Brian had become a brony, and it was worse than his friends could have imagined.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
remind me,” Erica said. “He wanted me to wear a Rita Repulsa costume
for Halloween. With the...” she gestured. “The traffic cone tits and
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 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
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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.
“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-”
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?”
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
“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."