"No mom. I don't want to go to summer camp!" said a seventeen year old Photo Finish. She slammed her left hoof down on the polished wood floor.
"You're going to this camp and that's final!" Her mother shouted. Then she approached Photo and gave her a hug. "It'll be good for you, I promise."
But nothing good would ever come from attending Camp Sunshine, a three week program that gave young ponies from across Equestria the opportunity to experience life outdoors. Photo could not imagine dirtying her hooves while trotting through endless mud. Could not imagine eating "campfire" food like hay dogs and s'mores. Not just any s'mores though. S'mores made with bargain bin chocolate, made with too much sugar and not nearly enough cocoa. Store brand graham crackers. Even worse, the camp was situated just outside of Ponyville, a place that, though she'd never been, was uncultured.
"I promise you it won't. What do you want me to do? Wash the dishes for a month? Trim the hedges? Mow the lawn? Whatever you want, I'll do it."
"What I want is for you to go to this camp," said Photo's mother gently. A young filly was now wrapped around her mother's leg. "Yes, yes, I'll get dinner on the table in just a second." Two younger colts laughed as they dashed between Photo and her mother, one of them carrying a small Power Ponies action figure. "Besides, I already paid the bits."
"Whatever," said Photo, turning her back to her mother. She trotted to her room and slammed the door.
"Photo, why aren't your bags packed?" Her mom had entered her room. She opened the curtains, and early morning light streamed through the window. Shaking her head, she weaved around the floor, cluttered with various bits of camera equipment and photo paper. From the closet, she withdrew a black duffel bag, and tossed it towards Photo Finish, who dozed on the bed. Her mother shook her gently. "Wake up. The carriage gets here an an hour."
Photo rose out of bed and rubbed her eyes, adjusting to the sunlight. What time was it? "It's too early, Mom."
"You'll have to wake up this early every morning at camp. Maybe even earlier." Her mother spoke with excitement. Maybe too much. She wasn't even the pony going to this camp. Photo was. Photo Finish groaned.
"Why, mom? Why are you making me do this?"
"You'll have fun. I went to this camp when I was young too. Got into all sorts of trouble." She winked before picking up a small camera. "You can even bring this with you. I know how much you love to take photos." Photo pulled off the comforter and moved slowly towards her mom.
"Don't touch. You might damage it," she said before swooping the camera out of her mother's hoof. But her mother had a point. She'd taken many, many photos of Canterlot and its residents. She looked down, and could scarcely make out the carpet near her bed, for there were so many photos that blanketed it.
Still, she didn't want to go. Didn't want to spend three weeks of summer outdoors with ponies who played in the dirt all day. But her mother had already paid, and there would be ample opportunities to take photos, even if it meant that she had to sneak away from the counselor. Without saying a word to her mother, she put the camera in a small carrying case and stuck it in the duffel bag. Her mother smiled.
Photo removed one of her favorite outfits from a dresser. It was a yellow sundress with sequins that shimmered in the light.
"You don't want to take that. It might get dirty." Photo's mother said this from the doorway. "The carriage gets here in half an hour. Make sure you're ready." The sundress returned to the darkness of the dresser just as quickly as it had been removed. Perhaps she wouldn't take any clothing at all. Many ponies, after all, almost never wore clothing.
She was ready. With the strap of the black duffel bag secured firmly between her teeth, she walked out into the common area, where chaos was unfolding.
Her little brothers were playing with Power Pony action figures again, the heroes in their hooves, their mouths making explosion sounds. The Hum Drum figure flew through the air and hit her little sister, the youngest member of her family. Her little sister started crying, and her mother quickly entered the room. She looked down at the figure on the ground, then at the boys, who now had Radiance and Fili-Second engaged in a mock battle. She sighed.
A knock at the door signaled the carriage had arrived.
"Wait," Photo's mother said. "I want to give you a hug before you go." Her hooves wrapped Photo in a warm embrace. "I also want to give you these." She pulled away, and held a pair of... glasses, or maybe goggles, out to Photo. The lenses were magenta, and obnoxiously large. "It'll be sunny out there."
These look so stupid, thought Photo. "Thanks Mom," she said, taking the goggles and burying them in her duffel bag where, hopefully, they would remain. A knock at the door again.
"Have fun, Photo!" her mother said, tending to a white filly, who was still crying.
Photo didn't look back as she opened the front door and strode through.
She stepped into the carriage, which was being driven by a bulky stallion, rather handsome. "Off to camp, are you?" said the driver.
"Yeah," replied Photo.
From the carriage, she watched as Canterlot disappeared behind her and was replaced by a dense thicket of trees. Even from the trail, she could hear the occasional chirping of birds or the skittering of squirrels as they darted through the forest. There was silence between her and the driver. The carriage rolled over the rough ground, and Photo was jolted by the occasional stone on the path. She placed her head in her hooves and sighed. Three weeks. Three weeks until she returned to Canterlot.
Photo could see the lake, the cabins. The carriage slowed to a halt. "Here we are," the driver said. And there she was. "CAMP SUNSHINE" read the sign, the letters crudely painted, almost illegible, in white. She looked around. Many ponies were coming in, most of them by ground. A few pegasi flew overhead, landing in the center of the arc of cabins.
And Photo didn't know any of them.
She stepped out of the carriage slowly, shakily. Were other ponies looking at her? Her hooves touched the soft dirt. She looked at her duffel bag, then at the carriage driver. "Don't worry. Your mom paid in advance," he said. Photo gave a sigh of relief. She felt around in her bag anyways, to ensure that she had brought the bag containing a meager amount of bits, for emergency use only. There was no reason to carry her riches with her, especially not here.
The carriage driver pulled away, and suddenly, she was alone. Through the gate, a line had formed at a short plastic table, where a light blue mare directed campers to cabins. Even from a distance, the lack of enthusiasm was obvious. With nowhere else to go, she trotted over to the line, surrounded by other ponies her age.
"I'm so excited!" she heard one of them say.
"This is a great place to get in touch with your natural element," said a yellow mare who wore large peace sign earrings and teeny tiny glasses, the lenses tinted pink.
A few minutes passed. Photo was now at the front of the line. The mare looked rather bored, and Photo didn't blame her. She looked behind her at the line, which had grown even longer. Definitely didn't blame her.
"Photo. Photo Finish."
The mare paged through papers stapled together at the top left corner. She flipped to the first page. The second page. "Ah. You've been assigned to cabin B, room two. It's that way." She gestured vaguely towards the left side of the cabin arc before calling out, "Next."
There were eight cabins in all, four for teenage mares and four for teenage stallions. Photo could already see that the cabins were quickly going to become co-ed without intervention. Pairs of mares and stallions moved together, holding hooves. She put her head down and trudged onwards.
Once inside the wooden structure, Photo looked up. The building was essentially a long hallway with rooms on either side. At the end, a square common area with three couches and a coffee table. It looked rather cozy.
Room two was on the right side, only a few paces from the entrance. The door was open. A purple mare was unpacking. "Hey there!" the mare said. "The name's Berryshine. Some people call me Berry Punch."
"Hi," said Photo timidly. The mare's exuberant energy was off putting. Berryshine stared at her expectantly. Waited. Then asked, "And you are?"
"Photo Finish. I assume you're from Ponyville?" She tried, failed, to hide the judgement in her voice.
"That's right," said Berryshine, unaffected by Photo's tone. "Let me guess, you're from Cloudsdale?"
Photo stood, unsure of what to say. Was this mare crazy?
Berryshine laughed. "I'm just messing with you." She extended a purple hoof towards Photo. "C'mon. It isn't an official meeting until we've shaken hands." Photo met her hoof, and they shook.
"Where are you actually from?"
"Home to some of the greatest, and most expensive, booze. I've only been able to get my hooves on Canterlot wine a few times but let me tell you, it's the greatest. I'm sure you already know that though." She looked at Photo's duffel bag. "You didn't happen to bring any by chance?"
Photo nodded her head to signal that no, she did not bring illicit alcohol into camp. She rolled her eyes and set the bag down on the bed, beginning to unpack.
Her belongings, save for the glasses, were loosely organized on her side of the room. Berryshine had left, probably in search of somepony else to bother with her spirited demeanor.
Photo had never had Canterlot liquor. Never had any liquor at all, really. She was not the type of pony who mingled at social events, even those in Canterlot. Many ponies knew her, but none knew her. Photo sat on the low cabin bed, an extra long twin mattress atop a wooden frame. Outside, other ponies were milling around, chatting or playing games. I should join them, she thought. But that was easier said than done. Instead, she scooped up a book, paperback. Daring Do and the Fashion Crusade. Reading books by Daring Do was one of Photo's guilty pleasures, and the one she had her nose in was one of her favorites.
"Hey. Photo Finish? Hello?" A purple hoof smacked the book out of Photo's hooves. The book hit the wall with a thud. "You weren't at dinner tonight. Don't tell me you're one of those egghead types who spends one hundred percent of your time reading and zero percent of your time interacting with others."
"I'm interacting with you right now, so..."
"Anyways, you can always sit with me in the dining hall." Berryshine paused before adding, "As long as you promise to leave the book here."
Berryshine looked at Photo's duffel bag. "Whoa. What are these?" She pulled out the glasses and put them on her face. "It's like I'm in a science fiction movie." When somepony was wearing them, the glasses looked even worse. "I AM BERRYSHINE," she shouted in monotone. "GIVE ME ALL OF YOUR BOOZE."
Photo bit her tongue to keep from laughing out loud. "Ha ha ha," she said sarcastically. "Now put them back in my bag, if you will." The glasses returned to the bag.
"Lights out is soon," whispered Berryshine loudly through a cupped hoof. "Do you know what that means?"
"I can go to sleep and wake up tomorrow one day closer to going back home?"
Berryshine stared at her. Shook her head. "We can use the cover of darkness to reach the stallion cabins. I scouted ahead, and there are some mighty fine stallions at this camp."
Photo said nothing.
"Unless you're into mares? Let's see, in this cabin..." Berryshine stared into space. "Room 4, room 13..." Where was this information coming from? "In cabin 1 there's room 2..."
"Stop," Photo said harshly. "I'm not into mares. I'm also not into casual flings."
"You just haven't tried it yet. C'mon. It'll be fun!" The lights went out. "You coming?"
Photo hesitated, felt her hooves twitch towards the door of her room, open a crack. "I'm alright."
"You're missing out." Berryshine smiled at Photo Finish, then crept out the door in an exaggerated stealthy crouch. Photo could see her through the window. It looked, more or less, like she was engaged in a covert operation. Which was stupid, because Photo could see at least three other ponies moving about openly in the darkness.
Yawning, Photo rolled over and faced the wall. After staring at the pattern of the wood grain for some time, she fell asleep.
When she awoke, she could hear the light breaths that indicated Berryshine had returned from her midnight expedition. The light that came through the window was gentle. Sunrise was Photo's favorite time of day. It was the lighting that she enjoyed the most. Quickly, she grabbed her camera and trotted outside. Already, the air was beginning to heat with the energy radiating from the rising summer sun. She put the viewfinder up to her eye, and that was when she saw him.
He had a muscular body and a shimmering, blond mane. His face looked as if it had been chiseled by a professional sculptor. He was just... standing there, letting the early morning sunshine bounce off of his coat. The camera clicked, and a bright flash followed.
The stallion turned in the direction of the flash, his confusion obvious. Photo's cheeks turned crimson, and she wished that she was wearing her mother's glasses.
He was still standing there. What should she do? Without thinking, she began to walk towards the stallion, her gait shaky.
"I didn't realize the paparazzi followed me to camp." He said this with a smirk, a smirk that sent butterflies through Photo's stomach. His voice was deep, handsome. "When my parents sent me here, I thought it would be quite the relaxing getaway, a retreat into the countryside." Photo was standing directly in front of him now. "One night and that's already been proven wrong. My roommate's snoring woke me up early this morning, and I couldn't go back to sleep. How uncouth." Inspecting him closely, Photo could see the shadows under his eyes.
A voice came from above, through the intercom. "Breakfast will be served in ten minutes. Don't be late!"
The white stallion started towards the dining hall. Halfway there, he turned around and looked at Photo Finish expectantly. She hadn't moved. Quickly, she joined him and they made their way into the hall together.
Being the first ponies in, all of the tables were empty. Photo touched a chair at the table closest to the door, but the stallion shook his head and nodded towards a table by the window, a square one with two chairs. Before sitting down, the two of them grabbed trays containing a bowl of oatmeal and an apple. Coffee was also provided in little paper cups.
At the table, the stallion said, "I'm sorry. I haven't even introduced myself. I'm Blueblood. Prince Blueblood of the noble class." Photo's eyes went wide.
Despite living in Canterlot, Photo Finish didn't pay all that much attention to the social happenings of the nobility who resided there. Relatively speaking, her family's status and wealth were average at best. Prince Blueblood was a name she hadn't heard before, a face she hadn't seen before.
"I'm Photo Finish." Blueblood took up a spoon of oatmeal, then let it drip back into the bowl. Not receiving a response, Photo asked a question. "Why are you at this camp then?"
"Why else? My parents made me, of course. 'Associating with normal ponies will be good for you,' they said. As if. I wanted to believe that it would be a positive experience but alas, nothing outside of Canterlot ever is." He scraped a hoof against the wood grain of the table, sending a few splinters and some dust across the table.
I can relate, thought Photo Finish. She stuck a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth and swallowed before saying, "I'm from Canterlot too."
Blueblood just stared at her. Then he started laughing. Laughing! "You? From Canterlot?" He paused, then asked, "What is your name again?"
"Photo Finish," she replied, growing annoyed.
"Ah. The camera makes sense now. Enjoy me while you can. This might be the one and only conversation you ever have with royalty."
After a beat of silence, Prince Blueblood picked up his paper cup of coffee. "At least they have coffee," He touched the cup to his lips and took a measured sip. *PFFFT* "What is this? Domestic beans? Whoever ground these should be fired? Doesn't everypony know that the only coffee beans worth drinking come from the jungles of Equestria?"
A staff member walked by, a pink pony with a flat mane. "I can assure you that those beans do, in fact, come from the forbidden jungle to the south."
Blueblood pushed his coffee aside.
Photo's coat was wet with the coffee Blueblood had spit out. Was this some sort of joke? Blueblood's personality, his comments, they were hard to believe, even with his royal status.
"Well the coffee tastes fine to me," Photo took a sip. It was only then that she realized that she'd never actually had a cup of coffee before. She tried to keep a straight face as she swallowed the bitter liquid, now made even worse by its lukewarm temperature. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Berryshine looking at her quizzically.
"Told you so," said Blueblood. He looked at everypony else. All the other campers were eating oatmeal and drinking the coffee. "Maybe you're from Canterlot after all, seeing as you have decent taste."
"I don't know. It's just hard to believe that you're from Canterlot when you look so..."
"Look so what?"
"Who styles your mane?"
Photo was angry now. "We're at camp! Does it really matter if my mane is styled or not? Look, I don't want to be here either, but I'm not going around being disrespectful!" She had pushed away the chair, and was standing now. Other ponies were looking at them. Without thinking, Photo took her cup of coffee and splashed it on Prince Blueblood. "Some prince you are. Learn some manners why don't you?" She stormed out of the dining hall, briskly trotting across the arc to her cabin.
In her room, she lay on her bed, attempting to read the Daring Do book again. She could see the words. Couldn't make sense of them though because of her sudden burst of anger. What was with that stallion? He insulted her, and based on what? Her mane? Ridiculous. Hoofsteps outside, then the creak of old door hinges as Berryshine stepped through.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah. Fine. Whatever," replied Photo.
"That stallion is a jerk, but I don't blame him. The royal life will do that to you."
"So? Just because you come from royalty doesn't give you the right to disrespect everyone else."
Berryshine was quiet for a moment. "I think he'll come around after a few days, and realize that while he's here, he's just like everyone else."
Photo Finish just scoffed. "Sure."
"Can we talk about how handsome he is though?"
"Never mind. The first group activity starts in fifteen minutes. We're supposed to go birdwatching out on the hill nearby. I'll let you in on a little secret though." She bent low and mock whispered in Photo's ear. "The binoculars are plenty good for stallion watching as well."
"Can't say that I've ever tried that," said Photo.
"Me and a few other girls are going to meet up beforehand. Care to join?"
"I still need some time to cool off." It was true, she was still seething, even as Berryshine distracted her.
"Okay. Come find us before we leave then." She trotted out. As Photo watched her move across the campgrounds, she saw Prince Blueblood's muscular, white body, still dripping with coffee, approach.
There was a knock at the door.