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All the Time in the World · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Better Left Unfinished
My grandpa used to let me into his workshop when he was close to finishing a project. His shop was a wonderland, like walking into a pirate’s treasure cove, a menagerie of sparkling trinkets and intricate metalworking tools—much more than just a weathered brown shed in our backyard. I could hardly contain my excitement, and waited impatiently while he fumbled with the three rusty padlocks which kept his treasures safe.

With eyes wide and jaw slack, I followed in my grandpa’s wake, close to his tail. He firmly instructed me not to touch anything, which is something you tell any ten-year-old filly when they walk into a toy store. I don’t think there’s a toy store in the whole world that comes close to my grandpa’s old workshop. He led me through on a carefully designated path, slow and deliberate. He had a bit of a limp. He told me about all the tools in his shop.

“That’s a lathe,” he said. “It’s used to carve cylindrical metals.” He must have liked the lathe, judging by how many times he’d told me about it.

I never knew what his projects were right away. While he was working on them, he never told me—or at least, what he told me was never enough. It was his way of teasing me, building up my excitement. A month prior, I’d asked him what Princess Celestia had asked him to make this time.

“A lantern,” he said simply, as though it was the most plain and simple thing he’d ever make. As though producing miraculous things after sixty years was finally starting to bore him.

“What kind of lantern?” I’d asked, grinning.

“The Secret kind,” he replied with a smile and a knowing wink. His face was a landscape of deep wrinkles and creases that made him look like an old tree. I thought it funny to imagine what kind of treehouse he’d make out of himself.

For the next month, I could only imagine the masterpiece he was creating. Briefly I’d catch glimpses of him through one of the grimy workshop windows, his wrinkled face sweating heavily over the forge, or his sturdy hooves guiding a piece of metal over the grinding wheel. I’d lay out in the backyard for hours, staring straight up at the sky, grass tickling my back. I listened to the sounds of his craft, clanging, buzzing, scraping, my imagination grasping to complete his creation through the by-products of his work.

“Welp, here it is. Not quite finished. Whaddaya think, kiddo?”

He hobbled aside with as much showponyship as his old body could manage, revealing the product of his month’s labor sitting on the workbench. I never tired of this routine.

The first time you set eyes on one of my grandpa’s creations, the experience is unique and beautiful. To me, it was like watching a baby bird hatch, or looking at a sunset that hits the water just right, so the sun looks like it’s melting right before your eyes.

“Yep. It’s a lantern,” I said without releasing any of my delight or awe.

“It’ll never go out,” he said, pointing at the soft yellow flame dancing and flickering in the heart of the lamp. He blew on it to demonstrate.

“No glass?” I said.

“No need,” he replied, grinning. “It’ll last through wind, water, anything you can think to throw at it.”

“What do you still need to finish?”

“What do you think it needs, Goldie? ” he’d always ask me. My suggestion was the final piece of his projects.

Goldie. That was his nickname for me, and it stuck fast. My parents used it, even all the other foals at school used my nickname over calling me Marigold, which I’m grateful for, because Marigold sounds like it belongs to a pony much older than I was at the time. Teachers still called me Marigold, though, which was irritating. If somepony didn’t know who I was, I could easily tell them I was Temper Fidelis’s grandfilly. Everypony knew grandpa’s name.

“Looks like it needs a handle,” I said, screwing up my lips and furrowing my brow in serious appraisal. “That seems easy enough. It’s a small piece.”

He laughed. “Oh-ho! Easy, you say?” That was his, “You’ve got a lot to learn, kid” laugh.

I pouted at him. “Does the princess need it soon?”

“Soon-ish. Don’t want to rush.”

That was sort of grandpa’s motto, but he tended to use it more like an excuse. He’d doze off while watching me play in the backyard, sink his sturdy old body into the hammock under the trees, and snore his lungs out until the sun set. Eventually mom would call us in for dinner; she’d need to yell a bit louder to be heard above grandpa’s snores. He’d open one sliver of his eye. “Be there in a bit. Don’t want to rush,” he’d say, then go back to snoozing with the smuggest carefree smile on his face. Eventually, mom just let him be. She'd set aside a plate for him whenever he decided to come back inside.

The lantern was an incredible piece. I stared at its mesmerizing patterns, becoming lost in the delicate lattice of metalwork shaped to look like vines were creeping over it. The metal was a brilliant silver. It looked like it had been shaped from stardust, which, for my grandpa, seemed completely possible.

“What’s she planning to do with it?” I asked, a little jealously. Can you blame me for being even slightly possessive of my grandpa’s work?

“I’ll show you,” he said.

Later he brought me to the Royal Gardens that lie directly beneath Canterlot Castle. Public access, so we’d have no problem walking right in. It was late in the autumn evening, with nopony around but a gardener clipping rose bushes. Grandpa brought his saddle bag with him. I brought two scarves—one for myself, and a second for my grandpa, who insisted he didn’t need one (my mom told me to bring it for him anyway).

We made our way to the center of the garden, leaves crunching beneath our hooves. We kicked and swished waves of leaves between each other as we walked. Grandpa limped along, smiling brightly. He loved the garden in any season. Most of his inspiration came from here.

Near the center we came upon one of his previous creations. From a distance it looked like a tall triangular fin sprouting out of the ground. It was a remarkable thing, an astral timepiece, a hybrid sun-and-moondial that could even produce the correct time during a new moon. Grandpa stopped to lean against it, then appreciatively surveyed the lengthening shadows of the garden. He took a pencil and notepad out of his saddle bag and began to sketch.

For a little while I listened to the scratching of his pencil, tried to imagine what he could be capturing for inspiration. My eyes settled on his hammer and die cutie mark. Autumn wind forced me to wrap my scarf tighter.

“I’ll bet if you t-taught me, I could get a cutie mark just like that,” I said, my teeth chattering.

My grandpa turned to look at me, smiling. He looked down to his flank. For a moment, he said nothing. Just stared, as though considering the possibility.

“Or, maybe not,” I corrected. “I mean, you need magic to make everything work, like your lantern. Earth ponies like me probably can’t do it…”

He turned away from me, facing toward the garden’s entrance. He pointed. “Over there, do you see the trellis hanging over the entryway?”

I couldn’t. Bushes and hedges blocked my view. I asked if it was alright if I stood on his sun-and-moondial. He laughed, but said that was perfectly fine. He gave me a hoof-up. From the top of the fin, I had a pretty good view of the garden.

“Okay, I see it now.”

“That’s where Princess Celestia wants to put the lantern. Right over the entrance, so ponies can find their way in and out.”

I frowned. “So, what if they’re really short like me?”

He laughed again, and his laugh was like the sound of a tree’s branches brustling together. That could have been the actual sound I was hearing at the time, as the wind was picking up again. At this point he was more than happy to accept his scarf.

“What were you sketching?” I asked him on our way back home.

“Wanted to picture what the lantern might look like from a different angle. I think it’ll look great hanging there, don’t you?”

“Once it gets a handle,” I chuckled. “Otherwise it won’t be hanging anywhere!”

“Would you like to finish it?”

His question stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew right away that was exactly what I wanted to do, but I hesitated. Then I thought for sure that he was making fun of me for what I’d said earlier, and suddenly making something as simple as a lantern’s handle didn’t seem so simple anymore.

“Princess Celestia’s going to see this,” I thought. “The princess of Equestria, and pretty much anypony who comes to the garden. Nope. There’s no way I’m gonna ruin my grandpa’s lantern.”

“I’ll think about it,” I replied eventually.


I spend a lot of time thinking about my reply that night. I wonder how he must have felt underneath that understanding smile he perpetually wore. Maybe a little pang of sorrow. Or betrayal. I was so young at the time, unsure of myself. I was his little grandfilly, his Goldie.

At the time, I also felt he’d betrayed me.

Within two weeks, his health deteriorated drastically. His limp became so serious that he couldn’t walk out to his shop to keep working every day. Mom kept him inside the house most of the time, but brought him outside for fresh air where he could sit and relax. He asked me to bring artifacts from his workshop so he could show me how they worked, and tell me the stories behind each of them. He’d lived a long life, and collected so many stories, and I listened to all of them.

As the weather grew colder, we eventually couldn’t bring him outside anymore. Soon, even getting around the house was painful to him. His breathing diminished to a hoarse rattle that sent shivers over his entire body. He spent most of his time in his bed, sleeping, or eating the trays of food we brought in for him. He still requested that I bring items from his workshop so he could tell me about them, but it seemed like he was mostly sleeping now. I asked if there was any story behind the lantern he’d most recently made, still incomplete.

“I’ll tell you soon. Don’t want to rush,” he said. I could tell smiling was a tremendous effort for him.

“When you’re better, I’ll help you put the handle on it,” I told him, hoping that would cheer him up. In my mind, I still didn’t want to put my clumsy mark on any of his immaculate pieces.

When he died, I didn’t really have a choice anymore. My mom told me that grandpa had wanted me to finish the lantern for him.

The night after he died, I went out to his workshop alone.

In the dark, I fumbled with the three rusty padlocks, just as his aged hooves had thousands of times before. I threaded through the shadowy interior of the shop, tripping over tools and trinkets without my grandpa to safely guide me through.

Through the dark, skeletal shadows of tools, I saw the faint yellow glow of grandpa’s lantern illuminating his workbench. I let that lead me the rest of the way. His stool sat alone in the small puddle of light, coated in dust, forgotten. It felt wrong to sit there, so I took the lantern from the bench and set it beside me on the floor. I still hadn’t cried since it happened, and I was angry about it. My anger and sadness felt like a poison in my body, and I just wanted to vomit it up in a flood of tears. I tried to force myself to cry by thinking of all the ways he’d hurt me when he left.

“He knew he didn’t have long to live. He told mom, but he didn’t tell me. No, he just left me out of the loop.”

Sickness. Rage. I dug deeper.

“He could have pushed me. Even if he didn’t want to tell me that he was dying, he could have acted like it. He could have insisted that he teach me everything he knew, and I would have listened! Sometimes it’s okay to rush!”

Hot, fresh sorrow. My eyes dampened. Closer.

“Why did he leave me this way? I thought there was plenty of time to learn from him—he made me think so.”

That did it. I spent the rest of the night in the shop with grandpa’s lantern beside me, letting all of my emotions get flushed out at once. Several times I imagined how I’d screw up the lantern by fixing my shoddy handiwork to it. Even considered tossing it into the forge, or smashing it to pieces with a hammer. I’m glad that my tears eventually wore me out to the point of exhaustion, and merciful sleep. I might have actually tried to destroy it otherwise.

The handle I crafted was crude, embarrassing compared to even the poorest of my grandpa’s works. He’d willed his workshop to me when he died. I spent almost another month in there under my mom’s supervision, just learning how to use the tools from memory. I dredged up the sounds that I’d memorized, the clangs and the buzzes and scrapes. To the best of my ability, I got grandpa’s tools to produce their proper sounds.

Princess Celestia was at his funeral. I presented the lantern to her there, feeling there was no better time to do so.

“This was his last masterpiece,” I told her plainly, having no more emotion. Only a vast, empty numbness. “Please excuse the defects. I take all the credit for those.”

The princess thanked me, told me that my grandpa was one of the greatest artificers in the history of Equestria. That he was beloved by all, that he loved me dearly and was proud of me—all the courteous things I’d heard from relatives and friends.

“There’s something else he wanted to show you,” said the princess. “He told me that he’d show you when it came time to hang the lantern. Join me for the dedication tomorrow night. We’ll hang it together in his honor.”

I was shocked, and a little angry as well. Another thing he’d kept hidden from me that somepony else had to tell me about.

The dedication ended up being a lot bigger than I’d expected. Ponies from all over Equestria had come. A few of them I even recognized from grandpa’s stories. It was cold in the late autumn evening, but I felt strangely warm, seeing all these ponies whom my grandpa had touched. Some, I knew had been touched in small ways, others large. Always meaningful.

Princess Celestia stood regally at the garden trellis. My grandpa’s lantern sat on a little rostrum before her. I noticed, oddly, there was a curtain hanging on the side of the trellis, concealing something.

The princess called for calm and began to speak.

“Mares and Gentlecolts from across Equestria, we gather here to pay our humble respects to the memory of Temper Fidelis. Brilliant craftspony, loving father and grandfather, friend to all. It was his dream to share his gifts with the world, to inspire ponies with his generosity and creativity, so that they’d be able to step beyond themselves, and extend those same virtues to others. His dream truly made Equestria brighter.”

With those words she carried the lantern to the trellis. There was some polite applause. I saw my clumsy handle contrast starkly with my grandpa’s exquisite handiwork, and couldn’t help blushing. I knew for certain everypony was staring at it, probably not even seeing the lantern, just the mistakes.

Then the princess moved on to an even more embarrassing announcement.

“Temper’s dream will remain alive and well in all of us, and in his grandfilly, Marigold, who is with us tonight.”

She pointed to me, which elicited further applause. My cheeks flushed hotter than they ever had in my entire life.

She turned around and lifted the curtain hanging on the trellis. Beneath was a shining silver plaque, engraved with my grandpa’s firm, yet gentle hornwriting.

It read:

“I hold this lantern high
so you might see your first step,
and be more confident in the steps that follow.
I leave this path unfinished
so that you might make it your own,
and discover the pace at which you take it.

-For Goldie”

I thought for certain I should have been out of tears at that point. Grandpa’s words found more. As I stared at the plaque, I thought about my anger following his death. I felt ashamed of it, but realized he wouldn’t want me to feel ashamed.

I saw my reflection in the plaque, covered by grandpa’s message to me. In a strange way—that made me laugh—I recalled how I’d imagined him building a treehouse out of himself. Turns out he was building something out of me instead, or at least the foundations. He’d left a whole workshop full of tools and stories behind for me to work with.

The rest was up to me to finish what he’d started.
« Prev   16   Next »
#1 · 3
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
With eyes wide and jaw slack, I followed in my grandpa’s wake, close to his tail. He firmly instructed me not to touch anything,

Are we going to have to have another talk about inappropriate subject matter

Okay, joking aside, I think that this is a sweet story with great characterization that's hampered by its pacing. Author, you try to hit a lot of emotional notes with your audience, but your story kinda rushes past most of them, so they don't strike the reader with the kind of intensity that you're going for. Temper's decline is skimmed over, the occasion of his death has two or three sentences devoted to it, and Goldie's emotions are described in brief, clipped little notes. They're so scant and remotely detailed that I have trouble feeling the kind of feelings that I know I should be feeling.

To its credit, however, I felt the emotional weight of the moral at the end. So, the most important elements of the story are at least conveyed effectively.

(Not coincidentally, I think, that's one of the more developed and detailed sequences in the story.)
#2 · 2
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
I really like this one. It's sweet, it feels real, and has a solid emotional core that is sad where it should be and encouraging despite the sadness. My one major critique is that the moment of transition, where the grandfather passes, is sped through too quickly. It should be a scene, not just a recap. He should charge young Goldie with the task of finishing the lantern directly, not have her mom tell her his last wish.

Still though, a minor nitpick in a solid story. Great job!
#3 · 1
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
This is a delightful and heartwarming story that could perhaps be more pony-related but hits the prompt right on the mark. I only have minor suggestions.

"Saddle bag" should be saddlebags.

A timepiece that casts a shadow during a new moon sounds like a mistake. You need to mention that it magically makes the shadows or something.

His breathing diminished to a hoarse rattle

Horse rattle. No moment is too dramatic for a needless horse pun. :trollestia:
#4 ·
· · >>Trick_Question >>Rocket Lawn Chair
This is another strong entry among some pretty strong entries. But this one does elevate itself a little through its careful emotion and excellent prose. The ending hit me good, so great job!

I agree with what has been already mentioned, especially with Grandpa's strange withholding of information. One other gripe I had was that the narration to be overly tell-y at times, and I would have preferred to see Goldie's emotions for myself rather than have her explain them all for me.

Also, it would have been nice to have some concrete examples of Grandpa's stellar work before we see the lantern. His introduction, while pleasantly told, is too vague for me to really believe how brilliant he is. If you could wow me with a little more of his background in the opening paragraph, instead of talking about "tools and trinkets", I would have been sold on his prowess a lot faster, and enjoyed the story that little bit more.

But this is overall quite good. Well done and good luck!

P.S. kind of a minor thought that I wouldn't necessarily call a mistake, but is just something I thought of: Does the word "handle" belong in Equestria, given its etymology?
#5 · 2
· · >>Miller Minus
>>Miller Minus
Does the word "handle" belong in Equestria, given its etymology?

It does. There are limits to how many words you can horsify, even if you're a stickler like me.
#6 · 3
Embrace the hoofdle, Trick.
#7 · 2
>>Miller Minus

I feel the retrospective on this one was way overdue, partially owing to the fact that I was gone on vacation for a week, and partially owing to the fact that I didn't really know how to respond.

First off, I'm grateful that you all read it and gave some feedback! This story came from a somewhat personal place, having lost my own grandmother a few years ago, and my grandfather (a carpenter) only a year ago. However, ironically, my personal investment are what held it back in spots, owing to the jerky transitions, and places that needed more space to pad out emotional impact. While I grew up, I was mostly emotionally distant from both of my grandparents, and when each of them passed, I felt very little for them, which is reflected in the story. I think, in part, this story was my attempt at making up for my lack of emotion, because I do feel underwhelmed and a little ashamed of how little I felt. (Now it sounds like there's a different story under all this!)

Excuses aside, the pacing is a critical issue I will hit in the rework, as well as the telly-ness. If you have some suggestions for techniques that reduce telly-ness in first-person stories, please let me know, because it's a perspective I definitely need to polish.

Thanks again for reading!