The ticking in the room at least was familiar. Tick tock.
It provided some comfort as being the only thing that still made sense, that I recognized from my memories. Memories that were either now missing a big piece or never had been true memories connected to experiences at all.
The previous evening, I go to bed, everything is as it should be. Order. Peace. Tranquility. This morning, I wake up, any trace of that is gone. Everything. Every little thing. My mind, in chaos, louder than it ever seems to have been and thousand thoughts running through it, every one of them cut short by the next one before they can become something coherent at all. It was giving me a headache already. What is this, this – why is it happening? When... how did... who could... but what should I ... do? No – can't be... stop.
Yeah, stopping listening to the tangled mass that were my thoughts seemed like a good idea. I forced myself to focus on the clock again as I laid still. Tick Tock. Watch as the fin... wait, what was the term for those things walking around the clock again?
The word I was thinking of sounded unfitting now, silly even. Why would that be? What other word... wait, no. Focus, C... wait, my name never started with an C, what was going on, could I no longer remember my name? Uhhh... I scrunched up my face in confusion and annoyance. With eyes now closed, I wondered what else I had forgotten, before trying to push these thoughts away again. They weren't helping at all, they were only making things complicated. Sigh. Let me just ignore everything at the moment. The room, my, uh, condition, the whole world if it gives me a bit of my inner peace back.
When I opened my eyes again, I tried again to look at the time-telling device on the blank white wall and let its ticking calm me down. Tick Tock, Tick Tock. It proved to be surprisingly effective, and for a moment my stream of thoughts calmed down and I thought I could hear birds singing outside, probably through an open window behind me and the bed I was currently still laying.
I hadn't really moved since I woke up, only twitched at best. Everything about my body had felt completely wrong and alien ever since I wake up for some reason, and I wanted to avoid increasing that feeling by moving limbs unnecessarily. Still, I hadn't been able to ignore some of the more obvious changes about myself, especially when they were also literally in front of, or rather behind my nose.
Suddenly I was interrupted in my train of thought when I heard a knock on the door, situated right on the opposite wall a few steps away from where I uncomfortably lay. A quick glance at the clock showed that both of the time-pointing-thingy, whatever its proper name was, laid at 12. A voice in the back of my mind seemed to suggest it was lunch, but who eats lunch in bed? Only those too sick to leave it, and I had been healthy as a pony when I had gone to bed, hadn't I? Wait, that doesn't sound right, I probably mixed two idioms here. Oh well.
The door swung open, revealing ... someone walking on four legs pushing a tray on wheels with a covered plate on it into the room. The being had what seemed like gray coat, huge green eyes, a snout in which a key ring was being carried and large, longish ears. The overall build, especially the face seemed vaguely feminine. Definitely no human, though, no. And as much as I had tried to not think about it, ... I couldn't deny that neither was I anymore, from what I had noticed. The key ring was now placed next to the dish, and a clearly feminine voice spoke to me:
„Hey there, my little pony. Hope you're feeling better today. Here's some nice hot steaming soup for lunch”
Yep, that's what I was now apparently. Sure look different than what I always had thought a pony looks like, especially since my coat seemed to be a completely dull red color everywhere, and my arms... forelegs... whatever seemed to bend at odd angles, but otherwise, I could feel my ears, fuzzy triangles that previously were neatly folded down against my head, now putting themselves up and moving around erratically, an involuntary and strange sensation, yet somehow comforting by virtue of an inexplicable familiarity, as if I had done it thousands time before… yet a part of me clearly claimed to knew that there was no way this could be, since in all my current memories that I could still distinguish from the general fog that seemed to have laid itself on my mind I was nothing like this.
Though it became increasingly difficult to tell what was a memory of an actual event, what was a dream I once had and what was picked up from the countless fantasy books I tended to devour. Now that I was thinking about it, and I was really starting to feel as if I was doing that way too much, yet it seemed like I couldn't stop, as if I was going down a slipperly slope in my own head, I realized my memory was getting more and more holes by the minute.
My heart started racing, pounding against my chest, my throat seemed to be closing up, and what seemed to be the mane running down my neck was now upright, too, in fact, I could feel hair all over my body stand up, in some goosebumps-fashion.
What was going on? Why was I forgetting things that seemed so clear a few moments ago?
I wanted to just stare at the opposite wall, a sea of white and nothing else, to space out and help me get away from these thoughts running at full gallop… another strange idiom, anyway, my attempt was hindered by my my extended nasal bridge showing up in my field of vision, ending in two nostrils right above my mouth. Having now started to fully realize everything about my body, with all the resulting chaoting thoughts firing like a sparkler, I was feeling like an anvil had been dropped on me... A strong dull pain, worse than any headache I remember having seemed to pulsate inside my skull, and I felt unable to move or form a clear, coherent thought, as my brain seemed to have more and more problems processing all these sensations that in the end weren't nearly as alien as they should be… finally culminating in the thought, why could I even remember being a human in the first place, when it's clear as day I'm a pony?
That was apparently enough for my overwrought nerves to give in, and as my psyche lay finally completely in shambles, everything quickly went black around me, the scream of the nurse barely registering in my mind anymore.
I resisted being waken up several times, preferring the sweet silence and peaceful emptiness of the oblivion of sleep far to the feeling of burning down of my mind I had gone through earlier on, a hellish feeling of going insane only cut short by the merciful blacking out.
But finally I knew, while sighing internally, that I had to open my eyes, even if only to let the poor woman – mare, I guess worry anymore and show that I'm still alive and conscious, even if seems like this is only barely the case. Aside from that, the shaking made it impossible to rest anyway.
So I did, and immediately regretted doing it too quickly, for I still wasn't prepared for the sight of two seemingly way too large heads being mere inches from me. Huge eyes were probing me, and words that were probably supposed to be comforting, or asking how I'm doing seemed to come to my way. I was too exhausted to pay any attention to it.
Their now notably upward curved mouths were almost touching mine. Seriously, it's as if the concept of personal space stops existing as soon as you're in a hospital, or wherever I was. I couldn't remember, and what little I did I didn't trust anymore.
I felt like there wasn't at the moment anything I could trust, not even myself. Especially not myself. Not just my memories, I still wasn't sure how what I was seeing, hearing and feeling in my fin-, ugh, hooves, on my face and all over my body could possibly be real, and not be a freaky dream or something. I've had them before, you're always convinced they're real before you wake up, dumbfounded. A way to tell whether you was in was to watch out for inconsistencies, like clocks not matching up or randomly jumping from one time to another, or other physical impossibilities.
Though who knows for how long I was out? It could have been for minutes, hours or even a day. Looking at the clock would tell me nothing now about that. It's so frustrating, and at the same time, so eerily chilling, not to know where you are, who you are and if what you're experiencing is even real.
Maybe I'd already lost my mind and was going through an episode of psychosis? But then, and maybe I was just thinking this to reassure me at least a bit, hardly knowing anything about what such episodes were supposed to be like, how could I be able to reflect on myself?
Hey, a voice inside me seemed to suddenly say, why not ask those two next to you?
At first I scoffed at the thought, asking someone whether they were real? Just in case I'd like to give a better impression than that, lest I also get some straitjacket put on or who knows what.
Not that, you doofus. Ask them what happened and why you're here. They look like they're concerned about you and your well-being, they'll surely give you some answers at least.
That actually doesn't sound too stupid. Might even be the best thing I could do in this situation. Both of them had in the meantime shifted their attention away from me, and were busy talking with each other. I opened my mouth to speak, but somehow seemed unable to produce any sound, only some puffing and panting, as if I was terribly hoarse.
Still, this seemed to have been noticed what seemed to be the doctor, another vaguely equine-shaped creature, this time in a pale yellowish color, and the gray nurse. They turned to me again, and the former started to speak, but I struggled to make out the words.
“… doing? … hope … better”
Better? Well, my racing thoughts had at least turned into a less bothering background noise by now, laying like a thick layer of fog on my mind. Other than that, well, even though I feel worse than earlier, I guess stopping trying to ignore what has been happening is some sign of progress, too.
“… need to . … this, ...'s good and … “
The nurse put a wooden rest for the bowl on my bed in front of me. I was still laying on my back, and had at first no idea how to eat it, but I think I heard her, barely audibly, telling me to lift it with my upper appendages to my mouth. It was awkward, but in the end I managed to not spill too much on myself or the blanket, which, considering how delicious this vegetable soup turned out to be, would have lamentable. Or maybe it was nice to finally come across something that was nourishing and didn't make my mind race like a forest river after heavy rain.
“Thanks” I finally managed to blurt out after finishing.
Before I could say anything else, the doctor in yellow approached me again. With my hunger, that I hadn't been aware of earlier, now satiated and my mind somewhat calmer, it seems like my sensitive, and ugh, moving ears were able to pick up more words, too. They instinctively turned towards him.
“…an see that the soup did you do some good. You seemed to really need it. Now, you might be momentarily disoriented and wonder where you are.
Rest assured, you're safe here and nothing bad can happen to you here. This is the “Asylum a ukainohi a Selesetiade”, a sanatorium and healing place for all equines in need for some peace and rest.
I know you will probably have a lot of questions, but you still need to regain your energy before you are able to take in everything. “
In fact, my mind was still so foggy that despite my nagging confusion and curiosity I decided to agree with him, and not argue about it. He was right, after all. Even though I must have slept for a long time, or been in a coma or what not, I need some time to rest from what definitely was the most stressful waking up I had ever experienced.
It had felt like gently floating on the sea towards to the coast only to be tossed against some beach rocks the moment I opened my eyes.
Yet I didn't want to sleep now, maybe because I had just had an involuntarily nap some minutes ago. My look turned to a book on my nightstand, standing to the right side of me. I tried to reach out to it, but it felt awkward doing that with no fingers, and so I only managed a clumsy attempt that resulted in the rather large tome falling to the ground in a large thud.
This drew the attention of nurse, who simply asked:
“Do you want me to give it to you? I'm not sure if you're rested enough to read much yet, but maybe it can help you calm down a bit. You seemed rather upset earlier, almost like you were seeing a ghost from a nightmare you had still in front of you. Either way, it must have terrified you a lot.”
She picked it up with a blaze from her horn and continued:
“Your sister told me it's your favorite book, and that you liked to read it over and over again, each time apparently getting so wrapped up in its world that you were barely approachable.”
She chuckled. The book gravitated in a bright aura towards me, landing on the blanket directly before my … er, muzzle, I guess.
“Here it is. 'Lady of the Necklaces'. A fantasy classic, isn't it? Tyniers, wizards, titans, brokenbolts, heyoumuhns and so many other beings. It always sounded very interesting to me, but the sheer length of it has always made me put it off for later.”
I looked at her slightly skeptically, and then at the simple, but nonetheless rather fancy cover. It only had the title in golden letters on it, surrounded by a rectangle stretching across almost all of the front with a similar color, on a forest green background.
It's so worth it, though. I never regretted a single second spent with the book. I thought, and instantly wondered where that had come from.
I couldn't actually recall spending any time with this book at all, yet it still did somehow feel very familiar and I couldn't think of anything else that would explain that stray thought. Maybe it was some kind of suppressed memory? But why would I suppress something that seemed like such a happy time?
I was interrupted in my ruminations when the nurse continued:
“I heard they were making a new play based on it, too.”
The book is so much better, though. I saw the old play and it didn't do any of the characters justice and all of the story was so terribly rushed.
… There, another one of these memories, it seems. Maybe reading the book will help me make sense of everything, and myself, too. In any case it seemed to have a very calming on me. For a moment, all of my anxiety, confusion, and pain were as if vanished, and I actually felt a bit relaxed, even if still tense.
With a reminder to get some proper sleep later on, I was now left alone.
Now that there was silence in the room again, aside from the ticking of the clock, I could hear birds singing outside again. It was beautiful, pure and melodious, signaling that it was actually much too nice of a day to spend it inside. But I still felt weak, and wasn't sure if I even could make it outside even if I wanted to. Almost as if I hadn't really walked much in who knows how long, and at the moment walking on four legs seemed almost frighteningly complicated, not to mention weirdly alien. Also, the bed was comfortable and I had a book to read.
With some difficulty I managed to crack it open, and carefully turned the pages to chapter one.
“The continent is divided into seven parts, divided by mountains, rivers and heard fought-for land borders going through forests and open fields. … “
Several hours later, I finally managed to put it down and go to sleep.
As I opened my eyes and slowly woke up again, I could faintly hear what seemed to be children playing outside, alongside adults laughing. Almost like a sort of party taking place.
For a split second I was relieved, since it seemed like I was back where I felt I belonged to, where I wanted to be. Back in my own world, where I'm no asylum patient suffering mental breakdown after mental breakdown. Instead, I was living with my family and my parents, and they would often call other relatives and friends for some barbecue or some tea and cake in summer afternoons. Those were nice and could last well into the night. Always looked forward to them.
But then I noticed that these voices I was hearing weren't familiar at all, that I had in fact never heard them before, and all my newfound gladness turned to sadness and then resignation again as the reality of my situation and the memories of the past hours set in again.
I still didn't want to, and couldn't, and in a moment of defensiveness told myself I also wouldn't accept that which I had been told now: that that world I had held to be the only one, the only real one was supposed to never actually have existed at all; that it was just my imagination creating barricades walling me off from what were said to be my “problems”, encapsulating me in a place where I could pretend they did not exist, and eventually just forget them entirely.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, I clung to several hazardous alternate theories, or at least tried to, to not have to face what seemed at once depressing, unbelievable and even impossible.
Could it be a vivid dream? But I had already woken up and fallen asleep multiple times, and not once seen my small room in the house I thought my home. Does that even happen in dreams? Not to mention that all these sensations I had had and could still feel seemed much too powerful. In fact, everything seemed amplified and more powerful now, if a little hazy. Smells, noises tactic sensations, all did appear to be stronger and stable, in a way.
Any other theories I could think of, like freaky science experiments, supernatural occurrences or else seemed even less plausible. Drugs were another option, but I didn't feel high or anything like that. No, there must be some other explanation, I thought. Halfheartedly. I didn't seem capable of really believing that either, maybe subconsciously already having accepted my situation as it was now and just trying to fool myself despite what seemed like better knowledge. Denial of the obvious.
Even back at what I still called “home” for lack of a better word (or willingness to use one) I had always tried to deny and dismiss problems until they were too large to ignore. Reminders were ignored a lot when it came to important things that needed to get done, like school assignments, doctor appointments or other errands, warnings went unheeded and so on. When everyone around me could I see was ill and needed rest, I would keep saying everything is fine with me and that I didn't need no doctor, I was healthy as a horse. … That pun was unintentional.
Was this happening again? Why did I keep doing that? I decided to stop dwelling on it, ruminating would probably not help me either. I just hoped I could meet my family, or at least someone from it again at some point … in any form, really. Well, almost any.
That moment a nurse stepped in. Trying to ignore her form,I avoided looking at her, but could still notice that she had put on a slightly forced polite smile. She said she was here to check on me again. Leafing through papers on a clipboard eerily floating in front of her, she asked:
“Crimson was the name, yes?”
I stayed silent and couldn't but but give just a blank stare in return. She scribbled something down. Maybe it was “Patient doesn't respond to name”, who knows.
“Just wanted to make sure you are fine. If you are well rested, you could go out now. There's a small barbecue in the backyard–“
I interrupted hr, the word “barbecue” reminding me that I wanted to ask about relatives.
“Has my family visited lately? Sorry, I think I … haven't seen them in a while...”
She put the clipboard away and let it hung midair next to her. Smiling brightly below orange-brown hair at first, she said: “Oh, they visit every week!” Her smile turned to a frown. “But apparently you have always been asleep or unapproachable the past few weeks… months actually, if I remember correctly. Sorry”
That didn't sound like me, and yet it terribly did. Withdrawing was often part of my “strategy” so to speak to avoid recognizing problems I was having. But going this far…?
“When will they come again? Do you know?”
Her smile returned for a moment, then vanished again.
“Sadly, no. But I can maybe try to reach them today and tell them you'd want to see them now. It's a long way up here for them, and they don't always know when they're able to come.”
“No, it's alright. No need, I can wait a bit longer.” I didn't think I was prepared, mentally or otherwise, to see them so soon. What would I even tell them? Would I recognize them? What would they think about me?
Involuntarily I tried to imagine them standing in front of me, only to realize that to my horror I couldn't really remember what they looked like. Their voices, sure, and how it felt to be around as well, cozy and safe, always guaranteed to lift my spirits (unless we argued, but what family doesn't) with the smell of homemade apple pie often nearby, but I was totally drawing blanks when it came to their appearance. Hazy memories of my supposed “imagined” past hushed by while never really becoming clear, and any attempt at picturing them as, um, four-legged made me shudder. It just felt so horribly wrong, despite everything.
Shaking the thought off, I tried to remember some happier things. The sound of some talking and frizzling food on a barbecue coming from the open window reminded me of the nurse's recommendation, and after spending the entire previous day inside, I was itching to go out and see the sun for once. The problem was just, how would I do that? To get outside, I'd have to walk, and so far I had only done that once, last night to the bathroom. And the less said about that, the better.
Sighing, I pushed away the white blanket covering me and tried to put my feet… all four of them, on the ground. The thought of putting the same appendages that I used to eat and read on the floor that probably was full of dirt and dust despite being cleaned almost daily was slightly nauseating, but I tried to ignore it for now.
The nurse watched me carefully, apparently ready to support me if I needed it, but I wanted to avoid getting in such an embarrassing situation. While they had been really nice to me so far, I wanted to be able to do some things on my own, and not be treated like some great-grandfather in a home. I was only … 18? 19? Again, personal details strangely eluded me, and if I hadn't been do focused on safely getting on all fours, I probably would have been worried about that, too, in addition to all the things already on my mind.
A moment later I was standing upright, and carefully checked to make sure my feet were in a safe position before slowly raising my left foreleg in the air and on the ground again a few inches in front of me. So far, so good. I repeated the procedure with my other legs, and unlike the previous night I managed to move on and towards the door with no accident.
A quick look at the nurse told me that she was visibly happy to see me “succeeding” in walking across the room, which admittedly did feel nice and somewhat reassuring.
“You want to go outside, right?”
I simply nodded, still focusing on my steps. She opened the door for me, and with me gradually getting more comfortable walking, I was able to take a look around. The hall I was stepping into was simple enough, with a few pictures and photos hanging on the wall opposite my room's door, and the hallway continuing to the left and right.
“The door to the backyard is right around the corner, next to … oh wait, you probably don't remember. Should I show you?”
“Yeah...” I replied quietly. I still was far from being comfortable with speaking through a muzzle, it only added to all the alienating sensations I was getting from the body I woke up in the previous day. On top of that, it went against everything I knew, or thought I knew about, well, ponies and horses. But I had to say something, as I remembered about zero of this building I was in now… or could I even call it “remembering”? What if they were lying to me?
But before I could start going on thinking of possible conspiracies about intelligent ponies abducting humans into asylums and turning them into one of them (for… reasons, I suppose. Maybe they just wanted “friends” to care for?) I managed to suppress any rather paranoid thoughts by focusing on another issue: what if there really was something wrong with me and my mind? Could it be that these kind of ramblings that I apparently could sometimes only barely keep in check are just more evidence of that? What an horrifying thought that was.
How could that have ever happened to me? I knew I had my problems, sure, like I assumed everyone did. Were they really that bad, though? To warrant me being locked up in a closed institution, even one that seemed at least nicer than the stereotypical one found in stories? But then again, the alternatives didn't seem much more reasonable.
Either I had to believe in the paranoid conspiracy, be hallucinating the entire situation (including the part where I'm a bright and colorful equine) or assuming everything around me is real and as it appears to be (except for my memories, of course). Or some combination. None of this made sense and it was almost overwhelming me again.
Maybe if I just focused on walking again. And ignore the “why” going around in my head for a while again, I thought. What point was there, after all? All it seemed able to do was drive me crazy… or even crazier. Whatever. I am here, I had a goal, and that was simple enough. Look for the way outside, to the backyard.
After passing some more doors to what probably were other rooms with patients in them, I ended up in what seemed to be some sort of lobby. Two simple couches, not looking particularly cozy were propped against the corner closest to me, and opposite to them were a low table and some armchairs. Large windows in the upper half on one side let in some of the evening sun, and a door was located between them. A sign next to it had some food symbols, oats, an apple and lettuce on it, pointing probably to some eating area.
The same nurse from earlier approached me from behind and quickly opened the door by enveloping the doorknob in a magical aura and twisting it while turning the key on the lock below around. A fresh breeze greeted me and made me instantly feel more awake. The same noises and birdsinging reached my ears again, and I was now getting both excited to maybe get some nice food and have some fun and more anxious about new people. Who also all happened to be ponies? That still disturbed me. Well, better focus on the positive, maybe I'll just get a place in the shade away from everyone at first, and try to do nothing but enjoy the good weather.
The thought of that made me smile somewhat wearily, the grip of my ever nagging thoughts seeming to get slightly less stronger. Maybe it could really help me push them away entirely and recover from the mental breakdowns of the previous day. I was still very exhausted from those, some peace and rest below that oak shaking in the wind I was seeing might help me finally put my mind at ease. At least for a bit.
I stepped through the door and almost fell, because I failed to realize that the grass was at a lower level than the floor of the room, but managed to catch myself at the last moment. After that I nearly tripper over my own feet a second time, so I was probably giving of a ridiculous, maybe even pathetic view. I hoped no one, or at least not many had been watching.
Avoiding the busy scene near the barbecue for now, I walked, slowly, to the large tree I had spotted earlier. It was a few steps away from a large metal fence surrounding the entire backyard. Sun rays were coming through the gaps of it, so it was already rather late.
As I approached my chosen resting spot, walking on the slightly unkept lawn, I could hear and see some sparrows and blackbirds more clearly. They were really pretty. The colors of the former largely matched the colors of my … what was apparently now my coat, and, ugh … my mane. Thinking of that still made me feel queasy, so I once more tried to direct my attention to something else. To get away from my inner world of constant doubt and anxiety, I focused instead on the outer world, around and below me.
I noticed how the soft, slightly damp grass, alternating with the occasional patch of moss and daisies simply felt amazing beneath my hooves, enough to make me want to stay still for a moment and close my eyes, to take in all the sensations, before continuing.
When I finally had reached the oak, I simply allowed myself what seemed like the most natural position to rest in, plopping down on my belly, with my hindlegs tucked in below it and my forelegs spread out before me, letting the sun rays fall down on me through the leaves above me.
It seemed to me at that moment that I had never been able to relax this much in my life, or at least not in a very long time. All the alien sensations coming from my body no longer bothered me much. I could feel tensions in my muscles slowly disappear, and my mind calming down, as if the sights, sounds and scents around me were covering me like a warm and comforting blanket on a bed made of grass. Silencing, even if just temporarily, any nagging intrusive thoughts and worries.
But for some reason I didn't feel like just dozing now, and so decided to spend the time better by trying to observe my surroundings a bit. Aside from the tree I was resting under I could see a couple other ones spread across the backyard and the fence continuing behind them, with thick green bushes covering their lower part.
No flower beds or vegetable plots anywhere from what I could make out, which for some reason saddened me a bit. It would be so nice to have something like freshly picked tomatoes for a salad as dinner or something.
Though, to be honest, when had I grown so interested in plants and food? My thought processes were starting to weird me out again, but this time I didn't allow myself to be bothered anymore. Not again. The tranquility of this place almost served like a kind of shield against anything that would have been able to stress me out like before.
I made a mental note to return to this place tomorrow again, and be here as much as possible. Maybe bring my book with me, and I could easily see myself spending the entire day here if possible.
As I looked around me some more, I noticed I couldn't see much beyond the fence to my left and front, aside from a couple of hills with a few more tans in the distance and possibly some mountain summit in the far left corner. The house where I had come from, the asylum, was on my right. It seemed to be part of a decently large complex extending well beyond the edges of the yard, with even more buildings behind this one.
Most only had two or three stories with many windows behind bars, but there was one, only one, further away half hidden behind a large birch that had at least seven and overlooked all other ones like a watchtower. Like all other buildings, it was built from red bricks with an almost flat roof. It seemed to have a bell installed below it, like a clocktower. Maybe it was used for assemblies or for emergencies.
...But what kind of emergencies could happen here that would require that kind of thing? An attack? (Of what?) A fire? My eyes went wide, and for a moment fear took hold of me again. No, no, no, that seems unlikely. I quickly thought, trying to reassure myself. I tried to shake off the horrible mental picture, but the uneasy feeling remained, much to my annoyance. Why did that thought upset me so much? I had no idea. And while I was still lost in my other thoughts, I didn't even realize I was no longer alone.
The shadow of a tall, sturdy and dirty yellow-colored pegasus was looming over me, blocking out part of the sunshine I was laying in. After I turned my eyes towards him, our gazes met, and I let out a small, but audible gasp. He chuckled and said:
“Hey, no need to worry. I won't do you no harm. You just seemed kind of lost, so I wanted to ask if everything is alright and if you maybe wanted something to eat before the food is put away. We have a lot of great stuff. Grilled corn, eggplant, salads and more.”
I wasn't sure how to respond.
My hesitation was taken as a yes, as the stallion motioned me to follow him.
“Come on, let's go.”
I got up, slowly and carefully to not embarrass myself by tripping and falling in front of someone else, and left the shade of the tree that had given me a short moment of peace and serenity. But the stranger was right in asking me to eat something, as I noticed I was really getting hungry now. I could even feel and hear my stomach grumble.
As we walked towards a table with multiple salad bowls, plates with grilled vegetables, what seemed to be pone, and more, I could hear chatter slowly getting louder, while the calming bird singing faded into the background. The anxiety I had felt earlier about meeting so many new faces began to return, too, but I tried to hide and suppress it, at least as well as I could.
There seemed to be about two dozen ponies, maybe a bit more, standing, laying down or hovering around the barbecue or the garden furniture, a very colorful mixture of pegasai, unicorns and wing- and hornless ponies, like, um… me. Ugh.
Pushing that reminder of my still unfamiliar feeling body aside, I turned my attention towards how some had a kind of metallic cap on their horns, whereas other ones had bandages around their wings, preventing them from flying, or on other body parts. One even had them tied around their head like a blindfold. There were also some laying in wheelchairs, which were pushed around by nurses. Asylum staff also was in charge of the barbecue itself, with several ponies waiting in line next to it. I could already smell grilled beans and corn and it was mouth-watering.
I wondered what the metal caps some of the unicorns had were for, though. I had never seen anything like that before– wait not like I could have anyway. After all, I had never seen a unicorn before either, that is, if I wanted to trust my memories, or what was left of them, at all anymore. They were getting worryingly hazy and unclear now, I could barely recollect the events of last year, classes I went to and the trips I was on, anymore.
And I was still determined to not let go of them. I mean, I didn't have anything to replace them with, so what was I supposed to do? Believe the weirdly bright colored pony people around me saying who I think I am is just a figment of my own imagination, a creation by my subconsciousness?
But my memories make me the person who I am, they create my “self”, or at least a big part of it. If I don't have a past I know about, I don't have anything that makes it possible for me to understand who I am. It erases my identity, and I would become a shadow of a person.
And if I can't trust my memories, how can I know to trust anything – or anyone?
My face involuntarily scrunched up at this rabbit hole of a thought, and this didn't go unnoticed by the pegasus walking next to me. Initially I welcomed the possible distraction, but then I realized he was going to ask questions. Questions I wasn't prepared to answer and that I was even deliberately avoiding having to think about. But I couldn't help it, and so I was going to have to say something. Just giving someone the “silent treatment” after they had already been so nice to me was really rude anyway.
“Something wrong, … Oh, sorry, I hadn't even asked you your name.” He chuckled, probably to lighten the situation. It didn't succeed at making me feel more at ease, though.
“So…” he began anew, showing friendly concern in his face. “what are you called, if I'm allowed to ask?”
“… C-Cr… Crim...” I struggled to get a sound out and was just able to stammer.
I didn't want to reply with my “pony name”, it almost felt like lying to me, and yet it was the only one I could think of, and making up a new one seemed like an even worse idea, bound to get me in trouble sooner or later. Yet, this felt like a partial admission and acceptance of what the asylum staff was telling me, of my “actual” identity as a pony (which still seemed like a “new” identity to me) and therefore a rejection of who I still claimed to be, or at least, have been.
It made my memories feel ever so distant and more difficult to cling to, and it was almost as if my mind became void to some extent, failing to find something else to hold on to, anything else that felt true and real.
But before the obnoxious questions of “Who am I?” and “What's left of me?” could fully enter my consciousness, the pegasus who I now realized I hadn't asked for a name either replied:
“Crim? Crim … haven't heard that name before here. Oh wait, are you Crimson? The fantasy nerd?”
“Er … y-yeah.” I almost wanted to add “I guess” to that, but this would have just lead to more questions and possibly weird stares. That's also why I tried to feel insulted at being called a “nerd”.
“Hey, it’s been so long, I almost didn’t recognize you. Do you still remember me? I’m Sky Gaze, we sometimes played hoofball together.”
Hoofball? That was a sport? It took a moment for my mind to understand what it probably was like. Presumably kicking around a ball with your hooves or something, to score points? I had never been much of a sports fan, so my knowledge regarding these things had stayed limited.
He stopped for a moment and put a hoof up to his chin, as if trying to remember something from long ago.
“Yeah, and for a bookworm you weren’t even half bad! Most would give up quickly, but you at least always persisted to the end of the game, even if you didn’t ever manage to score many goals.”
A short burst of friendly laughter followed, and together with the, em, somewhat positive things I had heard about me it helped me actually feel better for a moment, until he decide to embrace me with his wing. I involuntarily flinched, and he immediately drew it back, looking apologetic.
“Sorry about that, didn’t know you don’t like to be touched. But do you seriously not remember hoofball, or me? That’s too bad. We should totally play a game again at some point, so you can show me if you’re still as good. What do you think?”
Not waiting for an answer this time, he started walking again, with me just looking at the ground now.
“But let’s get some food now, before everything gets cold.”
We reached the table with empty plates and napkins stacked and I hesitated for a moment, trying to think about ho to pick them up before setting on uding my teeth. It seemed weird at first, but it worked surprisingly well.
I heard the pegasus called Sky walk away. I turned around and he just replied “Wait a moment, I’ll fetch my plate and then we can eat together.”
I approached the table with the food, plate still held in my mouth, when I felt it being yanked away, as if by magic. I then realized it was actually magic, and that a very strict looking, grey unicorn stallion with a silver-blue mane was collecting them, even ones that had not been emptied yet. Food was being tossed left and right among various annoyed groans and protests.
He didn’t even turn to address any of the complaining ponies, and just said: “This is all way too dangerous for you! Get back to your rooms at once.”
This just led to more protesting, but in vain. Meanwhile, I had to watch as the food I had been looking forward to was now being taken away right before my eyes. The unicorn turned to the nurses that had been attending the barbecue, and while I couldn’t make out any words, he seemed to be scolding them harshly, like a boss who is angry at workers for breaching the most fundamental safety rule or something. They flinched, but otherwise just nodded and set about putting out the fire and collecting everything into a place, to be carried away later.
While my anxiety didn’t return, thankfully, I still felt a large amount of disappointance, and even blamed myself for not getting up and eating sooner. But I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I started walking back to the house, it was getting dark now anyway, when I saw Sky Gaze return.
“Dang, did they shut it down already? Seems like they’re just getting stricter and stricter every day. Next thing they’ll put up a sign “Absolutely no fun allowed!” here.”
He laughed, once again obviously trying to lighten the mood. This time it actually helped a bit, and I chuckled at his remark, too.
“And now you didn’t even get anything… I should’ve asked you sooner. But don’t worry, I have some food left you here. Was meant to be for my sister, but I still have other things for her, Besides, I have been spoiling her too much already and I can see you need something.”
I let out a barely audible “Thanks”. He proceeded to give me a box with a lid you seemed to be able to flap open partially.
“Eat this in secrecy. They don’t seem to approve of irregular mealtimes anymore. Sad how things have changed.”
A kind of belt had been attached to the box using two handles (hoofles? Mouthles?), and he tied it around my stomach, so I could carry it back easier.
“Have to leave now, but I hope we see each other soona gain, and can play some more hoofball!”
With that, he trotted away. I gave him a simple “Bye”, this time with slightly more confidence in my voice, and waved with a foreleg. Didn’t want him to be the only one saying something. Being silent the entire time was just starting to seem rude to me, too, and I didn’t want to comw across like that, especially not after everything he had already done for me.
After taking a last look at the setting sun and my previous relaxation spot below the tree, as if to check if it was still there, I followed him through the door back into the asylum building.
I passed the couches in the lobby and photos in the hall and arrived at my room’s door. I recognized it because I remembered the picture opposite it, showing two ponies walking away from a small cottage in the mountains down into the valley covered entirely with clouds, with another summit barely visible in the distance. From what I understood, the asylum complex seemed to be in a similar secluded place, far away from any other signs of civilization.
The door to my room had already been opened for some reason, but that at least spared me the trouble of using the doorknob with my mouth. Yuck. Didn’t want to even think about how unsanitary that would have been. So I just walked in, hoping to eat my dinner in peace. The light was burning and to my surprise the room had changed significantly in my relatively short absence.
Next to the bed I had earlier slept (and read) in, the copy of “Lady of the Necklaces” still laying on the nightstand next to it, another bed had apparently been rolled in. Or had I in my daze and confusion just not seen it earlier? That seemed somewhat unlikely, but by now I wasn’t sure how much I could still trust my memory or common sense. After all, just some days ago it would have told me that finding myself in such a situation, especially in this body, woild be neigh impossible. Erm, nigh. Nigh impossible.
Anyway, said second bed was currently empty, with another pony, or other creature, nowhere to be seen. I think I could hear them, though. There was definitely someone in the shower, which had to be my new (or old) roommate.
I walked over to the window through which sunlight had fallen on me every morning. That is, the past two mornings, I quickly tried to correct me, but it failed to reassure me. Almost seemed like some sort of slip-up, but I tried to not think about it regardless. By now, the sun had almost completely set, so I couldn’t make out much outside anymore.
I took off the box and put it on the tome resting next to my pillow, looking at it with some suspicion. How was I supposed to open it? And then eat it? I had been given no utensils whatsoever. Strange.
That moment I heard the shower ending in the bathroom, and a white pegasus with a black mane came out, drying himself up with a dark blue towel at every other step.
He looked up to me, stopped, and with a snide grin on his face asked:
“What’s up buckface?”
Considering how I had stared at him dumbfounded for the past minute, I guess I deserved it. There was just something oddly familiar about him, his looks and his voice, but I absolutely couldn’t tell what. It was weird, and like many things I had encountered recently, vaguely unsettling. I finally managed to avert my eyes and return to my food, trying to figure out how to open the container. Before I could do much however, the … was standing right next to me, still dripping a bit water on the floor, and with a few quick movements revealed the inside of the box. It had some cold grilled eggplant, corn and a salad wrapped in a large leaf of lettuce.
I struggled to find my voice and so the “thanks” was barely audible even to myself, while I bowed my head in embarrassment. In response I got a small chuckle and a bump in my side. Then I was left alone again, wondering if we somehow knew each other, or should know each other and I had just forgotten. But that would mean… a part of my mind came up with a new theory to explain it: what if this is a shared dream … or hallucination?
At this point I decided to just dive into the food with little regard to what kind of mess I could make. It didn’t taste the best but I was seriously hungry and so couldn’t even gorge it all down quick enough. I struggled with the cob of corn at first a bit, but quickly managed to grab a hold on it and after less than five minutes I was done and just collapsed onto the bed. I’d figure out brushing my teeth in the morning or something, I thought.
Obviously, my nagging thoughts wouldn’t just leave me alone, so I started to try to remember more of Lady of the Necklace and the world it was set in. Even picturing myself in it, just to get away from my “issues” for a while and allow me to fall asleep. At first it just served to make me more awake as I was focusing on it too much, but after a while I managed to lose myself to sleep, just when I was pondering whether I’d rather live in a castle or be a giant dragon with a huge treasure. I could get almost anything I wanted with that! Right?
I tried to make a mental note to remember to read the book outside tomorrow again, it seemed to be the only thing that put my mind at ease and wasn’t associated with bad or weird memories. Just me and the story, being inseparable since I was a little… whatever I was.