Have you ever woken up inside of a jam jar? No? Well, let me tell you, it’s not pleasant. The suffocating feeling of being trapped in a dark, viscous fluid, of not knowing which way is up, and being unable to move properly even if you did; none of it makes for a very good time. Now imagine the contents of the jar screaming abuse at you, and you’ll start to understand why the first few moments of my new life were so disorienting.
I suppose I should back up here. Maybe start from the beginning, since you ponies know next to nothing about me.
My name is Eric Allen Brauer. I used to be human, until recently. I’m not quite certain how I came to be otherwise, though I suspect I may have nodded off at my drawing desk with a lit cigarette. My ex always told me that’s how I would go. I guess she was right, damn it.
Before coming here, I was a student living in Tucson, Arizona, and working part-time as a library assistant. It wasn’t much, but it helped to put me through college. Plus, it was slow enough that I had the free time to work on my drawings. It had been my dream since a young age to be a concept artist and and model designer for a gaming company, maybe even an animation studio. Maybe not the most profitable of goals, but I was eager to try making a living that way. I thought getting a graphic design degree was a decent step towards getting me set for life. Well, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, as they say.
My days were neatly organized: wake up at 5, get ready, go to school from 6 to 10:30, eat lunch, go to work from noon to 8, come home, do whatever schoolwork I wasn’t able to finish during the day, then sleep. Repeat. Weekends were usually spent with friends, sometimes drinking, and more often than not around a table with a few rulebooks and some dice. It may seem like a tightly packed schedule, yes, but I like it that way. I just can’t stand sitting around, doing nothing. Drives me crazy. Anyway, the point is: I am used to a routine.
Which is why it should be obvious that, when I woke up one Thursday morning to utter darkness, feeling like a sardine in a tin, I was more than a little overwhelmed. The squishy, jelly-like substance that pressed in on me from all sides was definitely not my bed. But then, before I could even begin to question circumstances, the voices battered their way into my thought processes.
“Useless pile of snot!”
“Go cram it up your brown eye!”
“Your birth certificate is an apology letter from the condom factory!”
“No one loves you!”
The abuse flew in every direction, ranging in severity from snide comments to unintelligible roars of fury. I couldn’t move, not even just to cover my ears to block out the flood of voices; there must have been hundreds. I tried to speak, but it was a struggle to even breath, like I was sucking air through a straw. So, of course, my first thought was: What the hell did I eat last night to give me a nightmare like this?
Then, something even more bewildering happened.
“Oh lookey here, sleeping beauty has awoken!” A nearby voice proclaimed, directed at me. “Well, sorry to say, princess, but this ain’t no nightmare! We’re all trapped in here for the rest of eternity!”
The comment sent my head spinning. Had he, it, whatever this was, just read my mind? Moreover, how many people were in here, and where were they? And… how were they even speaking inside of all of this goop?
“Probably deserves it, too!” Someone else shouted at me.
“I bet your mother wishes she had swallowed you!”
It was all too much. Forget waking up in the drunk tank, I had woken up to the verbal equivalent of a prison riot in a soup can. I couldn’t even think with all the shouting being directed at me. I just wanted to find a corner to hide in, to curl up in a little ball and cover my ears, even though a vague part of me recognized that I could no longer distinguish my hands from my feet.
But then, before I even had time to give in to the hate, a voice cut through the cacophony. It was quiet, strong, and as clear as crystal, despite the mob of tormentors.
“By light of sun, by glow of moon,
By rite of ancient magicks hewn,
I call on thee to grant a boon.
With the imprisoned, I commune.”
The simple stanza drowned out the other voices, bringing them to silence. Within my confines, I could somehow sense the attention of every being present turn to focus on a single point. A point that could only be the exit. Then the feminine voice, like that of an angel, rang out once more.
“By black new moon, by eclipsed sun,
I call upon the sullied one,
O Smooze, destroyer, brought to none,
By thy power, my will be done.”
Suddenly, I felt a tug around where I thought my sternum should be, and I began to move. My viscous surroundings began to slide past. I was moving in the direction of the voice, towards my savior! This did not go unnoticed by my fellow inmates, and they began hurling insults anew. Luckily, the angelic voice continued to speak over them.
“I summon thee, O timeworn soul,
Locked for ages inside this hole.
Return to me, fulfill thy role;
To conquer and consume, thy goal.”
I was moving at great speeds now, the sludge parting before me like pudding before a snowplow. I could feel tendrils of it tugging at my flesh, trying to yank me back in. The villainous beings began whispering harshly in my ears, urging me to give up, to surrender to their will. But it was no longer my choice. I was being drawn inexorably towards the source of the incantation, unable to affect my speed or direction. Not that I wanted to. The sooner I got out of that pit of horrors, the better.
The chant began to reach its climax, my savior’s voice coming to a commanding crescendo.
“With this spell, I yoke thee to fight,
To sweep the land and be my knight,
The old Masters, their wrongs to right.
I lift thee now into the light!”
Of course, with all these rhyming quatrains, I had to wonder whether or not this speaker belonged to one of the Lantern Corps. Then, without warning, there was the unpleasant sensation of being drunk. What’s so unpleasant about being drunk, you ask? Go ask a glass of water.
I was immediately blinded by the radiant day, having spent what felt like hours in the dark. The sunlight fell on my clammy flesh like a warm shower, melting away the tension and the fear. I closed my eyes and basked, reaching out to offer up a hug to the sun. I knew it would be unable to reciprocate, but I figured it would at least appreciate the gesture.
The voice of my angel broke me from my reverie. However, her tone was no longer commanding and regal, but rather confused and… a little frightened?
“Um… Great and mighty Smooze?”
I sat up slowly, to get a better look at her, and nearly shat myself. I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but it certainly hadn’t been whatever stood before me.
She was a massive horse-creature, easily the size of a house. I would have called her a unicorn, but the structure of her head was way too round. Even so, that was what she most resembled, given the pale pink horn that jutted out of her messy purple and aquamarine mane. The pink of her horn continued past her mane to the rest of her coat, glistening with sweat. Her matted tail carried the same color scheme as her mane, so either she was meticulously dyed, or these were somehow her natural colors. She watched me with fearful, persian blue eyes, as though she was waiting for the results of a pregnancy test.
“You… you are the Smooze, aren’t you?”
I blinked at her.
“You! The Smooze!” She gesticulated frantically with a foreleg. “You know, the great, big amalgamation of hatred and misery in the form of a blob monster? The Beast of a Thousand Voices? The All-Consuming Hunger? That Smooze!”
At this point, all departments of my brain were in total disarray. Neural impulses sprinted back and forth between offices, shouting and demanding someone figure out just what the hell was going on. Finally, a part of my mind only tangentially connected to reality succeeded in getting a report through to headquarters. With nothing else to go on, my brain acted on the only information present.
“I think you got the grammar wrong.”
The words left my mouth without so much as a single consideration as to their significance. Her eyes widened even further, and she gaped openly.
Well, fuck it. I had already rammed the truck into this conversation, time to plow through the opposite wall.
“You used ‘thee’ and ‘thy,’ which are singular pronouns. If I’m understanding correctly, you were trying to summon ‘a thousand voices,’ right? You should have used ‘you’ and ‘your,’ which are plural.”
“B- but I was using the old Royal Canterlot speech! Shouldn’t that have made the spell, I don’t know, more… commanding?” Her question almost turned into a plea near the end. I held up my hands defensively.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful you got me out of there. I just think you… got… the…”
I trailed off, as something in my vision wasn’t conforming to expectations. Before me waggled a pair of somethings almost exactly unlike arms. They jiggled bonelessly, like ropes of green Jello, ending in crude approximations of hands. I looked down and was greeted, not with a body, but a pile of green sludge. The sludge rippled at me in time with the throbbing confusion that pounded through my… brain? Did I even have a brain anymore? Or a heart?
My identity crisis was thankfully staved off by what was possibly the most heartbreaking sigh I’d ever heard.
“I got the smallest part of the Smooze, not the whole thing.”
It took me a moment to understand what she was talking about. Then it clicked. She was talking about me. I was the Smooze. And she wasn’t actually giant, I was just tiny. I didn’t know exactly how small, but I could make an educated guess based on a row of ants marching over a nearby patch of dirt. They appeared to be the size of mice, though I suspected it was more likely that I was about the size of a cantaloupe. This was compounded by my first real look at my surroundings.
We stood in a clearing of a forest, trees sparse enough to allow copious amounts of sunlight through the canopy. At first glance, I would have thought we were standing in a redwood forest, until I realized that the trees were deciduous. I could use the leaves as goddamn umbrellas! Suddenly, it felt much more important to pretend that I was a part of the Big Bad Smooze than to tell the truth.
“R- right. But I am still Smooze! You would do well to fear me!”
The mare smiled wryly, and leaned in towards me more than a bit menacingly. “Well, I would, but I also have you under my complete control. I could have you do anything I want. Like this: bow before me, Smooze!”
A moment passed, then two, and still nothing happened. I looked around. In my nihilistic sense of disconnection from what was apparently my new reality, I decided it was a good time to pull out a cliche that I’d had too much dignity to ever use seriously before. After all, I doubted she’d ever heard of Taxi Driver.
“Were you talking to me? I don’t see anyone else around here, so you must’ve been talking to me.”
Not a direct quote, of course, but I didn’t really have the kind of acting chops needed to perfectly imitate Mr. De Niro anyway. It still had some kind of an effect, though, because her eyes widened with genuine fear. When her fight or flight response kicked in, she was unlucky enough to choose the former.
Her horn suddenly lit up with sparkling turquoise light. The sight barely registered before a beam of energy shot out of the tip of her horn. Even if I had been in my old body, which had been by far the more nimble of the two, I still wouldn’t have been able to dodge. Instead, the projectile hit me with a sickening splat. I cried out, but it died in my throat when I realized that nothing hurt. I looked down, but the hole was already almost closed. I blinked in surprise.
“So, uh, I guess-”
She shrieked, and charged up another shot. This one hit my face – or at least what I assumed was my face – and my vision split. I could feel the two halves of my “head” hanging apart like strands of string cheese. I unceremoniously slapped them back together, struggling to keep from getting dizzy as my vision slowly returned to normal.
“Hey, cut it out.”
She did not. Instead, she launched a salvo of magical rays at me, though they had about as much effect as a handful of pebbles thrown into a pond. I quickly grew tired of having to shield my face from getting blasted, though, and what happened next came out of nowhere.
“Cut… it… OUT!”
Be it by instinct or sheer dumb luck, I somehow managed to grab the unicorn’s horn. And by grab, I mean my arm whipped out like one of those stretchy sticky-hand toys you can get at Chuck E. Cheese’s for five hundred tickets. Or any decent party store for, like, ten cents. She shrieked and tried to cast another spell, but she only managed to blow a bubble in my goo-flesh from the tip of her horn. It popped harmlessly. Apparently I could prevent her from casting this way. Good to know.
“Get off!” She nearly screamed at me, yanking her horn away in an effort to dislodge me. Unfortunately for both of us, it had the opposite effect.
I reflexively tensed my grip, but it translated to the rest of my outstretched arm, as well. The suddenly taut, bungee-like limb yanked me off the ground, pulling whatever loose rocks and dirt I had been resting on along with me. Momentum carried me over her head, and I ended up splattered all over the hock and cannon of her hind leg. She shrieked again, louder this time.
“Ew ew ew! Get off, get off, get off!”
Predictably, she started flailing, desperate to scrape me off. She only managed to spread me across her further though. It was the strangest sensation, like somebody had pinched my cheeks and just kept pulling. I couldn't even get a word in edgewise, as whatever I had been using as a mouth had been battered and smeared into oblivion. My sight was split once more. Her thrashing certainly didn’t help. I was forced to close my eyes, lest I discover what this body did when it became nauseated.
Eventually, she either stopped struggling, or entangled herself enough that she could no longer move. Feeling stretched as thin as a sheet, I opened my eyes and immediately regretted it. One of my eyes was pointed skyward, while the other was upside down somewhere on the side of her barrel, judging by the position of the ground and the in-and-out motion that perfectly coincided with her despaired panting. I closed them again, before opening up what I identified as my left eye. It was the skyward facing one, thankfully.
Rattled and disoriented, I tried the only thing I could think of, and willed my vision to return to normal. Somehow, it worked. I felt my eyes moving along her body, causing her to shiver at the crawling sensation. Eventually they stopped shifting, and I nearly sighed with relief when I opened my eyes to find that I had stereoscopic vision again. I looked around, and found that my eyes had ended up on her shoulder. I looked up and gave her the most scathing glare that I could muster, before attempting to speak.
“Are you done?”
My voice came out strangled and oddly high pitched. It made some sort of sense, though; I wouldn’t have a normal voice if my goo didn’t have the capacity to manifest properly shaped vocal cords.
“Y- yes,” she conceded, nodding guiltily. “Just p- please… don’t eat me.”
I let out the most frustrated sigh I could manage, both at her assumptions and the sound of my voice.
“Look, just… don’t move for a sec, okay?”
She tensed up, certain that I was going to hurt her somehow. I hoped I wasn’t, but I honestly had no idea how this body worked. The only option I had was to experiment.
I knew that I was sticky, but it seemed unlikely that I was only meant to stick to things. No lifeform could survive if it was constantly leaving a trail of itself behind. Except slugs, but, well… that’s more of a secretion, and I’m literally a pile of ooze.
It seemed to have worked before, when I was rearranging my eyes, so I prepared another mental exercise. I recalled the sensations of unclenching my fist. I remembered watching honey in the microwave. I imagined that I was oil, and that she was water. Before I knew it, I was slipping off of her. I hadn’t quite turned to liquid, but I certainly felt less viscous, and the little bits of me really were rolling off of her coat like water off of a duck's back. As they fell to the ground, they slithered towards me, rejoining the main body. Watching this raised many more questions, but I was unlikely to receive answers to them anytime soon. Instead, I tried focusing on the issue at hand.
The horceress – Get it? Horse sorceress? – had prostrated herself before me, covering her head pitifully. She was whimpering quietly, probably waiting for whatever cruel punishment she thought I had planned. I sighed heavily; in my normal voice, praise be.
“Look, I’m not going to eat you. I really don't like eating things that can talk to me. I’m sorry if I scared you with that little bit of posturing back there. You may have been trying to summon the Big Bad Smooze, but-”
A thought occurred to me. One that I should have thought of sooner.
“Actually, why were you trying summon me- er, us? Summon us.”
The unicorn averted her already downcast eyes, somehow managing to look even more guilty.
“W- well, as I stated in the spell, I was kind of hoping you might… maybe… f- fight the Masters?”
“I know, I know! It was a stupid and- and foalish idea, b- but I was desperate, and-”
“Woah, woah, hey, slow down there. I get it, you wanted to summon the Smooze to defeat the Masters. Just, uh… who are these Masters, anyway?”
She frowned slightly, before looking back up at me. “What do you mean, ‘who are the Masters’? You… The Smooze appeared during the time before the Masters were first banished. How do you not know them?”
I froze up. What the hell was I supposed to say to that? ‘Uh, sorry, I’m just an alien that is either having a really vivid hallucination or died and got resurrected as the Blob. Mind cluing me in?’ There was really only one avenue I could think of to take. I would have to bluff my ass off.
“Look, I’ve been locked up for how long? I couldn’t even remember what the sky looked like before today, much less a bunch of stuffy assholes. So cut me a little slack, huh?”
“Um, right. Well, the Masters are the… the alicorns that rule the Joint States of Equestria. Th- there are seven in total, each the sovereign ruler of one of the states. We are in the state of Sangria, ruled b- by… by…”
I didn’t need to be a horse whisperer to tell that the poor mare was distressed. Her eyes had glazed over and she was trembling like a leaf, remembering some distant horror. She was biting her lip hard enough that I was afraid she might start bleeding.
“Ok, hey, it’s alright,” I tried to soothe as best I could. “You know what? Let’s not start with a game of twenty questions. How’s this instead?”
I cleared my throat – or, at least, I made a sound like clearing my throat – to snap her out of her fugue.
“I’m Eric. What’s your name?”
She shook herself free of her phantoms at my introduction, looking at me oddly.
“S- Starlight Glimmer.”
It took all of my willpower not to make any kind of disbelieving noise. After all, naming conventions in the alien horse land of Equestria could really be that simple.
“Um, your name is… Eric?” She pondered.
“I- er… well, forgive me if this seems rude, but… what’s an Eric?”
My expression must have soured, because she quickly backpedalled.
“I’m just curious, is all! I’ve never met anypony named Eric before.”
“Ahem, yes, well, as you can see, I’m no pony.”
“R- right! Of course. I’m sure it’s a lovely name for a Smooze.”
I gave her my most masterful eye roll. Then, something in me gurgled. It wasn’t my stomach, as I didn’t really have any intestines. However, I somehow understood that this still meant I was hungry, even in this amorphous body.
“Hey, uh, you wouldn’t happen to have anything to eat, would you? It would appear I'm feeling a bit peckish.”
“Oh, uh… not on me, no. I…” She trailed off, a look of despair crossing her face.
“Uh… Starlight? You okay?”
“No!” She squealed. “No, I am not okay! You were supposed to be this big, destructive monster that I unleashed on Equestria! What am I going to do now?! You’re so small, and… and I don’t know if I can feed another mouth…”
I felt a pang of guilt and pity. Objectively, I knew none of this was my fault. In fact, it was mostly hers. But, still for some inexplicable reason, I hated seeing her sad. I was probably something to do with how her big, sad eyes made me feel like I’d kicked a puppy.
“Hey, it’ll be alright,” I tried soothing. “Let’s just take it one step at a time, okay? I can probably scrounge up something on the way, so don’t worry about me. It may not be the end of the world, like you hoped, but I’ll do what I can to help you with your problems. It's the least I can do after you got me out of that hellhole. Why don’t we find somewhere more comfortable, and we can talk about where to go from here, hm?”
Starlight sniffed and nodded, fighting back her tears of frustration. “You're right. Sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to help. Come on, I have a camp set up not too far away.”
She turned to leave, and I was immediately struck with another conundrum. I didn’t actually know how to move. Not wanting to betray my inability, I decided to go with the safest option.
Starlight jumped and whipped around, which was more than a little nerve wracking to watch, from my vantage point. Like watching a semi on a rainy road suddenly lose control and skid sideways in front of your shitty little import sedan. Nevertheless, I pressed on.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Starlight looked puzzled for a moment, then realization flashed across her features, followed by a forced smile.
“O- oh, right, of course, silly me. You won’t be able to keep up with me when you’re that small. Let me just… Um…”
Starlight awkwardly sidled up to me and lowered herself to the ground, getting into position for me to climb aboard. I figured we might end up like this, and yet I still wasn’t quite prepared. I’d never ridden a horse before. However, I held the advantage of being a sticky blob-thing, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
With a little finagling, I managed to slurp my way up her side and onto her back, eliciting disgusted shudders from my carrier. As we trotted away, I took the opportunity to look back the way we came, at the site of my brief imprisonment.
The only thing we were leaving behind, however, was a large, circular stone set into the shallow incline of a small hillock. It was covered in mystical carvings. For some inexplicable reason, it reminded me of the cork in a wine bottle; a cork that I had somehow bypassed without loosing the rest of the container’s contents on the world.
It was at this point, as I turned back ahead, that acute awareness of my situation finally sunk in. I was stuck in a foreign body, in an unknown world, with no idea of how I came to be here. Everything I had seen was too evenly paced, lucid, and consistent to be the product of a dream or hallucination, drug-induced or otherwise. For all intents and purposes, I had fallen asleep as a human, and woken up in the body of a slime on an alien planet. I was just lucky I understood and could speak the local language.
I resolved then and there that I wouldn’t worry about what I had left behind on Earth. Until I could find out this world’s technology level, and whether or not I could even get a message through to my family, stressing out would do neither them nor I any good. The most I’d accomplish was giving myself a panic attack, and I certainly couldn’t indulge myself like that until I had at least figured out how to move along the ground under my own power.
“So, how far is ‘not too far’, anyway?”
“It’s only an hour’s walk or so.”
Perfect. Just enough time for a little experimentation.