• Published 6th Apr 2013
  • 2,281 Views, 14 Comments

Won't You Help Me Pull My Wagon? - KholdstareV



One lonely Nightmare Night, Twilight finds a derelict wagon on the side of the road. A mysterious entity inside begs her for a favor. However, she may find that this one good deed may be her last... (3rd place: EqD's 2012 horror fanfic contest)

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Won't You Help Me Pull My Wagon?

"Won't You Help Me Pull My Wagon?"

By KholdstareV


Twilight looked around, frowning. Going to that Nightmare Night party had been a bad decision, through and through. In spite of the high energy of the place, she found herself simply incapable of having any fun. The atmosphere was dark. The strobe lights were garish. The thumping music was loud and overbearing. The ponies present were of a far different crowd than she was used to, doing questionable substances and engaging in questionable activities. There was no one there that she knew. She felt nervous and claustrophobic, having taken refuge in a corner and standing there for a depressingly long time, just watching. She was waiting for something to come to her, but for what, she wasn't quite sure; perhaps either for a reason to justify her being there, or for the will to just leave.

In her solitude, she reflected on how she had ended up there. All of her friends had planned to go to a Nightmare Night party in another town, and had invited her along. However, due to circumstances that were entirely her own fault, she missed the opportunity to go. Finding herself alone on Nightmare Night with no costume and no plans, she had hastily contacted an acquaintance who she had heard was throwing her own party. The acquaintance had said it was cool if she came, and gave her directions to the secluded barn in the woods where the party was being held. And there Twilight was, alone, afraid, and unable at that moment to even recall what that acquaintance's name was.

Twilight glanced at the wall clock above her head. It was almost 11 o' clock. She sighed to herself, wondering how much more time she planned to waste there. At that moment, a high-pitched scream sounded from the crowd nearby. She turned to its source, and saw a group of three friends shambling nearby, consisting of a male unicorn, a male pegasus, and a female earth pony.

The girl, who was the one who had screamed, shoved the male unicorn playfully. "Don't scare me like that!" she yelled above the noise, "It's mean!"

"Well it's true!" he protested, "Why do you think they decided to have the party in this barn? In this part of the woods? Cuz this area is supposedly haunted!"

"Stop it! No it's not!" she cried back.

"I've heard that, too," the male pegasus pitched in. The three of them flopped down on a bale of hay right near where Twilight was. They didn't appear to acknowledge her, but she still felt uncomfortable. She squeezed herself deeper into the corner, wanting to stay as far from the strangers as she could.

The male pegasus continued, "There's a story about some old hag or something, right? Some Old Madame something-or-other?"

"Old Madame Flynn," the male unicorn confirmed. "Yeah, that's a classic one from these parts."

"Yeah, that's it! Oh, but doesn't she also go by the nickname Old Madame 'Skin'…?"

"Old Madame 'Skin'?" questioned the girl. "Eww, weird! Why do they call her THAT?"

"I've heard it's cuz her old skin is so loose and wrinkled," the male unicorn said, deepening his voice for spooky effect, "that it hangs off her bones like a fleshy, grey sack. They say she wanders these woods at night, searching for her lost bottle of skin cream. If you see her, the grotesqueness of the sight will cause you to drop dead!"

"Omigosh, that is soooo freaky!" blurted the girl.

"And that's not even the creepiest part," the male unicorn continued. "According to the dude who told me the story, no one can really even agree on what type of creature she is. The version HE was told describes her as a mule, but other versions exist that say she's a mare, a griffon, a zebra… While still others say she's none of the above. That she's something else entirely, unidentified, unnatural to this world. A monster. A demon… No one knows for sure though, because as I said, everyone who sees her…" A dramatic pause. "…Drops DEAD!" He leapt at his two friends as he said the last word, startling the male pegasus and causing the girl to scream again.

By this point, Twilight couldn't stand anymore. Deciding that the will to leave had reached her before a justification for staying, she abandoned her corner and began to push her way through the wild crowd towards the exit. As she did, she heard a last bit of conversation from the group of three before it was drowned out by the sounds of the party...

"That's about it. Of course, there's plenty more where that came from. I've heard a TON of good ghost stories from the locals here."

"Oh nooo! I'm scared, I wanna go home now!"

"You're trippin', bro! If everyone who sees this old chick dies, then where did the stories come from?"

"Hell if I know, man! All I know is that some ponies HAVE died some pretty weird deaths in these woods. And apparently at least a couple can be blamed on Old Madame 'Skin'…"

~~~

Twilight shuffled along the dirt path leading away from the barn. She trod slowly with her head hung down, lamenting that her Nightmare Night had gone so disappointingly wrong. "Guess I'll just go home and sulk," she told herself, "and wait for tomorrow for when my friends tell me about all the fun they had without me..."

When she reached the edge of the woods that she knew she had to pass through to get back to Ponyville, she looked up and peered at the dirt path leading into them. She stopped and stared. She had arrived on this very same trail earlier that night, and yet looking at it now, she couldn't but feel it appeared much darker than before. Why was that? Why did the blackness of the forest and the army of gnarled trees now seem as an unforgiving maw, devouring the path whole? Why did she feel this creeping fear?

Figuring it was all a result of her bad mood at the moment, she continued forward into the dark maw of the forest, with no other desire in mind but to get home…

~~~

Twilight walked for several minutes, trying to focus on staying on the trail ahead of her. It blended well enough with the natural ground of the forest that, in the darkness of the night, it would have been easy to veer off and get lost. Along the way, she realized that a couple of things were very odd. For one thing, her Illumination spell, which had been a big help on her way to the party, was now virtually useless, for the abnormal darkness seemed to swallow up any light whole. Secondly, on her initial trip through, the woods had sounded of nocturnal creature activity. This time, however, they were deathly silent. There was not the hooting of any owls, nor the skittering of any raccoons. Even the breeze held its breath. The only sounds were her own footsteps and her own shuddering breaths.

Suddenly, a foreign sound reached Twilight's ears. It was a soft sort of groan, almost like a distant animal in pain. She froze. She then heard it again, and turned her ears to localize the source. It seemed to be coming from a short ways up the trail, which she could see wrapped around a large tree, forming a bend. Curious, but cautious, she crept towards the bend. As she grew closer, the sound evolved. Instead of single, stunted groans, it now sounded as a one long, continuous, sickly moan, as though some creature was letting out a long breath through a tired throat. When at last Twilight reached the tree, she hesitantly peeked around the bend. In that instant, the noise hushed, and she found herself staring at a curious sight.

A few yards ahead, standing crooked off to the right side of the trail, was a covered wagon. It looked old, but still in reasonable shape. The fabric of the cover was faded and dusty, but was still intact and without any rips. The wooden wheels were chipped and moldy, but still serviceable. The painted picture on the side, showing a brown pear being peeled by a curved knife, was washed out, but visible. What was most curious to Twilight was the fact that it was even there at all – she knew for certain that it hadn't been when she first passed through there. The position of the wagon made it look as though it had been hastily abandoned, carelessly left to run off the path. She could only figure that someone had left it recently, or that she had ended up on a completely different path than the one she came on and was now lost. Both possibilities troubled her.

Trying not to think too much about it, Twilight continued walking slowly. As she neared the wagon, she veered to the left, hugging the trees, distancing herself as much as she could. She tried to force herself to look forward down the path, but the wagon remained stuck in the corner of her vision. She quickened her pace. Then, after a tense few seconds, she finally passed it. Feeling relieved, she went on walking at a normal speed, refusing to look back.

"Young Miss…"

Twilight nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of the voice that came so suddenly. She stopped dead in her tracks and listened.

"Young Miss, help me… Please…"

The elderly, female voice was coarse and scratchy. It was difficult to tell exactly where it was coming from, for it seemed to echo off the trees and even the air itself. However, Twilight found herself turning her head back to the mysterious wagon. A black curtain was draped over the opening, concealing what was inside. With a gulp, she responded, "Y-yes? Who's there?"

"You can call me Miss Pear," the voice said softly, "I am within the wagon you see before you. My chauffeur has deserted me, and I need to get home. It is dark and frightening in these woods. Please, help me…"

Despite the unsettling qualities of the voice, the emotion in it was sad and desperate. Twilight found her nervousness being replaced by a soft sympathy. She took a step towards the wagon. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that! Of course, I'll help however I can. What do you need me to do?"

"Young Miss, won't you help me pull my wagon? It is full of my wares, and I am too old and feeble to pull it myself. Additionally, I am afraid of what is out there in the dark of the forest. The pear orchard where I live is not far from here, and there should be a dog tag hanging on the wagon's harness with my address on it. Please, I beg for your assistance…"

Twilight angled her lip. "I don't know, ma'am… I'm afraid to go too far out of my way. I need to get home myself, and I'm not sure where I am…"

"I will guide you on how to get to my orchard. And, once we arrive, I promise to either help you find your own way home, or give you a place to rest for the night. I will even reward you. Please, I am cold and worried. You wouldn't leave a defenseless old crone in the woods like this, would you?"

Twilight was still uncertain, but decided there was only one right answer to that question. Indeed, what kind of pony would she be if she said no? Besides, she thought, maybe by doing this one good deed, her Nightmare Night may end up being worthwhile for something. With a nod of the head, Twilight began to approach the wagon. "Don't worry ma'am, I'll pull your wagon for you. And you don't need to give me a reward. I'm happy to help."

A soft, amiable chuckle sounded from within the cover. "Bless you, Young Miss. You are my guardian angel tonight."

Twilight smiled to herself as she reached the harness. She used her magic to levitate the attached dog tag up to her face, and read the unfamiliar address etched onto it before hanging it back where it was. She was then ready to pick up the harness itself and fasten it on, but stopped when she spotted something in the dirt below that she hadn't noticed in the darkness earlier: a trail of hoofprints, which ran from underneath the wagon and up the road ahead. She figured they belonged to the wagon's original chauffeur, which made enough sense, but closer inspection revealed some peculiar details. The hoofprints were rather far apart from each other, as though he had been running. Additionally, at a point about twenty feet ahead, the tracks veered off to the right and vanished into the brush along the side of the trail. What was most suspicious of all, however, were the drops of what appeared to be dark liquid that accompanied the tracks all the way to their vanishing point. Twilight knew what the liquid looked like, but found the thought of it too troubling. She tried to force it out of her head.

"I would greatly appreciate it if we could be on our way now, Young Miss. I know not what injured my chauffeur and caused him to abandon me as he did, but if we are to avoid it ourselves, we must make haste..."

The troubling thoughts suddenly came rushing back to Twilight's mind. The previous chauffeur had been "injured"? By what? Some nocturnal predator? While she was deathly curious, she also felt an urge to simply run away herself and not look back. But how could she, when another was in such desperate need of help? The poor thing had already been abandoned once, and Twilight did not intend to do the same to her. She felt confident, too, that she would be able to stave off any threats with her own potent magic, especially if it meant protecting the life of an innocent. And so, in spite of the apparent risk, she stood firm where she was, and turned to look at the black curtain. "Absolutely, ma'am. We'll be on our way soon. But… May I at least see you before we go? Will you not show yourself?"

Her request was followed by a moment of silence. "No," the voice then said simply.

"Why not?" Twilight asked. "I'd just like to see who it is I'm doing such a big favor for."

"You'll see me soon enough," the voice replied. "But I am too frightened of the outside woods and its dangers to even peek out there. I apologize."

"Then let me peek in there," Twilight said in a friendly tone, trotting over to the front of the wagon. "I'll feel more comfortable if only I could your face. Just a quick look is all I want. Nothing will happen, I promise." She reached her hoof up to the black curtain, planning to part it just the smallest amount.

"NO!"

Twilight withdrew her hoof and jumped back immediately. The voice's outburst was so hellishly angry that it made her choke on her own breath. She stood panting for several seconds, immediately beginning to reconsider her decision to help.

"…*ahem*…Forgive me, Young Miss. Please understand, it is only my fear that caused me to lash out so strongly. I am truly grateful that you have offered your aid, and do not wish to upset you. I only ask that you please do not open this curtain, and withhold your curiosity for now…"

Twilight, still reeling from the shock, nodded nervously. "OK. I'm sorry…" was all she managed to say. She walked back over to the harness and, after a brief hesitation, used her magic to fasten herself to it. When the buckle was secured, she took a deep breath and turned her head, looking at the black curtain again. "Alright ma'am, I'm ready. Where shall I go?"

"Thank you again, Young Miss. Start by turning right, and then simply going straight. That is the shortest way."

Twilight looked to her right, and raised an eyebrow. "But, ma'am, that leads off the trail, into the woods…"

"I know, but if we are both to get through these woods and to the safety of our homes as quickly as possible, then you must listen to me. I promise, this is our safest option."

Twilight frowned, but seeing as she didn't know these woods at all, she couldn't argue. "OK, I trust you," she eventually said. She took a step forward, pulling the wagon a good few inches. It was heavy, but not nearly as much so as she had expected. If she didn't know better, she would have guessed she was pulling the weight of the empty wagon itself, and nothing more. She sighed in relief, expecting an easy trip. Before long, she was galloping at a steady pace, pulling the creaking wagon behind her with only moderate effort. She turned right, leading herself and the wagon off the trail and into the thicket of the trees…

~~~

The woods remained maddeningly quiet as Twilight marched on. The only sounds she could hear now were those of her own footsteps, her own shuddered breaths, and the creak-creak-creak of the wagon's rotating wheels. Every now and again, she would glance back and peer at the black curtain, which was perpetually only three feet behind her. Ever since their departure from the trail at least fifteen minutes before, the voice from beyond it had remained curiously mute. Twilight took this to mean she was heading the right way, but the silence was making her uncomfortable.

At one point, Twilight felt an odd sensation on a small section of her lower back. It felt like a tickle at first, and then the sharp poke of a needle. Thinking it to be a bug biting her, she whipped at the spot with her tail. That seemed to make the bug leave, but the sting lingered. She grimaced, trying to ignore it.

"So, umm, Miss Pear…" she began, struggling to make conversation, "these woods actually seem kind of quiet and peaceful right now... Are you sure we still need to be worried?"

She gave the voice several seconds to reply. None came. Feeling her discomfort escalate, Twilight continued. "And what exactly happened to your old chauffeur? What could have caused him to leave you behind so abruptly?"

"…That is what has me so afraid," the voice at last explained. "I believe he encountered something truly frightening in this place. I only recall the sound of his screams disappearing into the night as he ran far away, leaving me in my wagon to lay helplessly by the road. I know not what that thing was, what it did to him, or if it is still nearby…" The voice began to build in volume and intensity. "But my Young Miss, I would advise that you be watchful in these particular woods. They are calm by day, but when the black curtain of night falls, doorways within them have been known to open…"

Twilight had hoped a conversation would calm her nerves. However, the voice's haunting words only made her nerves tingle ever more. In spite of herself, she began to quicken her pace, speeding up the creak-creak-creak of the wagon's wheels. "What do you mean?" Twilight asked fearfully. "What kind of doorways?"

"Doorways to dark places unfelt by the mortal plane," the voice went on, growing more forceful. "Doorways that may unknowingly let in the most sinister of things…"

Twilight's hurried trot was now becoming a slow gallop, causing the tempo of the creak-creak-creak of the wagon's wheels to increase even more. She found herself becoming short of breath, and thought to loosen the harness's strap to give her lungs more room to expand. However, when she tried to undo the buckle with her magic, she found it stuck tight. Another tickle and poke sensation crept up on her flank. She swiped at it with her tail. "I don't understand!" she cried, panic rising in her voice, "What 'sinister things' are you talking about?"

"They can be hard to describe to one such as you. But when they are near, you will know it. You will feel it. My previous chauffeur did… His screams of cold-blooded terror could have only come from being taken by such a thing. It hunts still. It is here. It is near. You… You know it, too! You feel it too!"

"Taken?! But you said he ran away!" Twilight shouted. Her galloping was nearing a full sprint. The creak-creak-creak of the wheels now matched the rapid rhythm of her thumping heart. Her eyes darted to and fro, trying to see into all the dark spaces between the trees as they zoomed past her vision. She doubled her effort to undo the buckle, but it still held tight, trapping her. Several tickles and needles invaded her back at once. "Tell me what's happening!" she yelled through oncoming tears, "WHAT'S OUT HERE?!"

The voice had reached the peak of its ferocity. "You cannot perceive it! You cannot understand it! But it is here, and it will take you! When it is near, you will know it, and you will feel it! But by then, you will already be doomed! For you will not realize until it is too late when such a thing might be…"

A pause that made Twilight hold her breath.

"…right behind you!"

At that moment, a flood of tickling, poking sensations began to swarm over Twilight's back, rushing from her flanks up to the back of her neck. The sum of them all resulted in a fierce burning pain that caused a primal scream to escape from her throat. She whipped and scraped frantically with her tail, trying to drive the bugs away. Her efforts were in vain.

She was now galloping at a speed she had never imagined herself capable of, her legs powered purely by fear-induced adrenaline. Twigs whipped at her face as she sped aimlessly through the trees. The creak-creak-creak of the wagon's wheels rang so fast that it now sounded as a single, continuous hum. The sound invaded her ears, and penetrated the wall of her sane mind. The burning of the million pinches on her back was beginning to sink into her skin, causing the pain to spike. She was now bawling and screaming incessantly.

With the remote part of her brain that was not overtaken by panic, she continued to try and undo the buckle that kept her bound to the wagon. She soon realized to her fright that the buckle was not merely stuck – it was locked by a dark magic that she had never encountered before, that she knew right away was not of her world. Another idea then came to her. She readied her Teleportation spell, hoping she could warp herself out the harness. Aiming for a spot about twenty feet ahead, she sparked it. She successfully warped, but to her horror, so had the wagon right along with her. Whatever this terrible magic was, it would keep her bound to her cargo even as she jumped dimensions. The realization tore her up inside. She could not shed the wagon from her body. No matter how hard she ran, no matter how many bumps and gnarled roots she leapt over, it would ever remain three feet behind her heels.

The searing anguish that was spread over her back and under her skin was beginning to creep down to her upper legs. Only goodness knew how long she had been running, or how much longer she would be able to until she collapsed from the exhaustion and pain. Knowing she couldn't keep it up forever, she at long last found the courage to look at her back. In spite of the ghastly fire invading her skin, she was astounded to see no bugs, no thorns, or even any actual wounds on her body. The demonic force that was attacking her was completely invisible, but undeniably real.

With wide eyes, she switched her gaze up to the black curtain. It flapped and swayed with the motion of the wagon, occasionally opening a crack through which its interior appeared visible for a split second. She could not be sure if it was her frantic mind affecting her perceptions, but when those cracks appeared, she swore she could see the form of something within. Something that observed her through the cracks, too. Something devilish that was delighting in her pain. Something that clearly aimed to continue this torturous chase until she dropped dead…

Unable to look back anymore, she aimed her vision forward again, with no other thoughts in her mind than to keep running. To keep fighting the acidic sensation spreading over her, even as it grew ever worse. To keep struggling to undo the unholy spell that kept her locked to the demon wagon. To keep praying…

Then, all of a sudden, just as Twilight was beginning to feel herself succumb, she heard the wicked voice fill her ears once again:

"You know it! And now you FEEL IT!"

The sound of the curtain whipping open came from behind. Before Twilight could turn to look, however, a new and even worse pain suddenly erupted from her upper back. It felt as though a hand with razor-sharp claws had plunged itself into the flesh behind her collarbone, and was slowly beginning to slice down along her spine. The burning of the flood of invisible bug bites was rendered as nothing in comparison. The howl that burst from her throat was as indescribable as the pain itself.

Had this torture been allowed to continue for even another second, Twilight swore she would have passed out from the shock and never woken up. However, something happened before that second was up that can only be called a miracle. Subconsciously using the isolated rational part of her mind, she had continued to battle the powerful hex on the harness's buckle with her own pure magic. At the climactic moment, something clicked, and her magic managed to seep through the cracks of the dark spell, undoing it from within. The buckle burst to pieces in a flash of purple light, and she suddenly felt the weight of the wagon shed loose from her abused body. The burning, the stinging, the slicing sensation in her back – it all disappeared in that very same instant. A wave of ecstatic relief rushed over her.

She continued to run several more steps, finding herself breach the edge of a line of trees and into a wide clearing. It appeared to be a secluded farm, with a small cabin almost directly ahead. She could hear the sound of the now unmanned wagon still rolling behind her. Afraid that it might run her down, she attempted to steer herself to the left. This proved to be far too disorienting for her exhausted and overwhelmed brain, for she quickly stumbled over her own hooves and fell hard on the dirt. She threw her forelegs over the back of her neck, bracing herself for when the wagon's wheels crushed her miserable flesh and bones.

However, such did not happen. She felt the rushing wind of the runaway wagon zoom past her right side, missing her by mere inches. She then peered up to see the wagon careen helplessly for several yards before colliding into the side of the cabin with a loud *CRASH!* The sound of splintering glass rippled through the air, the result of the wagon's impact having shattered one of the cabin's windows. The wagon rebounded, rolled backward a couple feet, and then came to a standstill. A brief silence followed. It was not long, though, before the lights within the cabin flipped on, and the murmured voices of the family inside were heard.

Everything that happened in the next few minutes, Twilight was barely able to comprehend. Her body, her mind, her spirit… they were all so drained, so panic-stricken, so relieved to have escaped that narrow brush with death, that her senses all began to give way to faint. Her vision became blurred and unfocused as the family of earth ponies, consisting of two parents and a grown son, rushed outside to see what the commotion was. While the son went to investigate the crash site of the wagon, the parents both ran to her aid. The father asked her something directly, but she found her mouth uncooperative, and only answered with a moan. She vaguely heard the mother cry, "She's hurt!", gesturing at a large gash on her left foreleg, likely caused by the spill she just took. The father, after seemingly observing the rest of her, agreed she needed urgent help. They worked together to raise her limp body onto its hooves and walk her to the cabin entrance.

On the way, Twilight's warped and wobbled vision settled on the son, who was doing a lap around the wagon, observing curiously. He approached the black curtain, which was at about the same level as the destroyed window, and without a moment's delay, drew it open and looked in. Twilight could not see what he saw from her vantage point, but she could see his face. It twisted in shock and disturbance, as though asking himself "What in the world…?" He maintained this expression as he turned his gaze to Twilight. She wanted to say something. She longed to be able to ask him what his eyes beheld inside the demonic wagon. However, the circuit between her brain and her lips was completely shot. The question, which she cried pleadingly in her mind, only came out of her mouth as a loud moan. She could only stare at him as he stared back, both wondering what the other had to say for themselves.

The son then turned his attention to the dog tag dangling from the wagon's harness. He picked it up and began to read the address on it, just as Twilight was pulled through the front door of the cabin. At that point, her senses began to shut down completely, one by one. The last thing she remembered was being hastily led into a small room and allowed to collapse onto a cot before blacking out.

~~~

An unknown number of hours passed before Twilight's eyes fluttered half-open once again. She found that she was still in the same dark room of the cabin, lying face-down on the cot that she had been left upon. Immediately upon awakening, she felt three very strong bodily sensations attack her all at once. One was a splitting headache, one was a throbbing pain on her left shin, and one was a large, nagging itch on her upper back. She groaned in discomfort, her muscles still too weak to move even an inch. Looking around with her eyes, she caught sight of a handwritten letter and some white containers on a nightstand to her left. Assuming the letter was meant for her, she used her magic to levitate it and bring it in front of her eyes. It was brief, and written rather sloppily, as though done so in a hurry. She read its words:

Hello. If you wake and read this,

don't be alarmed. You're safe.

You're injured, but we are fetching a nearby doctor.

Use any medicine you need to. Be back soon.

P.S. Our son has gone to take your belongings home and inform your family.

"Oh, how nice of them!" Twilight thought warmly to herself. She set the letter down and looked back to the white containers, and realized they all held medicines. She used her magic to levitate a jar labeled 'OINTMENT', and figured she'd apply some to the gash on her left shin, which had been hastily bandaged up by her savior family. Lifting the bandage and forcing herself to not look at the messy wound was not easy, but the ointment provided instant, cooling relief. Then, without thinking much about it, she went ahead and applied some ointment to the maddening broad itch on her back. The irritating area felt to be several inches wide, but after a few ointment treatments, the itching subsided too. She then levitated a bottle of pain pills, hoping to ease her pounding headache. With some difficulty, she managed to get one into her mouth and swallow it. Within minutes, the effects of the drug began to seep over her, and her headache numbed down to a tolerable level. For the first time in several hours, she felt she could finally relax. With a satisfied chuckle to herself, she melted into the bed and let the feeling of solace wash over her.

Twilight directed her eyes to the left again, past the medicine containers, and could see there was a small radio on the nightstand as well. Deciding she could use some ambient noise, she used her magic to flip it on, and turned the dial to her favorite station, Ponyville Glad-To-Chat Radio. She must have still been outside of Ponyville, for the station was coming in only semi-clearly, the hosts' voices obscured by a layer of static. The hosts were chatting excitedly about all the crazy, early-morning Nightmare Night parties that were still jumpin'.

"Maybe they'll talk about the party that my friends are at," she wondered to herself. Their story could not compare to the one she had for them when they next met, however. Not even close.

Curious as to how dark it actually still was outside, Twilight forced her eyes to look around for a window. When she finally caught sight of one, her feeling of relaxation began to fade. The window she saw to her right, only a few feet from the cot, was completely shattered, the glass particles still littering the floor. She realized right away that this was the window that had been broken by the wagon's collision. Shouldn't that have meant the wagon was right outside? She shuddered, horrified by the thought. However, she could plainly see that the wagon was not out there anymore. All she saw through the window was the scene of the dark, pre-dawn sky cast over the forest trees. Where could it have gone? For some reason, pondering this made her shudder, too…

As if in cruel response to her running thoughts, the cheery, static-plagued voices on the radio were suddenly cut off, and were immediately replaced by the loud, crystal-clear voice of a male newscaster. The urgency in his voice made Twilight snap to attention.

"Citizens of Ponyville and all surrounding areas, this is an emergency broadcast. Authorities are ordering every citizen to get into their homes or into the home of a trusted individual immediately. A pony has been found murdered."

Upon hearing the word "murdered", Twilight's nerves clenched tightly. With a gulp, she perked her ears up to listen.

"Victim is male, 24-28. The body was found in the woods outside of Ponyville just ten minutes ago, by a local who claimed they heard the victim screaming. Initial analysis shows the corpse has been completely skinned. Whether this was the cause of death, or done after the subject was already expired, is not yet clear. Police investigation is underway…"

Twilight was now shaking and sweating. The description of the crime was causing a wave of nausea to rise up within her. And yet, the sickening feeling that was overtaking her was more than just simple fear. It was something more. But what? Why did this all seem so unreal, so strange…?

"Police have agreed to divulge up-to-date details of the crime, with hopes that someone listening out there may be able to assist in the arrest of the perpetrator. The tracks leading to the body's location include the victim's hoofprints and the victim's blood. Examination shows the victim was in mid-run when he died. A dog tag has also been found around the victim's neck– Oh! This just in: Leading up to the body are also what appear to be wagon wheel tracks. However, no wagon has been found on or anywhere near the scene..."

Twilight's eyes shot open wide. The nauseous feeling hit its peak, and she struggled to fight the gag reflex. She slowly aimed her dilated pupils to the right, and looked through the broken window. However, instead of seeing the view of the pre-dawn sky over the trees, she now only saw blackness. What was happening?

"…dog tag around the victim's neck. Police have gone to the address inscribed on it, and have reported finding only a vacant lot. Word has just arrived from authorities at Ponyville station – the land once belonged to one Pear Peel Flynn; species unknown, now deceased. No further information on this individual or any possible connection they may have to the murder is available at this time…"

"Pear Peel Flynn... Old Madame Flynn..."

Twilight's mind reeled with horrifying possibilities as she peered intently at the pitch black that she saw through the defiled window. Why had the scene of the forest and sky vanished? Why did she now only a screen of darkness? Was she going mad?!

"...Old Madame 'Skin'..."

The itch… The itch! She felt the coarse, irritating itch on her upper back beginning to creep in again. With great effort, and without taking her eyes off the blackness through the window, she raised her right hoof and reached behind her, aiming to relieve the sickening tickle.

"…still remains a mystery. New update: police have traced the wagon tracks to their origin point..."

She put her hoof down on the irritated area, applied pressure, and rubbed it aggressively…

"…appears to be a secluded family cabin in the woods…"

…and shuddered as she felt her hoof push beneath a bundled layer of skin, and slide across warm, wet tissue.

"…and the tell-tale wagon, parked with its opening right beside one of the cabin's windo-!"

The radio signal suddenly cracked and dropped silent. Twilight gasped. Her heart became a cold block of ice. Shaking like mad, she turned her bloodshot eyes to the window once again. She gazed at the black veil that blocked the view to the outside…

And recognized it to be a black curtain.

She held her breath, petrified of what was coming next.

"…You know it…"

A cold shiver then snaked down her spine as the swarm of searing needles began to engulf her back once more...

"…and now, you FEEL IT!"

With that, the curtain flew open.

And Twilight screamed and screamed.


THE END