• Published 7th Sep 2015
  • 767 Views, 24 Comments

Chasing Shadows - DarkZonker



One minute you're driving home, the next you're entire life is flipped upside down. After he's transformed into a zebra, Samuel Hunt tries to find his place in an earth where there are no more humans, only ponies.

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First Introductions

Jess and I rose together. She went and collected her backpack and my blanket. Her process for putting on the backpack was strange. First, she tipped it on its side, exposing the arm strap. Then, she bit down on the top handle and pulled it up to rest on her shoulder blades. Finally, Jess put her opposite leg through the open strap. It was a semi lengthy process that I’m sure was made easier through practice. The lumpy backpack looked comically large on her and sagged from the weight of the corn.

She turned her head around almost all the way at me. It was extremely weird to see a neck bend like that. I know that I had seen my dogs do something similar and other animals were also probably able to as well, but the fact that it was someone I was talking to a minute ago felt very surreal. In fact, the whole last forty minutes felt surreal.

“You gonna grab your bundle?” Jess asked.

I looked at the blanket, then back at her. “How?”

That was what really confused her. “Y’know, you just… um. Huh.” Jess put a hoof to her chin.

“You just- Y’know,” she insisted, gesticulating wildly as if that would actually make me understand her gibberish.

“I don’t know. I’ve only been a zebra for like, forty minutes, Jess. I only barely understand how to walk, let alone walk and carry something,” I scoffed. Jess scrunched her face into a pout and huffed.

“You’re a jerk, you know that right?” Jess muttered.

I had to laugh, she was like the little sister I never had. “I have heard it a few times, but I don’t believe it,” I chuckled. Although the sarcasm was pretty clear in my voice, Jess went into a deeper pout. She was starting to get a little mad, that I could tell. The fur on her ears were standing on end and her tail was looking bristly. In a way, Jess was kind of like a cat, that was a pony, that had bat wings and fangs.

In an attempt to defuse the situation before I lost my guide to civilization, I started to undo the knot on my blanket. It wasn’t very hard, the knot was loose and fell apart almost as soon as I prodded it with a hoof. Inside were some bottles of water that I sporadically drank from through my road trip, and some bags of sunflower seeds. I rubbed my chin, very reminiscent from before I was a zebra.

I held a hoof out to my food. “How do I grab stuff?”

Jess’ fur flattened and her eyes perked back up. Either it was way easier for me to read pony emotions or Jess didn’t bother trying to hide hers.

“It’s kind of a combination between using your hooves and your mouth,” Jess explained, It seemed that with a starting point she had a much easier time telling me what to do.

I shook my head. “Nnnnnope, no way. I did it once and it was pretty gross.”

“Fine. Find some other way to carry all your crap,” she smirked.

I stuck my tongue out at her and sat down next to my pile. I dragged the seeds over and shoved them into my pockets. It was time consuming, but worth it if I didn’t have to conform to Jess’ standards. I loaded a water bottle too, the fullest one, while Jess grabbed the other two in her mouth, to my disgust, and put them in her pack. Her range of motion still was a little off putting. On one hand, I recognized her as a person, on the other, her mannerisms were slightly animal like. I wondered what I seemed like to her, if my mannerisms were weird or something.

Jess harrumphed at my ingenuity and flipped her hair out of her eyes. “Come on, Sam. We’re wasting daylight here,” she said, very impatiently.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said as I velcroed my pockets shut and picked myself up. “Let’s get moving then.”

---

Five minutes into walking I had needed to flip my shorts around. My tail had been desperate to be free and was making the already uncomfortable shorts unbearable. I called for a break, told Jess no peeking, and dashed into the privacy of the corn. After way too much struggling in the dirt, I wiggled out of my shorts and torn boxers. I’m not sure when they ripped but were too tight and constricting. I threw them into the corn and felt sweet, sweet relief as my tail came free and the fresh air caressed the previously un-caressable. I breathed a sigh of relief

Then, I moved onto my next herculean task: unbuttoning my shorts and pulling down the fly for my tail. I was able to undo the button by pressing a hoof into the fabric using the other to push the button through. The zipper was the real hard part. At first, I tried just kicking it with the corner of my hoof, but it kept getting stuck. I tried a couple different maneuvers with my hooves, but all of them ended the same, in failure.

“Damn it all,” I sighed as I glared at the zipper, my new mortal enemy. I suddenly regretted making fun of Jess earlier. I swallowed my pride, placed my hooves on the edges of the shorts, bent my head down, and took the zipper tab into my mouth. Like my car keys, the metallic taste filled my mouth along with bits of mud. I ripped the zipper down as far as I could and spat all the grit that was in my mouth onto a nearby stalk. I shuddered, knowing that I had swallowed some. After re-buttoning the top, I commenced the wriggling. Interestingly enough, it was easier getting the shorts back on and sticking my tail though the zipper hole. I could chalk this up as being the only time it’s good to have your fly down in public. I was covered in mud and who knows what else, but at least I was comfortable.

While I was putting my shorts back on, I noticed that I had some strange markings on both of my… haunches? I think that’s what they’re called, but they definitely didn’t look like normal zebra patterns. It was a circle twice as large as my hoof and inside of it was a bunch of rotated concentric ellipses. The pattern reminded me of one of those dreamcatchers my mom insisted I put over my bed when I was little. I gnawed on the inside of my cheek. I didn’t know how to feel about it and I wasn’t sure if I should ask Jess about it. In the end, I decided to keep it to myself, it probably didn’t mean anything anyways. It was one thing after another with this body.

When I emerged from the cornstalks I could see that Jess had dropped her backpack and was having a lot of trouble holding in a laugh. Her face was scrunched up and she was sputtering just trying to contain it. Any emotion that would have been on my face melted away leaving only a deadpan stare. I cocked an eyebrow. “Did you peek?”

That really set her off. Jess’ eyes bugged out of her head as she tried to contain the massive guffaw that wanted to be set free. I waited patiently until she calmed down enough to speak, although my patience was accompanied by a very disinterested, but still disapproving, glare.

Jess took some deep breaths before looking me in the eyes. “I did not peek,” she said. To her credit, she kept a, mostly, straight face and if she hadn’t almost popped from not laughing, I might have believed her. Good to know that she might’ve been pretty good liar if she ever tried.

“Sure you didn’t,” I deadpanned as I turned to leave in the way we were headed. “I’m going now.”

I didn’t look back as she called after me. Maybe ignoring her will teach her some manners. On second thought probably not, but it never hurt to try. However, Jess caught up to me pretty quick and started babbling apologies that I didn’t care to listen to. The old silent treatment usually worked on my brothers, being the oldest and the most looked up to had its perks.

---

We walked for hours through countless abandoned towns before we even saw the skyscrapers of Philadelphia peek over the treetops. The lack of people was eerie and the general silence gave me chills up and down my spine. Jess didn’t walk all the time though, sometimes she hovered over me, other times she sped ahead until she was out of sight and didn’t return for about ten minutes.

I stayed quiet mostly, and just tried to absorb everything she had told me back at my Jeep. Jess tried to make small talk and I obliged reluctantly. I could never keep up the silent treatment for long. We talked about our families but she did most of the talking. I learned that Jess had four other sisters and she was the youngest of them. She was going to a Philadelphia community college to study elementary education. She liked to run and was on the track team in high school. Apparently, Jess won third in the thousand meter dash in Maine where she grew up which was pretty impressive.

In return, I didn’t share much. I told her about my brothers and my mom, that I had just graduated from Duke with a Bachelors in Mathematics. That was pretty much all I let go and didn’t speak much after that. I don’t think Jess got the message that I didn’t want to talk because she just. kept. talking. I don’t remember when, but I started to just tune her out, nodding affirmatives when she addressed me.

I tried to think about what it would take to disappear eight billion people and what kind of God would not only do that but change the miniscule remnants into an entirely different species. But I couldn’t wrap my head around it, not without hours of time and a couple blackboards. Instead, the ache in my legs and back kept distracting me from thinking about other important things. Things like finding my family, or how this whole new body thing works, I don’t know.

The sun had just started to dip below the horizon when I finally saw the green Philadelphia city limits sign. The city was mostly visible at this point. I could see the Delaware River in the distance slicing through the landscape as well as the Schuylkill, as Jess informed me, meandering under multiple bridges. Earlier, I had asked Jess why she and her friends settled in the city. She replied with, “Because if you wake up and everyone is gone, you’re going to want to go to the big cities to see if anyone is left.” Which made sense in a very simple way. If I had appeared instead around Detroit or New York, I would have tried to explore around to find other people er, ponies.

As we crossed a bridge into the city, it became more and more apparent that people were living here. Shattered windows into businesses, stripped down cars, spray painted arrows pointing deeper in. I heard dogs barking in the distance, some growling too.

Jess nudged my shoulder. “We should probably pick up the pace. Most of the feral dogs left but this pack doesn’t seem to want to leave.”

I nodded and started moving as fast as I could without falling all over myself. My overly baggy clothes didn’t help. The bottom of my shirt liked to bunch up around my armpits and drag along the ground, catching on random debris, while my shorts chafed my legs after hours of walking and my tail hairs got caught in the zipper. Thankfully, my hooves didn’t really hurt all that much, even though I could still feel the ground underneath me. Must be this ‘magic’ Jess keeps talking about. Probably not, but I can’t dismiss it without seeing it with my own eyes.

The arrows turned into painted signs that took us down multiple side streets until we finally arrived at, what looked like, a large homeless shelter. Above the door someone had painted ‘YOU HAVE ARRIVED’ in big red paint.

I cocked my head. “Why a homeless shelter?”

“He speaks!” she giggled. “Well why not, there are plenty of beds, built in kitchen, bathroom support. There’s not a lot of privacy but it’s worked so far.”

“There’s like twelve people right?” I asked, a little hesitant to go inside. Jess had told me how some of them treated her differently. I guess people will always judge you by how you look, even when you’re not people anymore.

Jess patted me on my back. “Thirteen with you.”

“Yeah…” I trailed off. I was never very good at meeting big groups. Individuals, yes, sometimes. But groups? That many eyes gave me the heebie jeebies.

Jess lightly hip checked me, sending me to the ground in a tangle of my own legs. I heard her snicker and I grumbled as I picked myself up. But as much as I grumbled and groaned, Jess did make me forget my apprehension, if only for the moment.

She led me into the building. In front of the door was a mat that said ‘Welcome’ in great flowing letters. It was something you could pick up from Home Depot but something about it felt much more warm and inviting than being a simple doormat.

The inside was much more what I would expect from a shelter. Cheap linoleum floors, exposed piping, large industrial lights. There were touches that indicated someone was trying to make it seem like a home though. Expensive looking wood tables, easy chairs, and some newer pictures that were too far away to make out the ponies in them. What was immediately visible was a common room, double doors with a sign next to it that said ‘Cafeteria’, and in front were stairs that I could only guess led to the sleeping area.

Jess sucked in a deep breath. “Hey! I found a new one!” Her voice echoed throughout the house.

Two silent moments passed by before I heard the sound of hooves in varying forms of motion seemingly from all around. Some sounded like running, others leisurely walking. Oh God, here it comes, I thought, cold dread rising in me.

A young looking pony girl bounded down the stairs with much greater skill than I would ever have and stopped a few feet in front of me at the bottom of the stairs. Her mouth was in the shape of an ‘O’ as she took in my appearance. I also took in hers. Unlike Jess, the girl had a whitish pinkish body and rose colored hair with blue eyes. Her hair was cut short into a pixie cut that was pretty popular when everyone was still human. She had a pair of feathery wings on her side the same color as her body. Soon after, an adult man pony er, stallion, came down the stairs beside her. He was a normal pony with an earthy brown coat and curly black hair. His eyes seemed a lot older than he looked. He looked at me in indifference.

Two ponies walked through the doors that led to the cafeteria and came to a stop in the common area. One was a guy, the other a girl, both adults, both had spiraling horns on their heads. The stallion was a powder blue with darker blue hair, while the woman was a light purple with an off-white mane. If I had to guess, eggshell white. All four of them were wearing clothing to an extent. The girl, some small pink sweatpants, the brown stallion a large white shirt and some brown fabric crudely sewn together into pants. The blue stallion was wearing a button up striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up and basketball shorts, and finally the woman was wearing a large armless sweatshirt that covered almost all of her body except the lower part of her back legs. All the clothes seemed modified in some way or another.

“Is this everyone that’s here?” Jess asked, a little confused at the lack of ponies present.

The blue stallion spoke up. “They’re still out doing their jobs, Jess. Why aren’t you?” He sounded too accusatory for my tastes.

“I did my job, Brian,” Jess spat. Jess pulled the backpack of corn off and tossed it over to him.

“Well, it’s good to know you aren’t entirely useless. I’m going to get started on dinner, show the new guy where to sleep,” Brian said as his horn lit up in a white glow. The glow spread to the backpack and as he turned to leave the room, the pack lifted off the ground and followed behind him.

I felt my heart rate shoot up. Was that the magic Jess was speaking about? I turned to ask her about it but then I noticed something off about her. Jess’ lips were tight and her throat was working up and down. I could tell that she was about to cry, I had at a minimum five minutes. The woman stepped forward with a sigh.

“Don’t worry about Brian, he’s just being a pill. I’m Bridgette, the brown guy over there is Abraham, and that little cutie is Emily. We can introduce you to the rest of the group when they come back, but for now go settle in where you want to sleep,” Bridgette said. She seemed nice, very motherly, but looks can be deceiving.

“It’s nice to meet you all, I’m Sam,” I said quickly. I received a nod from Abraham, Emily, however, was still slackjawed. “Jess? why don’t you show me where I can sleep,” I asked, getting a very lackluster nod in return.

Abraham pulled Emily out of the way as I led Jess up the stairs. The bedrooms were really just a couple large rooms with some mattresses on the floor separated by hospital curtains. As soon as we were out of earshot I pulled Jess towards me. I tried to look her in the eye but she avoided my gaze by looking at her hooves.

“Jess? Jess, listen to me. Are you okay?” I kept angling my neck to try and meet her eye to eye.

“Don’t worry about me,” she shook me off of her and stared dead at me. “I’m fine. You should really worry about yourself, Sam.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Brian’s a racist prick, he’s going to go after you too,” she said with a fire in her eyes.

“Don’t worry about me, I can handle a bigot, Jess. The question is can you?” I wasn’t going to be the outlet for her anger, not right now.

“I-I-I,” as she stuttered all her anger faded and her ears folded flat against her skull, “Yes? I don’t know…” I saw some tears start to form in the corners of her eyes.

I figured that the middle of the hall wasn’t the best place for what was about to happen so I herded Jess into an empty room. Just as I crossed the threshold I noticed that her name was penned in sharpie on the wall. A brief scan of the other rooms had names up and down the walls. Why was her name alone on the wall?

Inside the room, there was only one lived in bed and eight other empty mattresses. Jess collapsed on, what I could only assume was, her bed and curled up into a ball. She shuddered periodically and something melted inside me. I sat down next to her like I would have if I was human, it felt awkward but it was possible.

I laid my foreleg on her back and rubbed small circles into it. I’m not even sure why I was doing this. I barely even knew Jess, definitely not enough to be a shoulder to cry on. Any port in the storm I guess. Brian kept coming up in my thoughts. Whatever problem he had with Jess needed to be solved fast. I couldn’t even imagine having to deal with his attitude every day for however long the whole group was together. Jess took some deep breaths and collected herself. Her slitted eyes were red and puffy.

“I miss my family,” she sniffled, wiping away tears. I felt an unfamiliar tightness grip my own throat.

“Yeah. Me too.”

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