• Published 1st Dec 2017
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The Third Remove

You are Berry Punch.

You're certain you were being crushed... or maybe it was pulled apart? You can't remember, but it was some horrible kind of hallucination. Or was it? What in bucking Tartarus is going on? You're still gasping for air.

Were you drinking? You remember having a drinking problem...

No, you weren't drinking. You wouldn't dare drink again. You've been sober for twelve straight months, and you'll be sober for the rest of your life. That last time you lapsed... you almost lost your daughter. Thank the Stars above, the Princess of Redemption saved you from yourself.

So, no. You don't drink anymore. Pinchy means everything to you. She is your reason for existing. You need her to know you care about her, and you need it more than you need to flowers and grass to eat. And you certainly need it more than hard cider or wine.

Your hooves are shaking and you're still a little dizzy. You stand up and examine the pills beside the tattered easy chair you were seated in.

Oh no.

"I took the wrong ones?" you whisper to yourself. You can't believe it. You realize your new anti-anxiety meds, which are still experimental, look a lot like the pills you thought you were taking! The pills beside your chair are the experimental ones. You just took six large doses of an anti-anxiety drug that had only been tested for a single dose per day. Earth pony sized doses, to be precise.

Horsefeathers. You feel guilty, and you punch yourself in the side of the head, which hurts a lot. But it should hurt. What would have happened if you'd died? You're a mother. Maybe you're not a good mother, but you're still a mother, and Ruby depends on you to take care of her—even though she's getting close to the age when she'll finally leave you forever and probably never look back. But for now, you have a responsibility, and taking care of her means you need to take care of yourself. You love her too much to do something this stupid. You can't be this stupid again, you just can't.

You try to calm down. You shouldn't be hurting yourself, because that's almost as wrong as drinking. Fortunately, it isn't difficult to calm down because you have a ton of anti-anxiety medication in your bloodstream right now. That's a silver lining, you sarcastically think. You try to focus, and look over at the clock.

"Oh horse apples, I'm late!" you say. You're glad Pinchy isn't here to hear you cuss out loud, but you were supposed to pick her up five minutes ago. The Carousel Boutique isn't far from here, but you zoned out instead of delivering the party supplies to Sugarcube Corner, so you'll have to take them along with you.

You run into the bathroom and quickly dab some cheap perfume under each cheek. It smells more like kerosene than flowers, but you can't afford the good stuff, and appearances are important. You want the Princess of Generosity to know you're grateful for her time, and for her willingness to teach Pinchy for free because she knows you can't afford to pay for her lessons. But more importantly, you want Pinchy to know you take her abilities seriously. You may be an earth pony, but you don't have to be a unicorn to appreciate magic, for buck's sake. You quickly rinse your mouth out with mouthwash and canter outside.

As you load the party supplies into the cart, you wonder why things always need to be so bucking complicated. If only Pinchy realized what incredible talent she has, you think, as you hook yourself up to the cart you borrowed from a neighbor. But then again, if your daughter didn't have these issues, she probably wouldn't push herself so hard all the time. It's a deep irony, and it makes you feel conflicted. You're so proud of her, but you're pretty sure you'd rather have a C student who felt good about herself. She doesn't need to do all this to impress you! You've always been proud of her, even when you were unable to show it properly.

You take off at a canter, but to be safe you'll slow to a trot after you pick up Pinchy with you. She could just walk beside you, sure, but today is her day. She'll get a wagon ride to her fifteenth birthday party, and you'll both have a blast. You start to relax a little more. Things are going to be okay.

You arrive at the Carousel Boutique. You detach yourself from the cart and walk up to the door, then pause before knocking. The princess said she had a difficult test planned for Pinchy. Your foal might be inconsolable if she didn't pass. Of course she will pass, but that's never good enough for Pinchy. She'll expect her performance to be perfect. You sigh deeply. You need to take her with you to therapy someday. She says she doesn't want to go, but maybe if you beg her like a jackass or something...

You knock on the door, and you bite at your lip as you wait.

A few moments pass, then a smiling princess opens the door. "Ah! Perfect timing. Welcome, Berry Punch," she says to you. You giggle and fake an air-kiss, ironically. Rarity's always talking about how ridiculous ponies are in the world of fashion. Initially you used to think she was trying to show you up, but eventually you realized her friendship for what it is.

Then you see your perfect daughter sitting down inside, and you smile.

"Pinchy!" you shout, then race into the Boutique, pick Ruby up, and hug her like you mean it—because you do.

You look into her eyes, and she looks disappointed, which is how she usually looks. You don't think that will last for long, though.

"Honey, you can go outside and get in the cart. I'll be right out, after I talk with Princess Rarity," you tell her, and set her back down. You notice she's wearing saddlebags with her cutie mark on them—obviously another gift from Rarity.

"Oh. Why are we taking a cart?" she asks you.

"You'll find out soon enough," you tease, then walk over to Rarity. Your daughter walks past you and climbs into the cart.

You smile at Rarity. "Did you give her those beautiful saddlebags?" you ask, already knowing the answer. "They're perfect for her."

Rarity grins back, a bit sheepishly. "Oh, there's a little more gift-wise, but I'll let her tell you herself." You don't know what that means, but you have the suspicion Rarity has outdone herself.

"You're too kind to us both, Rarity," you say. It took you a while to learn to call her Rarity, but you've known each other for a couple of years now. She's been a great source of strength. You figure all of this is why she's a princess.

"No, you deserve better than you've had in life," she says. "I'm proud of you both, but especially Pinchy. I cannot believe that darling girl! She masters everything I throw at her, thrice as fast as I ever learned magic. She's like a young Twilight Sparkle."

You smile. "She's something special, alright. I only wish she knew that."

"We'll teach her, don't worry. It just takes time," says Rarity. "You know," she adds, dropping her voice to a whisper, "I never much cared for children. At all, really, except for modest doses of my little sister. But I think I see the rewards inherent to motherhood, and for being able to share that experience with you in some small fashion, I am forever grateful."

You feel misty eyed. Horsecrap, you hate this kind of sentiment. "You're coming to the party, yes?" you redirect.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, darling! But to avoid spoiling the surprise, I shall be 'fashionably late', as they say," she says, vainly holding a hoof to her chest with her nose upturned, before we both break into giggles again.

"See you soon," you say, and you head back to the cart.

Pinchy looks tired, and you're tempted to tell her that she can nap in the cart, but you're pretty sure she'd just take that as a challenge to prove you wrong. So you quietly latch yourself to the cart and begin to trot toward Sugarcube Corner. You'll keep the destination and party a surprise. You've scrimped and saved so you could give her a very special experience today.

After you're on your way, you look back at her, beaming with pride. "I see the saddlebags, and Rarity told me how well you did today!" you say, then put your eyes back on the road. "She didn't give me any details about what you did, though, so you'll have to tell me all about it. We're going to have a lot of fun together celebrating your awesome magic."

"Oh, cool," she says, and it makes you feel like you just won a marathon.

Out of nowhere, a baby rabbit jumps right in front of your hooves and freezes! You move your left forehoof to the side, and it catches in a small rut in the road. Your ankle twists painfully and you fall to the ground.

Unfortunately, you're still harnessed to the cart, and as an earth pony, you weigh at least twice what the cart and its contents weigh. This means even a slow trot carries with it a tremendous amount of momentum.

The cart flips sideways and the boxes fall all over the place. One of them cracks open, and one of the wooden wheels is shredded. And then you see Pinchy hit the wall. For a unicorn, that really had to hurt. Oh, buck it all to Tartarus!

"Horsefeathers!" you shout, your voice filled with an even mix of anger and guilt. Your ankle seems unbroken, so you try to stand up, but then you notice two of your legs are caught through one of the undamaged cart wheels. Of course you could snap the wood to splinters as easy as chewing through unrefined sugar, but you'll have to pay for the damage the cart has already taken. You don't have the money for this, and you don't like to lean on friends like Rarity for things you should be able to do on your own. It's not like you have a pile of gems sitting on your dresser.

You try to pull your legs free without damaging the cart any more than it's already damaged. You hear a 'thump', followed by a few 'thump's with a little 'crunch' in there. Then you see Big Macintosh racing and jumping toward where Pinchy fell—

You utterly destroy the cart as the most horrible feeling of your life grips your chest. There are enormous blocks of stone falling off the wall. You'd have to be a genius to calculate where those stones would land, which means nowhere along the wall is safe.

You don't see Pinchy anywhere, and you're starting to panic. There are stones littering the area by the wall where she was. Big Macintosh has stones covering his back half, and then you see a stone land on his shoulders and flatten him thinner than anypony could possibly be flattened, let alone a pony his size. You realize you just watched your coltfriend die, but you remain in denial because that doesn't matter right now.

You don't bother to look up. Your safety is not important. You rush to the pile of stones where you last saw Pinchy. No, no, no! There's a lot of red, and you throw one of the boulders over your shoulder and you scream and you fall to the ground and pet the part of her head still holding together. This is the end of the world.

At some point you run out of voice to scream with, and you turn and gallop away, ignoring all of the horrified onlookers. You're barely able to breathe through the tears and the pain. You feel a momentary numbness grip your body, and you realize you're watching yourself act, almost like you're reading a story rather than participating. You're not in your own body right now. A mind can't live inside of that body right now, you realize. Nothing can live there. It can only be empty.

When you reach your home, you run inside and slam the door behind you. Naturally, your instinct is to go for booze, but you've removed all of that from the house. You're tempted to try drinking the vanilla and almond extract, but you realize you can't even do that. Even now, with your soul fractured into a million pieces, you can't betray Pinchy. You cannot drink.

And then you see the pills.

You know Ruby Pinch would want her mother to live. You know she would try with all her might to protect you from yourself. But there are limits, and you've gone well past any rational limit. Besides, you don't know the pills will kill you.

You just really, really hope they will.

Around two dozen pills go down your throat, or as many as you can swallow dry before you begin coughing. Most of them are getting stuck in your esophagus, but the pony body is designed for digestion and it's only a matter of time. In the meantime, choking is a welcome distraction. You lie on your bed and cry and choke and rip your covers to shreds, then you start to destroy the mattress as a very heavy weight presses down on your neck. Your body tingles and goes numb and you just want to go somewhere else, anywhere else, even nowhere if it means... you're sleepy all over and blessed confusion sets in. It's all tight and warm and floaty and you think thinininnk thhhh—

You abruptly wake up next to a moonlit lake, surrounded by magical flora created from your own imagination, and after a brief moment of terror, the sweet embrace of serenity comes. You smile, because you already know exactly where you are. This is your realm, after all.

Where you are is, oddly enough, asleep within a dream in which you are physically located.

As for who you are?