You won’t find today’s story vanishing from your memory.
After I Looked Up, The Stars Had Gone Away
[Horror] • 6,738 words
There is no such thing as a gut feeling, not really. If you suddenly start to feel afraid for no apparent reason, it’s very unlikely to be anything serious. But it doesn’t make it feel any better does it?
Twilight is up burning the midnight oil again, when suddenly every sense she has tells her that something is terribly wrong. There can’t be anything really wrong though, not in reality.
FROM THE CURATORS: “Gentlemen, I give you one of the best horror stories on this website,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. Soge quickly assigned it a top score and responded, “That is not hyperbole. When a horror story makes me feel uneasy after just reading the description, I know there is something special here — and somehow, the story delivers on that promise and more. I am glad I read this during the day, as I had to go walk outside for a bit. It is that effective.”
The premise behind that acclaim was simple — and it was that simplicity which first turned our heads. “This is a horror story about what it’s like to feel fear, and that’s really all you need for one,” Present Perfect said. But there was nothing simple about the careful construction which sold that tension. “The thick atmosphere; Twilight’s thought process; the subtle changes that never let you feel comfortable; the feeling of utter isolation that permeates the whole story,” Soge said. “It is not a single thing that makes this fic work this well, it is all those combined and more.” Horizon agreed, adding, “This walks a masterful tightrope between the fantastic and the mundane. It’s a heck of a balancing act keeping the reader so consistently off-balance.”
Several of us thought it was that exemplary execution which sealed the deal. “It needs an editing pass — however, it does enough right that I don’t have any reservations about a feature,” RBDash47 said. “The author does an excellent job of slowly building tension as Twilight’s anxiety sends her spinning in mental circles, and the tension is built on something completely relatable. Even better, they didn’t fumble their beautiful setup — the story ended exactly where it should have. The author stuck to their guns and didn’t give us the barest hint of catharsis.” That combined with powerful framing and character work to make this memorable beyond its short length. “The great thing about this is that, taking place in Twilight’s mind, we’re given a full analysis of the spectrum of feelings she’s experiencing at any given time,” Present Perfect said. “And that includes the highly rational conclusion that none of this is happening, despite the fact that she’s terrified. The reader is thus left to ponder whether any of this is real, despite having all evidence to the contrary, and that tiny bit of doubt is all that’s necessary for a pulse-pounding thriller.”
Read on for our author interview, in which The Seer discusses dip-pen rips, catastrophic bois, and two-sentence horror.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a twenty-something scientist from the UK. I used to write a lot on the site when I was much younger and then stopped for like half a decade. Then I recently decided to give it a go again for reasons I genuinely don’t really know.
My main hobbies include listening to music, getting very angry at the news, and catastrophically overusing the phrase ‘ya boi’.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I actually had a disclaimer on my page until quite recently about this because I was conscious that my name comes off as very melodramatic, especially when coupled with my weird monochrome avatar.
There was actually not a shred of imagination or creativity from me at all — it’s just the name of a fantastic and haunting experimental rock album from 2012 by Swans.
The avatar is a Rothko painting I really love (Untitled, Black on Gray, 1969).
Who’s your favorite pony?
In the show:
Rarity. A million times Rarity. She’s wonderfully three-dimensional and I love characters that challenge conventional and often outdated understandings of gender, which I think Rarity does by being a confident and resourceful character with an unapologetic love of elements of femininity which are often presented (erroneously) as being at odds with those prior mentioned qualities. Her design is great as well, and Tabitha St. Germain is an absolute treasure of a voice actress. She still stuns me each time I hear Rarity talk.
Rarity and Twilight. Rarity, since I love her characterisation so much which makes her fun to work with, and Twilight since she is, to me, the most neutral and therefore malleable member of the main cast. Since the show often comes from her perspective she’s good to present a story through.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Suited for Success,” though I like a great deal of seasons 1-2 since I got into the show in early 2012. Highlights from the later series are usually moments as opposed to whole episodes (how amazing was Rachel Bloom’s song?)
What do you get from the show?
So I’m going to have to be ‘that guy’ here and say very little anymore. My love for the show stems entirely from the first few series. This is the reason that I’ve never written Twilight as an alicorn and always keep her as a unicorn in Golden Oaks.
I liked the small-town aspect of the earlier show, and always thought the larger setpiece episodes where’d they’d ‘save Equestria’ were okay but didn’t appeal to me as much. In those first couple of series it was a cutesy, great looking, great acted show about these characters solving issues in their town and learning lessons from it. I’ve never been huge on the closing moral aspect, but it was never a deal breaker.
With the whole “Twilight becoming a princess” and “school of friendship” stuff I think it’s gone a lot grander in scale, which was never my thing. Once again, none of this is bad at all, it just means the show went in a direction which wasn’t personally for me. I still have really fond memories of the summer during which I got into the show and the fanfic community. I still chime in occasionally when there’s a Rarity-centric or Rarity-heavy episode to see how it’s going, and I’m glad the show’s still very popular.
I will, due to my love of the first few series, be eagerly awaiting G5 to see what they do with it. I think it could be something really special if done right.
What do you want from life?
Big question there.
I want to make sure I’m trying to be kind, that I’m listening and learning and trying to always have solidarity with those who need it. Of course I’d like to live without having to worry about money, with time to focus on the things I love, but more than that I want everyone to have that and to have the happiness, health, security and dignity that people intrinsically deserve.
On the small scale, I want my top ten records of any year to be mainly from artists/bands that are new to me, and for calligraphy to be a lot easier to learn, and for the dip-pens to stop ripping my goddamn paper.
Why do you write?
Writing is wonderful because you can tell a great story, explore nuanced concepts and themes and, more importantly, anyone can do it. It’s a great equaliser in that regard. Everyone has a good story, everyone has a writing style — it’s beautiful when you think about it. You don’t need masses of equipment like other art forms, you don’t need training. Just pick up a pen or a PC or whatever and go ahead.
For me personally, I love coming up with stories. Me and a mate of mine always used to do it in primary school and we still talk about story ideas we have every time we go to the pub to this day. With writing specifically, I love experimenting with the style and the extent to which concept and theme play a part. The good thing is that anything, and I mean anything, can add to a story’s quality if done right. And there’s so many different interpretations as to what “doing it right” is. I love the subjectivity and nuance, it’s a lot of fun!
I write fanfiction because, while I’m always coming up with stories, writing in established universes allow for exploration of themes and experimentation with writing style without having to build everything from the ground up. It gets a lot of flak sometimes, but fanfiction is a wonderful way for people to write without having to construct an entire novel each time.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Write whatever and however you feel. There are no wrong answers.
To me that’s the only advice that matters. I could tell you how I think Rarity should be characterised or how I think you should pace a story or things that I don’t like in fiction, but those are all my opinions on writing. As said before, anything can work for a story, and the arbiter of whether it works is you!
Just have fun and be cool to one another, leave a lot of comments, and always be nice when you critique.
Considering that most of your other stories are tagged Romance or Comedy, where did “After I Looked Up, the Stars Had Gone Away” come from?
I love horror deeply, but I’m quite picky when it comes to it. That same pickiness has been my undoing for a while since I’m so particular on what kind of horror I like, I was worried about trying and never being able to make something good. I’ve wanted to for a while though, so in that regard Stars was a long time coming. It was a great experience though, it forced me to write in a way I hadn’t before. Trying to create a sense of creeping dread and fear was really engaging new territory. Being able to take a genre and adapt the way you write and tell stories within it is really rewarding.
But just like the theme of nameless, unclear horror I tried to work with in this, I found romance was a great way to look at the lived experiences of being queer and how hard that can be. Like the way I needed to change my style to create an intense atmosphere, I had to change that to try to be funny in comedies. I suppose what I’m getting at is that I don’t really see it as coming from a different place from my other stories per se, it’s just another aspect of how I write. But that’s easy for me to say because it’s going to be easiest for the author to track where all this came from. To me it’s another area to have fun and explore in!
And while we’re on inspiration, I do want to quickly mention an inspiration for the stars disappearing. It was one of those two-sentence horror stories you see on the internet which was someone looking to the sky and seeing the stars had gone away. I read it years ago and it always stuck with me as incomprehensibly terrifying, it implies that something massive and impossible to understand is happening. That was where the idea of the stars disappearing came from. I’ve got no idea who the author is, but cheers to them.
What is it about this sort of atmospheric horror that attracts you?
The more atmospheric horror angle came about as a way of emphasising this as an exploration of fear as a concept. Now, it wouldn’t be impossible to do that while having Twilight being chased around the library by a terrifying demon but I think it’d definitely be harder. By having the horror come from the atmosphere in which Twilight was in as opposed to anything specific, I found it easier to explore her mind and her reactions to it.
Also, with horror, I react to it better if it’s something that would scare me. Take clowns: I’m not scared of clowns, so a story about a clown trying to murder someone isn’t going to do tonnes for me personally. Now take the idea of looking out of your window at night at one of the houses across the way, and there’s a silhouette of a person stood motionless on the roof and you have no idea why but they just stand there silently. That would petrify me, as would the idea of suddenly being in the situation I put Twilight in. I like atmospheric horror with no clear defined ‘threat’ because it really scares me.
Did you have something in mind for what’s happening to Twilight while working on the story, or was it always all about the ambiguity?
With horror, I think unresolved narrative can make an audience uncomfortable because an explanation is kind of a safety blanket. If it’s ‘A’, then you can potentially work out a solution to ‘A’ and the story becomes less scary. Keeping it vague prevents this. You don’t know what it is, you can’t work out how to beat it, you don’t know why it’s doing what it’s doing.
I wanted to create something that pushed the character to their limits with fear and laid bare every moment of it. It’s just as much about the stars going away as it is about Twilight hyperventilating and retching under her duvet. Adding any definitive exposition would have stolen some of the impact away from Twilight’s reactions which are specifically contextualised by the fact that she doesn’t know what’s going on.
Now I wouldn’t go this far all the time — there’s obviously a middle ground between not saying anything and detailed exposition — but Stars was specifically formulated with this as a device to increase the horror.
I think the fact that I didn’t include explicit exposition means that whatever ideas I might have about what is going on are no more or less valid than anyone reading it. But I can confirm that, while I have ideas, I didn’t ever allow myself to come up with an explanation that I could then work out a resolution to. The only metric I have on if something is unsettling is whether it unsettles me, and the lack of knowledge into the situation does this.
Do you find that your stories come out all of a piece, or do they shape up more during the editing process?
I tend to start writing with a general overview in mind. It’s very rare that I plan out a story from start to finish in any detail. Usually I’ll have a beginning and end and the sketch of a middle. The writing period is where it all shapes up and changes. I’ve had a story in the past start as a comedy and then during the writing it turned into one of the most serious things I’ve ever written. In that way I suppose I’d say they come out as a piece.
It’s a wildly inefficient way of writing, mind, but it’s the only way I’ve ever done it. To me, part of the enjoyment comes from having a general overview and then going into it and wondering how it’s going to be at the end. I’d feel a little hamstrung if I was too stringent at the start.
By the time I write the end, the editing is just fixing up any errors and tightening up the prose and imagery. I can only think of one time I’ve massively edited a story and changed vast swathes of it post-writing, but that was when I wrote the majority of a story and then came back to it five years later.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks to everyone who read Stars. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I loved writing it. Fingers crossed I managed to unsettle a few of you out there.
Thanks as well to the great people at the Royal Canterlot Library for featuring it and for the interview. You lot have introduced me and many others to tonnes of great stories (Sundowner Season was a triumph and it nearly destroyed me). I know it sounds cliche, but I really couldn’t have imagined Stars would end up featured back when I wrote it, so I’m tremendously grateful.
Cheers to AstralMouse for their shoutout in their interview for Twenty-Eight Boulders, too — that was a really nice gesture.
And finally, thanks to anyone who managed to make it through this whole interview. I have a massive problem with starting stories and making them too long, and now we know that extends to this as well.
Happy reading and writing, everyone!
You can read After I Looked Up, The Stars Had Gone Away at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.
Present Perfect said:
I never realized that was a Rothko! :D I love Rothko!