There’s nothing quite like being alone.
It doesn't matter where you are when you have friends to share the moment with, they say, but I say there’s no moment you can appreciate better than the one you keep to yourself. Is it so much a surprise, then, that when my parents asked me to look after their house out in the country, miles away from anyone, surrounded by nothing but wild forest and scrub bush, that I wholeheartedly agreed?
Of course, they were probably just doing me a favour anyway. My family all knew I preferred my own company, but since I’d just been laid off from my long-standing job (which didn’t bug me at all, by they way) along with my oldest friend, a guy I’d known since fifth grade, leaving the country, they probably thought I could do with some extra alone time. It was only one weekend, but one I’d looked forward to for months. One that I desperately needed, whether I liked it or not.
I woke up at exactly seven in the morning. No alarm ringing next to me, no college students banging on the walls of my little apartment in the city. Mostly because I wasn’t in the city, and I’d turned my alarm off. I had no job to get to, so what was the point of waking up early? I stared at the ceiling for ten minutes, not thinking about anything, before rolling over and willing myself back to sleep.
*”Heya Sunshine! It’s time to wake up!”*
By eight o’clock I was in the kitchen making bacon and eggs.
There was a silly little part of my mind that kept humming a tune I couldn’t place, but I drowned it out with the clanging of unfamiliar pots and pans. I couldn’t find the spatula, which made me really angry for some reason. What I could find were strange, exotic and expensive looking tools that looked more like they belonged in an operating room than a kitchen. Eventually I settled for a spoon as a substitute, and started frying up some breakfast. I steadfastly stared at the sizzling bacon, ignoring the oppressive quiet around me.
*”Play a song!”*
I don’t know exactly why, but I dropped the spoon and just about jogged across the house to the bar. I took a passing notice at how well stocked it was before plugging my phone into the sound system there. I noted the massive dent across the phone's back cover, remembering how, of all things, a horse had stood on it. I’d had a silly whim a few years ago, to try and learn to ride horses. Have no idea why I thought that would be a good idea-
Just then, the song started playing.
Her voice sounded high and clear, just before the first ‘Smile Smile Smile’ rang out. I quickly skipped the old song to the next one, some Beach Boys racket that sounded like Alzheimers all on its own. But anything was better than that other sickly sweet music.
“Ha! Too late, I’m here already!”
The soft clopping noise bouncing in time with the old Beach Boys song behind me froze me in place. I didn’t turn around or look; I didn’t care to. Instead, I shuffled ‘round and back into the living room, then on to the kitchen. She couldn’t stand the smell of cooking bacon, after all.
The bacon was burnt. I scraped it out of the pan into the bin before pouring myself a bowl of cereal. I preferred cereal anyway. The song cycled onto some music I preferred, a dark heavy metal beat that matched my mood to a tee.
“Hey!” her snout poked into the kitchen, scrunched up in distaste, “Can you put on a different song? This one’s all icky and sad, and I can’t use that little box thingy of yours with hooves!”
Her big baby-blue eyes smiled out at me, despite her words, and the oddly soft hoof she used to cover her nose at the lingering smell of seared meat. She stood expectantly in the doorway for a few seconds, still smiling at me with that implausible glee, before turning and opening the fridge. “Hey, you got any soda here? I’m thirsty!”
I ignored her. I walked through to the bar again, angrily slurping at my cereal. Of all the characters from all the shows I’d seen in my entire life, you’d think I’d get the super-badass ultra-soldier hero following me around my life, but no, I get the insultingly happy, sickeningly pink cartoon animal from a show I only watched for a while because I had nothing better to do. I watched it because, for that little while, being happy made sense. Then I remembered the real world, and turned the enchanting joyous crap off.
Only, she didn’t have a bloody off switch, apparently.
“Hey, this soda’s good!” I spun back and saw her guzzling a tall glass of cherry soda. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any cherry soda in the fridge. Or any at all, actually. I hated cherry soda.
“Put that down! That isn’t yours!” I shouted sternly.
She just giggled and dropped the glass onto a corner table before trotting up to my side, nuzzling me. “Oh, come on! Is that a way to say hello?”
I huffed and turned away, intent on not talking to her. As I walked out to the pool area, I stopped next to the sound system to change the song.
Come lunchtime, I was hungry again. The music was still thumping on, a bright electric beat that almost made me bob along with its tune. I didn’t, though. Instead I sat by the bar, sipping at a drink I’d poured myself from the frankly overstocked fridge. The bitter whiskey warmed me as I frowned at her dancing on the carpet. She’d been doing that since the music change, and singing too; I’d been playing some of her old favourites. She still said, every now and again, that my music was ‘weird’. I always bristled and asked her what the hell she meant by that. And she always answered the same way;
“It doesn’t suit you, silly! You listen to dark and scary, but you’re not dark and scary! Even if you think you are.”
I don’t know what she meant. I’m not dark and scary at all. I’m not happy and bright either. I’m…well, I don’t really know what I am. And she didn’t either. So I just sipped my drink that I didn’t actually like, and watched her with some unrecognizable emotion as the damn pony in front me started dancing on my parent’s couch. Just to spite me, my mouth started twitching towards a smile.
“Hey, come dance with me!”
Her call caught me by surprise. I raised an eyebrow and stared at her before saying, “How, exactly? You got four legs. I don’t know how to dance on four legs. I only have two.”
She didn’t miss a beat, standing up on two legs and wobbling somewhat rhythmically around the floor with an ever wider grin on her rosy face, “Don’t worry about it, see? I’ve been practicing back home!”
I couldn’t help but look impressed. I didn’t know she could do that. “Huh, unexpected. But still, I’ll have to decline. It’s kinda weird to dance with yourself.”
“But you wouldn’t be dancing with yourself. There’s only one of you here, after all. And one Me, So the one you and the one Me could dance together! Even AJ could do that math!”
“Right,” I swirled the last of my drink around the ice in the bottom of the glass, adding, “Dancing with your imaginary friend is already considered weird, and make that a talking pink pony with ADHD, and you’re just begging for a psychologist.”
“Hey,” She dropped back to all fours and stared at me. Whenever she stopped moving, stopped smiling, I felt a pain in my chest I just couldn’t explain. “You’re doing that weird thing again, where you start talking to yourself. You can talk to me, rather?”
“Much the same, isn’t it?” I snickered dryly in to my drink.
“Come over here and dance with me or I’ll put cherry soda in everything you drink.”
I grumbled, but slammed the last of my drink and walked over to her side just as the song tapered off. She looked into my eyes, and I into hers. Well, I actually stared at her snout, wondering just how I managed to come up with such a detailed tulpa without even trying.
“You still don’t believe I’m real, huh?” She smiled sadly at me, scuffing a hoof against the ground as a slow melancholic piano tune started playing.
“Of course you aren’t real, you’re just in my head. S’why you always know what I’m thinking.” I said matter-factly. Every so often, when she appeared she would say something like this, and be sad. All I was waiting for now was for her to turn and walk away, and then when next I looked, she’d be gone. That’s just how it always went.
“You know what?” She said, suddenly sounding stern, “I’m not gonna go away this time, even if you don’t want me! I’m here because you need me, and I’m not going anywhere.”
I started to say I didn’t need her, that I wished she would leave me alone, or maybe get an actually cool fictional character to come bug me instead, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. So I just caught her as she jumped back up on two legs and wrapped her forehooves around my neck. For five minutes we moved slowly across the floor, around the lounge, then the dining room, then the kitchen and back to the bar. By the time we came back to where we started, her head was rested against my collar bone, and she sighed happily into my chest as the song came to an end. For that five minutes, all I could think was that her fur was extraordinarily soft for a mental image.
By evening we were sitting outside under the cloudy evening sky above where I was unwrapping a steak. The thunderhead had been rolling across the sky for the better part of the afternoon, but I’d hoped it would miss me; I’d been planning this for ages, a nice little barbecue for me, myself and I, where I could watch the sunset and eat the food as it was ready.
As the first few drops of rain fell, I clenched my jaw and started packing up my uncooked food.
“Hey, wait, maybe it will pass!” she cried hopefully from the other side of the pool. It was as far away as she could get from the raw meat in my hands.
I looked from the steak, to the pony. My friend, imaginary or not, and there, clearly uncomfortable. I felt a sudden pang of guilt. “It’s okay, I’ll just pack this up and clean my hands, then we can go inside and listen to more music, okay?”
“No no…” She said, weakly, “It’s okay, I know how much you like it, and you need this. I’ll…just stay over here.”
I looked at the raw steak. It glimmered wetly at me, tempting…but not really. I didn’t even like red meat, I preferred fish, or chicken. Was it worth the trouble of cooking the steak out in the rain, when I’d probably be just as happy with a sandwich? I couldn’t tell. It was the principle of the thing, my alone time to enjoy with me, myself and I. Although, to be honest, I didn’t really enjoy that either.
She wouldn’t be here I did, now, would she?
I stood and grabbed the steak and few other things I’d bought so that I could pretend to enjoy them, threw them back into the roasting pan and trooped them all inside, where I tossed them on the kitchen counter. Just another plan gone awry in a long string of hopes I didn’t really have…
“Hey! Please come back! I fixed it!”
Her voice sounded high, almost desperate. It wasn’t like her to plead. But it wasn’t like her to follow expectations either. I forgot about the meat and grabbed a packet of biscuits from under the counter, only pausing to make sure they were vegan. Then I dashed back out to the pool. Then I had reason to pause.
She’d somehow managed to drag the table over to the fireplace, and set up the pool umbrella that had been folded up in the corner over the cooking place at an awkward, but effective, angle. She stood on two legs, trying to pour a glass of that whiskey I always drank with her hooves, since she couldn’t stand the smell of it enough to hold it in her mouth.
“Hey, hey!” I dropped the biscuits on the table and grabbed the whiskey before she dropped it, and pushed her up into a chair. I screwed the cap back onto the alcohol and slid it across the table before turning back to the distraught pony, ‘What the hell were you trying to do, do yourself an injury?”
“No, I…I just wanted you to come back.” She sniffled, sitting perfectly still, “See? You can cook your food now, I don’t want to be trouble, I just wanted to cheer you up! And I know I can’t always be here, Twi would be mad if she found out, but I’ve been trying so hard to help you and I just can’t seem to get it right, and now I’m ruining your supper and you’re gonna hate me even more and…”
“Hey.” I poked her shoulder, “You’re doing that thing again, where you don’t stop talking.”
She stopped and smiled, giving a little sniffle before nodding at the bottle of whiskey, “S-sorry about that. That’s just what you always drink, so I thought…”
“Why don’t you go grab us some cherry soda, okay?” I smiled as brightly as I could, even though it felt brittle on my face. She nodded and leapt up, dashing inside and reappearing just and quickly, with the plastic bottle of cherry soda, two glassed, and…
“Chess!” She crowed, sliding the chessboard and all pieces, somehow perfectly aligned, in front of me. As she poured the two glasses of soda, she continued, “I know you don’t play much anymore, but I saw that picture in the hall of you when you were little – super cute by the way – when you were at some big fancy chess place! So you must enjoy it, right?”
“I...yeah.” I cut the denial off before it started. True, I hadn’t played in years, not since I’d lost that tournament, actually, but…I thought I might still enjoy the game. With the right company. I picked up the cherry soda and glared at it, waiting for it to give me diabetes. When I failed to go into cardiac arrest, I took a tentative sip.
It was delicious.
“Haha! Good game!” she clapped her hooves as her king toppled to the board. Ten games we’d played. Neither of us remembered all the rules, and really we’d just been moving pieces at random while we talked. She’d told me about some big event coming up in her life back home, and I told her about my job, or lack of one, and my difficulties with college and other people. Frivolous things I realized, but she listened just as intently either way. I realized I hadn’t been paying her the same attention. Probably why I’d won every single game.
“Do you want a cookie?” She asked brightly, waving the packet of biscuits under my nose. I smiled and shook my head. I couldn’t stand the things, that I knew for sure, even if she had pretty much wolfed half the packet on her own, leaving the wrappers strewn everywhere. Anyway, I had a far more important question.
“Are you feeling better?” I asked, sipping another glass of soda. The stuff was addictive. I leaned back under the wilting umbrella as she giggled at me.
“Well, that depends. Are you?”
I took a moment to think about that. Actually think, not just stay quiet and wait for an answer to present itself to me. And suddenly, I was talking.
“I need to apologize to you. I…I still don’t think you’re real. You can’t be. I don’t know how or why you keep turning up, but…no matter how much I try to deny it, I like it when you do. You’re…happy. I don’t get a lot of happy. Or, maybe I do and I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s just me…” I paused and buried my chin into my chest, “I spend so much time trying to be what I think I’m meant to be, but you, you’re just, I don’t know…true? I’m sitting here acting like I hate people, like I like being alone, like I freaking enjoy whiskey, when I guess I really don’t. Or maybe I do, but…I dunno. I don’t know who I am.”
“Do you need to?”
I looked at her askance, but she just smiled benignly at me, explaining, “I think you do know who you are, but you try too hard. We all want to change the world on our own. I remember this one time, with my friends…many times actually…but we always learnt a lesson afterwards, just dressed up differently every time; You can’t do it alone. You just lose yourself if you try.”
She jumped out of her chair and sidled up to my side, leaning her head against my shoulder as I looked up at the clearing night sky. The rain had stopped.
“You got to let someone in sometime,” She added, staring with me at the stars. My eyelids grew heavier as she continued, “or else you end up twisted up in yourself, or what you think you should be, and then you aren’t just you, and you is pretty awesome, even if you are a little frowny.”
I tried to shake myself awake, but I didn’t want to move too much and disturb her. “After how mean I’ve been to you, I don’t think you can say that, but it’s nice of you to…It’s nice. Thank you.”
“You’ll learn that it’s true, one day. When you’re less frowny. I feel sorry for you guys; how can you learn what you’re good at when you can barely work out who you are?”
“Au contraire,” I muttered drowsily, “We can do anything we want. All you can do is throw parties and sing a lot.”
“And travel through time and space to cheer up angry aliens.”
I didn’t bother answering that time. I had suddenly realized something. I was sure of it, in the pit of my stomach, somehow.
“You’re not gonna be here when I wake up, are you?”
“I've already stayed too long,” she smiled sadly. She crawled up onto my lap and tucked her head under my chin. She was very warm, and light. And fading. Fading away. “But I’ll come back if you ever need me, I promise.”
She smiled, and closed her eyes, holding onto me as I slipped into sleep.
“And Pinkie Pie never breaks a promise.”
The next morning, I woke up in my bed. A flicker of panic flared in my chest when she wasn’t there, but then came realization; she probably was never there to begin with. I pulled myself out of bed and trudged downstairs. The steak was still on the counter, but there were no glasses on the table, no cherry soda in the fridge. There never was to begin with. I checked outside, just to be sure. The table there was where it was meant to be, the umbrella folded up in the corner, the fireplace still full of soggy ashes. I sighed and walked over to clean it up.
Something rustled under my foot. I stepped back and glared down at the offending piece of tin foil, daring it to disappear. I shut mu eyes, then opened them again and continued glaring. It was still there.
A single biscuit wrapper.