• Published 11th Jul 2012
  • 17,202 Views, 1,008 Comments

Off the Beaten Path - PingSquirrel

A tale of someone comfortable with his life becoming somepony not well liked at all.

  • ...

Names are Hard


The sun rose slowly over the pastel word all too soon. And not like it was earlier than I would like it either. It was ahead of schedule in a rather factual way. I glanced wearily at the clock on my dash, and it read 4:56 in the morning, but the noon day sun seemed to disagree entirely with my assessment. Unless my clock was wrong, that is. It very well could be. I did not know the adjustment for a clock to make dimensional or interstellar time keeping possible but I would be surprised to hear that I would be just an hour back. More than the sun, it was the thought I did not really know the time at all that made me wake to a rather sobering question.

“What do I actually know?”

The thought bounced around in my skull for a moment and then disappointment crept in. I was pretty ignorant of a lot of critical, need to know information. The time just seemed to be at the top of that list right now because I felt cheated out of a much needed night's sleep. Unless the sun was actually early, then I felt doubly cheated. I did not even have a proper date to go by. Was this summer around here? There should be a clock and somewhere in- BEEEP!

My phone's alarm went off, derailing every thought in my head instantly and with the usual expediency, I picked it up, flicked it open and tapped a hoof on the red button to silence it. I nearly put the thing right back down before I realized that I was holding the thing. I instantly flipped over the hoof with the phone and confirmed that I indeed had a grip on the thing. Kind of. I did not miraculously have fingers as I hoped, but I did have a soft pad between the arc that was the hoof that was 'palming' the phone. I used to do that trick with coins when I was human, and it seemed ponies could do similar.

“Neat,” I quipped to myself as I gave the phone a shake to test the limits of the grip, and to my surprise, it was rather solid. It was also rather clumsy. All I could do is hold something, leaving fine manipulation of anything out of the question. I guess that is why every time I have seen somepony write, it has been with their mouth or with magic. It was something though and I smiled as I dropped the phone on the other seat, and picked it up several times to get used to the odd feeling. The mood died as I flipped the phone to my eyes once more and saw that my phone still had no reception. I just turned it off entirely then and tossed it aside. It was just a useless piece of plastic here and there was no sense in wasting the battery.

How would I charge up my things here anyways? I had battery driven tools, a computer, an iPod and if my truck still worked, it might need a boost after sitting idle for three months. I saw that they had electric power or at least a magical proxy that resembled it closely. But even if it were actual electricity, what are the odds it was something that I could simply plug into? Were those odds better or worse than ending up in a land of talking, magical ponies without a way of returning?

Those things would have to wait until later because I simply could not really address them until I was back in town to look up these things and there was at least one thing I could take care of here. I flopped on my back and began the undignified battle with my belt buckle. I was victorious but my sense of self-reliance took a mortal blow in the wages of the war. At least, when it was off, I was able to push my pants down and kick them off my legs. The fresh air went to work quickly at cooling my sweat damp coat. It was a nice side effect of what I really wanted to see. I glanced at my flank, and it appeared I did have one of those 'cutie marks' too. How embarrassing but at least I would not stand out here, but if my girlfriend could see it though, she'd laugh for sure.

As for what it was, it was a tin hammer. The little square hammer with a tapered point would have to be there because it was the tool of my trade, but the red square behind it was harder to place. It was the binding that gave it away finally; it was a book. My cutie mark was a hammer resting on top of a book. After careful consideration of the shape and message of it, I decided it was a little too blunt. I knew I was pretty much the only bookish tin basher to be found, but to just lay it out there in a single picture on my posterior like that seemed unnecessary. Putting that aside, I gave the mark a rub with a hoof and found that it was a part of my coat. Like my apparent 'earth pony strength', and my ability to grab things with a hoof, I just chalked up the mark to being something that ponies had and not to question it too much.

It was getting hot, as if the sun were on a haphazard course across the sky as if steered by some drunk lout that wanted to buzz earth in a cosmic drive-by, and I glanced out the window at the large orb with scorn. If Luna controlled the night, I'd bet that her sister had a reign on the day, and if that was the case, she needed to keep her mind on her work. I could take a guess why her work was sub-par today too, but I really did not want to dwell on that right now. It was time to head into town. Maybe, if I were really lucky, I might scrounge up some food while there.

“Well, when in Rome. Or Equestria, in this case.”

With that reassurance to myself, I flopped back into my seat and pulled off my shirt, leaving me with just my yellow coat and that mussed, brown mane which I did my best to cover up under my ball cap. I glanced at how I looked in the rear-view mirror, and that odd pony greeted my vision. It would be a while before I got used to that reflection. It was something else I did not want to dwell on though, and I pushed the door open and stepped outside. In the light, it was even easier to follow the way back towards town, but I did not even get half way to the road before my ear perked up to catch an odd sound. Singing. Many, many voices were all singing a sad, worried tune in the town, though I could not make out the words from here. It was about there I noticed I was humming the tune as if I knew every note, and I stopped myself. If you ever heard me sing, you would know why I stopped myself.

“It must be another pony thing,” I said to myself to excuse both the musical number and my involuntary reflex to join in with it. Besides, as I made my way down my grass path to the road, I had one more thing I really needed to work on. I needed a pony name. The rules seemed simple. First, they tended to be very descriptive of the pony that bore it. Second, they were usually a few syllables at the most. Finally, they tended to be cute. I rankled at that rule.

“Hello. My name is...” I trailed off and thought about how to finish that sentence off, only to need to go through several more false starts. “Hi, my name is... what? My name is? Who?” I then hummed the musical ending to that and chuckled. I doubt I could pass as a 'Slim Shady' and this was harder than I thought it would be. Now that I thought about it, a lot of bands are sort of 'pony named' already. Daft Punk, Nightwish, Machine Head to name a few. Again, I stopped my train of thought and brought it right back to where it should be. Why was I getting hung up on music again? My ear perked up to catch a long, sad note, and when it silenced, the thoughts of music dropped from my brain too.

“Seems ponies are rigged to sing in concert,” I mused to myself, “Weird.” It was another thing I would look into later but would just accept as a rule for now.

I went back to work on the name thing in my walk towards the town, with repeated attempts to finish the simple statement, but it was proving to be impossible. Every run at it started to get grating on my senses because I knew I could make up names if I needed to. The ability to name your characters well was integral to a good table-top RPG, so why couldn't I give myself anything.

So, I took the next logical step and started to just fill the space with gibberish. “My name is Floogity Flibbity Fla!” I spat if it were a series of curses. Terrible name, but it made me feel a little better. “Or maybe it is Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo.” It was a reference joke, but it made me chuckle because I could rather honestly fill in the next line too. “That is the worst name I ever heard.”

My rump hit the ground and I hung my head. “Why is this so hard?” I whined aloud and that is where I had to put my hoof down. I was getting riled up again and that is no good, so I swallowed down the emotion deep down and focused on the question entirely. It did not help as much as I hoped but at least I was calm again. So, I began walking again. By now, I was on a proper gravel road, rather than the grass that lead to my truck, but other than a new texture, it never became uncomfortable for me. I did wonder if I would need to invest into some horseshoes briefly.

“I am a well-read metal worker. I am yellow right now, and my cutie mark is a book and hammer. My name should be,” I started, taking one final run at the issue, and nothing really clicked in my mind and I was so close to the town. The sounds of voices going about their business were not far now, and I could make out the mares and stallions working away at their daily duties. I shifted gears in my mind from solving my name problem to listing what I wanted to do first. My stomach reminded me rather noisily that the last good meal I had was breakfast yesterday, and that was still rather light. Getting myself a meal meant finding some coin first or at least striking up a barter with a pony. It was inevitable that I would have to talk to somepony so I might as well do it. With that goal in mind, I walked up to a working mare with a garbage cart in tow.

“Excuse me, miss. Is there a good breakfast place around here?” I asked, trying to be as friendly looking as possible to the tan mare.

“You must be new here,” she returned without even looking. “Go to Sugar Cube Corner. Best place in town, if you ask me. It's just over there. Can't miss it.”

I thanked her and quietly celebrated my first real contact with pony kind where I was not under any direct duress, while following the given direction. Now if I could avoid giving my name ever, the whole issue would be moot. I really doubted it was going to be possible though, and just made my way through the half set up farmer's market, dodging carts and wagons as I moved along as instructed. And like she said, I couldn't miss it if I tried. It looked exactly like gingerbread house. I had to appreciate the craftsponyship that went into making such a convincing facade.

For some reason, a shiver ran down my spine as if I just brushed shoulders with death right before I walked in.

The merry jangle of a bell announced my entrance to the shop where a mare and stallion pair juggled both their jobs as the proprietors of the establishment and the task of managing two young children. I suppose foal would be the correct term here. Anyways, the store was organized chaos at its best with old stock being shuffled to the 'Day Old” shelf, while the new was being tossed haphazardly onto shelves. No matter how crazy the activity here though, the smell of fresh baked breads and treats permeated the place entirely.

“Welcome to Sugar Cube Corner!” the lanky, bright yellow stallion blurted right before he dashed off after one foals. The glow of his coat made me very appreciative of the dullness of mine. He looked like a traffic barricade.

A blue matronly mare called for my attention from behind the counter at that point and she smiled with genuine intention behind it. I was so used to the fake retail smiles I ran into back home, that to see an authentic one was noteworthy. “We are just setting up for the day, but we are glad to help you for visiting us so early, deary,” she said with the same warmth.

“Oh, sorry for being so early. My clock broke and I was not sure what time it was. Especially since the sun seems to be a little fast today,” I tried. I don't know if I came across as honest, but would be nice to have this concern allayed, since the chance came up.

“Its nearly seven, and you are not the only one trying to get a jump at the day. Almost everypony got up early. Princess Celestia is coming to town today to see Twilight in the hospital. Isn't it terrible what happened to her?” I struggled not to look guilty, but hearing about the event again was a nice little kick to my heart. I think she saw it was a tender subject for me. “I know, deary. We are all upset and hope for her speedy recovery. Maybe she'll be more careful about her magic in the future though.”

“I don't know,” her partner interjected, “Rumour has it that somepony did it her.”

I took my chance to step in and speak again. “Whatever happened to her, I think we all want her to be well,” I said, trying to end this conversation before I had to find a corner to hide in. “I was wondering though, if I can get something to eat on trade. You see, I have a slight lack of cash, but I am a pretty good worker.” Not really true. It was more that I really did not think the ponies would care who Sir Robert Borden is or why he is on a slip of paper.

“Oh my! I don't know if we can do this every day, but I think we can part with a few day-old buns for you,” she suddenly cried with a voice filled with sympathy for my plight, “At least until you get back on your hooves." The other already had a bag of rolls in front of me, and I could be knocked over with a feather at that point.

“Wow! That is much more than I expected,” I quite happily replied but to tell the truth, anything but a demand to leave the store was more than I really hoped for.

“What sort of work do you do?” the bright yellow stallion asked as he ferried the two young foals on his back around the store. Him having those two under control had done much to reign in the discord of the room.

I gave a modest shrug. “I have done a lot, but I prefer metal work. Especially with ventilation. Range hoods, exhaust fans. That sort of thing,” I replied. I really, really, really hoped the lack of hands would not render me utterly useless.

They looked between themselves for a moment and both smiled, but it was the mare that spoke up first. “Actually, if you do that sort of thing, we might have something for you to do in the kitchen. It gets pretty stuffy in there when we have the ovens going, and it is a pretty long wait until one of the regular handiponies might get to it. If we threw in some bits, would you do it?”

I really could not ask for better, and I tried offering a hoof over the counter. “It's a deal! As soon as I can get together the materials, I will be back to get it up,” I declared quickly to the pair confidently. If they knew I did not know the going value of the currency here, they could really bend me over, but that did not seem at all like pony nature today. It was a pretty big contrast from yesterday.

“Oh good! We are the Cakes, by the way, deary,” she warmly said while her husband took the shake I offered. “And you would be?”

Ah, dang. It's the moment of tru-

“Scriber,” my voice answered of its on volition.

Scriber? Since when did I think of that one? Kind of made sense though. A scribe kept books and a scriber marked metal so it worked both ways and it was not cute. It was concerning that it spontaneously generated itself in my mind.

“Well Scriber, you go and enjoy your breakfast, and we will see you when you get back, deary,” she replied, and gave my bag of buns a push towards me me. “Hopefully we will be a little more ready for customers when you get back.”

“Thank you, and I will be back soon!” I returned with a tip of my hat, then made my way out, holding the bag in my mouth. As maddening it was to have good food literally under my nose as I walked towards my truck once again, all I can think of how natural that name seemed to come to me as I went.

My name here was Scriber.