• Published 6th Feb 2012
  • 6,606 Views, 346 Comments

Near Death Experience - Hadles

Can Pinwheel the Earth pony bargain with Death to get her life back?

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Chapter 18

Pinwheel paced up and down the hall in front of the guest bedroom door. Silence enveloped her cottage – everything was quiet except for the soft thump of her hoof beats on the wood floor. Somewhere outside, an owl hooted. Pinwheel jumped and, realizing it was only an owl, took a deep breath. She hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights when she came home, so the cottage was dark. The shadows seemed to creep across the floor, flickering at the corners of Pinwheel’s eyes. Her gala dress lay abandoned on the floor, heaped in a pile near the door where Pinwheel had slipped out of it.

Clenching her teeth and puffing out her chest, Pinwheel approached the bedroom door. “IF YOU NEED ME, JUST KNOCK.” Those were Pale Hoof’s words when he first ‘moved in’. Though they’d been living together for several months, Pinwheel never needed to summon him before. He showed up of his own accord most of the time. Every day, Pinwheel would find him standing at the foot of her bed, waiting patiently for her to wake up. He was there from the moment she rose in the morning til the moment she went to bed. There were times when he was mysteriously absent, of course, but Pinwheel chalked that up to his occupation.

Clearing her throat, Pinwheel approached the door. She knocked gently on the door. “May I come in?” She asked. No response. Ears drooping, Pinwheel sighed. Just as she began to turn away, though, she caught the soft click of the lock. The guest room door creaked open, revealing the dark abyss beyond. Gently, Pinwheel pulled the door open. Darkness yawned through the door frame – a darkness so complete it made her cottage look bright. Cold air wafted through the open doorway. If Pinwheel listened hard, she could make out the sounds of soft groaning and whispering coming from the abyss. The hair on her spine prickled. Nothing moved beyond the door frame. No matter how she squinted, Pinwheel couldn’t penetrate the solid blackness.

“Well…” Pinwheel whispered to herself, “If he’s not going to come out, I guess I’m going in.”

Taking a long, slow breath, Pinwheel plunged headfirst into the darkness. The door slammed shut behind her. Pinwheel let out a squeak, but her voice came out muffled as though she were speaking from deep underground. Behind her, the door faded into oblivion, leaving Pinwheel standing alone in the abyss. Pinwheel couldn’t even see her own hooves. When she’d come here as a spirit, her body gave off a soft glow that helped push back the darkness. But now, it felt as though she were standing in a huge, dark cave with nothing but empty space and gloom around her.

Pinwheel shivered in the cold. “Okay…one step at a time.” Pinwheel lifted her hoof, only to find it stuck in the ground. The shadows clung to her pelt. The ground was sticky and elastic; walking across it felt like trying to walk through a tar pit. Grunting angrily, Pinwheel jerked her hooves free. Even so, with every step, her feet stuck to the ground.

“Come on! What IS this stuff?!” Pinwheel growled. Her voice must have carried further than she thought, for a figure appeared from the darkness, swaddled in a long, dark cloak. Pinwheel’s head jerked up, “Pale Hoof?”

“Pinwheel?” The figure replied, coming closer. Pinwheel’s ears drooped. Pushing back his hood, Thunderhead gazed down at Pinwheel, a frown tugging at his lips. He gave off a soft blue glow that illuminated everything within a few feet – not that there was much to see. “Yer back here again? Geez, ya don’t look so good.”

“Thunderhead?” Pinwheel stared up at the purple pegasus, “I thought you weren’t allowed to play reaper anymore.”

“Long story. Turns out not many ponies can handle this kinda responsibility. Even though Phil and I messed up, we at least learn from our mistakes.” Thunderhead replied, smiling down at Pinwheel, “Now…uh…maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me, but yer looking a little under the weather. Did ya throw yer guts up again?”

“What?” Pinwheel frowned, looking down at herself. Thanks to Thunderhead’s ambient light, she could finally get a good look at herself. Startled, she stumbled backward. In the short time she’d been in Pale Hoof’s realm, her cyan coat had faded to a sad, washed out periwinkle. Pinwheel scrambled to her hooves, spinning in circles to see the new color. Her knees shook under her weight. But that was not the only change. Her tail, still sprayed and styled for the gala, dragged sadly on the ground. Her hair was frizzy, unkempt, and graying. Gaping, Pinwheel stared at Thunderhead. “What’s going on?”

Thunderhead stared at Pinwheel for a long time. Rubbing his chin, he frowned. “Shouldn’t you know? You’re dead, aren’t ya?” He asked. Pinwheel shook her head. Thunderhead’s eyes widened. “Don’t be silly, ya have to be dead if yer here.” Experimentally, he reached out and poked Pinwheel on the head. His hoof phased right through her head. Pinwheel squeezed her eyes shut. The sensation made her teeth chatter and head ache. Thunderhead’s eyes widened, “Yer not dead.”

“No, I’m not.” Pinwheel replied. Thunderhead gaped.

“Well, no wonder ya look like that! You should NOT be here. Living ponies aren’t supposed to be able to come to this realm.” He answered, “How did ya even get here?”

“There’s a portal in my house and…look, it doesn’t matter.” Pinwheel answered, “I need to know where Death is.”

Thunderhead thought for a moment. “Well, last time I saw him, he was going to meet you. Something about a ball. That’s why he left us in charge.” He replied, “Listen, ya need to get out of here right now, Pinwheel, it’s not safe for you.”

Before Pinwheel could respond, another figure emerged from the darkness. Though still robed, Pinwheel had no trouble telling who it was. Philomel threw back her hood, revealing her distinctive pink curls. “Thunderhead, did you find someone?” She glanced over at Pinwheel and smiled sweetly, “Well, hello there, Pinwheel! Back already? Gosh, you look terrible!”

“Have you seen Death?” Pinwheel panted, not bothering to waste breath on pleasantries. The cold air (was it air?) stung in her chest. Trying to force her way through the tar-like ground left Pinwheel feeling winded. Glancing down again, she saw the skin around her knees sagging. Wrinkles were rapidly forming all over her body.

Philomel didn’t answer, instead looking toward Thunderhead. “What’s wrong with her?” Philomel asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“She’s not dead.” Thunderhead whispered back. Pinwheel let out a growl.

“Come on, I need to know now!” She barked hoarsely. There was a crushing sensation on her chest, making it difficult to talk or breathe deeply. Alarmed, Pinwheel looked down again. In the time she’d been talking to Thunderhead and Philomel, it looked like she’d aged a hundred years. Her legs, thin and bony, trembled beneath her. Her mane hung, grey and limp, around her shoulders.

Thunderhead rushed to her side, “Come on, Phil. We’ve got to get her out of here, pronto!” He made a grab for Pinwheel’s head, but his hooves phased through her. Pinwheel shuddered.

Philomel came around Pinwheel’s other side. Her horn glowed a soft pink. Pinwheel lifted into the air, where she dangled helplessly. Pinwheel let out a pitiful wheeze of protest. Coughs wracked her body. “Come on, Pinwheel, you really can’t stay here.” She said gently. Pinwheel flailed pitifully, her wizened old limbs creaking painfully.

An enormous burst of green lightning interrupted the two substitute reapers. Philomel and Thunderhead threw themselves on the ground, hooves over their eyes. Pinwheel dropped heavily to the ground. Whimpering, she turned her face away from the light. Sickly green sparks flickered through the void, fading off into nothingness. As the light faded and Pinwheel’s vision started to return, she saw the source of the explosion. A tall colt, taller even than Princess Celestia, stood at the heart of the explosion. His long, tattered cloak fluttered softly around his hooves, revealing flashes of glowing, yellow bone. Large, bony wings covered with a thin, shadowy membrane lay folded against his side. As he turned, Pinwheel saw that his body was completely bone – none of the soft grey fur she’d grown used to. “THUNDERHEAD. PHILOMEL.” His voice was resonate and unearthly, causing everything to vibrate around him. It was as soft as whisper, yet as booming as an earthquake. Gone was the high class Manehattan accent he wore in the mortal realm – replaced with an unearthly, gravelly voice the likes of which couldn’t be heard in Pinwheel’s world.

Thunderhead and Philomel rose to their hooves, trembling in awe at the display. “Uh, welcome back, boss.” Thunderhead mumbled, scuffing his hooves against the ground. Philomel trembled, let out a squeak of fear. Pinwheel’s legs shook as she struggled to get up, but her limbs would not support her.

WE HAVE WORK TO DO. WE…” Death paused mid sentence. He stared down at Pinwheel, lying prone in the ground. Pinwheel gazed back. Her vision was growing blurry, even with her glasses. She let out a small rasp, reaching a hoof toward Death. She hadn’t seen Pale Hoof’s full form since they started dating. Next to Philomel and Thunderhead, he was massive – even taller than he was in the mortal realm.

Thunderhead looked back down at Pinwheel, then up at Death. “I swear, Boss, we didn’t bring her here. She got here on her own!”

“We were trying to make her leave!” Philomel added. For several moments, the four stood in complete silence. Arcs of green lightning flickered at Death’s hooves. Pinwheel wheezed and coughed. Her whole body ached. Thunderhead and Philomel exchanged glances, looking at each other and then down at Pinwheel. Neither of them dared to speak. Death stood as still as a statue, except for the static crackling at his hooves.


Philomel and Thunderhead stared. “W-what, boss?” Thunderhead asked timidly.

OUT! OUT NOW!” Death boomed, causing the ground to tremble beneath them.

“B-Boss?!” Thunderhead reared back in fright, skittering away from the roaring skeleton.

GET HER OUT OF HERE, YOU FOAL! DO IT NOW!” Death’s voice only grew in volume, filling the entire realm with terrible, vibrating noise. Echoes of his words overlapped each other. ‘NOW NOW NOW NOW’ resonated through the air. Philomel dropped onto her rump, covering her head with her hooves. Thunderhead darted around skittishly, looking this way and that. Death let out an eldritch roar and the ground beneath their hooves sprang to life. A giant black tentacle, spawned from the shadows, swept Pinwheel, Thunderhead, and Philomel up in its grip. The tentacle coiled tightly around them, lifting them high up into the air. Pinwheel’s stomach churned at the sudden movement. Far below them, the bedroom door reappeared from the darkness. Death ripped the door open with a burst of green lightning. With a great sweep, the tentacle flung all three ponies through the portal.

Pinwheel collided with the hallway wall, leaving a large dent as she slid to the floor. The bedroom door slammed shut behind them, its lock clicking shut. Pinwheel’s vision swam. A thin, branching fracture cut across the left lens of her glasses. Her entire body ached. Philomel and Thunderhead leaned over her. Pinwheel could see the guest room door through their transparent bodies.

“Pale Hoof…” Pinwheel gurgled, helplessly extending a hoof toward the locked door. The act of speaking was too much, though. Closing her eyes, Pinwheel slumped against the wall, unconscious.

“This is bad. This is really, really bad!” Thunderhead paced back and forth down the hallway. Philomel hovered over Pinwheel, frowning at the blue mare. The violent hurtle back into the mortal realm had done nothing to reverse the aging curse. Pinwheel, wrinkled and gray, lay collapsed on the hallway floor, a large wound on her back. Pinwheel looked less like a young filly in her prime and more like shriveled old mare on the cusp of death. The sight made Philomel shiver. Thunderhead turned sharply toward Philomel, his eyes wide, “We shoulda kicked her out as soon as we found her!”

“She caught us off guard, Thunder.” Philomel answered, “Boss didn’t tell us he put a portal in her house.”

“Did you see how angry he was?” Thunderhead spluttered, “I was surprised he didn’t just gobble us up! And look at her…” Thunderhead gestured to Pinwheel, “If the aging curse doesn’t get her, that wound will. And we don’t have any way to help her!”

“Yes, we do.”

“We’re ghosts, Phil! We can’t even touch her!”

“But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless!” Philomel barked. Thunderhead took a step back, surprised. Philomel took a deep breath, smoothing back her pink curls, “There’s a whole town full of people who can help us. We just need to ask.”

Thunderhead gazed down at Pinwheel. “I don’t think there’s a unicorn in this town powerful enough to reverse a god-level aging curse.” Thunderhead trotted over to Pinwheel’s side. He lowered his head, touching his muzzle to mane. Predictably, he phased through her, “I can’t even feel if she’s breathing.”

“Nothing good’s going to come of standing around and waiting.” Philomel replied, “I don’t know much about Ponyville, but do you remember that news story the Manehattan Times printed a few weeks before we died?”

Thunderhead frowned at Philomel. “How am I supposed to remember somethin’ like that?”

Philomel rolled her eyes, sighing. “It was all over! The story about Nightmare Moon?” She replied. Thunderhead answered with another blank look. Philomel covered her face with her hoof, “You didn’t read the paper much when you were alive, did you?”

“Who cares about my paper reading habits? Tell me about Nightmare Moon.” Thunderhead rolled his eyes.

“The six ponies who defeated her came from this town. If there’s a pony here strong enough to take down Nightmare Moon, there’s a pony strong enough to reverse an aging spell.”

Thunderhead frowned, staring down at the aging Pinwheel. “Don’t die before we get back, okay?” He nudged her head, his muzzle phasing through her. Sighing, he turned back to Philomel, “Let’s find these ponies, then.”

Twilight’s bedroom closet was a testament to her tidiness. All along the floor of her closet, her boots stood sentry, arranged in perfect lines from red to indigo. Her clothing, likewise, hung in perfect arrangements. Twilight never mixed her sleepwear with her outdoor wear or her outdoor wear with her formal wear. Her saddles hung separately from her scarves and Celestia forbid she get her scarves mixed up with her dresses. Spike watched her from his bed as she paced nervously back and forth in front of her closet, her gala dress floating telekinetically at her side. “Come on, Twilight. Just stick it in the closet and go to bed! It’s past midnight!”

Twilight turned to face her assistant. “You don’t understand, Spike!” She sighed, looking at the rumpled, stained gala dress. The chaos caused by her friends had left her dress looking battered, trampled, and all around ruined. Twilight’s chest hurt every time she looked at the dirt stained hem and the broken star barrette. “It’s so dusty – if I hang it up, it’ll get my other dresses dirty. But Rarity said to always hang it up, never leave it just lying in a hamper! And I would never mistreat a gift from a friend!”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Then just leave it out.”

“Spike!” Twilight huffed, “Clothes go in the either the closet or the laundry bin. Leaving things out is just…disorganized! Speaking of which…” She pointed to Spike’s miniature tux, which lay crumpled in a heap by his bedside. Spike looked down at the tux and then back at Twilight.

“I’ll take care of it in the morning…” He sighed with another eye rolling, flopping down on his pillow and pulling the blanket up over his head. Sighing, Twilight picked up the tux and shook it out.

“Really, Spike, you should learn to take better care of your things…” Glancing back at her closet, Twilight’s eyes lit up. Gently shoving her clothes to the side, she made room for the tux and her dirty gala dress. Summoning a pair of clothes hangers over, she stowed the two garments and nodded approvingly, “Perfect! I’ll just take those to the cleaners tomorrow.” As she closed her closet door and headed for bed, though, the light fixture above her head began to flicker. Blinking, Twilight looked up.

“Stop flicking the light on and off, Twi, I’m trying to sleep.” Spike groaned from his basket.

“I’m not doing it, Spike. Looks like we’ve got a bad bulb.” Twilight concluded, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” Just as she turned toward the stairs, though, the light went out, plunging the library into complete darkness. Spike let out a happy sigh.

“That’s better. Just…keep it like that.”

“You know…I’m sure I just changed that bulb…” Twilight mused, rubbing her chin with her hoof, “Oh well.” Shrugging her shoulders, the purple unicorn summoned a candle from her bedside table and lit the wick with her horn. The little candle glowed softly in the dim library. Shadows flickered across her bookshelves and under her furniture. As Twilight approached the staircase, though, her light fell across two strange figures standing below.

There, at the bottom of the stairwell, stood a sturdy, purple male pegasus and a slim, cream colored unicorn mare. Twilight stopped in her tracks, staring down at the two ponies. “Uh, how did you two get in here?” She asked, half laughing. The two ponies stared at her uncertainly and exchanged glances, “I’m sorry, but the library is closed now. You can come back in the morning, though!”

The cream unicorn looked at her companion, who nodded, then back up at Twilight. “You’re the unicorn who defeated Nightmare Moon, right?” Her voice echoed slightly in the library, lending an unearthly cadence to her words. Twilight paused, frowning. Squinting, she peered closer at the two ponies. They didn’t look like any ponies she’d met in Ponyville. Now, of course, Twilight couldn’t claim to know everypony in Ponyville, but she never forgot a face. As she was looking, though, something struck her. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but she swore she could see the bookcase through the unicorn’s face – like peering through a murky window.

“Well, yes…That would be me.” Twilight answered, suddenly uncertain. The more she looked, the clearer it became. The two ponies before her were transparent. She could almost read the spines of her books through the unicorn’s head, “You two are a bit…um…see-through. Is that some kind of invisibility spell?”

The unicorn glanced back at her pegasus friend. “Uh…sure. Invisibility spell.”

“Well! I’m not sure why you’re in my house…at midnight…using an invisibility spell, but, uh, come back tomorrow and I’m sure I can help you with whatever you need!”

“We need a good magician.” The pegasus said. His voice, like the unicorn’s, echoed as though he were speaking from inside a large cave, “And we need one pronto.”

“Well, I’m good at magic. I guess you could call it my element!” Twilight giggled nervously. The two ponies didn’t look armed, but Twilight still didn’t want to go down to meet them. The pegasus was easily twice her weight and, while the unicorn was small, the two of them could probably easily physically overpower her and Spike. Twilight glanced around. The loft had one door, which lead out onto the balcony. If the two intruders turned threatening, Twilight would have no choice but to jump from the second story. She could hear her legs breaking already, “Listen, if it’s not urgent, I would really like to get to bed and…”

“It’s urgent.” The pegasus replied, not even waiting for her to finish. Twilight swallowed hard. The pegasus took a step forward, his hoof landing on the first stair, “Listen, miss, this is gonna be hard to believe and I understand that you probably don’t trust us, but…”

Twilight staggered back. “Listen, I don’t know why you two are here, but sneaking into someone’s house late at night with an invisibility spell doesn’t…”

“Wait!” The unicorn cried out. Spike sat up in his bed.

“Twilight, who are you talking to?”

“Wait.” The unicorn urged, gazing pleadingly at Twilight, “We’re not using a spell. We’re dead. We’re ghosts come back from beyond the grave and we need your help.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “I don’t believe in ghosts. They’re just old pony tales for fillies to tell around the campfire.”

“Well, start believing because here we are.” The pegasus answered, “I don’t care if you believe or not, miss. Our friend’s in trouble and only a powerful magician can help her. Are you in or not?”

Twilight’s frown deepened. “…What’s wrong with you friend?”

“An aging curse.” The unicorn answered, “Any pony who enters the realm of the dead before their time is cursed to age and wither until they fade away. Our friend stumbled into the realm by accident and now she’s growing older by the second. You’re the unicorn who beat Nightmare Moon, so you’re the only one here powerful enough to reverse it.”

Twilight peered suspiciously down at the two ponies. “And who is this friend?”

“Pinwheel.” The pegasus answered without hesitation, “If you’re going to help, you’ve got to hurry! We’re running out of time!”

Pinwheel. The name struck Twilight like a stray baseball. She turned swiftly toward Spike. “Spike, I’ll be back as soon as I can. A friend needs my help!” Spike flopped back over on his pillow, mumbling a reply and waving Twilight off with his claw. Twilight hurried down the stairs. She looked pointedly at the two ponies, “Now, I don’t know who you two are and I’m still not sure I believe in ghosts, but if there’s anypony who could get to the land of the dead, it’s Pinwheel. Pinwheel’s my friend, so if you say she’s hurt, I have to look out for her. So let’s go!”