It had been a slow day at Sugarcube Corner. Mr. and Mrs. Cake were away on business in Fillydelphia, and had (reluctantly), left the shop in the competent hooves of their lodger and employee, Pinkie Pie. She had been up since the crack of dawn, baking and decorating the day's stock, and now stood to attention behind the counter, staring at the door and willing it to open, letting in a flood of hungry and soon-to-be satisfied customers. Pinkie's attention span was not perfect at the best of times, but she did possess a remarkable amount of patience.
However, it was now past lunch, and not a single pony had walked through the door. Even for her this was getting a bit much. Her stomach growled, drowning out the slow tick of the clock. Pinkie glanced up at it, and it suddenly struck her how hungry she was. She had been so intent on running the shop perfectly that she'd neglected to eat anything since she'd woken up.
Torn between her hunger and her duty, she finally succumbed to temptation and headed into the back room, where the Cakes kept the stock from the previous day that had gone a little stale, though still edible. As she tucked in to the cupcakes and confectionery, she head the ringing of the bell above the shop's door. Gulping down one last mouthful, she skidded through the kitchen and back to the shop-front. There, facing away from her, was a pony browsing the shop's wares. She saw that the pony was wearing a hooded cloak, that hid it. Knowing of only one pony that regularly wore a hooded cloak in Ponyville, she jumped to the logical conclusion.
"Hey, Zecora! Need any help? You're the first customer I've had all-" Pinkie cut off as the hooded pony turned to face her. It wasn't Zecora. In fact, Pinkie certainly didn't recognize him. His coat was a brilliant, almost polished white, with a short-cropped mane and brilliant blue eyes.
"Oh, sorry! I thought you were Zecora, she normally wears a cloak in town. Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie! I haven't seen you in Ponyville before, what's your name? Can I help you with anything?" she asked, brushing off her mistake. The pony paused for a moment, before answering:
DOOR. BILL DOOR.
The words seemed to enter Pinkie's brain without first going through her ears, and had a strange atonal quality, like the grinding of one rock against another. She took a longer look at the cloaked pony, and noticed that he seemed thin. Very thin. Gaunt.
"You look like you must be hungry. Here, I'll get some free samples!" She ran behind the counter and appeared mere moments later with a tray of cupcakes balanced on her head. She set them down on the counter and beckoned Bill Door over.
"Come on, try some! They're free! New customers always get a free sample, and so do new ponies! You're both, so you get twice as much!" She nudged the tray towards Bill Door, helping herself to one as well. She noticed Bill Door take a cupcake, and she noticed a few seconds later that it had gone, but she couldn't remember him picking it up or eating it. Pinkie had always been very perceptive of what was going on around her, even if sometimes it seemed like she had no idea. She could tell there was something... off about this customer. The way he stood, still as a statue. His eyes, a deep and blazing blue that looked like the depths of the ocean. His coat was unnaturally white. His voice was... Almost unreal. She felt like she was in the presence of somepony powerful, like Princess Celestia, or Luna, or even Nightmare Moon. She thrust the thoughts into the back of her head and kept smiling, determined to treat this customer properlyl, whoever or whatever he was.
"So what brings you to Ponyville? Where do you come from?" she asked, looking at Bill Door.
I AM JUST VISITING. I COME FROM A PLACE FAR AWAY. Bill Door answered, again in that strange non-speech. Pinkie was sure that his jaw didn't move. Conversation sat at a lull for a few seconds.
"Who are you visiting? I know everypony in Ponyville. I can help you find them!" Pinkie ventured, trying to stir her customer's interest a little.
THAT WON'T BE NECESSARY. Bill Door replied, again cutting the conversation dead. Pinkie felt him regarding her for a few moments, even though it seemed that his head didn't move. TELL ME, he said suddenly, DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR GRANDFATHER?
Pinkie cast her mind back, thinking back to her days before moving into Sugarcube Corner, when she lived with her parents and sisters outside Ponyville. She had never met her grandparents on her mother's side, they had died before she was born, but she remembered her Granny Pie fondly.
"I remember meeting him a few times when I used to visit Granny Pie, he was always busy. He was big and tall, and never looked old. He was white, like you! Very white, that I remember. Like Princess Celestia, shining. Granny Pie used to tell me stories about him, how he went on long journeys and fought monsters, but was always there to help everypony. He died when I was still a young filly, though. Dad never talked about him much. Did you know him?" she answered, bringing herself back from her memories and looking at Bill Door.
YES. VERY WELL. WE WENT ON MANY JOURNEYS TOGETHER, HE AND I. I DID NOT KNOW HE HAD PASSED AWAY. For a brief moment, Pinkie saw a flash of sorrow in the emotionless pony's eyes. Then his words sunk in.
"But you don't look that old! Then again, Princess Celestia is over a thousand years old and looks younger than Mrs. Cake, and Princess Luna is nearly the same age but looks younger than me. Are you related to them, Bill Door? A prince?" she asked.
NO. I AM JUST THE ONE WHO GATHERS THE HARVEST. THOUGH I DO NOT AGE. Pinkie suddenly felt uneasy. It seemed that the room had grown colder. She looked again at Bill Door, and gasped. There, before her, stood not the thin, white pony from before, but a hooded skeleton of a pony, polished gleaming white, with tiny blue pinpricks in its eye sockets that burnt like stars. She didn't feel scared. She never felt scared. She just felt strangely calm, and time seemed to slow, all around. She suddenly realised she couldn't hear the ticking of the clock.
… YOU CAN SEE ME. 'Bill Door' stated, without surprise. YOU HAVE MORE OF YOUR GRANDFATHER IN YOU THAN I THOUGHT.
Pinkie looked long and hard at the skeletal pony's eyes, those blue dots shining from a vast and unnatural blackness in the sockets.
"Who are you?" she said at last.
"Then, am I...?"
NO. I AM DEATH, BUT I AM NOT YOUR DEATH. YOUR GRANDFATHER TAUGHT YOU SOMETHING, ONCE, WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG. DO YOU REMEMBER? Death looked at Pinkie with those cold eyes and she cast her mind back once more.
Pinkie Pie looked out from behind her father's legs, up at her grandfather. He was tall, far taller than any pony she had met, and his coat was a brilliant white, as was his mane and tail. He looked down at her and smiled.
"So this is your youngest? Come on out, little one. Don't be scared of your Granny and Grandpa. What's your name?" he said, in a deep, rich voice.
"P-Pinkie." she stammered, hiding behind her father again. Her grandfather chuckled, while her father just scowled a little, nudging Pinkie out and in front of her grandparents. Her two sisters just stood silently looking at their hooves.
"Well, Pinkie, around here they always called me Binky. Binky Pie. Your Granny and I are happy to finally meet you." He smiled and nuzzled the little filly's straight-combed mane, frizzing it up a little.
She and her family stayed a few days with her grandparents, their home being much more vibrant and colourful than the drab existence she lived out on her parent's own farm. One sunny afternoon, her grandfather found her sitting out in the garden, enjoying all the colours and sights and sounds. They talked for a while, him telling her nonsense stories about the world, and listening to her talk about her life back home. Eventually he stood up and turned to her.
"Pinkamina- Pinkie. How would you like to see a little magic trick?" he said, winking at her. She nodded, vigourously. Her parents never allowed anything like that. All work had to be done by hoof and mouth, 'the Ponyville way', as her father always said. Pinkie watched her grandfather walk up to a large rock sitting off to one side of the garden. He stepped behind it, his head and neck still visible from where Pinkie sat.
"Now you see me..." he said, and knelt down behind the rock. "And now you don't." he finished, hidden behind the rock. Pinkie frowned.
"That's not magic! You're just sitting behind the rock!" She got up and trotted over to the rock, and looked behind it. Her grandfather had vanished.
"Am I?" he said, suddenly appearing from behind a tree at the other end of the garden. Pinkie blinked in disbelief.
"How'd you do that? You're an earth pony like dad, how did you do that?" she asked, not sure what to make of her grandfather's display of power.
"You don't need to be a unicorn to perform magic, Pinkie. There are some types of magic not even they can do. I tried to teach your father, when he was your age, but he could never do it. Your sisters never showed any interest in the wonders of the world, so I never tried with them, but you, Pinkie, you're like your Granny. Full of joy and wonder, even if your father does like to keep a lid on it. Shall I teach you how to do this trick?" he said, walking over to Pinkie and smiling at her.
Pinkie nodded, slowly at first, but then with enthusiasm. His smile breaking into a grin, her grandfather sat her down and taught her how to perform the 'trick'.
Coming back to the present day, Pinkie looked back at Death and nodded.
"He taught me how to move around without being seen. It was scary at first, but Granny Pie and Grandpa Binky said there was never anything to be afraid of. He told me not to use it unless I really had to, though. … I got into trouble a few times when I didn't listen to that piece of advice. But how did you know that? And what do you mean, not 'my' death?" Pinkie Pie said, her normally cheerful and care-free demeanour replaced with concern.
I AM NOT THE DEATH OF THIS WORLD. THAT IS NOT MY ROLE. I COME FROM ANOTHER PLACE, WHERE THE WORLD IS... DIFFERENT. YOUR GRANDFATHER, BINKY, WAS MY COMPANION FOR COUNTLESS AEONS IN THAT PLACE, THOUGH AS HE GREW OLD HE WISHED TO LEAVE MY SERVICE AND LIVE A MORTAL LIFE. HE CHOSE THIS WORLD, AND SETTLED HERE. Death replied, his unfailing gaze never leaving Pinkie.
"S-Service? He was... Death?" Pinkie stammered.
NO. IN THAT WORLD I AM NOT AS YOU SEE ME HERE. THERE I WALK UPRIGHT AND STAND ON TWO FEET. YOUR GRANDFATHER WAS MY STEED, AND INDEED A GREAT FRIEND TO ME. Death looked away, finally, casting his gaze around the shop. HE CHOSE AN INTERESTING WORLD IN WHICH TO LIVE OUT HIS DAYS.
"So you came to... visit him?" Pinkie asked.
NO. I CAME TO VISIT YOU. Death replied, looking back at her.
YOU BEAR THE SAME GIFT AS HE. HE LEARNT TO WALK THE PATHS BETWEEN SPACES WHEN IN MY SERVICE. HE TAUGHT IT TO YOU. WHY, I DO NOT KNOW. PERHAPS HE EXPECTED THAT I WOULD RETURN SOME DAY, OR WISHED TO TRAIN A SUCCESSOR. BUT I COME TO YOU WITH A PROPOSAL, PINKIE PIE. WILL YOU RETURN TO THAT WORLD, YOUR GRANDFATHER'S WORLD, AND SERVE ME IN HIS STEAD? Death's eyes seemed to bore right into her as he stood there awaiting a response. She was acutely aware that all noise outside had ceased. She could hear nothing except her own breathing.
She thought of her grandfather, trying to imagine him as Death had described him, but couldn't. Her smiling grandfather, always ready with a helping hoof, the steed and companion of Death himself? She thought of her father, and realised why he'd never spoken about 'Grandpa Binky', and why he was so insistent on doing things without magic. She realised that he had known, all those years, and had been trying to protect her and shield her. She thought of her friends, and all the joy and laughter they had shared with each other in Ponyville. The thought of giving all that up...
… It wasn't her.
"No. I won't. I can't. I couldn't live like that. I understand why Grandpa Binky came here. He wanted some joy and laughter in his life after all those long years. … I'm sorry, but I won't come back with you." she said, for once completely sombre.
Death held her gaze for a little longer, then his shoulders moved a fraction, as if he was shrugging, or trying to shrug.
AS YOU WISH. YOUR GRANDFATHER WAS DEAR TO ME, AND I WOULD NEVER FORCE HIS GRANDDAUGHTER TO DO SOMETHING SHE DID NOT FREELY CHOOSE TO DO. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR FROM ME. He turned, and headed towards the exit, the clop of his hooves on the tiled floor ringing out like the ticking of the clock. Indeed, Pinkie noticed she could hear it ticking once again, and the noise and chatter of Ponyville outside the shop's windows washed over her.
Death opened the door with one hoof, and turned his head back.
THE CUPCAKES WERE DELICIOUS.
With that, he closed the door behind him, and was gone. Pinkie looked down at the counter, and saw a shining gold bit sitting there. She picked it up in her teeth and placed it in the register, grinning to herself. Death liked her baking.
Sometimes, however... Fate has other ideas...