Hitch a Ride

by Yip

First published

Twilight takes a ride on a train to relieve her stress and find inspiration... but it isn't the ride itself, but the stories, that will affect her the most.

Twilight's lack of inspiration or progress for a Hearth's Warming play prompts her to believe that she has the most stressful life in the world—on a train ride to gather her thoughts, though, everything is shown from a more realistic perspective. And it isn't the ride, but the stories, that she will remember most.

Featured on Equestria Daily January 27th, 2014
Reading by Dr. Renegade!

Hitch a Ride

View Online

Don’t cry because it’s over.
Smile because it happened.

Twilight Sparkle watched the candle with bloodshot eyes, waiting for the last bit of wax to melt before blowing out the flame. There was a time when she had told herself to go to sleep, but Ponyville’s clock tower hadn’t yet rung twelve times to mark midnight—or at the very least she was too occupied to hear it. The candle, she thought. There’s a better clock I can use.

Outside of the light’s influence were strewn several discarded sheets of parchment, each inscribed with past concepts now scribbled over with the same ink that still pooled in the wells. To Twilight, the unsatisfactory thoughts and ideas written on the scrolls were a waste of time—I’ll get it right on the next one, she insisted to herself time and again, allowing another virginal scroll to rise from the stack and face the trial of her quill.

Her latest attempt to write was hovering right in front of her, enveloped in a violet glow. Ideas were constantly running through her mind; sleep deprivation sent each one out, leaving her motionless with an ink-tipped quill set to write nothing.

So this is it, she thought, sighing as she relinquished her magical hold on the parchment and quill. After an entire day of writing, you’re no closer to finishing than you were at the start. Twilight let loose a soft sigh and hung her head in defeat. A week until Hearth’s Warming Eve, Twilight. Sometimes I wonder if you take on too much.

‘You...’ a faint voice called from above, perking up Twilight’s ears and catching her attention, ‘...you still working on that play thingy, Twi? I keep hearing the paper moving—just want some sleep is all.’

Twilight cast her gaze to the library’s top floor, where a dimly-lit purple figure was busy stumbling his way in the dark from his basket to the floor’s edge. As the candlelight illuminated part of his body, wrinkles could be clearly seen forming under his eyes.

‘Goodness, Spike, you need to get some rest!’ Twilight said, staring straight into his bloodshot eyes. ‘I’ll move the light somewhere else so you don’t get distracted.’

‘Twilight, your eyes are red. Come up to bed,’ Spike replied, ushering Twilight to the stairs with the pointing of his claw. ‘You can’t come up with ideas without a good night’s sleep.’ Spike took a quick glance out the window, seeing only the slightest moonlight creep in through the window, and frowned. ‘As if we’ll even get a good night’s sleep as it is.’

‘Spike, I really need to get this done. Rarity ordered the costumes from last year’s play already, so I need to pick them up tomorrow and I need the story finished so we can get the lines memorized!’

‘The script isn’t done? You got the job a few days ago—wait,’ Spike said, raising an accusing eyebrow, ‘you’ve been working on this for the last four days?’ Twilight nodded in response. ‘How much have you gotten done so far?’

Twilight motioned her hoof to the floor, still littered with pieces of thrown away parchment. Spike merely sighed as he looked at the cluttered mess and then back to the mare.

‘Well, I don’t really have a say in what you do, but you might get inspiration from the costumes.’ Spike’s comment was met with Twilight’s own raised eyebrow. ‘What? I’m not saying it will, but it’s better than staying up all night. You’ll never get inspiration this way.’

Twilight raised her hoof and opened her mouth, prepared to protest, but a good look at the small pile of discarded ideas silenced her before she could even speak.

‘Alright,’ she said, ‘I’ll sleep on it. Once I’m done cleaning all of this up, that is,’ she added, taking a quick pause to yawn. ‘Wouldn’t want a messy work station, would we?’

‘Do what you need to do,’ Spike grumbled, waving his claw passively as he scrambled back to his basket. ‘I’m going to bed.’

Twilight set about shifting the inkwells and quills back into neat rows, but as she came across the sheet of blank parchment she had been staring at before, a thought crossed her mind: Hold on a second, she thought, keeping silent for Spike’s sake, I know what to put down!

Within a few seconds, the untested scroll hovered in front of Twilight, floating alongside a freshly-inked quill. Her mind took her places she hadn’t seen the entire day; sleep deprivation, as it turns out, prompted a slight burst of inspiration.

A few moments and a fair bit of scratching quill against parchment later, and Twilight stood completely rigid, staring at what she had accomplished in such a short period of time.

‘“Twilight Sparkle Presents”,’ she read. ‘“Twilight Sparkle Presents”.’ She merely sighed and read over the same three words again and again, observing the delicate and immense effort she put into them—the sharp curls and extravagant decorations around twenty-three letters of work proved that. ‘Twilight Sparkle Presents—’

‘Twilight?’ Spike called out groggily, his tone noticeably rough and irritated. ‘You said you were heading up to bed, but all I can hear is you saying the same thing over and over again. It’s really getting too late for this, Twi.’

Twilight shook herself out of her trance and nodded, forgetting that Spike’s closed eyes couldn’t see her—sleep deprivation continued to mark its toll through her eyelids anchoring down her eyes. She was supposed to get as much time as she could; sleep wasn’t supposed to come into play.

Nopony understands the stress I’m put under every day. I know they appreciate the work I do, but it wouldn’t hurt if they were a little more lenient with stuff like this.

After relinquishing her magical hold on the writing tools once more, a quick blow on the candle flame was all it took to plunge the room into darkness.


A dream came to Twilight over the course of her rest—in the dream, she was conscious of a duplicate of herself, luckily enough one who was hard at work writing her script. The doppelganger could not see the real Twilight—even if she could, she shared her intense concentration for work. She was brimming with ideas that Twilight was anxious to see, and as the copy Twilight’s quill was lowered onto a piece of parchment lying on a desk—

‘Twilight!’ a booming, all-encompassing voice called out. Twilight groaned at what the voice meant—preventing her from seeing the ideas form. ‘Twilight, wake up!’

As quickly as the voice had come, Twilight’s eyes drew out and back into focus, revealing the same room she had been in during the dream. She was lying on the library’s floor, spread out on all four hooves.

‘Uh,’ Spike said, bright-eyed and noticeably hurried, ‘did you sleep on the floor last night?’

I don’t remember going to bed, so

‘...Never mind,’ Spike finished, waving his claw in dismissal. ‘It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you told me to wake up early to clean around the library! Shouldn’t you have woken up before me?

‘Wh... why are you so hurried, Spike?’ Twilight replied, repressing a built-up yawn. ‘I just have to write the script—’

‘No, the costume order arrives at the station in five minutes!’

Time seemed to stop for several moments, culminating in a sharp rush of energy coursing through Twilight—she was not now, not ever, going to be late for something as important as this. She shot up and dashed over to the window as fast as her hooves could carry her—outside lay a blanket of white, fluffy snow, accompanied by millions upon millions of falling snowflakes. Her eyes caught a tower marked with a clock face at its front, its long hand pointing at the XI mark and quickly approaching the top alongside the smaller hand.

Twilight could not see the time. All she could see was late.

‘No!’ she cried out, lunging towards her leather satchel. ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can! In the meantime, could you straighten out this library a little? I have no time and the station might keep the costumes on hold when they close and—’

‘Don’t give yourself a heart attack, Twilight,’ Spike said calmly to an out-of-breath, panicking Twilight. ‘The station usually waits a few minutes before closing. I’m sure they wouldn’t stop you from getting your bags—hurry, but don’t go too crazy.’ He walked over to her desk, opened a drawer, and grabbed a small bulging sack that fit perfectly in his claw’s grip. ‘You forgot to take some bits, too.’

Twilight allowed herself a moment to breathe and relaxed her tense muscles, but the sense of urgency quickly retook its course. ‘Thanks so much, Spike—’ she managed to sputter out in her mad rush, ‘—but I need to make sure it doesn’t close!’

‘Don’t get too stressed over th—’

Spike’s finishing sentence flew right over Twilight’s head as she kicked the door shut on her way outside. She was bolting across the expanses of snow, feeling its effects after mere seconds, her teeth chattering and her hooves shivering. Horsefeathers! she thought. Good thing I brought my scarf. Too bad it can’t help this blinding snowdrift—huh, it’s getting stronger.

A pelting of snow clumps rained over Twilight’s back as she dug through her bag, a purple-and-black striped scarf protruding from its opening. Within moments, it was wrapped around its owner’s neck, inviting the cold to even attempt to break through its warming fabric.

The wind continued to pick up, increasing the snowdrift blasting onto Twilight’s face; no scarf, soon enough, could withstand the force of Equestria’s wrath as it snowed down on the unsuspecting village. Whiteness covered the landscape within minutes, and soon Twilight was forced to squint in order to see through the maelstrom.

Luckily for the hasty unicorn, only a few steps stood in her way towards the Ponyville Station before the visibility fell to zero.

How— Twilight thought, astonished as she swung the station’s door open, —how did it pick up that fast? I hope I can get the costumes back home safely through this storm. What if the train can’t even get the costumes in through this weather? What if I can’t write this script by the time—

‘Why, howdy stranger!’ a friendly, drawling voice greeted. ‘Boy, this weather sure picked up real fast! Good thing I didn’t go outside, would’ve knocked my head clean off faster than an Apple could buck apples!’

Inside the station was a simple room; nothing adorned the wooden walls surrounding Twilight, and the only fixtures present were several waiting chairs lined up in the middle, several potted plants with a rainbow-coloured garbage bin standing next to them and a simple oak counter resting on Twilight’s left. The desk was covered with a shiny metal bell, several rolls of variously-coloured tickets and a smiling young earth stallion leaning over its edge and staring anticipatingly into Twilight’s eyes.

‘So what can I do you for? Doesn’t look like heading home will be the easiest thing, but you can stay tuned with my state of the art talking machine!’ the stallion cheered, lifting a small plastic box from behind the counter. ‘Some folks call it a radio, but it works in telling me what I need no matter what I call it!’

As Twilight—who had finished rolling her eyes—had suspected, the radio merely buzzed when turned on. I can’t believe he thinks it’ll get through this weather, she thought. Come on, Twilight, just a few more minutes and you can get your costumes. Then you can find a way through this storm. Teleportation, maybe?

Twilight pondered for a few moments.

Nah, too unreliable. Might get caught in the middle of the storm.

‘Hey, uh... you alright?’ the stallion inquired, losing his friendly smile. ‘You’re not really talking much—not at all, actually. Do you need anything?’ His friendly grin reappeared on his face. ‘It’s my job to get you what you need!’

Twilight rolled her eyes again. Maybe I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt this time.

‘I am waiting for my costumes that will be arriving on the next train here—if it even comes, that is,’ Twilight wondered, grumbling as she looked out the blanched window. ‘But after that, I need a way to kill time before the storm lets out and I need to find inspiration to write a script.’

‘Well, that’s easy enough to solve!’ the stallion replied, perking Twilight’s ears in interest. ‘I’m the ticketmaster, after all!’

The ticketmaster pointed his hoof to a brass nameplate mounted at the front of the desk with glee.

‘I see.’ Twilight couldn’t help but give a slight smirk. ‘So how, mister ticketmaster, do you propose we fix my problems?’

‘Well, even if the train is delayed, I’m sure it will arrive in due time. The conductors are pretty good at their job; I’m sure they could get through any weather!’ The ticketmaster cleared his throat. ‘As for your question,’ he said, straightening out his desk as he spoke, ‘you have two options, it seems. Try and brave the storm, risking yourself and losing your chance for inspiration, or... you could go on a day trip around Equestria!’

‘Huh?’ Twilight sputtered out, bemused. ‘What do you mean?’

‘You know, I haven’t seen a single pony today and you’ve been pretty interesting so far. The ticket is on me!’

‘You never explained anything about the option, mister ticketmaster.’

‘Oh! Right, I guess that would be a good idea!’ Twilight rolled her eyes as the stallion spoke. ‘I’ve got a special group of tickets underneath this counter here—’ he dug his hooves into the counter until a smile of satisfaction appeared on his face. ‘—aha! These are special tickets for ponies who won some contest a while ago, but they never picked them up!’

The stallion eagerly placed a small red ticket on the desk, ushering Twilight over to come see it.

‘It allows the ticket holder to hop on and hop off the train whenever they like—but it only has one use for each, so you stay where you stop! Unless you buy another ticket at one of our friendly stations around Equestria, of course,’ he added in a strangely alluring merchant’s voice.

‘So it’s just a journey on the train? I don’t quite see how all of this fits or helps my case.’

‘You said you were waiting on costumes, right?’ A nod promptly answered his question. ‘Well, if you want, I can keep it in storage while I stay here—I’m closing down the station as per usual, but the storm looks like it’ll be keeping me here for a while. I’ll probably just nap or read until you get back!’

‘But why would I go on the train?’

‘You said you needed inspiration, right? You can buy some parchment, an inkwell and a quill for cheap on the train. It’s not snowing everywhere, you know—maybe the landscapes can give you some ideas! Do you need a few bits for the supplies?’

‘No, thank you,’ Twilight replied, waving him off politely. ‘I’ve got some bits in my bag. But, I will admit, this idea does sound like a good one.’

‘And please, don’t insist that you pay bits for the tickets. I’m not actually allowed to sell them, I was supposed to get rid of them a while ago,’ the stallion admitted, rubbing the back of his head with a hoof. ‘So what do you say? I think I hear the train coming now, so it’s either the train or this station!’

Twilight approached the door and looked through the blank window, soon blank no more. A familiar tint of pink came from her left, screeching to a halt as it came closer and closer to the station loading area. A faint outline of a pony trudged through an open door and towards Twilight, pointing her hoof to the door and yelling unintelligibly. Behind her, a suitcase was dragged along the snow, leaving a trail of hoofprints and indents where the pony dropped the case.

Twilight quickly opened the door, allowing the pony—as she had then observed, a unicorn mare—to enter and collapse on the floor. ‘That storm, it’s so strong,’ she gasped, panting as she kicked the door shut. ‘Magic wouldn’t even work through that mess. I’ve never walked a more painful yard in my life.’

Wordlessly, the mare recovered and picked herself up. ‘There are a few packages here addressed to Twilight Sparkle,’ she explained, digging through the moderately-sized suitcase by hoof. After a few moments, she shuddered. ‘Blast the cold, my horn feels too frozen for me to use magic—and I was only out there for a few seconds.’

‘Mm, it’s quite the storm out there,’ the stallion replied, shaking his head towards the door. ‘A mighty thanks to you for delivering through that.’

‘Well, might as well get these packages out. Where do you want them, Summer?’

‘Here,’ Twilight said, enveloping the packages with her magical glow, ‘let me move these for you. I ordered these packages.’

‘Twilight Sparkle, huh?’ The mare picked up the suitcase and sealed it. ‘Thanks for making this go by quickly. Best be off, now! Take care, Summer—’

‘Hold on,’ Summer interrupted, holding out the two red tickets he had shown to Twilight. ‘I think this mare might be taking these for a step on, step off tour. Isn’t that right, Miss Sparkle?’

‘You’re the contest winner?’ the deliverymare said, looking to Twilight expectantly.

‘I—I suppose I am. Thank you very much, er—’

‘Stout. Summer Stout, at your service.’ Summer smiled as he held out his hooves. The tickets levitated out of his hold and towards Twilight’s saddlebag. ‘And don’t mention it, really! Everypony with a story should be given a chance, even if you can’t relate to it yourself.’

‘Thank you, Mr. Stout. I really do hope this will help me out.’

With a parting smile, Twilight followed the other mare out the door and into the frozen wasteland that was once Ponyville. Perhaps this will work out in the end. At least, I certainly hope it will.

After a quick venture through the deathly storm, Twilight quickly made her way inside the train and into an empty booth for two. Finding solace in the velvet-covered cushions she sat upon, her muscles relaxed, and she soon found a quiet rest overtaking her body.


‘You awake?’

A rough stallion’s voice alerted a half-asleep Twilight; her eyes struggled to adjust in the blinding light that filled the train car. Through her squinting, she could see the sun beaming down from the outside, lighting up the booth’s window and illuminating everything inside. Wait, sun?

‘Guess not. Might as well take my lunch somewhere else, then.’

A quick bump jostled the car, the force of which was enough to send Twilight hurtling upwards from her prone posture. Her eyes flew open as she attempted to gather her bearings—all the while, a staunch stallion bearing a red plastic hard hat and a reflective safety vest watched. Twilight looked to her own awkward, diagonal positioning on the booth seat and smiled sheepishly.

‘Oh, you’re sitting here?’ Twilight remarked, observing a simple yellow lunch bag resting on the seat opposite to her own. ‘Ah, I’m sorry. I had only been awake for several minutes before I hopped on the train, my brain probably just went for the quickest spot! You know how a pony’s mind works, crazy as always!’

The stallion merely stared, straight-faced and blinking.

‘I’m making no sense, am I?—’ Come on Twilight, you’re acting foolish! ‘—W-Well, anyway, my name is Twilight Sparkle.’ Twilight stuck out her hoof and smiled, this time in earnest.

‘Name’s Corkscrew,’ the stallion replied in a gruff tone as he accepted the gesture with his own hoof.

‘So, uh...’ Twilight stammered, Corkscrew retaining his stone-faced expression as he reached into his bag. ‘Y-you heading somewhere?’

Corkscrew took a hefty bite out of a sandwich with little bits of lettuce sticking out from the sides. After setting it down on the table in front of him—Twilight’s stomach growling in the process—he cleared his throat. ‘Yep.’

Another sheepish smile formed on Twilight’s face. ‘I’m just going along for a trip through a few cities! Where are you headed?’

‘Places.’ A short grunt escaped his mouth as he moved to the edge of the booth.

‘Why are you moving around like that—’

‘Tickets, please,’ a tall, red-uniformed unicorn trilled from the booth next to them, holding a steel hole puncher in her ivory-coloured magical grip. As the two ponies sitting the booth held out their tickets, the device made a fluid motion across both tickets, leaving star-shaped holes and two floating pieces of ticket behind. ‘Thank you.’

Twilight’s eyes opened with fear—tickets, she thought repeatedly, where did I leave mine?

Corkscrew held out two tickets on his hoof, one golden one encased with a crimson lining and one bearing a solid red colour—Twilight’s ticket. The ticket-punching mare approached the booth, took a quick glance at the tickets and raised a curious eyebrow.

‘So you’re on for the whole ride, eh?’ she said, raising her puncher to the golden ticket. ‘Why do you have two?’

‘Found it on the floor,’ Corkscrew replied, shrugging. ‘Guessing it’s this mare’s ticket here. Twilight, I think her name was.’

Twilight smiled and raised her hoof. ‘That’s me, but I’m sure you gathered that already.’ Twilight. Stop making a fool of yourself. You must be tired after that nap, do something to wake up—

‘Well, alright then! Just let me punch the Baltimare ticket; the all-round one gets punched whenever you want to head off next! Unless you want to head off already, but then you wouldn’t have much use for that ticket, would you?’ The mare smiled and punched the ticket in a swift motion.

‘Wait!’ Twilight called out as the mare turned from the booth. ‘Where are we right now?’

‘We’ll be arriving at the Canterlot Mountain in a few minutes—we’re not heading up to Canterlot, but we’re heading through the tracks to the east. If you would like, we have a map available for three bits that shows the usual route for this train in particular.’

‘No, but thank you for the information.’

Adding another smile to their discourse, the mare enveloped the red ticket with her magic and sent it over to Twilight. ‘Just call me when you want this punched! And if you need anything else, call for me—Illude!’

‘Thank you.’ As Twilight finished speaking, the mare turned and walked towards another booth—again, offering a polite smile to its occupants. Ah, writing tools! I’ll get to that later.

‘So where are you off to, Corkscrew?’ Twilight inquired, turning her attention to him. ‘I’m just doing a round-trip myself to relax and get inspired to write. I’m having a really tough time getting that done at home.’

‘Baltimare,’ Corkscrew replied flatly.

‘Got work to do there? Something to do with construction?’ Twilight paused for a moment. ‘Visiting family?’

Corkscrew’s eyes widened as Twilight spoke—within seconds, his head was hung down, letting a strand of his dark-brown mane escape from the confines of his hat. He spoke no more, keeping the booth in silence—and Twilight clamoring for answers.

Was it—was it something I said? Oh... oh no. ‘I’m so sorry, Corkscrew. I shouldn’t have brought that up.’

‘They haven’t passed away, if that’s what you mean,’ he replied, tilting his head up and looking straight into Twilight’s eyes. ‘When was the last time you’ve seen your family, Twilight?’

Twilight’s eyes widened in turn—My parents, she thought. I never even thought to send them a letter all this time. What kind of a daughter doesn’t even visit her own family?

‘It’s... it’s been a long time,’ Twilight replied somberly.

‘Y-You understand my pain, then?’ Corkscrew stammered, lighting up and lifting his face into full view. ‘Forgive me,’ he added, ‘I shouldn’t have pried into your life. I understand how painful it is. I truly do.’

Twilight took in a deep breath and sighed. Perhaps this is my chance to get some inspiration.

‘It’s alright. Would it be prying too much if you could tell me about your family?’

Corkscrew shifted awkwardly from side to side in the booth. ‘I-I’m not sure. I hadn’t even planned on talking to you—it’s not like I mention this to many ponies at all.’ The stallion’s gruff voice was soon the only thing Twilight could sense—as the two were startled to discover, everything inside the train car was enveloped into complete darkness.

‘Oh dear!’ a voice—llude?—called out. ‘It appears as though we’re having technical difficulties with the lighting in this car. We won’t be in the dark for too long; if, however, you have a severe problem with darkness, then I will be more than happy to try and find a flashlight!’

‘As I said, I’m heading off to Baltimare,’ Corkscrew continued, seemingly taking no notice of Illude’s words. His voice was neutral—the tone was everything when complete darkness took hold. ‘Commissioned to head a restoration of a bank’s headquarters. Don’t really have much of a choice, even with it being close to the holidays and all.’

Corkscrew’s volume began to fade as he spoke—A Hearth’s Warming story, Twilight thought, but how could I relate this to the characters?

‘The project needs to be done soon so the bank has a place to do their work—whatever they do at the headquarters isn’t my concern. As a project manager, I have to stay through until the end and make sure it gets done as it should be.’

Project manager. Twilight’s mind drifted to her last Winter Wrap Up. The All-Team Organizer...

‘Problem with that is...’ Corkscrew’s voice trailed off for several moments, after which a slow and heavy sigh escaped into the darkness. ‘Well, it’s not like I’m not used to it.’

‘Used to what?’ Twilight replied, leaning in closer to the stallion’s voice.

‘You know that feeling you get when you’re away from something you love for too long?’ A lengthy pause filled the air—Twilight unsure if she should answer. ‘A twisting feeling in your gut after being away from home for too long. That’s how I’ve felt every year; my family lives in Vanhoover—’

‘We apologize for the inconvenience this darkness gave you, but within seconds we should be back in the sunlight!’ a voice trilled. On cue, a trickle of light crept through the windows to the booth’s side; within moments, the car was filled with a bright light, prompting its occupants to shield their eyes from the sun’s piercing rays.

‘Ugh,’ Corkscrew moaned, lowering his head down onto the table. ‘Damn light muddled my thoughts. Where was I?’

‘Y-you were mentioning your family,’ Twilight said hesitantly. Should I really dig this deep?

Corkscrew raised his head to meet Twilight’s eyes to his own, and soon a gloss began appearing over them—Is he crying? No, surely it’s just the sunlight burning his eyes.

‘E-Every...’ The stallion choked up. ‘Seven years ago, I got an opportunity to work on a special project in Manehattan—this was while I was still just your everyday contractor, mind you. I had a wife back then, no kids, barely any contracts—well, at least until the guy that hired me recommended me to an Equestria-wide business in the construction and management trade. Soon enough, I was hired as a project manager.

‘So, naturally, my wife and I were ecstatic. I came back home, brought the news back, and we stayed together for a few days. I didn’t visit her again for another year. Too busy with work; she understood, despite me missing my own foal’s birth three months prior to my return.’

Twilight’s heart stopped for a moment—as it returned to its normal pace, her gut began to tighten.

I had to open my big mouth.

‘I-I looked at my young daughter and I—I cried.’ A tear escaped his eye. ‘I’m still not sure if it was because of me hating myself for missing her birth or if I was just happy to finally see her. This profession gets you fired if you miss a project, especially as the project manager.’

He doesn’t deserve to recall these memories. What am I doing?

‘But my wife understood. It didn’t make everything alright; at the very least, though, it kept our relationship afloat. I still loved her with every bone in my body.’ Corkscrew turned his head to the window, observing a tree line lying quite close to the train tracks—close enough to shield the sun from view. Snow was replaced by luscious grass, a white sky turned into a calm sea of blue. ‘Everything’s even more beautiful in Vanhoover. Untouched, really.’

‘I’ve never been there before,’ Twilight replied, holding back her emotion. ‘I’ve heard that it really is quite nice, especially around this time of year.’

Corkscrew nodded his head. ‘After that visit with my family, I came and visited as much as I could. And I actually have spent the majority of my time there—never got tired of seeing the sun set over that beautiful western sea.’ The stallion closed his eyes and sighed. ‘But when I’m not there, I miss things. My daughter’s first piano recital. Her graduation. My wife and I’s tenth anniversary. I can tell you exactly where I was, what day they were on and what I was doing at the time. For the most part, I wasn’t speaking to the workers on the team.’

Twilight turned her head outside. No snow. Snow—a silly script—the extent of my problems. For a moment, she recalled the words of the eccentric ticketmaster at the station. Everypony with a story should be given a chance.

Twilight smiled. There was a chance.

‘Corkscrew,’ Twilight said softly, ‘why not visit your family on this Hearth’s Warming? I’m sure your clients will understand.’

‘No, they won’t. They really need this bank refurbished before the holidays; they could get another manager in the city, but the costs and time to find one would be annoying to them. I’d be fired for sure.’

‘I see...’


‘Attention, passengers!’ the same voice from the darkness alerted—It’s definitely Illude, Twilight confirmed. ‘We are very close to reaching the Baltimare station, so I’d ask that everypony leaving the train could gather their possessions and have their ticket ready!’

Corkscrew smiled, took his lunch bag in hoof and rose from the booth. He reached up into an overhead storage bin and took a travel bag in his other hoof.

‘Twilight,’ he began, looking down towards the unicorn, ‘thank you. I needed somepony to get this off my chest, and I feel much better for it—even if I felt so adamant about not telling it before. There’s a... weight, you know, off my shoulders that I don’t think anypony else could have helped with.’

‘It’s nothing, really—’

‘No, I really mean it. I’m not the only one with problems, so I shouldn’t sit around and be mopey all the day.’ Twilight felt her gut clenching as Corkscrew spoke. ‘I’m going to go into the office and resign. I’m sure that I can find some work back home to sustain my family, even if I won’t make as much as I did here.’

Twilight was left speechless as the train came to a screeching halt. Once the train stopped moving, everyone in the car lurched slightly forward from the motion.

‘My wife will be so happy,’ Corkscrew finished, making his way over to the open train door. ‘Thanks again, Twilight!’

‘You’re... you’re welcome.’

The train door closed, and that was the last of the stallion Twilight ever saw again.


‘Miss Sparkle, is there anything I can get you?’

Twilight shook out of her thoughts as Illude stood over her, smiling as politely as ever with a tray of assorted foods, drinks and supplies rolling beside her. ‘Perhaps some writing tools?’

‘Actually, that would be quite ni—wait, how did you know I needed those?’

‘I—’ Illude stumbled, ‘—I kind of overheard you mentioning a script of some sort when I passed by earlier. Didn’t think that would slip up like that—I’m so sorry!’

‘Don’t worry about it.’ Twilight smiled. ‘I mean it!’

‘Oh—well, hold on a second. We don’t have quills or ink in these carts; I’ll be back in just a second!’

As the mare stumbled away on her hunt for tools, Twilight’s gaze hovered over to her seat’s window. Vanhoover, huh? Twilight pondered, leaning her right elbow on the table as she stared at the still scenery. There was a calm river flowing from the window’s right to its left, ending in what she assumed was Horseshoe Bay. I should visit Corkscrew there sometime. Perhaps it was a good thing he chose to stay there. Then again, I might have led him to—

Twilight’s thoughts were interrupted as she lurched forward from the train’s roaring start, slowly beginning to shift the view she could see out the window. Within several seconds, the train’s speed was at a comfortable enough level for Twilight to rest her elbow back on the table without it sliding away.

‘You look just like... him,’ an eerie, slow voice whispered from behind Twilight. She turned around and saw the voice’s owner staring straight at her, keeping silent after her comment. The glaring eyes were the first thing she noticed; a large pool of deep blue filled most of the white sections, and a slight glossiness made them appear tearful no matter how Twilight looked at them.

The mare was smiling a very bright smile—much wider than any Twilight normally saw.

‘Oh no, not him! You couldn’t possibly be him. You couldn’t be her either.’ Upon further inspection, Twilight could see the teal mare had short, stubby wings that fluttered sporadically as she spoke. Her eye gave a slight twitch—never mind that, Twilight thought.

‘Goodness no. They didn’t have nice, pointy horns,’ the mare explained. ‘They didn’t have nice wings like these, either.’ Her eyes quickly shifted down to the now still pair of wings on her back.

Twilight recoiled a touch from the odd gesture, but the words of Summer Stout once again ran through her mind—Everypony with a story should be given a chance.

Twilight smiled.

‘Is there something wrong? You’re welcome to sit down and chat if you like. I would’ve been sitting all alone anyway!’

‘You—okay,’ the mare whispered cautiously. ‘You won’t hurt Vera, will you?’

‘Of course not,’ Twilight replied calmly. ‘I’m only offering the seat in case you want to chat.’

‘Oh, yes...’ Vera slowly lowered herself into the seat opposite of Twilight, always keeping her gaze on Twilight’s eyes. ‘Beautiful. Beautiful eyes indeed, young mare.’ Twilight took a quick look at Vera’s youthful, thin physique—Can’t be few years older than I am at most.

‘The violet in your eyes show trouble. Not its owner in trouble. No, you are not a troublemaker. Troubling. You’re pure of heart, you only want what’s best for others. Just like he did.’ Vera’s eyes slowly widened as she gave Twilight the thousand-yard stare. ‘No, but you aren’t him. Who are you?’

‘My name is Twilight Sparkle,’ Twilight replied, shuffling her hooves hanging off the edge of the seat. A bead of sweat formed on her forehead, slowly creeping its way down her face as the two sat in silence.

‘Vera. I can tell things—I can see things. Not just with eyes, but with a feeling. My talent. Never failed me before—wait, you seem even more troubled than before. I am bothering you, no?’

‘Well, no.’ Twilight pondered for a moment. ‘I’m just worried about a stallion I met in this booth just a little while ago. He got off in Baltimare; are you heading to Fillydelphia?’

‘Fillydelphia,’ Vera responded hastily, narrowing her eyes. ‘Fillydelphia had a fire. Who’s fault was it? No one knows. Might’ve been an accident. Doesn’t matter. Fumes like the blackest devil poured in, allowing no exit through the doors.’

Twilight was speechless.

‘And you know what? The devil got him. Big, strong him, who took care of little Vera when mom never came back. I could hear a cry in the house, telling everyone to get out. Brother was on the floor calling out for mother. Only Vera and the brother had wings, but no. Sports broke brother’s wings. Nowhere else to go but out the window, father and brother crawled into my room where the window was. They could barely stand up, but Vera could. She was able to breathe out the window. They couldn’t. She definitely could, but they couldn’t.’

‘Vera, I—’

He had no wings, was the first to be eaten by the orange monster. “Help! Help! AUUUUUUUUGH!” he cried out. “Get out, Vera!” they said. “You can fly out, forget about us!” they said. So I did.’

‘Vera, I’m so sorry,’ Twilight said, taking in a deep breath before continuing. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss—’

‘Loss?’ Vera widened her eyes and got back her thousand-yard stare. ‘No no, there was no loss. They’re still here. They just took a nap under a comfortable grass blanket. That’s where I’m going! They never answer when I visit them every Hearth’s Warming Day, but I’ll keep going every year!’


‘Thanks for the chat, Miss Sparkle!’ Vera said happily, offering Twilight a warm smile. ‘Hope you feel better about that stallion!’

The mare slowly rose from her seat and walked towards the train car’s exit. A single tear began welling up in Twilight’s eye as she watched Vera leave just as quickly as she had come—Twilight still could not register what had just occurred.

‘Miss Sparkle!’ a voice called out, bringing along with it the creak of rusty wheels rolling along the car’s floor. ‘I finally found the writing—’

Twilight’s head fell into her forelegs as the tear turned to a stream running down her face, the silence replaced by a choked-up mare’s sounds. Eyes from around the car focused their attention to the scene, watching to see what would develop—after a few moments, they turned back to what they were doing, leaving a stunned Illude unsure of what to do.

‘Um, there there?’ she said, somewhat confused. She sat down where Vera had sat before, bringing a quill, filled inkwell and several pieces of parchment with her ivory-coloured magical grip. ‘W-what’s wrong? Did I do anything?’

‘N—no,’ Twilight replied, taking in another deep breath. The stream began to subside, but as Twilight attempted to clear away the mess of tears and mucus with her hoof, and along with her rustled mane and bloodshot eyes, the tears were simply an afterthought. ‘I haven’t even been on this train for long,’ she explained between sniffles, ‘but I’ve already ruined two lives today.’

‘You mean the two ponies that were sitting with you?’ Twilight nodded her head. ‘Well, I’m not totally sure about that last one, but they seemed to be many times happier once they had finished chatting with you.’

‘I don’t know, was it really my business to get them to tell me their stories? Was it really my business to get the first to quit his job and get the second to recall terrible memories about their family?’ Twilight sighed.

‘Take this, you don’t look too good,’ Illude suggested, magically lifting a tissue from a freshly-opened tissue box and sending it over to Twilight. ‘Don’t worry about payment for the box opening, it isn’t a big deal.’

‘Thanks,’ Twilight said between sniffles, bringing the tissue to her own face. Within a few moments, most of the tears had left her face, leaving only the bloodshot eyes and a rustled mane. ‘Feels a bit better when there aren’t tears meddling with your eyesight.’

‘Don’t mention it!’ Illude paused for a moment. ‘You can’t beat yourself up, even if you think what you did was wrong—on that note, it was probably for the best. They came to you with the intent of chatting you up. They wanted to lift the trouble off of their backs, and you happily obliged. You only made them happier in the end, based on what you’re saying.’

‘I-I still don’t know. They could’ve been bottling up their unhappiness—’

‘No. If someone quits their job, it’s for a good reason. I’m sure that this isn’t for the worst; the stallion seemed smart enough to make his own decisions. As for the mare...’ Illude sighed. ‘...it looks like a great burden was lifted off of her shoulders when I saw her leaving. I won’t ask for any details about her, but I know that it feels really good when you can tell your story to someone, even if it’s brief or it doesn’t affect the stranger.’

Twilight closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and sighed. ‘I can’t help but feel a little off, even still... but thank you. I’m feeling a lot better... but why did you sigh? Is something the matter?’

‘No no, it’s nothing. If you’re feeling better, though, I think I should get back to my job,’ Illude said hurriedly, rising from her seat.

‘Do you have something you need to say? A story, maybe?’ Illude shook her head for several seconds, but after a quick pause, she slowly nodded her head once. ‘Everypony with a story should be given a chance, Illude. I’m up for another one if you are.’

‘I—I don’t know,’ Illude said worriedly, slowly lowering herself back into her seat. ‘I usually like to focus on the bright side of things, maybe it’s not a great idea to think about the negative.’

‘I’m sorry, Illude, I got ahead of myself,’ Twilight apologized. ‘I didn’t get any contact information from the other two, though, would you mind maybe giving me yours? I would like to stay in contact if I can!’

‘I don’t... I don’t think that’s possible,’ Illude said, looking straight down to the table. ‘I kind of live, well, here.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Oh no, I don’t mean to bother you more! Just let me be on my way—’

‘No no, I really want to know!’ Twilight affirmed, offering Illude a friendly smile. ‘I won’t bite, I promise!’

‘I—well, I suppose one more story couldn’t hurt, but it isn’t really much of a story.’ Illude turned her head towards the window and took in the scenery. ‘We should be reaching Fillydelphia in a half an hour. Even now, I don’t get tired of the view on the way there. I’ve been on this train for years, but it’s all still so beautiful to me.’

Twilight recalled the first moment the scenery changed from the bleak snowstorm to the rolling plains of grass.

‘My family lives in Manehattan, but life there is very... different, I guess, from those of the other cities in Equestria. It’s very clear-cut whether you’re in the lower or upper half of society—we’re in the lower end. Times have been hard for a really long time, and before I came here, feeding and keeping us sheltered was too difficult for my parents. So I left.’

‘Just like that?’

‘Yes, I figured it would be easier for them if I wasn’t a burden on their backs anymore. I hopped on trains for a while, being a professional stowaway and all.’ Illude smirked. ‘I wanted to explore the world, even if my standard of living was very poor. I had to scramble to find food, and it isn’t the easiest thing living constantly on the move. But I was happy that I wasn’t a burden. I was happy that I was free.

‘So I went on with my life, and soon enough I was discovered as a stowaway. The train’s conductor knew I had been there for the entire day, and he also knew I had nowhere to go. So he struck me a deal: work on the train, and as long as I had worked that day, I was free to stay in the train’s lodging car and eat free meals to keep me going. It was a good deal, and I was happy.’

‘So this is that train?’ Twilight questioned, bewildered. ‘How can you be so happy about living in the same place all your life?’

‘Unhappy?’ Illude inquired herself, looking even more bewildered than Twilight. ‘Why would I be unhappy? There are so many more people that must have it worse than I do. I get to explore all of Equestria, I get to see so many new faces, even if they don’t usually want to talk.’ She shot a few disappointed looks at the expressionless faces in the car. ‘I have a place to call home, food I get every day and I get all of that for a meager burden of work... what is there to complain about?’

Twilight’s mind drifted to the night before—Nopony understands the stress I’m put under every day”. Her stomach churned.

‘I even go to visit my family every Hearth’s Warming Day. I might get less food and worse lodging than I do here, but I am so happy with them that I don’t think twice about it. I actually kind of feel guilty having such a good life compared to my family—ah! Look at me talking your ear off! Thank you for listening, Twilight. My day feels a lot brighter now!’

‘I’m still not sure, Illude. I began the day thinking that I had it worse off than everypony else. What a terrible thought for a pony to have!’ Twilight slammed her hoof on the table. ‘To think: I thought such selfish things without considering them further, it really doesn’t—’

‘No, no more thinking,’ Illude cut in, offering Twilight a warm smile as she rested her hoof on her new friend’s shoulder. ‘You did nothing wrong. If anything, you’ve just helped three ponies have a brighter day. We all need our bright days—not just that, but you let them tell their stories to a random stranger. It felt so good to lift my story off of my shoulders for a bit. If you’re really feeling bad, maybe you could just look at your life a little bit differently like I do!’

‘How exactly, Illude?’

‘Just smile, Twilight! Keep on smiling!’

Illude smiled as she rose from her seat, but she did not leave until Twilight returned the favour. Satisfied, she walked over to her trolley and began pushing it to the next booth.

A blank piece of parchment lied on the table, a freshly-inked quill lying right next to it, ready to write. There was no one else around her; only the tools, the silence of the train car and her thoughts were present.

Twilight smiled. She knew exactly what to write.

Applejack as Smart Cookie, the workaholic pony who learns that spending time with family is more important than any job you can have.

Twilight recalled the words of Corkscrew—“My wife will be so happy!”

Fluttershy as Private Pansy, the emotionally-scarred pegasus who makes time to appreciate her family and friends on the special holiday of Hearth’s Warming Day, despite her stressful and cumbersome life.

Twilight took in a deep breath as she recalled the imagery of Vera’s father and brother—but not the fire. Her thoughts only went to the happiness Vera would feel once she saw them again—She would’ve preferred that.

Twilight Sparkle as Clover the Clever, the down-on-her-luck unicorn who keeps her head up high no matter how many obstacles are thrown in her path.

Twilight took a quick glance at the unicorn wheeling her cart down the train car, and offered her a smile and a wave. The sentiment was reciprocated—Why would I be unhappy?

Everything was complete. She had things planned out, she had gained the inspiration she needed. But as she lifted the quill, nearly set out to write down her thoughts, another one crossed her mind.

She had learned something else. Perspectives changed. Every time she was unhappy, she remembered one day that she had spent on a train, learning about how optimism crushed pessimism even in the most dire of cases.

Just smile, Twilight. Keep on smiling.