• Published 23rd Oct 2011
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Whiplash - Molotov Cocktail



A motorcyclist is struck by lightning. He awakens on the verge of death in a very strange land.

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Chapter 7

November 30, 2013
1700 Hours
Zambar, Sabari District, Khost Province, East Afghanistan
US Army PFC Patrick Wilcox
187th Infantry
Charlie Company

It had been an uneventful, unmounted patrol through the small, humble Afghan village of Zambar. Every now and then, NATO troops would patrol the villages surrounding their Firebases. The commander in this area was really getting on the 187th Infantry’s ass about “connecting with the locals.” Private First Class Wilcox declared, for lack of a better word, that it was a load of-

“-Bullshit,” Patrick stomped through the muddy streets, wetted by a recent and rare monsoon.

“You got that right, man,” PFC Nguyen grunted.

“Come on, guys,” Specialist Reyes shook his head. “How are the people here supposed to like having us around, unless we actually show them we’re not out to kill everybody?“

“Maybe when they stop setting up IEDs on the roads we drive on,” PFC Thornton replied.

“Or when they stop cursing at us in Arabic every time we walk by,” Patrick said.

“Every village is the same. They know that we know that they know the Taliban are here,” PFC Campbell retorted.

Reyes nearly tripped over a round object that had made its way under his foot.

Jose looked up. A group of children, wearing simple, poor robes, were playing soccer in a side yard. The Specialist slung his M4A1 and kicked the ball back to the kids, who started chattering in Arabic. Jose simply smiled.

“What?” PFC Green, along with PFC Campbell and PFC Armistead, broke ranks to observe the children’s gestures and exotic language.

“What are they saying?” Louis asked.

“They want us to play with them!” Jose laughed. “See? This is the perfect chance for us to really connect with these people!”

Jose’s fellow soldiers exchanged uncertain glances. It had become an unspoken fear: Being around a group of Afghans brought the threat of a suicide bomber.

“Oh come on,” Jose dropped his rifle and took off his helmet. “Commander Dicks-for-Brains told us to connect with the locals, so let’s do it.”

“Fine,” Patrick dropped his rifle and unhooked his gear, becoming eerily aware of his surroundings with no body armor or weapons at close reach. The children had set up two buckets on each side of the lot to act as goals. Six United States Army soldiers versus a handful of Afghani children. You don’t really see that every day.

And the villagers knew that. Many had begun to gather to watch the game unfold. The children, small and quick, darted between the soldiers’ legs. What had seemed like a chore had turned into a cheery and friendly soccer match. Even though most of their audience was rooting against them, they were laughing and smiling.

Everyone was. The kids, the soldiers, even the adults and tribal elders that had come to watch. After the children scored a fifth goal against them in a row, Charlie Company decided it was time to throw in the towel.

“Alright, we give up!” Jose addressed in Arabic. The crowd, as well as the children laughed. Gradually, everyone dispersed. Patrick was busy hooking his body armor back on, when he felt a tug on his pants leg.

He spun around. A small girl, wearing a veil over the top of her head, spoke softly in Arabic after lifting a white flower, freshly picked from a crack in the pavement, up to the soldier’s face.

“Shokran jazeelan,” she smiled.

Patrick was speechless. Since his arrival to Afghanistan, all of his interactions with the Afghan people involved being rebuked in Arabic, and having trash thrown in his face. A month ago, someone emptied a chamber pot onto him from a window as he walked by. Ryan and Jose had to hold him down to keep him from retaliating.

He smiled, and took the flower, tying the stem around a loose strap on his tactical vest. Patrick undid his wristwatch. It was a cheap piece of rubber and plastic, something you could probably buy at your local department store for five bucks, but it was like a diamond in the child’s eyes. He strapped it around her wrist.

“Shokran,” Patrick replied to her, and stood up.

“Okay! Woah, ha ha, don’t touch that!” Jose laughed as one of the children tried to hold his rifle, quickly snatching it away. “Alright bye! Bye!”

“Shoo, go back to your mother!” Ryan laughed. “Okay, okay, get out of here!

Many children lingered around them, begging for candy and the chance to hold their rifles.

Eventually, they were able to shoo them away and continue their patrol.

“See, guys?” Jose shrugged his hands. “Told you.”

“Maybe everyone around here isn’t so bad,” Spencer answered.

CRACKKKK KATHOOOOOMmmmmmm!

Charlie Company frantically stacked up against a wall as an overwhelming, giant explosion rocked Zambar. A cloud of smoke loomed in the distance.

“Uh, Bravo-Two Actual this is Charlie-Two. We just had a large explosion in the northwest end of Zambar. What’s going on, over?” SPC Reyes held his hand to his radio headset.

There was a brief lapse in communication.

“Charlie-Two, we’ve just received word from Bravo Company that a car-bomb was detonated about half a click from your position. We’ve got one wounded, zero KIA.”

“Roger, we’re on our way, Charlie-Two out,” Jose let his hand drop.

“It’s gonna be a good day, boys,” Jose threw his hands up with fake enthusiasm.

"Oh, fuck,” Patrick shook his head. “You know when he says that, he thinks the shit is going to hit the fan.”

Patrick stepped around a spot of mud on the street. “I mean, what the hell are we doing here? We’re not even Rangers, we’re just grunts.”

“Yeah, no kiddin’,” Louis trudged behind PFC Wilcox in formation. “Remember when our recruiter said we’d be sitting around, drinking the finest Afghan booze and smoking the dankest Afghan herb?”

“Ha!” Spencer replied sarcastically. “Maybe, if we’d have all stayed in Atlanta, we’d be passing a round a big, fat joint and a bottle of Smirnoff right now, instead of getting stuck in this shit hole.”

“United States government: one. Us: zero,” Joe whined.

“Stop your bitching and do your job,” Jose instinctively glanced around the rooftops and alleyways before advancing around a street corner, his fellow soldiers in pursuit.

“Yes sir, mister Squad Leader, sir,” Joe commented sarcastically.

“Maybe you could learn a little something about doing your job from a Mexican,” Patrick teased PFC Campbell. “You ni-“

“Say it, and I’ll pop a cap in your ass, white boy,” Joe barked.

“Neeeever mind,” Patrick replied playfully.

It wasn’t long before they reached the site of the car-bomb explosion. Bravo Company had set up a perimeter while they waited for Charlie Company. The open space in the street was shrouded in dust from the explosion, settling sluggishly.

Bravo Company’s medic was dressing a wound against a soldier’s neck. His arm was in a splint and his leg elevated against a sandbag on the ground.

“Tripwire,” the commanding officer explained. “Could have been set off by anybody. Even some kids running around.”

“Somehow,” Jose shook his head. “It doesn’t surprise me tha-“

CRACKKKkkkkkk!

Patrick’s adrenaline surged through the back of his head, seemingly slowing down time briefly. A soldier examining the wreckage of what used to be a car dropped to the ground in slow motion, as a spray of red and white burst from his helmet.

“Shit, sniper!” Joe screamed. The two companies of US troops scrambled to cover and took up defensive positions. It was obvious what the Taliban was attempting to do, and it happened to so many unfortunate NATO souls all across tribal Afghanistan.

A car bomb with a tripwire would be rigged where US troops patrol. After it was triggered, all troops in the area would come running to investigate. Once all their victims had neatly assembled for them, Taliban snipers would pick off as many Americans as they could before they were sent to meet their “72 virgins.”

“Dragunov!” a Bravo Company soldier shouted over the radio. “Southeast, second story window!”

Another gunshot, this one from a different direction, burst across Zambar. Its local residents fled to safer ground.

“Shit, there’s another one! Third story spider hole, southwest!”

Patrick, Jose, and Joe were stacked up against the southeastern wall of the building the sniper had perched.

“Louis, blow his ass up!” Jose barked. Louis nodded, and undid a fragmentation grenade from his tactical vest. He removed the safety pin and squeezed the trigger.

“Now! Covering fire!” Jose screeched. Charlie Company rose from their cover and began firing upon both buildings.

RA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA-TA

Deafening, automatic 5.56mm assault rifle fire rattled the small village.

CRACKKKkkkkkk!

The Taliban sniper, surprised at the sudden burst of fire, missed his shot.

“Fire in the hole!” Using the covering fire to his advantage, Louis lobbed the ball of metal as hard as he could into a second story window almost a block away. Less than a second after landing, it detonated and caused most of the second floor of the flimsy, aged building to collapse in a puff of smoke and shrapnel.

“Shit,” Joe punched Louis on the shoulder. “Nice throw.”

“I honestly didn’t think it was going to make it, either,” Louis shrugged as the gunfire died down.

CRACK-PINGGGG!

Jose’s head jerked back and he collapsed to the dusty pavement.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” Joe, Patrick, and Ryan dashed over to Jose’s body as they pulled him to cover.

“Is he…?" Joe held his breath.

Jose’s desert ACU-printed helmet was dented in just above his right eye. The metal had cut into his forehead, but it deflected the sniper’s bullet. The impact had smashed the lens of his goggles strapped to his helmet.

“Lucky son of a bitch,” Spencer helped Jose up.

“Snap out of it man, you’re good,” Patrick patted him on the back, but Jose was traumatized, running his hand over the dented part of his helmet.

CRACKKKKKK

“We’ve still gotta take care of that sooner or later,” Ryan nudged Patrick.

Ryan led Charlie Company from cover to cover, where they met with Bravo Company behind street corner a block from the sniper’s position. Jose, badly shaken, had to be left with Bravo Company.

Bravo Company sent waves of suppressing fire as Patrick, Ryan, Joe, Louis, and Spencer dashed through the street and stacked up against the door.

"It could be booby-trapped," Spencer warned.

Everyone was aware. But after this sniper had killed one of their own, and almost pegged Jose, it got personal.

“Pat, you lead,” Ryan said. Patrick nodded.

He waited until the sniper tried to make another shot at US troops, and using the cover of the soviet sniper rifle’s characteristic discharge, he kicked in the door. It reduced the slab of wood to scrap and splinters.

It was dark inside the Taliban’s hidey-hole. Dusty beams of sunlight fluttered down from barred windows, almost resembling a prison.

As they climbed the stairs to the third story, Patrick had picked out a trip wire set up in the stairway, connected to the safety pin of a hand grenade. It only added to his anxiety, but they pressed on, stepping as quietly and carefully as they could.

Occasionally, shots still rang out from above and below. When they finally reached the third floor, Patrick could smell gunpowder. The sniper was definitely around here somewhere.

Each gunshot appeared to be leaking out of a slightly ajar door. Patrick stacked up against it, his friends doing the same.

“Breach!” Joe hollered, and Patrick kicked in the door. A very surprised sniper, sporting a red and white turban covering his entire face, spun around from his perch against a window, swinging his rifle around towards Patrick.

Patrick placed his illuminated crosshair on the Taliban sniper, and mercilessly opened fire. Ear shattering blasts filled the small, contained space. There was no sympathy for someone who had just tried to kill his best friend.

The sniper dropped to the ground, miraculously still breathing, but disabled. Patrick’s friends stood around the Taliban sniper, who was trying to reach for his rifle, but lacked the strength to do so.

“Should we, you know...?” Ryan stuttered, as he unhooked a combat first-aid kit from his tactical vest.

Joe shook his head. Even though a turban cloaked the sniper’s face, his eyes spoke only anger, murder, and Jihad.

Patrick withdrew his Beretta M9, and cocked it to fill the chamber. His fellow soldiers nodded.

PFC Wilcox stepped forward, the sniper’s eyes glowing with a brainwashed rage. The young soldier took no joy and what he was about to do.

Patrick lowered the hammer, and took aim directly at the masked gunman’s forehead. He and the Taliban insurgent locked eyes. As he looked into those fleshy orbs, a cloudy, unwelcoming feeling pooled into his mind. If he didn’t know better, he’d say demonic voices were whispering in his ears.

Bravo Company, still securing the perimeter outside, heard the unmistakable sound of a 9mm execution.


“Hey!” Nurse Redheart called out to Patrick, bringing him back to reality.

Patrick blinked, and sat up on the bench in the nurse’s office.

“Huh?” Patrick looked around expectantly.

“I’ve been calling you for a couple minutes,” Nurse Redheart tapped her hoof.

“Sorry, I was just,” Patrick shrugged. “Day dreaming… I guess.”

“It’s alright. But we’re ready, come on back,” she led Patrick into a small operating room. Nurse Tenderheart was already present.

They laid him down onto an armchair, and adjusted it due to his size. They were ready to start the procedure.

Each stitch felt like a burning hot stake had stabbed into his chest. A bead of sweat dripped down Patrick’s face as he gritted his teeth in pain, fighting the urge to jump out of the chair.

He dug his hands into the hospital armchair, struggling not to need them to stop again. Every time he cried out in pain, Nurse Tenderheart and Nurse Redheart, with the assistance of a unicorn nurse he hadn’t met before, had to stop the stitching, and then start all over again when he thrashed his chest in pain and undid the stitches.

“Haven’t you guys ever heard of anesthesia?” Patrick said through clenched teeth.

“Yes,” Nurse Tenderheart dutifully put another stitch in his wound. “But we’re not sure if it would suppress the pain, or kill you, since we’ve only tried it on ponies.”

“Wouldn’t want that, now, would we?” Nurse Redheart jeered.

Finally, Nurse Tenderheart stood up and withdrew the needle. A six-inch line of spiky medical thread was visible just above the skin.

“Done!” Nurse Tenderheart clapped her hooves in emphasis.

Patrick let out a weak whimper and closed his eyes.

“Here,” Nurse Redheart gave Patrick a tube of some sort of medicine. “Rub this on the wound twice a day. It’ll help with any pain or discomfort associated from the stitches.”

Patrick pocketed the tube of medicine, and stood up from the chair, putting his shirt back on.

“Is something wrong?” Nurse Tenderheart zipped up a medical bag, and put assorted utensils away.

“No,” Patrick replied sarcastically, picking at the stitches. “I just got stitched without any anesthesia. Nothing’s wrong.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Nurse Redheart interjected. “Before you came in here, you looked like you’d seen a ghost.”

“W-why do you say that?” Patrick stammered, as dark thoughts crept through the back of his mind.

“Well, you just looked kind of flustered, was all,” Nurse Redheart shrugged.

“I-I guess,” Patrick tried to think of something. “I just don’t like needles. I-I was nervous about the procedure, that’s all.”

“Alright,” Nurse Redheart raised an eyebrow. “Just be careful, now.”

“And no getting into fights, young man,” Nurse Tenderheart wagged her hoof at him, like a schoolchild.

“Okay, mom,” Patrick replied sarcastically.

“She’s right,” Nurse Redheart led Patrick back outside. “Avoid causing stress to that wound, it could very easily rip out those stitches.”

“I could be going home soon, anyway,” Patrick sighed. “I’m meeting with Celestia and Luna tomorrow.”

“Really now?” Nurse Redheart’s eyes widened. “We’re going to miss having you around, if you leave.”

“Oh come on,” Patrick laughed. “I’m sure you’ll find another voodoo doll to poke needles into around here.”

Patrick departed the clinic, his movement feeling a lot less restricted now. He was a bit sore from the stitches, but they were necessary after he picked a fight yesterday. He had no one to blame but himself for that, trying to fight Grayburn with his injuries.

He withdrew a cigarette and held the filter in his mouth, cupping his hands around his lighter to shield it from the wind. As he inhaled, a familiar feeling of nicotine buzzed in his bloodstream, and calmed his spirit.

It was nerve wracking, showing his face around town after what happened yesterday. He could feel eyes on him, but ignored the irritating stares, focusing on just putting one foot in front of the other.

At least physically, the stitches strained his movement a lot less than bandages, but it was going to take some getting used to. And they were itchy as hell.

What really made today different, though, was the nightmare he had last night. Ever since his honorable discharge, he’d been having nightmares and flashbacks to his military career. But something was very peculiar about the one last night.

Not to mention, there was something different in general about his nightmares when he slept in Equestria. They were much more vivid, and they were very different than the ones he had before.

In his last nightmare, he was ambushed again, but this time he was alone. He could feel bullets impact him, but felt no pain, only extreme fear. Panicking, he’d fire his rifle on his unknown enemy, hiding somewhere amongst a black void.

Everytime he pulled his trigger, he received only a lazy click. Patrick even checked his magazine; it was full! So he ran. He ran into the nothingness, the infinite desert and black void around him. Bullets continuing to impact him, but they did not slow his sprint; they only injected feelings of extreme despair everywhere they touched to the sound track of his friends burning alive.

Patrick’s hands began to shake, just thinking about last night. He took a hit of his cigarette, and it ceased.

He remembered staring into his own eyes in the mirror, after jolting awake this morning. They looked tired, even battle-fatigued. But last night’s was no ordinary, run-of–the-mill nightmare, it was the worst one he’d ever had.

It didn’t surprise him that Nurse Redheart noticed he seemed visibly upset. But he couldn’t afford for anyone to think he was insane, he just needed to talk to these princesses, have them wave a magic wand, and send him home… Maybe.

The letter they sent back only stated the date and time of his royal audience, nothing more, really. For all he knew, they could have no idea how to send him back. But they controlled the sun and the moon, which was no small feat. Surely, they’d know a way.

His train of thought was interrupted as he noticed three familiar stallions, walking steadfastly towards him from a market stand.

Patrick’s chest went cold in fear, feeling like a small child about to be confronted by bullies.

Somehow, that hadn’t noticed him yet, busily conversing among themselves.

Patrick stepped back into a shadow cast by a building, leaning against a wall. He put his hands in his pockets, his head pointed towards the ground, but his eyes on the three thugs across from him. Blending in with the shadows, they passed him right by.

Patrick gave a sigh of relief, and continued walking after he was sure no one was following him.

He found his mind racing as he neared the library on a number of things. Anxiety took over his mind, dominating it with a pessimistic presence.

“No,” Patrick inhaled one last hit before tossing his short away. “I just need to clam down. The last thing I need right now is for everyone to think I’m crazy.”

Patrick turned the doorknob built into the gargantuan oak tree library, hearing faint sounds of activity and voices on the floor above. Stepping quietly, he ascended the stairs, but not completely. In the room right above his head, it seemed like some kind of meeting was underway.

“-And he was screaming pretty loud in his sleep last night,” Spike said. “I don’t know how much longer I can take having him around.”

Patrick sidled up against the trunk of the tree, stopping just before his head could be visible at the top of the stairs.

“Spike, Patrick doesn’t mean to. All that screaming is starting to get old to me, too, but we have to help him. Where else can he go?” Twilight replied.

So, he’s been screaming in his sleep every night? Patrick had no idea, but it made sense though, because of his nightmares. It made Patrick nervous, now feeling embarrassed to face them. He continued to listen in.

“Ah know Ah shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Applejack added. “But he shows up out of nowhere and don’t know where he is, don’t talk about himself, and killed a manticore with that canon he’s got. An’ that fight with Grayburn yesterday…”

Applejack was here too?

Right, they were supposed to talk about going to see Celestia and Luna today. How many ponies knew about all this? Why were they all going behind his back?

“You were there, too, Rarity” Applejack said. “What did y’all make of it?”

“I…” Rarity stuttered.

Patrick could tell she was obviously going to try and protect him, since he spilled his heart out to her yesterday.

“I think he…Erm… Was just defending himself! …From that ruffian. I don’t see anything wrong with that in the slightest. And he was only trying to protect your stand, Applejack. I think you’re misjudging the situation.”

“Patrick’s tough,” Rainbow Dash said. “Almost as tough as me. Even though he got his butt whooped, I still think its pretty cool he stood up for Applejack.”

“I think he’s super-duper fun!” Pinkie Pie chirped. “But, I mean, I’d be a Mr. grumpy-pants sometimes, too, if I got zapped into a world where I didn’t know anypony. Who would come to my parties?”

“And he’s nice, for the most part,” Fluttershy murmured. “Patrick never talks about himself, though. I asked him about what he did before he came to Equestria, and he just changed the subject. He definitely seems to be hiding something. Oh, not that I would know. I’m sorry.”

“Ah asked him the same thing,” Applejack said. “Ah am mighty thankful for him protectin’ mah stand yesterday. But anytime we try to get him to talk about himself, he starts makin’ stuff up. Trust me, Ah can tell.”

“I do believe you’re just being too hard on him about yesterday,” Rarity huffed. “He got hurt again, he was only going to see Nurse Redheart. I created him a magnificent pair of shoes yesterday, they really bring out his eyes. I hope you’ll get to see them when he gets back. He even offered to pay me for my services.”

“And he was really fun at the party!” Pinkie Pie said. “Everypony in town seemed to like him after that.”

“As long as you don’t mention that medal he carries with him everywhere,” Twilight sighed. “He has been a good house guest, though.”

“He may have good manners,” Spike grumbled. “But how long before he goes and turns into some kind of kung-fu zombie in his sleep? What if he hurts somepony?”

“Oh, Spike,” Rarity shushed him. “I’m sure Patrick would never do that… consciously…”

Patrick buried his face in his hands, contemplating what he should do. He had a royal audience with the Princesses of Equestria, and they wanted to try and help him. He’d been stuck here for more than a week now, counting the days he’d been in a coma, and to make things worse: The closest things he had to friends here were now afraid he was going to kill them in his sleep. Patrick cursed the day he signed that paper at the recruiting office. He hated everything about the Army now. The conformity, the ranking system, the barracks, the food.

And the Army had taken everything from him. His time, his health, his friends, and now his sanity. What did he have left?

It also irritated him that they were going behind his back about all this; but then he put himself in their shoes. A strange, alien creature who screams in his sleep is living with them, killed a monster, picking fights, but won’t even talk about himself? Sure, it’d be a bit nerve wracking.

Patrick quietly sauntered back up the steps, seemingly no pony noticing him as he emerged from the staircase carved into the tree. Patrick cleared his throat, and knocked on the wall to get their attention.

“Oh, hey, Patrick!” Rainbow Dash looked around apprehensively. “We were…” She examined Patrick’s facial expression. “Just… talking about you.”

“You didn’t happen to hear-“ Rarity’s ears lowered.

“Yeah,” Patrick lowered his head a little. “I did.”

He paused for a moment.

“Have I really been screaming in my sleep at night?”

“Yes,” Twilight nodded.

“The neighbors came over to check on us, one time. You do the math,” Spike said. Twilight was quick to scold him.

“I really didn’t know,” Patrick hung his head in shame.

“Oh goodness, what have you been dreaming about that would make you scream in your sleep?” Fluttershy said.

And, as usual, Patrick changed the subject.

“Listen, I really appreciate you all helping me until I can figure out how to get back home,” Patrick tried to smile, but it looked like he was trying too hard.

“I know I don’t belong here, I just want to go home. And I’m not going to hurt anyone, I would never do anything like that.”

“Aw’right,” Applejack threw her hooves in the air in frustration. “What’re you hidin’ from us?”

Patrick frowned, those words hitting him like an arrow. The hot-seat was not really where he needed to be right now.

He just needed to get away from everything.

Away from all the questioning ponies that wanted to know about all his problems, away from the nightmares, the staring ponies downtown, the paranoia, his memories of combat. And he still never got the answer to the question he’d been asking for a week now: What the fuck was he doing here?

Everyone stared at Patrick now. Feeling self conscious, he couldn’t bring his head up. The humility he felt overwhelmed him.

He rose to his feet, not making eye contact with anyone, and grabbed his Glock, motorcycle jacket, his helmet, gloves, and a spare pack of cigarettes out of the dresser he’d been keeping his things in.

“Where are you going?!” Twilight jumped in front of him, but the human just stepped around her and slipped on his gloves.

“I’m sorry,” Patrick simply shook his head.

The human quickly climbed down the steps, and picked up his helmet, staring at his own reflection in the tinted visor.

His eyes looked tired, and reeked of shame. Screw saving gas, he just needed to get away from everything for a little while. The questions nopony could answer for him still rattled around in his brain. What was he doing here? How could a lightning bolt strike him and send him here? Why isn’t he dead? Why does the dominant species here speak English? Why is everything a ponified rip off of human culture?

“Patrick, wait!” Applejack and Rarity tried to jump in front of the door as Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy watched, but there was no keeping the human in the library.

He withdrew his key from his pocket, and sat on his motorcycle parked behind the library. It had been sitting outside for a week now, if Patrick ever got home, he was going to meticulously scrub each and every inch of pollen covered metal and fiberglass with a toothbrush.

The six ponies burst out of the library, just in time to see Patrick start up his bike. The engine roared to life and let out a low growl. He shifted into first, and slowly let out the clutch while adding throttle.

Twilight dashed in front of his bike, staring into the tinted visor that hid his face and reflected the world around them.

“Just stay, we can help you! We’re going to Canterlot, even the princess wants to help. How can you just leave? Where are you going to go?!”

“I need answers!” Patrick lifted up his visor, and sped off in the direction of the Everfree forest.

Sweat began to fog up his visor temporarily. Even though his motorcycle gear was a bit warm for this weather, and Equestria didn’t have any helmet laws, the last thing Patrick wanted was to end up face down, arms, legs, and neck broken, in a ditch when he was still recovering from wounds and burns. All the gear, all the time. No exceptions.

As he gained speed, a small smile crept across Patrick’s face. He hadn’t ridden in days, due to him trying to be smart about his gas tank. But there was no point now. So what if he’d use up a gallon or two of gas today. He was fed up with everything at this point.

Patrick’s street tires were not made for dirt roads, they were dual compound. Meaning: They were hard in the center for increased tread life, then soft and sticky on the sides for better cornering. It made it difficult to find grip, and that subsequently sent him sliding around in the dirt several times.

“If only I had a dirtbike,” Patrick thought.

But this was more than enough for him. The wind in his face, the hum of the engine between his legs, the throttle responding to each ever so sensitive and precise flick of his wrist, the deep, throaty moan of his exhaust pipe. Everything that had been building up his stress seemed to melt away.

He hadn’t ridden in days, riding had always helped calm him down. His motorcycle was one of the few things left in life that truly gave Patrick joy.

Keeping a steady yet safe speed, to avoid spinning out his tires, he entered the Everfree Forest. He wasn’t exactly sure where the crash site was, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. If he remembered right, it had burned a hole in the middle of the forest, which wouldn’t be easy to miss. Patrick kept a close eye on his trip odometer, slowly the ones places creeping to the tens place.

The wildlife scurried for cover whenever Patrick approached. Squirrels hid on opposite sides of trees, and birds ceased chirping. A thin cloud of dust followed Patrick as his tires kicked up earth. Thick rows of coniferous and deciduous trees stretched as far as his eyes could see. Every once in a while, he’d come upon a clearing, inspect it, and find it was not the one he was looking for. Since he was unconscious when he was brought into Ponyville, he had no way of remembering the way.

Following his gut, Patrick continued down the main path, avoiding any side trails. Several times, gnarled branches and less-than-suitable road conditions forced him to walk his bike between the trees in some areas, but it was quite easy to traverse the woods since he had his bike.

Patrick slowed his motorcycle to a stop in a clearing and turned off the engine, putting down the kickstand. He dismounted his bike, scanning the woods for any predators. He had already stopped in five clearings, not a single one resembled the one that the lightning struck.

The human removed his helmet, and smacked himself in frustration.

“Ugh!” Patrick groaned. “Everything looks the same in this forest. It could have been down any of those other paths I passed. I’m never going to be able to find it at this rate.”

It was then that Patrick heard a familiar fluttering of wings. His gaze shifted upwards, scanning the treetops and the sky between the thick canopies of leaves.

Patrick crossed his arms.

“Rainbow Dash!”

All was silent, minus heat crackling off his exhaust pipe.

“I don’t have time for this!” Patrick called into the woods. “So just come out!”

Rainbow Dash guiltily slumped over in mid air, revealing herself from behind a tree.

“Yeah, Twilight sent me to follow you,” Rainbow Dash lowered herself to the ground. “Why’d you flip out back there?”

Patrick turned his back and lit a cigarette, taking a quick puff before responding.

“It’s complicated, okay?” he exhaled. “How’d you even know where to find me?”

“Um, duh?” Rainbow Dash flapped her wings.

“…Right,” Patrick rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, but I need to get going.”

“Going where?” she watched as Patrick tossed his cigarette butt away.

“I need to find out what I’m doing here,” Patrick strapped his helmet back on. “And so far, no one’s been able to tell me anything. Maybe I can find some clues back at the clearing I landed in.”

Aside from the use of “no one,” instead of “no pony,” What Patrick said made sense to Rainbow Dash. There was one thing that did not, however.

“But, I mean,” Rainbow Dash leaned a hoof against Patrick’s bike. “You can’t just wait until tomorrow, when we see the princess?”

“No,” Patrick shook his head.

“You reeeeally can’t just wait one day, instead of running around in a forest where monsters-“

“No, I can’t,” Patrick crossed his arms.

“Fine,” Rainbow Dash shrugged.

Patrick glanced around the woods for the hundredth time, half expecting another manticore, or worse, to jump out and maul him any second. He didn’t want to admit it, but Dash was right. The less time he spent aimlessly riding around the Everfree forest, the better.

“Listen,” Patrick took a knee down to Rainbow Dash’s level. “It’s really important I find that clearing. If you could spot it from above and tell me where to go, I’d really appreciate it.”

“I guess,” Dash rose into the air a few feet. “Wait here, I’ll find it in ten seconds flat!”

With that, she took off into the sky, circling the seemingly endless Everfree Forest where she had originally found Patrick.

Patrick waited, his hand ready to draw his weapon at a moment’s notice. After what seemed like an eternity, Rainbow Dash returned, a panicked expression on her face.

“It’s gone!”

“What?” Patrick gasped. “What do you mean, gone?”

“I mean,” Rainbow Dash struggled for words. “I remember the part the of the woods it was in, so I searched there. But there’s no giant gaping hole, no dead manticore, no fallen trees, no burnt ground, nothing!”

Patrick put his hands on the back of his head, taking all this in. He paced back and forth, trying to think of something. It had only been a week. Nature could not correct a clearing burned by lightning that downed trees, splatters of blood and scorched earth, and body of a manticore in a week.

The Everfree Forest, he had learned, was one of the only places in Equestria that ran on its own. The weather, plants, and animals were not taken care of by ponies. Unless the decomposition rate in the forest was extremely fast, there was no way everything could have been reclaimed by nature on its own by now.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Rainbow Dash’s eyes lit up. “I bet Zecora would know how to find it!”

“Who?” Patrick asked.

“Follow me!” Dash ascended back into the air. She led Patrick to a small hut, carved into a gnarled, weeping willow. An assortment of tribal masks and exotic decorations hung from its branches.

Patrick parked his motorcycle as Rainbow Dash knocked on the door.

The door swung open, displaying a familiar animal to Patrick.

It was a blue-eyed zebra, her striped mane’s style reminding him of a punk-rocker’s Mohawk. A heavy, gold earring hung from each of her ears. Several gold bracelets were entwined around her neck and one of her legs.

“Rainbow Dash! What a pleasant surprise,” she spoke with a fitting African accent. “May I ask what you are doing here, before my eyes?”

“Uh, hey Zecora,” Rainbow Dash stuttered. “Well, I was wondering maybe if you’d be able to help out my friend, Patrick, here.”

Zecora’s attention shifted to Patrick, and her jaw dropped. “Sweet heavens above, how can this be?” she took a step back. “Is this a human being I see standing in front of me?”

Patrick’s eyes went wide. “What?!”

“You know what I am?!” Patrick’s heart felt like it was about to beat out of its chest.

Zecora led them inside, sitting the Pegasus and the human down at a table where she opened an aged book, written in zebra language. It featured a rough sketch of human anatomy.

“There is a legend many a year old. But nowadays, it is so seldom told,” Zecora spoke in her rhyming dialect as she translated from the decrepit, yellowed pages.

Rainbow Dash looked from Zecora to Patrick as he listened intently.

“The human race was wise and strong. The son of man had tamed the world, before long.”

“Not a soul knows what brought man to his doom. Nor do I know why there is one in this very room.”

“No!” Patrick shouted frantically. “That can’t be it, is there anything more? You’ve got to know something!”

Zecora shook her head.

Patrick stood up from the table, his hands cradling the back of his head as he stared out a window into the forest.

“So,” Patrick spoke in a soft, panicked tone. “I’m…” He struggled not to go completely ballistic.

“I’m…in the future?”

“It would appear so, my human friend. Alas, I am sorry I cannot tell you what brought your people to its end.”

“No…” Patrick suddenly felt very, very alone. “Everyone I know… dead? How far in the future am I? How long ago did this happen? How… How did this happen? What part of the world am I in? What… I…. Where…How…?”

Patrick hyperventilated until he ran out of breath, and began to feel dizzy. It was all just too much. He fainted and fell flat on the floor.


“Wake up!” A cold liquid suddenly hit Patrick’s face.

Patrick coughed water out of his mouth and inhaled deeply.

“I believe that will do. The rest of that water, I must save for my brew,” Zecora took the bucket of water from Dash and hung it above her cast-iron stove.

Patrick sat up, his back against the wall.

“Are you okay?” Rainbow Dash helped pull him to his feet.

“I just need to be alone right now, Dash,” Patrick’s lip quivered.

He somberly stepped outside the zebra’s hut. Rainbow Dash tried to follow him, but a firm hoof restrained the Pegasus.

“Rainbow Dash, give him some time. He is now the only one of his kind.”

Patrick sat outside next to his motorcycle, curled up into a ball. It seemed like he had been out for some time, as the moon had replaced the sun since he’d passed out.

This wasn’t some other universe, this was Earth. For all he knew, where he’s standing could have been downtown Atlanta at some point in time. Patrick felt the weight of the world on his shoulders as he bore this news.

Hours went by, and he simply sat there, looking straight ahead into the forest, dark thoughts creeping through his mind and taking over. He secretly hoped a manticore, or anything that could be a threat, would burst out of the woods and end his life.

He heard conversation in Zecora’s hut between Rainbow Dash and the wise zebra. Eventually it died down, although light continued to emit from the windows.

Reluctantly, Patrick stood up. He couldn’t sit there forever. The human brushed himself off and reentered the hut.

Rainbow Dash had fallen asleep on Zecora’s bed, her ear twitching every now and then. He took in the strange sight of an upside-down zebra, her head balanced on top of a bamboo pipe, lying in a deep, meditative trance.

Patrick took a step forward, trying not to disturb either of them.

“Human, if you are done moping over yourself,” The zebra started the first verse of her rhyme.

“Damn,” Patrick thought. “She must have good hearing.”

“I believe I may be able to help.“

“How?” Patrick asked, her eyes still closed.

She gracefully came off her post and led Patrick outside, quietly shutting the door so as not to wake the sleeping Pegasus. She led Patrick through the forest through the dead of night, seemingly unafraid of whatever monsters could be prowling around at this hour.

“The spirits want to aid you, in your quest,” Zecora said as they walked. “But up to you, young warrior, is the rest.”

“What makes you think I’m a warrior?” Patrick asked sarcastically.

“In the spirit world, your eyes glow in red bands,” Zecora explained. “This only happens to he with blood on his hands.”

Patrick kicked a rock on the path shyly.

“I was a soldier,” Patrick sighed. “I fought in a war, it ruined me. Yes, I have killed people. And they follow me everywhere.”

Zecora stopped dead in her tracks.

“Five friendly spirits, a message to you, they send. They wish only to support their closest friend.”

Patrick felt cold in his chest.

“Jo…Jose?” he frantically looked around, hoping to see something.

“Joe!” his tone became louder, and more confident.

“Spencer! Ryan! Louis!”

“Anybody!” Patrick screamed at the top of his lungs, echoing around the forest. But nothing happened.

“PLEASE!” Patrick dropped to his knees.

“I CAN’T FUCKING DO THIS ALONE!”

Zecora watched Patrick’s outburst, and tapped him with a hoof. “Child, do not despair, for we are almost there.”

Patrick stood up, feeling his palms sweat. He didn’t know where the zebra was taking him, but obviously it was important.

At last, Zecora stopped just short of a clearing. But it looked… Familiar. The trees were all in the right place, the foliage, the dirt path, everything was correct. But it looked like nothing had even happened here.

“I can see it in your eyes, that this is a place you recognize.”

Patrick nodded, his eyes scanning every detail of the clearing. He remembered exactly where he lay bleeding, where he shot the manticore, and where his bike was laying. But it looked like it had been cleaned up, everything looked as if it were put back into place. It was no wonder Rainbow Dash couldn’t pick it out from the air.

Looking down onto the dirt path, Patrick could see several round imprints in the ground.

“Horseshoes?” Patrick thought. There was nothing else that they could be. Someone had cleaned up the mess the lightning had caused after it zapped him into Equestria. Someone was trying to cover it up.

“Why?” Patrick managed to choke out.

“This, I have no answer for. However, I wish to show you what may help you let go of everything that happened in your war.”

Zecora laid flat on her back, and then balanced herself on her head. She gestured that Patrick do it as well. After several failed attempts of standing on his head like Zecora, he threw his head back in frustration.

“This is stupid,” Patrick grumbled, getting ready to storm off.

“You may sit,” Zecora smiled. “Please, just don’t throw a fit.”

Patrick sat criss-cross on the ground and looked longingly towards Zecora, her eyes still closed.

“Meditation has been a remedy to cure broken hearts since ancient times. If done right, the results can be most prime.”

Patrick shifted uncomfortably in the dirt, looking straight ahead.

“Close your eyes, son of man. Empty your mind as quickly as you can.”

And Patrick did just that. It was difficult, but Patrick believed he had cleared his mind of all emotion and thought, at least for a moment.

It was actually a very peaceful feeling, the nothingness. With no constant negative influences on his mind, Patrick felt himself relax.

“Now, pay attention to me. Picture everything that has destroyed you, in your line of duty.”

A dark surge flowed through his mind. It was like someone had turned on a faucet and ice-cold water was filling the inside of his head. He willingly allowed all of his nightmares, his memories, getting shot, executing a man as he stared into his eyes, the screams of his friends as they burned to death, being humiliated yesterday, the end of the human race, to circulate in his thoughts.

“And now, human soldier, this is where you are on your own. You must now let everything go.”

Patrick wanted to stop, and tell her he wasn’t ready for this. But something, not exactly a voice, but a thought, told him he was. It was strange, because the thought was not his own.

“I will return when the dawn has broken, heed these words that I have spoken.”

Patrick could hear Zecora leave the clearing.

It took a very long time for him to process everything that his mind wanted to show him. It was definitely a few hours by the time Patrick exhaled loudly. Visions from combat, and strange voices echoed through his mind. Most of the voices were clearly products of his own imagination, but there was one that rang out above the rest. It was a thought, that was not his own.

The thought was in the form of a very familiar voice. After sitting in his mind, and staring directly at this thought for hours, he finally attempted to communicate with it.

“Hello?” Patrick seemingly asked himself, not really expecting a reply.

“Hey,” the voice nonchalantly responded. Patrick didn’t expect himself to be so calm when he was having a conversation with someone in his own head.

“How are you?” Patrick asked.

“I’m fine. All of us are fine,” the familiar voice spoke.

“I only wish I could have done something differently that day, in the valley,” Patrick trailed off.

“It wasn’t something that could have been prevented,” the voice said.

“Is it nice, where you are?” Patrick asked.

“It’s peaceful,” the familiar thought-voice spoke softly. “We all have to get off the train eventually, you know. End of the line, you get the idea.”

“Yeah,” Patrick answered. “I do. But, I’m the only one left now. I’m all alone.”

“No you’re not,” the voice said. “We’ve got your back, and we always will.”

Patrick and the thought took a moment of silence, allowing themselves to enjoy each other’s company.

“Listen,” The familiar voice finally voiced. “I have to go.”

“I understand,” Patrick responded. “But what am I doing here? Why is all this happening?”

“You’ll see, in time.”

“That’s not fair,” Patrick replied sarcastically.

“Don’t worry about it. Just promise me that no matter how bad things get, you won’t forget that we will always be brothers.”

“I promise.”

“One more thing,” the voice became very gentle, almost angelic.

“It’s gonna be a good day.”

Patrick’s eyes shot open, his lungs gasping for breath. His pupils dilated, and grew smaller to accept a higher amount of light. The sun had just risen, casting the shadows of the trees westward towards the horizon.

Rainbow Dash yawned, not used to being up this early. Zecora smiled, and sat down next to Patrick.

“We’ve been here for about fifteen minutes now,” Rainbow Dash said. “We didn’t want to disturb you.”

Patrick smiled at Rainbow Dash. Something felt very different inside of him. The usual occupancy of his dark thoughts about the ambush and his combat career in the back of his mind were no longer there. It was as if he had reached inside his mind, grabbed a leech sucking away his very sanity, and stomped it to death. For the first time since Patrick could remember, he felt…

Happy. Just… Happy.

“I assume, from your smirk,” Zecora noticed a grin across the human’s face. “That what I have taught you has worked.”

“Yeah,” Patrick gave a sigh of relief. “I had a very nice conversation with an old friend of mine.”

Patrick was about to retrieve a cigarette from his pack, but stopped short before he could reach fully into his pocket.

“You know,” Patrick thought to himself, smiling. “I don’t think I need one.” Patrick stood up, and faced Rainbow Dash.

“Listen, Dash,” Patrick made eye contact with her. “About yesterday at the library…”

“Zecora told me everything,” Rainbow Dash said. “Maybe even Twilight could learn something about friendship from you.”

“Twilight?” Patrick eyes windened. “Wait, we’re supposed to go see the Princesses today!”

“Oh, hay,” Rainbow Dash cursed. “You’re right! We’d better hurry if we want to make it to the chariot they’re going to send us in time!”

Zecora led Patrick and Rainbow Dash back to her hut, where Patrick slipped on all his gear and started up his bike.

“Come on, slowpoke!” Rainbow Dash crossed her arms in midair.

“Just a sec!” Patrick called up to her, and turned to Zecora.

“Thank you,” he withdrew a purple, heart-shaped medal from his pocket, handing it to Zecora. “I won’t be needing this anymore.”

“I am glad you were able to chase your demons away,” Zecora smiled. “And I have a feeling that today- is going to be a very good day.”