• Published 19th Nov 2018
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Bedbound (And Beyond) - Cackling Moron



Freshly-arrived human in a state of some disrepair is tended to by local deity.

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Author's Note:

Are you ready for two chapters of hamfisted navel-gazing?

/airhorns

I guess it's important.

Having slept on it, I felt a bit dumb for freaking out the way I did.

I think it might have just been I wasn’t braced for it. A thousand years, you know? Things are a thousand years old. Buildings, countries, bloody familial feuds over valueless strips of land - not people though. Didn’t fit into my expectations, threw me for a loop. That was all.

We’d got on, hadn’t we? Me and Celestia? Quite well, as far as I was concerned. And she hadn’t been pretending, right? Hadn’t looked like it to me. We’d really got on!

I really hoped we had. Hoped it hadn’t just been in my head.

If it was?

Not sure I could joke that one off. Didn’t really want to think about it.

In fact, don’t think about it. Stop thinking at all, because all that’s going to happen is that you’re going to think yourself into ever-decreasing circles. Can’t do anything about it on your own. Wait until you see Celestia again and then talk to her about it. That’s the much better idea, yes? Just focus on what’s happening right now, right in front of you.

Man, things were much more fun when I was just stuck in bed being looked after. Remember when my biggest worry was getting put onto a toilet by a horse? Remember that?

You really never appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.

A knock at the door got my attention back to the moment.

“I’m decent!” I yelled. Mostly true. Being covered in a sheet was plenty decent and besides, it was just Twilight. Poking her head around the door to check if I really was - who did she take me for! - she then entered.

“It’d probably be easier for you if you got me a clock or something, you know,” I said as she approached. She raised an eyebrow, then got it.

“Oh, it’s no bother. Besides, there’s something I need to tell you this morning.”

“That so?”

“The specialist arrived two days ago. He said he needed time to set up but he should be ready today so we should, ah, probably go do that at some point…”

Now that’s short notice.

“So that’s happening today? Like, now?” I asked. She bit her lip and shuffled her hooves.

“I kind of didn’t want it hanging over your head.”

Ah, the eternal struggle. To know something awful is coming and live fretting about it, or to have awful thrust upon you without warning? Which is best? One can only hope that when you flip the coin it somehow explodes and kills you.

“Nah, I get that, it’s cool. Should probably get dressed,” I said.

“I thought you said you were decent?”

“There are levels of decent, Twilight. Avert your eyes.”

She did so, I dressed, we ate briefly and thence we were on our way. Always good to have something to do. Makes you appreciate the times you’re not doing something.

“So when we say ‘specialist’ what are we talking about, exactly?” I asked as we walked.

“He is - as far as I’m aware - an expert in the effect of magic on neurological systems. Or so he told the staff here and they told me.”

“Oh yeah, brain specialist. I remember now.”

Sure to be an enlightening experience.

We entered the hospital, passing through the areas I’d seen before, through some doors and up some stairs and into parts unknown. Eventually we wound up in some office or other and, after standing there for a moment while Twilight exchanged words with a nurse, the specialist entered.

I’d seen a variety of ponies by now, but this one stuck out to me. Couldn’t put my finger on why. Were I feeling arty-farty, I might say that he had an unwholesome aspect about him. Maybe it was his pointier-than-usual muzzle, maybe the expression of rapturous delight. Who could say!

“Hello! I’m Doctor Knacker, yes-yes?”

Oh, that boded well.

“Hi Doctor Knacker,” I said.

I held out my hand - force of unconscious habit - but this was ignored and Doctor Knacker instead came in close for a peer at me, held turned to the side.

“So you’re the human, yes-yes? Very interesting, very new! I’ve read up on you, yes-yes. Read the notes Miss Sparkle was kind enough to provide. Very interesting! Very interesting case. I am keen to take a look inside that head of yours!”

This guy didn’t waste any time.

“Uh, how inside are we talking here?” I asked.

“Only magically! Only magically. Nothing invasive, don’t you worry human. You’ll be kept complete and whole. We’ll just take a peek-peek! Take a look what’s going on in there. Figure it out, yes-yes?”

This doctor was starting to damage my calm, though I could not quite pin down why. Was it the weird repetitions? The sheer excitement? Both? The thought of it being this guy as a specialist?

“Sounds great fun. How are we taking this peek?”

“With my Magic-Assisted Resonance Enhancer!”

Magic-Assisted...oh come on! He’s got to be taking the piss! That name doesn’t even make sense! I think? What’s it enhancing? Resonance?

“Sounds great,” I said, hoping my biting sarcasm might put a dent in whatever it was that Doctor had going. It did not, and remained stalwart and weird, nodding happily as though what I’d said had been heartfelt and full-throated support.

“Is! We’ll have a peek-peek inside your lovely human head, see what’s happened in there, yes-yes? See if we can fix it!”

Fixing it, hmm.

This was something I’d been idly tossing around inside my head as a concept the last couple of days, but the sudden appearance of the (rather disarming) specialist had brought it to the fore, and now it was hard to think of anything else.

Fixing it would be good, surely? Then why was I so bloody nervous?

“I’ll go and ready the machine!” Doctor Knacker said, all-but galloping out of the room. Twilight watching him go with a quizzical kind of air and I reached out to lightly tap her on the shoulder. The quizzical look transferred to me.

“You’re not going anywhere, are you?” I asked, and there must have been an edge to my voice I hadn’t meant to be there as her expression softened considerably and she reached up put a hoof against my leg. Odd gesture, but I was reassured all the same.

“No,” she said.

I gave her hair a ruffle. That sort of thing was coming far too easily for me, now.

“Good, good. I’m tense,” I said, eyeing the door, expecting Doctor Knacker back at any moment. He did not return then, though, and Twilight asked:

“Tense?”

“I have misgivings about this. And not just because of Doctor Knacker’s bedside manner. I’m going to do it, just got a bit of me that ain’t so sure about it. Bit of me that kind of doesn’t want to.”

“Don’t you want you memories back?”

I swallowed, rubbed my face.

“Uh, yes and no.”

Looking down, I found Twilight blinking up at me in blank confusion. God she was cute. God they were all so bloody cute.

“I don’t get it.”

“It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. Hard to explain. Especially if you’re an idiot, like me,” I said. She glared. Bad choice of words.

“Try me,” she said.

“I’m me now, yeah? But I’m a type of me that isn’t, uh, me. And if I get all the stuff back that had been gone then that’ll be another me - the real me, I guess, the old me - but that might mean the me I am now will, uh, stop existing. That me will die. This me, the one talking right now.”

I hoped all that made sense, wondering whether I worry too much about things.

I licked my lips.

“It kind - it kind of makes me feel a little skeevy, Twilight. Little skittish.”

She’d softened on me now, but I could kind of tell she hadn’t entirely grasped my issue. Couldn’t really blame her for that. I hadn’t been the clearest.

“You’ll be fine,” she said, sincerely.

“Oh I’m sure I’ll be fine - I’m sure Doctor Knacker is a fine magical brain specialist - it’s just what I I’ll end up being fine as. You know?”

“You’ll still be you either way.”

But who was me?! What a quagmire.

“Well, yeah, what if the person I was was a massive dickhead? What if that comes back? What if I suddenly remember lots of little things that make me a horrible person and they all come clicking into my personality?”

“That doesn’t seem very likely,” she said.

She wasn’t wrong and I agreed with her, but the little sliver of doubt that was still there reminded me that ‘unlikely’ was not the same as ‘impossible’. It could happen. It probably wouldn’t, yeah, but it could.

I kind of liked who I was right now. Sure, couldn’t remember some of the finer details about who that was, but still. I was kind of mellow. It was nice. Had I always been like that? I didn’t know.

Tying myself in philosophical pretzels wasn’t exactly how I’d wanted to spend my day, but this was how things had shaken out

Doctor Knacker returned.

“It is ready! Come-come,” he said, beckoning.

Time to face the music, I supposed.

Twilight gamely went ahead of me, looking back over her shoulder just to make sure I wasn’t fleeing or staying rooted to the spot. I wasn’t, and was pretty close behind her as she went through the door.

And there, occupying part of a mostly-empty room, was Doctor Knacker’s (presumably patented?) Magic-Assisted Resonance Enhancer.

It was just an MRI. A dinky, magical MRI but still just a fucking MRI.

Sure, fine, whatever. There’s probably a pony version of Las Vegas or some shit kicking around - why not this? Why not have a seance? Why not go mad?

How they’d ever managed to get the thing in here? In pieces, presumably. No wonder the guy had needed time to set up, he’d probably had to put the thing back together again! Sorting through the Alan keys alone should have taken a week! He deserved a medal!

Maybe I was overthinking it.

I had to get out of my proper clothes and inelegantly wrap myself in a collection of gowns which weren’t the right shape. I covered the essentials and then clambered onto the thing, which had plainly been modified to accommodate someone of my length and weight. It still shifted under me, though. Little alarming.

“This isn’t going to awaken any latent psychic ability I have, is it? I don’t want to turn into a huge blob monster,” I said once I was lying down, doing my best to keep still and flat.

“Just try to keep still,” Twilight said. Then: “Does that happen to humans?”

“No. I was just pulling your leg.”

Glancing at her I could tell she still wasn’t entirely convinced. My work was done. Oh Twilight! You’re so much fun!

“Oh. Good. Keep still,” she said.

“Yes-yes! Dangerous otherwise. Moving parts and strange energies!” Doctor Knacker said. He was - perhaps alarmingly - wearing a pair of goggles with mirrored lenses and standing behind a safety screen as he fiddled with controls and monitored paper-fucking-printouts.

Bloody theatrics.

I closed my eyes and held still, feeling myself being fed into the tube of the machine some moments later.

Tight spaces aren’t the best, especially not spaces that are tight for someone half your size to start with. It’s just best not to think about it, and if you don’t move you don’t bump against the sides and realise how little space you have to move around in.

And don’t imagine things like having to tortuously wriggle inch-by-inch down a couple miles of pipe to an atmosphere converter. That’ll just make you panic.

Think of nice things. Just keep your eyes closed. It’ll all be over soon.

I was surrounding by a whirring, clunking humming. It was not soothing. At one point the clunking got particularly intense and I felt a greater movement of air in front of my face. This was enough to get me to crack an eye and see what was happening.

The machine had opened up and it looked now like I was lying down in the middle of some sort of orrery. Bits and pieces of arcane machinery orbited me. A good number of them didn’t even seem to be attached to anything. Naturally.

How any of this was meant to be happening safely inside a room inside a hospital was anyone’s guess. Did ponies have health and safety?

I closed my eyes again. No need to get involved. Just be inert. Be matter.

On the plus side Doctor Knacker had mentioned moving parts, so this was at least a sign that he wasn’t completely full of it.

I lay back and thought of England. This got me nowhere and just got me confused, as it all came to me out of order and entirely devoid of human beings. Not sure why I expected it to be different. For a change of pace, I lay back and thought of Equestria, what little of it I’d seen.

Pleasant enough place. Lots of greenery. Reliable train service.

Nice ruler. Very friendly. Maybe a little on the older side but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. Or talk to her. Or hang around with her.

Very warm…

The whole process of being run through the Magic-Assisted Resonance Enhancer took a length of time I was unable to measure. Felt like a heck of a lot of time because when you’re lying on your back with your eyes closed surrounded by whizzing magical debris being scanned any length of time feels like along time.

It did end, though. Eventually.

I was told to go next door and wait and that results should arrive shortly.

Big boy that I was, I did as I was told.

Twilight seemed to have adopted the role of assistant - or, perhaps, minder - to Doctor Knacker and so lingered with him to keep an eye on what he was up to. This left me sitting on a tiny chair in the adjoining room, patting my knees and waiting.

I pulled my shirt onto my lap and considered changing back but decided against it. Maybe they’d need me to do so something else. You never know.

Twilight came in first some minutes later, with no Doctor Knacker in sight.

The look on her face didn’t fill me with confidence and I felt a knot twist in my gut despite myself.

“There’s good news and bad news,” she said.

So quick! Or were they always so quick? Or were the results so plainly obvious they didn’t need to spend time looking over them? I didn’t know. I just did know that what she’d said was a bad sign.

“Oh, that’s never a good start,” I said. Twilight managed half a grin, but her heart plainly wasn’t in it.

“You want the good news first?”

It was the done thing, after all. I shrugged and nodded.

“Sure, why not?”

“Your leg and your hand - your whole right side, really - isn’t a symptom of anything, it’s just, uh, damage from magic. Whatever brought you here, I mean, that magic. Kind of a burnout, I suppose you could say, a shock to the system. But the damage is done. They won’t get any worse.”

“Will they get better?” I asked.

Twilight bit her lip, something I was readily able to identify now as a sign of nervousness.

“...it’s a possibility?” She ventured.

“This is the good news, right?”

Before she could clarify Doctor Knacker entered, practically busting the door off its hinges in his glee to be back in the cool room with the cool people. He’d at least lost the safety goggles.

“You’re here for the bad news, I take it?” I asked.

“Hmm? What? No-no! Never any bad news, no. Only interesting findings! Only new things. We have peek-peeked! Very interesting, very interesting!”

This guy.

“Do tell.”

“Your transition to this world has done wonderful, unexpected things to your brain! It - that is to say, your strange, foreign human brain - has reacted to the magic involved in ways never seen! Clearly you come from a very mundane place, yes-yes? A place without much magic to be found?”

I nodded. I couldn’t remember much, sure, but that at least I knew. Doctor Knacker smiled the smile of a man who knew he was right before asking the question but loved hearing it anyway.

“Your brain has fractured, you see? Along magical lines? Most unusual! Most perturbatory. But so fascinating!”

There was a bit to unpack here.

“So I’m definitely not from here? This, uh, dimension or whatever? I wasn’t just shot into space?” I asked.

Dumb question, yeah. I mean, what had I seen? The sun was getting moved around with magic? There was magic at all? Physics didn’t change just because I’d moved in space. At least I didn’t think they would. Dimension-hopping seemed about as likely as anything at this point. I mean sure, why not?

Doctor Knacker at least seemed pretty certain about it.

“Space? Not at all! All signs point to no, my machinery tells me so.”

He was rhyming now? I hoped that was a one-off.

“Good to know. And you said fractured?”

“Yes-yes! The only word I can think of that does it justice! Fractures and partitions! Where your brain was not split up by magical force it seems to have tried to shield itself! Discrete sections. Amazing! Unique! And it changes, yes-yes? Even as we were peeking some cracks disappeared, new ones opened! Remarkable! Unprecedented!”

I frowned.

“That sounds a lot like brain damage to me.”

“Yes-yes, but it’s magical brain damage!”

He was beaming so widely as he said this I felt the guy was in severe danger of just having his head split in half. It didn’t though.

“That - that’s not better. That’s still bad sounding,” I said.

His beam faltered in the face of my utter lack of excitement. He waved a hoof and frowned at me as though I was the wettest of wet blankets and a man with a thousand pooped parties under my belt.

“It is hardly as bad as the word ‘damage’ would suggest! Your cognitive functions are entirely unharmed, it’s just your memories! And even then in an unusual, idiosyncratic way. This or that might be beyond your reach today, but tomorrow? Back again! I’ve never seen anything like it! So new!”

He said this like it was a good thing, obviously.

“Consider me reassured,” I said, then turning to Twilight. “It can be fixed though, right? Magic and all that? There’s probably a spell for this?”

Before she could answer Doctor Knacker leapt in front of her and interrupted. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this guy.

“Any attempt at manipulation, healing included, could have drastic and unforeseen consequences! Your brain is very delicate, yes-yes? Fragile. Unpredictable! Even peeking we had to be softly-softly. Trying to recover? Could destroy! Could kill you! Would be interesting to try, yes-yes, but so risky, could ruin whole thing so easily!”

Well then.

That’s my head fucked.

“Never getting those memories back, then?”

“No, not never! Which is to say, maybe! With changes your brain undergoes all the time, could happen naturally tomorrow! Unlikely, but possible! But with assistance, getting them back? No, not now-now. But later maybe! Just not for the foreseeable future, yes-yes? And not without considerable, possibly fatal risk! Maybe later? Maybe once we have better, longer look, hmm? But not now, no. Fatal risk!”

He sounded far too excited about fatal risk for my liking.

I played around with the bottom of my shirt. Rarity’s stitching was immaculate.

“But why can’t I remember other people?” I asked. It was such a very specific mental block that it just seemed unfairly arbitrary. I saw Doctor Knacker shrug out of the corner of my eye.

“Oh, could be so many-many reasons. Magic, you know? It is so touchy! So arbitrary! It has rules, but does it tell us what they are today? No-no! We have to find out for ourselves! I would have to peek a lot longer to know even for half-sure.”

The prospect didn’t thrill me.

The room was very, very quiet. Doctor Knacker seemed to have run out of steam and Twilight wasn’t catching my eye. I cleared my throat.

“So, uh, what happens now?” I asked.

This question apparently hadn’t occurred to Doctor Knacker, who rolled it around his mouth like he was tasting something exotic.

“Now?” He repeated. “Hmm, now, now-now…”

“Do I need to do anything?” I asked him, quickly, to keep him from wandering off anywhere I might not want to hear about.

“You? No-no, you don’t need to do anything. We’ve peeked, yes-yes? We have discovered. Established what seems to be the issue and reached a very abrupt conclusion! No other conclusion to reach, so obvious, all right there! There is nothing else to do. Could peek more, if you like? Learn more?”

Clearly he wanted me to say yes. He was practically skipping.

“Didn’t you say that was risky?”

“Yes-yes! But what is life without risk, hmm?”

A very easy thing to say when it’s not you taking the risk, but whatever.

“Noted.”

“Ah, you need rest, yes-yes? Always draining, being deep in the MARE. You sit, you rest. I have notes to compile! So many notes! So new! Ah! Oh!”

He galloped off. I mean literally galloped.

That left me and Twilight. Again, the room was quiet.

“So I guess, uh, technically the old me died, huh? Getting here? And this is just who I am now?”

I said it and I thought it but it didn’t seem especially real. Like reading words from a page, not actually anything there. But it was there and it was real. I dwelt on this, but it didn’t change.

“And I guess without useful memories I’m not going to be much use in helping you guys get me home? Because I can’t do that on my own. Predictably,” I said, this having just occurred to me.

Weirdly, going home was just not something I’d thought about that much, probably because thinking about home too much hurt my head. There had been the impression that it was important I should go home and that it was something I should be concerned about but, again, it didn’t feel especially real.

Home was, right now, just a jumbled collection of facts. Bits and pieces about, oh, super-fast rocket-powered planes and ancient Roman sieges of Jewish fortresses. Not exactly cosy. My home had no people in it because I couldn’t think of people, just things. It was an empty space where things had happened and where I had once been, apparently.

The thought of going back did not motivate me. I had no idea what I was meant to be going back to. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

“If coming here did all this to you I don’t want to know what going back could do…” Twilight said.

I hadn’t thought of that. Rampant speculation, yes, but she had a point didn’t she? There could be a way of doing it safely, but maybe this was what just happened when humans got sucked into magical horses places? Maybe this was normal.

Maybe my brain wouldn’t survive the trip back.

All speculation. No answers. No nothing. All I had was that I was me, now. This guy, sitting here. And here was Equestria, which was apparently where I would be staying for the foreseeable future and possibly until I died.

So there was that to look forward to.

“Are we sure that guy was a doctor?” I asked, just to try and lighten the mood.

Twilight nodded.

“I checked.”

“Wow. Can I never see him again? Is that an option?”

She managed a fraction of a laugh, though it kind of sounded like a fraction of a sob. I couldn’t really count that as a win. She was continuing to not look me in the eye, either.

Poor girl was taking this harder than I was!

“I-I’ll get you some water,” she said. I hadn’t asked for any and I was going to point this out to her but she was gone before I was able to. She didn’t gallop, but she did move pretty damn fast.

So that was me alone, then.

And, once alone, I did what most people do when they’re alone and had a good worry.

If someone had sat me down and asked me what it was that upset me about the prospect of never seeing home again I would not have been able to tell them. It just sat in my bones as something I should be upset about.

I had this general, looming, background sense that I didn’t belong here, I belonged back there. Even if I had no solid idea of what there even was anymore.

It was kind of a similar feeling to what had used to happen in my head when I’d looked at Celestia the first couple times, actually. This sensation that things weren’t fitting together right, that things were wrong, that I had stumbled somewhere I shouldn’t have.

That was gone now, though, more or less. Where I was was where I was, and what I looked at was what was there. Just how things were. You can get used to a lot of things, it seems.

Maybe that’d happen with this new feeling, too? In time? Just get used to it?

I hoped so.

On top of all that being, of course, that my brain was magically broken. That was kind of a new one for me. Not even coming at my memories sideways gave me anything I could use to handle that. No precedent for that one.

Should probably feel worse about it, but it was difficult.

I was still here, wasn’t I? Thinking? Whoever I was now. Some guy. John, I suppose.

I felt a little flat inside. There should probably be something, something big. Some intimidating emotional hillock for me to trudge over. An obstacle for me to wrestle with and eventually conquer. But no, nothing. Just flat.

Kind of makes me worried that it’s going to come bursting up underneath me without warning. That happens to people, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t sound fun.

Sigh. Oh well. Life is making the best of what’s done to you, yes? Wherever you go, there you are and all that and you, John, are now here. So suck it up. Having an existential crisis over your being forever stuck in a land not your own with your thoughts in tatters is not going to butter any parsnips. Just carry on. One thing at a time.

You’re not dead yet, shithead.