By: The Polecat
His footing was unsteady as he walked, weaving about the roadway. Crossing the yellow line, first one way, then the other with his shuffling step. Cracked pavement only crumbling further as worn shoes crunched over them. A shuffle step to the side, weaving about a long abandoned vehicle, one of many that littered the road, every one of them abandoned. Just like the town, the state, the country
even the world; all abandoned.
As far as he knew, he's the last. He'd never found another, only the wastelands that surrounded the city he was born and raised in. His friends, his family, his co-workers, all gone. It was as though no one ever existed in the first place.
Where did everyone go? If the man bothered or cared to look he could find the evidence of what occurred here. But he didn't care. He was sick, fever burning his cheeks and infections spreading. He was no doctor, but he knew he was on his last legs. The medicines he found no longer worked, and he didn't know which ones were the right ones anyway. It's not like he could just go down the road and see a doctor.
His eyes lolled as he walked, slightly filmy with his growing illness, before stopping on a tree. Not just any tree, but perhaps the healthiest, greenest tree he could remember seeing. He shook his head, as if to dispel it, but the illusion stubbornly remained. Finally he decided it must be real, and stumbled towards it, feet half walking, and half dragging. The dirt on the side of the road belched small, dry, clouds with each step. The land was as sick as he was, and yet
The tree grew as he approached it, taller then he thought it was, more full. Leaves of bright green splaying out and filled with apples of the most pure red. Heavy, juicy, apples
With a wordless cry he forced himself faster, finally coming to the tree itself. He couldn't help himself, he hugged it. Then carefully he reached up to the lower branches, hoping beyond hope this illusion wouldn't shatter until he'd managed to bite down on one of these beautiful fruit. His hand closed on one, finding it firm, and pulled it down. His eyes widened with near disbelief, cradling the apple in his hands lovingly, almost afraid to bite on it. He'd been eating from cans and freeze-dried foods for so long he'd forgotten what fruit even tasted like.
Hesitantly, almost afraid he'd fooled himself, he craned his head forward and sunk his teeth into the flesh and slowly bit down. Warm juices ran over his chin and his eyes rolled up in his head. It was REAL!!
"Hey, ya'll gonna just take that from mah orchard?" came the voice behind him. He bobbled the apple and turned suddenly, feet tangling on themselves to land him hard on his shins. He hardly felt the pain lancing from his scuffed shins, his mind refusing to believe what he was seeing in front of him.
An orange/brown pony, couldn't have been more then 3 or 4 feet tall, stood facing him. She had blonde hair, and for some insane reason wore a cowboy hat.
"Whoah there nelly, ya'll okay?" she asked him, her expression shifting to one of concern. For a moment he was amazed at how expressive that face was, such HUGE eyes, they almost seemed to stare into his soul. Yet
and yet they seemed, gentle almost.
He coughed for a moment, sputtering around the half eaten bite of apple. His eyes were wide as he stared at this
Pony. He wasn't sure what else to categorize it as, a little pony. "W-what
. Are you?" he managed to choke after a moment.
"What do I look like sugah?" She lobbed back with a smile.
"Then I guess that's what I am."
"A talking pony." He stated, "But that's
"Nah, not impossible. You jus' ain't never seen one before."
He couldn't come up with an argument for that as he still looked at her. His mind refused to accept what he was seeing. She was too clean, too perfect, like nothing that happened to this world ever had touched her. Almost as if she stepped out of a storybook or off the television screen. Yet there she was, standing there in front of him, as tall as he was still hunkered down on his knees. One hand reached out, trying to touch her, to convince himself this was just an illusion.
"Hey now!" she complained, and bit at his hand. Not hard mind you, but enough that it made him flinch. It had hurt; convincing him at least something was there.
." he apologized quickly; he didn't want to anger the
mare? He wasn't sure what to call her, "I just
you don't look real."
"Ya'll don' look too real to me either." She pointed out, "But yer here. Prolly should getcha to talk to Twilight, she'd be able to sort ya out. Go ahead an' keep the apple, ya look hungry."
"S-starving." He agreed.
"Then c'mon. Maybe after all's said an' done we can get ya fed proper." and she turned around, flicking her tail. The man was almost helpless to do anything but follow, still clutching the apple.
The walk was nothing short of surreal for the man. An odd harmony of colors that made everything seem idealized and almost childish. From the orchard to what looked like a small but bustling town filled of these ponies. And yet, with every pony he saw, he only saw a friendly faces. Eyes were wide with curiosity and their bodies filled with an energy he could almost feel. More then once he felt overwhelmed, his instinct to run away from this illusion, this fantasy. To deny it and return to "reality". To run back to the road
but where after that? The world was empty; he was the last man alive.
So he followed. One step after the other, until they reached a tree. No, not a tree, a home built into a tree. It took him several moments to comprehend that, windows mounted as though the inside of the tree had been hollowed out, and yet it was somehow green with life. It was impossible, the man knew, and yet here it was.
The orange pony with him knocked on the door, even as he himself turned to look back. He only saw more ponies, most of them making a show of trying not to stare curiously. A riot of colors that was at once energizing and soothing, colors the world he knew had lost in a constant state of brown; pinks and greens and yellows and purples and reds and blues. Some ponies flew, looping about and taming the clouds above, while the rest trotted, their hooves planted firmly on the ground. But what the man came to realize was that while they were curious about this newcomer, but there wasn't an ounce of hostility in them. They were as ready to welcome him as they were another of their kind
"I've been waiting for you." Came a new voice, and the man turned around, startled. The speaker was another pony, but of a soft lavender pelt with deep indigo mane and tail, with a streak of pink in it. She also had a horn that poked out the almost human-like bangs of her mane.
"You have?" he asked dumbly.
"Yes, we all have." She said, her expression surprisingly compassionate, "Your world has died."
"I like to think it's just 'moved on'." He answered weakly, trying to remember what book he'd read that in.
Yes, that's a good way to put it." She answered. "But you've been given a choice, a chance. To go back, and slowly perish where you were, alone and the last of your kind..."
"Or, allow us to welcome you here. You'll be a stranger here, but you'll be welcome. You'd have to accept Celestia's boon, and become one of us." She answered softly.
become one of you, a pony, or return to where I came from?" the man asked carefully.
"Correct. Princess Celestia alerted me you were coming, and you have a brief window to accept this boon or move on. I don't claim to understand the details, but I know the window of opportunuity is short."
I wouldn't be alone anymore?"
"No. You won't be alone." She noted, nodding her head behind her. The man turned, and was met with ranks of eyes; the ponies of the town had given up their attempt to ignore this pageant and now looked at him with wide, hopeful, eyes.
The man turned back to face the lavender pony, his eyes starting to film over with tears. Why was he crying? He wasn't sure, but he could only look at her, sniffling like a child as he watched her for several long moments. It was as if time stood still, even if every second was marked off by the hands of fate.
"I need to know now." The unicorn stated after what seemed like an eternity, "Time is running out."
The man found his legs giving out, landing on his knees and his face covered in tears, the apple he'd been clutching to falling to the grass "I
no more." He sniffled. The unicorn responded with a gentle smile, and closed her eyes, her horn starting to glow.
A gentle breeze washed across the road, sending a wave of dirt and dust over the slowly cracking pavement and rotting rubber tires. Down over the gully beside the road, and over dying brown grass, to a small twisted apple tree. It had few leaves, and those it did were turning brown. It had little fruit, and those it did were small and green and twisted.
At the tree's roots laid a man on his back, unmoving. One could be forgiven for thinking he was asleep, were it not for both his eyes staring into the sky. Watching the clouds with a filmed over gaze, and his face open and lineless. The furrows and worries of his life finally gone, leaving only a wondering expression that seemed to gaze far beyond the tree and the skies above him.
Clutched in one hand, cradled on his chest, was a bright juicy red apple with a single bite taken from it.