They spread out over the floor, a writhing, pounding, constantly moving sea of living beings, ponies, thrashing, dancing, moving. All different colours, shapes, sizes, all different walks of life. Yet one thing, and one thing only connected each and every one.
The beat was like a living creature, like an animal. It climbed, climbed higher than the highest mountains, and it fell, fell farther than the deepest abyss of the earth. It cut into their souls, into the deepest, most suppressed depths of their collective psyche. It brought out the animal inside, the shadow, the basest, the bestial core of all who listened. It resonated through the hearts and minds of the ponies of the dance floor, and it sung. It rose to roaring, dizzying heights, and then it was gone, leaving listeners to wonder where it had gone, wanting, craving, needing it to come back, to dance, to express the simple essence of motion.
The lights danced in tandem with the beat, huge, multi-coloured spotlights, spinning wildly in disorienting, mesmerizing patterns all across the room. It lent the room an ethereal, ghostlike quality, throwing lights and shadows in equal veracity across every corner of the building.
And the ponies. All of them danced, even the bartender, who, despite his best intentions, bobbed almost imperceptibly, unable to resist the animal attraction of it all. They were every colour under the sun, from red, pink, blue, to purple and a vivid, shocking green. They juked and bobbed, danced and shuffled, and above all, moved. Many didn’t even know their partners, but it didn’t matter. They were breathless, struck silent, too caught up in the constant beat to make any noise save panting and heavy, wanting breaths.
And above it all, in a heavy wire cage, sat one pony. For all the sweaty, animalistic displays of debauchery before her, she could have been unaware. She moved too, slightly, barely, to the ever-changing beat, electric-blue hair bobbing along in time. She was impassive, dead to the neon, fluid world around her, eyes concealed behind large purple sunglasses. Her coat was the palest white, almost seeming understated, invisible in the explosion of colour that surrounded her. She was constantly at work, hooves and horn flipping, changing records, spinning, grinding, and melding them together in a seamless harmony of discordant beats.
Above it all, there she stood.
It was always an eery feeling, when the music stopped. When the crowd was gone. It was almost like someone turning out the lights, except those were already off. Simply... the absence of life, where it had abounded before.
They were all gone.
Calmly, deliberately, she took her headphones off, setting them to the side of her station on a small table. Equidistant, symmetrical, exactly in the center of the table. She retrieved a hoodie from a small bin, pulling it around herself in one smooth motion, pulling the hood of the garment up around her head. She walked to the edge of the cage, and unlocked it, exiting the booth.
Why was there a wire cage? Ah, yes. To protect her from drunken or rowdy crowds, in case they threw bottles or rushed the stage. But why, why did she need one? She wrinkled her nose. Would they really do that? Probably, but still. It was her job to keep them satisfied, to keep them dancing, moving to her music. If she wasn’t doing her job, then shouldn’t she know about it?
The door shut behind her with a loud clang. She jumped, startled, swiveling her head back to look at the cage. Nothing. Of course.
The dance floor was... well, it was a dance floor. Empty bottles and cans littered the room at various intervals, and it smelled of vomit at more than one location. It smelled of sweat, of body odour, of alcohol, and above all, it smelled of life.
A stallion approached. His coat was a light blue, and his cutie mark was a microphone, flanked by two plugs. He approached her almost hesitantly, as if was going to ask her something, but already knew what the answer was.
“Hey, Vinyl, you want to join us for drinks? Neon and Drops want to go out to this new place down the road.”
“No thanks, Mic. Maybe another time.”
He nodded, seeming almost sad, almost accepting of an inevitability.
Of course he already knew the answer. She never went out with them for drinks. She had started working at the club a year or two before. Every night, she played her set, and then left, with only a word or two for any of the other staff.
She resumed her deliberate walk towards the door.
She paused, then turned her head back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
She gave him a small smile.
“I’ll be here.”
And with that, she walked out. He shook his head.
“She’s an odd one, isn’t she.”
The street wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t crowded, either. Ponies, in varying states of intoxication, stumbled and strolled through the streets of Canterlot. They all went about their separate lives, working, playing, laughing, crying. All at once. Sometimes she wondered what they thought of her. What could they? A white-coated unicorn, walking through the street, a grey hoodie pulled up over her head.
She left the club behind, walking down the precise center of the sidewalk. Her apartment was coming up soon. She pushed open the door to the building, not quite looking. The linoleum was dirty, but—
She tumbled to the ground. She shook her head, disoriented, and then looked up to see a hoof offered in help. A grey-coated mare, with eyes of the purest violet. She wore a pink bowtie, hanging loose and unlaced around her neck, and cradled a half-full bottle of whiskey. Vinyl took the proffered hoof, pulling herself to her feet in smooth motion.
The other mare was first to speak.
“I’m very sorry about that. I didn’t mean to bump into you.”
“It’s ok. That was my fault. Wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Well, all the same, I must apologize.”
“I appreciate it. Thank you.”
And that was that.
With steady hooves, Vinyl inserted the key into the lock. The rest of the trip had been uneventful. What remained of the daytime hustle and bustle had disappeared by the time she had reached her apartment, and she had seen nary a soul, save the mare she had bumped into. Even the drunks were home and asleep, passed out in whatever alcoholic fancies took their favour.
Only she wasn’t. Not yet, anyway.
Her apartment was... well, it was neat. That was a good word for it. Various shelves dotted the walls and rooms, filled with meticulously organized records. Records of all kinds, jazz, blues, dubtrot. Classical. Especially classical. All of the furniture was symmetrical, almost balanced in its very nature. She locked the door behind her, placing the key carefully into a small bowl on the table by the door. She shook off her hoodie, placing it on a coat-stand opposite the table.
She walked into the living room. A table sat between two couches. A bowl lay on the table, filled with those things that they sell at the store, balls made of interlaced wooden pieces. Knick-knacks? The things that are supposed to make your home look fancy and like some expensive designer planned out the room for you. She frowned. The knick-knacks were crooked. She plodded over and fixed them. There were four, with three on the bottom, and one sitting on top of the other three.
However, the one on top had fallen over, and it had pushed the whole arrangement out of alignment. She nudged it back into place, moved the bowl back to its original position. Exactly in the center of the table. Equidistant from every edge. That was better.
She walked back into the hall. To the bathroom. She brushed her teeth, making sure to find every nook and cranny of her teeth. She walked down the hallway again, to her bedroom. There were mirrors on the wall. Three on each side. She opened the door, stepped inside.
The lights turned off with a click. Her sunglasses took their place in the precise center of her bedside table.
She slipped under the covers, gently, so as not to disturb the carefully made sheets.
And she slept.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The clock continued to tick. It chimed softly to mark the passing of the hour. Vinyl rolled over. The clock read 9:00.
A single ray of sunshine poked through the curtains. She frowned. One of them had slipped to the side during the night, drawn slightly open. The solitary ray streamed in desperately, attempting furiously, zealously, to claim a foothold in the obsessively neat room. She lit her horn, and moved the curtain back to its proper place. The light was gone. Blessed, blessed dark. Silence.
The eggs crackled in the pan. Loudly. Three of them. They made a misshapen glob of congealing matter. She broke the yolks, and stirred them around in the pan. Lately, it seemed like too much effort to cook them into nice yolk-y, over easy eggs. She could never get it just right. They always broke, just as soon as she tried to flip them over. Scrambling them was much easier.
The eggs were done. She clicked off the stove, wielding a spatula with her telekinesis, with which to serve the eggs. The toaster chimed, and she placed the toast on her plate too. A jar of orange juice flew out of the fridge, and poured itself into a glass, which rested beside the plate. A perfect breakfast.
The fork clinked softly against the plate as she shoveled bite after bite into her mouth. The plate was empty. She placed the fork on the table next to the plate, smoothing the placemat as she did.
The sink ran as she rinsed the dish, the rushing of the water unnaturally loud in the oppressive silence of the apartment.
Finally, blessedly, she was able to work. Her study, by her standards, was messy. Disgustingly so. For any other pony, it would have been immaculate.
It was a small room, dominated by a large desk, made of some dark wood. Sheet music lay in small, not-quite-neat piles on the large tabletop. On the left side, a spare quill lay, aligned with an inkwell. The trash can to her right was overflowing, crumpled balls of paper, rejected or deemed unsatisfactory by their author.
Vinyl, herself, was briefly lost in the moment. Composing, writing, hearing, seeing the music in her head. Long, gracefully curved lines turned into a swirl of slurs, notes, and musical notation. The music flowed out of her like water, as if it had a mind of its own. The sheer purity of it snaked out through her soul, through the essence of her psyche. Cautious and elegant strokes turned vicious and furious, transforming the blankness of the sheet into half, quarter, and full notes. Her hindhoof unconsciously tapped along to the beat of the symphony, the symphony only she could hear.
And then abruptly, it stopped. She closed her eyes, and then opened them a moment later. Half a dozen papers lay before her. She gathered them up into a sheaf of paper, sliding them into a folder, and tucked them into a desk drawer.
She looked at the clock. It read 8:00. Time to get ready for work. She stood up and walked out into the hall, towards the door. She grabbed her key, shrugged into her hoodie. Grabbed a small bag of bits. Coffee wasn’t free, after all.
The door jingled as she opened it and stepped inside. It looked like it might rain soon.
“Hey, Vinyl! How are you doing, kiddo?”
She pushed back her hood, and gave him a small smile. Mocha Swirl had run the coffee shop for as long as she could remember. He didn’t have many regulars coming in at eight’o’clock at night. And besides, her never forgot a face. Or so he said.
“Not bad at all, Mocha. How about yourself?”
He hustled back and forth, cleaning off tables with a small washcloth he kept slung across his body.
“The same, the same. You know. I run a coffee shop, after all. Plenty of business, and all that. You’ll have your regular?”
She nodded in affirmation.
“Oi!” He shouted, “Java! Vinyl’s here! Large coffee, black! No, I don’t want any sugar, or cream, you idiot!”
She gave an amused smile.
He shook his head, laughing. “I swear, Vinyl, he gets even more absent-minded every day. This is what you get for hiring your son in the kitchen.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mocha, I’m sure you were just as bad, back in your day.”
He frowned. “When exactly was that, Vinyl?”
“Oh, you know. Back in the Stone Age, you know?”
“Hah. Very funny.”
“Hey, you asked.”
He harrumphed, and grumbled something unintelligible under his breath. Java came out with the coffee, balanced on his back, the cup itself perched precariously on a green tray. He stumbled, and the whole arrangement began to fall—
Before Vinyl caught the cup with her magic, managing to bring the cup over without spilling a drop.
“Java, you idiot! Come on, I told you, just use the damn cart!” The absent-minded teen apologized profusely, backing away into another table, thankfully empty. Turning to address her, he continued. “You know, Vinyl, I have no idea how you just did that.”
“Mocha, I don’t mess around when coffee’s involved. You know that,” she deadpanned.
The aged stallion laughed heartily. She smiled.
“Mocha, don’t you have a business to run?”
“Sure, Vinyl, like you’ve never asked that before. I’m on break!”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re on break? What? That’s not very responsible.”
He gave her an amused look. “Vinyl, do you know how many people come in for coffee at eight’o’clock at night? No one. Except for you, but you’re an odd one.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked sarcastically.
He grinned cheekily. “Oh. Nothing.”
“You,” she pointed a hoof at him, “are way too smug for your own good. It’s a wonder I even come here any more.”
“Oh, please. Like you’d go anywhere else, Vinyl. Remind me, how many times you’ve brought your friends around here for coffee.”
She frowned, unamused, and he nodded knowingly.
“Is this about my currently single romantic status?” She placed her mug down in the precise center of the table.
He gave her that same cheeky grin. “Of course, Vinyl. Can’t have a wonderful young mare like yourself walking around without anypony.”
“Relax, Vinyl, I’m just messing around. Here, I’ll go get some coffee for me, and we’ll sit down for awhile. The late night crowd won’t be coming in for a long while yet, so I’ve got some time before business starts up again.”
Java walked away, this time with a cart, two empty mugs on top, trundling away to wash the dirty dishes. Vinyl and Mocha got up, the older stallion grimacing as he stretched his legs. He walked her to the door. She had one foot out the door before she realized he’d said something.
“Vinyl. Get over here, kiddo.”
She obliged sheepishly, walking over to the light-brown stallion.
“I don’t know why you wear those sunglasses, Vinyl, I honestly don’t. It’s dark out, you know. Anyway, get over here, gimme a hug.” She did, and he ruffled her hair.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mocha.”
“Take care of yourself, kiddo.”
She stepped out into the street, pulling her hood up as she did so.
The crowd was... boisterous, tonight. It passed by in a blur of neon lights, earth-shattering bass, and partial deafness. Pretty much like usual. She fiddled with the records in hoof, spinning, combining, fluidly and wholeheartedly taking the music in any direction she chose.
Before long, it was over. Just the same as the night before. It was almost a shock, when it happened. One moment, she was spinning the disks, the crowd gyrating and thrashing for all they were worth. The next, Mic was banging on the cage, trying to get her attention, and all of the strobe lights were off, and the dance floor was empty. What a pity. It seemed like she was just getting into the swing of things.
“Vinyl! Vinyl! They’re all gone. You can stop playing now.”
She pushed the headphones down around her neck.
“Yeah, sure, Mic. Sorry”
“Alright, no problem. We’re getting out of here, you wanna come with us?”
“Nah. I’m alright, Mic.”
“Ok, then. Maybe another time.”
And that was that. She took off the headphones off, placing them down on the table once again. She didn’t like when other ponies used her equipment. When they were done, everything was so... messy. She picked up her hoodie and crossed the dance floor once again, knocking the door open with one shoulder.
The walk home had been uneventful. No strangers to knock her over as she walked into her apartment building, either. She smiled wryly. Shame. She’d lived in the building for years, yet had never met any of the other tenants.
She entered her apartment, shrugged off her hoodie. Brushed her teeth. Glasses on the side table. Sheets. Sleep.
She drifted off, dreams of symphonies, dreams of notes. Dreams of an empty page.
The smell of burning records—never a pleasant thing to wake up to. The odour drifted in her nostrils, the sharp, acrid taste of burning plastic irritating the inside of her nose and throat.
In an instant, she was abruptly awake, on her feet, tripping over her neatly organized covers into a sprawling heap on the floor.
Smoke. Coming from everywhere, covering the upper half of the room. She could smell burning, could hear the flames coming from somewhere nearby. Grabbing her glasses for the bedside table, she crammed them onto her face, sprinting out of her burning apartment, stopping only to grab her hoodie from the coat hook.
Strange, how that happened. It seemed like that kind of thing would be trivial, unimportant to the outsider, but at the time, it was the most important thing in the world. She shouldered open the door, coughing from the smoke, but thankfully, made it outside. Down the stairs. Smashed her way through the double doors. Collapsed outside on a street bench. Looked up at the building. It was on fire. It was on fire. A side of the building sagged, and then collapsed in on itself. With a chilling feeling, she realized she had gotten out just in time. Other ponies were out there too. Soot-stained and dirty, just like she was.
Her home was on fire. Everything. Gone. Everything she owned. All except... well her sunglasses. And her hoodie. And that was about it. All of her records, all of her clothes, all of her everything, really, dammit!
Her symphonies. They were gone. Gone!
She took a few calming breaths.
What was in a house, what was in a home?
Was that really the hardest part? Losing your possessions? Not really. Not really a big deal at all. What was important was inside, right? In the heart? No, that wasn’t right, either. To be honest—what attachment did she have to the apartment, anyway? A few knick-knacks? Some rotten decór that she really hadn’t even wanted anyway? Her meticulously organized, alphabetized records? Well, maybe. That was pretty bad.
But what makes a home? The people inside? The possessions? Because she was alive, and that was what mattered.
And then, she finally understood. With one moment of cruel, beautiful clarity, she realized the ugly truth behind it all. The paper-thin facade of her life, laid out before in brutal, incendiary lucidity.
It was gone. Not because of her possessions, or any sort of emotional attachment, but because it was her sanctuary. Her place, where she felt comfortable. Where she could control her life.
Finally, she understood. She understood why she couldn’t just let go, just sit back and let life happen.
Because she couldn’t control it.
And that scared her.
She closed her eyes. A single tear rolled down, fell to the ground.
But she could do it. She could go on, she could rebuild her life from the ashes and cinders it had become. Because it was worth it. Rebuild, because it was worth rebuilding. Live life, because it was worth living.
She couldn’t control life, and nor should she try.
And that was that.