The staring contest had lasted almost five minutes before the stallion relented.
"Okay fine, fine, have it for fifty then! Now get out of my store!"
"Yay! Thankyouthankyouthankyou super duper much!"
"Most welcome..." the cashier grumbled crankily as the irritating mare finally bounded out of his building. Pinkie Pie couldn't be happier with her purchase; it was exactly what she had been looking for. She couldn't wait to get home and try it out as soon as possible, seeing as most other ponies had already sorted out their costumes days before.
Shopping for costume supplies on Nightmare Night is risky business because you never know what will be left over after everypony else has acquired their goods.
Pinkie silently revelled in the joyous sights all around as she crossed Ponyville. Everywhere she looked, foals were busy showing off their costumes to their friends while parents hung up spooky decorations and prepared candy to be dispensed once the trick-or-treaters started patrolling the streets. Which would be soon, Pinkie mused to herself, as the Sun was already descending towards the horizon.
Mrs. Cake almost threw her pile of festive pastries across the room in shock when her tenant came crashing through the door of Sugarcube Corner.
"Oh goodness, there you are dear. Did you find wh-?"
"YesandIneedtogotryitnowbye!" came the garbled response as Pinkie tore upstairs to her room, funnel cakes and waffles scattering in her turbulence.
If Gummy was also shocked by her entrance, he didn't show it. Then again he never did. His only reaction was to blink when Pinkie careered into her upstairs quarters, nearly trampling her pet alligator as she went.
"Gummy, look!" Pinkie squealed as she unceremoniously tipped out the contents of her saddlebags all over the floor. "I got everything I need to make my ultra mega awesome costume for Nightmare Night! I was so worried that I wouldn't find this stuff because usually I prepare my costumes like three months before Nightmare Night except for that one time when Rarity took all the fabric in town and we all had to wait longer than usual to get our costumes ready but anyway it's here it's here it's all here!" Gummy continued to blink all through Pinkie's breathless tirade, occasionally turning his head slightly to better observe the items sprinkled around the room. "I've been so busy baking weeks for cakes and cakes that I didn't have time to even think about what my costume should be this year, but of course I did finally manage to have the bestest most amazerrific costume idea ever!"
While she was yabbering, Gummy waddled over to the nearest costume item, which was a dusty tin can. He achieved a couple of curious sniffs before the whirlwind that was his housemate whisked the can and every other item onto a table in the middle of the room.
"I am especially proud that I managed to get this," she fawned as she prised the lid off the can. "It was the only one left in the shop and I had to look behind the shelf to get it, I think someone knocked it over and it fell so nopony bought it before I got there so now it's mine, isn't that great?" The lid popped off and clattered on the floor. "I didn't really actually have enough bits left for it but the guy was super nice and let me have it anyway! I think he thought nopony else would buy it because it looks old, but I'm sure it's still perfectly excellent. I mean body paint doesn't go rotten, haha!" Gummy blinked. "Yes siree, I'm gunna paint myself all bright and white for my costume! And then look here, I've got this dye that I'll use to make my mane blonde, and my tail too of course, and then I've got these really nice fake wings that I'll put on my back and then I'll be a ghost! Uh, well maybe I'll look more like an angel with the wings and stuff but who cares, it's the best costume idea ever! Right? Right?" Gummy blinked. "Aww yeah, here comes Ghostie Pie!"
Dyeing her mane and tail was the easy part; painting herself white was tricky. She had to get help from Gummy to evenly cover her face and the back of her head, but with several hours of daylight still to go before Nightmare Night officially got underway, Pinkie had been transformed into a blonde, white mare. All she had to do was apply her wings and she'd be ready to hit the streets for a night of fun with her friends. She was thinking happy thoughts along these lines when she heard Mrs. Cake summoning her from downstairs:
"Pinkie Pie, dear, your friend is here to see you!"
"Oh boy! I'll be right down! Come on Gummy, hurry up already, I need to go and show off to whoever's down there!" The alligator carefully lowered Pinkie's wings onto her back, taking care to ensure he didn't ruffle the surrounding fur so that the wings' white brilliance blended perfectly with the rest of her body. The instant they brushed her fur, they became affixed thanks to discreet strips of double-sided tape.
Her look complete, Pinkie thundered downstairs, upsetting more of Mrs. Cake's treats along the way, hardly able to breathe for excitement until she reached the door. She stifled a giggle as she softly scratched the door with her hoof.
"Huh?" came a muffled voice from the other side. "Pinkie, is that you?"
"Surprise!" Pinkie yelled as she slammed the door open and bounced into the street. This dramatic outburst, though hardly unusual for Pinkie, was sufficient to startle her visitor so much that she dropped the scrolls she had been magically levitating around her.
"Gah! Pinkie Pie, you scared me!" complained Twilight Sparkle, trying to get her papers back in some kind of order.
"Well duh, that's usually what ghosts do, silly filly! Boo!" Pinkie clumsily waved her forelegs at Twilight, further disrupting her scroll-sorting efforts.
"Oh wow, is this your Nightmare Night costume? It looks great! How did you get it to look so good?"
"Dedication my friend, dedication! This isn't just a costume, I've dyed and painted myself! Doesn't it look great?"
"It sure does! I've got my costume at home, I'll wait until sundown before I get all dressed up though. It isn't as, uh, 'dedicated' as your idea I'm afraid, but I hope you all like it anyway," Twilight said with a shy smile.
"Aw, don't worry Twilight, we can't all be as amazing as me!" Pinkie struck a dramatic pose to emphasise her point.
"That is most definitely true," Twilight replied, laughing.
"But don't worry, I'm sure it will be great and everypony will love it," Pinkie concluded with an encouraging series of bone-jangling nods.
Twilight was about to turn and leave when she realised she'd forgotten to finish getting her scrolls back in order; this in turn reminded her that she hadn't told her friend what she'd come to say in the first place.
"Oh and Pinkie, I got a letter from Princess Celestia about an hour ago which included all these reports from across Equestria," the unicorn said as she magically levitated the papers and rustled them in midair. "It would seem there was a mix-up of some kind at the headquarters of Equestria's largest confectionaries company last night, and nearly all of the candy that was shipped across the land this morning in preparation for Nightmare Night has been contaminated. Quite severely, it would seem."
"Contaminated? You mean like the time I was acting like a silly filly and I accidentally got confused between the salt and the sugar and ruined an entire day's worth of baking and Mrs. Cake got really annoyed and I had no time to fix it so I ha-"
"No!" Twilight magically rustled the scrolls again to cut her off. "This is really serious Pinkie. I mean contaminated by all sorts of weird substances that shouldn't even have been anywhere near the candy to begin with. Horrible, nasty chemicals that were meant to go to a different company altogether that doesn't even make food." She lowered her voice, forcing Pinkie to pay more attention to what was being said than she otherwise would. "I know this will be difficult for you Pinkie, but please promise me you won't eat any candy that you got more recently than last night, not until the Princess can tell me more exactly where the toxic sweets ended up."
"Toxic? So you're sure they'll make you sick?"
"Extremely sure. Sick... or worse." Pinkie's newly-whitened ears twitched upon hearing this. Twilight took a step closer and lowered her voice further. "Please promise me Pinkie, and if you already ate anything today that might have been made last night, you have to go to the hospital right away."
The ghostly angel pony smiled and bopped Twilight's nose.
"Don't you worry about your Auntie Pinkie Pie!"
"Okay, well, see you tonight then?"
"Absapositivalutely!" A last farewell was exchanged before Pinkie raced back into Sugarcube Corner, upsetting a stack of pancakes en route, and hurling herself upstairs to her rooms.
Now that she was all set for tonight appearance-wise, there wasn't much for her to do except obsessively check that she had her trick-or-treat loot bags ready, and practise special ghostly dances to go along with her costume.
As the everyday to-ing and fro-ing of Ponyville began to subside in accordance with the approach of nightfall, Pinkie grew increasingly restless. She couldn't assist with finishing the night's supply of edible goods downstairs, as Mr. and Mrs. Cake had banned her from helping out. There were no major Nightmare Night things set up around town yet, because it was still too early. She didn't want to visit her friends because she wanted to be surprised by their preparations once it was already dark, and she didn't need to go and buy anything else now.
There was, of course, one thing she could do while cooped up at home. One thing that she always did anyway, regardless of holidays and seasons.
She could eat candy.
Pinkie had thoroughly scrutinised every confection to be had in her quarters, carefully trying to recall when and where she acquired everything. She was ninety-nine percent sure that nothing in her immediate vicinity was newer than yesterday afternoon, and being so certain she had duly snacked on sweets while waiting for the Sun to set.
She was sucking on a boiled sweet when she felt the first tickle.
It was a sensation at the base of her left ear, but because it felt nothing like her Pinkie sense, she assumed it was an insect of some sort and flapped her ear around to get rid of it.
The tickle continued, and soon it was joined by another located on the back of her neck. The tickles felt like tiny bugs scuttling along in her fur, which Pinkie found to be quite fun at first. She imagined the 'bugs' to have names and started to make up stories about where they were going and what they were doing. It didn't take long, however, for the 'bugs' to become more aggressive.
"Gummy, is it just me or do we have a bit of a buggy problem in here?" Pinkie asked as she scratched her neck and back, doing her best to not rub off any of her body paint or dislodge her wings. "Wah!" She cried out as the tickle on her cheek suddenly felt as if there were insects crawling around under her skin. She cast a worried look at Gummy, who wasn't casting any particular looks at anything. "Th-these aren't real insects after all, are they? Ow, eek!" She physically recoiled as the tickle on her belly not only went beneath her skin, but began to hurt as opposed to being unpleasant. "Owie... Are you itchy too Gummy?" He didn't indicate that he was.
Pinkie scurried to fetch a glass of water as her mouth began to dry out. No sooner had she raised the glass to her lips than her tongue quivered in disgust at a sudden metallic taste.
"Blech! What in the world is going on here?" The vaguest note of panic was now detectable in her voice, which started to waver as the onset of nausea began to take its toll. She staggered back to her main room to sit down with Gummy, cradling her head in her hooves. "Oh Gummy, I suddenly feel awful and I don't know why! I haven't felt sick for a while so maybe it's just time for me to get a flu or something..." The birth of a painful stomach cramp made her look towards the nearest sweet wrapper, abandoned on the floor and looking as innocent as could be.
"... It can't be," she whispered to herself, cringing as another cramp overrode the pain from her prickling skin and the discomfort of the metallic tang in her dry mouth. "No, no no no, I'm sure that none of these sweets are brand new! They're all from a few days ago at least, and..." Her eyes grew wide as she remembered that Mr. Cake had given her a large bag of candy as an early Nightmare Night present. When had that been? Last night? This morning? Had she put the bag away somewhere or did the contents get mixed in with the miscellaneous sweets scattered around her abode?
Try as she might, she couldn't think past the dizziness which worsened by the second, nor the knotted cramps that seemed to pulse in agonising waves, radiating out from her belly before extending unbearable tendrils into the furthest reaches of her body.
"Oh my... Gummy, I..." She stood up and tried to walk to the door. "I have to... I have to go to the hospital... I must have m-made a mistake, there must be new candy here..." She could only wobble halfway to the stairs before her knees started to weaken. "Argh, no! Please, I need to get out of here... I need h-help..."
A burst of pain from deep within her guts and a sudden constriction of her stomach reorganised her priorities, and she tried to make her unsteady way to her toilet. Her bed was just coming into sight when she noticed her heartbeat had at least quadrupled since she had started feeling ill.
Lightheaded, dizzy beyond belief and with every non-cramping muscle rapidly losing strength, it was all Pinkie could do to collapse on her bed like a felled tree. Her symptoms cycled through her foggy mind, each taking up her full attention for a brief instant before passing it on to the next affliction in a never-ending sadistic relay.
Searing pins and needles. Horrible metallic tingle stinging her bone-dry mouth. Sickening nausea. Cramps like being bucked in the chest and belly. A heartbeat so insane that the organ felt like it was simply vibrating in place. Total loss of strength.
"It's not the flu..." the stricken mare uttered in an inaudible whisper, just as the pain, the circulatory shock, and the fear all proved too much and her mind lurched headlong into darkness. Pinkie Pie's hallucinating senses took her on a brief but wild descent towards unconsciousness, creating fireworks behind her leaden eyelids and disembodied screams that cascaded around her limp ears.
"It's not the flu... not the flu... Gummy... Mrs. Cake..."
All at once, the lights dimmed, the sounds eased, and the pain ceased.
Unnoticed, Gummy had followed his white mistress to her bed, and was now nestling in her blonde mane. His cool scales provided the one crumb of comfort that anchored Pinkie's mind to sanity as she slipped beneath awareness.
Nocturnal creatures usually have the night to themselves by definition, but this law of nature is sometimes overturned. Not least on Nightmare Night in Ponyville.
Foals began to congregate in the streets and spooky pumpkins lit up around town as the Sun kissed the horizon. The low light glinted through the windows of Sugarcube Corner, rousing one more pony just in time for the night's festivities.
Pinkie Pie cracked her eyelids open as tenderly as she could, wincing when the setting Sun started stabbing at her retinas. Carefully, she coordinated her aching body into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
For a moment she was uncharacteristically silent. She fought for a while to stop the world spinning, and then had to wait until she no longer felt as if she'd been attacked with sledgehammers. Finally though, she felt well enough to ease herself onto her hooves and head back to her main room.
"Hiya Gummy," she croaked with a cough when she spotted him curled up on the table, having left her side at some point during her sleep. She could see that her costume hadn't noticeably deteriorated due to her illness; every part of her body that she could see was still white, and the twisty strands of forelock hanging in front of her eyes were still blonde. "Do I still look like a super duper scary Ghostie Pie?" When Gummy turned his head and saw her doing her creepy ghost dancing, he immediately turned away again and tucked his head under his tail. "I'll take that as a yes! Perfect!" She stopped her dancing when she saw Gummy shake slightly. "Aww, come on, it's just me! I'm not really scary." Another possibility occurred to her. "And you don't need to be worried about me anymore, because even though I still don’t feel totally completely absolutely perfect, I feel much much better after my nap."
She smiled supportively when Gummy felt brave enough to look at her again.
"Besides, no matter how ill I still feel, I simply cannot let my own silliness get in the way of a totally awesome night of fun with my friends!" She petulantly kicked a sweet wrapper across the room. "It was stupid of me to eat that horrible nasty candy when Twilight warned me not to, so I must pay the price and feel sick, maybe for a few days even. But that won't stop me tonight! My friends are counting on me to join them for Nightmare Night and I shall not let them down, or my name isn't Pinkamena Diane Pie!"
After a quick gulp of water to ease the lingering sensation of sandpaper in her mouth, Pinkie slipped on her candy loot saddlebags without dislodging her wings, which were thankfully still attached and looking as good as ever. She made her way downstairs gingerly, as she was still quite nauseous and didn't want to fall. After a brief farewell to the Cakes, Pinkie Pie set off into the night.
She felt her strength returning as the celebratory atmosphere all around made her feel more like herself again. Nothing could cheer her up and dispel her ails more effectively than being surrounded by pirates, dragons, vampires and mummies. Everpony was happy, and this did wonders for Pinkie's spirit and body.
So much so, in fact, that by the time she met Twilight Sparkle for the second time that day, she was on the cusp of forgetting entirely that she had even eaten any of the toxic candy, never mind that it made her deathly ill for a few hours.
"Pinkie Pie, over here!" hollered a bizarre creature standing by the apple bob.
"Hay Twilight! Golly, you look hilarious! What kind of alligator are you?"
"Ugh, why does nopony ever get my Nightmare Night costumes? I am clearly a dragon! Look at my spikes!"
"I told you it wasn't very good," piped up a small clown from the other side of the apple bob tub.
"Thank you, Spike. I always know I can count on you for support."
"Don't worry Twilight, it's okay, Pinkie promise! I'm just not feeling very well you see, so I might be a teensy tiny bit slow in my brain tonight. But that doesn't mean we can't have fun!"
"Not feeling very well? You seemed fine earlier, are you sick all of a sudden?"
"Uh…" Pinkie drooped her ears in shame. "Please don't be mad Twilight, but I accidentally ate contaminated candy after you left this afternoon, but it's okay now, really! I mean I was super ill for a few hours but I had a nap and now I'm all fixed!" Her voice croaked on the last few words as her minor headache briefly flared up. "Well, almost all fixed, hehe…"
"Contaminated what? Oh right! I meant to come and tell you but Spike and I were already heading over here and I didn't want to leave him on his own."
"I'm perfectly fine by myself Twilight, I'm not a total baby you know!" came a reproachful rebuttal from somewhere in the queue for the apple bob.
"Anyway, just as we were leaving the library, Spike got a letter from Princess Celestia. Apparently the whole 'toxic candy' thing was a myth."
"Say what now?"
"I know, crazy right? Turns out some little group of small-scale confectioners were fed up with the big company and spread this rumour about contaminated foods just to hurt their business. So it's all good, you can eat any candy you want, as much as you want!" Pinkie wasn’t reassured by Twilight's broad grin.
"But then… I was… why did…"
"If you were ill earlier it must have just been a coincidence. Or maybe you did eat something strange, but it certainly wasn't the candy! Come on, let's go and find the others. Spike can run the apple bob until Applejack gets back."
"Who's a good dragon? Come on Pinkie, Nightmare Night awaits!"
"Aww yeah, Twilight Draggle and Ghostie Pie coming through, make way!" Renewing her determination to make the best of the night, Pinkie spookily danced her way through the crowd with Twilight, posing for admiring foals along the way.
Day had succumbed to night for over an hour by the time Pinkie and Twilight caught up with the others. Nopony seemed to notice that Pinkie wasn't quite herself; she was trying her very best to keep a lid on her various shakes and tingles so as not to spoil the night for her friends.
"Pinks, Twi, you're here!" bellowed a flowing golden sheen as it whipped over their heads before touching down in front of them.
"Oh wow Dashie, you look amazing! Are you a shooting star?" Pinkie cooed.
"You bet I am!" the Pegasus replied with a twirl to show off the shimmering train of her dress, dotted with discrete sparkles and complimented by a starry headpiece. "This is way more sappy than I would normally go for but Rarity talked me into it, and she did such an amazing job I couldn't refuse." She laughed. "Plus, it does look pretty awesome when I'm zooming around!"
"Well, I couldn't totally steal the show now, could I?" purred an approaching pharaoh queen.
"Rarity?!" chorused Pinkie and Twilight.
"Mhmm, aren't we a divine pair?" Rarity giggled as she fluttered her overly-long eyelashes. "Pinkie darling, that is a most commendable angel ensemble, you must tell me what you did." The pharaoh queen cast half a glance at Twilight. "That looks fine too, dear."
Before long an alien of unspecified origin turned up, dragging a reluctant ball of wool behind her.
"Applejack dear, what a fine monster you make! And, is that real wool?"
"Sure as sugar is, mah queen!" Applejack chortled with a bow. "This here is mah sheep friend, though she's a bit shy as y'all can probably tell." The alien gave the sheep a poke in the ribs. "C'mon out Fluttershy!"
A pair of blue eyes appeared through the thick wool.
"H-hay guys, um, I didn't want to show off much, so, I-I just… yeah…"
"Oh no, don't fret about it Fluttershy, you look lovely!" Rarity assured her.
"Say Twilight, did ya leave Spike with mah apple bob again? He didn't do a very good job when we left him in charge last year."
"Oh he'll be fine," Twilight said dismissively with a wave of her hoof.
All together, the six made good on their plans for the night, trying out the various activities that had been set up around Ponyville and doing a spot of trick-or-treating on the side. That was mostly Pinkie's domain of course, but her motives were a bit different than usual. The less time she spent in close proximity to her friends, the less she had to struggle with hiding her illness. She still wasn't very coordinated and she still felt a numb tingling in her extremities.
Despite her best efforts, it was impossible to completely hide the fact that she was not feeling one hundred percent.
"You okay there Pinks?" Rainbow asked as she hovered above her angelic friend. "You seem a lil' twitchy there."
"Oh don't worry about me Dashie, I'm a-okay!" Pinkie replied with a grin. "A bit under the weather perhaps but nothing to worry about!"
"Well, if you say so," the shooting star called over her shoulder as she sped off again. Pinkie looked around until she spotted Applejack a short distance away, dancing with Fluttershy to the music provided by a nearby band.
"Can I join you guys?" Pinkie figured the best way to hide her current difficulties with spatial awareness and tingling would be to throw herself around to music. However, neither Applejack nor Fluttershy had responded by the time she drew alongisde them. "Applejack? Fluttershy?" The music wasn't too loud so they must have been able to hear her. Were they just ignoring her? "Guys!"
The sheep's limbs retracted and she plopped to the ground as a quivering ball of wool, while the alien jumped so sharply she almost lost her second tail.
"Good gracious Pinkie Pie, all ya had ta do was say hi!"
"But I… never mind, can I dance with you?"
"Shucks, no askin' required!" After coaxing Fluttershy back to life, the three mares danced until Rarity strutted back into view.
"Oh, Rarity wait! Girls, I'm gunna go see what the queen's up to, 'kay?" Again, Pinkie was ignored by both of her friends. Deciding it was some weird game she was not aware of, Pinkie left them to it and trotted up to Rarity as fast as she could without feeling dizzy. "Whatcha doin'?"
In an extraordinary display of rudeness by her usual refined standards, Rarity also stayed quiet when addressed by Pinkie.
"Hello?" Pinkie waved a hoof in front of the pharaoh's face, and when that didn't work she simply stood in her path until there was a collision.
"Oh my stars, Pinkie I am so sorry, I didn’t see you there! Tell me, do you know where Rainbow Dash got to?"
"Dashie? She flew off in that direction."
"I beg your pardon?"
"That way, she went that way."
"What was that?"
"She flew over there!" Pinkie bellowed, starting to feel irritated. Rarity jumped as the message finally got through.
"Well now, there's no need to shout Pinkie Pie, I was only asking. Hmph!" With a swish of her robe, Rarity strode away again. Pinkie just smacked her forehead in stupefaction, before being smacked on the back of the head by Twilight.
"Oh my, I'm so sorry Pinkie, are you okay? I didn't notice you there, how silly of me," the unicorn apologised. "I was just pointing something out to Spike."
"That's alright Twilight, I know you didn't mean it." Silence. "Twilight? I said that's alright, I'm fine." Twilight's only response was to frown. "Twilight!"
"Sheesh Pinkie, I said I'm sorry. No need for the silent treatment, I barely even touched you!" Offended, Twilight stalked off to resume her conversation with Spike.
"Ugh!" Pinkie threw her hooves toward the night sky in resignation. "What is everypony playing at here?!" At the sound of her shout, Rainbow Dash whizzed over and dropped to the ground beside her.
"There you are, I didn't see where you'd gone until you hollered like that!"
"What are you talking about Dashie, I'm not exactly hiding."
"Sorry what? No wait, tell me later, right now I need ya to hold this," Dash blurted as she thrust a bag of candy into Pinkie's grasp. "Me and some other Pegasus ponies are gonna race from one side of town to the other, and I want this kept safe while I'm busy winning! Think you can handle it?"
"Duh, you can count on me!"
"Haha, you're so weird Pinkie Pie, pretending to talk without actually saying anything. But hay, that's the Pinks we know and love! Catch ya later!" Pinkie could only stare dumbfounded as the shooting star shimmered off into the night.
"What?! Why is everypony ignoring me all of a sudden?" The second she finished her sentence, a foal dressed as a pig ran straight into her hind legs, dropping his caramel apple and causing Pinkie to drop Rainbow's candy. The kid was about to angrily complain about Pinkie appearing out of nowhere, but before he could she whirled around and glared at him with a fiery look.
"Lemme guess, you didn't see me, right?!"
"Uh, I-I didn't… you just…" he managed to whimper before turning tail and fleeing the scene.
"Good grief, what sort of game is this?"
"Beg pardon?" asked Applejack as she walked up to Pinkie. "Oh an' by the way, y'all dropped somethin' on the ground there."
"Yes," Pinkie hissed through gritted teeth, "I noticed." Without warning, her candy-laden saddlebags suddenly slipped off her back and crashed to the ground, their spilled cargo mingling with Rainbow's.
"Woah!" In her effort to sidestep the escaping cascade of candy, Applejack accidentally stepped on some errant gumballs. She summarily somersaulted into a muddy puddle, splattering Fluttershy who had come over to see what was going on.
"Eek! My wool!"
"Mah hat!" Applejack gazed forlornly at her dirtied headgear. "What in the hay did ya do that for Pinkie Pie?"
Now it was Pinkie's turn to whimper.
"I don't know, it just happened! I-I'm not feeling very well, I told you that before, and I guess I'm just letting it get to me. I'm really sorry girls, I won't mess up anything else!"
"What? Speak up ya hat-muddier!"
"I am speaking up! I'm shouting in fact you silly filly! Why is everypony acting like they can't see or hear me properly?!"
"Guys, has anybody seen Pinks?" asked Rainbow Dash as she reappeared overhead. "I asked her to guard my… my candy!" She fell to earth when she saw her ruined stash spread over the ground.
"Dashie for goodness' sake I'm right here!"
"What's all the yelling about guys?" asked Spike the clown, running into view with Twilight hot on his heels.
"Pinkie's being… strange," the muddy ball of wool said quietly.
"Too right she is, look what she did to my candy!" Rainbow mourned.
"Excuse me?!" Pinkie yelled. "You heard her but not me? This isn't funny anymore guys, I'm doing my best to be normal even though I feel like garbage and this is how you repay me?"
"Does anypony know where Pinkie ended up, by the way?" enquired Rarity, who had rejoined the group moments earlier and had rapidly picked up the gist of the discussion.
"In front of you, dammit Rarity!"
"Search me," Twilight said with a shrug, before her ear flicked as she recalled something. "But, she was repeating that she was ill quite a lot, wasn't she? Maybe she's gone home to Sugarcube Corner?"
"Being ill is no excuse for what she's done to my candy!" Rainbow Dash cried. "I say we go find her sorry flank and let her know what a nuisance she's made of herself!"
"Oh simmer down Dash, it ain't like candy is in short supply tonight of all nights," Applejack said with a roll of her eyes. "Just go find more if ya have to."
"I have a better idea," Dash muttered as she rolled up the sleeves of her dress. "I'm going to find Pinkie Pie and tell her I don't like getting my candy thrown on the ground like this. Anypony who wishes to join me, I'm off to Sugarcube Corner!"
"I'm coming with you to see how she's feeling," Twilight ascertained.
"Me too. It wasn't like her to be so rude earlier, she must be feeling so unlike herself," Rarity thought aloud.
"C'mon Fluttershy, we best be goin' as well," Applejack said to the sheep as she tried once more to shake the mud from her hat.
"Of course, Pinkie might need help," Fluttershy said with a nod.
"For crying out loud ponies, I'm right here!" Pinkie coughed heartily on the final word, but even that didn't alert the others to her presence. Truth be told, she had suddenly started feeling a lot worse again, with her numbness and trembling making a serious comeback. She had no choice but to follow her irritating friends all the way to Sugarcube Corner, calling out to them and trying to get their attention the whole time.
"Good evening Mrs. Cake," Twilight politely called as she led the group into the building, "has Pinkie Pie come back here at all? We can't find her anywhere."
"Oh, sorry girls but I didn't notice her come back. You're welcome to go upstairs and look for her though." Twilight led the search party towards Pinkie's private rooms, a fact which served only to enrage Pinkie further.
"Ordinarily I love visitors but you guys are really pushing my buttons, you know that? Hay Twilight, don't you go in there without my permiss- Stop!" Twilight pushed open Pinkie's door after gently knocking a couple of times. "You're not going to get a response from in there dopey, I'm right here behind you!" Pinkie grumpily followed her friends into her main room.
"Remember guys, Pinkie's not feeling very well so we need to be quiet until we find her, we don't want to surprise her or give her a headache or anything," Twilight cautioned.
"Yeah yeah," Rainbow muttered as she hovered into an adjoining room.
"Um, I don't mean to sound strange or anything," Fluttershy said in a worried voice as she wandered towards Pinkie's bedroom, "but can anypony else smell that strange smell? It's coming from over he-" The rest of he sentence was cut off by a loud thump.
"What was that? Pinkie? Fluttershy, what happened, are you alright?" Rainbow called out as she flew towards the bedroom. "Oh my gosh, everypony come quick, Fluttershy just fainted!"
"What?!" came a general chorus as the mares bustled to where Fluttershy lay prone. In the shoving match for space around the stricken Pegasus, Twilight accidentally stepped through the doorway into Pinkie's bedroom. The hubbub around Fluttershy was instantly silenced by her piercing scream.
"Twilight, whatever is the matter?" Rarity asked, following the purple pony into the bedroom. Hearing no further speech from either unicorn, Rainbow and Applejack also hurried through the doorway.
"Now what?" Pinkie grumbled as she too made her sulky way to see what her friends were doing. "I know my room's a mess but there's no need to scream about… about…" She too fell silent as she squeezed into her bedroom behind the other four mares, who were now as silent as the grave. The five ponies just stared, open-mouthed, as a single fly buzzing around the bed provided the only sound to be heard.
Pinkie tried to say something, but couldn't. Her sanity silently slipped away as she laid eyes on her own cold, rigid body, still lying where she had fallen that afternoon, never to rise again.
The fly stopped buzzing as it landed on one of the numerous pink streaks where sweat had washed away the white paint. Neither Pinkie's unfocused eyes nor her limp ears reacted to the insect, devoid of all life as they were. Showing the most emotion he had ever exhibited, Gummy was sadly nuzzling his dead mistress' neck, waiting for her to get up and feed him like she did every night.
The four gathered friends didn't notice as the ghost in their midst faded from the world completely, having seen its former body and realising that ever since it had woken up that evening, its costume had been all too genuine.
Gummy closed his eyes and lay down against the matted fur of Pinkie Pie's neck, trying to shelter from the cold breeze that he alone had felt when the number of souls present in the room dropped by one.
"Presumably you've found something if you've asked to see me personally?"
"Yes doctor, right this way," said the pathologist as she led her companion into the hospital's main forensic laboratory. "The toxicology came back on the Nightmare Night body."
"The ghost mare?"
"Ah, so we have a cause of death now?"
"We do," the pathologist replied as she handed over a sheet of paper. The doctor scanned the information before curiously eyeing the pathologist over her glasses.
"Acute lead poisoning? Really? Since when is that an issue anymore? Lead has been tightly regulated in manufacturing for well over a hundred years. When was the last time anypony died from lead poisoning?"
"Nightmare Night, apparently." The pathologist retrieved an old tin can from a cupboard. "This was what killed her." The doctor quickly read the labels.
"Paint stripper eh? What was lead doing in paint stripper? More to the point, how did it end up killing somepony?"
"You know how the witness statements indicated she covered herself in white body paint as part of her costume? Nope, it was this stuff, white paint stripper. This stuff contains high levels of lead carbonate, used as an additive to colour the mixture white. Nasty stuff."
"But lead doesn't absorb through skin easily, if at all. How does that work?"
"The solvent used as a basis for this paint stripper is a charming chemical known as dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO. It very readily penetrates through skin, and because it's a weak acid it can dissolve lead carbonate. Obviously, otherwise the paint stripper wouldn't work as a mixture." The pathologist put the can back in the cupboard. "In summary, the lead compound was carried through her skin by the DMSO it was dissolved in, and because she coated her entire body in this stuff, fatal lead poisoning was the inevitable outcome."
"I see." The doctor tapped her chin with a hoof. "So… why in the world were these two substances in a commercial product? And how did the deceased confuse clearly-labelled paint stripper for body paint?"
"Could be contamination at the factory, could be cost-cutting, who knows? We'll have to report this to the police because if it turns out these substances were in there to save money by avoiding safe, legal ingredients, we could have some sort of death by criminal negligence case on our hooves. There's always the risk that somepony spills this accidentally on themselves after all, so it's unacceptable that these two chemicals ended up in the same tin together." She cast a sad glance towards a sign in the corridor visible outside the lab, which indicated the way to the morgue. "As for why the victim used this on herself, well, there is one possible explanation. Witness statements indicate that she was in a great hurry most of the day, and when this can was found it was filthy. In her rush, I can only presume she misinterpreted the labelling, which was obscured in any case by dust and dirt. Looks like a bona fide accident, at least on her part."
The doctor removed her glasses to massage her forehead.
"Well, that's a real shame. It's tragic enough when young ponies do themselves in while attempting inadvisable things, but this poor girl wasn't looking for trouble at all." She regained her professional air and replaced her glasses. "File that report with the police and get the cadaver transferred to the mortuary then."
"Of course doctor, right away."
The ponies headed in opposite directions down the corridor, with the pathologist heading for the morgue. Her mind was still mulling over a curious discrepancy she'd spotted when reading the witness statements.
"How come," she mumbled aloud to herself, "the mare's friends insisted that she'd been with them most of the night before heading back home? Forensics clearly put the time of death as being mid-afternoon." She paused, halfway through the door to the morgue. "Oh well, it was Nightmare Night after all. That holiday can affect ponies' perceptions like no other."
She continued through the door, leaving it to swing shut behind her as a cold breeze made its gentle way down the empty corridor.