Today’s story will haunt you.
[Dark] [Drama] [Horror] • 69,824 words
The Millennial Summer Sun Celebration is only a few years away, but Rarity’s fashion career seems to be ending before she can begin it. Now, she has one last chance to find a place for her talent.
But as she works to create the boutique of her dreams, a forgotten piece of Ponyville’s past is waking up. Secret memories lie forgotten in dusty basements, unrighted wrongs scratch at locked doors, and Rarity finds herself caught up in a history that may be doomed to repeat itself.
For although she is the first to set hoof in the Old Town Hall in thirty years, she can’t help but feel that something inside was waiting for her.
FROM THE CURATORS: The sort of story that can inspire top scores from our curators is almost certainly going to accumulate superlatives along the way, but even so, there were some head-turning compliments in our discussion. “This is a fic that works on so many levels that it has to be read, and is certainly one of the best stories produced by the fandom,” Soge said, while Present Perfect had superlatives of his own: “The horror bits are always effective; chapter 8 in particular is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read.”
Much of our commentary centered on the story’s original approach to its horror elements. “This is a pre-show mix of slice of life and drama woven through with a consistently unsettling gothic horror,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “It feeds on fear of not just the unknown, but the known, daring to cross that old standby of ‘don’t show the monster’ and still make it work.” You wouldn’t think a horror tale could work so well as a prequel for canon, either, but it got repeated praise for squaring that circle. “This is a very Pony horror story, because if friendship is magic, well, it stands to reason that there ought to be an opposite sort of magic when friendship curdles and goes sour,” AugieDog said, while Soge praised it more broadly: “The horror elements are genuinely unsettling, benefiting from a sufficiently original monster, great atmosphere, and most importantly, the ability to merge its most gruesome elements seamlessly with pony world. Were that all this fic did, it would still be worthy of a recommendation.”
But it went beyond that with exemplary character work, illustrated by Present Perfect’s praise: “Rarity’s characterization is fantastic, as she matures ever so haltingly from a stuck-up would-be fashionista into more of the generous, caring pony we know. The original characters are also memorable and fit into the setting effortlessly.” AugieDog added: “The picture the story paints of several of Our Heroines in the years before the show starts is just about perfect as well.” That was, as Soge said, just part of the magic at work here: “The way Thornquill weaves characterization, world building, and pre-show history together works flawlessly, so that even its most out-there elements — like Pinkie being a real estate agent — work in the story’s favor without ever feeling forced.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Thornquill discusses biting bugs, dead approximations, and reflective escape engines.
Give us the standard biography.
I was content enough to enjoy the show and fandom at a distance as far back as 2012, but sometime in late 2014, I got bitten by whatever pernicious bug is out there driving us all slightly over the edge of madness and into content creation. Since I didn’t have any ideas I wanted to explore on my own through fanfic, I started off doing audio versions of other fanfics instead. As time’s gone on, I’ve shifted more and more to the writing side of things, which is kind of where I wanted to be all along. As to which I’ll do more of in the future, no one knows less than me. My interests tend to be annoyingly unpredictable.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I’m not exactly sure when the idea and the name hit the current form, but it keeps present for me the nasty double nature language has — so much potential for beauty and growth, but so easily turned toxic and harmful too.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Even though her character has developed pretty far beyond what first drew me to her, it will always be Twilight Sparkle. I liked that she was something of an acknowledgement that we can get things wrong in relationships. She was a very smart character, a resourceful, determined character, who still had a lot to learn. And she wasn’t above changing her mind when it became necessary.
What’s your favorite episode?
There are so many I love, but I usually point to “Suited for Success.” It was the episode where I thought I knew exactly what they were going to do with a predictable character, and it could have so easily been vapid and shallow. Instead, they showed the technical, driven side of Rarity. That kind of unexpected nuance is something I’ve always seemed to look (and strive) for ever since.
What do you get from the show?
I have gotten so much from the show, it’s difficult to pick something and discuss it in a short enough time. I think the biggest thing it did for me on the whole was its many explorations of talent and passion for work. It actually helped guide me away from a bad career choice and back to what I really love to do.
What do you want from life?
To do good work, share it with whoever will enjoy it, and leave some small part of the world a little better than I found it, if it’s within my power.
Why do you write?
Here on Fimfiction, to give back. It’s the same reason I started doing fanfic narrations — I wanted to give something back to the fandom that had given me so much. Once I got the idea for Carousel, it was a natural continuation.
Ultimately, I hope I can develop my skills enough that I can publish original work. That’s been a goal of mine for about as long as I can remember, though I abandoned it for many years. When I experience stories, the ones I love the most are the ones that create worlds so other and so real, you feel a sense of awe just to take it in. I want to help create those experiences too.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
This one’s pretty simple for me right now: Don’t forget to have fun. For some time now, I’ve been struggling to find a balance between studying this craft, focusing on the technicalities, getting better at it, and actually enjoying it while I do it. It’s important to focus on the nuts and bolts and try to improve. It’s vital. But here’s the thing: I can forget the nuts and bolts for an hour and just have fun writing a crazy scene. I will almost certainly need to fix it later, but at least it exists. But if writing feels like something I have to do — if by choice I’d be in the other room gaming — the scene will not get written or fixed. Period. So have fun.
First, an easy question: What do you consider to be the purpose of art?
I think part of the unending fascination and frustration with that question is that everyone is going to answer a little differently. Art is so many things to so many people. Art is a reflection of the world; art is an engine of betterment; art is an escape; art is exploration; art is the only way we can explore the worst parts of ourselves; art is a pastime that makes the daily grind endurable. It is so many things, and so many gradients in a spectrum from casual to serious, that we all find something in it.
To me, then, the purpose of art is to explore purpose.
When we meet Rarity in the show for the first time, Carousel Boutique is operating, her sister is unharmed and she hasn’t lost her mind. How did you tackle writing scenes that needed to be tense while their ultimate outcomes were a foregone conclusion?
In a way, I think knowing from the start where things would need to end made it easier, not harder. I knew there were limits, things I couldn’t do. So the question became, “what other awful things can I put these characters through?” I might not be able to kill certain characters, but then it becomes a game of, what boundaries can I push them over? How far can I go with it? Even though I intended to bring them back from the brink, I didn’t initially know just how badly certain characters might get hurt, or how badly they might hurt others. And since I didn’t know it, my hope is the readers don’t either. They’re discovering with me just how far we can lean over that edge and wondering how we can possibly get back.
“Don’t show the monster” is a common adage in horror writing, yet you showed us Toola Roola, and she was terrifying. What was your approach not just to this scene, but to the horror in this piece as a whole?
I think the thing about showing the monster isn’t so much whether or not to do it, but knowing what happens with your audience when you show the monster. Toola Roola is seen several times throughout the story, but never clearly. She’s often mistaken for other characters, always at a distance, or otherwise unreachable and other. Even the portrait Rarity finds early on isn’t really “the monster”; it’s a dead and distant approximation.
As the story goes on, readers get a little bit more of a glimpse of Toola each time, whether it’s about her background or getting a slightly clearer view of what Toola has become. They learn just a little bit more each time they go on, almost like slowly opening a door, and with every glimpse, things get worse. But they never get the whole picture until the absolute end.
This means readers are always able to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations, and that’s the real heart behind “Don’t show the monster.” They’re guessing, they’re curious, even if they dread the answer. Once the monster is seen, though, that is when you’ve hit the height of your pacing. There is nothing more you can hit the audience with. You have told them, “This is what you’re up against.” And once you do that, your story has to change direction. It’s no longer a mystery — it’s an adventure where the characters figure out how to beat the monster or a tragedy where they fall to it.
I think that is where some horror stories can stumble. They show the monster too early, or they show too much too quickly, and then they try to keep the story going the same as it has up to that point. They don’t let their characters change gears. It’s also a very serious problem for sequels. For me, Carousel had to end immediately after Toola was clearly seen. And in the final scene between Rarity and Toola, there is still a little bit more to learn about her, a little bit more to see, but the tension doesn’t come from Toola. Instead, the readers are guessing about Rarity this time. What is she planning? What new idea is she bringing to the table that Toola now has to contend with? And will it work?
You can show the monster, but only if you’re ready for something else to help drive the story.
Please tell us about any other influences that inspired this piece.
Classical horror writers such as Bram Stoker, M.R. James, and especially J. S. Le Fanu; MLP horror pieces such as A Hoof-ful of Dust’s Synchronicity, MrNelg’s A Night at Shadow Station, and Aquaman’s NIGEB; and films such as The Woman in Black, Oculus, In the Mouth of Madness, and The Babadook.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My thanks. To everyone who has helped grow this fandom; to the friends it has brought me; to everyone who left the scores of insightful and constructive comments on my work; and in this feature, most special thanks to AShadowOfCygnus for the phenomenal reading he did for Carousel; and to Present Perfect and the Royal Canterlot Library for the spotlights they have shone on it. I am more grateful than I can express.