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In Over Your Head · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Friendship Express
The train chugged towards its resting place for the night, the private, depot between Canterbury and Whitstable. Canterlot’s spires gleamed under the full moon, a beacon that guided them home after a long first day.

As the brakes began to moan, Midnight Rumble leaped across the cabin and craned his head outside, the soreness around his eyes disappearing as they widened. The smell of smoke mixed with the scent of wildflowers shivering along the sides of the tracks. In the distance, a silver smudge gained distinction against grey shadows.

“Finally,” he whispered.

Behind him, Coko gave a short laugh. “Easy, Mumbles, we’re not there yet.”

“Don’t call m-me Mumbles,” said Midnight, thinking about the platforms of wonderful rolling stock ahead, polished in preparation for another day of service.


“I said I don’t really like that name.” Midnight tried to angle his head to see the oncoming buildings more clearly.

“It’s a good thing you’re the best railpony I’ve seen in near years,” Coko suddenly yelled below his ear, “because you wouldn’t stand much chance getting another job mumbling the way you do!”

“Ouchhmmmm!” Midnight squealed, cracking his head against the window edge. He was lucky to fall against Coko, whose body broke his drop. Still, he saw stars in the open window.

Coko kneeled down beside him. His wrinkles cast shadows across his face. “Like I said, good job you’re a railpony. Don’t need a loud voice here, we can hear you fine. Come on now, let’s have a look.”

He gently touched Midnight’s head; still, Midnight winced. A throbbing feeling laid itself to rest behind his flushing face, synchronising not only with his heartbeat, but with the train’s metronome puffing.

Something glistened like oil on Coko’s hoof as he withdrew. The stiff black brim of his hat caught the moonlight like the edge of a knife. Then cool blue light filtered through the window. Station lighting.

“You’ll feel better in five minutes,” Coko reassured him.

“I feel weird,” Midnight said, but even he couldn’t distingush the words, for he slurred them.

“Atta boy,” Coko laughed. “Anyway, I’m not surprised.”

A protacted psshhh of steam and a jolt indicated they had finally arrived. Even a wounded head couldn’t keep excitement from surging through Midnight.

“Well, you probably won’t feel any less weird out there, but best get it over with.”

Midnight hoisted himself upright. Jis legs wobbled, but didn’t fail, carrying him clumsily yet swiftly to the door, which moved just before he hit it.

Steam swirled around him. He misjudged the step between the train and platform edge. Still, he didn’t stumble, though his vision swam, and he grinned.

The swirling steam cleared. Midnight gazed around.

He kept gazing, mouth falling open.

It was a tiny shed with just one siding. The walls were covered in photographs of the Friendship Express standing magnificent in various stations beside by various ponies in conductor’s hats: a green earth pony, a red-maned unicorn, a yellow pegasus. Two makeshift beds, one messy and one neatly made, were shunted up against the edge of the platform. They almost touched the train engine.

Midnight whirled around. “Where…?” he managed, before his tongue filled his mouth.

Coko stepped onto the platform. He held a recently-washed but evidently used hat between his teeth, the same style as his own.

“There aren’t any other trains, Mumbles,” Coko said. “Our girl’s the only one.”


“We’ll stick together ‘til the end of this week. Don’t worry. We’ll look after you.” Coko turned and actually nuzzled the train.

To Midnight’s alarm, a low whistle responded. His coat stood on end.

“You won’t get many years with her, you know,” said Coko without looking at Midnight. Then he sighed and smiled. “Maybe this isn’t your dream. But it’s what we’ve got. And Friendship is fantastic.”

Stunned, Midnight let Coko push the blue hat into his grasp. He turned it over. The inside rim was red and damp, and several items had been stitched into the material: among them, a green tuft of hair, a red mane lock, and a yellow feather.

His head and hooves throbbed.

“Come on, now,” Coko urged.

Part of Midnight protested. But his love of the railroad rejoiced as he laboriously lifted the hat up and set it on his head. Warmth blossomed in his chest, thumping in time with his heart, like magic, or like a chugging steam engine.

“Attaboy,” said Coko. “Shift starts in two hours. Let’s get some rest.”
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#1 · 2
· · >>Ceffyl_Dwr >>Astrarian
There are some odd English constructions, but this reads like magical realism to me. I'm just not certain exactly what happened.

I think you need to be more explicit with language so the reader knows what you're trying to convey. This story is mired in poetic language, and the events are unusual enough that it's hard to tell what is actually happening. Here are a few questions I had while reading this.

Is Midnight bleeding to death?

Why does Coko say Midnight mumbles when he never mumbles in the story?

How could somepony love trains and not already know there's only one train in service?

Is Coko one of the three ponies from the picture? He's never described, and in this case it's important.

Why did Coko put some of Midnight's blood in his hat? Was that his contribution to the hat's history?

Are both hats filled with memorabilia? Where'd the stuff come for the brand new hat?

In short, be more explicit in what you tell the reader, because we rely on the author's voice to see the world you're painting.
#2 ·
· · >>Astrarian
Why does Coko say Midnight mumbles when he never mumbles in the story?

Hm... I felt that was implied by Coko asking him to repeat himself.

I do agree with Trick_Question though, there is a lot of this that felt too vague and dreamlike for me to really establish what was going on. I like to consider myself a fairly intuitive reader, but a little more explicit detail would be welcome.

That said, I did like this; it was written well and the language was evocative. Thanks for sharing your work.
#3 ·
· · >>Astrarian
I’m going to have to agree with the others; I’m really not sure where you’re going with this. The basic premise is literally unbelievable—one train simply cannot service an entire nation—and the subtext is lost on me. What is the significance of the ponies on the poster? Why are these two only sticking together for a week? As I noted earlier, how can this rail system even approach functionality?

The surreality here is interesting, but without anything concrete, it just feels ridiculous. I hope you refine and expand the concept; I want to see what you had in mind.
#4 ·
· · >>Astrarian
Basically agreeing:

With the crowd here. I like the poetic language and the characters, but notions of practicality do indeed raise their heads. Maybe have Rumble wearily reflecting at the beginning that it feels like he's been all over Equestria today or something--give us a regular pony who comes to realize he's fallen into this crazy situation. If he's our guide, we can share his disbelief and maybe even his acceptance...

#5 ·
· · >>Astrarian
Canterbury? You mean Canterlot?

The English is clunky, especially at start: Canterlot’s spires gleamed under the full moon, a beacon that guided them home after a long first day. Logically, there is no escaping the fact that your them refers to the spires, which makes no sense.
As the brakes began to moan, Midnight Rumble leaped across the cabin and craned his head outside, the soreness around his eyes disappearing as they widened. → Coma splice. The second part …, the soreness is not logically connected to the first, so you need a full stop here. Besides, that second part barely makes sense anyway (beyond being telly for nothing, since this is a pointless detail you're reporting).

Bed shunted? You mean pushed? I know we're in a train setup, but that sounded strange to me.

Couldn't really make heads or tails of the last part. It sounds like a dream or nightmare, or maybe something that happens after Midnight’s death? I dunno. A bit too ethereal.
#6 ·
· · >>Astrarian
I hate to chime in like a broken record, but...yea. I guess I just didn't understand what was going on, myself. There's a seed here, but it needs to be cultivated and clarified to properly bloom.
#7 · 4
· · >>Ceffyl_Dwr >>FanOfMostEverything
I hear post-mortems are traditional round here, and I'm feeling weird enough to critique myself, so here goes.

Thanks for the comments: >>Trick_Question , >>Ceffyl_Dwr , >>FanOfMostEverything , >>Baal Bunny , >>Monokeras, >>Morning Sun . I have this problem of coming up with stories and never actually writing them, so I thought it was better to at least try to get the idea out than sit on it until it rots.

The idea of the Friendship Express being the only train in Equestria has come to me before, and the underlying theme is that it manages to do so by draining pony magic through bodily contact, but the ponies quickly become so delirious that they think they really are friends with it and that nothing is amiss. That obviously didn't come across, but I haven't thought it through entirely either, so it's not like I blame anyone for that.

I ran up against the word count in a big way. I guess as always the lesson is that you shouldn't try to tell a bigger story in a minific (and that editors/pre-readers are the best). I deliberately sacrificed establishing what was going on in order to reach a conclusion, although I wasn't especially aiming to be ethereal, but I see that didn't go down well. I either need to learn to cut down to the heart of the story or stop writing minifics.

I'd do it differently if I did it again. Unfortunately, the only time I seem to produce any content at all these days is with a Writeoff deadline over my head.

#8 · 1
If it's any consolation, I'd be first in line to read an expanded version of this, should you wish to ever impose a fictitious timeline over your head/pokes to facilitate it. Some aspects of what you were trying to achieve must have, I think, come through at some level, because your explanation didn't feel like a big revelation to me. Take some encouragement from that.

Plus, I liked the use of Canterbury. I've used that one myself before.

I don't think it's a question of not attempting a bigger story in minific form. This is the first time I've written something so small in such a short time period, and I have to say that it is a battle of judgement as much as it is a battle with words. Given time, your judgement will probably improve, and the clarity and representation of content outside of the parameters of your minific will too. It's just a different beast, is all.
#9 · 1
Given what you were going for, I'd love to read a full-length version of this. Plus, you can see if a self-imposed deadline helps motivate you. Or even an externally imposed one if you ask someone else to check on you past a certain point.