• Published 24th Jun 2018
  • 1,694 Views, 282 Comments

The Fishbowl - Shrink Laureate

Vinyl remembers the doll. It's unmistakably hers. Except it's in Octavia's closet. Why do they have the same doll – and the same memory?

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10. Frustrations

Trixie couldn’t sleep.

She stared at her luminescent magical rabbit alarm clock. It was such a silly little thing, but she kept it because her mother had bought it for her eleventh birthday.

Except she hadn’t. Her eleventh birthday had never really happened. All of Trixie’s memories of being a happy child with two loving parents, everything her life was built on had been made up – somehow, by someone.

Trixie hadn’t really believed it until Friday night, when Vinyl had taken them to see the edge of the world – what they’d come to refer to as ‘the horizon’. It stood as a resolute, irrefutable statement that the world she thought she lived in was a lie. Every excuse, every pretence of reality, had faded in the light of that solid wall of unreality. She’d tried to think of other explanations for it, but none of them were at all convincing.

It was hard to know what frustrated her more: that so much had been taken from her, or that she didn’t know who to blame for it. She didn’t blame Vinyl Scratch, or Octavia. They were simply following the same trail she was. She couldn't blame Chrysalis, who was as much a prisoner as she was. She couldn't blame her parents, who didn't have any more choice than her in what they'd been made to be.

Who had made that decision for them in the first place? Who was responsible for this fake world and this fake life? Could they have given her any sort of life they wanted, or did they have to give her this one? Couldn't they at least have let her know what her current life really was? Did they have to give her these memories of a better time that never even existed?

She thought back to her eleventh birthday. She'd been so excited she ran around in excitement and broke a vase, spilling roses, porcelain shards and water across the floor. It was a nice vase. For years she saw that faint discoloration in the carpet by the fireplace and felt guilty about it. She still felt the memory of that guilt. Except that hadn't happened either. She felt guilty for something she hadn't ever done.

Now that comical little clock, its edges glowing faint turquoise in the night, was a symbol of everything she’d lost.

She wasn't going to get any sleep at all.

A few hours later, she slumped down to breakfast having barely slept at all. Her father was frantically rushing around the kitchen trying to do six things at once and none of them well, a sure sign he was expecting a tough day at work.

Trixie pushed her cereal around the bowl half-heartedly.

“How’s school, honey?” asked Jackpot. His tie draped through the butter as he fumbled with the hot toast. His suit was crumpled, his shoes muddy, his hair askew. He never looked tidy any more, and Trixie was sure it must affect his work, but whenever she brought it up he said he was fine, seriously, just fine, stop worrying about it.

“It’s okay.”

“Was everything all right with mom last weekend?”

Oh yes, papa, absolutely lovely. As usual we had a wonderful time without you, thought Trixie. Thanks to Mama earning substantially more than you, she’s able to take me to all manner of exciting places you never could. Last weekend we saw an exclusive live show by the Symphonic Metal Opera at the Manehattan Theatre, and next weekend she’ll be taking me to rub shoulders with VIPs at the Grand Gathering Gala. There’ll even be a performance there by the Griffonstone Quintet. Won't that be fantastic?

“Meh,” is what she said, nudging her spoon and spilling a little milk.

“Morning, Trixie!”

Trixie slumped into the car’s leather back seat. She always found Pacific Glow distressingly energetic in the mornings.

“I thought mom was supposed to be driving me today?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Dandy Lion had to be at an early meeting with investors. You’ll just have to make do with little old me.” She winked at Trixie in the rear-view mirror, then indicated and pulled out.

How long does it take her each morning to put her hair into that ridiculous shape?

“Did you get the Gala ticket I e-mailed you?”

“Yeah. That’s all Trixie needs, right? Trixie doesn’t need to print it out or anything?”

“Nope. And since your name’s on the list, you probably don’t even need that, they’ll know who you are anyway. Um, best take it just in case, though.”

For the next twenty minutes, Pacific Glow drove while humming something tuneless and upbeat, her big twin poofs of hair bouncing up and down, while Trixie glumly watched her in the mirror.

She’s been up for how long already, ferrying my mother about and doing her menial work? And she was probably up late last night doing the same thing. And still she manages to be cheerful. It’s like a bottomless well of cheerfulness. Like…

Trixie’s eyes widened as she looked at the bright pink pom-pom hair bobbing about in the front seat.

No… no, she couldn’t be. Could she?

“Although he’s remembered now as a great scientist, it’s important to remember that Star Swirl also dabbled in alchemy. He lived in a time when belief in the supernatural was commonplace. At the same time he was classifying the known elements and developing the periodic table, we’re told that Star Swirl was experimenting with ways of extracting magical power from crystals. It sounds silly to us now, but he saw no conflict between science and magic, instead seeing them as two sides of the same coin.”

Trixie sat there chewing nervously on her pencil, even more bored than usual. The events that Miss Cheerilee was describing took place centuries ago in a foreign land. Did any of them actually happen? Was Star Swirl even a real person, or was all this just made up?

“According to notes left by his assistant, Meadowbrook, Star Swirl was also interested in Celestialism, an obscure belief that the sun was raised each morning by a goddess named Celestia, and the moon by her sister Luna.”

The class found this idea very amusing. While they were laughing, Trixie cast her eyes left and right. Octavia was withdrawn, her eyes barely focused. Vinyl was laughing along with the class, but had a shifty look, as if her cheer was fake. Something is definitely up with those two, she thought. I’ll have to check in break.

“Yes, yes, just like our school’s principals,” continued Cheerilee. “No doubt the sisters were named after the two goddesses of legend.” A student put her hand up. “Yes, Lyra?”

“Is that why Celestia uses a sun symbol, and Luna uses a moon?”

“Well, you’d have to ask them or their parents, but I expect so.” She indicated a map of the city on the back wall. “You may be interested to hear that the two rivers that bound our city were once known as the Celestia and Luna Rivers. That too was a hold-over from Celestialism, and more recently they're simply known as the East and West Rivers.”

The bell rang, and Trixie quickly packed her bag.

“But listen, everyone,” added Cheerilee, raising her voice to be heard over the suddenly active classroom, “don’t go pestering the principals all at once about this, okay?”

Monday was awkward. And nobody was telling Trixie why.

She'd been right in her suspicion. Vinyl and Octavia had not spent the morning classes exchanging meaningful glances, but rather a pointed, conscious lack of glances. Each would hover on the verge of looking at the other, only to turn away, in a frustrating dance of never quite doing anything. A subtly encoded refusal to communicate that would speak volumes to anyone who could decipher it. But neither of them had given Trixie the codebook.

Flash Sentry caught up to her in the hallway after lunch. “Hi, er. Trixie? Can I maybe ask you something?” he asked.

Trixie was instantly suspicious. Flash was the poster boy for shallow, popularity-obsessed students. That wasn’t even an allegory, she’d seen the actual posters, and suspected he’d had them printed himself. He was mainstream incarnate. So what could he possibly have to ask her?

“You may ask the Great and Powerful Trixie a question,” she replied haughtily.

He scratched the back of his head in that cute embarrassed way that seemed to drive other girls wild, but just drove Trixie mad. He said quietly, “Er, I mean like, in private. If that’s okay?”

Not many places in a school are truly private. There's enough traffic of curious people that whatever corner you hide in, the chances of being seen are high. If she was seen talking to Flash Sentry somewhere secluded, the assumption would be that there was something ‘going on’ between them – regardless of a complete lack of evidence. And rumours like that flying around the school would make life very difficult. ‘There’s no smoke without fire,’ people would say, as if that excused them believing whatever nonsense they felt like. She really didn’t need that right now. So she needed to make sure they weren’t seen.

She quickly took in their surroundings. There were only a few students in this hallway: Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle running towards one of the art classrooms, presumably in search of some sort of mischief; Minuette heading out of the biology classroom having just fed the fish; Snowflake carrying an assortment of sports supplies.

“Hold on a second. Wait right here,” she said, and walked past a block of lockers to the door to the biology room. She casually opened it, checked inside – yes, it was empty, good. Now she just had to pick the right moment when nobody was looking to beckon him over.

She turned round to find Flash standing right behind her, with that infuriatingly dumb, innocent look on his face.

“Dammit,” she growled. “What part of ‘Wait right here’ don’t you get?”

“Hmm? What do you mean?”

“Just get in here.” She grabbed his shirt, hauled him in and closed the door before anyone could see them.

The biology room was dark since the blinds were down, and quiet save for the various little noises of fish, amphibians and mice in their cages. Students were on a rotation to feed and look after them. Fluttershy, normally the go-to choice for animal care, had been excluded from the rota and forbidden from going anywhere near them after her stunt with the frogs a few weeks ago.

“And just what did you wish to ask the Great and Powerful Trixie?”

Flash stepped closer to her, and his expression suddenly turned more serious. He was a little too close, in fact. Trixie took a step back to keep a reasonable distance.

He stepped forwards. She stepped back.

“Um.” Another step. “What are you—?” Her back bumped into the old wood and glass fume cupboard. “I’ll have you know that the Great mmmmmff!” He clasped one hand over her mouth. His other hand gripped her shoulder, holding her in place.

Trixie’s situation dawned on her. She’d walked in here, dragged him in with her, shut the door, making sure nobody knew they were here, and now he’d turned on her. She’d always thought Flash was just a buffoonish playboy, dumb and vaguely offensive to womankind but otherwise harmless. Had she been wrong?

She grabbed his arm in both hands, trying to dislodge it from her mouth, but found she hadn’t the strength to shift it. Was Flash always this strong?

He leaned in and whispered, “Shhhh.”

Her eyes narrowed. If he thinks I'm some meek little girl he can take advantage of, he has another thing coming! Her eyes flicked to the door as she planned her escape. First, distract him with a swift knee and a bite to the hand. Second, rather than trying to match force and push him off, duck and turn my head to the side so he crashes into the glass. Third, make a run for that door. If he grabs my hoodie, raise my arms and angle my hips to slide out of it. And, as soon as I can, shout for help.

Her planning was curtailed when Flash erupted into green flame that covered him from head to toe – including the hands holding Trixie. It's burning me! She screamed through his fingers as the fire licked at her skin. A moment later the flames had evaporated and Flash had been replaced by a youth with black skin and steely blue eyes. She recognised him as one of the two assistants from the creepy wedding shop.

“Chrysalis wishes to speak with you,” he said in a voice like a rattlesnake. “Come to her shop tomorrow night. Alone,” he stressed.

He released her, and as he stepped away another flash of flame replaced his angular face and lean body with the strong, gentle features of Big Macintosh. He shut the door behind him as he left, leaving Trixie gasping in shock amid the rustling cages.

She stayed there catching her breath, hunched over, hands on her knees, fear and anger warring inside her. She struggled to drag enough of the sickeningly warm air into her lungs, and gagged at the lingering smell of Flash, or whoever that really was. After a few minutes she caught enough of herself to draw in a really deep breath.

“And she couldn’t send me a freaking e-mail?!” she shouted.

Trixie couldn’t sleep.

She stared at her luminescent magical rabbit alarm clock. The comical little symbol of everything she’d lost.

That's it. I've had enough.

She grabbed her phone, yanking it off the charging cable, and quickly tapped out a message.

hey mom, is it ok if i bring a couple friends 2 the gala?

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