied.

It was good to hear. This girl was sweet. Kind. One of the good ones.

“Listen,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m going through a lot right now. Can we start again? My name is Rose Petal.”

“Bananas Foster,” she replied.

“I’d shake your hoof right now, but I’m kinda hooked up to a bunch of wires and tubes and stuff like that. I owe you a hoof bump once we’re well enough to get outta bed.”

“No thanks.”

“What? Why not?” I said.

The curtain parted, and I saw a yellow filly. She was actually older than me. A teenager. I’d expected something different from the smallness of her voice, and all that “no such thing as monsters” stuff, but this girl had to be at least two years older than me. She wasn’t normal.

Her entire corner of the room was surrounded by this weird dome of magic. Almost like a bubble.

The girl lived in a bubble. And she was fragile. Afraid.

“If you touch me, I’ll die.” She said.



* * *




Well, damn.

My jaw hung off my face by about a mile.

Pain makes you forget. You say things you wouldn’t ordinarily say. You do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Even us “good ones,” as Twinkle would say. You just plain forget that there are other things out there besides your pain, and it makes you kind of a dick.

I had just been insanely rude to some kid who was living her entire life in a bubble. The Wasteland had slammed me repeatedly with the harsh reality that what it means to be “good,” is sometimes actually kinda flexible depending on the situation. Slave revolts, violence, all that stuff. Extenuating circumstances. However, I’m pretty sure that, in all the craziness the world has to offer - past, present, or future - the one universal constant in any of it is: don’t be a cockmuffin to the bubble girl.

“Oh, geez! I’m--I’m…” I stammered. “I’m so sorry!”

Bananas Foster closed her eyes, took a deep breath and said, “Stop it.”

“What?”

“I don’t need your pity. I get plenty of that from the ponies who work here.”

“Sorry,” I repeated. “I’m not normally like this, I--;”

I struggled to find the words. Not even to excuse my behavior. Just to explain that this jerkface she was talking to - this cuntwaffle - wasn’t really what I was about.

She just went back to her business. Arranging notes. She didn’t have much to herself, but inside the weird glowing dome were stacks of books, notebooks, papers, pencils. It was almost like she’d built herself a fortress. An immaculate fortress o’ knowledge.

“...I don’t feel like myself lately,” I told her.

It sounded like a weak excuse. But if I rambled all the crazy stuff I actually thinking, she would just think I was throwing her more sympathy she didn’t want. The truth is, I was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really sorry.

“Who are you?”

“What?”

She just laughed at me. Giggled even. I marveled at how this girl could be stuck in a bubble with nothing but a bunch of books and stuff, and still find the energy to laugh. Still have enough light and hope left to, you know - shine like that.

“If you’re not yourself, then who are you?” The damn girl smirked at me.

Bigger than me she may have been, but Bananas Foster knew exactly how cute she was. It was like a little tiny needle stab straight to the heart.

“Somepony I’m not sure I like anymore.” I said.

“Oh.” She frowned.

Neither of us said much after that. I don’t think either one of us knew what to say.





In the silence that followed, I just lied there like a fool instead, staring at the white, white ceiling. Keeping busy, fighting to stay alive, even just taking the time to talk with friends - it keeps the thinkiness at bay. There’s nothing like a long staring contest with the ceiling to humble you. Who was I kidding? I fucking hated being alone.

I thought about Roseluck toiling away over her flowers. Without me. She was worried sick. I bet she fucking hated that too.

“Not for nothing,” said the Girl in the Bubble. “But maybe you’d like yourself again if you didn’t push your friends away so much.”

“What business is it of yours?” I said.

“Hey,” said the girl. “You’re the one whining to me.”

“Am not!”

“Yeah, but you were.”

“I was being totally quiet”

“Yeah, ‘I hate who I've become, by the way, I'm gonna be totally quiet now for six whole minutes. I'm not whining I'm just sitting here and brooding about why I tried to kill myself.’”

Bubble Girl bobbed her head.

“I did not try to kill myself!”

“You ate a half a pound of sedative tea!”

“I was trying to get to sleep in a hurry cause I needed to see Twinkle!”

"The girl who died." She said dryly.

"Yes!" I squeaked.

Bleep-bleep.

I suddenly realized how crazy that sounded. How suicidal.

"Whatever." Said the bubble girl. "Some of us are here ‘cause we have to be."

That girl had eyes that burned. She looked right at me and made me feel two inches tall.

“Look, I’m sorry to bring you into my problems. I don’t want to. It’s just complicated, okay?” I yammered. “Quit looking at me like that.”

Burn burn burnitty eyeballs of doom.

“Seriously, stop that.” I averted my eyes.

"You just shouldn't push your friends away like that. You don't like what I gotta say? Fine."

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

I faced that cold white ceiling again.

“Roseluck’s business is important, you know? And sometimes, well...you gotta do what you gotta do.”

“That’s a grown-up excuse.” Said Foster

I felt backed into a corner. I mean, she was totally right, but still. It wasn’t that simple. It just wasn’t.

“Stop!" I squeaked.

I finally turned to look at her. She was no longer burning.

“That's not fair. Sometimes food-and-stuff-like-that really does have to come first.”

“Morals follow on?” She said.

Suddenly, the bottom of everything I thought I knew dropped out from underneath me like some kind of sick carnival ride.

“W-what did you say?” I asked with shallow breaths.

Bananas Foster whipped out some old tome covered with protective materials. “The Rise and Fall of the Discordian Empire. You were quoting Dusty Parchment, weren’t you? What he wrote about all those failed rebellions? ‘Food first, morals follow on?’”

Had Priestess Happy Sad read ancient history? Philosophy? Had such knowledge even survived the explosions?

“‘If ye unite without embracing the spirit of friendship, ye have not united at all.’” Bananas read straight out of her book, then started hoofing through it idly for her own pleasure. “They tried for years to take him down, but they just kept fighting each other instead. You should read it sometime.”

It’s easy to condemn somepony like the Priestess - somepony so horrible - someone capable of persuading others to do such horrible things. But it was pain that had made her that way. Anger. Resentment.

It’s just as easy to condemn the villagers for buying it hook, line, and sinker. A Way of Life - a whole gift-basket of lies to go with it. Just so they wouldn’t have to face the fact that they were jerkfaces.

But when I hurt bad, I forgot about everypony else too. Had to shut it all out just to keep from hurting some more. Twink's gone, I thought. Nothing else matters.

Clonk. 2x4 of Friendship.

She wouldn’t want me thinking like that. I didn’t want me thinking like that.

I bit my lip and squeezed my eyes shut. I refused to cry. I didn’t want anypony’s sympathy. Certainly not from some girl in a bubble who had it way worse than I did. The air passed my throat like sandpaper as I tried to choke back my tears in silence.

Food first. Morals follow on? Fuck that. I decided. I’d rather starve. I never felt so disgusted with myself.

“I think I’m gonna be sick.” I whispered.

Bananas started ringing a little bell, calling, “Nurse, nurse, nurse!”

“What? No!” I held up my hoof. “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”

Not that kinda sick.

Moments later, there were three nurses in the room - two mares and a colt - ready to rescue Bananas Foster. She just pointed the second she saw them and sent them over my way instead.

“No, really. Really. I’m fine.” I said.

The male nurse came up on one side and started checking the machines and tubes and wires and all that junk. A tall blue mare was next to him, grumbling with a clipboard in her mouth. Nurse Redheart flanked me on the other side.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” She said.

“I’m fine. Really.”

She looked me over, then back at the nurse on the other side.

“Everything seems alright.” He shrugged.

The tall blue mare just sort of mumbled at me.

"Hay, I know you! You're a gosling!"

“A what?” She said.

“A doctor. I mean, you’re nursing, and doctor...ing.”

“I’ve been a nurse for a few years now, and decided that I wanted to train to --;”

Her voice trailed off into murmurs.

“You what?”

The male nurse nudged her.

“Oh, what? What?” She looked at me. “I’ve been a nurse for a few years now, and decided that I wanted to train to be a doctor.”

She started to sway a little.

“Oh.”

The male nurse leaned over me.

“Don’t mind Prescription Pad, she hasn’t slept in a couple of days.”

“Oh,” I whispered.

I liked him. As a rule I like nurses better than doctors. I guess it’s because they actually care for you. Geese don’t do that. They tend to just kinda care at you. I could remember Nurse Redheart staying up all night to help me when I was little - to talk to me - to help my Mom. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she didn’t have to do that at all. She could have gone home and gotten some sleep.

“You feeling okay?” Said the male nurse.

I lifted up my hoof - all dangling tubes and wires.

“When can I get rid of all this stuff?” I said.

“You haven’t even touched your pudding, honey.” Said Redheart.

The tray they’d brought was sitting by my side next to Nursedoctor. Where Roseluck had watched over me a few hours before. The pudding looked like it sucked.

“If I eat, will you unhook me?”

Nursedoctor said, “No, but it’ll be the first step.”

Once she realized I was fine, Nurse Redheart looked past me straight at Bananas Foster. “What’s all this about?”

“She said she was feeling sick,” Foster answered meekly. “Honest.”

Nurse Redheart turned to her colleague. “Can you take it from here?”

I was already eating the pudding. Yup. Terrible.

The male nurse just nodded while she went over to Bananas Foster. Redheart slowly raised her hoof against the bubble.

“You hang in there, child.” She said.

“I will,” Foster replied, bright as sunshine.

The nurse stood there for a short while, watching poor Foster, then perked her ears up and suddenly trotted on out the door in response to some noise from outside.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she said.

“You didn’t have to do that, you know?” I said to the girl.

“You said you were sick.” She just shrugged.

What's up with her? I never knew a kid to holler for grown-ups so fast. I guess when you’re stuck in a bubble, you get used to calling for every little thing. Or maybe the little things actually were big things to her. I mean, if anypony touched her, apparently she would die. As I lied there all grouchy-like, the reality of that just sort of smacked me in the face. Had Bananas Foster ever even been hugged?

“Hospitals are no fun,” said the male nurse. “Are they?”

He was sitting beside me in Roseluck’s seat.

“Oh, hi.” I said.

I watched him for a minute as he watched over me.

“It seems like an eternity now,” he said at last. “But you’ll be out of here in no time. Just you wait and see.”

“And Bananas Foster?” I was really worried about her.

He ran his hoof through his mane. “Yeah, um, well…”

Right away, I was sorry I’d asked.

“We’re not allowed to discuss other patients.”

“Oh.” I said.

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

“Hay, Nurse?” Said Bananas Foster at long last.

“Yes?”

“It’s Wednesday,” she sang.

“Yes it is. Wait. Oh, gee…” the male nurse just sorta trailed off. “I’m not sure I’ll have time today.”

“But storytime!” She may have been older than me, but Foster pouted like a foal.

It was a whole other side to her. Fucking weird.

“I’ll try, I’ll really try.” He swore.

The girl in the bubble looked like she was about to cry.

“I--; I--;”

“Paging Nurse Stethoscope. Paging Nurse Stethoscope.”

He brought his hoof to his face.

“I’m so sorry. I’ll try to be back here tonight. I really will. It’s just so--;”

“Nurse Stethoscope to ICU,” said the tinny voice in the megaphone. “Stethoscope to ICU.”

“It’s not usually quite so crazy around here.”

“I”ll come up with something.” I said.

“What?”

Time to quit hiding in the folds of my own brain. I couldn’t do much for Foster from where I lay, but I could find a way to occupy her. Keep her spirits up.

“We’ll find something to do - Bananas Foster and me.”

I gave him a hoof’s up.

Nurse Stethoscope nodded and darted off.




* * *




So apart from a a few nosy doctors poking their heads in, stabbing my big black evil hoof with needles, and jotting notes down when I screamed "ow", and of course, the occasional nurse, it was pretty much just Bananas Foster and me all day and all night.

“He's not coming back,” she pouted.

She was still upset about Nurse Stethoscope.

“You don't know that.”

"’I'll try.’" She mimicked him. “That's grown-up for 'no.'"

I couldn't argue with her there.

“Do you really care that much about something called storytime?”

“It's boring here!” She snapped.

“See this?” She held up one of her books. “I read this one twenty-seven times.”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

“I don't even like this book!”

She threw it against the wall of her bubble. To my surprise, it went straight through. Whacked right into a railing on my bed and wedged itself against my mattress.

"Okay then, um...well...once upon a time there was a sandwich named Ryelight Sparkle who came to Sandwichville to oversee the Summer Sandwich Celebration."

Foster looked at me. Just looked at me.

"Ok so not a sandwich fan."

“It's alright,” she said. “You tried.”

Then came more of that awful hospital silence. I was getting sick of that stuff. Fucking bleeps. Foster went back to writing in her notebook. I went back to digging at my itchy gums with my tongue. So fucking annoying.

Finally, I gave up and reached for the book she'd thrown. “Your bubble isn't book-proof?”

“It stops living things.” She said “Germs. Ponies.”

“Ah. Neat.” I replied.

She rolled her eyes.

“I mean…“What about you?” I said.

“I'm not book-proof.”

“I mean, when's the last time anypony asked you to tell them a story?”

“You want me to tell you a story?”

“No.” I scratched at my mane. Fidgeted with that damn itch in my gums. “Just, you know, wanna know about you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah.”

She looked at the ceiling. Ran her hoof through her mane. “Uh…”

“I mean. No pressure or anything. I don't mean to.”

“Well it's just that I'm not supposed to say.” Foster’s voice trailed off.

“It's ok, just...wait, what?! Why?”

“The doctors said it would scare everypony.”

“Who cares what those stupid geese say? What about your family?”

She shrugged and hid behind her mane. Fidgeted with her blanket.

In that moment, I knew.

“Oh.” I said.

Bleep-bleep, bleep-bleep.

“I'm sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks,” she replied.

All her masks. All her crazy. It all just sorta crumbled away.

Bananas Foster bit down on her hoof. Tried not to sob, but there were still tears all over her cheeks. She bit down even harder. Her hoof was starting to turn bright red. Finally, she caught her breath.

"I miss my brothers." She said at last.

"Jeez."

Her brothers? Somepony so young?

"I miss my Mom too," she coughed.

My heart skipped a beat.

"I know how you feel." I said.

She turned to me and stared me down with the fear, anger, and desperation of a wounded animal. Everything about her screamed "you don't know how I feel."

"My Mom!” I said. “She died when I was two...."

Yeah, I know. I put myself out there and opened up to a total stranger. Again. I needed practice keeping my fucking mouth shut.

"Your brothers." I added. "I don't...I can't even imagine."

She looked at me with so much hatred, I would have stumbled backwards had I been standing.

And then the moment was over. She took a deep breath, spat the words, “It’s okay,” grouchily, and that was that.

We both just sorta lay there. Alone in our separate bubbles.

She couldn't talk about it. I couldn't talk about it. At least not in the way I really needed to. And she was fucking pissed at me. I wasn’t even sure if I could’ve said anything differently. It totally sucked.

I wished with all my heart that I could just rip my tubes out, go over there and stroke her mane. But of course that was impossible.

"Bananas?" I said.

She didn’t reply.

As she sat on the corner of her bed, waiting for me to ask what I wanted to ask anyway, I suddenly heard another one of those whispers in my brain. A simple phrase. I honestly can’t say where the hell it came from, because it wasn't like all that other stupid hornet stuff. It came from me. Somehow, if that makes any sense. But it was a message just the same. And it just sorta spilled right out of my mouth.

"There's always the bomb." I whispered.

“What's that?” Said Foster.

She was caught so off guard that her anger melted away. I was caught so off guard, my anxiety just sort of melted away. I found myself laying there, on the cusp of talking about the fucking apocalypse to a stranger who was totally batshit insane.
Still, I knew that I had to. Not just to get through an awkward night alone with a stranger. Not just to get my own baggage off my chest. But to get through to Bananas. To help her.

I couldn’t have explained the feeling even if I’d tried, but there was still some of my heart left intact - even after Trottica, and it suddenly woke up on me, right then and there. I followed.

“Hey, um...Bananas? Do you want to hear a different kind of story?”




* * *




I remember back when Twilight Sparkle’s brother I’d never heard of got married to a princess I’d never heard of, and I flunked my science project because the library shut down for a week. I was mad. Real mad. Till I read all those eyewitness accounts of what had actually happened at the Royal Wedding.

I remember feeling so alone, because everypony else was so thrilled that True Love had won the day, that they forgot all about the one thing that should have been haunting their nightmares. I dropped the newspaper all over the floor when I realized it.

Princess Celestia was weak.

The most powerful pony in all of Equestria - a fucking immortal alicorn - and she was taken down like a chump by some bug lady, all because she had eaten recently. The love of one guy.

For a while, I’d felt like the world had ended. I slept with a lamp burning in my room, hid as I stepped around corners. I kept waiting for civilization to collapse upon itself or something. But it didn’t. It was just business as usual everywhere I went. Folks buying fruit at the market. Kids going to school. Shopkeepers selling stuff.

It wasn’t till I saw what life was like for ponies after civilization actually did go kaboom that I finally understood.

The world is a fragile thing. You have to believe in it. Celestia’s power didn’t come from being the most magical pony in all of Equestria. The place we know and love stays true to itself, not because she is invincible, but because we all believe in her. Because when we all pitch in for the greater good, we believe in ourselves. All because of a simple bedtime story. The beautiful myth that Celestia has everything under control.

The Wasteland was dead. The war had poisoned everything, but in two whole centuries, they could have fixed it if they’d put their minds to it. The real problem was that nopony believed in themselves anymore. Nopony believed in each other. The Wasteland was a place where stupid actresses could just waltz right into some horror show down-on-their-luck town, tell a halfway-engaging story, and bam!! Something to believe in. Something to work for. Something to kill for.

A story is a powerful thing. Bigger than princesses. Bigger than bombs.

I trusted Bananas Foster with my story because she needed a friend, and I needed to follow my heart a little. What I didn’t know is that it would end up saving my life.




* * *




I rambled a bit. Told her about my cutie mark quest, and the explosion, and the screaming of millions of ponies coming from inside my brain. I got as far as the billboard before she snapped. The zebra with the cauldron.

Foster dropped all her papers on the floor and brought her hooves up to her mouth.

“No.” She whispered.

It's hard to take news of the apocalypse well. Unless you're Cliff, of course.

“Zebras fighting ponies. You’re sure that’s what made the uh…”

“Big kaboom?”

Bananas nodded frantically.

“Yeah.”

I started to tell her more, but she just sort of stared off into space. I wasn’t even sure she was still listening.

“Bananas?” I said. “You okay?”

She just nodded.

“What is it?”

Just then, Nursedoctor poked her head in the door. “Night time, girls."

"Ah!" I yelped.

"The rest of the ward’s sleeping.” She let out a great big yawn herself as she closed the curtain between Bananas Foster and me.

Not that it mattered, the bubble girl had a lever.

Disappearing as quickly and drowsily as she had shown up, Nursedoctor left a horrible silence between us kids.

“Foster?”

She didn’t answer.

“Hello?”

Bleep-bleep. Bleep-bleep.

“I think I’m gonna get some sleep,” she whimpered at last.





I would have pushed the subject a little further. Something was clearly wrong with the bubble girl. But at that exact moment, I got a little distracted. The source of all that damn itching finally came loose.

It was a hair. A purple hair.

Misty Mountain’s tail hair. There in my hoof.

It wasn't till I held it up to the light that I realized what I had there in my hoof. It was a strand of Misty Mountain's tail, brought back with me through the centuries.

Ordinarily, I'm a real graceful-like pony. Not the slightest bit accident prone. But I was weak. Focusing my eyes was an effort. Gripping it between my hooves for an effort.

What if I drop it? I thought. They'll sweep it away!

I needed that hair. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but fuck, I needed the damn thing.

If only I hadn't sent my family away, I thought. So stupid.

In desperation, I reached for the one thing I could think of to hide the hair in. To keep it safe before I smuggled it home. My giant glittery get well card. I flossed it right into that rough spot where Blueberry Milkshake had crossed out her note with paste and paint.

And hoped that I could keep it safe until morning.



Then I just lay there. Terrified. For a long, long time.

I needed that hair. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but fuck, I needed the damn thing.

If only I hadn't sent my family away, I thought. So stupid.

Clonk. Yeah thanks, Twink.

My world was spinning out of control. I felt like I was gonna vomit. My heart was pounding like a bass drum. The future of Equestria was tucked loosely into an arts-and-crafts project. And the memory of my best friend kept whacking me in the head, telling me to feel good about myself. I was so freaked out, I literally couldn’t even tell which way was up and which was down. But then, I heard a terrible sound, and everything sort of snapped right back into place. That old familiar warning. The barking of dogs.

Oh, no. I thought. Not again. Not here.