• Published 14th Jan 2013
  • 26,295 Views, 1,588 Comments

The Monster Below - Greenback



An earth pony seeks to transform himself into an Alicorn, but how far is he willing to go to get what he wants?

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Restoring The Balance

I was too tired to reach the bedroom, so I instead passed out on the floor. The next thing I knew, someone was pounding on my door. I almost shrieked, thinking that the police had somehow found me, and for a split-second I was tempted to leap from the window and let the pavement save me from being taken by the police. Thankfully, saner action prevailed, and I glanced through the door’s peephole to see that the unseen pounder was one of my coworkers from the grocery store.

Brushing my hair back, I opened the door.

“Silverspeak, where have you been? You were supposed to come in four hours ago!”

In the chaos of escaping the police and getting home, I had forgotten that I was supposed to go to work the following day.

“Sorry,” I said. “Late night party.”

“You too? Well, you'd better get down to the store lickity-split.”

I wanted nothing more then to go back to sleep. “Can't someone else come in?”

“No. We’re short-handed enough as it is. I'll tell the boss you'll be there in an hour.”

Pressed for time as I was, I could only take a few minutes to shower, followed by throwing every shampoo and conditioner into my hair and skin to make both as presentable as possible. But even in my clean uniform, there was no hiding the fact that I was in no way presentable for working among the public, and my boss wasn’t happy. Assuring him that I wouldn’t go to any more late-night parties, I headed out onto the floor, but curiosity compelled me to ask why we were short-handed.

“You mean you haven't heard?” my boss asked me. “Something happened at the library last night. Some of your coworkers saw things and are apparently giving details to the police. I don't know all the details yet, but whatever happened was big.” He chuckled. “Boy, if someone tried to steal something from there, he's screwed if they catch him. From what I've heard, pretty much the entire police force is out looking for him.”

Whistling, my boss went back to work, unaware of how close I came to having a heart attack.

***

I tried to ignore what my boss said, figuring that he was just blowing things out of proportion, as he was apt to do. I kept telling myself that as I went home, reassuring myself that there was nothing to worry about, and that when I woke up, everything would be fine.

Waking up the next morning, I had no idea I was beginning the worst day of my life (at that point). It began with me heading to the lobby to get the morning paper, and almost fainting upon getting it. The entire front page was running a special on an attempted break-in in the library's Forbidden Section. The article reminded the reader that the Forbidden Section held the most dangerous and powerful manuscripts outside of Canterlot. The writer helpfully pointed out that only a madpony, or someone bent on conquest, would be insane enough to break in.

I came close to a heart attack several times as I went through the articles, reading statements from the police, the librarian, and what few eyewitnesses there were. They all agreed that an earth pony had snuck into the library, but no one had any idea who it was, as his or her face had been disguised. A few late-night partygoers had seen a pony running through the streets in a black suit, but no one had seen where the pony had gone.

The police, the article continued, were searching for the guilty pony, but noted that the thief had stopped to save the library's guard from being crushed, and thus, he or she was likely not a menace to the public at large. Still, they needed to find out who had done it, and security was now being tightened, and additional magical protections were being permanently installed to ensure that no one could sneak into the Forbidden Section again.

After reading the paper, I was sorely tempted to cut loose and shriek in utter terror, but I didn’t have time for that. Time itself was running against me; I needed to get rid of any evidence that could point to me, and fast. Desperation guided me as I raced back to my apartment, locked the doors, closed the curtains, and began to destroy any evidence linking me to the library.

With the speed of a pony possessed, I got my night vision goggles and took them apart, reducing everything to tiny shreds of plastic, metal, and shattered glass. Then came the smoke grenades. I turned on the fan for the stove top and punctured a corner of each can, letting the smoke get sucked away. Within half an hour all the grenades were empty, and I then used the cutting tool to tear them into thin slivers of scrap metal.

Tossing a few logs into the fireplace, I started a fire; the sneaking suit was cut into hundreds of tiny pieces and tossed into the flames, where they burned away to ash, along with the belt. My face paint went next, then the poncho, and the saddlebags. I couldn't leave any trace of what I had done. No hoofprints, no traces of DNA, nothing. And when all was turned to ash, all that remained was the cutting tool. Demolishing it was out of the question, so after I unscrewed all the parts, I dumped them into a bag with the remains of the goggles and grenades, and then headed to one of the more remote piers, where, after making sure no one was watching, I emptied the bag into the water and watched the pieces of metal sink from sight, the turbulent waters washing them away.

All evidence of my transgression was gone. Everything I had worn and used was either burned away or committed to the deep. Only then did my shaking stop, and my heart slow down to a normal beat. As the storm raged outside, I took a hot shower, letting the near-scalding water relax me, imagining it to be washing away my mistakes, letting them flow into the drain as if they had never existed.

As I dried myself off and combed my mane, I felt good. With any luck, I would go about my daily life and no one would ever suspect me of being the thief.

Then I realized that there was someone who could: the Librarian.

My knees gave out, and only a fast grab of the counter kept me from falling. With all the time I had spent in the library going through books on magic and alicorns, it wouldn’t take a genius to add two and two together and put up a good case that I was the thief. It wasn't long before my shaking came back, accompanied by a racing heart and fast, panicked gasps as my mind put all sorts of horrible situations together. She would tell the police about me, they'd come interview me and I'd crack and go to jail. Or worse, she'd suspect that I was the perpetrator, but without any proof she'd have to see what I would do. If I stayed away and never came back that would look suspicious, but if I came back, she'd figure that I was only doing so to try and draw suspicion away from me by acting innocent and dumb, and she'd realize that it really was me who had done it, and then she'd tell the police and everything would be so screwed up.

The rest of my afternoon was spent trying to figure a way out, yet finding none. It all kept coming down to the librarian. Eventually, I'd have to deal with her one way or another. Killing her and dumping the body was out of the question. I wasn't that desperate. I just had to show her that I wasn't the pony who had broken in.

But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how.

***

Fear and dread have a way of helping you see solutions you hadn’t thought of before. As the sun continued to set, I realized that the most logical course of action was to play the dumb innocent, guilty of wanting forbidden knowledge, yet never acting on it. It wouldn't ease my conscience, but it might get me off the librarian's hit list.

Thus, with a plan formulated, I finally felt a small spark of hope welling up within me. I gathered up my library books, figuring that returning them would prove I wasn’t the perpetrator. After all, a thief never returns to the scene of the crime so soon after a botched job. As I headed to the library the following morning, I went over my possible responses to the librarian's inevitable questions and accusations. My main theme would be that, yes, I did want to get in. But I wasn't desperate and stupid enough to want to do something illegal.

With renewed confidence, I got off the subway and entered the library, having to pass by two guards at the doors. But they weren’t mindless brutes from some rent-a-guard company, but Royal Guards from Canterlot. The princesses had apparently heard about the break-in and weren’t taking any chances about the perpetrator trying again.

Gulping, I headed past the guards, who didn’t give me a second look. Neither did anyone else, including unicorns casting spells into new ducts that were too tiny for a pony to creep through.

Reaching the front desk, I found several librarians hard at work, but the main mare wasn't there. The others recognized me from my constant visits, and gave me a suspicious look as I came up.

“I’d like to return these,” I said, putting my two cooking books on the counter.

The librarian on duty looked me over. Her co-workers did the same. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“Funny how you come by here today,” she said. “After that break-in and all.”

Realizing where this was going, I decided to adapt my chosen attitude. “And that means?”

“You really wanted to get into the Forbidden Section a few months ago.”

“I did. But because I don't want to spend a decade studying a degree I don't want, I guess that's never going to happen now.” I looked at the doors leading to the Forbidden Section, now heavily reinforced with numerous magical locks. “And from the looks of things, I couldn't get in even if I wanted to.”

“Is that so?”

I decided to be a little aggressive. “Look, I'm not stupid enough to try and break in. I don't want a criminal record. No book is worth that.”

I could tell that the librarian was offended by my aggression, but it had worked. I could see her realizing that I wasn't lying. Granted, she wasn't aware that I had worked my charm on her, and that she had fallen for it, but that didn't matter. The seed had been planted. In time it would grow, and if I kept visiting, they would realize that no criminal would constantly hang out at the place they tried to break into.

She turned to check the books in, and I turned to leave.

“Hey, you!”

I froze as the main security guard walked up. After the hit he had endured, I never counted on him coming back to work so soon, and never expected to meet him. My confidence wavered as he walked up, clearly on edge.

“What are you doing here?”

“Easy Goldcuff,” the mare behind the desk said. “He's just returning his books.”

Goldcuff looked me over, his eyes piercing my own. I looked back, trying to muster as much bravado as I could, but his gaze was piercing.

Did he recognize me?

“Can I go?” I asked.

Goldcuff eyed me for a moment longer, and then nodded. “Sorry, sir. Just... just been kinda jumpy since the break-in. Old instincts die hard, you know? Everyone I see is a threat. It'll... it'll go away in time.” He shook his head. “I swear, I'm getting too old for this. First a break-in, then the bugger almost kills me, then saves me. I... I just don't know what to make of it anymore.”

Not knowing what to say, I stayed quiet.

Goldcuff moved away. “Carry on then.”

I nodded as Goldcuff headed back to his rounds. He had been right next to his attacker, and hadn't even recognized me. That was good. Very good.

I took a step forward, then froze.

The head librarian was right in front of me.

Where she had come from, I didn't know. One moment Goldcuff had been standing before me, and then it was the librarian. I was so surprised, I didn't know what to do. I immediately shifted into excuse mode, ready to explain to her why I was there.

But she didn't ask a question. In fact, she didn't say anything. She just stared at me. And to this day I can still feel her gaze. It was like watching the blank, emotionless face of a statue. But those eyes... it seemed like she was reading me and knew my darkest secrets.

She knew.

All my carefully planned excuses and challenges were forgotten. My nerve fled me, and I didn't want to be in the same room with her, much less try and talk. It would be like trying to lie to a mind reader. My heart was pounding as I walked around her and headed to the door, fighting the urge to run out and get as far away as possible.

As I left, I glanced into a mirror. The librarian was watched me as I left.

Even in the reflection of a mirror, her eyes met mine.

***

She knew. There was no doubt in my mind when I got back to my apartment. Somehow, impossibly, she knew I had done it. I couldn't explain how. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw her emotionless face, waiting for me to crack and spill everything. She was like an angel who was waiting for a damned soul to break down and confess under her unbearable gaze.

I paced in my apartment, trying to hold back the fear that was threatening to overtake me. She couldn't prove anything. She had no direct evidence of what I had done. There was no security footage, no magical images showing what I had done. She couldn't prove anything. But... what if she could? What if she secretly had recorded me? What if she was playing a waiting game to see if I would rack before going to to the police? But... but she was bluffing. That was it. She didn’t have any evidence. Sooner or later, she’d give up. I tried to keep that thought ever present as I headed to bed. But sleep wouldn’t come. I lay in bed, trying to calm my mind, but it refused to stop going over my fears and doubts like a record on repeat.

Exhausted, yet unable to sleep, the long hours went by like molasses creeping down an icy slope in the dead of winter.

The sun’s rays eventually crept through the window. I barely noticed it. Yet, somehow, among the blurry haze that was my mind, I realized that the best way to stop the librarian was the same method I had originally planned: act as if I had nothing to do with the break-in, and were annoyed that you had been accused of doing so.

The librarian’s bluff wouldn’t get to me.

***

Despite being exhausted, I managed to head into work and put on my usual cheerful demeanor and helped customers find what they were looking for, all while listening to mares and colts gossiping about the break-in. No one could remember the last time such a thing had happened, and many were afraid that there was some dangerous criminal at work, eager to use magic to overthrow the princesses and take over. Some whispered that it had been a rogue changeling. Our more elderly customers were sure it was King Sombra, Tirek, Nightmare Moon, or even the Pony of Shadows.

“I don't know who it was, or what they wanted,” I reassured an old mare. “But I'm sure everything's going to be all right.

“No it won't!” she yapped. “You'll see! This is proof! Proof that Equestria's going downhill! It's those griffons! I always knew they were up to no good! They're trying to take over and steal our jobs! You know they are! Admit it!”

The next few days followed the same pattern. I went back to the library and checked out two more books. I wasn't going to read them, but the act of checking them out would show the librarian I wasn’t afraid. After all, would a criminal really keep going back to the scene of the crime?

Eventually, the hullabaloo about the break-in died down. Ponies went back to life as usual, and the headlines turned to other matters. Yet, the police continued to search for their culprit despite the lack of leads. It was an order from the princesses, they explained. Such a break-in was a serious matter, and until they caught the culprit, they would continue their search.

I chuckled upon reading that. What leads did they have to go on? Nothing. And what could the librarian do about me? Nothing. After all, with all the complaints the library was getting regarding security, she'd want the culprit to be caught so things could go back to normal. If she had evidence, she would have turned it in by then.

I should have felt safe.

But I didn't.

Despite my bravado, and my constant upbeat thoughts about how I had gotten away scott-free, I couldn't forget the librarian's gaze. When I brushed my teeth, walked about, and even in my dreams, I saw her gaze watching me, silently accusing me.

She knew.

I began to feel her eyes on me as the weeks passed. Then a month. Then two months. And still the police continued their search. Every possible lead was being followed. Every possible route was being calculated and tracked.

I began to think that their search was getting rather ridiculous. I mean, what were the odds that the thief was going to break in again? Yet, they kept looking. They kept up with their damn investigation. They wouldn't go away. They wouldn't leave the matter alone.

Why couldn't they leave it alone?

***

At one point, I realized that someone was watching me at work. I was sure of it. I could never prove it, but I felt their gazes. Yet, every time I looked, there was either no one there, or a guest searching for something.

During my breaks, I would stay in the break room and look through a tiny hole I carved in the wall, on the hunt for whoever was hunting me. It was the librarian. I knew it was. She was spying on me and trying to make me crack.

I had to stay vigilant.

***

I was being watched on the streets. It was harder going out in public. I couldn't escape the librarian's gaze. The police remained vigilant, never stopping or harassing me, but I saw them watching me.

I bought my first lock. It wasn't much, just a simple deadbolt that I installed on the inside of my door. I realized that if I propped a chair underneath the handle, that would make it even harder to get in.

But if one chair worked, why not get another lock to add to it?

They might have watched me from the outside, but they couldn't get to me in my apartment. Not with all the locks and bolts and props bracing it shut. But this would make them redouble their efforts. I was sure of it. I needed to be more careful. Every week or so, there was another headline about the police investigation, and how it was still ongoing. About how those guards from Canterlot were still guarding the library, and would remain there until the thief was caught.

Soon, it wasn't safe to go outside anymore. Too much of a risk. I would dash to work in the morning, hide in the break room, and then run home and lock myself inside the apartment.

The months passed.

I could still feel the police and that accursed librarian watching me. I didn't go anywhere anymore. The only reason I still went to work was to get bits to pay the rent and to get more locks. The only way to stay safe was to wait it out. I would show them all.

They wouldn't get me.

***

Looking back, I'm amazed I didn't have a mental breakdown. I came close, though. I just couldn't see it. But as philosophy books are fond of pointing out, life prefers balance. Tip too far to one extreme, and there will be a strong corrective action to restore balance.

My own corrective force came one morning when I was barricaded inside my room and thinking about how I couldn't trust my parents. They had called a few times, but I had grown suspicious of them. What if they were in league with the librarian and out to teach me a lesson by waiting until I cracked? ‘Shame on you, son,’ they'd tell me when visiting me in jail. ‘Why did you do such a bad thing?’

No, I couldn’t trust them anymore. I would have to communicate through a third party. Someone I could hire to take their messages and give my own in return.

That was the point when I cracked. It was as if someone had slapped me on the face. I was going to cut myself off from my parents. The ones who loved and cared for me, and supported me when no one would.

It was as if I had come out of a long nightmare. I looked around my apartment, and almost didn’t recognize it. All the locks, all the braces, the barricaded doors, and my escape plans. I realized how many conspiracy theories I had, and realized that it was only a matter of time until I believed that the entire city was after me, and that suicide was the only way out.

The realization hit me hard. So I did what most other ponies would do upon realizing they were guiding themselves to self-destruction: I drank. I went to the cabinet and pulled out the only bottle of cider I had (extra-strong) and drank it all.

Through the acidic bite of the cider, everything became clear to me. It wasn’t the librarian who was driving me to destruction. It was my conscience. Without even realizing it, my guilt over what I had done was tearing me apart. In the quest to become more than who I was, I had betrayed one of the biggest lessons my parents had ever given me. The only way to stop the guilt was to resolve it. But how?

The answer came to me when the bottle dropped to the floor. There was a way…but it didn’t involve going to the police. No way in tartarus was I going to do that. It was much simpler.

Whenever I did something wrong as a child, my parents would make me think about what I had done. They believed that the only way to truly correct a mistake was to find out why you had done it, solve that, and then realize that continuing to act as you had done would only bring more pain. I knew why I had broken into the library. I knew the reasoning behind it, and had realized the pain it had caused.

I had to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

Going into my room, I took little Celestia and put her on the floor. If I could have done it and gotten away scott-free, I would have done the process with the real Celestia, but the miniature of her would work well in her place. Lying before her, and as her calm eyes followed mine, I made a vow. I said that from that day forth, I would never again commit any illegal acts to attain my goals. No breaking into buildings, no sneaking into places where I didn’t belong, no stealing, no assault, nothing. It had taken the library fiasco for me to realize how wrong that was.

With little Celestia watching, I finished my vow. The lesson had been learned, and I would not repeat the same mistake twice.

And just like that, it was done.

***

I didn’t leave my apartment for the rest of the day. But when night fell, I went to the door, pulled the sofa away, and undid all the locks, something I hadn’t done in quite a while. I left my home and went outside. I stood and waited. I smelled the fresh air, heard the sound of traffic, and ponies laughing somewhere in the distance.

I could no longer feel anyone watching me.

It felt wonderful.

***

It took a little while, but I could go through my days without looking every which way at every step, and I could sleep at night without fear of someone breaking in. I was even able to go into the library again and check out books like normal. When I saw the librarian, she still watched me, but I no longer feared her. I would nod, and then continue on my way.

On some level, I think, I had made my peace with what had happened, and was no longer afraid. If the police were going to catch me, then so be it. But two weeks after my paranoia had snapped, the newspaper announced that the librarian had officially asked Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to lift the guard, and that the new security features in place would protect the library. And, amazingly enough, her request was granted. The guards left. The library returned to normal. And even the police declared the case to be closed, though unsolved as they had found no leads after months of searching. They had to admit that the trail was cold.

Life was back to normal. Balance had once again been restored.

And me? I was content to enjoy my simple life. I went out again to the movies, walked the piers at night, and enjoyed shopping for new clothes and various vanity items I was interested in. I even got a promotion at work, and an increased paycheck.

For the time being, turning into an alicorn left my mind. I had been serious upon making my vows, and upon realizing that I probably wasn't going to become one via legal means, I was okay with dropping the matter for a while.

But destiny has a funny way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

***

When I came home from work one day, there was an expensive-looking envelope in the mail. Curious, I opened it and found a letter from one of the companies I had first applied to when I arrived in Manehattan. Turns out one of their staff writers had quit and they wanted me to come in for an interview.

I wasted no time in pulling on my finest clothes and taking off across the city to the business in question. The secretary, no doubt impressed by such quick devotion, managed to schedule a job interview and on the same day, no less. I was more excited then nervous, and easily breezed through the questions the company’s CEO sent my way. With a healthy sprinkling of my charm I was able to convince him that I was a good fit for the company, and within an hour I was officially hired on as a professional writer.

With my new job in place, I was set up for full time work, which meant I had to leave my grocery store job. My manager was sad to lose me, but he understood my desire to move on to bigger and better things, and told me that if I ever needed a job again, I knew where to go. After getting my final check ––plus a nice bonus as a farewell gift––I decided to treat myself. So, on the day before I started, I went to the amusement park to have some fun for the first time since the library fiasco. It had the rejuvenating effect I needed, and when I awoke on my first day of work, I was all but bouncing about as I entered the company’s skyscraper.

I settled into a new routine. Though there was no set schedule of things to do, I had plenty to keep me busy. As one of many writers on staff, my job was to craft speeches, notes, memos, proposals, and anything else the company’s employees needed. I wrote press releases, newsletters, and company memos for upper management too busy or too lazy to do it themselves.

Things were slow at first. But then I started getting thank you letters from the higher ups, praising my work for how it saved them time, and also moved readers and listeners as well. I overheard a few of my coworkers talking about how the daily memos and newsletters actually had warmth in them, rather than the cold and artificial style so favored by managers.

The money started to come in too. It wasn't as much as I was used to, but it was enough to cover all my expenses, plus have a little left over. I even began to branch out and place my name in the classifieds as a writer for hire, and started getting outside work. There was no job I wouldn't take, no paper I wouldn't write (except for homework and essays that students wanted me to compose in their names).

Business was steady, and life was good. And, more importantly, I was more content then I had been at the grocery store. I was finally using my talents and skills. And like all dreamers, when life is good, and everything is going your way, I once more let the alicorn dream fall by the wayside. I told myself I would eventually pick it up again when the time was right.

Then the letter came.

It was another ordinary day of work when I opened my business mail. There was nothing too exciting: a few memos, a few reports and an invitation to the company picnic. But among them was a letter from an individual wanting my help in writing some business proposals. It was freelance work, nothing I couldn’t handle. She was a doctor and medical researcher, and I figured working for someone in that field would prove most interesting.

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