CHAPTER THIRTY- A DARKNESS IN PONYVILLE
"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in." - Graham Greene
I stomped, and stomped, and stomped. Ranting and raving inside my head. But after a while, I got tired. Had to pace myself. It was a long way across town to the Everfree, and I couldn't stomp the entire way.
So instead of storming miles and miles over the snowy path, I got a quieter kind of mad. The kind where you have an argument inside your head with somepony, and you say all the things you wish you'd said the first time around. Then, when you're done doing that, you start planning for the next argument just so you can be sure to really let them have it when the time comes. Anything to make yourself feel like you have some control.
Like I could do something about the fact that my own sister didn't seem to trust me at all.
"Oh, yeah?" I said to an invisible Roseluck who wasn't actually there. "What about our family history? There's a plant on your flank. There's a plant on my flank. There was a plant on Mom's flank, and on Great Aunt Roseroot's! But you just went and threw out a bunch of our plants. Like some kinda plant-hater! You ever think of that?"
* * *
I was almost to the Town Square - the halfway point between my house and the Everfree Forest - when I stopped, and finally realized that there was something going on bigger than me and Roseluck.
It started with a strange sound. Whoosh!
One of those pegasus patrols swooped and soared overhead in some kinda formation. I stopped. Held my hoof up in front of my face to block out the sun, and gazed up at the sky.
Shwoom! They whizzed by again.
The maneuver seemed strangely rehearsed. Fluid. Elegant. But these weren't fancy flyers. They were townsfolk - Blossomforth, Sassaflash, Cloudchaser - ponies who, maybe an hour or two before, had been lounging around the skies, chatting with friends, knocking into trees, chasing stray cloud fragments with all the grace of a bull in a teapot shop.
Now they were soaring over the road. Bobbing and weaving in tight formation like Wonderbolts!
I picked up my pace and followed. Watched the skies for more weird pegasus stuff. But the faster I moved, the more obvious it became that it wasn't just the skies I had to worry about. My evil right hoof was cold. Shadow cold! I felt it with every hoofstep. That icy burn that comes from the inside.
Fuck! I said to myself. I must've been ranting about Roseluck so loudly inside my head - stomping that hoof so angrily and so hard - that I hadn't even noticed the shadow sensation sneak up on me.
I sped up to a trot. Frantically scanned the cottages, and the bushes, and the trees as I passed them by. I looked for shadows, for monsters, for tendrils of ink reaching out from dark corners. For some sign of the presence I felt. But there was nothing to see. Not even townsponies.
The path was clear - the houses and storefronts were completely empty. I'd have thought I was totally alone in Ponyville had I not suddenly heard the sound of fillies' voices carrying on the wind.
"Na na nan na na." They chanted in unison.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Looked around. Listened hard, but the chanting had ceased as abruptly as it had started. There was nothing left to hear but the pounding of my own heart.
“You're not welcome here.” I growled as I stared down a long, empty road. “Do you hear me?”
I spun around. “You're not welcome here!” I hollered again in the opposite direction. But all I saw was trees blowing around. And all I heard was silence. At least until that chanting came back.
“Na na nan na na." Said the voices on the wind.
It was closer this time! Close enough for me to spot the source. A small group of my classmates - three fillies who call themselves the Crusaders - they were frolicking down a path adjacent to mine. I could just barely make them out through the trees and shrubs. But it was them.
Except that they weren't acting like themselves. I couldn't quite explain it, but they all seemed entranced somehow. It felt a hundred different kinds of wrong. The sight of it made my stomach churn, and all my other internal organs twist themselves around into a fucked up organ pretzel.
I had to do something! Follow them. Hide. Or I dunno, try to call for help from Princess Luna somehow. Sadly, I didn't stand a chance. Before I got an opportunity to even move, a great thunderous sound came from town square.
Frunch! Frunch! Shficka shficka! Frunch!
What the hell was going on? I was close to the center of the action. Real close. I could feel the rumbling under my hooves.
Frunch! Frunch! Shficka shficka, frunch!
I broke into a full gallop. Dashed the rest of the way. I ran, and ran, and ran, and ran, and ran 'till I reached the end of the road where the path opened up, and merged into the great open courtyard facing Town Hall - a quaint pavilion that looked like a giant gazebo.
Frunch! Frunch! Shficka shficka! Frunch. The weird sound was coming from the other side of the building.
I followed it. Rounded the corners as quickly as I could. When I finally reached the other side, I skidded to a halt over the snow, stopped, and stared at what I saw.
Rows of townsfolk. Ponies I knew. Ponies my sister knew. Stomping in strange patterns and formations. Shuffling their hooves against the icy ground in unison.
Frunch! Frunch! Shficka shficka! Frunch!
It was like they were all in some kind of trance. Except every face was smiling. Big and wide.
“What the fuck?" I whispered to myself.
The rows of ponies parted. For a brief moment, I could even see Cliff Diver. Stomping with all the others.
I leaped back. Readied myself to hide in the bushes. I had to save him.
Maybe there's a pattern, I thought as I scurried backwards. If I can predict their motions, I can swoop in there - whisk him away.
But I didn't make it very far. I stumbled into a herd of fillies on my way to the bushes. The ones who'd been chanting, “Na na na na na.”
Without so much as an "excuse me," the three of them swept me up, and hoisted me on their backs in one fluid motion.
"Come on now," said Apple Bloom.
"Don't be shy!” Said Scootaloo beside her.
Before I could respond, the whole crowd, completely out of nowhere, erupted in song.
"It's an unexpected snow day,
It took us by surprise.
With extra time to laugh and play,
Until you realize.
That with unexpected snow, there's just so much to do,
It all goes by much quicker
With a friend like you."
* * *
It was a musical number. A fucking musical number!
The whole town had broken into song. Without me. My classmates dropped me just as dance-move-ishly as they had scooped me up. And suddenly, I found myself in the center of the action. Everypony around me moved flawlessly. With grace. With purpose.
While I just stumbled. 'Cause I couldn't feel the music. Couldn't hear the orchestra. Not so much as a single drum!
"What the buck?" I said to myself.
It didn't make any sense! Normally when folks start singing, you get this sorta tingly feeling – like lightning shooting through your heart. Then your hooves start tapping, and your head gets to bobbing. Before you know it, you're moving with the herd. Acting as one.
Everypony knows the lyrics. Everypony knows the choreography. The whole world comes alive inside of you! It's the most intense magic a pony can feel.
But while everypony else was laughing, and singing, and dancing through the snow, I just stood there. ‘Cause I couldn't hear a damn thing. I didn't feel any of the magic either. Just this weird sort of emptiness inside.
I looked to Carrot Top, and then to Cheerilee, and to Big MacIntosh - the ponies who happened to be nearest to me. They all looked ridiculous, smiling for no reason, swaying to the rhythm of music I still couldn't hear. Stomping and shuffling, and grunting around as they did their dance moves - the sorta sounds that normally get drowned out by accompaniment.
I looked back to my classmates. They were singing that chant yet again. "Na na na. Na na na." Apparently, it was some kind of backup vocal.
I spun around in circles. Scanned the crowd for Cliff Diver. Tried to figure out if he was in danger. If there were shadows nearby. I lifted my hoof to my face to get a better view. But as the water dripped off my slush-covered boot and onto my muzzle, I suddenly realized something. That icy feeling - that shadow sensation inside my hoof - it wasn't there at all anymore.
There were no inky monsters pulling the strings. No sinister forces. No shadows. The townsfolk were dancing to a normal song. The only thing out of place in Ponyville was me.
I stumbled backwards. Fell to my flank. Scrambled to get away from all of the townsponies’ leaping and singing.
“It goes by so much quicker with a friend like you."
Why am I disconnected from everything? I thought as I staggered through the crowd. Was it the Wasteland that did this to me? The bomb? The future? The shadows?
I looked up at those rows of smiling faces whizzing gracefully by, and started to sniffle. But I didn't have time for that. I needed to get it together!
“Don’t you cry!” A voice in my head commanded. “Not here. Not now.”
I sucked it up, squeezed my eyes shut. Tried desperately to get a grip. I needed to calm. The fuck. Down. To listen. To hear the fucking music.
I started by focusing with my ears. When that didn’t work, I got all feelsy and listened with my heart. After that, I even tried concentrating real super hard to try to open up the part of my mind that kept all the brain hornets, and Rose Voices, and stuff. But no matter what, I came up empty.
All I heard was shuffling and singing robbed of its musical context. And all I felt was fear. Of failure. Of isolation. ‘Cause what if this was it? What if I was doomed to spend the rest of my life sulking on the sidelines while everypony else got to sing?!
The thought was too awful to entertain.
* * *
I needed to get out of there. To the forest. To Zecora.
She’ll have answers. I thought. She has to have answers!
So I ran as fast as I could. Made for the road to the Everfree all the way on the other side of the square. But It was hard. The dance routine was getting stompier and stompier, and it didn't take me and my disconnectyness into consideration.
“Excuse me," I said as I stumbled into one cluster of jubilant ponies.
“Sorry!” I cried, as I leapt aside and almost ran right into another.
I dodged, and weaved, and got knocked around so hard that I thought I was gonna get trampled. But I kept on fighting through the ebbing and flowing herd. Until the southern path was right there in front of me. It looked like I was actually gonna get out of there! It really really did.
But then Pinkie Pie bounced in front of me from out of nowhere. There was no escaping the song.
* * *
“When you're sad and tired," she sang in a minor key. (The song had surpassed its second chorus and moved on to the somber part). “And your heart is on the ground.”
She grabbed me and swept me away from the square, all sudden-like. We moved at speeds that woulda been impossible without the magic of song. It was disorienting as hell.
“Just take a break, a friend you’ll make, join in the fun, and play with the snoooooow on the ground.”
Suddenly I was surrounded by fillies. Kids from my class. Laughing, and giggling on a snow-topped hill. One of them grabbed my tail. Yanked me hard. It was a girl I barely knew. Coconut Cream.
“Snowball fight!” She giggled.
I had barely figured out which way was up, and which way was down before I found myself cringing on the ground, huddled behind a little wall of ice, snowballs flying overhead.
“Ahh!” I said.
But Coconut didn't care. She leaped right up to the ledge of the trench to kick some pieces of ice, and hunks of snow in the direction of the enemy.
“What are you doing?” I snapped, and panicked. Crouched as low down as I could go. "Get down!"
But she didn't listen. She stepped right out into No Mare’s Land!
Bang! I heard a great big loud sound. For a moment my heart stood still. This was a snowball fight. A joyful song! But that sound. It sounded like gunfire. Actual gunfire.
* * *
I get scared.
Before I can even begin to get my bearings, somepony grabs me out of nowhere. I panic. I kick. I flail. In the midst of all the chaos, I catch a fragment of a lyric. Children singing, “...let's race with our sleds.”
And the next thing I know, I'm tumbling down that hill. No sled. Just somersaulting. And somepony else is tumbling on top of me.
Bam! Crunch! I hit every lump of ice on the way down. It feels like getting beaten. The world spins, and spins, and spins completely out of control. Until at last, I find myself on top of the other kid, panting wildly. I've got her mane pinned to the ground with one boot, and my other forehoof is stretched back, ready to strike a crushing blow to her face.
I pant, and pant, and pant, and look up all around me. All the other fillies and colts watch from the top of the hill. Grown Ups too.
They aren't singing anymore.
The filly underneath me. Its Kettle Corn. This sweet little kid from my school who's always drawing circles. But there's terror on her face now. She squeezes her eyes shut and cries, bawls, squeaks for mercy.
“Oh, my...” I get up off of her.
I don't know what to say. She squirms away. Scrambles to her hooves. Runs from me like a foal from a monster.
“I’m sorry," I stammer. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry!"
I call out after the girl, but she just keeps running, and the town keeps staring.
Even Big Macintosh, the strongest, and probably most unshakable pony in town, looks at me with the giant eyes of a foal - shocked at what I had done. His sister, Apple Bloom too. She leans against him and starts crying. My teacher, Miss Cheerilee? She's in shock. She touches her heart with her hoof, and shakes her head, jaw agape.
Then finally, I see Cliff Diver up on that hill. Speechless and afraid. Just like everypony else. I start crying too.
“I'm sorry." I repeat. “I didn't mean to.”
But all I hear in reply is the dead silence of the entire town, and the distant hoofsteps of that poor filly running off. As far away from me as she can possibly get.
I turn, and I run in the other direction. I run, and I run, and I run, and I run, and I run. Southward toward the Everfree.