Disclaimer: “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is the intellectual property of Lauren Faust and Hasbro. This is a work of fiction based on this intellectual property with no profit intended.
The Masseur chapter 1: Discorded
I didn’t know what to think at first. Five minutes later, I was wondering if somebody had laced my food with drugs.
Last thing I remembered, I was sitting at a park bench, eating a choripan I bought from a street vendor and thinking about nothing at all. A blink later, I’m falling on my rump.
Ugly-middle-school instincts immediately kicked in, making me rise back on my feet in an instant, square myself and look around for potential attackers. Nobody was nearby, but I remained weary, looking around for people hiding behind trees and bushes.
In natural sequence, my professional instincts then kicked in, making my hands dance over my vest and holsters, pulling out and checking my notebook, then my primary camera, my two flashes and my wide-angle lens. It wasn’t until I was reaching back for my tripod that my surroundings really kicked in: ‘Where’s the park?’
I now actually opened my eyes and saw around: there were disperse patches of trees surrounded by grass, but there were no paved walkways or benches or even bare-earth trails, let alone the joggers, people walking pets and screaming children that had surrounded me just a few minutes ago. In fact, there wasn’t a single sign of human activity other than the half-eaten choripan at my feet.
Now spooked, and wondering if my choripan might have been drugged and I had been dragged and abandoned here, I began checking my various timekeeping devices:
My watch was reading 11:12AM, some ten minutes after the last time I had checked it, right before buying the choripan. The date was right, too.
I got the same result with my mobile phone, even if the time was off by a minute.
My primary camera agreed with my phone.
My secondary camera agreed with my watch.
I didn’t bother pulling my notebook, preferring to go back to my phone and check something else on it.
It had no signal.
Remembering about my phone’s almost forgotten functions, I fiddled with the menus and turned on the GPS receiver.
After standing there for a few minutes, I became convinced that my phone was really not finding a single satellite.
I knew at this point that I was simply screwed, so I kneeled down and inspected my fallen lunch. Thankfully, the wrapper had mostly saved it, so I picked it up, spat the first bite off the exposed side and ate the rest quickly: if I’m suddenly on some survivor situation and not even the GPS is working, then I have no idea when will I be getting my next meal.
Thinking about it, I then carefully licked the wrapper and folded it, thinking that the aluminium foil could perhaps prove useful at some point. Then I began inventorying the stuff on me, other than my photo equipment and wallet:
1) Here’s that novelty multitool I bought a few months back. After carrying around a Swisschamp for the better part of two decades, I decided I might find better uses for some real pliers and a mini tripod than for two saw blades, a micro-chisel and a fish scaler. You know, real survival tools.
Face: meet fist.
2) Three plastic bags from various supermarkets. You don’t want to be caught in the rain without a plastic bag to put on your camera, after all.
3) My pack of cigarettes, with a lighter! I may not smoke, but being ‘the buddy who always gives me a smoke’ has me listening in to a dozen rumour mills. Furthermore, being ‘a friend of a friend who’s a reporter’ has made careers, and while I haven’t struck big so far, my various ‘smoking buddies’ have already repaid handsomely by giving me a big rumour or pulling me through a backdoor.
Today, though, I’m happy enough with being able to make fire.
4) A set of dices. Specifically, I have two d20’s, two d10’s and six d6’s. Oh yeah, I had a D&D appointment for tonight.
Well, I guess they’ll take the pressure off choosing at random.
5) My key ring has a mini-torch. And I believe this is the last relevant article in my little inventory, other than ‘The Mysterious Island’, by Jules Verne, in my inner wallet pocket: perhaps the world’s most useless survival guide!
Well, gaining nothing more from staying where I had appeared, I resolved to go looking for high ground, then think what to do from there. So I picked a direction at random (helped by rolling high on four d6’s) and started walking.
I wasn’t disappointed: something like ten minutes later I found a dirt trail cutting through the grasses. Glancing both ways and finding nothing of special interest either way, I rolled another dice and turned left.
The trail didn’t disappoint: some fifteen minutes later, it had deposited me at the base of this nice-sized hill which, miracle of miracles, had no trees whatsoever! I climbed it quickly and looked around.
My bare eyes didn’t reveal anything of interest (except for a few pink clouds that I preferred not to think about), so I set up my tripod, then removed the hot shoe from my secondary camera, put in on my primary and began making good use of my zoom lens and a polarizing filter.
There! On the side of that lone mountain, I’m clearly seeing a castle!
Well… ‘Clearly seeing’ being relative through at least fifty klicks of atmospheric haze, but the sky-blue backdrop lets me unmistakably see the silhouettes of spires and towers jutting out from some building surrounded by a perimeter wall. Clearly pre-cannon warfare, and the longer I watch it, the more I think that it could have come out of Walt Disney’s head.
I removed my sight from there and continued scanning the horizon for some fifteen more minutes, but that one was the only man-made feature I could see in this otherwise untouched landscape. The occasional hill potentially hiding something of interest didn’t help, but at this point I hoped that wouldn’t be problematic.
With a destination now in mind, I walked down the slope and began reversing down the trail that had brought me here. I know some people would feel frustrated about having taken the wrong turn, but not me: an hour ago I was wandering, and now I’m going somewhere.
And I might have a two days hike ahead of me and no food or water on me, but I have had worse, even if not in recent memory. Besides, these lush forests and grasslands must hide creeks, so I’ll have water and perhaps even fishes.
Besides, the terrain’s anything but flat. These valleys could hide entire towns. This trail may not even lead me anywhere near that castle, but it’s too wide to be a game trail. One way or another, it’ll lead me to a human settlement.
In the end, I’ll be fine.
About half an hour later, I was surprised to notice that the dirt trail had suddenly turned into a sky-blue/royal-blue checkerboard. And it had turned into that like from one moment to the next! Looking behind me, I also saw that the trail behind me had turned into checkerboard as far as the hilly terrain would let me see.
Kneeling down, I saw that it was still the trail, but it had turned into the colours. I even picked up this pebble that was cerulean on one side and royal blue on the other, then tossed into a darker square and saw it turn completely royal blue the moment it hit the ground.
I wondered if it might have been a bad idea to eat the rest of that hot dog, but shock myself and started walking again. I tried to just focus on travelling and not think, thus noticing, but not fussing over the next hours the trail’s texture turning into rubber, the sky turning pink or a bunch of tutu-wearing buffalos flying by overhead.
Okay, I have to be honest: I wasn’t fussing, but I was still scared all the way to chicken shit! It came almost as a relief when this pink haze came zooming from ahead on the trail, enveloped me and turned my skin bright pink! But then, rather than be appalled, I seemed to lose the ability to remain serious and began making light of my situation. It was just like being continuously given a moderate dose of laughing gas, resulting in me being unable to remain serious, but at the same time not quite falling into hysterics.
It was on this over-cheerful state that the trail had me go around a hill and enter this village populated by Technicolor ponies!
I wasn’t in the most logical frame of mind, so I began hanging out and laughing it out as the town slowly devolved from a regular town into some opiate vision straight out of Salvador Dali’s head. I pulled my primary with the zoom lens, pulled my secondary and its wide-angle lens and began taking pics with utter glee.
I was trying a tricky zoom effect on an upside-down building floating overhead when I noticed that I had an onlooker that wasn’t hiding indoors. Turning around, I noticed this guy on a Hawaiian shirt and sipping a drink who was watching me work with a half-interested, half-amused demeanour. It came to me almost as an afterthought that the ‘guy’ seemed to be a Chinese dragon composed of a horse head and a mismatched menagerie of animal body parts. When this registered, though, I slipped a flash on my secondary, turned on and flipped forward the screen and began shooting at him.
He seemed to relish on the attention, giving me all sorts of cheesy poses and pulling all sorts of props out of ether: first he just pulled a straw hat to polish his Hawaiian outfit, but soon after he pulled a tailcoat, top hat and pimp cane (followed by a 1930’s tap rendition), then a full plate armour topped with him brandishing a herring, then a beehive-shaped blond wig and a pink flowery dress. I was having a great time with our impromptu photo session, partly because of his cheesy posing, partly marvelled at the raw fact of it being not-human, but also because I have worked previously with magicians and other performers and had never previously seen anybody with the ability to change costumes so thoroughly, so rapidly! Somehow, I didn’t really catch the fact that he really was using magic to change until I noticed his next outfit: brown shaggy wig, baggies and surf board, complimented by a full studio setup of a huge kiddie pool, a cheesy beach scene background, sun-bounce reflectors and a special effects fan as big as a large bike! Should I mention that I actually saw the whole setup shimmer into existence right in front of my eyes?
The low roar of a generator coming on behind the canvas and powering up the fan came up almost as an afterthought…
Anyway, I adjusted the reflectors, took my place and began shooting: being astounded is not something I ever let win over my professionalism, and I don’t think that my current happy-go-lucky demeanour would have really let my jaw hit the ground. Besides, this model was a dream-come-true!
Acid dream notwithstanding…
We did the shooting, both having a load of fun, until the draconic dude stepped off the surfboard and summoned a replica of my secondary, lens and flash included. I immediately stuck a ridiculous pose, but then felt like falling on my rump in laughter: while I know that a Canon EOS T4i is quite novice friendly (if properly set), it was quite clear that the dude didn’t even know how to turn on the camera. I stepped forward and helped him to get the camera going, first uncovering the lens and turning on the camera, then turning on the display into live-view mode, removing the definitely-not-novice-level flash and turning the camera into full-auto mode, and finally giving him a quick tour through the fine art of timer self-portrait.
My planned five-minute lesson rapidly evolved into a full-blown tutorial. I mean: I have had many opportunities to teach people how to squeeze a little more out of their cameras, but this dude seemed to just soak knowledge and learn on the first or second try, which was even more impressive if you consider that even hours later, we still couldn’t understand more than twenty words in common.
Something else that I just had to denominate as cool is that the dude seemed to really be able to do magic. I mean, the guy continuously kept pulling more and more stuff out of his hat: first he got his own tripod, then he started pulling all sorts of lenses on demand, whenever we reached the most I could teach with the equipment we already had on hand: he first pulled a fisheye when I was showing him the differences between normal and wide-angle; then he pulled a telephoto when I was showing him how to use zoom, and then I think he just wanted to amaze me, because he first pulled a super-telephoto as long as my arm, then he pulled a Sigma “Bigma” ultra-telephoto zoom! That last one just got me salivating: I had only ever seen it on magazines, a thirty-two grand, sixteen-kilogram, high-speed autofocus monster that can it look like you were there inside the racetrack, standing on the surf or on the next mountain over!
Quite frankly, I think that he may have been reading my mind to a degree. Come to think about it, I think now I know how comes he was learning just so incredibly fast.
Anyway, we kept at for around a whole afternoon (not counting him every now and then snapping his fingers and making Sun and Moon switch up in the sky), until he saw that I was just exhausted, so he conjured me a picnic basket, then stuffed the two biggest pockets on my vest with gold coins and shock it with me.
I was kind of disappointed at how abruptly he departed, but I rolled with it, shock him claw back and began following him with the Sigma and a super telephoto we had been playing with the last half hour.
He just walked to the centre of the valley down the hill and conjured a whole lot of stuff, then conjured a throne in the middle of it and sat down, like he was trying to make himself look like he had been busy. Not a minute later, these six ponies ran around me and met him down in the valley, then he conjured a target on his chest, they shot him a rainbow and he seemed to make a show of how painful it was to receive the ‘attack’ that he had opened his chest to receive.
And then, the rainbow transformed into a white dome that began shining incredibly hard. I had the presence of mind to turn the cameras away even as I shut my eyes from the sudden burn on my left eye. Keeping my eyes averted, I began to blindly blink, just trying to get the stars out, until I felt how the floor went missing under my right foot!
Well, my foot fell a grand total of a half-inch, but that was still unsettling… no pun intended: falls are the most common reason of equipment damage, and falling is definitely no fun when you are wearing and/or minding several grand in equipment! So I looked down and found that the tile I had been standing on had suddenly gone missing, reverting into grass. Even as I looked, another one nearby puffed away.
A loud splashing noise made me turn back: the kiddie pool had suddenly disappeared, releasing a small flood that the surfboard rode a few meters before both the water and the surfboard both turned into aether. The corny beach backdrop fell to the floor before disappearing as well. The generator went away, somehow making the extension cord start slipping into aether like a lit fuse, eventually reaching a print station we had on a marquee and making it and its entire contents blow away, except for dropping my notebook unceremoniously on the grass.
I can be slow at times, but sometimes I can add two and two without getting a five. Thus, I turned around again and tackled the two tripods down, rolling on the way down and using my own body to protect them from the impact. My frame of mind was simple: “If the Sigma goes anywhere, I’m coming with it!”
Ugh! Have I ever mentioned that the Sigma lens weights more than my niece? Can I also mention that the heavy tripod feels sharp against the ribs? Well, I wasn’t too happy, but I still clutched the two cameras, two lenses and two tripods with my whole body, like they were babies that would be torn from my arms any second.
First it was the super telephoto: it suddenly started shaking. I clutched it as hard as I dared, and after an endless couple of seconds, it settled down again. Next came the guy’s camera. Then came the heavy tripod. Then, the Sigma…
Once this last one settled down, I released a breath that I didn’t know I had been holding. I released the equipment, belatedly remembered to turn off the cameras and the Sigma, and sat up, watching as the light show eventually died down a few minutes later.
And so I had my first look at this place, without the place looking like something out of some surrealist’s canvass: it was some quaint, idyllic little village, normal except for the tons of free-ranging, Technicolor, Shetland ponies, and the apparent lack of inhabitants.
“Wait! Didn’t I just spend an afternoon teaching a dragon-horse-something how to take pictures?”
And then I actually looked at them, and after a few seconds I understood: the ponies are the inhabitants of this town. After all, I have never seen livestock have hushed conversations while looking at me, point at my stuff and me when they think I’m not looking, and bombard me with all sorts of negative emotions rather than just fear, anger and/or indifference.
So I began packing up the stuff, thanking that the Sigma’s and the heavy tripod’s carrying cases had stayed here along with their charges. So I slept the night there, sleeping under the starts for the first time in, I don’t know, like a decade.
Come morning, I was woken up by something prodding my leg.
Upon opening my eyes, I found that a winged pony in brass Roman-looking plate armour had prodded me, wearing a pretty displeased expression. Sitting up, I saw that several copies of him apparently surrounded me.
I didn’t need to understand their language when the first one growled something at me: I could easily guess that I was now detained.