“Rarity? I’m back from the bakery tour, and I saved you some free samples!”
Pinkie Pie knew there was something wrong as soon as she stepped across the threshold and into the hotel room. This knowledge came in part through her Pinkie Sense: a left hoof twitchy twitch followed by a tail twerk and two alternating ear floppies meant that a friend needed cheering up.
But then, since she had stepped right into an empty travel-sized container of vanilla oat swirl, and given that she could hear Rarity wailing from the other room, it wasn’t a particularly difficult conclusion to draw.
Hastily cantering in, Pinkie found Rarity sprawled out on her emergency chaise lounge, brought along with her luggage just for such a circumstance. The wailing and moaning redoubled as the unicorn noticed she had an audience.
“Rarity!” Pinkie cried out. “What’s wrong?”
“Disaster, Pinkie!” Rarity threw a hoof across her forehead. “Calamity! Of all the worst possible things that could happen, this is the Worst. Possible. Thing!”
Pinkie gasped. “Oh no! Queen Chrysalis has led an army of changelings on Canterlot, and has enslaved the population to feast on their love?”
Rarity blinked. “No.”
“Tirek is back, and he’s sucked the magic out of the Princesses and is even now rampaging across the countryside?”
“Also no.” Rarity crossed her arms, pursing her lips. “Pinkie…”
“Oh,” Pinkie said. “Oooh. Um. Cosmarepolitan magazine has declared that green is ‘in’ for the fall fashion season?”
Rarity smiled ever so briefly before dramatically swooning back onto the couch. “Far, far worse, though I know that’s hard to even believe!”
“Oh gee!” Pinkie’s eyes went wide. “That really must be bad!”
“I just heard from Coco Pommel—”
“Oh! About our tickets to the opening of the musical tomorrow night? I can’t wait! I read in a newspaper that Spider-Mare: Turn Down for What is expected to be ‘a blistering assault upon the senses of any pony with good taste’, and I love tasting spicy things.”
“That’s just it,” Rarity moaned. “The premiere has been canceled. In fact, the whole production has been postponed indefinitely. And this was meant to be the launching point for poor Coco’s entire career!”
Rarity’s eyes darted back and forth. She motioned Pinkie to step closer, and then whispered, “According to Coco, there’s a ghost haunting the theatre.”
Pinkie’s eyes went wide. She straightened up to look down at Rarity, wallowing on her chaise lounge next to a pile of empty ice cream cartons that indicated she had made it all the way through her travel supply and dipped into the hotel mini-fridge. Pinkie stomped one hoof down. “No ghost is going to make a friend of mine upset. This will not stand!”
Rarity sat up as Pinkie marched over to the room’s phone. “Wait! What are you doing, Pinkie? There’s something strange in this neighborhood. There’s something weird and it doesn’t look good! Who are you going to call?”
Pinkie picked up the receiver with finality. “A taxi!”
“I’m so glad you could come,” Coco Pommel said. “You’ve done so much for me, Miss Rarity. But I really don’t know if you can help with this.”
Rarity straightened up, squaring her shoulders. “I’m not sure we can either, darling, but we are certainly going to try.” She glanced around the darkened stage, where Coco had nervously brought her and Pinkie. “Tell us, what exactly has been going on?”
Coco shivered. “Well, this theatre hasn’t been open for decades. Originally there had been plans on tearing it down to build condominiums, but instead we got a grant from the city to renovate and open it back up for business. This was supposed to be the first show, too. But things have been going… wrong.”
“Hmm,” Pinkie said, tapping a hoof against her chin. “Mysterious sabotage, cold drafty breezes, strange noises?”
“Exactly,” Coco said. “Particularly down in the orchestra pit. That’s where they say you can see the… g-g-ghost.”
“Ooh, a three G ghost.” Pinkie nodded sternly. “That’s pretty bad.”
“I’m sure that Pinkie and myself can investigate,” Rarity said. “In fact, I suspect that this ghost might be entirely imaginary.”
“I know all about how this goes,” Pinkie proclaimed. “See, we’ll start looking into the case, and come across a whole cast of shady characters with different motives for wanting the show to be canceled. Then, in a sudden twist we’ll find an important clue, right before running into the ghost itself. We’ll have a wacky chase scene—oh, do you have one of those hallways with a lot of doors so we can run in and out a whole bunch?”
“Um,” Coco said. “No?”
“Well anyways, we’ll have the chase and then I’ll improvise some sort of trap and we’ll catch the ghost. Only it turns out to not be real, and instead it’s just a pony wearing a rubber mask and Rarity will say ‘Jinkies!’ and it’ll turn out to be the pony we least expect. Which means…” Pinkie gasped. “Wait, Coco! Were you the ghost this whole time? How could you?!”
Coco stood frozen, staring at Pinkie Pie.
“Pinkie, you’re scaring her,” Rarity said reproachfully. “And I don’t think I’ve ever said the word ‘Jinkies’ in my life, thank you very much.”
“Well, you have now.”
Rarity frowned. “Be that as it may, I do agree that it’s most likely that the ghost is fake.”
“Let me assure you, the apparition is unfortunately quite real,” a voice enunciated from the shadows of the stage.
Pinkie whirled around. “And who are you?”
A brown earth pony walked out of the shadows. She wore a purple blazer, a pink scarf, and an expression of infinitely comprehensive disapproval. “I am Ms. Harshwhinny, and I am in charge of the production here.”
“Oh, yes.” Rarity smiled. “I believe we met in connection with the Equestrian Games in the Crystal Kingdom?”
Ms. Harshwhinny turned her nose up, and trotted to the center of the stage, ignoring Rarity entirely. “When we first began plans to renovate the theatre, we of course brought in the usual exterminators and exorcists. Old theatres are lousy with ghosts. And termites. But the termites at least have the decency to stay quiet. This ghost slipped through the cracks somehow. In the first week of work, we had no less than six different job-related injuries.”
“That’s amazing…” Pinkie whispered.
Rarity frowned. “Pinkie!”
“No, I mean her face. Do you think she could teach me how to make my face do that too?”
“That’s when they brought me in. Because they needed a professional,” she said, attacking each syllable of the word like it had personally done her wrong.
There was a sudden snap high in the rafters.
“Look out!” Pinkie cried out, as a sandbag tumbled down straight towards Ms. Harshwhinny’s head.
Ms. Harshwhinny raised an eyebrow. And then the bag came to a jerking halt above her. “Backup safety ropes. See, I take everything into consideration.”
There was another snapping sound, and the bag jerked downwards another few hoofsbreadths before halting again. She sighed deeply and took a few steps over to the side, just as a third snapping sound came and the bag landed on the floor. “Though we are approximately 3014% over budget on safety mechanisms. But this? This isn’t the problem.”
“It isn’t?” Pinkie asked.
“No. As Miss Pommel has indicated, the orchestra pit is the problem. The ghost appears to have chosen it as its home. Cows, as I’m sure you are aware, are quite superstitious.”
“Cows?” Pinkie whispered to Rarity.
“Cows are excellent classical musicians,” Rarity whispered back. “Nearly all the greatest composers. You know... Beefthoven? Tchaicowsky? Brahmans?”
“Never heard of them. What about whoever wrote the birthday song?”
“Uh. Sure, let’s say that was a cow too, yes.”
“Ahem,” Ms. Harshwhinny said. “And while we can account for any kind of mechanical malfunctions, it is quite impossible to have a musical without music. Our orchestra is quite simply refusing to play.”
Rarity nodded, pursing her lips. “Then we shall have to call up this ghost and see if we can resolve whatever unfinished business she might have. Pinkie, it’s time for a séance.”
“Ahntz,” Pinkie said.
“No, a séance.”
“Ahntz,” Pinkie said again, shrugging.
Rarity sighed, raising a hoof to her forehead. “No, darling, it’s a word for a kind of mystical ceremony by which living ponies may seek to speak to spirits who have departed this mortal plane. I’m pretty certain you’ve even done this before. A séance.”
“Ahntz,” Pinkie said.
“Just go get your crystal ball and turban,” Rarity snapped.
They had to move some chairs to set up the table in the orchestra pit. After Pinkie had plunked down her crystal ball in the center, and they had scrounged up an appropriately eldritch number of candles to provide the general ambiance, the four all sat in a circle, watching the ball with expressions ranging from Coco’s general terror to Ms. Harshwhinny’s vague disgust.
“Now join hooves,” Madame Pinkie said in her spookiest voice, having already donned her gypsy garb.
Rarity reached out to do so. She realized that it really was rather dark in the theatre, with the only lights coming from the candles, and shivered slightly.
Pinkie’s eyes slid shut, and she let slip a deep moan. “Spiiiiriiits of the beyoooond. We summon you!”
The candles flickered, causing Coco to let out a squeak.
“From beyond the grave, heed our call and answer us! Come forward so that we might cower before your great and terrible ghostliness!”
At first Rarity thought it had to be someone else making the quiet moaning sound. But Coco seemed completely petrified, Pinkie was still intoning solemn entreaties, and she didn’t think Ms. Harshwhinny knew the meaning of the phrase ‘practical joke’. Or ‘joke’, for that matter. Though she clearly had a handle on ‘practical’.
But the point of the matter was that someone was saying ‘oooo’ right in Rarity’s ear, and when she turned her head to see who, she fell right out of her seat at seeing a white-cloaked lumpy creature wearing a mask.
“Aaaaaaaah!” Coco screamed, ducking under the table.
Pinkie’s whole face lit up. “Hooray! It worked!”
And then Ms. Harshwhinny calmly stood up, pulled a newspaper out of her blazer pocket, and rolled it up to thwap the ghost on the head.
“Bad ghost!” she said firmly. “Go away!”
Rarity dazedly got back to her hooves before taking a seat again. Ms. Harshwhinny was busy chasing the ghost in circles around the table, still bopping it with the rolled-up newspaper. “Uh. Pinkie?” Rarity said.
Pinkie nodded. “Hold it!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.
The ghost and Ms. Harshwhinny both stopped in place. Even Coco poked her head out from under the table, before seeing the ghost and retreating once again.
“Now then,” Pinkie said calmly. “That’s not solving anything. Let’s take a moment and talk this over like respectable adults.”
“Ooo,” the ghost said. For the first time, Rarity got a good look at it. It was much bigger than a pony, and distinctly oddly shaped, but it really did look just like someone had tossed a sheet over a lumpy couch. On what she supposed was the front of the thing was a white mask with two dark eye sockets and a mouth stretched into a big grin.
“Now then,” Pinkie said. “Mr. Ghost, what’s your story?”
The ghost pulled itself together, raising hoof-like appendages high. Its mask flipped over to reveal a new one on the other side, very similar except with the mouth curving downwards instead. “OoooOOOooooOOO!” it cried out, as a rumble of thunder shook the entire building and all the candles flickered at once, sending crazy shadows dancing across the orchestra pit.
“He says he’s the ghost of drama,” Pinkie said.
Rarity blinked. “You can understand it?”
“Well, you said he was probably imaginary.“ Pinkie shrugged. “When I was growing up, most of my best friends were imaginary!”
Rarity frowned, torn between wanting to point out how little sense that made and wanting to give Pinkie a big hug. She filed both thoughts away for later action. “Okay then.”
“Not okay,” Ms. Harshwhinny spoke up. “A ghost of drama? That's a metaphorical concept, not a pony!”
“Well, actually...” Rarity started.
“And why would it be making a fuss here, in an old Manehattan theatre that has been closed for ages?”
“You make a good point,” Pinkie said. “And if he's a ghost, that means that drama is dead. And I mean, Rarity is like right here.”
Pinkie narrowed her eyes, peering at the be-sheeted apparition. “Mr. Ghost, are you sure you’re telling the truth?”
The ghost shuffled its appendages. “Oooooooooo,” it moaned, sheepishly.
“He says no, but it sounded better that way. I guess that is pretty dramatic.”
“Oooooo,” the ghost said. Its head swung back and forth. “OoooOOoooOOO.”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “Wow. So, he was an actor almost a hundred years ago, when this place was still new. This was one of the few theatres that would allow non-pony actors, and he was the best dramatist in the entire city.” She let out a giggle. “In fact, you could say he was—”
“Ooh, ooh,” Rarity said. “A drama llama?”
Pinkie grinned. “Nope. A camel. Or should I say… A drama-dery!”
The ghost flipped back to its laughing mask. Ms. Harshwhinny seemed less than amused.
“OooooooOOOoooooooooooo,” the ghost howled.
“And he died in a mysterious tragedy, murdered when his own understudy poisoned the wine he drank during act three of Humplet.”
“Ooo,” the ghost finished.
“And ever since then he has wandered the halls of this place, waiting for the theatre to return once again. But that this new production is not true drama. Drama is about well-mannered scripting, and stagecraft, and most importantly of all, the actor bringing to life the words of the writer, demonstrating a full range of tragic and comedic emotions through a complete command of presence and commitment to the role! Not flashy songs and ponies wearing spider costumes swinging from wires.”
“...That’s what he just said?” Rarity asked.
The ghost nodded vigorously.
Rarity frowned. Then she stood up, sweeping one hoof through her mane. “I think I know how to deal with this. Mr. Ghost… you say that you care about drama. About the art of the theatre. But you are stuck in the past! Ahem, I suppose that is in part literal and not your fault. No offense.”
The ghost shrugged.
“What I mean is that the musical is if anything the culmination of centuries of artistic effort. What is a song, other than the purest form of stagecraft? Demanding a performance by the actor that is able to resonate with the emotions of the audience, emphasizing and livening the monologue, never destroying it! Sure, some art may aim for more nobler goals than others, but even in a story about… Uh.”
“Alternate universes collide, and all the Spider-mares are forced to compete in a dancing competition to save their respective realities and the neighborhood recreational facility,” Ms. Harshwhinny filled in.
Rarity grimaced. “Ehem. Yes. Even in such a story there’s still drama! Think of the stakes! And beyond mere plot, there’s hard-working actors grasping at this opportunity to become a star, giving their all, their sweat and tears and blood each and every night. Musicals, my good apparition, are nothing but drama. Can you really say that you are acting in good faith in disrupting the performance of art, purely based on your own subjective standards?”
The ghost’s shoulders slumped. “Oooooooo,” it moaned.
“Wow! Your words have touched his heart!” Pinkie exclaimed.
The ghost flipped back to its frowning mask. “OoooooooOOoooo,” it said, pointing at Miss Harshwhinny.
“But it still doesn’t like her very much. He’s gonna keep haunting everything.”
Rarity sighed. She bent down to where Coco was cowering under the table. “Sorry dear. I tried my best.”
“Wait!” Pinkie chirped out. “I might have a solution that makes everypony happy. What if we simply got Mr. Ghost to haunt somewhere else more to his liking?”
The ghost crossed his arms. “Ooooooo.”
“I know, I know, you’re not going anywhere unless it’s suitably dramatic. That’s just the thing.” A huge smile split Pinkie’s face. “I’ve got the perfect solution.”
Miss Harshwhinny furrowed her brow. “Most of the shows on Bridleway are musicals. We could locate a more classical theatre but it’d take time.”
“That’s okay. In the meantime, I’ve got something else in mind, something positively dripping with drama. Rarity?”
“Go get your chaise lounge.”
Rarity and Pinkie sat on top of the satin cushions of her chaise lounge. It itself sat in the middle of the front row of the theatre, right next to where several cows in bow-ties were filing into the orchestra pit. “Oooooo,” the fabric underneath them moaned softly, but more out of anticipation than any kind of ill intent.
“I’m so glad he agreed to at least watch the show,” Pinkie said, bouncing up and down.
Rarity’s smile was a little forced. “And just how long is he going to be inhabiting my furniture again?” she asked.
“Just until we find a proper place for him to go!”
“Mmhmm.” Rarity’s gaze swept across the theatre. It was really a lovely old building, and filling up fast as a sold-out crowd moved in to take their seats. She looked forward again at the big red curtains, and then down to where the cows near them were tuning their instruments. “I just can’t believe this all worked out. And I’m not particularly sure that I care for the way in which it did. Surely, there had to be a less… inconvenient option.”
Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes. “I think you just need to look at this in a different light. It’s exactly like everypony always says!”
Rarity blinked. Her eyes moved from the cow musicians to the chaise lounge she was sitting on. Right on cue, it let out another gentle “Ooooooooo” right underneath her flank. “How?” Rarity asked, though she already knew she was dreading the answer. “How is this like what anypony has ever said?”
Pinkie Pie grinned.
“A herd in the band is worth boo in the tush!”