Death of the Author

by RB_

The Mariposa's End

“Jackstay watched as the lifeboats drifted away. He could see Lily standing on the deck of the closest one, screaming something he couldn’t hear. She might have been crying. He sighed, and smiled.

At last, his legs gave out and he collapsed to the deck. Grimacing, he pulled himself up by the Mariposa’s railing and propped his back against it, pressing his hooves to the spreading patch of red in his shirt.

‘So, this is it,’ Captain Gallows said, still bound to the ship’s mast, the last remains of her stolen treasure loose around her hooves.

‘Seems like it,’ Jack replied. He looked over the side. The waves were approaching. ‘After all this time… you know, I never thought it would be your ship I’d be going down with.’

‘Funny,’ she said, ‘I never thought I’d be going down with her either. Or with you, you scurvy dog.’

Jack chuckled. ‘So ends the tale of the Great Pirate-Captain Boom Gallows, once again bested by her old deck-swab.’

‘No need to salt the wound,’ she said. ‘Mind untying me? I’d like to retain some dignity in my final moments.’

‘Would if I could,’ he said. His vision was starting to fade. ‘But it looks like I’ll be going on ahead.’

‘At least I’ll have a few moments to appreciate my final victory, then’ she said.

‘That was some good bladework,’ he wheezed. ‘Your finest. But I think you’ll find… this victory… was mine…”


Redline shut the book. “Geez, Velvet. That scene still gets me every time.”

Twilight Velvet smiled as she sipped down the last of her martini.

The book in question was The Mariposa’s End, Velvet’s latest. Or, rather, her advance copy; the real book would be hitting shelves in a few days, which was what Velvet had invited her editor out for dinner and drinks to celebrate.

“I should hope so,” she said. “I’d hate to end the series on a low note.” She put down her glass and waved their waiter over. “Another, please,” she said.

“It’s a bit harsh, though, don’t you think?” Redline said. “Eight books, just to kill off the main character at the end?”

“We’ve had this conversation before, Red.”

Redline rolled her eyes. “I know, I know, you’d been planning this from the beginning. But you know it’s not going to go over well with the readers.”

Velvet sighed. “Yes, I know. But it’s how the series was always meant to end; I’m not going to change it now. It’s thematic. And besides, it’s fitting.”

“How so?”

“Well, it’s my last book,” Velvet said. “I needed to end it definitively. Otherwise, I might be tempted to come out of retirement again!”

“You say that like it’d be a bad thing,” Redline said, smirking. Velvet laughed.

“No, but it’s time I put the pen down,” she said. “My wellspring of inspiration has just about been pumped dry, and my mind’s not as sharp as it used to be. Besides, now I’ll have even more time to spoil my grandchildren!”

“I thought you only had one?”

“Well, for now,” Velvet said, smiling impishly. Redline laughed.

 “Well, I’m certainly going to miss it,” Redline said. “I’ve worked with a lot of writers, but working with you these last twelve years? Easily my favourite.”

“And you’re easily my favourite editor,” Velvet said.

“I’m your only editor,” Redline said. “Well, aside from those nitwit copyeditors at the publisher’s, but they hardly count.”

“You’re just still upset over—”

“The three paragraphs in chapter thirteen where you switched Jackstay and Lily’s lines and I never noticed?” She tilted her nose up and snorted. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Velvet giggled. The alcohol must have finally begun to take effect. Speaking of, the waiter had finally come back with another martini, which she took with a smile.

“A toast,” she said, lifting the glass into the air. “To another successful ending!”

Redline lifted hers up to meet it. “To another successful ending.”



Jackstay watched as the lifeboats drifted away. He could see Lily standing on the deck of the closest one, screaming something he couldn’t hear. She might have been crying. He sighed, and smiled.

At last, his legs gave out and he collapsed to the deck. Grimacing, he pulled himself up by the Mariposa’s railing and propped his back against it, pressing his hooves to the spreading patch of red in his shirt.

The boat’s deck rocked under Velvet’s hooves.

“So, this is it,” she said.

“Seems like it,” Jack replied. He looked over the side; the waves were approaching. “After all this time…”

He was smiling. Tears streamed down his face.

 “That was some good bladework,” he wheezed. “Your finest. But I think you’ll find… this victory… was mine…”


Jackstay’s eyes stayed open, staring at her even as his last breath left his body.

“Help me,” his corpse mouthed. The water rose faster, faster, passing her hooves, her fetlocks.


It was up to her neck now, and warm.


Jackstay’s body sank beneath the waters, falling away into their murky depths.

She opened her mouth and water rushed in, filling her throat and her lungs as her head slipped below the surface, a trail of bubbles leaking from her mouth as she was dragged down, down…

Velvet shot up in bed, the covers sliding down her barrel. Her eyes were like pinpricks, her breaths quick and short and rapid as she stared into the darkness of the room.

Her husband stirred beside her. “Honey?” he mumbled, “you okay? Was it another nightmare”

“I’m… fine,” she said, calming her breath. “Just a little one. You can go back to sleep.”

“M’alright,” Night Light said, turning back over and pulling the blanket with him.

Velvet, though, stayed as she was for some time.

Velvet yawned as she rolled out of bed. Sunlight poked its way through the closed curtains.

“Hm, it’s a bit late,” she said to herself, glancing at the clock on her bedside table. Night Light must have let her sleep in. She made a mental note to thank him later.

She stretched her legs out, and then, levitating her favorite fluffy bathrobe over herself (it wouldn’t do to wear anything else on her first day of retirement, she decided), she made her way downstairs. Pictures of her, her husband, and their children greeted her on her way down, capped off by a large photo of a seven-year-old Flurry Heart at the bottom. She stopped in front of it.

“Well good morning, Flurry,” she said to the photograph. “How is my favourite granddaughter today?”

She giggled, and moved on.

Waiting for her in the kitchen were a covered plate and a pink envelope. Smiling, she levitated the envelope over to her and carefully tore it open.

For my favourite retiree, the note read, who deserves only the best on her first day off the job. You’ve earned it, sweetie.

He didn’t, she thought.

She lifted the cover off the plate, and to her delight found it contained a stack of pancakes, still warm.

He did!

By her count, that was two thank-you’s she now owed her husband, quite possibly more. He’d even cleaned up after himself this time!

She placed the note back in the envelope and the envelope back on the table, and prepared to enjoy her pancakes… only to stop as her hoof came down on something wet. She looked down.

Wet, dirty hoofprints crisscrossed the kitchen’s tile floor.

Velvet frowned. Well, that was one less thing to thank her husband for. He must have spilled something while he was cooking and not noticed. She’d have to break out the mop, it seemed.

But there would be time for that later. After she’d eaten her breakfast.

Velvet’s study was a textbook example of an organized mess. The neatest part of the room was easily the bookshelves, packed to bursting with hardcovers and paperbacks. Her own books had been left out; they occupied their own spot of prominence in the living room. Night Light had insisted.

The rest of the room was a mess of paper: scraps stuck to corkboards with pins; notecards stuck to the walls with tape; sheets piled on top of her large, mahogany writing desk and shoved into its drawers.

And on top of aforementioned writing desk, in a clear spot amidst papers and pens and other detritus, sat Velvet’s typewriter.

An old Underwood Champion with a glossy black finish and round keys, Velvet had found the thing in a pawn shop’s window not long after she had begun her first novel. She’d been entranced by the romantic idea of the thing, long nights spent tapping away at its keys, manuscripts flowing from the top in mechanically-printed ink.

She’d bought it on the spot, despite only barely being able to afford it, and it had served her loyally ever since.

But now, Velvet lifted it into the air, levitating it over with some small difficulty and placing it with care into a large cardboard box. Then, she turned her attention to the rest of the room.

Papers came flying off the walls, torn from their pushpins and peeled from their tape. Notecards were lifted from their piles and brought together into neat stacks. Many went into the trash bag Velvet had brought up with her. Pens sorted themselves by colour, pencils dropped into pencil holders, and loose paperclips found their way back into their boxes.

When the dust cleared, the study was the cleanest it had been since the time a young Twilight Sparkle  had decided she’d organize it in an appreciated but misguided attempt at a Mother’s Day present. Velvet looked over her work with satisfaction.

All that was left was the box.

She ran her hoof over the typewriter’s keys. “Goodbye, old friend,” she murmured, though she felt a little silly for doing so. Then, she shut the box’s flaps and pushed it into the corner. She’d have Night Light carry it down to the basement for her; his telekinesis was stronger than hers now, as annoying to her as that was. Or, perhaps, she’d ask her daughter to do it for her later that evening.

“There,” she said to the room. “Time for a new chapter.”

And yet, there was a knot in her stomach she couldn’t quite explain.

A creaking of floorboards, behind her.

Velvet frowned. “Nightie? Is that you? Did you forget something?” She turned around. “You’re home ear…ly…”

Her words curled up in her throat. The stallion in the doorway was not Night Light.

Water dripped from his matted coat, pooling on the floor around his hooves. His face was bloated and greyed, his clothes tattered. Strands of kelp and seaslime interwove with his mane. A cutlass, loose in its rotting scabbard, hung by his flank.

His eyes, dilated and unblinking, stared right at her.

Her eyes, pinpricks, stared right back.

Ice took her heart. She stumbled back, her back legs hitting against her desk, dropping out from under her.

He continued to stare at her.

“Y-y-you,” Velvet stammered. “You can’t…”

The stallion turned his head forward and walked out of the doorframe, out of view, his sword rattling as he went. Velvet continued to stand there for a few moments, her breaths fast and abrupt, her heart hammering away in her chest.

Slowly, she stood up and, carefully, cautiously, walked over to the doorway. She looked out.

The stallion was gone, no indication of his presence remaining save for a trail of wet hoofprints in the hall carpet.

That can’t have been real, she thought. She wanted to believe it.

But those hoofprints were real, she thought.

It’s just your mind playing tricks on you, she thought.

What if it isn’t?

“Enough,” Velvet said to herself. “You’re tired and rattled from that nightmare last night, that’s all.”

She wanted to believe that, too, but she knew better. It had to have been real. And real things didn’t just disappear, not without a horn.

So Velvet searched the entire house, top to bottom, bottom to top, ending up back in her study.

There was nothing. No unlocked doors, no open windows, no more hoofprints, and no stallion. Velvet’s heart sank at the implications. Could she have been wrong? She’d been so sure…

The doorbell rang, then, making her heart skip. She moved over to the study’s window and peered down at their doorstep.

“It’s just Twilight,” she said. “Thank Celestia…”

She made her way downstairs and to the front door. Twilight greeted her with a hug.

“Oh, mom, it’s so good to see you,” she said.

“You too, dear,” Velvet replied, hugging back. They separated.

Twilight looked at her and frowned. “Are you okay, mom?” she asked. “You look a bit pale.”


Should I tell her?

No, I shouldn’t, Velvet decided. Not yet, not while I can’t prove anything. She’ll think I’m going senile!

And if it was all in my head, a quieter thought reasoned, I don’t want that ruining Twilight’s visit.

 “I’m fine, dear,” she said. She smiled. “Come in already, you’re letting the cold in.”

“It’s so nice of you to come visit,” Velvet said as they made their way to the kitchen. “It feels like I see less and less of you as time goes on.”

“Mom, I was just here two weeks ago!”

Velvet chuckled. “And I’ve missed you terribly since. How was your flight over?”

Twilight rolled her wings as she pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and sat down. “Not bad,” she said. “A little cold.”

“And how have things been in Ponyville?” Velvet asked. “Any recent monster attacks? Evil unicorns trying to take over Equestria? Ancient artifacts—”

“No, mom. Just the usual.”

“Well, that’s no fun,” Velvet said. “I’m sorry, I’ve been a bit distracted; I haven’t even started on dinner yet.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Twilight said, starting to stand. “Here, let me help.”

“Twilight Sparkle, you sit right back down there,” Velvet said, and Twilight complied. “I may be getting old, but I can still make dinner by myself.”

She turned around to face the stove. “Although, if you could fetch me a few carrots from the refrigerator…”

Velvet switched on the gas in the stove and hit the igniter, lighting a ring of flames at the bottom of one of the elements. Behind her, she could hear the fridge door opening.

“So, how has your first day of retirement been going?” Twilight asked as the carrots, as well as a few other vegetables, landed on the countertop next to Velvet.  “I see you’ve already broken out the bathrobe.”

“It seemed appropriate.”

From a cabinet next to the sink, Velvet withdrew a large pot and placed it on the stovetop, then got to work peeling and chopping the first of the vegetables.

“When’s the book coming out?” Twilight asked. “I can’t wait to read it. From what you and dad have told me, it sounds like it’ll be your best!”

“Oh, stop,” Velvet said, smiling. “It’s scheduled to debut tomorrow. Which means the publisher will probably be sending the first printing out today, if I know them at all.”

“Isn’t that a bit late?”

“They like to wait until the last minute,” Velvet explained. “To keep ponies from getting their hooves on the books early. I thought it was odd, too, but I can’t say I’ve ever had any problems with my books getting out to the public early, so maybe it works.”

Velvet levitated the board over to the pot, dumping the carrot slices in. They made little thunking sounds as they hit the bottom. They were shortly followed by potatoes, parsnips, and leeks, and then doused in vegetable stock.

Velvet’s vegetable soup had always been Twilight’s favourite as a filly, and she always cooked it when her daughter came over. Onions would come next, fried separately with peppers, only there weren’t any on the counter.

She turned around. “Twilight, you forgot the…”

The words died in her mouth.

The stallion was standing by the fridge.

Twilight slapped herself on the forehead. “The onions, right.”

Velvet watched in silent horror as her daughter hopped off her chair and walked over to the fridge, stepping right past his corpse, and opened its door. Her hooves made little splashing sounds as they tread in the puddle that surrounded him.

She continued to rummage around inside, oblivious to the corpse breathing down her neck.

“Ah, here we go,” she said, pulling away from the fridge and shutting the door. “Here you go—mom, are you sure you’re okay?”


Velvet turned around, swallowed. “I’m fine, dear,” she said.

“…Alright,” Twilight said, though she didn’t sound convinced. A pair of onions floated onto the counter next to Velvet.

She hadn’t seen him.

She hadn’t seen him.

Velvet fixed her eyes on the chopping board and continued to work, but her heart and her mind were racing.

She snuck a glance back. He was still there, his ceaseless stare still fixed on her. Even when she turned away, she could feel his eyes on her.

He wasn’t real. Velvet repeated that to herself. He wasn’t real. He couldn’t be real, Twilight hadn’t seen him. He wasn’t real, he wasn’t real…

But she could still feel him watching, and that feeling was real. Too real.

“Hey, mom,” Twilight said from behind her. “Is that painting new?”

Velvet kept her eyes on the board. She was chopping the carrots, now. “What painting, dear?” she said, trying to keep her voice even.

“This one,” Twilight said. “The one by the sink.”

A sound like retching behind her, followed by a wet thud, and then another.

“O-oh, that one?” Velvet said. “Yes, your father bought it not too long ago.”

“I like it,” Twilight said.

Something cold brushed against Velvet’s back left leg. She jerked it away, fighting the urge to shout.

“Do you know where he got it?” Twilights continued. “I have an empty wall in one of the castle’s guest rooms, and something like this would go perfectly…”

Cold and wet on her front legs, now. She couldn’t stop herself from looking down.

A pair of sea slugs, black and feeler-covered, were inching their way around her fetlocks.

She screamed, flailing, trying to get them off her. The knife she’d been holding in her telekinetic grasp fell, spinning on its way down and cutting a gash in her knee.

“Mom!” Twilight shouted, running over. She grabbed the still struggling Velvet in her hooves. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

Velvet looked at her legs. The slugs were gone.

She looked around, frantic. They were gone, they couldn’t have just disappeared, where did they go? Under the stove? Velvet struggled against Twilight’s hold, she had to look, to show her, but Twilight held her back.

“What’s going on?” Twilight asked.

Slugs,” Velvet said, “slugs, and… and, and—”

A scraping sound. She looked back.

The stallion was standing just behind Twilight. His mouth was at his sword’s grip, withdrawing it slowly, water dribbling down the blade’s length.

Velvet screamed again, kicked against the ground and shoved Twilight away.

“Stay away from her!” Velvet shrieked, shaking. “You stay away!”

But she was screaming at empty air, because he was gone.

Murmurs, through the door.

“…I don’t know…acting weird…”

“…must have been something….”

“Screaming…something…her legs?”

“…some rest…doctor in the morning…”

Twilight, and Night Light. Velvet, laying in her bed, wasn’t paying much attention to them.

She was watching the stallion, who had appeared at the bed’s foot.

“Go away,” she whispered. “Leave my family alone.”

He said nothing.

“You aren’t Jackstay.”

He said nothing.

“What do you want,” she whispered.

He continued to stare, his empty eyes boring into hers.

She repeated herself. “What do you want?”

His mouth moved, slowly, glacially. Two words.

“Save. Me.”

“I can’t,” she said, “you know I can’t.”

“Save. Me.”

She was shuddering. “I can’t,” she said, her voice raw. “I won’t.”

Jack took a step closer to the bed. He withdrew his blade, its rusted edge gleaming as he held it over her throat. Her tremors grew faster as she stared at it, but she could not move.

“Save. Me.”

A drop of water, ice-cold, fell from the blade and onto her coat. “I can’t…”

“Save. Me.”

He pushed the blade closer. Velvet could feel it biting into her skin, leaving behind a sting that was very, painfully, real.

“Save. Me.”

“How!?” she shouted, and the murmurings outside the room stopped. Tears ran down her cheeks. “How can I save you? You’re dead! I can’t fix that!”

Change. It.”

“Change what?” she shrieked. “Change—”

Her eyes widened. “The ending… Change the ending!”

Velvet leapt out of bed, just as the door to the room burst open. She shoved past Twilight and Night Light and into the hall, ignoring the protests in her legs as she galloped towards her study.

She glanced back. Jack was standing at the back of the hall, outside the bedroom, watching her. She pressed forward, paying no attention to the cries of her daughter and her husband.

Jack was waiting for her in the study, standing over the box that contained her typewriter. She flung the box’s flaps open, levitating the machine out and onto the floor. She pulled a sheet of paper over and threaded it into the typewriter’s mechanism, more falling into a haphazard pile on the floor beside her as she began to type.

A page was filled, ripped from the rollers, replaced, repeat, repeat, Velvet tapping at the keys at a pace impossible to follow, fire in her eyes and madness in her face. She could feel Jack behind her, looming, and she let that be her fuel. The tapping of keys became as machine gun fire, takatakatakataka…

“But… I gutted you!” Captain Gallows said, struggling against her binds. “You should be—"

“Dead?” Jackstay said. He smiled. “That was some good bladework. Your finest. But I think you’ll find…”

He lifted his shirt, revealing a punctured sandbag tied to his barrel by a length of twine.

“That this victory… was mine!”

And with that said, he leapt off the side of the ship, and into the dinghy waiting for him below.

“JACKSTAY!” the captain roared, as her ship’s deck drew closer and closer to the waves. “YOU’D BEST HOPE YOU DON’T END UP IN DAVY JONES’ LOCKER, BECAUSE I’LL BE WAITING FOR YOU THERE WITH SWORDS DRAWN!”

“And I’ll best you there all the same!” Jack shouted. He turned to Lily, who was holding the oars. “Get us out of here,” he said. She nodded and began to row, Jack moving in beside her and taking one oar himself. Together, they rowed away from the Mariposa, leaving the sinking ship, and her fearsome captain, forever behind them.

Velvet tore the last page out from the rollers, dropping it onto the pile. Her breathing was fast, the manic exhilaration of creation flooding her, but there was no time to rest. Her work wasn’t done yet.

She cast a glance at the wall clock. It was evening, already, she had to move fast. Collecting the rumpled manuscript in her magic, she dashed out… only to be caught in the lavender glow of her daughter’s magic.

“Let go!” she cried, frantic.

“Calm down,” Twilight said. “What’s going on?”

“I need to get this to the publisher’s,” Velvet shouted. “There’s no time! I need to go!”

“Just calm down, honey,” Night Light said.

Velvet looked behind her. Jackstay was standing there, still the same, still staring at her, sword still drawn.

She looked back at her daughter. She spoke quickly. “Please, Twilight, this is very important. I need to get this manuscript to the publisher’s right now. I promise I’ll explain later, but right now there’s no time.”

Twilight glanced over to Night Light, then back to her mother.

“Okay,” she said. “I can teleport us. Where are their offices?”

“53rd street,” Velvet said. “At the other end from the candy store I used to take you to when you were a filly. Do you remember it well enough to take us—”

With a flash of light, their homely surroundings were replaced by a bustling street and the colourful front of a candy shop.


Twilight set Velvet down. “Lead the way,” she said.

It was five minutes’ walk to the publisher’s office; Velvet made it in three. Jackstay had followed her there, appearing in every group of ponies she tore through, in the back of every alley she passed.

Velvet burst through the doors of the publisher’s office, making the receptionist behind the counter jump. Twilight was soon behind her, with Night light trailing a bit behind.

“Ma’am, is everything alright?” the receptionist asked.

“I need,” Velvet wheezed, waving the manuscript around in her magic, “I need to—”

“Mrs. Velvet?”

Velvet looked to the side. She didn’t recognize the stallion stepping out of the stairwell, but he was well-dressed, and he had obviously recognized her.

“Yes,” she said. “I need to—It’s about my book,” she said.

“Ah, yes, The Mariposa’s End,” he said. “Very good work, Mrs. Velvet; I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“Yes,” she said, “about that—”

“You’ll be pleased to know that we’ve got the first shipment of books all packed up and ready to go,” he said. He glanced at his watch. “In fact, they should be on their way out any minute now, if they aren’t already!”

Velvet looked at him blankly for a moment. In her peripheral vision, she could see Jackstay walking up beside her.

“You—you have to stop them!” she stammered. The stallion blinked.

“What do you mean?”

“The book!” she said, “You can’t let the book go out yet! I need to fix the ending!”

“What? I can’t do that!”

Twilight brushed past her. “Where are the books being loaded?” she asked.

“On the third floor, at our loading dock, but—”

Twilight rushed past and into the stairwell, her wings unfurling as she disappeared. Velvet ran after her, Night Light following. The three flights of stairs did her no favors, and she was on her last dregs as she made it to the top.

The third floor consisted of one large room, cases and boxes piled up in rows and stacks. Velvet could see light, though, on the other side of the space, and she ran for that.

Wheezing, gasping for breath, she finally made it to the opening, a large sliding door set right in the side of the building. Sunlight, grey-tinted through the cloud-cover, streamed through it, illuminating Twilight and a pegasus mare.

“What do you mean they aren’t here!?” she could hear Twilight saying. The other mare, face apologetic, replied:

“I don’t know what else to tell you, ma’am; we sent out the last shipment half an hour ago!”

Velvet’s legs dropped out from under her and she fell to the ground, her chest heaving. She looked out into the sunlight. Past the tops of the buildings, she could swear she could see a series of dots, spread across the horizon. Pegasus carriers, bringing The Mariposa’s End to the waiting hooves of thousands of readers.

Thousands of readers who would read Jackstay’s final words.

She coughed, sputtered on the ground. Twilight was standing over her, saying something, but she couldn’t hear it over the sound of the blood in her ears.

Jack was there, standing over her. His gaze was empty, still, but it carried scorn and loathing. His sword raised up, edge glinting in the light like a guillotine’s blade, and as it came down all she could say was:

I’m sorry.”

When Velvet woke up, she was laying in a bed. She was fairly certain it wasn’t hers; hers wasn’t this uncomfortable.

Velvet opened her eyes. There was a mare smiling down at her, a unicorn in a white doctor’s coat.

“Welcome back,” the mare said.

Velvet glanced around. She appeared to be in some sort of hospital room.

“I went somewhere?” Velvet asked. Her throat was dry and her voice scratchy.

“Not for long,” the doctor said. “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” Velvet said. She tried to sit up, but the doctor dissuaded her from trying. A cup of water floated over to her, and she took a long drink.

“What happened?” she asked, once the cup was empty. “The last thing I remember, I was still in the publisher’s…”

“You had a heart attack,” the doctor said. “It sent you into cardiac arrest. You’re very fortunate, Mrs. Velvet. Your daughter was able to get you here almost immediately after the episode started. You’re most likely in the clear.”

“Okay,” Velvet said.

“We will, of course, be keeping you for observation for a few days. But, we can talk more about that later.” She smiled. “Your husband and daughter are waiting outside. Would you like me to bring them in?”

“Yes, please.”

The doctor left her alone, then, and in the few moments she had alone, Velvet scanned the entirety of the room.

She was alone.

Velvet smiled as her daughter came running in, Night light following behind her at a slightly more reasonable pace. She hugged her, and she held him, and she told them she was okay.

But her eyes remained fixed on the trail of wet hoofprints they’d stepped through, leading out the door.