• Published 11th Jul 2012
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Off the Beaten Path - PingSquirrel



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

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Knowing your Place

9.

The sun was on time today, but no more forgiving than yesterday for its incidental murder of any chance of me resting well. My mind tried, convicted and slated the sun for execution for the crime as soon as I cracked one eye to look at how bright it was. It ignored the conviction and continued on with its duties. It was the worst possible weather for such a feeling; Bright and sunny. I winced and closed them tight once more to hopefully leave me in darkness once more. None of the light helped with the absolutely devastating headache that repetitively announced itself as I forced myself to sprawl in a slightly more dignified manner. That, coupled with a stomach that was filing protests about what it was forced to endure last night, meant I had a pretty good night.

“Mental note,” I barely croaked to myself, “Do not try and keep up with Thunderlane. He will drink you under the table and finish off what you didn't get to.”

“You're alive in there.”

I opened an eye and there, on my hood, was Cuffs looking at me in the same way a cat might look at an injured rat. “Welcome to my humble abode,” I replied as I fumbled to roll down a window with one squinted eye open. A little breeze would be nice right now, even if there was somepony I would rather not see just outside. “So, how did you find my truck?”

He walked casually on the front of my truck so he might see me through the cracks on my windshield. “Oh, a bright red thing all by itself, just outside of town is not hard for a pegasus to find with a fly over or two.” I did not have a reply to that, so I just stayed quiet, watching him. “So, you had a good night,” he said with more volume than he needed to. It made my ears lay right flat against my head. It was an off-putting feeling for one who's ears were quite stationary two days ago and a nice garnish to the hangover I was going through.

“Yeah. And paying for it now,” I muttered as I hoped the red pegasus would just go away and leave me with the splitting throb in my head. No such luck as he heavily walked over the hood of my truck. I wonder how the insurance would take the hoof-shaped dents. The second thing that crossed my mind was how to best get vengeance for each clang as he went. At least he had the decency to flutter down to the ground after he crossed the truck rather than continually damage the battered truck. Now, he stood by the door with the opened window.

“Hmm, yes. Yes, you are,” he replied, making sure he projected his words enough to make my throbbing temples hurt more. “First night here, and you're already drinking and gambling. Not a good sign, Kerry.”

The name sounded foreign to me. Why did it sound like he was talking about someone else with that name? It was my name! And why did this place always drop bombshells when I was the least capable to deal with them? I had a very annoying cop to deal with first, and the mother of all hangovers. “You must have a lot of free time to spy on me like that.”

He chuckled in actual amusement. “You arrive into town and the first thing you do is hurt a good pony, then wonder why I am watching you? Especially when the pony is Twilight Sparkle? Let's just say you jumped the queue and made yourself a pony of interest.”

To be honest, he was right and I could understand why he felt that way, but just because I understood did not mean I had to like it. “So, since you are watching my every move, tell me, is drinking or gambling illegal?”

“No. They aren't,” he returned as he lifted to his rear hooves and put his head through the open window. Maybe just to see my miserable state or just to snoop around. I did not really like either of the options and I was most definitely not liking him either. So, I pushed up on the window toggle, cutting him off literally and figuratively.

“Well, when they do become illegal, be sure to let me know, eh?” I snorted. Pain. Snorting is not something to do when you are hungover. The window closed entirely, sealing myself away in the protective shell of glass and steel that was the broken truck. I did glance at Cuffs quickly though and saw him looking at me, utterly flabbergasted as if he has never been on the receiving end of a brush off before. With that matter taken care of, I laid myself down once more and closed my eyes, when the truck rang out with a slam of hooves on the side. That got my attentions enough to sit up again. Maybe I should not of sat up that quickly because my stomach lurched too. Now, I had two things that would leave a bad taste in my mouth to deal with.

“I am not finished with you!” he spat spitefully through the glass, “Now open up!”

Without a word, my hoof worked the handle, pushing the door open wide and I stepped out and past the officer with as much dignity I could muster while looking for the bush that reminded me of him the most. There was not one, but there was one that was closest and that would have to do. I dipped my head into the foliage and my stomach rejected the remains of whatever I had last. Between the heavy clutches of my stomach, I choked, “You're a prick.”

He scoffed at me. “So are you,” he returned. I imagined he rather liked the suffering I was in with my head dipped into the bushes.

“N-no,” I forced myself to say as I spat to try and clear my palette. It was not successful but at least it summed up my emotional state very well. “I am hung-over. In about three hours, I will be better. What about you on your end?”

“I have yet to see you better, “Scriber”,” he coldly countered, before spreading his wings out. “Maybe, you'll surprise me, but I doubt it. I will be watching you. Don't forget that.” He took off after that, leaving me in much sought after solitude. I will have to thank whatever power was responsible for making him leave before I really did give him a reason to arrest me. And, right now, I wished that I at least kept one finger so I could show my appreciation for the chat. Hoof-waving did not have the same catharsis.

The silence did me more favours than Cuff's aggression and now my stomach was too empty to be causing more distress, so I took stock of the situation. Back home, feeling like this would call for a breakfast at the nearest greasy spoon, but I doubted sausage and eggs were available anywhere around here. To top it off, even in this state, the idea of meat just seemed wrong to me. Maybe I will have to find the nearest place to get the pony equivalents of Aspirin and Tums before I braved a meal.

While I thought about what I was going to eat, I found my bag, my wallet and the yoke in a heap at the back of the truck. I was still up cash despite my efforts last night to drink the winnings away. At least that was some good news.

“Alright,” I said to myself to help me work out my thoughts, “The plan for the day is get some pills, find something to eat, read up on this place. That means finding some back issues of the paper and maybe a book or two and if I have time, I have get a water cooler or something here. And a coffee pot. And some groceries. And measure up Bon-Bon's kitchen for a fan.” I looked at the pile of parts, ducting and metal I had in the back of my truck yet. “And figure out where I can order more material. While at it, try and find a proper tool saddle bag thing.” That felt odd to say, but my belt utterly failed in its task when I did the job for the Cake's and spent the day in a heap on the ground. For a day with a rough beginning, it was getting really full, really fast. After I emptied out the bag to just the cash and a tape measure, I started out down my little path to the town.

The walk was actually enjoyable, even with the hangover constantly reminding itself of its presence. The sun was bright, the breeze was warm, and all the wild-life was going about their business without a worry for my passing. If I had more time and felt better, I would of let myself relax in the idyllic place. Once I arrived at Ponyville's skirt, I set my course for the hospital. That was the only place I knew of to get the medications I wanted so very much right now. Even weaving through the carts and stands of the market was not too bad at the town's centre was nothing too horrible, though the occasional cries to announce a two for one special and the like were a bit much to tolerate right now. When I was up to it, I would have to return through here for a bite, but I could see that white building that promised salvation already. I made my way inside, brushing past a few ponies as I went, to see that a familiar nurse was at the front desk.

“Oh, you are back? Here again to check on Twilight?” she asked as she flipped through the paperwork with impressive dexterity.

“Not today,” I replied as I checked for a name tag on the white mare. There was not one, but there was a convenient placard on the desk with “Nurse Redheart”. I thought that was her name. With everything else that has been happening, it had nearly slipped my mind. “But how is she doing? Better?”

“Well, she isn't any worse than when she first came in here,” she answered as she kept up with the work without even looking in my way, “She just isn't out of the woods yet. The accident she went through really did a number on her.”

“I know. I was there,” I responded emptily. I really hated being reminded of the crash, and just thinking of it made my head hurt all the more.

“Thought so, from how Pinkie called you out like that,” she said as she pulled the desired paper and turned to me. “Now, if you're not here to see Twilight, what can I do for you?”

“I need a pharmacy and didn't know where else to go for it.”

“Go down this hall, second right, you'll see the sign,” she answered and I went to walk away before a thought occurred to me.

“Just one more thing, Redheart. Can you make sure Twilight knows that I need to speak with her when she is ready? I am Scriber and I really do need to talk with her at some point,” I asked hopefully.

She was quick to made a note on a new piece of paper and tucked it into her pile. “I'll see what I can do. You have a good day then.” She seemed like a busy mare so I left her to her work.

Her directions were spot on too, and it was not long before I was heading out again with a couple of little brown paper sacks in my bag. Much to my dismay, while ponies did have access to some rather advanced medical technology, they did not have simple pills but rather leaves and barks that had to be chewed, eaten or steeped as a tea. I resigned myself to having to add a teapot to the shopping I would do later today. At least I would feel miserable and hungry until then. As for the third thing on my itinerary, it was a simple act of asking a passing pony to be directed towards the public library. If there was anything I have liked about this whole situation is that pretty much everypony was kind, polite and willing to answer a quick question. I found the hollowed out tree in short order and was walking inside of it.

The place was simple and every wall was lined with books and shelves that stood, waiting for more books, and that was not unexpected. What did catch me off guard was the lived in feel of the place. There were even a ladder leading up to a second floor where it looked much more like a home, complete with a bed. I guess the library pulled double duty as a home. I did not have much interest in the second floor then, but what the first floor could offer me.

The smell of a library was always something I have loved as much as the books themselves. There was simply something enchanting about the shelves filled with the works of so many around and I knew these all were something that I would never have seen before. It was enough to make me forget about the nagging hangover that was still poking at me while I began looking through the shelves for anything that might help me understand this place.

“Is somepony there?” called a young male voice from the second floor.

“Yes? Are you the librarian?” I returned, then recalled who actually did hold that position. Hopefully the pony that was calling was not close to Twilight or this could get awkward as soon as I said the wrong thing. “Or at least, her temporary replacement?”

A purple scaled lizard looked over the edge at me then nodded. “I am her Number One Assistant, and filling in for her for now,” he said. By now, I think I was getting better at hiding my surprised expressions. Or at least just limiting them to a raised eyebrow. Either way, I have stopped being surprised at what this place was throwing my way.

“Oh. That's good. If it is alright, I just want to get some reference material and lay low for a bit. I am not exactly at my best today.”

“That is just fine. I'm just waiting for some company to come by. Make yourself at home, Mister.”

With the lizard's blessing, I started going through the titles on the shelves and pulling anything that seemed helpful to me. Titles like Ink Swirl's Equestria's Modern History, Life Well's Complete Biology of Common Equestrian Creatures and Polyscie's The Equestrian Court: A User's Guide were three of many that I stacked up on the table. I had no hope of going through them all, but it would be a start for me. All the while, I was chewing on a piece of some rather awful tasting bark to try and numb my headache just a touch.

“Are you taking a run at Twilight's record?”

The disruption got my attention from the subject of modern history and I looked up to that little purple lizard again. “Pardon?”

“You have a pretty big pile of reading there. I don't think even Twilight could go through them all in one day,” he explained as he climbed down to the main floor. He was not a big thing and had odd proportions in his limbs and a large, round head. All in all, he reminded me of a child. Also, he looked tired as if he had not slept well in a couple of days, and he was just doing his best to power through it.

“Oh. Thanks, I guess. I am not going to try and get this all in one day, but there is a few things I need to know more on. Don't let me bother you.”

He gave a shrug. “If you need help, I will be around.”

I went back to my reading, and the lizard went about his cleaning and maintenance of the library from reshelving books to small repair jobs. If nothing else, I could say that the little guy was dedicated because he did not stop, but rather, went from one job to the next, and when everything seemed done, he just found more to do. While he was productive with his little claws, I was skimming a chapter on how the Elements of Harmony were used twice in the last two years to defeat Nightmare Moon, and Discord. Those two were two god-level threats to the well-being of the nation and possibly the world. Interesting stuff, really. It was like reading a fantasy but this actually happened in this world. Then the next two pages were a large illustration of six mares in fanciful jewelry, book-ended by the two princesses with the heading, “The Elements of Harmony and the Rulers of Equestria”. I knew several of the mares featured here already. It seemed this world was set on constantly reminding me of what had happened. Just the thought of it all made me groan, and I put my hooves to my temples to try and massage the reinvigorated throbbing away. At least not all of them knew who I was. Yet. And hooves make for a terrible massage.

“Where are you, Spike?” came a sweet and dignified voice from the door, and I looked to see that one of the mares from the book was there. The Element of Generosity, Rarity, with her pristine white coat and a violet mane. Fate was taunting me now. “I brought some lunch for my favourite dragon.”

I ducked my head under the wall of books I made and just tried to keep a low profile. This is a public library after all. Who would care about a random pony reading in it? And, my mind did not twig at all at the thought of dragons being here too. It's like the rational part of my brain long since thrown in the towel and left me to my own devices.

“I hope it's sapphires,” he replied to the mare, “I can use something to cheer me up.”

“Well, I know what you like, Spikey. And you have been so busy in here I just wanted to make sure you were taking care of yourself. Especially since, well, you know.” She walked closer to me as she spoke. “But it seems you missed a spot.”

The white mare peered around my literary fortress and I gave a little nod. So hiding was off the list, so the all-purpose contingency plan went into action. I would be quiet, courteous and make my escape before everything hit the fan as it has been apt to lately. “Hello Miss Rarity,” I said and made a little showing of tipping my hat to her.

“Oh! Hello! Do I know you, sir?” she replied with a bit of surprise on her face.

I shook my head, and lifted the book off the table so she might see the picture. “No, but it seems you are a mare of some importance.”

She blushed and put her hoof to her chest. “Oh! Really that was nothing as important as the book makes it out to be, but at least the painter got my good side?” She smiled in my direction, leaving me to wonder if she would even be half as friendly if she knew who I was. “You have me at a disadvantage though.”

I had to work out what she meant by that. “Yeah. I am Scriber. Just here to do some light reading then get about my day.” I was really beginning to regret coming here before I ate and tended to my hangover.

“That certainly does not look like light reading to me,” she said as she regarded the collection.

“Tell me about it,” the youthful dragon added, “He pulled down a half a shelve worth of books.”

“Yeah, I think I was overly-ambitious. What is the policy on checking out books?” I said quickly, as I gave a look to the door. I really did not want to have yet another run in with one of these six.

“Oh! Do you have a card?” the dragon asked.

“No.”

“Let me get you a form then. It takes like two minutes to fill out,” he said then vanished to the back room.

“Oh, poor Spikey-Wikey. He is trying so hard to keep up a tough face, but I know him. With what happened to Twilight, he is just devastated,” she lamented. “Isn't it just terrible?”

I could agree with that at least. “Yeah. It sucks. Sounds like she really did not deserve any of what happened to her.”

“I would say not, Scriber. It was very nearly the worst possible thing that could of happened that night!” she returned with no lack of emphatic motion. From a stamp of her hoof, and an angry flick of her mane, everything about this mare seemed to be drama personified. Or at least ponified.

I simply nodded and had little interest in continuing down this vein of conversation. The shuffling of papers from the back room was the only noise in lull. Seemed she really did not have much to add to the subject. Even so, I ground the clutch out with the segue I used. “So, what is it you do, Rarity?”

She blinked at the transition then joined me along the new line. “Oh? I am a seamstress and fashion designer. Some of the greatest clothes in all of Equestria come from my boutique. Have you heard of the Carousel Boutique?”

“No, I can't say that I have,” I replied, as I turned some of my attentions to picking out the books I wanted to take back to the truck. “Sounds like you have a nice set up though.”

“Oh yes, I do. But today, I just want to visit with some friends, and just be there for them. Everypony is taking the accident hard.”

I almost missed that. “Wait. What? Your friends are coming here? As in the other Elements of Harmony?” I asked as I utterly failed to hide the twitch in my eye. My hangover was rather pointed poking the space behind my eyes and asking if I missed it.

“There is no need to be nervous just because we are famous, Mr. Scriber. We are all quite friendly,” she said reassuringly as she reached out to touch my shoulder with a hoof. I jumped back, leaving her with a shocked expression on her face.

“Oh! Look at my wrist! I have to get going!” I declared about as naturally as I could as I stared at the back of my hoof. By “naturally” I mean woodenly, stilted and slightly deranged. I picked up my bag and swung it over my neck again before I started to the door.

“What about your books, Scriber?” the concerned mare asked.

I looked at the pile for the briefest of seconds and stole a bit I once saw. “I don't want these!” I declared before I turned for the now open door. I should of known better to steal something like that around here. There was two mares blocking the doorway. One was a familiar blue and rainbow pegasus and the other was orange earth pony in a Stetson. Fate, seriously, you can go lay down in a ditch and die right now.

“What are you doing here, Kerry?” Rainbow Dash quickly enquired as she was quick to step up to make sure I was not getting out of the library.

“I thought you said your name was Scriber?” Rarity asked from behind me.

“That's the Scriber that mah brother was talking about?” the country-mare demanded of anyone who would answer. I think the book said she was Applejack.

“Scriber? Kerry? You are the one that hurt, Twilight, you ruffian!”

“What? He's the one that put Twilight in the hospital?”

“An' he took Big Mac fer all he was worth at the card table last night! Even took his yoke!”

The growing volume of the voices around me was not doing my head any favours, so I hung my head, put a hoof to my temple and grunted, “Please, just stop.” I do not think any of them heard. I tuned out the words but I could tell there was was no over-abundance of kind words being shared right now. “I just want to go home.” The outside pressure did not mix well with the fully realized agony of a hangover left unattended. By the time I snapped, I know I was surround by the four.

“All of you! Shut up! Just shut up!” I bellowed as loudly as I could manage. It hurt to raise my voice like that, but it had the intended effect of cutting off the ever-escalating prattle around me. I just gave answers to the questions I recalled hearing while I tried to fight down the headache that was working on separating the hemispheres of my brain. “I was looking for some books. I am Scriber here, but I was Kerry back home. It was me in the truck. Yes, I was driving. No, I did not do it on purpose. And, if he thought the yoke was important, he should not of put it on the table. I am leaving now. Please don't follow me.” I pushed to the door, looked around to get my headings, and began marching home, leaving them to worry about what an awful pony I was without me.

I really did not want to deal with any of this, but I could not help but think I was being followed.