Applejack’s Favorite Tree
A Short Story by Jelly
“Granny Applejack, why’re these apples so funny lookin’?”
Applejack stopped and whipped her head up from reverie with a snort. “‘Why’re chapels fer bunny cookin’?’ Where’n Equestria didya get that idea?”
Judging from the nonplussed look of the two fillies before her, Applejack rightly guessed she had missed her mark. It seemed to happen pretty frequently now. She thought for a bit with a hoof at her mouth, trying to piece the sounds into a coherent question. “Oh. Hehe. Th’apples, right. Now don’t tell me Ah’ve never tol’ you that ol’ story.”
The two fillies looked at each other for a brief moment, then back to Applejack, and vigorously shook their heads. “I didn’t even know this tree had a story,” one offered.
“Mm. A right shame, that. Cuz this here,” she said, gesturing to the budding apple tree before her, “is my favorite tree. An’ Ah reckon it always will be.” She gingerly sat down on the grass beside the tree, and indicated that the others should follow suit. Letting out a stifled grunt, she tried to make herself comfortable while steadfastly ignoring the pain in her hip.
When she felt she had the proper attention of her audience, Applejack suddenly had second thoughts. “Come ta think of it, this story might be best saved fer when yer both older. ‘tain’t ‘xactly a happy story.”
“Aww, Granny, but when we’re older you might not be able to tell us.” Applejack blinked at the remark just as the filly seemed to realize what she’d said. The other gasped. “Oh horseapples, I’m sorry Granny, I didn’t mean—“
“Now, now, tha’s all righ’, sugarcube.” She gave a weak smile at the crestfallen look of her youngest granddaughter. “Ain’t nothin’ shameful ‘bout speaking tha truth. Nopony lives forever. And Ah should know.”
There was a brief moment of silence on top of the hill. A stray leaf from the tree spiraled to the ground between the three of them. Applejack watched it wistfully and came to a decision.
“Well. Iffin’ Ah’m ever gonna tell it, I guess it might as well be now.
“This story b’gins with my best friend, Rainbow Dash. Now in her prime, Rainbow was one o’ tha…”
“Ohmygosh AJ, the Wonderbolts are going to put on a show right here in Ponyville in two weeks. Can you believe it? They never come here!” Still hovering off the ground, she put her front hooves on the poster in admiration.
“Uh hunh. An’ what about the Summer Sun Celebration a few years back?”
Dash gracefully dropped to the ground and flipped her mane. “Oh yeah. But other than that, they like never come here. I wonder if they still remember me? I mean, they pretty much have to remember me. After all, I’m the fastest, most—”
“Ah’m sure they remember ya just fine, Rainbow. Yer not ‘xactly easy ta forget.” Dash gave the orange earth pony a sly, sidelong look. But Applejack took it in another direction. “What with yer Sonic Rainboom savin’ their lives an’ all.” Still, she gave a quick wink to acknowledge the double meaning.
Dash didn’t have the humility to do anything but grin. “Technically I only saved three of them,” she corrected, nonchalantly. “The others weren’t at the competition. But you’re totally right. Who could forget these babies” – she pumped her wings – “and my awesome moves?” To emphasize the point, she did a quick loop-de-loop.
Applejack gave a chuckle and continued walking. Sure enough, she was soon cast in partial shadow as the sky-blue pegasus floated above her. Judging from the pinwheeling shadows, Dash was probably doing some sort of lazy backstroke in the air.
“This year they’ll ask me to join for sure. I have more moves in my trictionary than I know what to do with. I’ve even got plans for something better than a Sonic Rainboom.”
Applejack’s ears fluttered, and she abruptly halted. “Better than a Sonic Rainboom? Howzzat even possible? An’ why haven’t ya told me ‘bout this here move? Ain’t like we need ta be keepin’ secrets b’tween ourselves any more.”
Dash rolled her eyes. “Secrets? Please. Pinkie Pie gave me the idea just the other day. Get this: what if I do a Sonic Rainboom, and then I do another Sonic Rainboom?”
Applejack furrowed her brow. “A Double Rainboom?” She stopped and considered, testing the sound of it on her tongue. “That don’t seem very safe, supposin’ it’s even possible.”
Dash waved a hoof in the air. “Pffft. As long as I don’t head straight for the ground or a mountain or something, it’s totally safe.”
“Hrm,” grunted the cowpony, noncommittally.
At that moment, a pink blur fell from the sky, first crashing into Rainbow Dash and then onto Applejack, leaving the three in a tangled heap. The farmer, flattened on the bottom, gave a surprised shout and looked up. She fumbled for her hat and stuffed it back on her head.
“And what in tarnation was that fer?”
Pinkie Pie giggled and gave a loud snort, while sitting merrily on Rainbow’s rump. “Well, just a bit ago my tail started giving me just about the biggest twitch-a-twichin’ and so I’ve been waiting in my room for something to fall forever before I went outside, until I realized that nothing was falling! So I told myself, ‘Pinkie Pie, that can’t be right! Of course something is gonna fall! And it’s gotta be somethin’ big!’” She stretched out her hooves as far as she could to help visualize the bigness.
“And then I saw you two right under my window, and then I heard you mention me, and then I thought ‘Of course! I’m supposed to fall!’ so I decided to jump out and I just knew you would catch me!”
Rainbow Dash stretched, causing Pinkie to fall on her face with a squeak. “Pinkie Pie, you are so random.” As the party pony schlorped her face out off of the ground, her tail gave a violent twitch.
“Hunh! I guess that wasn’t it. That’s the same twitch, all right. It’s definitely a doozie!” She seemed to give it about a half second’s worth of thought. “Oh well! So what are you two doing at Sugarcube Corner? Are you buying cakes? OOH OOH, boy do I want some cake! But, OHHH! I don’t want to get a cake if something is just gonna fall on it. What good would a cake be if that happened? Of course, if I got a pancake, it would already be flat, so—”
“Uh, Granny, I don’t see what any of this has to do with a tree.”
Applejack looked slightly off to the side, giving her an air of wisdom. “Ah’m gettin’ to that in my own time. Stories don’t always begin at the end, sugarcube. Y’all’ll just have to trust that ever’thing I’ve talked about so far is important.”
“Even the part about pancakes?”
The old mare gave an exasperated twist of her lips, and her all-knowing aura shattered. “Well. Maybe not the pancakes s’much. But ya know what Ah mean.
“And as it happens, Rainbow and I actually did have pancakes that afternoon with Pinkie… which was ‘n adventure in itself,” she added under her breath. “But look, yer already gettin’ me off track now. Anyways, sometime after lunch…”
“Uh, thanks, AJ…” Rainbow Dash held up what seemed to be gossamer netting of a rainbow design. She was obviously confused. “I can use this for… catching stuff.” She smiled unconvincingly.
“That ain’t the whole gift, ya silly pony. Only half of it. The other half is back on tha farm.”
“This is only half?” Dash’s eyes lit up and she floated off the ground, and then lost their glimmer and she set back down. “Gosh. Now I don’t feel like I got you enough.”
Applejack just smiled as she laid down a few bits on Rarity’s countertop. “It looks great, Rarity,” she said softly. “Thanks again.”
The white unicorn positively beamed while the golden bits were magicked away into a register. “Oh it was my pleasure, darling. And I must say, your request was rather out of the ordinary. I normally only design clothes, but when I heard…”
“Yes indeed, I shure appreciate ya takin’ the time to make it. I knew you were just the pony fer the job.” Applejack seemed to be talking a bit more quickly than usual, and Rarity picked up on the hint. They exchanged a few more idle pleasantries before parting.
By the time Applejack turned around, Rainbow appeared to be (unintentionally) playing some form of Cat’s Cradle with the interwoven ropes, clearly not having even followed the conversation. She looked more confused than ever.
Applejack walked past her out the door, giving the weather pony a playful bump. There was a soft *pomf* noise behind her. The cowpony barely held back a snicker (with her hat over her mouth) as she heard Rainbow start muttering about how her wings had the worst timing sometimes.
“I don’t get it.”
“So… is it a hairnet?”
“Hrm.” She tried to stretch out the net all the way between her hooves, but it just drooped beneath her in the air. She frowned in thought. It definitely looked like… something. “Yeah, I guess it’s too big for a hairnet. Heh. How about a safety net, then? Like what trapeze ponies use?”
“Nope, but yer gettin’ warmer.”
“You mean colder.” She gave a mock shiver, well aware of the crisp wind but not truly feeling it. “Ugh. Why can’t you just tell me already?”
“Ah’m just ‘bout to; we’re almost there.” Rainbow Dash gave a snort, as if to say ‘about time.’ Applejack led the pegasus pony to a more open and yet more secluded part of the farm, where there were fewer trees. The sun had nearly finished setting, and the outlines of distant stars shimmered in the sky. Letting out a breath, the orange earth pony stopped at the top of the largest hill, where a threadbare blanket covered up an oddly-shaped lump. Dash landed close beside her.
Applejack tilted her head to the gift. “Now Rainbow, I unnerstand this might not look like much right now. But—”
“Whoa, whoa, wait. Mind if I get your gift real quick?” Without waiting for a response, the pegasus pony compacted the multicolored rope into a ball, and unceremoniously handed it to Applejack. One rainbow flash later, and she was gone. She returned seconds later, with a pink box hanging from her mouth with string. Grinning unabashedly, she took the net back from Applejack, and replaced it with the pink box.
“Well? Open it already!”
Applejack tried to maintain an unreadable expression as set down the box very slowly. She continued watching Rainbow Dash as she daintily and very slowly untied the string. Just when it seemed like she was going to open the lid, she instead started turning the box around so she could take a better look at it from every angle. The whole time one eye was on Dash.
“Okay, now you’re just doing this on purpose. The gift isn’t the box.”
Laughing merrily, Applejack pounded the ground with a hoof, causing the box to perfectly unfold itself.
“Ta-Daaoooh, Pinkie Pie!” Rainbow Dash facehoofed. The cake very conspicuously had a corner bitten off. On it was a picture of a rainbow that was lazily lassoed to a tree. Applejack just smiled with delight and turned the cake back towards her, making sure it was still legible in the fading light. It read:
“Happy Anniversary, AJ!
“It’s perfect,” Applejack said.
“It’s apple,” the pegasus pony countered. The two laughed, and shared a brief hug. Then Applejack turned serious again.
“Thank you, Rainbow. Now, like Ah was sayin’ b’fore. This gift might not seem like much right now. But give it time, an’ I expect it’ll be one o’ the best gifts ya ever get.” Without as much as a flourish, she pulled the blanket off of the surprise.
Rainbow Dash didn’t hide her disappointment very well. “An apple tree?”
“Not just any apple tree. This here is your apple tree. And this here,” she said, holding up the net, “is yer hammock.
“Yep! This lil’ sapling’s gotta ways ta go before it’ll be big enough fer you ta sleep on, but in time it’ll be just as faithful an’ strong as any tree here at Sweet Apple Acres. I know how much ya like dozin’ off in our trees, so I thought I’d just up and give you a tree ta call yer very own.”
Curious, the pegasus reached out and plucked a small apple from the tree (which was still short enough that she did not have to fly off the ground). She scrutinized it, and then compared it to the other small apples still hanging from the tiny branches. “Weird. These apples sure do look funny.”
“Rainbow,” Applejack snapped. “It don’t matter how somethin’ looks if ya like it fer what it is. You of all ponies should know that – how else could a pegasus pony like you end up with an earth pony like me?”
Dash opened her mouth to respond, but Applejack charged ahead. “I put a lot a thought into this here gift. Now, it might seem a mite bit silly fer an apple farmer to be givin’ an apple tree as a gift, but this here tree is a part o’ Sweet Apple Acres, an’ so it’s a part of me, too. A part which Ah’m more than willin’ to give to you. And for yer information these apples ‘look funny’ b’cause this tree’s been specially al-tered by Twilight so it can bear fruit of any color. Remind you o’ somepony?”
The flash of anger seemed to dissolve almost as quickly as it came. Almost as an afterthought, and kicking a hoof in the grass, she added, “But it’s prolly just harder to tell when it’s so dark out. And o’ course, since the tree’s been altered, it means we won’t be sellin’ any o’ these apples to tha public. But I don’t give gifts to turn a profit.”
Rainbow Dash patiently waited for Applejack to finish. Apparently she had taken a bite of the apple at some point during Applejack’s rant to pass the time, because she had to finish chewing before she spoke. “What I meant to say was: these apples sure do look pretty.”
“Aww,” murmured Candy Apple. She looked up at the tree in a newfound respect. “I guess it is a pretty tree. Jus’ different.”
“I still don’t really get it,” said the youngest. “And whatever happened to Rainbow Dash? I’ve never heard of her before.”
Applejack gave a deep sigh. She had originally thought she was going to tell the whole story, but now that she was closing in on the critical moment she found she could not force herself to continue. “Now that is a tale for when yer older. And not one I’m like ta tell any time soon.” She carefully lifted herself back up, and gestured that the two young fillies should do the same. They began to walk back to the barn.
“So… did Rainbow Dash ever pull off the Double Rainboom thing? I thought you said the whole story was important.”
Applejack was a bit startled by Candy Apple’s attention to detail. She silently nodded, and sighed. “Once. That same night. She was jus’ itchin’ to try it out in front o’ me, and Ah couldn’t rightly say no.” A sudden vision of the event played across her thoughts, and she winced. She braced herself for the seemingly inevitable follow-up question about Pinkie Pie’s premonition.
Instead: “That is so cool,” the youngest filly gasped. Without warning, she raced past Candy Apple, shouting zoom noises as she did, heading in a zigzag path towards the farm. Candy Apple, with her train of thought broken, yelped and followed.
Applejack gave the smallest smile and was left with her memories.
(Prequel to “Applejack’s Favorite Tree”)
A Short Story by Jelly
With a stifled yawn-stretch, Applejack felt something in her back *pop*. Or rather, several somethings. She gave a shudder and tightly closed her eyes until the pain receded, breathing deeply. When she opened her eyes, she reassured herself that both of her granddaughters were still asleep on either side of her. It had been a long night – it was best to let them doze for a spell.
After gingerly edging herself off the bed, she absentmindedly grabbed her raggedy hat from its trusty nail in the wall. In doing so, she caught a glance of herself in the mirror. Though a familiar sight, she found herself longing for her former self.
Her hair was now a muted, grayish blonde, thinner and wispier than in her youth. Her eyes, though still an earthy green, looked faintly rheumy. Her mouth was slightly indrawn. And of course, her face was lined with kindly wrinkles. She was old.
Applejack gave a defiant smile as she stuffed her hat on her head. Age hadn’t managed to best her yet, and today wasn’t going to be that day, either. After ritualistically tying her mane and tail in single ponytails – an as-ever utilitarian fashion statement – she was ready to face the day’s labors.
Before heading to the first floor, she stopped in front of Candy Apple’s room. With a small smile, Applejack pushed the door open and savored the sight. The walls were lined with perfectly-built shelves, now filled with her granddaughter’s books. She could smell the wood from the home-crafted bed frame, dresser, nightstand, and chairs… upon which were stacked parchments, inks, quills, and maps. Various wooden ornaments hung from the ceiling: a lazily-spinning mobile, several wind chimes, a phoenix with bobbing wings, something that might have been a curious chandelier. And pinned to the wall above the bed was a paper chain counting down the days until school started again.
The sight brought back fond memories, new and old. This had definitely been Applebloom’s room. And now it was definitely Candy Apple’s.
Backtracking down the hallway, she nudged Gala’s door open with her nose. Though largely bare, the room was brightly decorated with projects from school. It had potential. And it was self-evident that her youngest granddaughter still had a ways to go before she discovered who she was. Wistfully, Applejack hoped she lived to see that day. The only clue she could see that indicated the room once belonged to Big Macintosh was the oversized bed that Gala loved to sink into. And on occasion, bounce on.
Downstairs, she saw that the coffee had already been started, and she gave a curt nod to one of her relatives she had hired for the summer to help with the farm. “Breakfast’ll be ready in about twenty-five minutes or so,” she said. “Ah’ll be tryin’ somethin’ a little different this morning, I think.”
The earth stallion sitting at the table quirked an eye before going back to reading the Equestria Daily. “Ah’ll be here,” he replied with a deadpan drawl.
Flour, baking powder, sugar, milk, eggs, butter, and salt. The familiar ingredients aligned up on the countertop, Applejack bypassed the apples and started to reach for the hot sauce.
“Oh well! So what are you two doing at Sugarcube Corner? Are you buying cakes? OOH OOH, boy do I want some cake! But, OHHH! I don’t want to get a cake if something is just gonna fall on it. What good would a cake be if that happened? Of course, if I got a pancake, it would already be flat, so stuff could just fall on it all day and it wouldn’t matter!”
Pinkie Pie abruptly stopped. She eyed her friends with keen interest. “Hmmm,” she said. Rainbow Dash opened her mouth as if she was about to speak, but Pinkie Pie’s hoof stretched out and quickly filled the space. Eyes darting back and forth, the party pony hunched low on the ground and started circling her two friends like some sort of predator. “HMMMmmm,” Pinkie Pie said again, this time with more significance. Then, for some reason, she put an ear to the ground, pounded it with a hoof, and nodded sagely before continuing the prowl. When she had completed the circuit a second time, she popped back up.
“Yep! Just as I thought!”
“An’ what’s that, sugar?” ventured Applejack, confused.
“You two are hungry! And that means you should stay here and make pancakes with me! It can be a pancake party!” Streamers suddenly popped out of nowhere.
While Rainbow Dash watched a stray streamer with a perplexed look on her face, Applejack asked, “How d’ya figure? I mean, about us bein’ hungry an’ all.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Pinkie Pie leaned in and gave Rainbow Dash’s tummy a quick tickle (“Hey!”), forcing the pegasus to land on the ground. “When Dashie is all full, she doesn’t fly so much. So she obviously didn’t just eat.” She raised one hoof, as if on a scale. “But she’s not racing around, and she didn’t even see me jumping on her earlier, so she must not have very much energy. So she must not have eaten in a while.” She raised the other hoof to balance the other and looked at her friends with a smile.
Rainbow seemed about to rebut the logic, but she quickly snapped her mouth shut when the party pony added: “Also, she started drooling when I mentioned cake.”
“Hunh,” replied Applejack. “And me?”
“That was a bit harder. It starts with your hat.”
“… My hat.”
“Your hat! See, whenever you eat, you push your hat up.” Pinkie Pie mimed the motion while Applejack reflected. It probably wasn’t true all the time, but it was a habit. “But your hat is a lot lower now, so you must’ve been walking around for a while before you even got here!”
The apple farmer grinned. “’fraid that don’t follow, Pinkie. Ah had to put my hat back on just a few minutes ago when you knocked it off.”
“Oh gosh, that’s right. But!” She gave a meaningful look with her eyes and pounded the ground with a single hoof. “See that! Your belly isn’t moving at all. It’s all muscly muscles, and no foody foods! And I couldn’t hear any food either. So you must be hungry.”
At that moment, Applejack’s stomach gave a rumble. “Looks like you’ve got us dead ta rights, Pinkie,” she said with a chuckle. “Lead tha way.”
“Oh boy oh boy OH BOY!” the party pony exclaimed. “This is gonna be the best pancake party ever!” She bounded ahead, merrily hopping towards the front door of the lookalike gingerbread house. Her two friends followed, each shaking their heads in silent amazement. The bell above the door gave a soft tinkle.
“Hi Mr. Cake! Hi Mrs. Cake! Can we use the kitchen? We’re gonna make pancakes.”
“Of course, dearie,” said Mrs. Cake from behind the counter with a smile.
Mr. Cake simply did a double-take. “Pinkie Pie, I thought you were upstairs in your room?”
“I was! And now I’m downstairs!”
Rainbow Dash put a hoof over her mouth as she snorted. None of the three fillies deigned to explain as they pushed through the saloon-style doors into the kitchen. As usual, the room was stocked with assorted candies in brightly colored bowls and trays. The teal cabinets and drawers were all tightly shut. In the right light, the room happily gleamed with metal: mixers, spoons, cookie cutters, muffin trays, sheet pans…
“So, uh,” started Rainbow Dash, scratching the back of her head with a hoof, “I don’t really know how to make pancakes.”
Pinkie Pie gasped, taking a half-step back. “Don’t know how to make pancakes!? It’s like, the easiest thing ever! Except…” she trailed off.
“Except what?” the pegasus asked, breathily.
“Except that we’re not making regular pancakes. Nopy dopy! We’re making pancakes Pinkie Pie style!” At this announcement, some confetti dropped from the ceiling and was swirled about by the Rainbow’s gently flapping wings. The pegasus pony, utterly baffled, looked up for the source.
“An’ just what’re Pinkie Pie pancakes?” asked Applejack, unconcerned with the confetti phenomenon.
“Just the bestest, most delicious, most awesome pancakes ever! And the best part is: they’re different every time!” She gave her most infectious giggle.
“Ah don’t quite follow,” said Applejack, not quite following.
“Silly filly! They’re the same as regular pancakes, except ya use what ya got!” As an example, she grabbed a couple candy canes from a slender tin and dropped them into a bowl. “See? This pancake can be a candy-cane pancake. But we have to use something different for all the other pancakes, or else they don’t count!”
The apple farmer gave her friend a concerned look. “Ah don’t mean ta sound rude, sugarcube, but a candy-cane pancake? That don’t ‘xactly sound—”
Pinkie Pie yelped as her tail gave a violent twitch, causing her to briefly rise up off the ground. She squinted at it with some annoyance. “Silly tail! Fine, I’ll put on my umbrella hat.” She reached behind her back and pulled out the object she had just named. Stretching out the elastic band, she snapped it on. “There we go! Do you two want hats?”
After considering the pros and cons, Applejack reluctantly doffed her cowpony hat, slightly abashed. Setting it on a counter, she said, “maybe fer a bit. Just in case.”
“What about you, Dashie?” asked Pinkie Pie, squishing an umbrella hat onto Applejack.
“Anything that tries to fall on me has another thing coming, heh.” She raised her hoofs, as if raring to fight off invisible falling items. From behind, an umbrella hat was suddenly strapped onto her head. “Hey!”
“Well, you can’t be the only one without an umbrella hat. That would be silly!”
The pegasus crossed her arms, but didn’t move to take the hat off. “Right,” she said, almost to herself. “So back to the pancakes. How exactly do we make ‘em?”
The party pony’s eyes suddenly got wide, and her whole face seemed to transform into a smile. “I’ll tell you!” Her body started bouncing, to some internal rhythm as she grabbed the biggest bowl in the room and opened a lumpy bag of flour.
“All you have to do is a take cup of flour,
Add it to the mix!
Now just take a little something sweet (not sour),
Bit of salt; just a pinch!”
Rainbow Dash sighed and facehoofed. She shouldn’t have asked. Looking at the cowpony, she whispered: “Isn’t this just her cupcakes song?” Applejack gave a small chuckle in reply.
Pinkie Pie (still singing) was juggling eggs that fell one-by-one into the container, followed by a cloud of baking soda. At the very least, each ingredient received an honorable mention in the ditty.
“Pancakes! So sweet and tasty!
Pancakes! Don’t be too hasty!
Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!”
Song complete, Applejack walked over the mixing bowl and carefully pulled out the eggshell halves and candy Pinkie Pie had thrown in near the beginning. “Not fer nothin’, Pinkie Pie, but if this is gonna be the base mix, we best not put candy in it or all the pancakes’ll taste tha same.”
“Good thinking, Applejack!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, grabbing the bowl. She set to work mixing the ingredients together with a wooden spoon, her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth in concentration. “Rrrr!” she said stirring. “Raawwrrr! Take that!”
The weather pony had a nonplussed look on her face. This wasn’t exactly her idea of fun. She prodded at the hat on her head, and grumped.
“Reckon we oughta get some bowls ready fer tha batter,” suggested Applejack.
After checking a few cabinets, Rainbow Dash hit the mother-load, and – after precariously balancing a dozen of them between her hooves – dramatically let them topple, caught them one by one, and placed them in a near-perfect line on the longest countertop. She beamed at her handiwork. Applejack placed the thirteenth bowl (the candy cane bowl) at the end of the line. “There. A right baker’s dozen.”
“You girls should pick out some ingredients! There’s tons of stuff in the pantry!” She was now vigilantly watching for bubbles to rise up from the mixture, and attacking them with the spoon when they did. The area around her was, predictably, already a mess.
As soon as it was suggested, Rainbow Dash was already poking around the shelves. A few pots clanged to the floor, and a box of raisins tipped over, spilling some of its contents. A few items were thrown behind her – Applejack managed to catch the first five with two hooves and her nose, but the rest hopelessly fell on the kitchen floor. “Rainbow!” she grunted, trying to keep everything balanced.
The pegasus turned around and observed the clutter around her. “Oops. Hehe, sorry. Lemme help with that.”
Soon enough, each of the thirteen bowls had its own special ingredient. Hot sauce, bubble gum, marshmallows, clover, sweet onion, gum drops… Pinkie Pie slid down the line on roller skates. She had somehow attached the bowl to her head (which apparently involved turning her umbrella hat inside out), and she poured a fair dollop of the batter into each bowl by tilting her head as she zipped by. “Wheee!”
When she got to the end, she wheeled around to the other side of the counter. She quirked her head to the side, testing the leftover weight. “Hmm. We have enough for one more! But what?” Plopping on her rump, she put her hoof under her chin in deep concentration.
Applejack was about to make the sensible suggestion of apples – at least then there’d be one pancake she’d be okay eating – when the party pony jumped up. “I know! Clouds! Gosh, I’ve never had clouds before.”
“How the hay are we—” started Rainbow Dash before she found that Pinkie Pie was already grinning at her in anticipation. “Of course,” she finished.
Applejack glanced out the kitchen window. A few clouds were lazily rolling by in the sky, and she smiled.
“What’s that tune yer hummin’?” asked the stallion at the table, nearly finished with the paper.
“Whuh?” The old mare stopped stirring. “Oh,” she chuckled, “just a lil’ ditty I learned from a friend a long time ago.” And she went straight back to humming.
“You know,” rasped Rainbow’s muffled voice from somewhere behind the puff of white, “I don’t really think clouds are meant for cooking.”
“Don’t know ‘til ya try!” was Pinkie Pie’s exuberant answer. She tried to grab a piece of the cloud, but it simply melted apart in her hooves and floated up to the ceiling. She tried again to the same effect. She tried a third time, flailing her hooves wildly. As ever more tiny wisps of cloud floated away (some slipping out the open kitchen window), she was left panting on the floor and cloudless.
The pegasus’ familiar face popped up over the cloud she was toting. “What’s the hold-up?”
“They! … I! … Cloud!” Pinkie Pie mimed trying to grab a cloud only to have it drift away from her hooves like smoke.
Rainbow Dash placed the cloud in front of her and casually leaned on it. “Pinkie, I don’t even think pegasus magic is going to make this stuff stay in a pancake. And even if it could, clouds don’t even taste like anything.” She took a bite and white puffs escaped through her nostrils. “See? They’re best used for naps.”
The baker was undeterred. She looked around the room for inspiration. Her eyes lit up as she spied two very large and very thin cake tins lying sideways in a cabinet. Bounding over to the storage space, she snatched them up. She dipped her head so the rest of the batter fell into one of them. And then she started to sneak up on the cloud. Rainbow Dash stood at attention, hooves now carefully out of the way.
Slowly – ever slowly – Pinkie Pie put the tin with the batter below the cloud. The other tin she held above, as if ready to clash a pair of cymbals. This was, in fact, practically what she did. After the ensuing CLANG, Mr. Cake popped his head through the door.
“Everything all right in here? Everypony okay?” he asked.
“I caught a cloud!” beamed Pinkie Pie. Mr. Cake, after surveying the mess, – splattered batter, explored drawers, and disheveled shelves – just shook his head and withdrew.
“I guess we’ll have to use the oven for this pancake,” the party pony said cheerfully.
“Making this a pancake party a picnic was a super fantastic idea, Dashie!” praised Pinkie Pie. She looked just the tiniest bit ridiculous with the umbrella hat still on her head and a basket of pancakes strapped on her back, but she didn’t seem to mind. The three friends scaled a hill just outside of Ponyville. When they reached the acme, Applejack – now back to wearing her cowpony hat – laid out the checkered blanket.
“Finally,” said Rainbow Dash. “I’m starving!” Losing no time, she distributed the plates and set the sweet maple syrup in the center of the blanket. Pinkie Pie gave a bump of her rump and a stack of pancakes somehow flew onto each plate, four apiece. (The popcorn pancake hadn’t quite survived the ordeal.) The cloud pancake was still carefully sealed in the tins.
Pinkie Pie was the first to attack the syrup, pouring on a generous helping. She handed the dispenser to the pegasus at the same moment she dug her face into the fluffy confections. Rainbow Dash giggled and poured some syrup on her own pancakes before setting the rest in front of Applejack. The pegasus then immediately set to eating.
Applejack watched her two friends munch away, still skeptical. She poured on some syrup for show, but couldn’t bring herself to take a bite. It didn’t help that the top pancake sure looked like that hot sauce pancake.
“What’s wrong, Applejack?” Pinkie Pie asked between bites.
“Ah… don’t think I ken eat this,” Applejack admitted, her ears drooping. “Ah’m sorry, Pinkie. Nothin’ against yer cookin’, but these flavors are a bit too wild fer me.”
“Oh! Welllll…” started Pinkie Pie. “I guess that means you get the cloud pancake! It probably tastes best of all!”
The cowpony considered, and shrugged. After all, the “cloud” pancake was probably just a regular pancake in the end. “Much obliged,” said Applejack with a smile. Pinkie scooted Applejack’s plate off to the side and replaced the space with the tins.
Rainbow Dash looked up from her meal, licking some syrup off her nose. Applejack, poised, shared a few glances with both friends. And then she took off the top tin.
It was a regular pancake.
“Awwww,” said Pinkie Pie, somewhat dejected. And then she perked back up. “Well, now we know!”
Applejack inwardly sighed as she pushed up her hat before she took a bite. Without even bothering with the syrup, she closed her eyes and bent forward to take a bit. And her teeth met no resistance whatsoever.
“What in the—!” She looked up, only to see that her pancake was floating off into the sky. “Mah pancake!” she managed to say, dumbfounded. Her lunch started doing wobbly flips in the air, as if each end of the pancake was trying to be the first to reach the clouds.
Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash exchanged looks before immediately collapsing to the ground, laughing. “Good one, Pinkie Pie!” managed the pegasus. “I didn’t even know it was a prank, and I’m the pranking master!”
Pinkie Pie snorted before regaining her composure. On her back, she said: “That wasn’t a prank, silly! I had no idea that was gonna happen!” She propped herself up and watched the oversized pancake float away. “I guess now we really know!”
The weather pony gathered herself and made to take off after the runaway pancake. But Applejack held up a hoof and shook her head. “Just let it go.” And she smiled. Pinkie Pie’s tail gave a sudden twitch. “Might just be we’ve solved tha mystery of what’s supposed ta fall today.”
“Soup’s on, everypony!”
Candy Apple and Gala clambered down the stairs, and joyfully sat on either side of the stallion who was folding up the paper and sliding it over to Applejack’s seat. Candy Apple deftly intercepted it and started scanning the headlines. Gala’s grin faltered slightly as Applejack scooped the pancakes onto their plates.
“What’s this?” asked Gala, lifting the top pancake in her stack dubiously.
“Hmm,” said Applejack, squinting. “That one looks like butterscotch. Could be caramel.”
Candy Apple looked over the newspaper and whispered across the table: “I think Granny’s gone crazy.”
“Ah ain’t lazy, and I ain’t deaf either,” retorted Applejack, turning back to clean up the stove. The earth stallion at the table splurted some of his coffee, but made no comment. “Now eat yer breakfast. We’ve got a busy day ahead of us.”
“We do?” asked Gala. “I thought you said we did such a good job sellin’ apples yesterday that we could take some time off today.”
“That’s right, sugarcube” said Applejack. “Today we’re gonna visit some old friends o’ mine.”
Next: Applejack's Favorite Tree.
Applejack’s Shooting Star
(Sequel to “Applejack’s Favorite Tree”)
A Short Story by Jelly
“What I meant to say was: these apples sure do look pretty.”
Applejack looked up from the ground with a lopsided smile. Though Rainbow certainly had a way of saying the exact wrong thing sometimes, it was always closely followed by saying the exact right thing. The two locked eyes and grinned at each other.
Apparently feeling the moment needed a touch of the absurd, the pegasus pony slowly raised the rest of the off-pink apple to her mouth. And then she stuffed the whole thing in and attempted to chew it all at once.
Seconds later she was *splutting* out chunks of apple while Applejack rolled back and forth on the grass holding her sides.
“You!—,” the orange earth pony started, pointing a hoof at Rainbow Dash before helplessly falling back into laughter. She tried to emulate the ridiculous contortion on Rainbow Dash’s face the moment the pegasus realized the apple was not going to cooperate. “Oh! Oh Celestia, it hurts! Ah ken’t b’lieve—,” she tried to continue, but just found herself gasping for air between disjointed attempts to speak and another failed attempt at a reenactment.
Eventually, Applejack felt herself winding down. Of course it wasn’t that funny. And besides, Rainbow could have choked. When she felt she could safely talk again, she sat up on her elbows and ventured: “Whew. Oh my. I haven’t laughed like that in a while. But oh, you should’ve seen yer face, Rainbow.”
The cyan pegasus hovered in place, silently responding by putting on her best I-am-not-amused face. It wasn’t quite effective, though, as there was clearly a smile hidden behind her pursed lips. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but instead she suddenly burped out an apple seed.
Applejack’s lips quivered as she desperately tried to hold back the incredibly strong urge to giggle, quickly putting her hat over her mouth. But Rainbow Dash – seeing Applejack visibly shaking and turning redder by the millisecond – already knew what was coming, and simply facehoofed.
By the time the second round of laughter had subsided, Rainbow Dash had flopped beside Applejack on the grass. She gave her friend a gentle nuzzle on the neck, which seemed to finally let the moment pass. Turning to the sky, she pointed up with a lazy hoof, as if asking a question. But she didn’t quite trust herself to speak yet in case more apple was lodged somewhere in her throat.
Her breath a bit wheezy, Applejack let out a contented sigh. “Mmm.” The two soaked in the sight as the sun muted itself behind apple trees in the distance. Enjoying a mild breeze, they were perfectly comfortable with the silence. Applejack had a passing thought, wishing the moment could last a lifetime. And many years later, Applejack would reflect that in a way, the moment did last a lifetime because she could never forget it.
She felt a sudden prod at her arm. She turned and looked at Rainbow Dash, thinking this ain’t right. Another prod, more urgent.
“–jack? Granny Applejack, are you okay?”
“Oh!” Applejack jolted up. A bit too quickly, judging from the twinge of pain that accompanied the movement. She blinked tiredly and adjusted her eyes, blurrily making out the sprawled sheets around her, then the familiar moonlit window of her room, the slightly ajar door, and finally her eldest granddaughter, Candy Apple, at her bedside.
“Oh, sugar, it’s just you. Gave me a right scare fer a second.” She pulled her sheets back towards her, trying to wipe at her eyes with the fabric in one fluid motion. “What’re you doin’ up so early? We got hours yet b’fore tha sun rises.”
“Um. Well. You sorta woke me up when you started laughing in your sleep.”
“Oh! Heh. Ah’m awful sorry about that. Didn’t mean ta wake ya up.” She started to push herself out of bed. “Gimme just a moment and we ken put you back—”
“And then you started crying in your sleep.” Candy Apple’s ears wilted, not quite sure this was something she should be saying.
“Oh,” Applejack offered for the fourth time. She couldn’t seem to think of any other words to say.
“… you okay, Granny? What were you cryin’ over?” She gave her grandmother a hug from the side, holding back her own inexplicable urge to cry. Muffled, she asked: “Were you thinking about that story you were telling this afternoon?”
Though Applejack had at first only absentmindedly returned the hug, she found that it had somehow turned into a very forceful and protective embrace. She held it for longer than was strictly necessary, suddenly thinking how much she loved her granddaughter, how much a memory could hurt, and how life just wasn’t fair sometimes. Candy Apple didn’t seem to mind, and held tight.
But Applejack’s strength suddenly sapped away, and she reluctantly let go – another of life’s unsubtle reminders that she wasn’t the pony she used to be. She put a hoof under Candy Apple’s chin and looked in her eyes, which softly sparkled with moonbeams, shadows, and confused tears.
“Ah guess I should know better than ta try an’ hide anything from you, sugarcube. Yes: I was thinkin’ ‘bout that story.”
“You said it wasn’t a happy story.”
“But nothin’ in the story you told us was sad.”
Silence. And then, “that’s true.”
As a response, Candy Apple sat down by the bedside and simply looked up at Applejack. Resigned, the old mare patted her bed, indicating that her granddaughter should climb aboard.
“Don’t you go tellin’ the rest o’ this story ta yer sister. ‘tain’t somethin’ she needs ta be hearin’ at her age.”
Candy Apple looked away to the door, almost guiltily. But she mutely nodded.
“Gorgeous,” murmured Applejack under her breath. Although no longer visible, traces of the sun splayed across the sky like spokes on an apple-cart wheel, all connected to the leafy canopy in the distance. The scene positively felt how it looked: bright, pastel, and rich.
“Tsk. Ah was talkin’ ‘bout the view, ya goof.”
“Hrmph.” Rainbow Dash crossed her arms. “It’s okay I guess, but it doesn’t even have a rainbow. I think it should have a rainbow.”
“Rainbows require rain, which s’far as I know ain’t scheduled ‘til Friday. ‘n any case, Ah already got my Rainbow right here. And unlike a sunset, I ken look at her any time.”
Dash gave a pout. “And where’s my rainbow?”
Applejack pointed at the tiny tree planted beside them. And that seemed to be answer enough.
After letting her restlessness gnaw at her for a few minutes, the pegasus tried again: “Okay. What this sky needs is some shooting stars.”
The farmer thought for a second and blushed. “But sugar… I don’t even have nothin’ ta wish fer.”
Rainbow sighed in mock exasperation. “You have an answer for everything. I’m saying that I totally want to try out some moves. I haven’t gotten any action all day.”
Leaning on her elbow, Applejack’s mind churned. Seemed to her that Rainbow had been flying around all day, albeit not at a high velocity. “Seems ta me ya’ve been flyin’ around all day, Rainbow. Albeit not at high va-locities.”
“That’s totally different, AJ! It’s not really flying.”
“An’ what about when we were makin’ pancakes this afternoon with Pinkie Pie? You—”
The pegasus squinted her eyes and lowered her voice slightly, cutting the cowpony off. “That,” she said tartly, “was totally different.”
Applejack snorted and lay back down. “Well, all right, then. Let’s see what you ken do.”
“Yes.” Instantly she was hovering above her friend, not even trying to contain her elation. “Right. I think I’ll start things off with a little something I like to call the Shooting Star.” She seemed about ready to race off, but stopped. “You better not eat that cake while I’m up there.”
Applejack flicked her eyes at the cake without moving her head, and then glanced back to Rainbow. “You jus’ worry ‘bout flying, an’ Ah’ll worry ‘bout this dee-licious, apple-y, frosted cake.”
Rolling her eyes, the weather pony took to the sky, dappled in the last beams of the sun. She effortlessly began scooping up tiny portions of cloud and hoarding them under her chin. She put some pieces back that apparently weren’t to her liking, but once satisfied, she barreled straight up. Applejack strained to see, but soon lost sight of where the pegasus had flown to.
And then, seemingly in the distance, a shooting star fell from the sky. It was far enough away that Applejack couldn’t see the pony responsible, but of course it was Rainbow Dash carefully dispersing her cloud gatherings to give the impression of a comet’s tail. The orange earth pony clopped loudly in appreciation, and gave a mighty whistle.
Rainbow casually landed with a Super Speed Strut. “So how’d it look? I can never tell with those things.”
“If Ah didn’t know it was you, Rainbow, you’da fooled me. I bet half a dozen ponies just wished on you tonight.”
“Think so? Hunh.” She splayed out her wings. “And now I’m feeling like trying out that Double Rainboom.” She rustled her wings in anticipation and looked up, likely envisioning the trick in her mind.
The cowpony snapped to attention. “Whoa there, Rainbow. When’s the last time ya’ve even done a regular Sonic Rainboom? An’ at this time o’ night? Ye’ll jus’ end up wakin’ everypony who’s not a-sleepin’ yet.”
“Sleeping? Nopony goes to bed this early.” She stopped. “Except maybe Fluttershy. But still. I’m totally feeling it. This weather is just right.”
“I still don’t think it’s safe. And anyways, how ken ya even see where yer goin’? You might run into somethin’.”
“Easy! After I’m in Rainboom mode, I’ll just go straight up and see if I can make it double. So even if I can’t pull it off, no harm done.”
Applejack sighed and relented, waving the pegasus off. It was pretty clear that Rainbow was going to attempt the stunt whether Applejack approved or not. “In that case, I’m gonna eat somma this cake. Ain’t right fer it ta just sit here. Yer already makin’ me nervous.”
“Awesome. This’ll be one for the record books, AJ. Fastest pony in Equestria.” And she was off.
Her silhouette climbed into the night sky, ever higher. Applejack had some difficulty following, but was able to trace the path with her eyes. Soon, Rainbow was out of sight, soaring high enough so she would have enough room to perform the Sonic Rainboom coming down.
The cowpony found that she must have stood up at some point as she watched her best friend accelerating towards the ground. The vision started off as a speck in the distance, but it was getting bigger and bigger. An air cone formed around the pegasus, becoming gradually narrower. Almost…
Rainbow peeled straight up, leaving a glimmering trail of rainbow in her wake. Impossibly, and almost immediately, another cone of air began to form around her as she continued to increase her speed. This one was narrowing at an alarmingly fast rate. Applejack didn’t have any trouble following her friend this time, as she was practically illuminating the night sky. And suddenly:
The pegasus burst up like a rocket: one minute she was there, and the next she was not. The sound of the second Rainboom was still reverberating in Applejack’s ears as she anxiously scanned the sky for where the rainbow trail had gone next. She tapped at her ears, trying to shake out the tintinnabulation.
After about fifteen seconds (or fifteen minutes?) the earth pony knew something was wrong. She became increasingly panicked, her eyes starting to roll around while her heart pounded mercilessly. Her mind was still filled with a ringing sound, which seemed to be getting louder and louder. She cantered back and forth on the grass, trying to check every direction.
When she looked back at the spot where the Double Rainboom had occurred – where the telltale signs of a giant rainbow-circle were slowly dissipating into the night – she gasped in horror. Rainbow Dash was hurtling straight for the ground. Not at Sonic Rainboom speed. But the speed that gravity grants to falling objects.
“No,” Applejack moaned, not wanting to believe it. “No. No no no.” Hardly thinking, she gathered up the rope hammock and flat-out ran to where Rainbow appeared to be falling. Too fast!, she thought. She flew too fast and knocked herself unconscious. But the whole time all she could say was “no,” even as she carried the rope in her mouth. Her hat flew off her head and she didn’t even glance backwards.
Still running, she nearly stumbled over a tree root, but determination transformed the stumble into a mere increase in speed as she rounded over a hill. She looked up, and with an overwhelming feeling of dismay found that Rainbow was already much closer to impact than Applejack would have thought possible.
The cowpony redoubled her efforts, trying to mentally work out exactly how she was going to use the hammock to catch the falling pegasus. If she could lasso one end around a tree and hold tight onto the other end, and angle it just right, then—
At the sound, the earth pony could no longer keep her footing, ending up with a mouthful of sod. She didn’t even taste it. She pushed herself off the ground, grabbed the hammock a second time, and continued running to the cloud of dirt rising up into the air a few hills in front of her. She almost wished she hadn’t.
Rainbow Dash lay broken. Her wings were bent beyond any conceivable repair, and her hind limbs were crumpled under her body. Her chromatic mane was splayed wildly.
Applejack found herself standing right beside the pegasus, and she numbly pushed the hair out of the weather pony’s eyes. “Say somethin’,” Applejack pleaded. “Anything.” Tears began to cloud her vision as she grabbed her best friend by the shoulders. The ringing in her ears was almost unbearable. “Say somethin’, damn it! Ya ken’t leave me like this… you can’t…,” and the words painfully hiccoughed in her throat as she started sobbing.
After some time sprawled over Rainbow Dash’s body, the cowpony choked back her sobs. And she started punching her fallen friend with fleeting strength. “Ya stupid,” – punch – “idiot, why’dya,” – punch – “have ta be” – punch – “so stupid” – punch – “an’ have ta show off” – punch – “all the time?” She draw back for another strike but couldn’t finish it. “Ohhhhhhh,” she wailed, relapsing back into tears. “Please wake up, Rainbow, ya just gotta wake—”
“—up, Rainbow, Ah love ya more’n you’ll ever know.” The old mare continued sobbing, and it suddenly occurred to her that Candy Apple was crying, too. Oh no, she thought. I never should’ve told her this story. Everything seemed like it was closing in at just that moment. This had been a bad idea. With surprising alacrity for her age, she jumped out of bed.
But her hoof caught on a blanket, and with a sinking heart she felt her left hip give out. Down she went to the floor with a thud. Worse, from her new angle, she could see a quivering pale-green tail just outside her bedroom door. And now that she listened, she could hear that Gala, her youngest granddaughter, was also crying. This was all wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
“Oh, sugar, it’s all right,” she said from the ground, trying to sound as calm. “C’mon in here.” Beyond that, she couldn’t think of much to say. Gala peeked through the door, and at the beckon of a weak smile from Applejack, she rushed towards her grandmother and hugged her tight across the neck.
“I’m so sorry Granny,” she sobbed, “I didn’t mean to listen. Candy Apple and I both heard you tossin’ in your sleep, so we went to check on you, but Candy said I should stay outside the door in case I had to run for help, and I didn’t mean to stay the whole time, honest, but—”
“Shhhh, shhh,” whispered Applejack, holding the filly close, “that’s all right now. Everything’s fine. Ah ain’t mad. Hush now.”
Sniffling on the bed, Candy Apple asked: “Granny?”
“… I love you.”
Applejack felt her heart break all over again. “Ah love you too, sugar. I love ya both more’n you’ll ever know.”
The sun noiselessly crept through the window at Sweet Apple Acres. With a lifetime of sensitivity to the morning light, Applejack was first to awaken. She couldn’t help but smile upon seeing her two granddaughters asleep on either side of her. Her two shooting stars.