• Published 13th Mar 2012
  • 1,613 Views, 104 Comments

Double-edged Sword - fic Write Off

/fic/ Write Off Mar 10 Entries

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Call Me, Call Me

Cranky Doodle had to appreciate traveling salesmen, as even after all these years he still found it a miracle that anyone ever got used to hoping from rented room to shack to hotel like this. He avoided eye contact with the receptionist, a ditsy earth pony who looked like this could only be her second day at best, and tapped one hoof as he looked about the nearly vacant lobby. It was not the ritziest hotel but it was passable--there was a pool and a bar and the management actually cared enough foresight to hide the stains on the walls with potted plants. It was a step up from his typical lodgings, and Celestia knew he did not have the money for this, but he was also not the young donkey he once was when he first embarked on this journey and a half-decent mattress might actually let him wake up with a back that was not sore for a change. He figured it would only be two or three nights, and he would make up for it when he got to the next town. There was always work somewhere, if you looked hard and low enough.

The receptionist fumbled with the key, dropping it on the floor before picking it up and unceremoniously hoofing it over to Doodle. “Right, then, room 314A. You go up the stairs to the left then turn right on the second floor and it should be a couple doors down on your left. We hope you sleep well, Mr. Doodle!”

Her cheerful employee training program smile quickly faded as Crank Doodle leaned forward to glare at her. “That’s Mr. Cranky to you!”

“Er, um, right Mr. Cranky. En-enjoy your stay!”

He snorted as he took his key and balanced his suitcases on his back. He walked off to the stairs, stopping at the foot of them to look at his baggage, then up the stairs, then his baggage, then the stairs again. He let out a frustrated sigh. At least it wasn’t the seventh floor. He started up them, slowly, carefully, only having to go back for a dropped suitcase once. He passed a unicorn and his foal on the way to his room--”Daddy, what’s that thing on the donkey’s head?” “Now now, don’t say things like that.” “It looks like some kinda animal. Can I touch it?”--and gave them a sideways glance with enough venom to kill a manticore before he unlocked the door to his room and shut himself in.

He merely gave the room a cursory once over--they were all the same, really, from that motel in Trottingham or that room above the salt bar in Appleloosa, only changing in space and amount of stains in the carpet if there was a carpet--then shrugged his suitcases off onto the floor. All save for one, the one on top, which he placed on his bed. It was not the suitcase he cared for, but rather what was inside; he unlatched it almost automatically and drew out the scrapbook. It was a ritual of sorts; whereas others would drink in the nighttime air on the balcony or furiously check every inch of the room for any signs of damage or previous amorous activity, his habit to let him rest well in any place he landed was to open up that scrapbook and rummage through it on his bed for hours. It was his safety blanket, his hidden flask, what reminded him why he continued on his journey when he was shivering in some dimly lit attic and what gave him the strength to walk to the next town when he felt like his legs would give out from under him.

He lit the lamp on the nightstand and flipped through the scrapbook. Pictures, postcards, bits of drawings and designs for toys. A black-and-white photograph of Doodle as a child in front of his house with his mother and father back when his father still knew the definition of altruism or the meaning of spending time with his son. A faded scrap of paper bearing the recipe for his mother’s vegetable soup written, what was it, 4, 5 years before her last heart attack, the big one? A cut out from his old high school yearbook with him, the only donkey, with his mane styled back and grinning ear to ear like an idiot because that seemed like the thing you were supposed to do for photo shoots, regardless of if you felt like going home that day or not. A detailed sketch of the first toy he developed, a simple gyro copter that never got off the ground in both senses of the phrase and served as only further evidence for his father, quite enamored with resentment toward the ponies that fired him and betting on Wonderbolts derbies, to point out that he should focus on a real job and leave that childish garbage behind.

Then he opened to the most worn page, and a weary smile crossed his face. It bore only three simple things: a flower, a ticket, and a menu. He placed a hoof first on the ticket. He had just gotten out of school and was working at one of the local newspapers to help make up for all the money his father blew when his editor got a spare ticket to the Gala. Pulling Doodle aside, he gave it to him, telling him, “Somepony like you, you oughta go somewhere neat at least once in your life.” He almost rejected the ticket, the thought of Canterlot terrifying him--what would a donkey be doing there? He only had one tie for Celestia’s sakes, how was he going to blend in with the upper crust? But his editor insisted, and he needed a break from home anyway, so gathering up the classiest clothes he could find--which amounted to very little--he boarded the train and went forth.

He felt at the menu next. When he got there he found himself lost in a sea of ponies, more often than not shying away from a dirty look. The Gala was ten times worse; his tie, even though new, couldn’t stand up against all the other far more well dressed ponies and only served to mark him as undignified, uncultured, uncouth. He found himself loss amongst the esoteric conversations and plethora of privileged and longstanding cliques, and it didn’t help that the whole thing was insanely boring. He was content just hiding at the restaurant, ordering only soda--water wasn’t free so he figured he might as well treat himself--and planning on slipping away from that place and onto the first train home as soon as he was done.

And then he met her.

He let his hoof drift over the flower. She walked by the table and asked if he minded if she sat there. Not expecting another donkey within the nearest 50 miles, he said agreed. She sat down and introduced herself as Matilda. She was as lost as he was, looking aside at all the uppercrust ponies. They began to crack jokes about their awkwardness until they were both genuinely smiling, and with each of them finding someone else to be out of place with, they began to recover their confidence, and an odd sort of pride. “I mean, we’ll probably never see any of these ponies again,” Matilda said, giving Doodle a wink.

They walked together into the music hall and found they both had distaste for slow waltzes. When ponies gave them disapproving looks they could retreat together, underneath one of the statues of the princesses. They talked for awhile, about the Gala, their trips, their homes, their goals, whether or not that one mare’s mane was real or not, anything that came to mind. Doodle let slip his dream of being a toymaker, and Matilda laughed; when he asked why she laughed, she told him because it sounded like a fun job, and there’s no reason to treat something so fun so solemnly. He showed her his scrapbook, filled with his designs, and she showed him hers, bearing pictures of her family and other event. They found themselves staring at the stars together, content, and they promised to meet each other again. Doodle decided to push back going home, and again the two ran into each other, again and again throughout Canterlot. One night she ventured to kiss her, and in his happiness held her and told her how much he loved her, and she returned his feelings. When he was in his room he found himself drifting off to thoughts of the donkey with the softest smile, and entertained half-baked thoughts of rings and cake, a small toy store, strollers. She had asked him to come to her room that evening, and he, on the way there, picked up a bouquet of flowers, placing one in his scrap book, to stand as a testament to that night and the love he felt.

And then she was gone.

He turned to the following pages, sighing heavily. First it was the things he had picked up in the rest of Canterlot; a few photos, a newspaper clipping of various events and promotions that had seemed important at the time. The next few pages were cluttered with such bits and pieces of everything about Canterlot, no matter how trivial. Next was Manehattan, filled with fliers for theatrical performances and fancy restaurants and pictures of parks and the Statue of Harmony. He had imagined, at one time, that when he found Matilda the first thing he would do is show her his scrap book and tell her about all the places he ventured to find her and he was determined to show her every last inch of everywhere. Then they would look over the memories together, and perhaps he would take her to those places when he got the money so that she could see them for her own eyes.

But then the pages got thinner. Appleloosa only had a picture of the railroads and some trivial information about the apple trees. Trottingham had one picture and a menu he had grabbed from the restaurant he ate at right before he left. There was nothing from Stalliongrad, or Dodge Junction, or Salt Lick City, although even in the sparse and blank pages, he could clearly see himself, sleeping outside in Trottingham when he didn’t have the money to afford a room, or trudging through the heavy Stalliongrad snow from store to police station to everywhere else just be to told, “No, we’ve never seen that donkey,” until it was etched into his skull, nor did he need pictures to be reminded of how he was held up at Dodge Junction and just barely escaped with only his scrapbook, his life, and a mild concussion.

He shook his head and closed the book, placing it on the nightstand, but the memories had already started flowing back, of the cramped and drafty rooms he stayed in months on end, the odd jobs that barely paid enough for him to eat. All of it, however, paled in comparison to the donkey that was never there, of how many times he held his head up high humming songs of love to be beaten down later by the lack of an answer, of how many night he spent awake whispering her name and never hearing anything back, of questions of if he would ever show her this scrapbook he created or ever again share with her designs for toys. He laid down, the doubts once again assailing him. Would he ever find her? Was he just wasting his time? Had he missed some important clue, or was it already too late? The questions came in rapid fire, battering him harsher than any storm ever could.

The only way out, it seemed, was to let himself drift away from depression and stumble blindly, wildly, wordlessly about, until he abruptly became aware that he had wandered into the realm of indignation and spite. Perhaps if he was a younger donkey, or a bolder one, he would take the opportunity to go downstairs to the bar, drink himself cross-eyed, and put anyone who looked at him funny in traction, or at least come back to his room and overturn it until it looked like an entire herd of buffalo ransacked the place at the same time. But his joints had grown old and weary, and his bravado, likewise battered by time and disappointment, had atrophied down to a resigned resentment that was content to simply sneer at those that came too close, talked too loud, or smiled too much.

In Doodle’s worst bouts of anger, such as then as he stared at the mysterious spots on the ceiling, he would let his frustration fly about, building up fury, until it landed on something he could safely turn the brunt of his scorn towards, and that night, as was sometimes the case, the target was her. Matilda’s face would appear before him, not as she must have been at that point but as she was that night at the Gala, young, cordial, vibrant. The shining eyes that once made him feel on top of the world seemed offensive now, repulsive even. He could feel his throat start to tighten and his eyes twitch as he silently launched into a tirade at her. Liar. Tease. I gave you my heart and you stomped on it. Why did you leave me? Why didn’t you tell me? Was I not good enough for you? Was I just some sort of plaything?

His ire was not satisfied by mere words. Gradually the scene would change. He would see her in the freezing snows of Stalliongrad, lost and confused. The scene would change to Appleloosian deserts, the sun beating down upon her and dust kicking up around her in suffocating clouds. From the dark, rainy alleys of Trottingham to the oppressive, hectic, lonely bustle of Manehattan. He would see her in all the places he trudged through, as if it were some divine punishment. Don’t you see all I went through for you? Didn’t you know I’d look for you? I’ve gone all over Equestria. I’ve run myself to the bone searching for you, because I-

But like all the other times, one thing would never change, no matter how much he willed it to: as much as she suffered, as much as it seemed the world was baring down on her, her expression never turned to hurt or despair or indignation or hopelessness. She always retained that smile, not one of spite in the face of these troubles or smugness that she had brought about these things, but one of softness. Caring. No matter where she was, she would look back at him with those eyes he fell for, eyes of calmness and forgiveness, and throughout the howling winds or the cacophony of voices, whether the sun beat down on her or she was shivering alone in the rain, she mouthed back those three simple words: I love you.

The soundless words shot through Doodle’s anger like a canon through paper. He abruptly became aware of himself and the face before him faded, leaving him with no other object to turn his hatred to except himself. He covered his face with his hooves, although they were ineffective at keeping his cheeks from becoming wet. He wished some tempest would enter the room and throw him back into all of those miserable places for even daring to doubt Matilda. How could he have said he loved her and wish ill on her like that? He laid there for he didn’t know how long--minutes, hours, it all blurred together. It could have been morning for all he knew if he could have been bothered to throw open the curtains.

When the worst throes of caught breath and unsolicited sobs had passed, he turned on his side, clutching the pillow tightly as he stared at the faded wallpaper. He felt tired, the kind of tired that would not let a donkey sleep, or if it did, he would not rise again the next day. He brayed softly. His back seemed to ache even more, his joints seemed that much stiffer--he wondered if his legs would even support him anymore if he got up, what with all that weight in his chest. He had to scoff when he remembered that, no matter what he did, tomorrow was going to come, and the next day, and the day after that, but thinking ahead brought up no more places to look, towns to scour. Nothing. Doodle laughed; had he really gotten that old and stayed that foolish? What good was he to Matilda now, when laid in bed like a young colt cursing her name? She had probably moved on to someone new by now, while he was running all over the world chasing a ghost. It was just as well; they were probably a far better match for her than he was. Maybe someone who would have actually noticed why she had to go, who could have been there for her instead of drifting about the country like an idiot.

Somehow, Doodle found the strength to pull himself up. He lit the lamp on the nightstand and reached for his scrapbook. He looked down at the ticket and the menu, sighing as he placed his hoof on them gently like a father would his newborn foal. Taking a deep breath, he shut the scrapbook and hugged it, eyes closed. In the morning, he would check out. Where to after this? Well, he had heard Ponyville was a nice place, quiet, peaceful, cheap to live. Maybe he could get a house or rent a room there, on the edge of town. He got off the bed, put his scrapbook in one of his suitcases, and began to pack. As he did, he mouthed, “I love you, too."

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