The Ponyville clock tower struck twelve. Bong. Pinwheel sat at the outdoor café across from Dizzy Twist, who eyed her angrily. Staring off in a different direction, Pinwheel quietly slurped her tea. Bong. Setting her tea cup down, Pinwheel looked up at Dizzy. Dizzy's expression hadn't changed in the fifteen minutes they'd been sitting here. Her nose was wrinkled and her maroon eyes were narrowed to slits. Bong. Just as the silence was getting awkward, the waiter appeared with their lunch. He balanced their dishes expertly on his white flank. Gracefully, he lifted the steaming plates off his rump and set them down on the table. "Enjoy." He grumbled, snout high in the air. Pinwheel smiled uncomfortably. The clock rang out again. Bong.
As the waiter left, Pinwheel turned to Dizzy. "I really like the food here. I just wish the waiter didn't have such an attitude." She mumbled, peering down at her soup. The red tomato broth swirled in the porcelain bowl, giving off tiny clouds of steam. Bong. The chiming of the clock rattled Pinwheel's teeth. Dizzy said nothing. Bong. Pinwheel winced, "So…uh…how was your trip to Cloudsdale?" Bong. For the last week, Dizzy had been working wind detail in the Cloudsdale weather factory. In the midst of the confusion over Pale Hoof, Pinwheel had completely forgotten her best friend. Dizzy arrived back in Ponyville the day of Pale Hoof's party. They hadn't spoken until this morning. Bong.
"Oh. It was great. Except for the part where my best friend forgot to tell me she was dating the Grim Reaper." Dizzy spat. Bong. Rolling her eyes, Dizzy made a horrible hacking sound in her throat, "I can't even BELIEVE you, Pinwheel!" Bong. Pinwheel lowered her head.
"He's…he's really not that bad." Pinwheel defended. Bong. Dizzy rolled her eyes so hard Pinwheel was surprised they didn't fall out. The final note of the clock tower rang out over the town. Bong.
"That's what every filly says about the 'bad' colt. 'Oooooh, I can change him!' Blech." Dizzy stuck out her tongue, "This isn't just the biker colt from lower Manehattan, Pinwheel. This is the Grim Reaper."
"We're…we're not like that. It's not really dating. It's just…casual hanging out." Pinwheel explained. Dizzy narrowed her eyes at her. Her gaze felt like a searing hot iron, "It's not like we've kissed or anything!"
Dizzy stared at her flatly. "Of course you haven't," She shook her head slowly, "because he KILLS everything he touches! I heard what he did to Applejack's tree and Fluttershy's turtle."
Pinwheel jerked upright. "That's not fair. He revived the turtle!"
"Pinwheel…" Dizzy pointed to her with a hoof, "I am going to explain to you slowly why dating the god of death is a monumentally bad decision. "
"Oh? Well, I wish somepony had explained to you that carrying an earth pony hundreds of feet off the ground was a monumentally bad decision!" Pinwheel spat. She drew back, surprised at the harshness of her own voice. Dizzy lowered her hoof, staring dumbfounded at her friend. Pinwheel's face hardened, "You're the only reason I met him, you know. If you hadn't dropped me…"
"I said I was sorry!" Dizzy barked, slamming her hooves on the table. Plates rattled and a few drops of Pinwheel's soup sloshed out. The other café patrons turned from their entrees and peered at them. Pinwheel glanced around at the guests and quickly lowered her head. Dizzy, seemingly immune to the irritated glances, remained as she stood, half on the table and half off, "Anyway…I didn't drop you. YOU fell!"
"I lost my glasses!"
"So you let go of me for a stupid pair of glasses?" Dizzy screeched shrilly, "Glasses can be replaced! Mr. Specs runs a glasses store right down the street! Do you EVEN know how bad I felt? I was crying my eyes out for hours! And now…now you're risking your life again. Did you even think about my feelings?"
"Did you even think about mine? I'm the one who died!"
Dizzy shut her eyes tightly. Tears seeped from under her cream eyelids. Pushing off from the table, she turned and began to trot away. Pinwheel hopped off the hay bale bench and started after Dizzy. "Are you crying?" She called. Dizzy paused long enough to hold up a hoof before continuing on. Pinwheel came to a halt. Spreading her wings, Dizzy took off and vanished behind a thick, puffy cloud, leaving Pinwheel standing alone in the street. Teeth gritted, Pinwheel stamped the ground hard with her hooves. All the café patrons were looking at her, but she didn't care. Tossing her mane, Pinwheel stomped back to the table. Slowly, gazing down his snout at Pinwheel, the waiter approached.
"I suppose your friend will not be paying for her meal?" The waiter asked. A beautiful slice of daffodil and alfalfa pie sat untouched on Dizzy's side of the table, still steaming. Pinwheel sighed. Her saddlebags lay next to the hay bale bench. Poking inside them, Pinwheel passed a small purse of bits to the waiter.
"Wrap our food up, will you? I'll take it home." Pinwheel's stomach growled, but she couldn't force herself to eat. The café patrons turned back to their food, whispering quietly amongst themselves. They might have been chatting about their laundry, but Pinwheel felt as though every word was directed at her. The waiter lifted the plates off the table and carried them back inside the café. Sighing, Pinwheel sat down, her head dropping against her chest. After his big revelation at the party, Pale Hoof vanished again. Of course. He had a job to do. Shirking his duties even for one day could have consequences. Even so, Pinwheel found herself wishing he was here. He could explain to everypony that he wasn't a threat. He just wanted to have some off-duty fun. Living in that dreary, dark crossroads between life and death had to be depressing.
Even worse, though, he hadn't said goodbye. He just disappeared without a word, leaving only his new cloak behind.
"What a mess." Pinwheel sighed.
The sudden clatter of hooves stirred Pinwheel out of her daze. She lifted her head only to see Mayor of Ponyville herself, accompanied by Twilight, heading straight forward. Sparkle. Quickly, Pinwheel stumbled off of her seat and nodded to the two ponies. The mayor paused a few feet from Pinwheel's table, her expression stony. Instantly, Pinwheel's heart dropped into her hooves. She'd seen the mayor on Winter Wrap Up days and other celebrations – normally, she was a graceful mare who smiled easily and encouraged her citizens to work hard. The stony, cold expression she wore now looked alien on her face. "Hello, Miss Pinwheel." The mayor stated formally. Pinwheel hiccupped, "I've spoken to Miss Sparkle and we'd like to have a word with you. For the good of Ponyville."
"Sorry to tear you away from your lunch." Twilight smiled apologetically.
"I…I wasn't eating anyway. I just asked the waiter to box up the food." Pinwheel let out a nervous giggle, "Uh…is there something wrong, Ms. Mayor?"
"We had a few concerns regarding your new coltfriend, Miss Pinwheel." The mayor answered. She examined Pinwheel critically, looking her up and down. Pinwheel swallowed hard, "We fear he may be, well, a safety hazard for the citizens of Ponyville."
"Oh…" Pinwheel ducked her head, "Well, uh…if everypony stays out of his way, it's no problem. He isn't going to hurt anypony."
"That's just the problem, Miss Pin. We don't think we can keep everypony out of his way." The mayor sighed. With a toss of her mane, she motioned for Pinwheel to follow. Glancing behind at the café, Pinwheel saw the waiter boxing up her food. With a frown, she turned and followed the mayor. Food was her lowest priority right now.
The three of them strolled toward the square's central pavilion. Mounting the steps, the mayor swiveled around to face Pinwheel. "I had Miss Sparkle do some research on your friend." She began, "A few disturbing things popped up. Aside from being associated with, well, Death, the pony Reaper is rumored to bring plagues and misfortune."
"He sometimes makes things happen, yeah, but that's not his fault. It's just how our world reacts to him." Pinwheel explained.
"That's just the thing, Pinwheel." Twilight interrupted gently, "Those things happen because he isn't supposed to be here. Pale Hoof belongs in the realm between worlds, not in Ponyville."
Pinwheel lowered her head. "I see."
"Applejack and Fluttershy told us about the turtle and the tree as well." The mayor continued, "I'm…concerned. I saw the tree myself – it was completely rotten. If he can do that to a tree, what can he do to a pony? What if somepony were to bump into him accidentally? Ponyville can get very crowded during the day. I won't have my citizens dropping dead in the street."
"C'mon…" Pinwheel responded weakly, "I've tried really hard to keep him from killing somepony by accident. He can't help it. All he wants is to see the mortal world and have a little fun. Having fun isn't a crime."
"Yes, but killing ponies is. While Pale Hoof may not be bound by pony laws, you are. If he kills somepony, even by accident, the punishment will fall on you. You're the closest thing he has to a living ambassador." The mayor warned.
Pinwheel's stomach turned. She snickered nervously through gritted teeth. "Hold on there. I'm not his ambassador or anything. We just went on a few dates. They weren't even really dates. Like I said to my friend Dizzy, it was just casual stuff…" The excuses fell weakly from her mouth. Twilight and the Mayor exchanged glances. Pinwheel fell silent. It was true – as far as she knew, she was Pale Hoof's only contact on the living plane besides Princess Celestia. Licking her dry lips, Pinwheel looked back up at the two mares, "What, exactly, do you want me to do?"
The mayor let out a deep sigh. "Well, we can't tell you to stop being friends with him. My authority as mayor doesn't give me the power to break up relationships, even detrimental ones." She declared, "However, as Pale Hoof's friend and ambassador, you have to keep a check on him. Maybe…avoid the busier parts of the day. Go out at night after everypony is asleep. We have to avoid deaths any way we can."
"I understand." Pinwheel responded gravely.
"Try to keep him off public grass, too. Dead patches are very ugly to look at." The mayor added, her stony expression breaking. A hint of a smile tugged at her mouth.
"A-absolutely." Pinwheel answered uncertainly.
"While I find your relationship with Pale Hoof a little strange, I suppose it's no stranger than Twilight's relationship with the Princess." The mayor concluded. Twilight grinned. Nodding to the two mares, the mayor descended the pavilion steps, "That's about it, I suppose. Thank you for your time, Miss Pin."
Pinwheel gave the mayor a big false grin that faded as soon as the tan pony was out of sight. Sighing, she stared hopelessly at Twilight Sparkle. Taking a few steps closer, Twilight patted Pinwheel gently on the shoulder. "Sorry about all this."
Pinwheel stared down at the dirt. "The price of knowing a famous pony, I guess." She took a deep breath, "It's all right, though. As long as I keep him away from everpony, things should be just fine."
Twilight bobbed her head in agreement. "He seems to like you. Pale Hoof, I mean." She said, "I hope you two have fun together. I have to get back to the library. I'll see you around."
Pinwheel started. "Wait, Twilight!" Twilight paused, glancing over her shoulder. Hurriedly, Pinwheel dug into her saddlebags. She pulled out her notebook, scuffed and covered with graphite stains. Gripping it in her teeth, she handed it off to Twilight, who floated it over using telekinesis, "I wrote more of my story. You said you'd read it."
Twilight magically flipped through the pages before opening her saddlebag and dropping it inside. She looked down for a moment, frowning thoughtfully, before glancing back up at Pinwheel. "Pinwheel…this story…is it true?"
Pinwheel frowned sheepishly, staring at the cobblestones beneath her. "Y-yeah. Yeah, it is."
"So…you really were dead."
"And those other two ponies?"
"They were real too. I saw their obituaries in the paper. It was…scary."
Twilight nodded solemnly. "My friends and I are headed to Appleloosa in a few days. I'll read it on the train and think it over while I'm there. Provided nothing strange happens, of course." Twilight giggled, "I'm really honored that you're sharing this with me, Pinwheel. I can't imagine dying. It must have been really traumatic for you."
"It's something I'll never forget. At least, not while Pale Hoof's around." Pinwheel snorted, "Why're you heading all the way out to Appleloosa?"
Twilight grinned broadly. "Oh, you know. Applejack was so anxious about Pale Hoof's root rot that she's giving her favorite tree to her relatives for safe keeping. She just can't stand the idea of her trees getting sick. I keep telling her that's not how magic works, but she won't listen." Twilight shrugged, "You're welcome to come with, if you like. We could use an extra hoof."
Pinwheel hid her smile behind a hoof. "No…I'd better stay here. Make sure old Pale Hoof doesn't get into trouble."
"It's up to you." Twilight beamed, "I'd better go now. See you later, Pinwheel." With that, the purple unicorn turned back around and wandered off into the shifting crowd of ponies on the street.
Pale Hoof was there when Pinwheel arrived home that afternoon. She could tell by the fresh circles of dead grass outside in the yard. He hadn't bothered to knock this time. When Pinwheel arrived home, the screen door was open and Pale Hoof was in the back bedroom, sorting through Pinwheel's drawers as though trying to find something. He barely acknowledged her when she came in. With a fierce yank, he pulled open the bottom drawer and pushed aside Pinwheel's clothes. Smiling, Pinwheel trotted to the closet and turned the handle. Inside, on a single hanger, was Pale Hoof's cloak. With a flourish, she yanked the cloak off the hanger and offered it to him. Slowly, he turned around. Without a sound, he took the cloak in his teeth and draped it around his shoulders. Clumsily, he tied the drawstrings.
"It's…ah…it's not really polite to barge into somepony's house when they're not at home." Pinwheel said after a long silence. After putting on the cloak, he simply stared at her, not moving, not saying anything.
"I WANTED MY CLOAK." He answered.
"Well, it was right there waiting for you. I didn't do anything to it." Pinwheel shrugged, "Are you mad at me?"
"I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT YOU SAID AT THE PARTY." He uttered, "I AM NOT A 'SOFTY', AS YOU PUT IT. I AM DEATH." The word 'softy' sounded so strange in his deep, otherworldly voice that Pinwheel couldn't help but giggle. At the sound of her laughter, he tilted his head curiously.
"It's just an expression, Pale Hoof." She replied, grinning widely at him.
"DEATH IS NOT SOFT."
Pinwheel shook her head, still smiling. "No, it's not. But if I told ponies you were cold and cruel and hard, they wouldn't like you very much." She explained, "Plus…I don't think you're that cold or cruel. I remember what you did for Fluttershy's turtle. A cruel pony wouldn't do that."
"IS THAT SO."
"Yes. And a cruel pony wouldn't keep giving me second chances. A cruel pony would just reap my soul and be done with it." Pinwheel asserted, "So I know you're not cruel at all. Don't try to pretend."
"I AM NOT SOFT."
"Pinkie Pie said it first, not me." Pinwheel replied with a wave of her hoof, "But I'm glad you're back anyway. We've got something to talk about."
"You certainly scared the mayor. She and I were chatting just a minute ago. We can't go out during the busy parts of the day anymore. She said it's better if we wait til everypony's off the streets. And you can't walk on any public grass because you kill everything you touch." Pinwheel recited. Pale Hoof stared at her blankly.
"THE LAWS OF MORTAL PONIES HAVE NO HOLD OVER ME."
"Yeah, well, they have hold over me. And as your official fleshy ambassador, I take the blame for your mischief. So keep off the grass, okay?" Pinwheel bit back. Pale Hoof was silent for several seconds, then let out a chilly sigh that lowered the room temperature ten degrees.
"I WILL DO AS YOU SAY THEN, MADAME AMBASSADOR." He answered. Pinwheel grinned toothily.
"You know, it's funny." She giggled, gaze lowered to the floorboards, "Everypony, even the mayor, was calling you my coltfriend! They think we're an item. Can you even imagine it?"
Although his skull head could not make expressions, Pale Hoof seemed to frown. He tilted his head downward a bit, cocking it to the side. "COLTFRIEND?"
"You know…they thought we were…together. A couple." Pinwheel chuckled, "I know I said we went on a few dates, but those weren't real dates. It's not like we're going on romantic strolls in the moonlight."
"WE ARE NOT A COUPLE?" Pale Hoof asked. Pinwheel's eyes snapped open.
"Did…you think we were?" She asked.
"…POSSIBLY." Pale Hoof looked away, staring instead at the corner of her bedroom. Pinwheel snorted.
"We haven't gone on any romantic dates. It was just…friend stuff, I thought."
"WHAT IS A 'ROMANTIC DATE', then?"
Pinwheel blinked slowly. "Oh…like candlelit dinners…long sunset walks on the beach…ballroom dancing…kissing under the stars. Stuff like that. I don't know, Pale Hoof. I've never had a real coltfriend before. I just know about the romantic stuff I've read in books." Scratching her neck, Pinwheel's eyes once again dropped to the floor. Who knew if any of that stuff was romantic in real life? All she knew was that walking around Ponyville and scaring ice cream vendors felt more like friendship than romance. She didn't mind being friends with Pale Hoof, but she couldn't imagine snuggling up to him on a twilit tropical beach. For one thing, they couldn't even touch!
"KISSING." Pale Hoof echoed.
"Yeah. Real couples kiss and stuff." Pinwheel responded.
"I SEE." Pinwheel nodded, smiling cheerfully. What happened next was totally unexpected. Like a bolt of lightning, he was on her. Pale Hoof moved so quickly that Pinwheel couldn't even register it. One second he was across the room, the next he was looming uncomfortably close. His skull face hovered over hers. Pinwheel opened her mouth to say something, but it was too late. His exposed teeth brushed lightly against her cheek.
In the next second, everything went wrong. The bedroom window shattered and a wintry breeze punished the room. The lightbulb blew out and the closet door slammed. Pinwheel choked. Blood gushed out of her mouth. She doubled over and heaved. Crimson vomit splattered all over the floor. Tears spilled out of her eyes. All around, the shadows seemed to be moving, forming wicked claws and teeth. Invisible ghosts shrieked in her ears. Pinwheel's vision flashed in and out. Her body trembled violently. Pale Hoof stood impassively over her. With a final, pained 'hurk', Pinwheel choked out the last of the vomit. There, lying in the pool of blood, was something pink and shiny. Eyes rolling, Pinwheel collapsed. A second later, she was dead.
Pale Hoof stood alone in the dark room. He looked down at Pinwheel's body. Aside from all the blood she'd lost, she'd hacked up part of her esophagus. Gently, he pushed her mouth open with his hoof and rolled the tissue back inside. He tapped her head. Her mane was soft. The blood pooled around his hooves, staining them crimson. There was no doubt – she was stone dead. An idea formed in Pale Hoof's mind. His touch wouldn't hurt her if she was already deceased. They could have their romantic date after all!
"THIS WILL BE THE MOST ROMANTIC DATE EVER." He said quietly to the body, "WE'LL HAVE A CANDLE LIT DINNER AND GO DANCING, JUST LIKE YOU WANTED." He lifted her small body up with his head, rolling her onto his back. Pinwheel lay limp against his flank, her mouth still drizzling blood. If Pale Hoof had lips, he would have smiled. She would definitely want to be his marefriend after this.
Pinwheel awoke in a dark, lightless abyss. Slowly, as she came to, she felt a horrid stinging in her throat. Rising, she stared into the empty blackness. "Horse apples…" She sighed, dropping her head, "Not this again."
Suddenly, two spirits materialized from the darkness. They both wore hoods, but Pinwheel knew them almost immediately. "Hey there!" Thunderhead said in his friendly, open voice, "Welcome to the Afterlife! If you're here, it means you're dead. But don't worry, the Reaper will be here soon to send you off to—," He paused, eyes widening as he saw Pinwheel, "Hey! I remember you! You're the little filly who got away!"
"Thunderhead?" Pinwheel asked. She looked at the other spirit, a small feminine figure, "Philomel?"
Philomel threw back her hood. Her pink mane seemed to glow in the low light. "You're Pinwheel. You faced the challenges with us."
"Yeah…" Pinwheel answered, "What are you two doing here? I thought Pale Hoo—err, I mean, Death—took you off to the Afterlife."
"Sure he did. But he asked us to watch his post for him while he was in the mortal world. Somethin' about seein' a mare, if I'm not mistaken." Thunderhead puffed out his chest, "So we're temporary stand-in reapers."
"Really, we just tell everypony when he'll be back…"
"Don't ruin the fun for me, Phil!" Thunderhead scolded. Philomel giggled, "But anyway…since you're here, that means you're dead. Again. Guess your luck ran out, Pin."
"So…I just…wait here until he comes back?" Pinwheel asked.
"Somethin' like that, yup. Feel free to wander around, find some other ponies. I think there's one or two around here. Besides us, I mean." Thunderhead confirmed, "I'll tell ya, Heaven's REALLY nice. Almost worth getting torn apart by an ursa." He chuckled.
Pinwheel shook her head. "No…this is a mistake. I died by accident. I have to find a way to get back to my body."
"Everypony thinks their death is an accident." Philomel intoned, "Heaven really is lovely. It's better not to fight it."
"No! You see…I'm the mare Death's been seeing!" Pinwheel blurted. Both Philomel and Thunderhead stared at her in shock.
"You're kidding. Really? You're the boss's new marefriend? I don't believe it!" Thunderhead exclaimed, putting a hoof to his temples.
"It's true. And I need to get back to my body. Will you help me?"
Philomel and Thunderhead exchanged glances. "We could be in deep trouble if she's really the boss's date…"
"I don't want to break the rules, though…" Philomel whimpered.
"Let's give it a shot." Thunderhead turned toward Pinwheel, his expression determined, "We'll help."