Ghost of a Rose

by Noble Thought

Chapter 1: Lost Roses

Where are the bees?
And the hummingbirds?
Where’s the wind?
Rose lifted her nose to take a deep breath as the thoughts trickled through her mind. Silence gripped the world still in its frozen grasp, holding back even the myriad of scents that should have been there.
All around her the stillness lay thick like a blanket, stifling her garden.  The roses, calla lilies, daisies, and smaller plots of geraniums she cared for drooped as though she hadn’t watered it in a week or more.
She glanced up at the sky, but it remained stubbornly featureless and iron grey. Not even a dim glimpse of the sun shone through the clouds, and the half-light cast everything in gloomy, washed out shades.
I wonder if it might rain later today. An off-schedule shower would take care of the wilted look, except she couldn’t smell any rain in the air. She took a deep breath through her nose and frowned. The air didn’t smell like much of anything: not the distant smell of wet earth, the smells of the town down the lane, or even the sweet aroma of her flowers.
Even the sound of Ponyville’s busy market square was so muted that any stray noise may as well have been a figment of her imagination. It was like the entire world had decided to take the day off and not bothered to tell her.
She sighed. She could complain about it to Golden Harvest later. Right then, she needed to water her garden before anything died.
Except when she walked over to the faucet, the bucket sitting under it was empty—there wasn’t so much as a drop in the bottom. Nothing happened when she twisted the lever. Not even a puff of dust came out, and tapping the pipe running up the side of the house only brought forth a hollow ring.
She pondered the mystery of the faucet for a moment, frowned, then looked up at the catch barrel on its ledge, far above. It didn’t look like it had a hole in it, even though the pegasus rain schedule should have it close to brimming on Rainday and the only day it should be in danger of running dry was Marketday.
What day is it today? She meandered back to sit on her porch and stare at her garden while she pondered that most important—and frustratingly elusive—of questions.
“I went to market for groceries... yesterday?” That sounded right, and the sound of her voice alleviated some of the tension. “Then today must be Thirstday.” She glanced at the roof of her porch, as though she could see the rain barrel, and pursed her lips. Did Goldie say anything about watering her carrot patch?
She couldn’t remember if her roommate had or not, and that irked her. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen the carrot farmer yet. Goldie should have been up and about hours ago, off to tend the larger farm she worked for at the edge of town.
“Goldie! Are you in there?”
No answer to her call came from within the house, nor from the surrounding yard. She snorted. I’ll just bet she’s off again to see Applejack again.
It was an open secret between her and the other two flower mares that Golden Harvest had a thing for Applejack for a long while. Their mutual interest wasn’t a secret anymore.
The real secret was the contrived, silly plan involving a certain mail pony and too many mis-delivered letters to be coincidence. She and her marefriends—Bright Eyes, Lily and Daisy—had manufactured enough scenarios bringing the two mares together until something had finally sparked.
She glanced at her mailbox, barely visible through the evenly spaced slats of her fence. She hadn’t seen Post Haste come by yet either, and he usually came around the same time every day; but the sun hiding completely behind the flat grey cloud cover could have been at any time of the day. Maybe she was misjudging the time.
It wouldn’t hurt to check and see if he left something for me. Maybe he’d come by while she was venting her frustrations on the water pipe. She stepped down off her porch and shot the barrel another glare, then trotted down the clay and cobble path to the street.
The usual bustle of activity was gone. Not even a stray leaf drifted down the hard-packed dirt road.
There should have been a cacophony of distant carts rattling on their way into town or the familiar clamor of ponies selling their wares to friends and neighbors. There should have been a whirlwind of smells from the steamy scent of baking breads to the tangy bite of fresh mown hay.
She shivered.
The silence was wrong and the still air felt lifeless. The town sounded and looked deserted. Surely with the day well on its way—gloomy as it was—there would have been at least somepony out and about.
She glanced around once more, then turned her attention to her mailbox and shoved the street and its strangeness to the back of her mind. It might just be... the weather keeping everypony inside. Yes. Just... She turned her attention to the one spot of brilliant color in her world.
It was a rose, left by somepony who cared for her. She wasn’t alone. Post Haste must have been by.
She smiled down at the bright red rose laying at the base of her mailbox. Who else could brighten my day like this? The rose was fresh and bright, every line and facet of it crisply defying the dull matte covering everything else.
Rose glanced up and down the street. Her mane wanted to stand on end while nervous prickles danced up her legs; the deserted street felt more than empty. It felt purposely abandoned.
She turned her attention back to the rose. It looked the same as it had, but she could hear the sound of somepony crying—a stallion by the sound of his voice—somewhere close by. She glanced up from the enigma laying by her mailbox, and looked left and right down the street once more. Nopony was there, and it didn’t feel like anypony was watching her.
She waited, listening. All Rose could hear was the vast silence humming in her ears, growing louder.
The silence popped. She looked up.
“Roseluck?” Pinkie Pie stood with her mouth agape at the street corner.
Roseluck frowned at the brilliantly colored flower again, then pushed the puzzle from her mind and turned to face her friend. Pinkie seemed to be more real than the world around her—like the rose—as though an artist had paid particular attention to them alone out of the whole of the world.
“Hello, Pinkie. How nice of you to stop by.” Rose shook the cobwebs free from her mind and waved an inviting hoof at her. “Forgive me, I’m just a little lost this... this morning.” A quick glance up at the sky told her nothing more about the time. The sun seemed as reluctant to show itself as winter-killed flowers were to bloom.
Pinkie didn’t reply immediately. She stared at Rose first, then looked at the rose on the ground.
“Pinkie? What’s wrong?” She laughed, the sound falling flat even to her ears. “You look like you’ve seen a Mirror Pie again.”
Pinkie blinked and shook her head, but didn’t laugh at the joke. “Rose, what are you still doing here?”
“What do you mean, still doing here? I live here.” Rose gestured to her empty house, her failing garden, and the lawn showing the first signs of shaggy growth—the first sign of improper care. She frowned at the garden and lawn. “I mean, I know it looks like I haven’t been here for a week—”
The rest of the sentence slipped away from her. It couldn’t have been more than a minute since she’d last looked at her garden, but it looked as though another week had passed. How long was I standing there? Am I losing my mind?
“Are you still with me, Rose?”
Shaking her head, Rose returned to the present. “It... I mean, I guess it looks like I haven’t been here for a couple weeks,” she said, amending her statement, “but I do. Still live here, I mean.”
Pinkie stared at her for a moment more, then looked at the rose. “You forgot, then.”
“Forgot what? Is there something I should remember?” Rose took a step back from the rose and the mailbox—and a step away from her friend. “You’re scaring me. What don’t I know?”
“Rose—” Pinkie stopped herself, waving a hoof at some idea. “I don’t think I can tell you again. You didn’t believe me. Not that I blame you.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, I almost don’t believe me.” She paused again, worrying at her lower lip, then looked up again. “Will you trust me?”
She sounded nothing like the happy-go-lucky Pinkie that Roseluck knew. She wasn’t the same Pinkie who sang happy songs on bright sunshiny days, and carried the town’s spirits on her back in the gloomy times.
“I trust Pinkie. You’re still... Pinkie?” Suddenly, the quip about the mirror pool Pinkie didn’t seem like such a joke.
The mare she hoped was Pinkie actually thought about her question before answering, which seemed odd to her, but it may also have been Pinkie being Pinkie.
“I’m pretty sure I am. I mean...” Pinkie stared off into the distance, over Rose’s head, then shook her head, ears falling flat. “Rose, please. This isn’t about me. This is about you. I need to show you what you wouldn’t listen to.”
Rose hadn’t spoken to Pinkie in... her garden suggested at least two weeks had passed during her... absence. Why can’t I remember where I was? I must have been somewhere! “What are you talking about? You haven’t told me anything that I wouldn’t... remember.” She sighed. “Fine. Just promise me something.” When Pinkie nodded, she continued, “Promise me this isn’t some kind of prank, okay?”
“Pinkie Promise.” Pinkie covered one eye with a hoof.
She relaxed. None of the mirror Pinkies had ever shown they could promise, or been able to hold onto a calm demeanor for so long. “Okay.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “What is it you have to show me?”
“I can’t tell you. I don’t think I can.” Pinkie rolled her eyes and stepped off the walk and into the road, then looked back at her. “Whatever happens, please don’t forget me again.”
The strange request gnawed at Rose as she followed Pinkie along the road, and it distracted her from noticing right away how empty Ponyville seemed. They were the only ponies on the main road out of town, and even here there were no birds in the skies, or cats, dogs, or other pets scampering about.
There weren’t even any carts—aside from broken ones hidden down alleys—parked behind or beside the various homes and shops she knew boasted at least one.
“Where is everypony? Was there a festival that I didn’t get an invite for?” She tried to smile, but it faded before it even reached her lips.
“No, Rose.” Pinkie slowed and brushed up against Roseluck.
“Is something wrong with me?” While the company was welcome, having Pinkie so close to her felt vaguely uncomfortable. Shaking her head, she tried to dismiss the feeling. “Please, something feels so very strange about all of today. There’s no rain in the rain barrel, and my garden looks like it’s been untended for weeks.”
They continued walking, yet Pinkie gave no further answers to her questions. Houses and shops slipped by, their faded colors jarring compared to the bright pink pony by her side. Their hooves on the paving stones sounded muffled when they should have echoed in the silence.
“And where is everypony? I want to know!” Even Rose’s shout didn’t echo back. It faded away into nothing.
“I don’t know.” Pinkie glanced at her, and slowed. “I’m so sorry, Rose. I know it’s hard for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Please, Rose. I-I don’t know how to answer in a way that you’ll understand.”
Rose tried to glare at her, but the look Pinkie gave her stilled her anger. “You’re telling the truth.”
“Of course I am. I know what it feels like to be lied to when it feels important. I don’t want to lie to you when it is important.”
“Then don’t lie to me. Please, tell me what you know.”
Pinkie sighed, shaking her head. “I tried already. That’s why I’m showing you.”
Talking with Pinkie was getting nowhere. Of course, any serious conversation with her usually went in unusual directions, but rarely did it go in a circle. Rose sighed and tried not to pay attention to the town’s emptiness.
She stepped closer to her friend. The vaguely uncomfortable feeling refused to go away, but it did make the hole in her heart feel less empty.
At least she wasn’t alone.

Rose stopped at the base of the hill and looked up at the wrought iron archway with its gates standing wide open. She had hoped Pinkie would turn aside at any one of half a dozen side streets and alleys, but her course stayed straight.
“Why the cemetery?” Dread settled in her stomach like she’d swallowed a horseshoe or a dozen. “Please, Pinkie. I don’t need to see my mother’s grave.” She swallowed against the lump in her throat and felt another horseshoe join the rest of the pile of anxiety in her gut.
“We’re not here to visit your mother.” Pinkie hooked a foreleg around hers and tugged her forward. “Come on.”
“I-I don’t want to.” Rose tried to pull away, but Pinkie tightened her grip and leaned the other way. The contact tingled, verging on hurting. “Please, Pinkie.”
“Rose, please. I can’t make you go, but please trust me. I’m your friend, remember? I would never do something to hurt you.”
An intense feeling of deja vu settled over her like a wet blanket. “Why does it feel like you’ve said that before?”
Pinkie sighed. “I couldn’t say, Rose.”
“Why do you keep saying my name?”
Pinkie let go of her leg and looked away. “I don’t want you to forget.”
“Forget what? My name?”
Pinkie shrugged, not meeting her gaze.
Rose glanced between her friend and the entrance to the cemetery again. “Pinkie, I don’t know what’s gotten into you.” She turned her attention fully on the cemetery. “But you’re my friend. If this will help you, then please lead the way.”
Smiling, Pinkie patted her hoof. “Yes. It will help me, Rose.”
Why do I get the feeling she... No, she Pinkie Promised. She shook the thought from her mind and followed after her friend.
Pinkie led her through the cemetery, past the sparse rows of markers stretching back to the founding of the town. It wasn’t a large cemetery, but there was room enough to grow, and family plots stood out all across the hilltop.
The Rose family plot was one of the smaller plots, with only grandparents... and her mother. She stopped at the border of the family space. Four gravestones were there. Not three. Four. Four members of her family.
Why are there four? Why?
“Dad...” How could I forget? Dad, why did I forget? What kind of terrible daughter am I? The grave markers faded behind a blur of tears, and she choked on the anguish rushing up to strangle her.
Pinkie looked at her, but didn’t say anything, only leaned closer. Her ears drooped so much they’d disappeared into her mane.
“Pinkie... w-why didn’t you just tell me dad died? I could have understood that. I would have understood that. I—” Wouldn’t I?
“Rose—” Pinkie shook her head, and Rose felt her shaking against her side. “Let’s go say goodbye, okay?”
“Goodbye? But...” I can’t say goodbye... I was never there to see him go.
“Please. You can’t let this eat at you.” Pinkie’s voice was almost too soft to hear, but still cracked.
“You’re right.” She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of a hoof. “Please give me a moment.”  Sitting, eyes closed, she thought of her family, the happy times, and sought the composure that would let her accept this.
There was a custom she had when visiting her family, almost a ritual in the way it calmed her. She needed that peace—and the feeling of deep serenity that came of following it through—before she could say hello to her dad, in his new home.
She walked over to the closest grave and sat still until she could make out the name. It appeared as she remembered from too many visits with her father. The stone was unadorned by any finery, the only wording present the name of her grandfather.
It took longer to find her voice.
“Hello, Grampy Stem.” She imagined him smiling at her. He always had a smile ready for her. “I’m sorry I haven’t been by in a while, but it looks like somepony gave you some fresh flowers. I hope you like them.” Reaching out a hoof, she brushed the side of the stone marker and bowed her head for a long moment.
She looked back before moving to the next marker.
Pinkie was standing a few steps behind her, watching her in silence. She didn’t seem to notice Rose looking at her at first, but tried to smile when she did. “I’m here for you, Rose.”
Rose smiled back, ears dipping, and sat at her grandmother’s marker, also bare except for the name. “Hello, Grammy Bud. I miss the time you spent with me as a filly. I hope the weather’s been nice enough for you. I promise I’ll come by more often.”
Except she never did. She always promised, but it was too much for her to keep wandering by the same graves, seeming to always grow in number. She thought dad would have had another decade before she saw his.
Her grandmother’s grave didn’t look the same as it had the last time she’d visited. She stared at the stone until it hit her: a bit of bracken was tucked into the lettering. She reached out a hoof to brush it away, but it stayed stubbornly rooted. Scraping harder did no more. She stopped and sighed. Maybe Grammy would like it. It certainly was rooted in, and if she couldn’t accept that small change...
She shook her head and continued her tradition, sitting in front of her mother’s gravestone. Fancier than the grandparents’, it was ornately decorated with a wreath of roses around her name, and a simple memorial inscription.
Rose Petal. Sisters watch over you. Daughter, wife, mother.
A sob choked her, and she wilted, staring down at hooves blurred by a veil of tears. She took a deep breath, and let it go before looking up. “Hello, mom. I’m sorry I wasn’t there...” Her breath caught in her throat again, and she swallowed back another upwelling of grief.  ”Mother—” Please grant me the serenity to get through this... “I should have been there.”
The twin rose bushes on either side of the gravestone were small still, but each year they grew a little larger. “I hope the roses are to your liking. It’s from the bush that you gave me for my fifth birthday. I’m glad to see they’re flourishing.” Rose reached out a hoof to touch one of the cuttings. It was in full bloom, and beautiful, but not untouched by the gloom settling over everything else in the world.
She stared at the roses for a long while, feeling renewed by the sight of them. They were so different from the ones in her garden, so alive and well tended. I’ll have to thank the caretaker.
The strange rose under her mailbox had outshone even these small bushes. She frowned at the small bushes growing up to either side of the marker, and wished they had looked as bright as that one. Her mother would have loved to see it.
“I’ll come back soon.” She could cry later. Right then, she could feel a fragile serenity embracing her. She needed to be strong for him.
“Rose... Before you look.” Pinkie stepped up close and brushed against her. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Pinkie.” The serene feeling began slipping away, and the world blurred. I’m not ready. But she forced a smile, for her sake, and his. “His health’s been iffy since mom left. Sometimes it feels like he’s been holding on; just for me.” Though they were meant for Pinkie, the words comforted her as well. He’d found his peace, and if he could, then so could she.
Roseluck. You brightened the lives of your friends and your family. Sky, earth, and stars guide you to peace.
“I’m sorry.” Pinkie’s voice cracked, and she looked away.
“No.” Rose took a hesitant step forward to confront the gravestone, hoof raised to touch it. She shied away at the last moment. It felt too real to confront, as though touching it would confirm the terrible truth written in polished stone.
“I’m so sorry, Rose.”
“This isn’t funny, Pinkie.” Rose rounded on Pinkie, her ‘friend,’ and shoved. Hard. “I thought you said this wasn’t some kind of prank! What kind of sick joke are you trying to play?”
Pinkie rocked and took a step back, looking away. “It’s not a joke, Rose. I would never play this kind of prank on anypony. You know me better than that.”
“Then what do you call that?” Rose jabbed a hoof at the headstone with her name carved on it. “I can’t be dead! Dad, Posty, B-Berry... what would they do without me?”
Pinkie looked her in the eyes. “They’ll do what they can.”
The truth she saw reflected back slammed into her. “What...” She stumbled back. “What will they do without me?” Agony ripped through her and, in her mind’s eye, a fifth gravestone, then a sixth took their places beside hers while a solitary figure stood watch over them—alone.  She stamped her hoof, and shook her head, dispelling the gruesome image. “I can’t be dead!”
It’s not real! It’s a prank!
Taking a few steps closer, Pinkie reached out to her. “Rose, please, you can’t stay here. You really are—”
Rose slapped the leg aside. “No! I’m not!” She sucked in a ragged breath, slowly shaking her head, and took a step away. “I’m not—”
“I’m so sorry, Rose.” Pinkie curled the struck leg close in to her chest, tears trickling down her cheeks. “I know it’s hard, but you need to accept this.”
The honest sorrow in Pinkie’s eyes struck Rose again and she staggered away from it, shaking her head wildly. “No! I can’t be! I’m just... just...”
Dreaming. Rose latched onto the stray thought. It’s a dream. It’s just a dream!
The world remained as deathly still as it had before, silence reigning everywhere but in her own mind. She closed her eyes, breathing in short, ragged gasps.
“You need to—”
“No! This is a dream. A nightmare! I’m going to wake up from this.” But when she opened her eyes, nothing had changed.
“Rose...” Pinkie reached for her again.
“No!” Rose shied away, wobbling through a world turned blurry grey on legs that didn’t want to hold her. The soft dirt in front of the stone tripped her and sent her tumbling down to stare at her own gravestone.
Her reflection glared back at her, forcing her to confront the grim reality carved in pretty words. Sky, earth, and stars guide you to peace.
Her epitaph. Carved in granite. Unchangeable.
“Rose, please! I want to help!”
Rose shook her head, lips moving as she tried to say it over, and over. But the truth was there right in front of her. She scrambled to her hooves and away from the gravestone. She couldn’t voice her denial. She knew it wasn’t false and the painful truth was choking her.
Cool, soothing fog began to creep in, clouding the fears boiling in her mind and granting her a measure of peace.
“Rose, please! Let me—”
“I can’t—” Rose galloped away from her and fled into the fog—away from the pain.
“Don’t run away! Not again...”
Pinkie watched her go, fading away. “I’m so sorry, Rose... I know it’s hard.” She hadn’t wanted to accept it either, but there she was.
Rose was hurting. The least she could do was keep the rose her friend had left behind safe.