Audrey sat in the stillness of night, as plants are wont to do. Every so often a housefly would buzz through the window and she would move to snatch it up, but otherwise she simply waited. Waited for Lilligold to return.
A great crash rattled the building. Hooves thundered up the steps and into the room—Audrey sensed the hooffalls were too heavy to be Lilligold’s. She snarled in the attacker’s direction, but when she heard a zipper unzipping, she reasoned it must’ve been Wispy Willow, rummaging in his suitcase. She remained motionless.
More hooves shot up the steps—Lilligold’s for sure this time. “Wispy!” she cried. “Please, stop! Talk to me!”
The air went still. Audrey sensed nothing but the two ponies panting. “I can’t do this, Lilligold,” Wispy quavered. “I just can’t. I have to get out of here.”
“No! Please, Wispy. We need to talk this through!” Audrey heard the tears in Lilligold’s words. She bore her teeth, but didn’t move yet.
“Talk about what, Lilligold?!” Wispy shouted. “What happened back there was a stupid, stupid mistake! This… This can’t happen between us! This can’t happen to me!”
Lilligold sobbed hard before she spoke again. “How can you… What’s so awful about it?! About me?” Audrey’s vines were slowly slithering toward Wispy. Apparently, neither pony had noticed her yet.
“Nothing! You’re perfect! But… But…” Wispy roared in frustration. “But I just can’t, Lilligold! I can’t do this. I’m sorry.” Audrey’s vines lifted, preparing to coil around Wispy like bloodthirsty cobras.
Lilligold sniffled. In her weakest, quietest voice, she said, “But I love you.”
Audrey froze. There was a thick silence, and she reconsidered the situation. Her vines pulled away from Wispy and instead moved towards Lilligold’s nightstand.
“Listen, Lilligold,” Wispy said. The rage had faded from his voice. “My whole life—my whole life—has been dedicated to one thing: paranormal research. It’s my passion, my talent—the one thing I’m really, really good at. And if I want to keep doing it, I can’t focus on anything else. I have to stay on the move. I can’t commit to anything or anypony. Not even you.”
Audrey felt around and swiped the paper from the nightstand. Her vines shifted back in the other direction.
“That’s why I put off coming here so long,” Wispy continued. “I was afraid something like… like this would happen. I didn’t want to have to choose between you and my special talent. Like, if you had to give up your plants, your store—all of it, just for me—could you do that?”
There was a moment, and even Audrey paused to listen. Lilligold swallowed hard. “In a heartbeat,” she said.
In the immediate silence, Audrey continued. She managed to locate Wispy’s suitcase and slid the parchment inside. Once it was secure, she pulled away.
“I’m sorry.” There was some clattering—Wispy grabbing his suitcase—and a lot of commotion, then heavy hooffalls pounded down the steps and out of the building.
Lilligold remained a blubbering heap on the opposite end of the room. Audrey moved her vines in that direction and swept Lilligold up in a hug.
They spent a long time like that. So long that, by the time Lilligold stirred, Audrey already felt the morning sun on her leaves. Lilligold said nothing. She meandered around the room for a while, then took Audrey in her magic and left the store.
Morning came, and Wisp was already on his way to the train station. He’d managed to stumble in and out of sleep throughout the night, but his head pounded and his eyes were bleary. He took no time to admire Elmshire’s opulent buildings as he walked—all he wanted to do was forget.
He finally reached the station and scrambled up the steps towards the loading platform. But his hoof caught on the last step, and he sprawled forward, landing hard on the wood. His suitcase unclasped on impact and vomited its contents onto the platform. Wisp cursed beneath his breath, but he was too tired to do much else. Passersby spared him a few sad glances, but no one came to his aid. He groggily set about reloading his suitcase.
Among his smattering of ghost hunting equipment, a single book lay face down. A pang blasted Wisp’s heart, and despite his better judgment, he picked it up. He turned it over and felt fresh tears welling behind his eyes as the title Nature’s Haunts came into view in all its sickly glory. Wisp let out a broken sigh and opened the book.
A flat, crisp leaf cutting rested inside the front cover. Wisp looked at it for barely a second before slamming the book shut. He clamped his eyes shut and shook his head.
When he opened his eyes and looked again, something caught his attention. On the platform, in the same spot where the book had been, a small scrap of parchment lay rippling in the light breeze. It bore a few ornate, elegant lines of calligraphy. Blinking at it, Wisp let the book fall to the side and grabbed the paper. His eyes took a moment to adjust, but the words came into focus bright and clear.
His face is naught but golden dream,
his voice a song of old.
Still, his presence, ream by ream,
makes warm what once was cold.
I long and scar and agonize,
he has my heart unfurled.
By earthly bonds and spirit ties,
he is my one true world.
♥ Lilligold + Wispy Willow ♥
He read it again. And again and again and again. His heart swelled with each word. Tears ran down his face like newly undammed streams, but he didn’t care. As sudden as lightning, he only cared about one thing—and it had absolutely nothing to do with his EMF detector or his camera.
Abandoning his supplies, Wisp stuffed the book and the poem under one arm and shot off through the city streets. He followed his memory—his memory of Lilligold. The only other time he’d walked this path had been by her side, yesterday. It seemed so much longer ago now.
He rounded bend after bend, navigating the serpentine streets like he were flowing water. After far too long, the Glimmering Gardens storefront came into view. Its windows were darkened, both upstairs and down, and the sight made Wisp’s gut collapse. He pounded his legs harder.
He barely slowed before crashing against the door. He was set to pound his hooves and scream her name like a madman, but something stopped him. A simple, white square was plastered to the door bearing three little words: Gone on Business
Suddenly feeling very cold, Wisp backpedaled from the door and collapsed on the sidewalk. “Lilligold,” he whispered. “Where are you?” His body trembled, and his mind felt fit to collapse.
Before it could, though, a memory echoed in his ears. A snippet of last night’s conversation that told Wisp everything he needed to know.
“So, that cave’s really haunted, huh?” Wisp said.
“Mmhmm!” Lilligold said. “I considered exploring it on my own—if only to impress you…”
Wisp galloped out of the city as fast as his legs would carry him.
“Lilligold!” Wisp cried out. He plowed past trees and through bushes, winding the path still fresh in his mind. “Lilligold! It’s Wispy! Can you hear me?! Please, come back!”
He flew out of the forest into Peak Grove’s clearing. He skidded to a stop, coughing and wheezing and panting hard. Spots strobed in his vision, and he threw his gaze all around the clearing, looking from the clearing’s edge to the cave entrance to—
Wisp froze. Sitting just beside the cave, rooted in the moss and soil beside an upturned ceramic pot, was a towering flytrap. It stood there motionless, its mouth aimed squarely at Wisp.
Lilligold was nowhere to be seen.
His mouth hanging open, Wisp took a few small steps towards the flytrap. “Audrey,” he said.
Audrey lurched forth, unhinged her jaw, and snapped at Wisp’s head. He recoiled just in time for Audrey’s spine of a tooth to graze his muzzle. Audrey let a low, feral growl shudder through her teeth, then returned to her original position.
Frowning, Wisp bowed his head. He took the book and poem from underneath his arm and slid them along the slick forest floor towards Audrey. She didn’t so much as flinch. Wisp looked up at her again and said, “I’m sorry.”
Turning away, Wisp stepped up to the Peak Grove Caverns entrance. He looked ahead, deep into the utter blackness, and saw nothing. The air coming from the cave was icy and wet and laden with mildew. For all the world, the cavern seemed like the place where all things foul went to die.
Wisp trotted inside, disappearing into the shroud.
Neither he nor Lilligold were heard from again.