Thursday, October 20, 2011

Horst Case Scenario

Brian had become a brony, and it was worse than his friends could have imagined.

They’d been fooled by Megan, they all had. She seemed harmless enough, a collegiate Mrs. Potato Head stuffed rudely into a frayed Megatokyo shirt. Brian’s friends knew things would change after high school. People experimented, tried new things, sometimes drifted apart. Brian was 18 now, old enough to try animes responsibly.

But Megan, that horrid, lumpen siren, had drawn Brian in past the point of responsibility. The animes became the scummy lenses through which he viewed reality. Brian’s friends started worrying when they caught him taking a bento box to the dining hall, when he started peppering his conversations with words like “oro” and “naw-nee?”

They were worried, but when they found out he was a brony, they were terrified.

A grown man watching a television show about talking girl ponies. It was more than anyone could bear.

“Maybe... he’ll grow out of it,” said Erica, Brian’s junior high sweetheart. Erica was an all-American girl, third-generation Pakistani and the product of a hideous, crushing divorce that molded her into a compulsive cutter and collector of porcelain owls.

“Yeah, maybe,” said Jaydyn, Brian’s best friend and success story. Every one of his personal milestones, clear back to his conception and birth, had taken place in a yellow, single-wide trailer. His work ethic was so poor that, at 16, he found himself fired from a hunting and fishing store because he skipped work to go hunting and fishing. But he turned it around, flexing a formidable talent for math to claw his way to a cumulative C average.

Erica and Jaydyn sat together in the Grothmann Hall dining facility, looking for the lost member of their triumvirate. Jaydyn poked at his lunch, green peas in pudding.

“Remember that year when he was all into Power Rangers? Where he couldn’t, like, stop talking about the redemptive arc of Bulk and Skull?” he said, trying to sound encouraging.

“Don’t remind me,” Erica said. “He wanted me to wear a Rita Repulsa costume for Halloween. With the...” she gestured. “The traffic cone tits and everything.”

“No shit?” Jaydyn barked out a laugh. He always wondered why Lord Zedd was so sad that year. “Is that why you broke it off with him?”

“Well. Well yes,” she said. “I mean-” she made a frustrated noise. “He’s a great kid. Somewhere in there, he’s a great guy. But he just has this... addictive personality. He finds something and it buries his entire self-identity.”

Jaydyn offered a solemn nod. “I tried my best, man. I tried to get him on drugs. You know? Wean him onto something a little bit better for him, but it didn’t take.” He shook his head, smiling. “Though I did get him to drop acid once.”

“No shit?” Erica said.

“He said he was watching Toy Story, and the bit at the end where they’re trying to get on board the moving truck? He thought the toys were yelling at him to come aboard. He kept trying to crawl into the television,” Jaydyn said.

Erica laughed, and Jaydyn had the good grace to blush. “Look, you didn’t hear that from me though. Seriously though... maybe he’s just gonna be like this for a little while,” he said. “It isn’t affecting his grades, so... who’s it hurting?”

The two of them fell silent. They saw Brian enter the dining hall, surrounded by Megan and the rest of her boy-harem. They watched them claim a table, pull out bento boxes in unison, and mash their grinning faces into them, hands free. When they came up for air, their faces were sticky with honeyed oats.

They were eating oats.

“Oh, hell no,” Erica said.


The battle for Brian’s soul turned into a holding action, and then into ugly trench warfare. On one side, the forces of normalcy and a reasonable body mass index. On the other... the bronies, implacable and awful.

With increasing desperation, Jaydyn tried to engage his friend with ultimate frisbee, then Modern Warfare, and even Dungeons and Dragons. Once, Erica flashed him. They won no decisive victories, but they could at least arrest Brian’s slide into vice. Or so they thought.

Brian was an only child and a momma’s boy. He called home every Thursday, at least before Megan got her grody claws into him. Brian’s parents expressed concern to Erica and Jaydyn, in a roundabout way, through texts and Facebook messages. Parent Weekend was coming up, and Brian’s friends needed more time. They had to convince Brian’s folks that he was all right, and that they didn’t need to see him until Thanksgiving break.

The brony podcasts were going to make that hard. To their mounting horror, Brian’s friends discovered he had been uploading videos to Youtube, 10-minute-long screeds of earnest discussion about something called a “Pinkie Pie.” If Brian’s folks caught wind of this, nothing would be off the table. They could pull him out of school, have him committed. Maybe even killed.

The Wednesday night before Parent Weekend, Brian and Erica hit on a solution. Strung out on energy smoothees and subsidized pizza-by-the-slice from the student union, Erica remembered reading about ELIZA, the grandmother of modern chat bots, a program created in 1964 to mimic a psychologist’s reflective listening technique. Maybe they could use a chat bot like ELIZA to simulate Brian, or at least a normal enough Brian to buffalo his mom and dad.

An hour of trawling Google for freeware programs turned up some disappointing dead ends. They didn’t have the knowhow to make a speech-to-text converter play ball with a chat bot equipped with text-to-speech. And besides, Microsoft Sam’s bland, blatting voice was nowhere near Brian’s excitable tenor.

In the end, Erica called on her brother Ravinder to fill in the technical gaps. Ravi was hesitant to get on board, but his sister cemented his commitment when she threatened to tell his father about the quarter sleeve tribal tattoo he had picked up over the fall. All they needed was Brian’s voice... and the podcasts proved to be grist for that loathesome mill.

The three students broke into Brian’s room that night, installed the necessary programs on his computer, and sectioned apart 40 minutes worth of Brian’s podcasts to build the chat bot’s vocabulary. Brian himself did not come back to discover their work; he was over in Megan’s room, sinking deeper into unspeakble brony iniquity.

Thursday came. Jaydyn, Erica and her brother still had uncontested control of Brian’s room.

The phone rang. Erica held the receiver, Jaydyn crammed a computer speaker and a stand mic against the phone, and Ravi manned the keyboard.


“Good evening, internet-”

“Brian!” It was his mother. “How’s my favorite son?”

“I’m. Doing. -have a great show for you tonight-”

Erica bit her lip, looked over at Ravi. Her brother shrugged, clattering at the keyboard.

“Your father and I have been talking about Parent Weekend,” Brian’s mother said. “We could catch the game on Saturday and take you out to eat, our treat.”

“I’m really looking forward to the new season of- Power. of friendship.”

“Yeah, I think the new coach is going to take us all the way to the... what?”

“I’m really looking forward to the n-”

Ravi hammered the keys.

“-Pinkie Pie.”

“Are you all right, Bri?” his mother sounded worried. Jaydyn could feel a drop of sweat crawl down his armpit.

“Pinkie Pie is the greatest.”

“Is... Pinkie Pie a girl?”

“I love Pinkie Pie. I wish I could put m-”

“Why didn’t you tell us you have a new girlfriend! Oh, I hope things aren’t awkward with you and Erica.”

“She is- Friendship conquers all-”

Brian’s mother blew out a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank goodness. I didn’t want there to be any bad blood there. Do you want us to hold off on coming down? We don’t want to embarrass you in front of... uh, Pinkie Pie?”

“Pinkie Pie is the greatest.”

“Well, all right... so how is school going?”

The door clicked open. Brian walked inside, wearing a shirt with Pony Princess Celestia cast in the style of Shepard Fairey’s Obama campaign poster. Jaydyn made a throat-cutting motion to Ravi, who pushed more buttons.

“Signing off until next week, see you in Equestria, fellow bronies-”

Erica jammed the phone back on the receiver. Brian stared at them, agog.

“What in the actual hell are you three doing in my room, on my computer?” he demanded.

There was a moment of awful silence. Ravi and Jaydyn looked at Erica.

“Quick, run!” she told them. They scrabbled to their feet and bum rushed the door.

“What-” Brian started.

Panicking, Erica lifted her shirt to flash him.

“Kapow!” she yelled.

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, andrea challenged me with "A character is talking to an automated message system but somehow the conversation makes sense so the character doesn't realize it," and I challenged Debra Elliott with "a daring plan to save the print news industry."


  1. That was really cool, awesome take on the challenge. I liked the voice as well.