“The changes in the entropy of the universe can never be negative.”
—Second Law of Thermodynamics
“Truth is after all a moving target
Hairs to split, and pieces that don’t fit
How can anybody be enlightened?
Truth is after all so poorly lit.”
Blackink (M.P.D. 1341)
Typewritten copy of manuscript found on 12.18.11. A significant number of pages were burned beyond repair (by subject himself) and therefore not included. Retrieved portions of crossed out text were transcribed as faithfully as possible for further analyses.
Let me start by stating that I'm not a writer. To be perfectly honest, I've never taken a fancy to narrative writing. But Dad used to say that the first step towards ridding yourself of the things that bothered you was banishing them to paper. So I decided to give it a shot. What do I have to lose, after all? My sorrows have slowly deadened my fears over the past forty years. Besides, there's always the chance, however unlikely, that you might believe me. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, though. At times even I find myself hard to believe. But those muddy hoofprints… the hall outside my apartment is just so full of them lately, and they give off a powerful stench that burns through my nostrils. On some nights I get to hear a peculiar sound near my door, as if somepony is dragging a heavy bag along the floor. I know very well who what it is, though I won't admit it to myself.
Forty years ago I might've been terrified.
Now it just annoys me.
She was no stranger to me. I'd run into a picture of her on two different occasions while reading the Ponyville Express, to say nothing of the fact that I had been in charge of her friend's operation—she also figured in the pictures, by the way. On the warm summer morning it all began, she looked as if she had lost a fight to her hairbrush, and she was soaked in sweat and panting. That didn't prevent me from recognizing her when she nearly knocked my office door clean off its hinges. Twilight Sparkle. One of the six heroes of Equestria, according to the paper. More importantly—in terms of this document's content—one of the three mares who two weeks before had helped wheel in the most restless and nutty patient of my entire career.
"Rainbow Dash, I came as soon as I read your note!" she said between long gulps for air. A bandage was wrapped around the middle section of her horn.
The pegasus pony lying on the examination bed looked up from the book she was engrossed in with a nettled grimace, and she glared at the heaving mess that had interrupted her reading time. Her brows smoothed as she picked up on her friend's state. Her eyes displayed the same bewilderment that had grabbed hold of mine.
"Twilight, what are you doing here?" She would probably have hopped off the bed and rushed to her aid, if not for my magical grip on her extended right wing. If I hadn't reacted as composedly as I did, I might've cracked the fracture or even caused one of the undamaged bones to rupture. And with my most valuable asset at the time being a cheap and unimpressive home on Bridle Avenue, I could not afford to go on trial for negligence or malpractice. You'd think a wing surgeon would earn more than enough to buy himself a house worthy of the title, not to mention bribing a judge, but this was Ponyville. The town I had left Canterlot for on account of a job opportunity I would've declined, had I really thought it through. If Dad hadn't pestered and pestered, perhaps I would've waited a while longer and eventually wound up working in a better-paying hospital back home.
Maybe it was all for the best, though. And I dare say I maintain this position despite everything that has happened. Dad and I didn't get on very well, anyways. We had never shared that father-son quality time every family self-help book out there rambles on about for at least three whole chapters. I wouldn't miss him, and he certainly wouldn't miss me; that had been my assumption. Although he hadn't overtly voiced his discontent with his responsibilities as a father at any one point, he had made it clear tacitly throughout my colthood, especially during the many bitter weekends we were forced to spend together after he'd divorced Mom. What he lacked in parental aptitude and agreeableness as an equine being in general, however, he more than made up for in mind games. After all, that was his profession, in a manner of speaking. But I'll get to that in due time.
"What do you mean what am I doing here? The note said you were going to the hospital! Are you okay?" Her anxiety wore out with that last question, and what followed was the nearly unintelligible, strained mumbling of a nag on her deathbed. "I would've come sooner, but you know things have been a little hard lately." She breathed in and out three times, and I pictured her collapsing lifeless on the floor by the end of the fourth intake, but her hooves did not give way. They merely quivered in a moment of weakness and then recovered balance.
"It's just a checkup, what did you think— Hold on… Are you saying you trotted over all the way from the library?" She had taken up the tone of an angry mother about to chide a disobedient daughter, which struck me as an odd manner of expression coming from her. From the moment her friends had checked her in, Rainbow Dash had proven to be anything but mom material. "I thought your doc told you to rest."
"A, he told me to rest my magic. And B, I wouldn't have come in such a hurry if you had been a lit-tle bit more specific in your note."
Rainbow Dash brushed aside the gripe with a single roll of her eyes. "'Can't pick up D.D. book now. Gone to hospital.' What's so hard to get?" I let go of her wing. She folded it back against her side and flicked an excited glance down at her open book. "I still have a couple of pages left to read from this one, anyways."
I receded to my desk, removed the X-ray sheet from the view box, and for a moment held it to the ceiling's fluorescent lights. The fracture had reduced to a slim black line that only slightly blemished the bone's milky resplendence.
"I'm really pleased with the way things are going," I said, and slipped the film back into its envelope, a big, brown one with the patient's name and other pertinent data in a white tag on the back. "I'll schedule one last appointment for you next week, and then I suppose you'll be ready to fly again."
"Really?" Her ears pricked up at the good news, and she grinned at her friend as she hopped onto the floor. "You heard that, Twilight? One more week, and I'll be back on my game!"
The unicorn smiled back, although the wrinkles underneath her eyes denoted an increasing fatigue. "That's great news, Rainbow."
"You'll still have to take it easy with that wing, though," I chimed in, receiving a brief, weary sigh on the patient's part in response. "You wouldn't want to end up like you did when you tried to get that book from the hospital, now would you?"
She let out a mischievous little chuckle, although I detected a wisp of weariness in that as well. "Yeah… Sorry about that, again."
"Water under the bridge." I would've loved to add: Besides, who in his right mind wouldn't break into a hospital in the dead of night to swipe a turgid and highly overrated teen book? Instead I went with: "Well, I guess you're good to go then."
This dismissal revitalized the waning grin that had accompanied her affected giggle. Rainbow Dash closed the book and picked it up in her mouth. The two hundred pages clenched between her teeth complicated the grin further so that it looked more like a sneer. In an odd way, it conveyed the sense of relief that rushes through anypony who has just shoved an unpleasant task out of the way. I felt it myself.
She glanced sideways to check on Twilight and tacked her focus on her for a good while. Her pale face, by the looks of it, had made as strong an impression on her as it had on me.
She tucked the book under her good wing and eyed her friend with genuine concern. "Twilight, you look… bad."
"You think so?" the other burst out sarcastically. "What was your first clue? The mane or the horn?"
"Whoa! When did you get so cranky?"
"I'm sorry, Rainbow," she said amidst a yawn, her head lowered like her neck could not put up with its weight. Her eyes shifted languidly in the pegasus' direction. They sparkled with feverish glints that brightened the rings of lavender that were her irises. "Today's just not a good day for me."
I regarded her bandaged horn curiously until I realized I made her feel uncomfortable. Those sick orbs with bags underneath stared back at me. Her lips revealed a crooked, incomplete grimace, as if she were wincing from the smart of an injury. Do I really look so awful? it seemed to say.
"We have a coffee machine in the cafeteria," I finally spoke up. "I could fetch you a cup."
"You don't have to. I'm alright. My doctor said it's perfectly normal to feel dizzy when you overexert yourself while using magic."
And her doctor was absolutely right. Limited as my understanding of horn functioning was, I knew just enough to believe her. Unicorns could take only so much magic surging through their nerves before the organs started to heat up. All magic is energy, and some of the energy always wastes away as heat. That's high school physics. Overheating a pony with magic could compare to leaving a balloon out in the noonday sunlight for too long. It's a nasty way to die, I'm telling you. On one of my first visits to the morgue back in med school, I had stared agape at the soupy muddle of digestive machinery that had once belonged inside a student from Celestia's prestigious school. The cause of death was listed as "magic overexertion" in his file. I had wondered then what kind of masochist had created the spell that brought the poor colt to his untimely demise, and what twisted idea had infected said colt's mind when he attempted to cast it.
"I'll get you that cup of coffee," insisted the other mare, and trotted out into the hall before I could offer to undertake the job myself. For a natural flyer, she was very fast on her hooves. All she left behind was a fleeting trace of the six colors that streaked her tail. Yet she hadn't gone at such a speed that it would've been impossible for me to call her back.
This is a theory I have ruminated on over the years and repeatedly dissuaded myself from accepting: I committed three fatal mistakes that day. I wouldn't have guessed for Celestia's sun that such trifles would contribute so much to my undoing, but, as it turns out, they did. The first I've already mentioned—I should've called Rainbow Dash back and fetched the coffee myself. She had left us alone, and I'd let her.
Twilight planted herself down, alternating between brief, curious glances around my office and longer, fixed glares at me. At least, that was what they looked like under the fluorescence of the ceiling's light bulbs. After an awkward moment in which neither of us dared break the silence, her muzzle crumpled in an obvious sign of discomfort. She raised a hoof to her face and felt the tip of her horn as cautiously as one would the sharp point of a knife. This action elicited an immediate wince synchronized with a pained hiss. She withdrew her hoof as though she'd run it through the head of a flame and set it back on the floor. Tears beaded at the corners of her eyes; I could tell she was straining to will them back.
It wasn't until her lip quivered in a particular way—that prior-to-intense-weeping wiggle—that I deemed it necessary to jump in. How much could a simple wing surgeon help in horn matters?
I approached her. "May I?"
I proceeded to undo the bandage with careful magic motions. The lights shone on the fully disrobed horn. A single crack extended vertically along the area that the gauze used to conceal. It didn't look serious at all; in fact, such a lesion could've fallen under the same category of scrapes and bruises. Anypony would've agreed. You didn't need a doctorate to see that. But what about the other symptoms?
"Did your doctor say anything else?"
"Not much. Just that I should steer clear of magic for a couple of days."
I didn't buy that. I doubted a horn specialist worth his salt would simply leave it at that. Her condition did not reflect that of an overexerted pony; she appeared genuinely sick. Obviously, she didn't want me prying too much, and she wasn't obliged to disclose information regarding her private affairs anyway. I wasn't her doctor.
But you see, her eyes were begging me. Despite all the behavioral signs attesting to the contrary, they shimmered with a strong desire for relief. I just had to do it.
I cautiously reached for the tip of her horn with mine. When they connected, she didn't pull away, although a short groan slipped from her mouth. As soon as my lids blocked out the sight of her and the office, I started sieving out the medley of ideas overloading my brain until only a couple of equations and procedures remained. A burst of blue energy surged through the length of my horn and into hers, momentarily enclosing them both in a bright, hot aura.
Once the magic died down, we broke apart. Twilight stumbled backwards, as though under the effect of a few pints of cider, and plopped flank-first on the floor. A flurry of pain blew into my head and scattered across every brain cell. I teetered on the brink of collapse as the strident crackle of keratin and bone resounded just above my eyes. Fortunately, a soft body propped me up in the nick of time. Her quick recovery had caught me by surprise.
The effort of keeping me on my hooves was evident in her forced voice. "Are you crazy? You didn't have to do that!"
But I did. That had been my second blunder.
Having ensured that I had regained a sound footing, she sat back in front of me, exhaling noisily. She was still tired, though not as much as before. The spell had worked; it had ridden her of her pains, washed them all over to me. The fissure on my horn must've been as deep as hers, because I could feel a fire sweeping through the nerves toward the base.
"I'm sorry," she started again, now gazing at my forehead with concern and what might've been a fleeting trace of condescension. "But you really shouldn't have done that. Transference spells can be extremely dangerous if you're not careful. I learned that the hard way."
"You're welcome," I blurted out in a moan, the pointless protest of a jackal after being run over by a carriage. The ugly cry of roadkill.
On hearing out my weak reply, she choked back whatever it was she'd prepared to say and instead eyed me thoughtfully. "Thank you."
I didn't realize until it was already too late that my hind legs had succumbed to gravity's pull too. Our muzzles were dangerously close and our sightlines leveled. To this day, I'm not sure what really incited me to do what I did next. Maybe her renown had coaxed me into it. Maybe it was the way she balanced deep gazes into my eyes with brief, yet empathetic glances at my self-inflicted injury. You might disapprove. Whatever happened to professionalism? you might say. You must understand, though, how lonely a pony can feel while far from home, even when that home doesn't evoke the best memories. Besides, this was Twilight Sparkle. I'd read about her on the news. Twilight Sparkle, for Celestia's sake! Can you see where I'm coming from?
I took my chances. I gently leaned forward and, tilting my head slightly, pressed my lips to hers. For five unusually long seconds, I shut away all my qualms and indulged freely in their moist warmth. She didn't push me off or anything of the sort; on the face of it, my unexpected move had jolted her every nerve into a temporary coma.
But mind you: that's not what I did wrong. On some level, I knew she wouldn't fight back. Not looking like that, all messy and fresh out of an ordeal of misfortunes. Anypony could use a kiss on a bad day. It didn't have to mean a thing, only grant her a short break from the world and a profit of fleshly pleasure to me. But no… I had to play the gentlecolt.
"I'm sorry," I whispered as I pulled back. There it is! There it is! Strike three!
If I could, I would gladly sell my soul just to rewind and snatch those little words from that point in time. Sometimes, during the few silent nights I'm blessed with, I venture to entertain the notion that perhaps things could still have played themselves out favorably if I had kept quiet. Apologies bear a strange allure. That warm summer day at the hospital, I hadn't just witnessed, but also tasted, their power.
Twilight greeted my gesture of affection with a bright beam and, to my surprise, promptly reciprocated it.
Come on, tell me you don't find it hilarious! I would say it was as cute as a medical soap. I always feel the urge to laugh whenever I reminisce about that day, because it's all just plain freaking ridiculous. It all seemed so… so schemed, as if some unworldly forces had colluded against me. But I don't and have never believed in the "will of the universe" or hoof-reading or fateful numbers. I will admit, nevertheless, that three is a rather peculiar number. This has nothing to do with any of that corny, superstitious nonsense. It's a mere observation. If you think about it, you get a lot of threes in life. Three wishes for the enchanted dragon claw to grant. Three houses for the big bad timberwolf to blow. Three chances. Three strikes.
And it's hilarious, really, because I was out long before the game had even begun.
(. . .)
When I saw the locket on display behind the shop's plate-glass window, I just had to buy it for her. It was as simple as that. Other much more striking necklaces hung around the fiberglass necks of ponnequins along with the one that had arrested my attention. The shop's lights reflected off the many curves and flawless facets; it was as though the jewels were vying for my choice, striving to wrench my eyes from the current object of my fascination by means of dazzling courtship rituals. Their attempts at enticing me proved futile, however, for my mind was already made up. I strode unwaveringly into the shop. A tiny bell tinkled briefly behind me. Two minutes and a short exchange of courtesies with the shopkeeper later, the locket was mine.
Looking back on it all, I realize that I didn't purchase that specific article on a mere whim. No… I purchased it because I was meant to have it. I would normally take into account the potential repercussions of my decisions—particularly those of a financial nature—before putting them into effect, and nothing quite so exceptional had happened to me that day that could've altered my analytical mindset so drastically. I just couldn't think of any particular reason as to why I shouldn't buy it. When the decisive moment arrived, I decided I didn't want to come up with one. The fact that it would set me back about five hundred bits, and the alternative option of getting her a much fancier present for practically the same amount, had barely skimmed my thoughts.
Its narrow edges extended outward from the bottom point and then smoothly curved inward to form a tiny valley where the chain was anchored, thus shaping it into an almost two-dimensional heart. It occupied just the right volume to fit an extra small photograph of a loved one in it. Little crescents of gold reflected from its burnished surface, accentuating the engraving upon the front face: FOREVER YOURS. When tilted in different angles, a soft glow swam through the italicized letters. No gems disrupted the uniformity of the naked metal. The locket, simple and stark as it may have appeared, was the embodiment of perfection. The locket was mine.
As soon as I stepped back outside, I regretted having left my white-coat in the office. A cold breeze whooshed past my left flank and up to my neck, ruffling my mane. An electric chill bit the opposite way through my skin; the hairs of my coat bristled but quickly settled again. I floated the bag with my latest acquisition along, at times pulling it close and peeking inside just to make sure a stranger hadn't snitched the locket in one of my wool-gathering moments. Not that I wool-gathered much, or that I really suspected anypony would try to filch it. In fact, I could bet my cutie mark that not one Ponyvillian would ever have to live through a single day behind bars. But why did the apprehension persist, then? Why couldn't I shake the gut-wrenching feeling that something terrible was about to happen?
You're doing it again, I told myself. You're letting your imagination get the better of you. Now you're going to calm down, walk home, and give Twilight her present.
I noticed even the lowest spots of the sky had been drained of color. A thick slice of moon hovered miles above in the starred canopy, its dreamy light cascading over rooftops and along the streets. The air cooled my lungs with every breath I took, and the unpredictable wind strikes caused my skin to crawl and my teeth to chatter periodically. Quickening my pace would force the cold away, but the fits of shivering would counterattack as soon as I slowed down again. The uneasiness expanded within my chest like the numbness did across my cheeks and ears. Passers-by and storekeepers would extend casual greetings, to which I'd answer back with a brisk wave and an absent half-smile. On occasion, they would approach and we'd shoot the breeze for a while. Knowing that other friendly ponies walked the streets at such a late hour reassured me, although I relapsed into a state of trepidation when we parted ways. I was being ridiculous, of course.
There were no thieves in Ponyville.
The library stood out from all the other buildings in the neighborhood. When Twilight had proposed that I sell my house and move in with her, the idea of living inside a tree didn't excite me in the least. I didn't mind about space availability; there was plenty of room to accommodate two ponies and a baby dragon, which was more than I could say for my own place. I didn't mind about going through the motions of boxing and hauling all my stuff over, either; I had moved from Canterlot to Ponyville once, and I had survived, hadn't I? I still can't fathom the reason behind my misgivings; to spend my nights sleeping inside something that was alive simply felt just as wrong as walking under a ladder or shattering a mirror on a Friday 13th. But I had decided to go through with it despite my quirks. After all, she had said please.
Thick rays of light slanted out through the windows, casting bright, elongated patches on the surrounding turf. Wood dust streamed down along the currents of yellow. The leaves of the tree-dwelling rustled mildly with the combing action of the wind. As I made it to the front door, I suddenly became aware of the fact that the soughs were too articulate to be the result of leaves chafing against each other. They were actually murmurs. Murmurs coming from the inside.
"You're not alone, sugarcube. We're all gonna be here for ya."
"Yeah! You can count on us…"
I gripped the right handle in a taut magic clasp and gently pushed the door open. Twilight sat at the edge of the bed, wrapped in what seemed to be a heartfelt embrace from Applejack. Her head lay languidly on Applejack's right shoulder, and both countenances radiated a poorly suppressed glumness. I caught sight of an envelope from the hospital on the mattress—I had worked with them so many times I could recognize them from a reasonably long distance—and instantly remembered Twilight had had an appointment in the morning. She'd even come by my office to say hello. Spike had taken a spot close to them, his stare fixated on the floor, his scaly claws squeezing his kneecaps. Rainbow Dash, for her part, stood facing the two mares, which impeded me from reading her expression. An orchestra of clinking teaspoons and teacups and disordered hoofsteps and whispers played an inharmonious score in the kitchen. At one point, Spike raised his head and threw a frown back at the girls.
"But the doctor said they already had a donor," he argued. "And Princess Celestia promised she would take care of the expenses."
"Yeah," Rainbow Dash chipped in. Her tail switched twice with apparent nervousness. "Besides, this is nothing compared to all the crazy stuff we've been through."
Twilight scoffed. She slowly disengaged herself from Applejack's hug and contrived a smile for her other friend. "I guess you're right."
The pegasus sat down to her side and draped both her shoulders in one wing. She used a hoof to rumple her mane. "You bet your egg-head I am! I'm always right."
Applejack replied to this last claim with a derisive snort. When Rainbow Dash's point of focus switched to her, I took in the half of her face disclosed by her profile stance. She exhibited a mellower version of what Twilight liked to call 'Rainbow Dash's pouncing glare.' Many an unlucky pony who had dared insult her had witnessed it. I'd operated on some of those mares and stallions. Under different circumstances, and had Applejack been no more than an acquaintance to her, perhaps I might've paid another visit to the hospital that night. But, as far as I was concerned, she considered Applejack a good friend, and the circumstances were definitely… unusual, at best.
Then, to stamp out any possibilities of a scuffle, the din from the kitchen let up and three mares walked out into the main room. They reached the extended upper corner where the others were through the stairs. Rarity floated a tray with a teacup and a teapot. She laid it down on the left nightstand with utmost delicacy. She poured a steaming brown liquid into the cup and passed it over to Twilight, who locked the front of her hooves against either side of it and tried a sip. I found it odd that she didn't use her magic.
"What is this?" she grunted out, her face scrunched up in a wince of disgust. She made a point of keeping it as far from her mouth as her fully extended arms could allow.
"It's a mixture of medicinal herbs from the Everfree Forest," explained Fluttershy. She clenched the handle of the unwanted cup between her teeth and returned it to the tray. "I gathered them before coming over. I'm sorry… I thought they would make you feel better."
There was an undertone of disappointment in her soft voice, and Twilight picked it out easily. "I really appreciate your concern, Fluttershy. I appreciate everything you're all doing for me. It's just that… a heart transplant is a risky procedure, and I… w-well, it's just—"
"We understand, darling," Rarity cut in. She must've perceived that her friend's composure was beginning to crumble.
They chatted for a long time. The room's murky ambiance dissipated gradually until it felt almost as though nothing had gone wrong, and it was just an ordinary girls' night in for the six of them. Eventually, they even engaged in bouts of laughter and hugs. All the while, I remained motionless where I stood, listening but hesitant to chime in. They were having a good time—well, as good a time as anypony could have in such a disheartening scenario.
I didn't belong there.
Muting my steps as best I could to not disrupt them, I went out for a second stroll. I carried the bag behind me in its magic envelope. I'd twisted and crumpled it while rapt in thought, and it looked like something out of a trashcan that nopony with a modicum of good sense would want near. I still held it close to me, nevertheless, because it was rightfully mine. At least it would be until after the operation, I told myself then.
She never got to
(. . .)
Can you imagine how much influence a pony can have on your daily life, especially when the last thing you want is to turn out like that pony? Once during a dinner with a friend of the family—one year before the divorce, when friends could still be referred to as that—Dad mentioned that a locket just ought to be the worst piece of jewelry you could give your significant other. I didn't really understand why he felt that way. Maybe he could not fathom the existence of a relationship built upon true love, and he looked on a mare carrying a pendant with the photograph of her "special somepony" around as a hapless prisoner rather than a free individual who chose to be bound. That would certainly explain why he left Mom, wouldn't it? Or maybe he was just joking and I didn't get it. In any case, that was the only segment of the entire conversation I had bothered to remember. I never knew why. Over the years, I've given much thought to it—too much, I'm afraid—and arrived at the conclusion that, to a certain degree, I brought this upon myself. I hadn't bought the locket out of love for Twilight, but out of a deep-seated hatred of my father.
And the bonds of hatred are the hardest to break free from.
Things had pretty much gone downhill after the funeral, but I didn't really hit rock bottom until about a month later. I had the feeling, though, that something had begun being wrong long before. Maybe ever since I'd moved into the library. Or perhaps since that crisp spring morning at the hospital two years before.
The funeral had been as heart-wrenching as this sort of ceremonies could get. The way I felt that day beggared description. Many ponies had showed up to grieve under the overcast sky that hung over Canterlot's cemetery. Twilight appeared lost in a peaceful sleep, and if the residual scent of the scar-eraser spell hadn't suggested otherwise, I might've believed she was. I had twined the locket around her limp hooves before the coffin was permanently shut, and as the last goodbyes were cried and friends and family exchanged sorrows, I wished I could've pressed a rewind button and stopped myself. How could anypony rest with a token reminiscent of such hate?
I couldn't do anything about it, of course. She descended into her earthly resting place with it, and I would regret it for the rest of my life.
The nightmares started early on. Their recurrence throughout the night and the ensuing spells of insomnia didn't bother me as much as you'd think. What did upset me was that they never changed; they all coincided even in the most trifling details, the first, the second, the third, the fourth (interesting fact: the average pony dreams about 4 to 6 times each night; approximately 120 to 180 nightmares per month, how about that?). At first I'd distinguish nothing, only breathe in the calm, ever-present darkness. Then a dream would spark, and I would no longer lie in bed, but before her grave. And she would scream scream scream so loud from underneath the layers of earth that covered her, not like somepony who has been buried alive by mistake, no, more like somepony who was very much dead, and hungry, as in a creepy zombie movie. I expected the blue pills I'd swiped from the third floor to carry me dreamlessly through the nights. Dr. Shrink had administered the drug to many a restless patient, and they had proved very efficient.
They helped. For a while.
At length, their effect on me wore off and, no matter what I swallowed them down with—water, juice, spirits—my slumber would always culminate in the same blood-curdling view of her headstone. At least I could rest assured her strident cries wouldn't hurt me. All in all, she was just a nocturnal shadow that died with every sunrise.
One October night, a month or so after the funeral, was completely different from the rest. For starters, I was taking a hot shower after another tedious day of work—fixing other ponies had become an ever harder job since her passing. I felt a trifle tired, alright, but in possession of my faculties just the same. The water pounded against my mane, rinsing away the shampoo I had slathered on it in large foams that slipped all the way to my hooves and flowed reluctantly toward the drain. The drops that missed me pelted on the tiles. Waves of vapor lifted from the wet shower floor and curled over my body, suffocating me in their humid warmth. My legs quavered in the struggle to keep the rest of my fatigued body propped up. Lying down and snoozing under the ceaseless pummeling of droplets didn't seem such a bad idea.
The slippery surface provided a tepid support for my underside. A heavy sleepiness weighed on my eyelids, as though I had mixed the pills with hooch from the cheap liquor store three blocks up. The thoughts swirled and made my head hurt with the kind of pain that kicks in after pouring antiseptic on an open wound. On top of it all, I could hear a different voice. It wasn't mine, but its echo wended only through the corners of my mind, and it took care of all the questions scattered about.
Why didn't I quit my job? You could certainly find a new one elsewhere; all towns have at least a medical center that could use a wing surgeon.
Why didn't I move back to Canterlot? Spike doesn't need you any more than you need him. True, you have more than just gotten along. But it's not like you forged a bullet-proof friendship, either. And this trial has dropped on both of you like a bomb.
Why did this have to happen? Maybe all those spells she'd been practicing with deteriorated her health. She would strain her magic a lot.
Why didn't I stop her? Well, that's an interesting question. You could've done something about it, and you didn't. So why didn't you? Huh?
Why did—? Quite frankly, you had it coming. The universe does not favor unnatural processes. So why did you start this in the first place?
Why did you kiss her?
Just then my ears pricked up at a loud bang that somehow chimed eerily with the thunderous sharpness of the last why. A door had slammed somewhere in the library, probably the one that led into the kitchen. That bucker took on a life of its own on windy nights. I pictured Spike startling awake in his basket, grumbling irritably at the stupid door, and receding into the unreality of his dreams a minute later. His must've been made of a much sweeter substance than mine, because he never stirred in his sleep. Maybe he dreamed of all the happy days he'd spent with Twilight. I begrudged him his peace of mind.
Water kept spurting from the shower head, a thousand tiny mouths spitting on my mane and back to remind me of my misery. The two glass screens had completely fogged over, and I (. . .) and I bolted to my hooves all of a sudden, a fresh burst of adrenaline inducing my muscles to constrict my bones in tight, painful cramps. My heart thudded inside my ribcage as though it wanted out. The part of me that wasn't busy brooding realized it couldn't have been the wind. I'd closed all the windows in preparation for the rainstorm scheduled for the night. Then it dawned on me that it hadn't been the sound of a door slamming shut, but the sound of a door swinging open on its hinges and banging against a wall. Either Spike had something to do with it, or it had been somepony else.
The concentrated gas jetted violently out of its square prison as I nudged the shower door open ever so gently. The mirror above the washbasin, like the glass screens, had grown a fuzzy layer of condensed vapor. Tiny drops had already beaded on the tiled walls. Some had streaked it on their way to the floor. I made a terrible job of wiping my coat on a towel and picked my glasses up from the lid of the toilet cistern before slinking out of the bathroom. I left the shower running behind me. The last thing I wanted was to let a potential interloper know I was onto him.
I'd never imagined my stingy habit of keeping the lights off where they weren't needed would someday come back and bite me in the flank. Aware that turning them on could give away my location, I lit the way with the controlled glow of my horn instead. My soaked hair straggled across my forehead and prickled my eyes, rendering the search all the more uncomfortable. I proceeded down the flight of stairs on the far end, gradually dimming my luminescent source. By the time I made it to the bottom, the shadows had taken over again. I walked stealthily into the library's main room. The open front door looked out across a soaked, muddy street edged with dripping thatched houses. A wavy curtain of rain and hail hazed the view. Some of the ice pellets had bounced into the library and melted with a soft white glitter upon an oblong rectangle of encroaching outside light.
Two thoughts flitted into my mind in the lapse of that one unreal second. The first, rather silly, wrung an inward giggle from me. How could you not hear the rain? The second was spliced to the end of the preceding one, and by no means did I find it comical. I stole a glance back over my shoulder and up at Spike. He lay fast asleep and tucked in his basket, his chest rising and falling sluggishly beneath the blanket. The intruding cold shook his little frame, but it wasn't nearly so strong as to disrupt his deep slumber.
He had broken in while I showered, whoever he was. He had hidden in the darkest corner and waited patiently, like a viper ready to strike as soon as its prey showed up. He was standing behind me, I could feel it, just like you can sometimes feel when somepony's watching you from a distance and there's no way to prove it but you just know. I'd never get to see him, I thought. He would slit my throat the second I moved. I told myself he must be an earth pony, but then reconsidered and decided on a pegasus. Their light-as-air skeletons made them the perfect killers. That was why the Royal Guard would recruit more pegasus ponies than unicorns. Some of them could even cut through five inches of fat with their bare wings.
Perhaps I was dealing with a she.
Strangely enough, the prospect of impending death did not affect me as I would've anticipated. Rather than rocketing toward tachycardia, my heart slowed to a light, almost comatose beating. My mind ceased its nauseating swirling, and I could analyze the situation with perfect clarity. The feathers would tear like blades through skin and nerves and sever my carotid, I reasoned. The pain would be temporary. So would the sight of all the blood deluging the floor. At a rate of flow of about 300 ml. per second, I was sure to pass out before I got the chance to truly appreciate the spectacle in all its grisly magnificence.
I actually believed I was going to die. Sometimes I wish I had.
You might as well just turn on the lights, spoke the voice that wasn't my own, and my horn carried out its bidding. I stood petrified, eyelids clamped shut, my skin tingly with expectancy. Nothing. I didn't so much as breathe until after an interval of five seconds for good measure. Still nothing. Only after that encouraging moment of rainy calm did I allow myself a peek with my right eye. Apart from a couple of melting ice pellets on the floor and the cold wind tickling my still wet frame, I couldn't perceive anything foreign to the library. Everything had stayed just as I'd left it before going into the bathroom.
"What's wrong?" asked Spike from his basket. He'd raised his head and tossed a drowsy look my way, but he didn't appear awake.
"Nothing. It's just the storm."
He pulled his blanket over his face to block out the light and quickly sunk back into a snore-filled sleep. As I shut the door, the idea that somepony had defied a raging storm to break into a library in the dead of night lost all its sense. I came upon no difficulties while locking it, which meant that nopony had pried it open. Only Twilight, Spike and I knew the spare key lay hidden and protected in a thin coat of magic—an anti-burglary spell Twilight had cast for no other reason than because she could—under the purplish orchid's pot at the back of the tree-dwelling. In addition, the fact that the tempest flooding the streets and threatening the town's houses had barely registered in my thoughts was proof enough of the absentmindedness I'd fallen prey to. Maybe I left the door open, I tried to persuade myself. The bang from before could easily have been a figment of my imagination. Such a sharp noise would've alarmed anypony, and Spike hadn't budged.
I headed upstairs to turn off the shower and dry myself properly, then back down. I didn't bother to check the other rooms. It was pretty clear that I had overreacted, and I didn't see the point in revising a discarded hypothesis. I scanned the main room superficially for evidences of intrusion one last time, and this out of misguided stubbornness alone. Finding nothing, I surrendered to my exhaustion and dragged myself into bed. I floated my glasses off my muzzle and gently guided them toward my nightstand. Then, as always, I would flip the switch with an invisible flick and journey into the gloomy landscape of Canterlot's graveyard, where I'd listen to Twilight's ear-piercing malady melody seeping out from under my hooves, from inside that box in which she lay buried.
As I readied my horn for the next task, however, a soft gleam distracted my blurry eyes. I squinted down at the wooden surface of the nightstand, focused on attracting my glasses, and it emitted that momentary shine again, whatever it was. The lens having readjusted my vision, I could only bring myself to gape. It rested on the center of the square table, taunting me with flashes of gold. The two words on its polished body echoed inside my head like a broken record. I visualized Twilight pressing a pair of frozen lips against my ear and repeating them over and over in that undead voice from my dreams.
Since my magic had gone numb from the consternation, I reached out for it with my bare hoof and nicked a yelp upon touching the smooth metal. It felt so cold. And so real, too. I yanked it close by the chain and examined it inside out, although somehow the only thing that loomed in my mind was the pulsing uncertainty whether or not I had taken the pills. After arriving from work, I'd made a beeline for the kitchen to have a glass of gin. I might've taken them then, I mused. They could no longer knock me out like they used to, but that didn't mean they couldn't induce any side-effects, such as excessive fatigue or delirium, the latter being highly plausible with alcohol in the picture. If I'd gotten up and counted the pills left in my container, I would've found out.
But that was it: I didn't want to find out. What if it turned out that I hadn't taken them, that my mind wasn't just poking fun at me? It was that uncertainty—pushing like a tumor in the back of my brain—that restrained my darkest and most irrational ideas from morphing into something much clearer and hideous.
I laid my head on the pillow and locked my eyes to the ceiling. I let the pendant rest on my chest for a while, then flung it aside. When I finally decided upon turning the lights out, something frustrated my efforts yet again. I sat bolt upright in bed and swallowed back the vomit my stomach had pumped to my gullet. A horrible smell had wafted into my nostrils. It was so pervasive my eyelids filled with tears. It reminded me of rotten eggs.
I frowned down at Spike. He didn't complain in the slightest. I wondered what he'd had for dinner. Then I cast a cursory glance around the room to spot any other possible sources of that stomach-churning stink. My heart skipped a beat as I stumbled upon them for the first time. How I could've overlooked them, I hadn't the vaguest clue. Yet there they were, forming a path of mud that started at the main entrance and disappeared into the two-door closet Twilight had had Big Macintosh build before I moved in. Our closet. Disgusted, I traced the hoofprints with my eyes over and over, the stench growing thicker and nastier by the second.
I realized then that rotten eggs didn't smell so awful. This was much fouler.
This was grave soil.
Without further hesitation, I flipped the switch and snuffed out my horn's glow immediately afterwards. I didn't even feel like imagining who what hid behind those oak doors. What if she was exactly as I often pictured her in my nightmares? What if she was angry? Or worse… What if she still loved me?
I lay seated in the darkness of the library, my eyes frozen down on the void where the closet was supposed to be. The storm went on thrashing the streets and houses of Ponyville. My mind turned its sounds into the roars and growls of monsters.
A moment later, a door creaked open very slowly, as if the hoof behind could barely push it forth. A progression of unsound steps drew sluggishly to the bottom of the stairs. They seemed somewhat dragged. And as a flash of lightning lit the entire room, and I caught a glimpse of a shambling silhouette in the split-second's fleeting clarity, I racked my brains for a clear memory of me taking the pills earlier that night.
But then the shadows devoured us all, and it was dark again.
(. . .)
The night has quieted down. The streetlights project a layer of brightness onto the part of the ceiling toward the corner where I lie. They also paint the wall on the far side—the wall with the closet—in that fungal yellow of theirs. I've wanted to meet the nyctophobic hayball behind that brilliant invention since the Mayor sanctioned the street lighting system project for Ponyville.
Spike slumbers in his basket, snuggled under his blanket, occasionally filling in the silence with his feeble baby dragon snores. I tell myself to check on him, but I'm afraid to glance down from the bed and stumble upon her curled up close to her number one assistant. Sometimes I think she will do just that, much like a dog (a hellhound) determined to keep guard over its owner, and that she will glare up at me with eyes devoid of all color except a dead white.
I'm being silly, of course. She's not watching over Spike, because she still hasn't come out of the closet, and that's where she spends the day. At the end of the night, she always returns to the closet, leaving a rancid trail of mud I have to clean off later. I often ponder about her odd behavior. Maybe she has turned into some sort of vampire; that's why she seems to be afraid of the sun. She has never bitten me, though. At least not like those movie vampires with pale coats and fangs and capes.
The door creaks! I watch its rectangular shadow slide reluctantly along the sallow canvas of light. She's always noisy about it. And so slow. The shrill echo sends a shiver down my spine. I attempt to draw the curtains across the nearest window, forgetting for an instant that she has removed them. She wants the streetlights in. They make her real.
Clip-thump, clip-thump, clip-thump. I can't hear the clop anymore. It's as though a side of her body tumbles down with each step. Clip-thump, clip-thump. And she's so slow and loud. How come Spike can sleep through it undisturbed?
She drags herself up the stairs, now. She would usually cover this distance on all fours, carrying herself forth with a horrid excuse for a gait, but I reckon October and the better part of November have already eaten away at her muscles. She must be all mushy inside.
I can smell her. Mixed in with the stench of decay I pick out the pungent aroma of embalming chemicals. I manage to withhold the contents of my stomach, but the taste of acid washes over my tongue just the same. My eyes are sort of blurry without glasses, although not as much as I wish them to be. My vision has improved notably since she returned. I can't explain it; it just happened. Out of magic, I suppose.
Oh, dear Celestia, here she comes! Her shadow dances grotesquely on the far wall. The outside lights keep pouring in, and I find myself imploring for absolute darkness. I don't care what she does, so long as she does it in the dark and I can't see.
As she reaches the top, I shut my eyes and bury my muzzle into the pillow. A tingly pressure starts building in my bladder. I listen to the faint clink of the locket's chain as she nibbles it between her teeth. She walks a little closer and halts at the foot of the bed. A playful giggle spews from her mouth. For a minute, I'm convinced she's still alive. Then she slithers under the covers. I roll on my side, turning my back on her, and hold my breath to avoid the stink, if only for a while. She fastens the pendant around my neck lovingly, like a stallion treating his fillyfriend to a jewel before prom night. The cold of the chain electrifies my frame with a light shudder.
"Why?" I ask her. "Why are you doing this to me?"
She slides her icy forehooves beneath my armpits and weaves them around me. Her coat sticks to mine like the fur of an animal a carriage hit on the road. The stitches from the autopsy tickle my back. The incision below her left shoulder—the one from the failed operation—scratches harder against my skin, and a shriek slips out from the core of my squirming being.
She fondles the locket with clumsy motions and gives my ear a soft nip. That's her answer, and I don't argue. She then rubs her ungainly hooves on my chest. They soon proceed to my belly and further down to spots I don't want her touching. At the same time, she locks her icky lips upon my neck, and there is nothing vampiric about it.
I pant for air between the numbing caresses and formaldehyde kisses just to be overwhelmed by a wave of indescribable stench. The sheets feel thoroughly wet, and the pervasive odor of urea joins the others in a suffocating atmosphere that would disgust a rat. Her fleshy tongue teases my muzzle with slimy licks that sear like turpentine, and why won't the pills kick in?
But none of it is real. As long as my eyes remain shut it's not real it's not
(. . .)
It was gone. I searched under the pot. I rummaged through the flower bed and some of the surrounding bushes, too. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. Somepony could have undone the anti-burglary spell and stolen it, but I didn't consider that a very likely possibility.
There were no thieves in Ponyville, right?
"Who in the hoof keeps a spare key under a flower pot anyway?" I grumbled.
The purple orchid seemed to stare daggers at me through her tiny pistils. Those little things resembled bug eyes under the shade. You're never going to find it, she said contemptuously. She has it, and you know it. You know it. I desperately ripped her out and smashed her ceramic bowl against the trunk of the tree. Gosh, how good it felt! She was right, though; I didn't find what I was looking for.
It was fucking gone.
(. . .)
The knock at the door took me completely by surprise. I bounced off the bed and hit the floor on my rump. A red flare of pain flamed up in my thighs and spit bright sparks onto the nerves along my lower back. I felt as though somepony had zapped me with a stun gun. The smell of urine was still strong, and her natural odor didn't help relieve it. She had cooped herself up in the closet again. At least that was one problem off my plate. But I still had to deal with the stench before I could entertain. And the mud trail. And Spike.
Once I scrambled to my hooves, I glanced up at the clock hanging above the bedstead. 9:00 A.M. I had missed another day of work, and I hadn't even called in sick. Not that it really mattered. The other wing surgeon had probably done a terrific job in my absence. It wouldn't have come as such a surprise if I decided to show up and found all my stuff boxed up and a dismissal note on my office desk.
When I turned my attention to Spike's basket, and noticed Spike wasn't in it, my heart started pounding the way it would pound when the closet door creaked well into the night. The possibility that she might've dragged him into her confined hideout, while disturbing, didn't faze me so much as to jolt me into a panic attack. I wasn't so fond of him anymore. I didn't like how he would sometimes eye me with an accusatory gaze, implicitly blaming Twilight's fate on me. Besides, she would've never hurt her baby dragon, let alone have allowed anypony else to do it. I know she had never let me try. Not even when those slit-pupils of his bore into my soul and I craved to drain them of life more than anything in the world.
No. I didn't fear for Spike. I feared what he might've seen and what he might've gone to do. Usually, I would wake up before he did to change the sheets, spray the room with air freshener (although his relative indifference to unpleasant smells often worked to my advantage), and rinse off every single mud smudge. I would preclude him from ever peeking into the closet, sometimes taking my pre-emptive measures to the extreme. I would always plan ahead; I would always calculate. He might've thought I was losing my mind, but I didn't give a flying feather what he thought.
That morning, for a change, I had miscalculated. He'd awoken earlier than usual. I later ascertained, through an in-depth and rather heated interrogation upon his arrival, that he'd spent the day at Rarity's boutique helping her with the minor tasks involved in fashion designing. Surprisingly enough, he hadn't picked up on the stink or the hoof-prints. But his whereabouts were a complete mystery to me at the time the knocking had begun, and the idea that he'd uncovered the "skeleton" in my closet—because it was mine, whether I liked it or not—and divulged the secret to the whole town gave me the heebie-jeebies. I could picture the raging crowd, the pitchforks, and the torches. It was 9:00 A.M., but torches made perfect sense nonetheless. Dad had always said that was the way this kind of stories ended: with a final struggle, the protagonist's death, and lots and lots of fire.
"Just a minute!" I hollered. It actually took me fifteen between rounding up my scattered thoughts and actually bestirring myself to dispose of the evidence. I proceeded hastily, yet methodically. The knocking grew louder and ever more impatient as I flung the dirty sheets into the laundry basket and tempered the stench with an artificial lime fragrance. The mud was harder to wipe off due to the obvious time constraints, but all in all I did a fairly decent job.
Before tending to my visitor(s), I donned my white-coat—for no other reason than because I fancied the white color would strengthen the veneer of honesty I planned to show. Subsequently, I pushed the briefcase where I kept all my medical supplies (including the blue pills) out from under the bed, worked through the rolling combination lock, and drew my scalpel from it. I placed it in my right pocket, just in case the situation got out of control.
At last, I hurried to the door and confronted the knocking nuisance behind it. Much to my relief, there was no angry mob, only a frowning mare. On recognizing the sad blue eyes, white coat, and pink mane, I heaved a sigh that resonated like a whistle, but it rose to a pained growl as a sudden wallop sent me reeling back. My eyes watered from the blow. A hot feeling spread quickly across the damaged area. I raised a hoof to my nostrils and withdrew it to see the warm red liquid that had stuck to it.
"Hello to you too, Redheart," I muttered grimly.
She stomped into the main room. Tears were trickling down her cheeks. One of them dangled from the right edge of her jaw. "How could you?"
She attempted to impose herself on me, but she failed to establish dominance. I had a trick up my sleeve—well, in my pocket. A thin, sharp trick I could use against whatever she threw at me.
"Could you be more specific?"
"If I had known, I would've never…" The rivulets running down her cheeks by no means detracted from the anger in her tone. "She was your fillyfriend. She was my friend! How could you do this?"
"What do you care?" I countered. "She didn't get to find out about our little fling, now did she? She died on the operating table. Of all ponies, you should remember that. You were there when Dr. Atrium screwed up big time!"
Her features scrunched up in a tense expression that denoted dismay and a certain effort. It occurred to me that I just might have witnessed Redheart's constipation face. But then a soft light beamed from those blue eyes, and I decrypted her mistrustful thoughts. Although I did intend to upset her with my retort, I had clearly given myself away to some degree in order to make her suspicious on top of that, and I needed to fix my mistake.
"Besides," I added slyly, "if you can't live with a little guilt, you can always apologize to her."
"What are you talking about?"
"We both know for a fact that she died," I explained, piercing right through her with a gaze that elicited a delicious shudder, "but she's not really gone. You see, Redheart, she came back about a month after the funeral. And now she hides in that closet over there." I aimed a hoof toward her rotten den. "She has been haunting me ever since, and I don't think she's planning to go anywhere any time soon. So why not apologize now that you have the chance? I'm sure she'll be listening."
She backed away cautiously as I closed the distance between us until her rump bumped against the closet's left door. The tears were rolling down faster. Her grimace struck me as particularly beautiful; she looked as though she was choking. She could smell her, and that realization filled my heart with joy.
"What kind of sick joke is this?"
"I'm not joking. Go ahead. Sneak a peek. You know you want to."
The mare's stare of open-mouthed horror deepened. I felt as excited as I had when I placed her on the peak of our cute love triangle (three is a rather peculiar number, is it not?). The seconds ticked away in exquisite slowness as she reached for the doorknob and twisted it.
She peered in.
I stepped back and fell to calculating again.
(. . .)
The scarf I wore did little to keep the cold away. I shifted my weight from side to side in order to warm my muscles up, shaking the flecks of snow off my back in the process. I rang the bell a third time, pleading for somepony to open up for a prompter response. Spike looked back over his shoulder at the two fuel containers behind me, then up at me. Under the red and green of the Hearth's Warming Eve lights, his dragon eyes sparkled bright with confusion and a dread I initially mistook for a semblance of concern.
"Where did you get those?"
"The new factory on the edge of Canterlot." His right brow shot up. My answer had obviously raised more doubts, so I tried to ease the topic into a different course. "You know, they say this fuel's going to revolutionize the weather industry. It's supposed to render wingpower obsolete."
"I asked where, not why. And I don't believe the ponies from the factory took any of your money in exchange for their 'revolutionary' fuel." He scanned my soiled coat deprecatingly before whipping me with his condemnatory glower. I hadn't told him that I'd paid a little visit to the cemetery on my way to the factory, but it wouldn't have come as such a shock if he'd figured it out.
"Listen, Spike," I started, knocking thrice on the door and throwing in yet another ring. "I've had a tough day, and the two-hour train ride back from Canterlot didn't make it any better. I'm cold, I'm tired, and I just want to leave this whole day behind me, okay?"
"I wonder how they even let you get in the train stinking like that," he complained under his breath, aiming a pouty frown down at the welcome mat. I rolled my eyes and decided not to pursue the matter. Instead I prepared for another session of knocking and ringing. Before I could begin, the door pulled away from me on its hinges, and the inside lights and warmth bowled me over for a moment.
"Hey! Merry Hearth's Warming Eve! I'm so glad you could make it!" I recognized the perky tone, although it fell short of the glee I usually associated it with. When the big, talking pink blur before me regained its solid equine frame, an empty smile flickered between my cheeks. Her welcoming beam, too, had seen better days. Death had a remarkable way of molding happy expressions into truly dismal works of art. Twilight was the exception; death had broadened her pleasant smile into an obscene clown grin.
I floated the two containers in and placed them by the door as Pinkie ushered us in to Sugarcube Corner. The profuse festive decorations almost succeeded in camouflaging the despondence that subtly poisoned the air. All of the guests were engaged in conversation, either keeping their glasses of Pinkie's special punch levitated within guzzling distance or holding them in their hooves, and my ears twitched lightly at the music and the cacophony of clashing voices one would expect at any party, but the faces and sounds belonged in a funeral reception rather than a cheerful celebration.
"Looks like somepony could use a bath." That was Applejack, and I startled as she spoke to my side. I wondered what she was doing in Pinkie's party, when she could've spent the night with her loving family at Sweet Apple Acres. She chuckled and bestowed a friendly punch on my shoulder in a way I only thought Rainbow Dash capable of. "Don't get all shook up, it's just me. So what's the story? Tough day?"
I answered with a curt nod.
"I figured as much. Visitin' your Dad and runnin' errands in Canterlot on Hearth's Warming Eve sure as hay is a feat." She smiled sympathetically. "I heard you and him don't get along. Twilight told me about…"—her speech cracked at this point; she tossed a wistful smile to the floor—"Aw, shucks! I guess it's still hard to bring her up, isn' it?" This struck me as a reminder she interjected for herself, not something she actually meant for me to hear. Small tears had brightened her eyes, clearing the way for the bigger ones that were yet to come. I deemed that my cue to part with her; I told her I would pour myself a glass of punch. I offered to bring her some, but she shook her head in a languid negative.
I left her to her silent grieving and did exactly what I'd said I would do. While emptying my drink in quick, sulky sips, I overheard snatches of dialogue from the ponies in my midst. Some of them recounted Twilight's tragic story, pausing every now and then to discharge torn sighs. They had no idea that story was far from over yet. Others gossiped about the mysterious disappearance of a renowned nurse that worked in Ponyville's hospital. Her picture had hit the headlines two or three weeks before. Then I riveted my attention on Spike. The crisscross streams of chatter walled off his words, but it appeared he was in the middle of a very important exchange with Rainbow Dash. He waved his arms to his sides frantically and exaggerated many other gestures with his claws, thus weaving a little pantomime narrative I didn't find too difficult to grasp. The pegasus, in turn, paid close heed, her wings lashing the air in increasing anger.
It wasn't that long before her eyes narrowed on me. I faced away and glanced over at the clock hung on the wall behind the counter. Its hands moved at different paces, killing Hearth's Warming Eve bit by bit. I resolved—partly out of desperation, partly out of a newfound poetic sensibility—to take care of things before midnight. With that goal in mind, I set my empty glass on the punch table and sidled to the door. I had already gathered the containers in a tight magic bundle and wound light-blue tendrils around the doorknob, meaning to depart unnoticed, when Rainbow Dash perched in front of me and barred my way.
"Fuel from the new factory, huh?" she burst out so loud and abruptly I lost control over my heavy load. The two containers plopped with an explosive thud. I secretly thanked Luna's stars that they hadn't spilled.
"Watcha' gonna do with it?" she pursued. "Burn down a house?"
I felt a pang in my heart. The pain escalated as I realized the music had stopped and all the ponies had zeroed in on the two of us. "I don't know what Spike told you," I whispered back, "but it's none of your business."
She leveled her pouncing glare at me. "He told me you've been acting pretty weird lately, and that you're up to something. So what's going on? You gonna spill the beans or what?"
She tapped me twice on the chest, edging me back a little. The attentive onlookers broke into disordered murmuring. I gritted my teeth and barely repressed the urge to crack all the bones in her wings. You tower over the stupid filly, hissed a voice from the recesses of my mind, and you're letting her trample you? It sounded raspy and perverse, although it did not scare me. I had listened to it on a daily basis ever since Twilight passed away—perhaps even before—and had grown accustomed to its chilling hoarseness.
"Now c'mon," said Applejack. She had managed to squeeze out of the herd and place herself between us. "We're all friends here. No need to sour Hearth's Warming Eve for everypony."
"You're not actually going to stand up for him, are you?" Rainbow Dash stamped a hoof on the floor in annoyance.
Forget the wings, the voice carried on, break the bitch's neck.
"Applejack, I recognize nutty when I see it. I mean, just look at him! He hasn't been himself. Ever since Twilight… since she…"
"Of course he ain't himself!" chimed in the other mare. "It's been hard on him. It's been hard on everypony!"
The pegasus shrunk back at the roughness of her manner. The ponies hushed. Tears beaded beneath the two magenta eyes. She bit on her lower lip to stifle a sniffle and treaded away from the door with her head hung low. Her colorful bangs concealed her gaze as the salty drops dribbled down. I had only seen her cry once before, and that had been during the funeral.
I stole a brief look back to make sure she wouldn't try anything. She didn't. She just went her way and mingled with the herd. Rarity and Fluttershy did what they could to comfort her, but they themselves appeared pretty downhearted. I figured they had hardships of their own to endure. I'd been given to understand that Rarity's business was going under. She would churn out dresses day and night to sell them at incredibly low prices, a necessary work that had driven her to neglect her mane and coat. She didn't even bother to put on makeup anymore. And rumor had it that Fluttershy would be moving back to Cloudsdale. Only Celestia knew what would become of the woodland critters without her motherly care.
Applejack spoke again. "She didn' mean that. It's just that the whole thing's still got 'er blue."
I snapped to and nodded. "I should be heading off now. Do you think the Cakes would be okay with Spike staying here for the night?"
My query obviously baffled her. I didn't blame her; it was a weird thing to ask. For an instant, a strangely familiar glint crossed her eyes—that light would suit blue irises better , I thought—and I feared she would unmask me.
"Why d'you ask—?" Then she caught the containers in the periphery of her vision, glowing in my restored magical grip. The tiny shimmers of perplexity suddenly burst into quivery blazes of certainty.
She began stammering. "I-I… I guess I could take him to the farm if Mr. and Mrs. Cake don't—"
I stepped out into the cold, where the festive colors dappled the ground's white makeup. I didn't say goodbye to Spike or any of the ponies.
"Just don't go around doing anythin' stupid," Applejack called one last time from the doorway.
"I won't," I said. And I told the truth.
It took me longer than usual to get to the library. What with stomping through the snow and the extra effort of floating the fuel along, my pace had slowed down quite a bit. Not one other soul roamed the streets. Only the festive lights moved around me, dancing in their twinkly style throughout my solitary trek. Minotaur-size candy canes and extravagant garlands and many other decorations of the like embellished Ponyville, but somehow they merely embittered my evening all the more. The chanting and laughter from the happy families reached my ears from the houses, seeping out through the walls and filling me with an ardent desire to slit my throat. Even as I trudged up to the front door, I could hear them celebrating, toasting to a merry Hearth's Warming Eve, to Twilight Sparkle—may she rest in peace, they would say—and to keeping their closets skeleton-free for at least another year.
I unlocked the door, let myself in, and did not waste a second. Without so much as flipping the light switch, I untapped the first container and strode up the stairs, my horn's glow—and the repulsive radiance engendered by the combined actions of the fairy lights and the street lamps—scaring the shadows out of my way. Having meted out most of its content into all the second-floor rooms, I poured what little had remained along the hall, dropped the empty receptacle, and walked down to the main room. I carried on much more slowly with the second one, partly because I relished the intoxicating essence of benzene, which almost did away with that other, much more offensive odor, but mostly because I didn't want even the tiniest splinter there to be exempted from the flames. Everything, living or otherwise, had to burn.
I was very sparing with the amounts I distributed among the well-stocked shelves, seeing as those didn't require that much assistance for the ignition. The books and scrolls would do the trick. I didn't waste a single drop on the kitchen; the fun would've ended too soon that way, and I intended to enjoy the fireworks as long as possible. I moved in circles about the room, soaking the floor until the fuel ran out. I hoped that she would wake up at the feel of wetness. I hoped she would crawl out of her hideout and stare up at me with those vacant eyes I loathed as I set us on fire.
The second container hit the planks with a slight splash. She didn't utter a sound from behind the two doors. I squelched across the room towards the staircase, then pattered up to the elevated corner where the bed lay. That special corner where Twilight and I had spent many an unforgettable night together (take that any way you want). The darkness had grown a little thicker without my glow, although the outside lights still weakened it. Soon it would be completely displaced by a horrible, revealing brightness. Lots and lots of fire.
A weak blue flame budded from the tip of my horn. I fed it with a steady input of magic until it plumped out and was ready to fulfill its purpose. Its soft radiance helped my eyes make out the closet on the far side. Two sets of hooves scraped against the doors from the inside. Of course it was two. I could bet Redheart wanted out just as badly as Twilight.
"Why? That's all I need to know," I pleaded, my tone juddering with the first choked pauses of incipient weeping. She did not answer; neither did her companion. "Come on! Tell me! Was it because I cheated? Or was it that stupid locket?"
The scraping went on uninterrupted. I veered my head back and spotted the heart-shaped pendant on the nightstand, which cast a wan gleam in my flame's field of light. I couldn't discern the inscription on its surface from where I stood, but then again I didn't have to. Those two words were well imprinted on my memory already. On returning my focus to the front, a wet, tickly sensation spread from the corners of my eyes all the way down to my jaw lines, and my blue fire wavered in a moment's hesitation. I actually considered putting it out, desisting in this pathetic effort for freedom and lying in the dark instead. The darkness had never hurt me, after all. If anything, it had preserved my soundness of mind. But then the moment passed, and my resolve returned at full strength.
I compelled the flame away, and it launched itself aslant, condensing into a tight fireball. Having braked to a halt in midair, it resumed the rest of its parabolic journey toward the center of the room as gravity pulled it down greedily. I would've liked to say that it started with a burst of light and roar of heat, that the fire fanned out from the point of impact, taking over the first floor, creeping up the shelves and brushing up against their contents with its contagious, yellow-orange mane, that it continued through the trail of fuel up to the second floor, then branched out and swept into the rooms along the hall, thus setting the whole library ablaze. It would certainly have made a much more engaging description, but it also would've been a false account of events. Truth be told, those five seconds ticked by way too fast for my senses to assimilate the scene in its entirety. One moment the room was dim; the next it just wasn't anymore. It seemed to me that the flames had been waiting behind the walls long before that night. Perhaps they had been waiting as far back as when Twilight and I had started dating.
Billows of smoke quickly blew into all the available spaces, my lungs included. But even through the haze I could distinguish the shadows flickering upon that bright hue of red the wood had taken on. It was the color of a Canterlotian sunset, and I hated it. There were the sounds, too. The beams and planks crackled around me, the fire emitted an angry wheeze as it cornered me, and a reedy bug-screech stormed into my ears from inside the closet. A disturbing image of somepony—the enigmatic bearer of that raspy voice I often listened to—ripping out the wings of a changeling sprang to mind.
In spite of the suffocating heat, a chill shivered its way up my back. The two corpses screamed on and on, drumming their rotten hooves on the doors to the rhythm of my adrenaline-infused heart. I also picked out the emerging shouting and distant sirens outside. I let out something between a sigh and a sob as everything clicked. Stories of this kind couldn't end without the mob, now could they?
I turned around and left the flames to their savage feeding. My sweat damped the bedcover; I hadn't bothered to draw it back. The smell of roasting flesh was strong. I pictured Twilight in bed next to me, her coat pitch-black and some of the bones jutting out from the charred skin—two unlikely lovers never to be torn apart.
"I know you're real; I know it's all real," I murmured pointlessly into the poisoned air. Although tears were cutting their way through my cheeks, my voice carried no semblance of emotion. "I went to your grave earlier today. Your coffin was empty."
So what? she queried, her foul breath tickling my ear. I knew that couldn't be her. After all, she lay inside the closet, screaming and thrashing along with her pal as the fire devoured them. Yet her forehooves coiled around me with the same clumsy tenderness as always. Her burned underside rustled against my back like sandpaper, shedding flecks of ashen dandruff. It doesn't matter if it's real or not. There's only one possible outcome, and you're well aware of it.
I cocked my head to the left, squinting sleepily at the locket. I attracted it to me and held it in my hooves. It shone brighter than it ever had by the firelight. "I could still make things right, if only…"
You could change the past? she interjected helpfully. A phlegmy giggle issued through what must've been the blackened vestiges of her lips. Well, technically you could. I used the spell once… I've told you about it, haven't I?
She had. Back when she emanated the sweet fragrance of lilacs and not the smell of decomposing meat.
But time-travel spells are too complicated. If transference spells gave you a hard time, I doubt you'd pull off one these babies. The truth is you'll be stuck in here with me until the fire catches us, and for an eternity thereafter. There came that giggle again, accompanied by a tighter hug. That shouldn't bother you, though. What's the point of living in a world where everypony hates you, anyway? Not even your parents cared about you. Just think back to those weekends with your father.
"T-that's not true," I stuttered, shaking at the feel of her papery coat. The shouting outside had grown louder and the sirens of the carriages wailed ever nearer. "Those ponies outside care. They cared enough to show up."
This time she expelled a maniacal cackle. I thought my eardrums would burst. Oh, sweetie! They just want to see your body for themselves. She leaned in. Her voice waned to a nightmarish whisper. They don't like your kind. They don't like ponies that are different from them. Ponies with secrets. And that's exactly what you have become: a pony with a deep, dark secret.
I broke into a hacking fit, gulping back gobs of cinder-flavored saliva after it had passed. The heat beset my sweaty frame with overwhelming gusts that often carried smoldering ashes. The first symptoms of an incoming blackout had already begun tampering with my body. I felt light-headed, and greenish smudges had sprouted on my screen of vision.
They are blind to the grace there is in despair and the glamour of death. The beauty in all the red. She paused, grinding the pommel stones she had for hooves along my thighs, ensuring that the information sunk in before carrying on. Yet they revel in this moment, hiding their ecstasy behind a staged commotion. They're quite sanguinary, those ponies. Wouldn't you agree?
She bowed her head into the hollow of my neck and lavished the area with fleshless kisses. "Y-you're lying," I managed to sputter out. "I've talked to them. I know those ponies. They're my friends."
No, she said, they're not. If they could make you switch places with me, they would do so without a qualm. They would rip your heart out and bury you six feet under the ground.
I could sense the fire had crept its way into the corner and was swaying just a few inches away from the bed, consuming the wood there before moving on. The heat smothered me in its constricting grasp, and Twilight's fetid embrace only drove me closer to total unconsciousness. I wanted to scream through the smoke, to tell her she was wrong and let her know how much I hated her, though neither statement held a dash of truth. All that came out were the muddled cries of a dying jackal.
I thought I heard her murmur something else, something with the word "forever" in it, and then succumbed to the most pleasant, dreamless sleep I'd had in months.
(. . .)
"So that's it, I guess." I shifted uncomfortably in the couch, raised the teacup to my lips, and indulged in a reinvigorating sip. The steaming liquid burned my tongue, but I didn't mind my taste buds' complaints. At this stage of the game, I'd figured that there were worse things than physical pain.
"What do you think?" I asked shyly, averting my eyes from his and fixing them on the magnificent view of Canterlot offered by the parlor's bell-shaped window. The streets below bustled with elegantly fitted mares and stallions that cantered along with their noses pointed upward. The spires of the city towered over the moving crowd; the tips seemed awfully close to colliding with the sky. The sun had completed half of its descent. It coated the urban landscape in a vibrant orange hue that was gradually deepening to a dim red. I visualized Princess Celestia standing at the highest balcony of her palace, willing her most precious creation back into its earthly bed.
"Well, I must say you have concocted quite a story," was his reply, and I didn't expect anything less. A part of me hoped that he, of all ponies, would understand. But that part of me had also believed the fire would make her go away once and for all.
"Concocted?" I uttered a dry chortle and jerked my head back toward him. "You think I made it up?"
His pensive gaze cut through me like a scalpel. He locked the front of his hooves together as he searched inside me for an anomaly. In the meantime, I delved into an examination of my own. I studied his horn, his somewhat mat, caramel-colored fur, his neatly trimmed auburn mane streaked with silver along the temples, and those baleful blue eyes that glinted with nerve-racking fascination in the light of the dying sun. I loathed every inch of his body. It was almost like looking at a mirror, only one that reflected the image of what would be my elderly self.
"I think you need help."
I put the teacup down on the small table between us. A smile crept across my muzzle. "Oh, please! You've written your share of spooky novels. Don't tell me this doesn't intrigue you."
A weary sigh oozed softly from his lips, his head moving back and forth in obvious dissatisfaction. He rose from the couch opposite me and withdrew to a cabinet near the window overlooking the city. From it he removed a glass and a half-full decanter of brandy. He set them on top of the cabinet, filled the glass halfway, and downed it without hesitation. Subsequently, he darted those avid eyes of his back at me. The afternoon's detestable glow rendered his expression all the more ominous.
"What exactly is a scar-eraser spell?" he inquired. My brows furrowed in a quizzical fashion, implicitly demanding a repetition. He did not grant it; he simply treated himself to a second glassful and awaited my response.
"It's, uh… it's a spell we use on patients to… well, to erase the scars left by incisions." I hushed at that and went back to surveying his every move. Rather than the question itself, it was the suddenness with which he'd voiced it that had knocked me for a loop.
"Go on. Tell me more about it."
He poured himself a third glass and swallowed the drink down. I was starting to suspect and, although he could see it, he didn't make an effort to bear himself with less hostility. "I'm waiting."
"There's not much more to it. It just blots out the scar and occasionally leaves a sort of lemony scent. How is this related to—?"
"Is it used on bodies too?"
Yes. For funerals, typically. It has a span of four or five days on deceased subjects, but it serves an aesthetic purpose. It gets rid of any visually displeasing marks, such as autopsy incisions. Every glare he shot at me brought my ribcage closer to its cracking point. For an acclaimed novelist who knew no more about forensic medicine than I did about Equestrian tragedies, he was doing a bang-up job. He would soon gain access to that delicate part where all romantics believed love originated from. They would rip your heart out, she had said.
"This was a bad idea. I think I should go now."
"I thought you wanted my help," he said. I had leaned forward to get up but quashed the impulse to leave as these words coaxed me back into the couch. "Judging from what I've heard, you're still trying to put the pieces together. That's why you came over, isn't that right?"
"The 'pieces' are already together. All I wanted was your opinion."
"Nopony vanishes for five months and then just decides to show up for an opinion." He stared out into the dimming sky. Celestia's red sphere had sunk somewhere beyond the horizon, and the liquid layers of its remaining brilliance were slowly being sponged up by the swooping night shadows. "Tell you what: I'll do better than give you my opinion. I will solve the puzzle for you. Sounds good?"
"Are you even listening to me?"
"I've listened enough," he countered in a reproachful manner. "Now it's your turn to do the listening."
I clenched my teeth and eyed him warily. The fading light of day tinged the parlor purple, and I found myself wanting the red back. I despised that particular shade of red, but I preferred it to that other ugly color which I once had thought so beautiful.
"When the authorities recovered the two burnt bodies from what was left of the library, they ran some tests to identify them. One belonged to your… former fillyfriend. The other belonged to one of the town's nurses. I can't recall her name, though."
"Yes, I believe that was it." A twinkle in his pupils told me he hadn't really forgotten. "Anyhow, they discovered an incision below the unicorn's left shoulder."
"I didn't think the papers would be so detailed," I interjected. "But yes, you're right. It's the incision from the transplant."
He considered my observation for a few seconds, sloshing his fourth drink around in his mouth, and then resumed his explanation. "That's the part they found particularly troubling. You see, Twilight Sparkle never made it to the operating room. She died of a heart attack a month prior to her appointment. Yet when they performed the second autopsy, there was no heart to be found. So tell me: how can a mare die of a heart attack if she's missing a heart in the first place?"
My lips remained sealed and my teeth clamped together. The avidity in his visage morphed into fiery determination. I no longer wished for the red to come back; I just hoped the darkness would fall at once and cover me.
"What personally intrigues me is the fact that you successfully misled a whole team of forensic investigators. I mean, you!" He chuckled. I perceived a hint of pride in his remark, although it might have been anything else. I couldn't have recognized his I'm-so-proud-of-ya-kiddo voice, seeing as he'd never cared to make use of it. "But then again, I suppose you're not stupid. After all, you did dig up her coffin twice without getting caught. Once in broad daylight, I might add—when you came to visit for Hearth's Warming Eve, remember? And let's not forget! The first time you had some 'luggage' to haul back to Ponyville, didn't you? Nope. This clearly wasn't the work of a dimwit.
"So how did you pull it off, huh?" he insisted. "What spell did you use to fool them during the first autopsy? It couldn't have been just a scar-eraser. No, wait! I have a better one. What did you do with the heart?"
"Why are you doing this?" I burst out. My mind teetered on the verge of a paroxysm of fury. "Why are you twisting my story? Dr. Atrium operated on her. He's the one that bungled it!"
He let out second sigh that outrivaled the first in exasperation. "You listen to me, and you listen carefully." I felt his glare tear through me. "Dr. Atrium never got to lay a single hoof on her. You killed her. You killed them both. The authorities reported that the nurse had been stabbed to death with a scalpel."
"That wasn't me!" I hopped off the couch and approached him. A growl rumbled in my throat. I was ready to pounce on him Rainbow Dash style. "It was Twilight! I had nothing to do with it!"
At that point, the doors swung open with a stunning bang. My mind had a split-second to summon up the memory of the night of her return before my ears perked at a brisk fluttering and a sinewy figure pinned me to the floor. She had used the spare key back then, I remembered. Her silhouette disengaged itself from the shadows of the adjacent room and moved into the parlor alongside another that exhibited the same buff physique as the one that had tackled me. Her body had miraculously retrieved its healthy, slender frame, and she had reverted to an orderly, step-by-step gait. I struggled against my captor's weight, but to no avail. Soon enough, her shadowed figure loomed over me. As she addressed the stallion I'd been conversing with and told him to turn on the lights, I also noticed her voice had suffered a notable change in pitch and acquired a distinct rasp, as if she had come down with the flu.
With the place brightly lit and her almost on top of me, I saw that her coat was not coal-black or purple, but a medium shade of gray. Her straight, blonde mane cascaded over her shoulders like a curtain of silk and her emerald eyes glistened with life. Her name was Dr. Cracker. I read it on the badge clipped onto the pocket of her white-coat.
"So this is the crazy motherfucker that killed all those employees at the factory?" vociferated the pegasus who had immobilized me, somewhat disbelieving. A royal guard, judging by the armor. I speculated whether he was one of those with razor-sharp wings. "Well, I'll be damned!"
"Shut up and hold him still," ordered Dr. Cracker. "I'm going to put him under."
The second guard stepped forth and exerted an extra pressure on my back as the first shifted and exposed my flank. This left my head tilted at a painful angle. I couldn't squirm for a more comfortable position, let alone a glimpse backwards. My eyes willy-nilly fastened on the unicorn in the couch. He had sat back down after flipping the light switch.
"So that's how you knew," I hissed through gritted teeth. "They let you in on the details. And you turned me in."
"You're obviously sick," he said, looking down at me with the disappointed and somewhat disdainful lower of an inventor before a flawed creation. His coup de grâce. "They're going to take good care of you."
The doctor dabbed alcohol on my cutie mark, the resulting cool sensation fleeting as soon as she removed the wet cotton. "You can't do this to me, Dad! I'm not sick!"
She placed a hoof on my flank to steady herself. I mustered up all my strength and spent it in one last attempt at resistance. The guards kept me nailed to the floor without a single indication of strain.
"Then why in Equestria are you still wearing that locket?"
I didn't get to reply. I felt the pinch of a needle, and pretty much all feeling ceased afterwards. That was the last thing he ever said to me. I haven't heard from him in years. I remember one of the nurses talking about him at the institution, when she came into my cell one day to leave my lunch tray. She mentioned that he'd died of a brain stroke. I would've liked to answer his question, though, because I knew exactly how to approach it. It's fairly simple, really: the locket was mine. I had paid for it. It had hung in display behind the plate-glass window of an ordinary store in an ordinary town for everypony to see and anypony to crave. Somepony else could've admired it like I did. Somepony else could've taken it. But I suppose Twilight was right about that.
Those other ponies were blind.
I've been living on the outskirts of Manehattan for three months now. Seeing as I had accomplished considerable progress, Dr. Cracker deemed it safe to transfer me into a special sort of nursing home. How I actually survived the night of the fire without so much as a scratch remains a mystery to both her and me, but it's a mystery we learned to cope with. In the end, some things are best left unrevealed (which is why I decided to burn certain parts of this document). I still have to take my medication, and she examines me on a regular basis, but at least I get to talk to more patients and nurses. There's a lot more movement around here. I like that, because I can strike up random conversations with other ponies, even if sometimes what they have to say makes no sense at all to me. Altogether, I appreciate their company; in that respect, Sunset Abode is certainly better than the institution I resided in before. My old room was cramped and dreary, and I would sit all day long wearing an extra tight straitjacket (except for when Dr. Cracker summoned me). I had no one to entertain myself with, no diversion to keep me from thinking. And I hated being left alone with my thoughts. Not even the dark could protect me from them.
But I would be lying if I said that my new home was perfect. If that had been the case, I guess I wouldn't have written this. I believe she has found me again. The clip-thump of her body as she shambles along the hall never fails to disrupt my sleep. I also believe the other residents can hear it too. Maybe that's why some of them laugh so much in the late-night hours. What else can you do under these circumstances? All madness leaves you with is a wild sense of humor.
The stench and the trail of mud turn every little venture outside the room into a journey through the sulfur mines of Ghastly Gorge. The soil gathers as the days go by, her smell grows ever stronger, and the janitor doesn't bother to mop the floor. Why would he? That's not his or anypony else's mess but mine to clean.
On the bright side, she doesn't speak to me anymore. Neither does the changeling torturer in the back of my head—the medication has managed to quell that voice. I'm not afraid of her, either. At least not as I used to be. Although I'm too old to set a house on fire, I still do what little I can to fend her off. I always lock my door when she roams about, for instance. Even if she did break in somehow, my new closet is rather incommodious; I bet she'd have a hard time trying to squeeze herself into it. This doesn't mean I think I can escape her, mind you. Eventually, I'm sure to slip… and she will seize the opportunity. She's a smart girl; I know she will.
The locket is still with me. I keep it in the middle drawer of my small writing desk and take it out from time to time to look at it by the light of the afternoon. Sunsets in Manehattan don't upset me that much; they are a lot cloudier than those I've known my whole life. It is during these gray, silent hours that the questions start flooding my mind. I ask myself what could've caused Twilight to come back, whether it had really been that seemingly harmless pendant, or a new virus—the cliché par excellence of every zombie movie—or the side-effect of some spell. Or anything else. The possibilities are infinite. Perhaps there is a method to life and death that works like the weather and the rise and fall of the sun. A method that, like most things in Equestria, is understood and controlled by specialized ponies in a special department. Perhaps a member of that particular department bore a grudge against me. Perhaps that member was as blind as the rest. Whatever the answers, the raspy voice is dormant and can no longer provide them. But that's okay.
Those skeletons belong in somepony else's closet.