What happens to us between sleeping and waking? Every night, when the moon rises, we march like sheep into that deep darkness, not knowing what truth mechanizes the spaces between our heartbeats during such long and noble silence. Are we really the same ponies when we wake up? Or is what rises with the morning merely a carbon copy of the thinking creature that had laid itself down the evening before? What a strange homunculus that thing must be, a golem crafted after the flimsy blueprint of a slumbering soul's final thoughts, that it is no wonder that all of our ambitions, aspirations, and hopes are only residually pursued until the bitter end.
What, then, should we call our dreams? Are they the manifestations of regret? Are they the substance of all our attachments thrown into a searing crucible of mortal fear? Do we dream because we know of loss, of all its colorlessness, across which our wills and desires shatter like eggshells dashed against a brick wall?
I used to believe in these things. I saw the fall of night like the mistress of death. Dreaming was a threadbare, skittering whisper—like the a flutter of gray wings or the curling legs of an overturned moth after a short and fruitless life of chasing the invisible purpose behind flame. When a pony is alone—and lucid—whilst cast before the great looming darkness of a world that forgets her, dreams serve nothing more than a dissonant overture to a symphony of screams.
It was with a very mad notion, then, that I once stumbled upon a miraculous epiphany: a dream is much like a song. Very often do ponies forget the title of the instrumental. On other occasions, ponies are even likely to forget the name of the composer. What is not lost between that impermeable gap of sleeping and waking is the tune, the indefinable voice that plays with our ears like a mother licks her newborn foal. And when we open our eyes to the golden glow of a new dawn, it is something more than our bodies that animates us, something that gives us the tempo to which our hearts can dance, something that makes us crawl out of our beds like a resurrected soul is blessed to climb out of a tomb.
Life is a very impossible thing, bleak and dark and dastardly at every turn. But something in the cold void of night—something as black if not blacker than death itself—slips a tune into our meaty hearts as a gardener plants a seed in inert soil. What grows from our dreams is a symphony, at times an orchestra that has no artist. And like that orchestra, we blossom against the nothingness, until our search—our growth—becomes life itself, becomes something impossible, like remembering the name of a musician that you were never introduced to, only to learn that it was yourself the whole time.
I do very much love to dream. Does that make me mad? I daresay, it makes me alive.
It was the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration. All across Ponyville, ponies gathered in happy little clusters, forming circles around brilliant bonfires that shone like amber plumes under the crimson kiss of a sunset. The air was filled with laughter, murmur, and music as the villagers prepared for the annual tradition of an entire night spent awake in the joyful sway of camaraderie. Princess Celestia was visiting Baltimare that year, but that didn't stop the Ponyvilleans from eagerly greeting the morning sunrise and giving thanks to their patron alicorn for bringing light to Equestria each day.
One soul, however, was anything but jubilant. The earth pony sat alone beside a bonfire, displaced from the thick of the crowd. There was a sullen shadow over his orange coat and earthen brown mane that night, and it matched the stallion's melancholic expression as he stared tiredly into the flames, his ears barely pricking to the music that wafted over his slumped shoulders. As the day slowly died around him—forming a purple roof to the village full of summer merriment—his eyes closed and he exhaled a cold sigh.
Just then, there was a cheerful voice echoing over the crackling, burning pyre before him. “Caramel! Hey there, dude! What's happening?!”
Caramel looked up with a start, then breathed easier. He bore a practiced grin, as sweet as his name and yet just as flimsy. “Hey there, Thunderlane... Blossomforth. What are you two up to?”
The pegasus couple shuffled up to the bonfire where Caramel was seated. “We were about to ask you the same thing, dude!” Thunderlane exclaimed. “The gang's all hanging out beside the town hall building.”
“Rumor has it that the mayor's godchild—a Wonderbolt—is visiting from Cloudsdale!” Blossomforth added with a grin, her freckles illuminated by the nearby tongues of flame. “Supposedly he's gonna do some air tricks for all of us before the fireworks start at moonrise!”
“Hmmm... Sounds pretty sweet,” Caramel said with a grin, albeit a grin that was already crumbling. “But, face it, guys. Your little clique of pegasi is awesome, but I always feel like a dead weight when I'm around you.”
“Nonsense!” Blossomforth's face grew long. “How could you say that, Caramel? We love it when you hang around.”
“Yeah, besides...” Thunderlane wagged his eyebrows. “Wind Whistler's gonna be there—”
“Shhh!” Blossomforth lightly slapped Thunderlane's chest with one of her milk-white wings. “Thunder! What did we talk about earlier...?”
“Jeez! Sorry! I was only trying to—!”
Caramel cleared his throat. He stared at the two and said, “You're both Souls of Solstice tonight, aren't you?”
The two pegasi glanced back at him, then smiled bashfully. Their cheeks turned matching shades of red as they dug at the ground with errant hooves.
“So what if it's our second time in a row being Souls of Solstice?”
“There's just no other choice, really...”
“I know all of the ponies have been talking about us since Hearts and Hooves Day, but...”
“Egads... heeheehee... Is it really such a big deal?”
Caramel smiled softly at them, a very genuine thing. “I'm glad for you two. I'm sure every other pony is as well. I hope your Summer Sun Celebration is fantastic and memorable. As for myself... I really just want to sit here and relax. A lot of stuff has happened over the past year, and this has been my first opportunity to... to just think... y'know?”
“But it doesn't mean that you have to think alone, does it?” Blossomforth asked with a look of sympathy bathing her features. “This is a special night, Caramel. You have friends. In fact, Windy was just talking the other day about how she—oh... erm...” She bit her lip guiltily and glanced up at Thunderlane.
Thunderlane smiled, nuzzled her, and glanced one last time Caramel's way. “You sure you won't change your mind, bro?”
“Go on, Souls of Solstice,” Caramel spoke in a detached voice. He closed his eyes and once more relaxed to the musical chords that were softly serenading his lonesome ears into the crest of night. “Embrace the sunrise together. Don't worry about me.”
The two pegasi slowly, sadly left his side. Their hooves were distant shuffles amidst the bonfire's crackling embers. Once his friends were nothing but a memory, Caramel sighed. He opened his eyes and dug twin circles in the dirt between him and the flames, as if mapping out a solemn eternity for himself.
It was precisely then that the music died. “It's a lot like dreaming, isn't it?”
Caramel blinked awkwardly. He raised his head, glancing all around, until his gaze finally fell upon me. “Uhm... What's like dreaming?” he asked.
“Living,” I said. I stood a few meters behind him, my body leaning up against a wooden post. My lyre levitated in front of me as I reached two hooves up and lowered the stone-gray hoodie from over my horn. “Sunrise and sunset: our days pass by between sleeping and waking. It's like a constantly changing stage-play with the darkest curtains imaginable.” I smiled softly and began magically plucking the strings of the lyre. The instrument was leading the conversation; my words were merely a background chorus. “You look like an actor who's lost his motivation. Dare I ask why?”
“Look, thanks for your concern, but I’m really just here to relax with my thoughts, if you don’t mind,” he said. “You can, uhm. You can play your music though. It’s nice to listen to.”
“Hmmm... Very well then.” I smiled gently and resumed plucking my strings with soft magic. “Music it is.”
But as the melody resumed, Caramel was hardly at ease. He fidgeted, his limbs jolting with an jittery nature that rivaled the snapping embers of the burning pyre. Finally, he spoke up. “My friends just wouldn’t understand.”
“Hmm?” I uttered from where I was strumming. “What was that?”
“My friends. The pegasi who were here just now.”
“The ones who trotted off happily without you? Who can blame them? This should be a night of celebration, yes?”
“And is there a reason why you’re not celebrating with them?”
“Oh, it's nothing important,” Caramel said.
"Very well then. I’ll just be here with my music,” I uttered, barely hiding a smile.
His jaw tensed. After a flaring of his nostrils, Caramel muttered aloud, “I used to love this annual event. But this year, it’s not so easy.” He spoke to me, and yet I was a perfect stranger. Something in the worn edges of his face announced a desperate need to speak, or else I would have never bothered ushering the truth from him to begin with. “If nothing else, the Summer Sun Celebration reminds me that so much time has gone by...” He weathered a shuddering sigh, his blue eyes returning to the blazes before him. “...and so little good has come of it.”
“I see.” I nodded, filling the air with a somber melody that matched the pitch in his voice. “So, somepony has a hard time sleeping—much less dreaming.”
He smirked slightly, then squinted at me. “You're not from around here, are you?”
“I'm not about to spread any horrible rumors that your acquaintances would ever remember, if that's what you mean to ask.”
“Oh, it's not that,” he spoke, though the wavering in his voice put his honesty in question. “It's just that... it's the Summer Sun Celebration, and everypony should be home where they're happy.” He gulped and added, “They should be with the ones they love.”
“I am... a long way from home,” I said in a cold breath. It was all too quickly replaced with a warm smile as I plucked the lyre boldly, happily. “But the ones I love? Heeheehee. I wouldn't abandon them for an instant. Now, what about you, good sir?”
“I...” Caramel's face winced as if a horrible dagger was burrowing through him. “It's complicated.”
“What can be so complicated that it wrecks something as simple as finding another Soul of Solstice?” I remarked with a grin. I hummed briefly to accompany the notes of my lyre before speaking once more, “It's a tradition as old as time. When Princess Celestia first raised the Sun over Equestria, she discovered three pairs of ponies—the ancestors of unicorns, earth ponies, and pegasi—and she blessed these Souls of Solstice with the light they needed to begin a civilization of glory, honor, and love. To this day, everypony has a treasured soul that they cherish above all else. I'm sure you're no exception.”
“Hmmm... Yeah...” Caramel mumbled. “I suppose it's just that I'm afraid.”
“Aren't we all?”
“But it's no excuse!” he exclaimed, frowning, though the anger was hardly aimed at me. “Things have been so tough, lately. I can handle it all on my own. But Windy...” Caramel's frown dissolved to allow a grimace to cross his face. He sighed, slumping once more to the ground before the bonfire.
I hummed and strummed a few chords before glancing his way. “I assume you speak of this 'Wind Whistler' that your companions mentioned a moment ago.”
“Hmmph... She's a very special mare in my life,” Caramel said, his gaze melting in the flames. “You said that living is like dreaming, right? When Windy's around, it's always a good dream, and I never want to wake up. She's so kind, so cheerful, so honest and smart. She takes me apart with her laughter, as if I was made of matchsticks, and only the sound of her voice can put me back together again.”
“Heeheehee...” I giggled and paused in strumming my lyre. “Methinks I picked William Flankspeare's bonfire this year.”
He smirked and glanced at me through the corner of his eyes. “Wind Whistler herself has said that I sound like a poet. Though, when I'm around her, I feel like there are marbles in my mouth. I just can never say the right thing.”
“Words seldom work when we want them to,” I said. Righteously, I resumed strumming the lyre, filling the spaces between my breath with harmony. “So why isn't Wind Whistler here with you? I'd pay a hundred bits to see marbles spill out of a grown stallion's mouth.”
“I'd ask her to be Souls of Solstice with me in a hearbeat. But...”
“It wouldn't be right,” he said defeatedly.
Caramel gulped. After a collapsing breath, he finally let it all out. “Life on my family's farm has hit rock bottom. Our celery stalks are dying, and we can't produce the crops to meet this year's coming harvest. My mother and father have resorted to selling livestock, but even that isn't helping us where we need it to. I've taken on two separate jobs in town just to provide the support that I can, but I fear that it's already too late. My family's gotten in contact with some distant relatives in Whinniepeg. We're seriously thinking about moving out of town before Hearth's Warming, ditching the farm—selling it and everything. I suppose I could stay in Ponyville, but what kind of a life would that be? In a best case scenario, I'd be living out of an apartment, barely finding time to sleep between two—maybe even three jobs.”
“It most definitely sounds like a case of hard luck,” I said with a sagely nod. “Though, I must be forward and ask—just what does this have to do with the fact that you're not spending time with Wind Whistler at the moment?”
“We've been getting closer and closer for the better part of a year,” Caramel said. “She knows only so little about all of the horrible stuff that I've been going through. Things in my life are about to get crazier, and... and...” He clenched his eyes shut and shuddered briefly. “She's so happy and full of life. She doesn't need to be weighed down by a lousy earth pony like me. She doesn't need my troubles clouding her blue skies. I... I love her. I really do, and that's why I gotta let her go...”
I hit a heavy note. Its reverberations danced sharply between us as I cast a curious glance his way. “Oh really?”
“If I ask her to be my Soul of Solstice, it'd only be giving the wrong message,” he muttered. “It's the Summer Sun Celebration, the mark of a new year—for me, at least. It's time I committed myself to what I need to do for my future... and for her future as well.” He gazed woefully into the flames, as if the happier colors of his life were being tossed into the consuming fire. “It's time that I just... gave up... gave Windy up. It's all for the best.”
“Hmmm...” I nodded. “It's always for the best when we let a dream die before it finishes itself,” I said in a droning voice. “After all, when the dream gets us to where we want to be, then there's no point in dreaming any longer, is there?”
Caramel blinked. He glanced up at me with a scrunched face. “Huh?”
I giggled. “Heeheehee... Doesn't make much sense to you either, does it?” I resumed strumming, this time tossing a cheerful rhythm his way. “Tell me, have you ever heard the Tale of the Mad Pony?”
“Uhmm...” Caramel scratched his own head in confusion, then ultimately smirked at me. “What? You fancy yourself a bard?”
“I've been sillier things before. Would you like to hear it?”
“What, the tale?” He gulped and turned once more towards the flames. “I dunno. Is it long?”
I glanced up at the western horizon. There was still a sliver of crimson across the edge of the world. The moon was nowhere to be seen. “It's short enough, as are all good things in this precious world. If you would prefer, I'll say nothing and let my lyre do the talking. It makes very little difference either way—”
“Eh, I'm good. I'm not really going anywhere.” He sighed and stared off at the distant bonfires where other ponies were currently engaged in crowded conversations, and all of them laced with the cheerfulness he was sorely lacking. “Besides, I could use a good story. Life's been a dull novel as of late.”
I smiled. The best audience is an innocent audience. The challenge is in keeping that audience innocent through to the end of the story. Without a moment's hesitation, I raised the lyre high above my head and let the ensuing notes soar majestically above the reach of the bonfire's flame.
“The Tale of the Mad Pony starts in a town—much like this one—and during a Summer Sun Celebration—just as jubilant and fancy as the one we're about to enjoy now...
“The villagers of this town were full of ecstasy and joy. You see, the eve of the Summer Sunrise was a lot longer and immeasurably darker than most that year, so that when the Princess finally raised the dawn, it was all the more bright and invigorating. Everypony danced and sang in the streets with glee—all except for one pony, an equine from out-of-town who discovered that she had very little to be happy about. As a matter of fact, she would soon learn that she had every reason to be mad.
“It started very subtly at first. Ponies would look at her twice, each time with the same expression. Then ponies would wave at her more than once, as if greeting her over and over again. Then there were citizens that she absolutely knew she had come into contact with before, only they treated her as though she was as much a stranger as she was when she first arrived in town days before.
“'I don't get it. Haven't we talked before?' she would ask them. 'Weren't you there to treat me when I woke up in the hospital from a concussion? And you—weren't you two the ones who found me unconscious in the shadow of the town hall building just this morning?'
“The ponies merely gave her blank gazes, shook their heads, and carried on with their vibrant celebration. The entire town was in the throes of Summer Sun festivities, and there the one pony was, standing all by herself, coming to terms with the fact that she was not only alone in her predicament, but she was cursed.
“Of course she was cursed. What else would you call her sudden situation? She began shoving her face into the gaze of every pony she could find, her rapid breath reaching a fever pitch as she asked, begged, demanded that someone remember her. With each attempt, the villagers only grew more and more oblivious to her desperation. It was as though every single thing she said, shouted, or sobbed was immediately thrown into a deep well of forgetfulness. It's one thing to be ostracized, banished, even executed. It's a horrible thing to be ignored, to have one's worth and mettle treated like dust long before one's fate in a grave.
“'Why are you all doing this?!' she began to shriek, to scream. 'Is this some kind of cruel joke?! Somepony! Anypony! Please, pay attention to me!'
“But her pleas fell on deaf ears. No matter how startled or shocked a villager was, he or she would only forget about her moments later. She began to wonder if she was dreaming, for only a nightmare could be painted with such heartless colors. In desperation, the pony resorted to drama befitting an absurd stage-play, and began kicking her hooves all about, knocking down effigies of the Princess and shattering market vendors full of celestial trinkets.
“When even these feats of hysteria weren't enough to faze her fellow equines, she went against her better nature—against her last bulwark of decency—and tossed a Summer Sun torch into a nearby flower garden, setting ablaze the front of the town's court building. Immediately, the festival ceased as every villager within view of the smoldering chaos ran to grab buckets of water and stop the inferno. The pony merely stood there within the glow of her conflagration, boasting loudly about her horrible act of arson. And, sure enough, a pair of police stallions hoisted her towards the jail on the far end of town.
“The pony couldn't possibly have been happier. She greeted the officers with tears of joy, practically hugging them any chance she got, happily allowing them to cart her off to a barred cell—if only it meant that she did indeed exist somewhere, somehow. Imagine her dismay when by the time they dragged her to the station, they stopped dead in their tracks, blinking dizzily as if coming out of a sleeping spell. They apologized profusely to the pony for the trouble and set her free, so that she stumbled numbly through the streets, trying to imagine if what had just transpired was indeed real or a bitter hallucination.
“And then she returned to the town's court building and almost fainted. Not only were all of the flames put out and the damage repaired, but everypony was once again celebrating—oblivious to the return of the violent firestarter—as if not a single atrocity had been committed that day. The pony soon realized that she could be either a saint or a sinner, and yet neither side of the moral compass mattered at all. She was just as important as the shadows of her own breath, and even those were becoming threadbare things.
“That wasn't what made her mad. No, the final gossamer strand to her sanity had yet to be snapped. She trudged through town—her heart as heavy as her hooves—as she made for the village library. It was there that she'd find a pony whom she knew—beyond the shadow of a doubt—would remember her from their mutual childhood. It was the one soul who had brought her to the village for the Summer Sun Celebration to begin with, and surely she would break the dark cloud forming around her accursed life. As soon as she knocked on the door and her friend's bright face appeared, the pony immediately gasped for joy. But that rapturous exhalation would be her last, for the pony saw on her friend's face the same blank expression of confusion that had swarmed across the whole of town.
“Losing the love of a friend is like a death that has no funeral. Entire galaxies have dissolved over the eons and even they are worthless things. No living thing should face a reality like that, to be an island with no sea—only the perpetual blackness of apathy, encompassing. Ponies aren't born to be alone. It's just not in our blood. We attract to one another. We are cohesive: like water. The void of the universe exists only because we are here in the center to point in all directions away from ourselves and label that which is missing, that which is more cold and frightening than a winter's night, that which hungers for us because it can never understand—as we understand—what it means to be warm, to be happy, to be together.
“The mad pony's hope died that day, but she soon realized that it wouldn't be her only death. Her nightmare was a thick black prison layered with multiple fatalities. She died every time she so much as talked to a pony, looked at a pony, or shared the same atmosphere as them. It was horrible enough to be forgotten—but to be ignored over and over again by the same souls with no cessation in sight? She lurched through the streets like the corpse she suddenly realized she would forever be, woefully stretching the lengths of her mind in want of a solution to a horrible dream that she kept waking up from, and yet would never end.
“How do you wake from an endless dream? It was no longer a matter of living or not living. She had to assault the dream—that damnable masquerade of misery—and then the pain and loneliness would stop. What lay beyond the last breath of slumber may have been blacker than black, but the pony suddenly realized that oblivion was harmless to a soul no longer possessed with the ability to see.
“The day was coming to an end, and the Celebration had come and gone. All of the festive decorations had been removed from the center of town. It was late in the evening; citizens were getting ready to sleep. She was getting ready to sleep too.
“Then, all of the sudden, one of two earth ponies glanced up from where they were bundling equipment and saw the mad pony standing on the fourth story ledge of town hall. He immediately gasped, his sapphire eyes full of shock and horror, the same look that she had tried so hard all day to summon. Only, now it was too late. Regardless, he waved a hoof at her while shouting towards his comrade.
“'Oh dear Celestia! Quick, go fetch a pegasus—anypony that can fly!' As his buddy galloped off in a desperate breath, he trotted boldly to the edge of the building and peered up at her. 'Ma'am, I don't know what you're going through and I can't pretend to, but please—this can't possibly be the answer. There's got to be another way!'
“But the mad pony was past reasoning with. If her tears weren't evidence enough, then perhaps her disheveled mane and muddied coat spoke volumes to the shocked stallion below. 'Just stop! Just stop talking!' she shrieked. 'Your words are meaningless! They mean nothing! Soon you won't even remember me! I'm as good as dead—I should be dead already!'
“'No! Don't say that! Nopony deserves to die needlessly!' The stallion reached a hoof towards her from afar. 'I promise that we won't forget you! Just walk away from the ledge and let us talk to you!'
“'There's nothing you can promise me that won't get swallowed in time!' she said, hiccuping, struggling to maintain her breaths. Her soul teetered upon the brink and threatened to pull her body along with it. Ponies who fall in their dreams were never known to hit the ground. She was more than ready to test that theory. 'This village means nothing to me! It's a prison! Nothing more! Nothing!'
“'Look...' the earth pony below raised both of his front hooves and spoke calmly, soothingly, though his shivers briefly matched hers. 'Even if everything is as horrible and bad as you believe it to be, this isn't going to solve it! This isn't going to make anything better! You need to have faith and step away from the edge! Don't allow yourself to go before your time!'
“Finally, the mad pony had had enough. 'Why?!' she spat down at him, furious. 'Why shouldn't I just jump?! Why shouldn't I just end the nightmare once and for all?!'
“He looked up at her, but it was a different stallion somehow, or so she noticed him for the first time—as so many of the villagers had noticed her for the first time, only to forget. But this time, there would be no forgetting, and she realized it was because she was the means of that memory, a power that she always had, but was only then echoing across the cave of her punishing situation. Perhaps it was the drooping of his ears, or the soft shape of his lips, or the glossing over of his sapphire eyes that conveyed the meaning in his words to her. Whatever the case, a part of the mad pony that she thought had disappeared with her sanity suddenly bore the brunt of his message, like a little foal being woken up by a soft melody tickling the inside of her ears, and embracing the golden dawn with a chorus as old as time:
Because you are so special, so precious, and this world would be a lot less worth enjoying if you chose to leave it.
“The mad pony was silent. She stared down at the stallion. He was a perfect stranger. He didn't know her, and in a matter of minutes he never would again, and yet that didn't stop him from appealing to the deepest part of her, the part of her that was still warm, for he had reminded her that it was still there. In mere seconds, he could very well have made her... or remade her, for the very simple fact that he could, and wanted to. He was the one who was precious, for he didn't know that in a matter of time he would be gone, a mere shadow burned against the walls of the mad pony's beleaguered mind.
“And it was then that she realized how selfish she had been in her anguish and despair. She was not the one dying multiple times, over and over again. These ponies—these beautiful villagers were the ones dying repeatedly. They were nothing more than amnesiac shades of their past hosts, paper facades of souls that had once graced the earth with the right to bear every thought that crossed their mind into righteous permanence, but couldn't because the mad pony was there to bring their dreams to an end.
“The entire village was dying, with ponies falling left and right into oblivion, for she—a cursed pony—had the blatant audacity to gallop across their lives and impart her pestilence upon them. And there were so many of them, countless ponies who briefly laughed and smiled at her, far too many to dig graves for, only to sing songs of—like the vibrating tune coming to life in the back of her head, a chorus that repeated itself louder and louder with each hearbeat, for hers was beating for the stallion's, for his priceless words that would soon rocket their way into oblivion far faster than she could ever jump her pitiful self. All of these ponies' faces were snapshots, joyous and beautiful until the end of time, like she had every ability to be, if only she was courageous, if only she was mad—mad for the sake of making a life out of a nightmare and discovering the secret colors hidden within.
“Before this epiphany finished illuminating her more than any sunrise ever could, a cold chill ran across her body, and she knew that something that was briefly there was lost forever, because the stallion was already starting to blink dazedly like a waking infant in his crib. But as the stallion's dream ended, and his tears disappeared, they rediscovered themselves in her eyes. She smiled for the first time in days, and stepped away from the edge of the buildingside.”
My lyre lamented the end of the day. Though it had a sad sound to it, it was laced with happiness, as my gentle smile was. I stood across from Caramel, finishing the story under the purple blanket-spread of falling night.
“The mad pony's curse did not end that day. As a matter of fact, it was only the beginning. But with it was born something else, a deep and sincere warmth that would carry her through the frigid months to come. Her madness would be her drive. It'd give her the bravery and persistence she needed to live the life of a lunatic's dream, singing songs to those who would forget the face of the performer with the meager hope that they'd find meaning in the performance. For, you see, a memory is only a shadow once it's been lived, once it's been drained of all its flavor. However, it is music that can carry the sincere vibrations of one's heartrstrings, like a tune that wakes us from our darkest dreams, or a timeless carol that pierces all of history's legacies of death and loss. The stallion taught this to the mad pony. In one simple breath, he showed her that no matter how bleak her curse was, she still had the power—and the duty—to seize the moment and live. Life is the only dream that we can control, and it only ends once we've searched every dark corner of it for color and transformed it into song.”
My music ended, and the sudden void pulled the breath sharply out of Caramel's lungs. He gazed softly at me, blind to the bonfire flickering beside us, as though it was a far duller beacon than what I was shining upon him right then and there.
“That's a beautiful tale,” he murmured. “It's sad. And yet... yet...”
“You cannot have sadness without felicity,” I said softly, my grin as fragile as my next few words. “We are here now—happy and healthy and delightful. But, like a memory, even this too will fade away, and I’ll then share songs with a void.. Loss and love have their places in this world. We can accept them with despair or with delight. I choose the latter, because it at least makes loss something that is quiet and serene, for I'll have known that I enjoyed the warm currents of my existence with grace and dignity. Our days on this earth can too easily become an asylum, built by our fears and patrolled by our regrets. We have it within ourselves to stop worrying about the towers of security we can build for ourselves in the future and simply enjoy the sizzling bonfires erected before us now. And—heeheehee—I assure you, it's not something that is even remotely cherished on our lonesome.”
Caramel gulped, and his blue eyes glossed over. “Wind Whistler loves me, and I only want to love her back. But how can I love her if I have nothing to give her?”
“You can give yourself,” I said, strumming the lyre so that the melody of the tale could reach his ears once again. “You can give yourself and live—live with her—so that the two of you can be more than just memories, and you can embrace the sunrise together, no matter how bleak the next day may seem, because you can afford to be so much, and because this world would be so much less enjoyable if you gave up something so precious.”
He smiled painfully. Something bright lit up the edges of his eyes. I could recognize that bright, pale orb in my sleep, and I knew that I had been doing just that for a solid year. I struggled through a sudden shiver to stare at Caramel's face as he said, “Did this mad pony ever find an end to her curse?”
I gulped. “No. No, she never did,” I spoke. “But she couldn't deny the fact that it gave her opportunities that no other pony could enjoy, opportunities to sing songs of things that even she realized she that had forgotten herself. Still...” I took a deep breath, gazing briefly into the fire. “She would give up all of that intuition and knowledge—even for a single day—if she could just find the stallion who had changed her life...” I slowly tilted my face up and gazed deeply into his sapphire eyes, my voice blanketed by a curtain of vapors separating us like the corners of the earth. “And tell him how thankful she is. She'd tell the stallion that she'd never stop dreaming; she would always remember him.”
Sparks crackled and died in the bonfire, like a brief color that had twinkled in Caramel's eyes. He blinked, realizing that night had fallen, and he was alone. A horrible shiver ran through his body. Everywhere he looked, thicker and thicker shadows were encompassing his vision. So he stopped paying attention to his sight and trusted on his hearing instead. A beautiful tune tugged at his ears, like a morning sunrise lifting a waking foal out of bed. He turned and saw a bonfire several meters away, surrounded by laughing and celebrating pegasi. Caramel literally jumped up to his hooves and galloped there like a pony possessed.
A mare with sky-blue wings and a blonde mane was in the middle of chatting with a friend beside a burning pile of wood. Her giggling voice had the sound of bells. Caramel nearly fainted at the melodic tones as he struggled to stand upright behind her. Bravely, he cleared his throat and murmured, “Windy?”
Wind Whistler turned around. At the sight of him, her wings fluttered and her brown eyes lit up. “Caramel! I...” She lingered breathlessly, gulped, then managed, “I thought you told me that you weren't celebrating this year...”
“I know what I said. But I was just...” He began, but his words trailed off uselessly. He stood upon the precipice of confusion, his eyes gazing into the fire as if searching for the reason to why he had trotted over to her. Slowly, his ears twitched, for he once more heard a timeless melody, and it softly pulled at the corners of his lips. “I was listening to music. Very sweet, beautiful music,” he said, grinning, then pivoting his gaze to drink in the image of her once more. “But it wasn't enough, because you weren't there to listen to it with me.”
Wind Whistler's feathers twitched on end, and her golden tail curled in twice on itself as she smiled warmly up at him. “Oh sweety...” Her smile was as fragile as the sudden dam to her eyes. Her closest friends shuffled quietly away, giving her and Caramel enormous space—as if some ballroom dance was about to take place. “I missed you too.”
“Windy, I was... erm...” Caramel bit his lip, his shivers returning as he was suddenly unworthy of her heavenly gaze. “I was wondering if... That is, if you aren't doing anything special this Celebration—”
“Yes, Caramel.” She smiled wide, her teeth glinting like the moon above. “I would be happy to be Souls of Solstice with you.”
Caramel blinked. He glanced across the bonfire to see the grinning and winking expressions of Thunderlane and Blossomforth. With a wry smirk, he squatted down beside Wind Whistler. “And just how did you know I was about to ask you that?”
“Mmmm...” She leaned in, nuzzled him, and purred deliciously into his ear, “Prove me wrong.”
He exhaled sharply and nuzzled her back. His voice sounded like a little colt's. “Never.” He sniffled briefly.
Wind Whistler gazed into his eyes with worry. “Caramel? Is... Is everything alright?”
His moist eyes glistened from the nearby flame. The sadness was canceled out by a warm smile as he spoke to her, “I'm just so happy to be alive, alive with you. You're like a good dream that never ends, Windy. I'm sorry if I've not said that enough.”
She smiled back at him. “Well, you're saying it now, aren't you?”
The two of them giggled and leaned against each other, basking in the Celebration's warmth. I stood just beyond the dancing amber gleam of the bonfire, playing my lyre in the spot where I had trotted to after the moon sliced its way between Caramel and I.
Even now, I can't remember how much time had passed until the music stopped. As soon as I realized there was no more melody, I glanced down and realized I had been hugging my instrument to my chest. A sigh escaped my lips, sad and delightful at the same time. An instrument is only the start of a melody. It takes listeners to truly finish a composition to its end, even when there isn't an end.
The tranquility of the moment was interrupted by enormous thunder. Caramel, Wind Whistler, and the rest looked up and cheered as the first of the night's plentiful fireworks lit up the purple haze of the world. Ponyville had become a strobing sensation of amber flame and rainbow explosions. Ponies danced in the streets—fillies, colts, mares, and stallions alike—souls of solstice who mutually promised with their jubilant cheer to stay awake through to the next morning, when it was up to their patron Princess to bring forth a literal glow to the world that mirrored the prancing joy in their heart.
They were so busy with their festivities that hardly a villager noticed one pony marching through the heart of the event, a pony who was not lit up by the bonfires, a pony to whom the fireworks gave no shadow.
I paused halfway through trotting out of the center of town, looking over my shoulder. For a moment there I saw—or thought I saw—a trail of my own hoofprints disappearing behind me in the bright moonlight, at a hauntingly even pace. Upon such a dreamlike sight, I did what only a mad pony would do.
If all I care about in life is the imprints I make in this world, then the most I'll ever leave is a grave.
II - “Lunatic's Dream”