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Unstable Relationships · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Empty Stalls
Sun in the sky was baking the grass into tasteless brown wisps that we the herd are cropping closer and closer to the ground, taking the dry earth into us with each bite, tugging free the root systems from the hardbaked clay. Our ribs stand out along our sides and our spines and hips are seen through the shrunken flesh on our backs. The troughs are empty, no alfalfa, no water. We have drunk the puddles dry.

We cannot stay, we cannot leave. The fences of the corral are taller than we can leap, even in good health. The dust arises as we pace around in circles

At last, we smell them coming on the breeze, the hind-leg-walkers. They were coming again, perhaps to bring food and water.

They say the sounds, babbly like birdsong, but not the noises that have meaning to us, the ones that command our attention, tell us to stop, move, bear them about. Two of them came in the shiny thing that runs fast without galloping.

“I wish we had more time, it’s so fucking cruel to do it this way…”

“We don’t. It’s cruel to just leave them out here too.”

“Well, it has to be done quickly. Let’s get them tied up and get it over with.”

We sniff their hands as they approach, hoping for food, but they simply tie us to the fence by our necks.

They also brought another thing, to fit around our long heads, like the things they use to bind us when they make us carry them. They place it on runs-like-rain, then there is a crack and her legs buckle as she falls and the smell of blood and we pull at the ropes but cannot budge them from the fence.

And then nose-to-sky and gopherhole-leg fall without life, stink of blood and meat and death, and fallow-tail throws her head high rolling eyewhites as she screams and falls and then they place it on me to cover my eyes and CRACK my brain tastes the air as my skull splits

Sun warm on my hide as I awaken, air rich with dew scent of morning grass. I rise and uncurl my legs, stretch my body, bare my teeth to take in the smells… a broad verdant field, stretching out before a strand of trees. No fence, no corral! So much food!

I leap in the air, land with firm clomps on the turf, and take off running around in the sun, grass wet on my hooves and drops of water flying around me to make bands of light in the air. Food around me in green waves that rustle in the breeze, food under my feet, food!

I sniff further around me, no scent of predator, only horse smell and the others rising on the green grass, runs-like-rain and nose-to-sky join me in running, gopherhole-leg runs with us too, but as fast as we, his crooked leg now straight. We dash around in joy, breathing the fresh air and blinking in the bright warm golden sun, and bend to crop the grass. Food! We eat and eat together, until crops are full and green juice runs from our lips.

We drink from the stream, cool clear water free of strange tastes, pure and clear with hint of streambed and ferns. We run without limit, straight lines instead of endless circles, lie on grass, bellies rumble full. Free! Healthy flesh, happy herd!

We gather together as cool night falls, warm flanks against each other, gentle air and scent of remote rain. Rabbits lope through field at ease, no predator stink, all at peace. We fall off to sleep.

Sun rises and days pass, we herd together, roam the field, find tremendous apple tree by clear stream. Gopherhole-leg, our stallion, is now in full health; his bad leg restrains him no more. We mares cluster with him, there are no thoughts of mating yet, the season is far away. Grass is juicy, crisp and sweet. Apples tart and slightly bitter at core; we eat them fresh from the tree and there are always more.

No hind-leggers have come to find us, we do not need them. We run under the bright blue sky together, leaving our scent as we roam without fear, we stride and gallop as strong hooves strike the ground, we are powerful and swift, we live!

Another morning sun, crimson in the sky at dawn. We rise and eat, play and run.

Others are coming, dark against the distant hills. We run to greet them. They approach us, and we smell each other, no scent of disease, natural and clean.

They are horse, but colored not like earth, one stallion is like grass and one… he is a color I do not know. This one has a horn on his forehead. The green one has wings and we spend much time sniffing these and nuzzling them; he makes a strange noise from his throat as he shifts about.

Nose-to-sky tosses her head and starts to run. We all join, thundering up and down hills, leaping and bucking the air, breath huffing as we herd together. The new ones keep the pace, one-horn frisking from side to side, green-wing lifting his wings as if to rise like a bird, stamping the ground extra hard with strong feeling in our hooves. It is natural to run with them, we all are happy. We find apples and gambol around the trees, splash through streams, chase each other and roll on the grass.

Will the new stallions challenge gopherhole-leg for his place? They make no threatening moves, do not bump or jostle us for dominance, they simply exist with us. We herd with them for the rest of the day, and nestle with them at night. We are happy and strong together. One-horn finds me as we go to rest and shares flank with me, perhaps he wishes to be my stallion when mating time comes. Not important now. I rub chins with him as we fall asleep.

The next day is much the same as we explore and play with our new herdmates. We return by degrees to the large old apple tree, eat our fill. The new ones do not eat the whole apple, they leave the core, an odd thing that reminds me of the hindleggers. I watch one-horn as he finishes his apple, then I snap up the core, crunching the bitter seeds.

Suddenly he looks at me steadily until I return his gaze. Odd sounds come from his lips, not horse sounds.

“Cherry? Cherry Blossom?”

This is the sound the hind-leggers once used to address me! I huff with surprise and start back from him, then rise and bolt around the tree, full of a nervousness I haven’t felt since a time like forever. I am safe and in the herd so I do not go far, but I am hesitant to approach one-horn again. I sleep apart from him that night, sharing flanks with fallow-tail.

The next day we run over plains further away, fields of chicory and patches of wheat, pine scent on the air, and a sweet tart odor… an odor of the little apple colored fruits, the ones with hard stones. We gather to bite them from the branch and swallow or crunch the pits with our broad hard teeth.

One-horn nears me again. He rises on his hind legs to bite down a branch, then presents the flowers to me. I take a bite.

“Cherry Blossom,” he says. “You were named for them.”

This time I do not flee, but I am nervous and I back off, flicking my ears and tail.

He sighs. “I thought they would understand us, Zenith…” comes the odd sounds as he looks at green-wing, who is grooming fallow-tail.

“They should have the potential, we have to be patient with them,” come sounds from green-wing, his mouth full of fallow-tail’s mane. “They probably don’t know what names even are yet.”

One-horn lies on the grass, signalling non-threat, and waves the branch at me. “Cherry Blossom.” He rolls the fruits that are fallen in the grass. “Cherries, good to eat. Sweet and sour. You’ve heard all these words before, but you had no way to know what they mean. You may not know what meaning is at this point… but… Cherry Blossom, I am here for you.”

Each time he repeats it I feel the call to attention. The sounds are so unlike horse noises, and I remember hind-leggers dressing me, passing the halter over my head and putting the bit into my mouth and the saddle on my back… those sounds are in my mind too, the hind-leggers used them, used them around things, used them by things, used them… on me.

My tongue suddenly feels thick in my mouth as one-horn looks at me.

“Cherry Blossom?” come the sounds again. “I’m Starfinder. You never knew me by that name, you may not know what it ever was. But that’s okay, I’m only Starfinder now. I used to saddle you and ride you and feed you carrots and comb your mane. Do you remember? Cherry Blossom?”

My ears lie back and I shudder, my herdmates looking at me strangely, they can smell my fear, but there’s nothing to be afraid of, just hind-legger noises and my tongue feeling more and more strange in my mouth, worse than with the metal bit lying over it, it feels too free, something it knows that I don’t.

“Sh--sherreyvlussum” comes out of my mouth and I whinney in fear and dash away, kicking up the sod and the dirt in thick clumps, running to nothing, away from everything, the wind a natural sound in my ears.

It is… a moonth later, a moon passing through all its phases as the days pass. A month, since I first said my name and panicked everyone and myself and fled the herd, only returning at nightfall.

Starfinder called something forth from me, something that was always something I knew, in that I was familiar with the sounds, but I could not assemble things, could not put them together. He says that it is abstraction, that a sound indicates a thing that it is not itself, but is a way to think. Thinking is the working of the mind. He is taking it slowly but every day there seems to be something new. We have all learned to speak like hind-leggers now, and learned our names - gopherhole-leg they call Chico, fallow-tail is Fancy, green-wing is Zenith… I am learning not to be afraid of my own name.

Starfinder and I sit on the grass under the cherry tree, watching the others talk; it is something we are all doing now. I feel windblown leaves falling on my back as the breeze ruffles my mane. Each time I talk to Starfinder he twists my mind somehow, leaves me more to think about, and I am learning to ask him things that will throw me into more confusion. We are flank to flank, growing closer, and further down the hill Zenith is nipping playfully at Fancy’s rear. She whaps his snout with her tail; they are likely to pair up when mating season arrives.

I turn back to Starfinder. “I’m learning more about place,” I said. “Places can have names just as we can. What is this place?” I nod to indicate the plains and the distant mountains.

He flicks his ears. “This is a place that once was imaginary, in the head only, like a dream,” he says. “We found a way to make it real, in a sense. We call it Equestria, Horse Land.”

“A land for horses? It was made for us? It is certainly beautiful, and full of grass and fruit and everything we could ever want…” I blink hard; I still get confused easily, though I am learning better as time goes on. “You.. you who were once hind-leggers, humans, you always used us. We were your… mounts, is it? Slaves, pets, things you used for yourself. Why would you make a place for us? Why are you here?”

He sighs. “That gets complicated,” he says. “For us, you were sort of a symbol of peace, a life at ease with nature. But all of what humans did was to try to exceed nature, escape from it.

“It’s very odd that we actually managed to set ourselves free from nature’s bonds, and then turned around and recreated it. We wanted only the best parts of it. We wanted the green fields and not the venomous snakes, we wanted foxes and rabbits without the rabbits getting eaten by the foxes, we demanded peace, real peace, from a nature ‘red in tooth and claw.’ Freedom from fear, freedom from death.”

I shook my head, remembering the fear-stenches and the riding crops and the agony of a split hoof, all things remote and from a time when I could not even recognize my old self anymore, with what I now had learned.

Starfinder continued. “Equestria was one of our ideals for it, a story we told ourselves about what such a place could be like. And when we had the ability, we made it. A place where dreams can come true with magic, a place where no one ever dies, a place where we can bring out the very best of ourselves.

“But Cherry, it didn’t seem fair that we would leave you behind. To create a magical horse realm with no real horses in it? After we’d beaten you and ridden you and bent your lives to our wills for so long? That certainly wasn’t being the best that we humans could be. We wanted to bring you with us, into paradise, to atone for everything else.

“And we had to use a really foul means to do it, too. It was a kind of mind scanner, almost instant in operation, but also quite violent. It was as if we were shooting you in the head, and it broke our hearts, even though we knew that you were literally going to a better place with us. I hope you’re all happy with your new bodies, happy to be here?”

Questions piled upon questions and bumped into other questions. “I… am happy, and I am sure the others are as well,” I said. “But I am starting to wish I had another brain to keep all this in.”

He smiled. “Well, that’s what books are for. It’s about time I started showing you reading and writing.” He brought forth a sheath of papers stuck together at one side. “This will be your journal. You can make marks that represent the sounds — another layer of abstraction — and store the extra info there.” He passed me a pen, from his mouth to mine, and as our lips touched I thought he lingered a bit long. He’d explained the human habit of kissing a week ago, so I took it in a kind spirit.

I held the pen in my mouth and stared down at the blank book. “So just what do I do with this?” I asked. “How do I start?”

“I’ll show you the symbols as we go,” he said. “You’re a very quick learner. As for the first sentence, it can be:

“Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria…”
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#1 ·
The POV work here:

Is really well done. I only stumbled over a couple things while reading: the places where you capitalized "gopherhole-leg" and "nose-to-sky" made me think the horses were developing an idea of what names were and how they worked, but it wasn't consistent and I quickly realized it was just because they were at the beginnings of sentences. I'd recommend keeping them lower-case even though they start sentences since a large part of the story hinges around the horses coming to understand names.

Also, I was confused by the horses eating "until crops are full". The only crop I'm familiar with in relation to horses is the stick riders use to smack horses in the side, and I'm pretty sure you don't mean that. "Croup" is a horse's rump, the part from the hip to the tail, so I don't know if that's what you want, either. Maybe "barrel"? Time to consult the Wikipedia page on horse anatomy!

Of course, my constant concern with these "everybody goes to live in the computer" stories, though, is how maintenance works. I don't care how advanced a system is, it'll still need someone to keep it the right temperature, to vacuum the dust out, to chase away any spiders or cockroaches who are trying to nest in its warmth. Power supplies, wires, cables: these are things that always pop into my mind when I read a story like this. Now, I know you can't deal with the questions here in this particular story, but for me, it's genre baggage, stuff that's standing around in the background and getting in the way a little...

Still, good story here.

#2 ·
I'll echo Baal and congratulate you on a really interesting and unique piece of POV work! Personal bias against this matrix-y kind of story aside, your flow was smooth and your tone was really engaging. Well done!
#3 ·
This is perhaps an extreme take on the prompt, but no less creative and intriguing for it.

I'm going to assume the Matrix vibe Baal was picking up on, and the associated baggage, is mostly solved by invoking the age old solution to every problem: Magic! Unless...

I was originally thinking that there was some incongruity between the "techno murder helmets to clone minds" and "magical horse realm" ideas, but the more I think about it, this feels like an AU Equestria rather than an early version of the world we know and love, since in canon, death is a thing (sorry AJ). Maybe it's literally a Matrix sort of thing with Magic programmed in, or maybe it's really a transcendent realm with magical properties, which is why the horses can learn to talk.

The core idea of humans making a utopian equine realm for themselves and wanting to bring actual horses along is great, but... yeah that disparity between "maybe magic is real" and "murder helmets" keeps wedging itself into my mind.

Positive note, however! The POV writing was swell, and the original horse names working more like lower-cased identifiers rather than proper names is a really snazzy touch to show the less mature thought processes at work. Not dissimilar to what I have to do at work sometimes, where kids can become "pink shirt" or "hoodie kid in the corner" if things get hectic.