Pinwheel chewed meditatively on her alfalfa sandwich, taking long thoughtful bites and ruminating slowly. Dizzy Twist sat across from her, enjoying a small bowl of strawberries. This afternoon, they ate together at an outdoor café. Overhead, the sky was cloudless. Pegasi whizzed by, zooming over the streets with mail bags or packages in hoof. Slowly, Pinwheel turned to look up at the sky. She'd fallen to her death just outside of Ponyville. Earlier in the week, she'd strolled by just to make sure it had really happened. There were still blood stains on the grass.
"Dizzy…" Pinwheel began uncertainly. Dizzy looked up from her strawberries, red gunk coloring her muzzle. She swallowed, "Dizzy, can I talk to you about something?"
"Sure, Pinwheel." Dizzy answered with a smile. Suddenly, her grin faded, "Wait, is this about the accident?"
Pinwheel ducked her head, hiding behind her blonde forelock. "…Sort of."
"I'm really sorry, you know. Really really really sorry. You could've been killed and…you know, you're my best friend. I'd hate myself forever if I killed you, even if it was an accident." Dizzy replied mournfully, looking down into her strawberries, "I…I was so scared when it happened, I just didn't know what to do. All I wanted was for you to experience flying. It's the best feeling in the world! I just wanted to share it with my best friend…"
Pinwheel smiled gently. "I know, Dizzy. I don't blame you. And I turned out fine in the end, so there's no need to worry about it." She answered. Dizzy smiled brilliantly. Berry juice colored her teeth, "It's just…there's something else that's been bugging me."
"What's wrong, Pin?" Dizzy asked curiously, leaning forward over the table.
"When I was…unconscious…" Pinwheel didn't want to say 'dead', "I had a weird…dream."
"What kind of dream?"
"I met two other ponies – a unicorn and a pegasus. We were in this big, black…room, like a cavern, only you couldn't see anything. It was just all dark. And we met Death. He was this tall, bony colt in a long, black robe…"
Dizzy frowned deeply. "That sounds like a really scary dream, Pinwheel."
"It was!" Pinwheel exclaimed, "It was scary. Death was so tall…taller than anypony I've ever seen. And he was just bones, no skin or anything…"
"C'mon, Pinwheel, you know I hate scary stuff." Dizzy yelped, "I don't want to hear it. It'll give me nightmares."
Pinwheel sighed, taking another bite of her sandwich. "It was just a dream, I guess." She sighed, swallowing, "But it's been on my mind since the accident."
"Well…everyone thought you were dead. Maybe that's why you dreamed you met Death." Dizzy offered tentatively. Reaching into the bowl with her snout, she clenched a delicate strawberry between her teeth. Gently, she set it down on Pinwheel's plate, "But you shouldn't let scary dreams bother you. You're alive and well now. That's all that matters."
Pinwheel picked up the strawberry with her teeth and chewed it. The fruit was sweet and cool on her tongue. "I guess you're right." Smiling, Dizzy lifted a hoof in the air and beckoned over the waiter. Splitting the check in half, they both paid their bits and left. Dizzy hummed happily as the two of them strolled away from the café.
"Rainbow Dash must have cleared out the clouds early today. It's beautiful!" Dizzy exclaimed, tilting her head back and letting the sunshine wash over her. Pinwheel nodded, smiling, but inside, she couldn't stop thinking about her experience. The whole thing seemed so strange and dream like. Pinwheel doubted it was even real. Perhaps she just got lucky. The doctors could have made a mistake. That seemed more likely than a real encounter with Death himself. Perhaps some unfortunate pony came in with severely broken bones and the doctors simply switched the X-rays by accident. Slip ups like that happened all the time.
Still, the dream lingered. Pinwheel could picture Philomel and Thunderhead so clearly. They didn't seem like vague dream ponies. She knew the exact shade of Thunderhead's coat. She could see the delicate curl of Philomel's mane. Perhaps they weren't dreams, but memories of some ponies she'd known long ago. But even clearer than Philomel or Thunderhead was the memory of Death. A skeletal pony in a cloak made of shadows. The image sent a chill running down Pinwheel's spine. Death was scary even to think about.
"Hey, are you daydreaming?" Dizzy demanded. Pinwheel started, flushing with embarrassment, "I asked you a question!"
"Sorry." Pinwheel mumbled, "I didn't catch it."
Dizzy pouted. "I said, is there anything you want to do today? I was thinking maybe we could go to Sugarcube Corner for dessert. I hear they have these great new cookies…"
Pinwheel glanced sheepishly down at her feet. "Actually, Dizzy, if you don't mind, I was thinking about going home. I'm still not feeling well."
Dizzy frowned. "I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
Pinwheel shook her head. "Not this time, Dizzy. But thanks. You go on without me." Smiling, Pinwheel nodded to her friend, "Come by later and tell me how those cookies turned out, okay?"
Still frowning, Dizzy nodded. "All right…if you say so." With a sigh, she spread her wings and lifted lightly off the ground. Flying just ten or so feet above the earth, she fluttered away toward Sugarcube Corner. Pinwheel smiled after her. Slowly, Pinwheel turned and began walking home.
Pinwheel lived alone in a little cottage near Sweet Apple Acres. It was a modest place, light blue with white wedding cake trim and a well-swept front porch. There was nothing particularly remarkable about it, save for the hundreds of colorful pinwheels planted in the front yard. They stuck up from the dirt like rare, exotic flowers. Whenever a breeze kicked up, Pinwheel's yard was filled with the plastic rattle of spinning pinwheel leaves. It was a happy sound. Whenever one of the pinwheels lost its leaves or came undone, Pinwheel always replaced it with a fresh one. A gentle breeze rustled through the trees as Pinwheel approached her house. The pinwheels in the yard turned merrily.
"Home sweet home." Pinwheel sighed to herself, nudging open the cottage door. She turned the lock closed behind her. There were a few things she hadn't mentioned to Dizzy. One was the persistent feeling of being watched. Pinwheel couldn't explain it. Since her miraculous revival (Nurse Redheart was apparently writing experts in Manehattan about it), Pinwheel felt as though she was being followed. Even when alone in her house with all the shutters closed, she felt like someone was peering at her secretly. It began to feel as though her cottage was haunted. There was a cold spot in every room. Light bulbs blew out without warning. Wind rattled the shutters, even on nights when the air was still. Pinwheel's only comfort was her garden full of plastic, spinning pinwheels. A part of her wanted to tell Dizzy, but this sort of thing would only upset her. So Pinwheel endured in silence.
Maybe a ghost had followed her home from that dark crossroads encounter with Death. Pinwheel didn't like to think about it.
Inside, the house was quiet. Pinwheel checked every room. All her things were in place. The painted landscape above the fireplace was slightly crooked, but that was nothing supernatural. Pinwheel let out a long sigh of relief. She preferred to think of her encounter with Death as just a very vivid dream. Really, she was probably just scaring herself with all these thoughts of afterlives and hauntings. Dizzy was right. The best thing to do would just be to forget about it. Still, even with her resolution in mind, the image of Death haunted Pinwheel. There was no way to exorcise him.
An empty notebook sat on Pinwheel's bookcase. After checking the rooms, Pinwheel pulled the notebook off the shelf. The blank, crisp pages called out for words. Rooting through the kitchen drawers, Pinwheel found a stubby pencil. Opening the notebook to the first page, Pinwheel gazed down at the wide ruled paper. Dizzy didn't want to hear about the encounter. That was fine. Still, Pinwheel felt the need to tell someone. Since no one was willing to listen, she'd fill the notebook with her story.
Slowly, Pinwheel spelled out the words, gripping the pencil tightly in her teeth. 'I woke up, alone, in a place with no light.'
Pinwheel nudged open the door to the Ponyville Library. "Hello? Anyone home?" The books sat quietly on their shelves. No one stirred in the loft. Frowning, Pinwheel stepped into the room. The Ponyville Library was built inside of a magically hollowed out tree. Recently, a brainy purple unicorn had taken up residence in the tree house. Sighing, Pinwheel nudged open her saddlebags and pulled out the spiral notebook. Gently, she set it down on the table and waited. The door was unlocked, so Twilight Sparkle was definitely home. Even ponies locked their doors when they went out. After all, for some ponies, burglary was their special talent.
All of a sudden, something stirred in the loft. Pinwheel looked up. A scaly purple body, accented with green, emerged from under the covers of the bed. "…Hello?" Pinwheel called. The purple and green creature let out a yelp of surprise and tumbled backward. Tentatively, it peered down at her over the edge of the loft. The distinctive slit eyes and spikes were unmistakable. Pinwheel was looking at a baby dragon.
"Oh…uh…hey." The dragon said sleepily in a youthful male voice. Pinwheel frowned curiously, "I was just taking a nap. Twilight said we wouldn't have any visitors this afternoon." Rubbing his big green eyes, the dragon climbed down from the loft, "You one of Twilight's friends?"
"Uh, no. I just came to get some advice." Pinwheel smiled sheepishly, "You see, I wrote a story and I wanted to get someone's opinion. Librarians read lots of books, so I thought…you know…maybe she'd like to read my writing. Tell me if it's any good."
"Oh, well…Twilight's not really a librarian." The little dragon answered, "She's here for research. But she does read a lot of books."
Pinwheel's smile broadened. "That's all right." She blinked down at the small purple dragon, "Say, uh, what's a dragon like you doing in Ponyville anyway?"
"I'm with Twilight. My name's Spike." The little dragon answered, holding out a claw. Pinwheel shook his claw as best she could with her hoof, "I'll let Twilight know you stopped by."
"Thanks. You're quite the assistant, aren't you?"
Spike puffed out his chest in pride. "I sure am!" He turned toward the notebook on the table, "So, uh, what kind of story is it, anyway?"
"A…a horror story, I guess." Pinwheel answered shyly, ducking her head. Spike frowned at the notebook, flipping through the pages with his claw.
"Twilight doesn't really read those types of stories. But I'll show it to her anyway."
Pinwheel nodded. "I appreciate it. Oh! While I'm here…" Frowning, she glanced toward the shelves, "Do you have any books on myths and legends?"
"Boy, do we. What kinds of myths are you looking for?"
Pinwheel struggled for the right words. Finally, she said, "I really want to know what happens after a pony dies."
Spike frowned. "Well…that makes sense, I guess. You said you were a horror writer." With that, he turned towards the shelves. Slowly, one by one, the little dragon looked through the rows, "Ah, here's something." He pulled a black leather book from the middle shelf. A grinning horse skull graced the cover. Flipping the book open, he frowned studiously at the title page, "Spirits, Spooks, and Pony Haunts. Will this work?"
"Yeah, that'll work." Pinwheel nudged open her saddlebags. Spike dropped the book inside. Smiling, she nodded to the little dragon, "Thanks so much for your help!"
"Hey, no problem. Just, you know, bring that book back before Twilight needs it." He joked. Pinwheel giggled quietly. With a nod, she turned and walked out of the library. Outside, the sky glowed orange. Hints of dark blue crept up from the east. If Pinwheel squinted, she could just make out the faint, early evening stars. Walking a bit, she found a quiet bench under a streetlamp. Digging into her saddlebags, she pulled out the book. The leather binding was cool and fragrant against her nose. She nudged the book open and scanned the table of contents. Pony Reaper…Pony Death…where is it? A sudden chilly wind rustled the pages. When the breeze settled down, Pinwheel found herself staring at a grim illustration.
There, in a full color half-page graphic, was Death. He was a tall colt, just like Pinwheel remembered. He draped his bony form in a long, inky-black cloak. In his yellowed teeth, he gripped the classic scythe. The handle of the instrument was black, twisted, and thorny like the branch of some long dead tree. The blade curved cruelly like a crescent moon, blood dripping off the razor sharp tip. Death stood facing the reader, his eye sockets huge and empty. Pinwheel felt another chill looking at the image. Her blood went to ice. She'd recognize Death anywhere. The illustration was impossibly accurate. She was only thankful he hadn't pulled out that scythe when she met him.
Covering the illustration with her hoof, Pinwheel looked down at the text below it. 'DEATH. Pony scholars have debated endlessly over the existence of this pony. Is he real? Or is he just a myth? According to legend, when a pony dies, this callous spirit appears to drag his or her soul into the Afterlife. If a spirit does not come willingly, Death will reap him or her by force. Nothing is known about this spirit's personality or traits. The writer advises caution, but by the time you meet this spirit, it may be too late.' Pinwheel grimaced at the text, shivering a little. She could almost hear the author's sadistic laughter.
With a firm hoof, she closed the book. Who wrote this stuff, anyway? Picking it up in her teeth, she dropped it back in the saddle bag. It was just a dream, anyway. Huffing, Pinwheel hopped off the bench.
Back at home, a cool night breeze stirred the pinwheel garden. Pinwheel watched from the corner of her yard. One of the shutters flew open suddenly , making her jump. For half a second, she saw the vague silhouette of a pony in the window. Taking a deep breath, Pinwheel steeled her nerves and charged up to the porch. Kicking aside the door, she strode boldly into her home. "I'm getting sick of this!" She yelled into the dark, empty foyer, "If you're a ghost or some kind of spirit, I want you gone!"
That dark place, that crossroads between life and death, had to be teeming with spirits. Maybe they waited there, scheming for the day when they could hitch a ride back to the living world. Although the night air was warm, Pinwheel felt a chill – as though someone were breathing on the back of her neck. Tensing, she whirled around. Nothing. The stars glittered through the branches of the nearby apple trees. Pinwheel tried desperately to relax. But when the breeze blew through her open doorway, it sounded like pained sigh.
"Just…GO AWAY!" Pinwheel turned again, shouting into the foyer. Everything was still for a moment. What did she look like right now, standing in her doorway and shouting at nothing? Pinwheel's face felt hot. She tried to think. Had she really died? Was something really happening in her house? Was it just her overactive imagination? No matter how she twisted it, she couldn't come up with an answer. Nurse Redheart said that Pinwheel made a miraculous recovery. She wouldn't be writing to those experts in Manehattan if it wasn't something incredible. Maybe, for a short moment, she really had died. There had to be some proof that her experience with Death was real, though, and not some delusion.
All of a sudden, Pinwheel noticed a newspaper lying at her feet. Bending down, she picked it up with her teeth. Biting the newspaper, Pinwheel walked inside and laid the publication down on the kitchen table. A pegasus came by every day to drop off a copy of the Canterlot Times. Rifling through the pages, Pinwheel came to the obituaries.
There they were. Their photos were grayscale and grainy, but Pinwheel couldn't forget those faces. Philomel's obituary told of her tragic death by trampling, as well as her passion for the violin. Thunderhead's was an ode to a simple, hard working pegasus who met an early end. Pinwheel could see them both clearly in her mind. Those two ponies weren't figments of her imagination at all – they were real. The grainy photos captured Philomel's shy, big-eyed gaze and Thunderhead's friendly, honest smile. Pinwheel turned the page on them.
Looking at the obituaries made Pinwheel feel sick to her stomach. Why did she get to live? Her pinwheels were nothing next to Philomel's beautiful music or Thunderhead's brute strength. They were the ones who deserved a second chance, not her. Pinwheel's face grew hot with shame. Was this why Death chose to spare her? To torture her with the knowledge that worthier ponies were dead? A tear dropped on the newspaper. Death made a mistake – that was the only answer.
Out back behind Pinwheel's house, there was a small, rocky embankment. Pinwheel always had to avoid it when walking around in her yard – one wrong step and you could take a nasty tumble. Taking a deep breath, Pinwheel stepped outside and made for the backyard. Most ponies would just accept their good fortune and be done with it. Not Pinwheel, though. The unanswered questions just tortured her more.
Teeth gritted, Pinwheel came to the embankment. Sharp rocks and dirt awaited her over the outcropping. With a deep breath, she ducked her head and plunged.