The Ghost of Carousel Boutique
“Thanks again for letting me stay over tonight, big sis!” The little white unicorn snuggled deeper into her sleeping bag, leaving nothing visible but her big green eyes peering out from the opening. A muffled giggle emanated from within the polyester cocoon.
Rarity couldn’t help but giggle herself; her sister’s antics were just so adorable. She put on a warm smile, and replied, “Of course, Sweetie Belle, any time. After all, that’s what family is for, is it not?” The diamond-flanked unicorn continued buttoning up the house for the night. Going over to make sure the window was locked, she shivered. “My, oh my, it certainly is cold out tonight.” Glancing through the frosty pane, she glimpsed the misty streets below. “Not to mention foggy,” she added. Though she rather disliked this damp sort of weather, she knew it was necessary. And she had to admit that Rainbow Dash had done a good job on it tonight.
Sweetie Belle stuck her head back out of the opening of the sleeping bag, and nodded vigorously. “Mm-hmm! Very cold!” she agreed, “It’s a good thing you made me these toasty-warm pajamas!” Unseen beneath the sleeping bag, she patted the long-sleeved, two-piece cotton ensemble, which was pink with purple music notes; the colors matched her mane perfectly.
The older pony nodded as she drew the curtains. “Indeed it is. We can’t have you catching your death of cold, not on my watch.” She hugged her own color-coordinated pajamas close to herself. How nasty the weather had suddenly become, and in only a matter of days! The nights were getting colder and colder, but then again, that could only be expected, given that winter was knocking on their door.
Both unicorns turned to the bedroom door with a start. Sweetie Belle’s ears flattened, and she looked up at her big sister with an uneasy expression. “Hey, sis, didn’t you lock the front door?” she practically whispered.
Rarity felt a shiver run down her spine, but not from the cold. “I - I could have sworn I did.” Actually, she was dead sure she had; her nitpicky attention to detail ensured that that was the first thing she did every night before getting ready for bed. Not moving from where she stood, she shakily called out. “Who - who is it?”
The indigo-maned pony called out again. “I say, who’s there?”
Rarity gulped nervously and, mustering up all of her courage, started walking towards the door. Putting on a stern tone, she not-quite-shouted, “Now listen: this shop is closed for the night, and what’s more, this is my living quarters, so whoever that is, you have no business being up here. If you are a customer, you shall have to wait and come back tomorrow. If you are a robber, then go ahead, ransack the place, as long as you leave me and my sister alone. Just know that I’ll be calling the police first thing in the morning.” She stopped at the door, steeled herself, and started to slightly crack it open. “And don’t even think about attacking us, because I happen to be a unicorn, and I - ”
Empty. The landing was completely deserted. Rarity opened the door all the way, and looked around: still nothing. She cautiously stepped down the hall a bit and peered down the stairs, examining the bottom floor of her boutique. The front door was shut, all the windows were closed and intact. All was still: there was no movement, no noise. She stood there in the silence, straining to see or hear any sign of an intruder in the darkness below.
After several minutes, Sweetie Belle nervously spoke up. “N-no one’s there?” In the intervening time, she had pulled the sleeping bag up around her head like a hood, and she was peering out at her sister nervously with those bright green eyes of hers.
Rarity, still seeing nothing, turned to her sister and shook her head. “I don’t sense anything down there. Although…let me go and double-check that the front door is locked, alright, Sweetie? I’ll be back in a moment.”
Sweetie Belle found that the question was more of a rhetorical one, as her big sister had darted down the stairs before she could even object to being left all by herself. Listening to the retreating gallop fade out down the stairs, she couldn’t help but feel nervous for her sister, and for herself. The little unicorn sat in silence, apprehensively waiting for her big sister to return. Tense seconds crawled into even more tense minutes, with the oppressive silence broken only by the ticking of the clock hanging on the wall.
Suddenly, a large Thump, followed by a shrill scream, broke the silence, and the little pony felt her insides knot up. She quickly dove deep down into her sleeping bag, curling up as tight as she could. Through the fabric, she tried listening for anything else, but it was hard to here anything from so far within the bag. At length, she ever so carefully stuck her head out the opening, and tried listening for anything else.
Someone was coming up the stairs. Not fast, but slowly, almost like a pony limping. Sweetie whimpered, and snuggled deeper into her sleeping bag, still keeping one eye by the opening, anxiously watching the open doorway.
The sound was getting louder: whoever it was was almost on the landing. Sweetie Belle started shaking uncontrollably, her teeth chattering up a storm. Just as she couldn’t take it anymore, a pony appeared in the doorway.
Sweetie Belle screamed.
Rarity jumped back, startled. “Sweetie Belle, what’s the matter?” She quickly scanned the room, then rushed over to the younger pony’s sleeping bag as fast as she could. “Are you all right? What happened?”
The little unicorn looked up at her big sister and, realizing who it was, stopped screaming. Her face flushed as she came all the way out of the sleeping bag. “Oops, sorry Rarity, I guess I thought you were a bad guy or something…”
A wave of relief washed over the older unicorn, and then her face tightened with an admonishing look. “Don’t do that to me! You made it sound like somepony had come in and accosted you.”
Sweetie Belle put on a sheepish grin, but then cocked her head in confusion. “Hey, wait a minute, you did the same thing to me! Why did you scream?”
Now it was Rarity’s turn to look embarrassed. “Oh…well, after I had checked the front door, which was indeed locked, I had decided to try searching the ground floor, and…” she trailed off, putting on her own sheepish grin, “Oh, it’s nothing, really.”
The young pony arched an eyebrow.
Rarity sighed, and conceded, “All right, fine, if you really must know, I tripped over something and broke a nail.”
Sweetie Belle noticed that her older sister had been holding up her left fore hoof the whole time; its edge was jagged and splintered. The younger unicorn facehoofed. “That’s why you screamed? Give me a break!”
Rarity looked annoyed. “I’ll have you know that pony pedi’s are not cheap. That was quite an investment, now ruined!”
Sweetie just rolled her eyes. “Whatever.” She then smiled at her big sister. “Um, I’m just glad you’re all right.”
Rarity returned the smile, and hugged the little tyke. “And I as well.”
Sweetie Belle yawned, which brought the two ponies back to reality. “My, my, this has certainly been enough excitement for one night,” said Rarity, who was already standing up. She went over and closed the bedroom door, taking one last look into the main shop before doing so. After locking up tightly, she went back to the center of the room.
“Hey, sis,” Sweetie Belle asked, peering out from her sleeping bag again, “What do you think that knocking was, if nopony’s here but us?”
The older pony looked a bit uneasy. “Erm, it was probably only our imagination. It’s late, and we’re both dreadfully tired,” she said rather unconvincingly.
Sweetie Belle didn’t buy it, but said nothing.
Rarity looked around the room one more time, finally nodding in approval. “Well, looks like everything’s taken care of now; all we have left are the lights.” Sweetie Belle whimpered at this comment, and hunkered deeper into her bag. Using her magic, Rarity turned out said lights, and headed for her bed, snuggling into the sheets ever so carefully. “Good night, my little pony, and may you envision wonderful, fabulous dreams tonight.”
The young filly’s stomach was still knotted up. She shivered, and weakly replied, “I’ll try.” She closed her eyes, said her nighttime prayers to Luna, and after a few minutes of nervously mulling over the night’s events, she quietly slipped off into a restless sleep.
* * *
Sweetie Belle stirred in her sleeping bag.
Sweetie Belle sleepily grunted.
The sleeping unicorn bounced into the air slightly, and landed with a soft thud. Her eyes shot open. Something had definitely disturbed her. She nervously looked around the cold room, hugging the warm, comforting sleeping bag close to her body. She tried picking out shapes in the darkness, looking for anything that could have caused the disturbance. All was silent, except for the clock continuing to tick-tick-tick on the wall.
Sweetie Belle let out a quiet yelp. With this last thump, she could clearly see her older sister’s nightstand shake a bit, the items on top of it lightly rattling from the impact. She pulled the sleeping bag farther over her head.
This time, a different part of the room vibrated, more towards the center. The little filly looked down. “The floor?” she thought to herself.
Indeed, the mysterious thumping seemed to be coming from beneath the floor, like something was pounding from the other side. Sweetie Belle tried thinking over a possible explanation. “M-maybe it’s just an animal or something…” Her face brightened up. “Yeah, that has to be it! It’s just a cute little animal who accidentally got trapped beneath the - ” Her face paled when she remembered where she was. She was in her sister’s shop, a two-story building. And she was on the top floor.
“Th-then maybe it’s just a really tall pony on the floor below…” she mused, “a-and he just wants some clothes…in the middle of the night…” The mental image that accompanied this train of thought actually did the exact opposite of soothing her fears. She yelped, and curled up as tight as she could inside of her sleeping bag, trying to forget about all of the bad thoughts entering her head.
What was going on? What could possibly be causing that thumping? Suddenly, she remembered what had happened before she had fallen asleep, and a cold realization came over her. “This place is haunted!”
The young unicorn jumped out of her sleeping bag and shot over to her sister’s bed, jumping on top of the older pony. “Rarity, wake up! Your shop’s haunted! We have to get out of here! Wake up wake up wake up!”
Her big sibling seemed unusually sluggish. She groggily moaned, and mumbled out a sleepy, “Tell me in the morning…”
Sweetie Belle frowned, and contemplated removing the cucumbers from in front of her sister’s eyes, when she heard the doorknob jiggle. A look of terror seized her face, and she snuggled under the sheets next to her sister, her eyes still locked on the door.
Despite being locked from the inside, the door slowly yet steadily opened, and Sweetie Belle found herself holding her breath as she peeked out over the edge of her sister’s quilt.
The door came to a stop, now wide open. For several seconds, nothing happened. Even the thumping from the floor had stopped.
Not wanting to take any chances, Sweetie Belle resumed her attempt at waking her sister. “Big sis, wake up! There’s a ghost here! Not a trapped animal or a really tall pony, but a ghost!”
Rarity just rolled over. “Be a dear and take care of it yourself, won’t you?” the older unicorn mumbled in her sleep.
“What?!” the little unicorn yelped in surprise, “Are you crazy? What kind of a pony chases gho- ” Sweetie Belle stopped mid-word, a big smile forming on her face as she got a sudden flash of inspiration. “That’s it! Maybe my special talent is ghost-hunting!” she giggled, and hopped off of the bed. All of the fear and panic inside of her was now replaced with courage and determination. “Applebloom and Scootaloo will be so jealous when they find out I got a cutie mark for fighting ghosts!” She headed for the doorway, and paused. “Cutie Mark Crusader ghostbuster is a go!” she cheered to herself before exiting the safety of her big sister’s bedroom.
Sweetie Belle stepped into the hallway and carefully peered over the banister. Several dark figures loomed in the lobby below, standing at odd intervals all across the room. The little unicorn gasped. Ghosts! Not one, but a bunch! All those ghosts were just standing around down there, doing nothing; they were sitting ducks! Getting that cutie mark would be easier then she thought. She took a step back from the railing (so as not to give away her position), and tried to think of the best way to attack a group of ghosts. “Well, Scootaloo would probably drop down on them from above,” she thought to herself. She peered back down, and gulped nervously; the floor looked so far away from up there. “Pass.” She pondered for a few more minutes, and eventually decided that sneaking up on them would probably be best.
“Here goes,” she whispered. Remaining as quiet and stealthy as possible, the little pony snuck down the stairs, managing to get to the bottom undetected by her supernatural prey. From the bottom step, she hunkered down and scanned the room. The ghosts remained unmoving, staying exactly as she had last seen them. Now that she was closer, she was able to get a better look at them: while most of the shadows looked about the same, there were a few that stood out. Some had long, flowing legs, while others had big, poofy heads. She cringed a bit at the creepy silhouettes standing before her in the darkness, but upon remembering her mission, her resolve returned. She took a battle stance, and whispered to herself “Okay, on the count of three, I’m gonna charge them…”
“One…” She scraped at the ground with her right front hoof.
“Two…” She lowered her head, sticking her horn forward menacingly.
“Three!” Sweetie Belle started running forwards at full-gallop, charging for the nearest silhouette. “Eat this!” she cried, lunging towards it with all of her diminutive might. The shadowy creature offered no resistance as the young unicorn leapt into the air and struck it squarely in the side.
The force of the impact knocked the creature off its balance: it fell over with a metallic crash, with Sweetie Belle landing on top of it. Long, flowing fabric enveloped the two, and for a few seconds, the confused filly flailed around, trying to escape her cloth prison. When she at last managed to extricate herself from the tangled mess, she smiled, quickly looking to her flank. She gasped as she saw -
Nothing. Her flank was still as bare and white as it had always been. Despite having just knocked out a ghost, the young pony still wasn’t awarded a cutie mark. Sweetie Belle sighed and sat down, wondering what to do next. Looking down at the pile of cloth that lay before her, a sudden curiosity for what exactly the ghost looked like overcame her. She lifted the cloth ever so carefully (just in case the ghost was still conscious), and frowned at what she saw.
Lying before the little filly wasn’t an ethereal form, but one of metal and wood. This object was an all-too-familiar sight to the unicorn; she saw it in her sister’s shop whenever she came over: it was a ponyquin. Looking up, Sweetie Belle could now see that they were all ponyquins: every last shadowy figure standing in the dark was a wooden clothes model. The pony facehoofed. No wonder she hadn’t gotten a cutie mark! Who gets a cutie mark for beating up an inanimate object?
The implication of this took a few seconds to hit, but when it did, it caused Sweetie Belle to smile with delight. “Wait a minute, that means there’s still a ghost around! And if the ghost is still around, then I can still beat it up!” The pink-and-purple-maned unicorn leapt into action, running all around the darkened ground floor. She searched every nook and cranny for anything suspicious, leaving no stone unturned. That ghost was hers for sure!
After what seemed like hours, Sweetie Belle sat down, panting from her exhaustive search. All that work and nothing to show for it! How could she get a cutie mark for beating up a ghost if the ghost wouldn’t show up? She rested her head in her hooves and sighed.
Sweetie Belle was so startled by the sudden noise that she nearly jumped right out of her pajamas. She got to her hooves and scanned the direction the clamor had come from.
There! At the far end of the shop, a ponyquin lay on the floor, having obviously been knocked over. Given the wide base those things had, there was no way it could have fallen on its own. The ghost had to be nearby! Sweetie Belle shivered nervously, and cautiously looked around; finding no other movement, she headed for the downed ponyquin. As she walked, the statue-still forms surrounding her started wobbling. The unicorn froze, a slight edge of unease creeping down her spine. She gulped, mustered up her courage, and shouted out to the room as bravely as possible, “I-I’m not scared of you, you creepy ghost! I, Sweetie Belle, shall van- um – vankish – uh- beat you up!” She assumed what she hoped was a threatening-looking battle pose. “So show yourself r-right now!”
The moment she said this, the ponyquins stopped rattling, and started scooting towards her in unison. That tiny bit of unease inside of Sweetie Belle blew up into full-on panic, and any desire for a cutie mark was replaced with the instinct of running for safety. The little unicorn bolted for the stairs as fast as her little legs would take her. The mob rushed after, attempting to surround the little filly before she could reach her destination. Sweetie Belle continued her escape, weaving around the tall, thin stands of the animated ponyquins as they tried to block her off. “Almost there…” she thought to herself as she got within a few feet of the stairs. With a great push, she shoved off of the ground and took one last leap of faith.
“Oof!” Sweetie Belle landed hard on the bottom step. She stood up, shook herself off, and turned around just in time to see the whole crowd of ponyquins converging on her. She let out a yelp, and quickly started bounding up the stairs. “Maybe if I go high enough, they won’t be able to follow me,” she thought to herself with optimism. One look over her shoulder told her this wasn’t the case: the mob had shoved its way up the stairs, and was following her up almost single-file, underscored by a cacophony of scrapes and thumps as the animated objects dragged against the steps. Sweetie Belle’s eyes bugged out, and she faced forward again.
The ascent seemed to take much, much longer than it normally did; what should have only taken a minute felt like an hour to the little unicorn, and her panic rose steadily as the chase dragged on. All of that running was beginning to take its toll: Sweetie Belle could feel her tiny legs start to tire from the mountainous effort of climbing those big stairs at such a fast pace. “Why…do I have to be…so little?” she panted out.
At long last she neared the top. The open bedroom door looked like the pearly gates of heaven to her, and she became filled with hope and relief. She was going to make it! Just a few more feet, and she was home free! With one last adrenaline-filled burst of speed, the tiny tyke leapt through the doorway, landing neatly on her hooves inside of the bedroom. Wasting no time, she quickly spun around and slammed the door shut, locking it as fast as possible.
Thump! Crash! Bang! Slam!
A noise comparable to that of a train wreck sounded from the other side of the door as the ponyquins piled against it in a heap. Sweetie Belle stepped back, afraid that they’d manage to make it through anyway. But the door held strong, and after the initial impact, the noise stopped: it sounded like the ponyquins had stopped moving entirely. Sweetie Belle breathed a sigh of relief. “I did it…” she panted. She turned around, still keeping an eye on the door, and ended up bumping into something soft. She looked up, and a big grin broke out on her face at the sight of her sister. “Oh big sis…” she said, giving her a tight hug. “I’m so glad you - ” a wave of horror struck the younger unicorn as she realized that something was amiss, and she quickly recoiled.
Sweetie Belle had indeed bumped into her sister, but something was very, very wrong with the older unicorn. Her normally pristine white fur was tinted a sickly brown, and it was missing in random patches across her body. Her beautifully moisturized skin was old and wrinkly, even looking leathery in places. Her fabulously styled indigo mane was a muddled black-gray, and it hung down limply.
A knot formed in the pit of Sweetie Belle’s stomach. “A-are you okay, b-big sis?” she asked shakily, looking up. Rarity had been staring straight ahead, but as her sister looked up, she started to look down, her head lowering in a series of jerky movements. This gave a full-on view of the older unicorn’s face: her mouth was frozen open in a silent scream, and she just stared at her sister blankly. Or at least, she would have, if she had any eyes in those gaping black sockets.
All of the color drained from Sweetie Belle’s face, and her pajama pants grew warm and wet as her tiny bladder gave. The little unicorn just stared in horror at the twisted effigy of her sister and screamed at the top of her lungs.
* * *
“Sweetie Belle! Sweetie Belle! Wake up!”
The little filly woke to rough shaking. She blinked, slowly emerging from the haze of sleep. She was back in her sleeping bag, and the lights were on. She looked up to see her sister standing over her, a concerned expression on her face.
“Oh thank goodness you’re all right,” said Rarity, her concerned look mellowing out a bit, “when you started screaming in the middle of the night, I had thought an intruder had come in and - and -” she hugged her little sister tightly, a few tears forming at the edges of her eyes.
A few tears started forming in Sweetie Belle’s eyes as well, and she hugged back. “Oh, Rarity, I had a horrible nightmare! It was awful!”
Rarity nodded. “Well, if that screaming was any indication, it really must have been terrifying.” She finished hugging her sister and, looking down, gasped at an enormous dark patch on the filly’s sleeping bag. “Um, Sweetie Belle, did you…?”
Sweetie Belle, now realizing that she did indeed still feel wet, hung her head in shame, the tears that had been forming in her eyes now flowing freely. “I-I’m sorry big sis, I - ”
A look of compassion appeared on Rarity’s face, and she shushed her sister. “Oh, it’s all right, Sweetie Belle, accidents happen. We’ll get you cleaned up, and you can sleep in my bed for the rest of the night, hmm?”
The little unicorn looked up at her big sister, a look of amazement on her face. “Really? You mean that?”
Rarity nodded. “Indeed I do! Now, let’s get all of this cleaned up at once. We can’t have wet sheets lying around, can we?” Rarity helped her sister out of the sleeping bag and picked it up with her magic, levitating it behind her. With that, the two ponies headed for the bathroom.
Two steel-gray eyes peered out from the shadows beneath the bed, accompanied by a wicked smile full of sharp teeth. That was fun.