Not Far From the Tree
Little Macintosh matched his father’s hoof steps with exact precision as they paced outside the barn.
It was only an hour ago that the yellow stallion had called Macintosh to wait with him, informing the young colt that he would be meeting his sister very soon. Macintosh was excited, and his father was too for a bit. Then the older pony’s brow furrowed and his hooves began to carry him back and forth in a line.
The foal was confused. His father had never looked this worried before in Macintosh’s whole (albeit short) life. Did he not want a daughter?
“Dad why are ya so sad lookin’?” Little Macintosh asked. “Ya don’t want another foal?”
The yellow stallion turned to his son, doing his best to put on a happy display.
“No no no! That’s not it at all ah’m really excited for yer sister!” He said cheerfully, then quickly began to return to his solemn state. “Ah’m just worried for yer mother that’s all…”
“Why would momma be in trouble? Is makin’ a sister hard?” Macintosh asked, confused. He knew female ponies made foals, but the details eluded him, no matter how hard he asked his parents.
“Yup. If somethin’ bad happens, it could… make yer momma hurt really bad.” He stated simply.
The little colt nodded, and began pacing with his father to give him some company. Together they patiently waited for Granny Smith to give them the anticipated news.
After what seemed like hours of tireless vigil, the old green mare opened the barn door and poked her head out.
“Y’all git in here and see the newest family member!” She beckoned excitedly.
The father and son trotted quietly through the door as if entering Celestia’s throne room itself. Inside, streams of light cascaded down from the loft windows, giving the simple hay-filled building a feeling of serenity and refuge.
At the center of the barn, lying down amongst a bedding of hay, a light-red mare cradled a newborn filly in her hooves. The doctor who had accompanied her approached to greet Macintosh and his father.
“Perfect.” The doctor whispered with a gentle smile on his face. “Your wife and daughter are in excellent health. Just make sure she gets plenty of rest this next week.”
“Thank ya so much for yer help. Ah can’t explain how much ah appreciate it.” The stallion said, bowing his head.
The doctor gave a respectful nod and trot to the side, allowing the family to finally reunite after several tense hours.
“Summerfree!” “ma!” The two ponies galloped forward, rushing to the mare and foal.
“Baldwin! Macintosh!” Summerfree responded, exhausted but radiating happiness. “Look!”
Cradled in her hooves was a small orange filly. Golden wisps of hair highlighted her mane and tail, with three pale freckles on each cheek.
“She’s beautiful...” Baldwin said softly.
“And so cute!” The mother added. “Macintosh, come meet your sister.”
Little Macintosh stepped forward cautiously, eyeing his new sibling. Straining his neck, his muzzle made contact with the foal. He gave her a soft nudge, his eyes snapping open in surprise when she responded with a gentle nuzzle. The colt quickly stepped backwards, unsure of what to do next.
His parents gave a light chuckle at their children’s encounter.
Summerfree’s face suddenly brightened as she reveled over a simple thought.
“Name! We need a name!” The mother said.
“Oh! Yes! How ‘bout.... Jonagold!” Baldwin exclaimed.
“Ack!” Summerfree said in disgust. “Too froo-frooey! How about.... Cortland!”
Baldwin stamped his hooves in distaste. “Absolutely not!”
“Uh... Ma? Pa?” Little Macintosh pushed his way into the conversation. “I’m not meaning ta be disrespectful or nothin’ but... both of those names are bad. Real bad.”
“Ah figure that’s somethin’ we can all agree on!” Granny Smith said, trotting in next to her grandfoal. “Why, they wanted to call you ‘Spartan’ Macintosh! Took a whole day of convincin’ ta make em consider otherwise...”
Baldwin and Summerfree huffed. “Sounded like a good name ta me! Ya got any good ideas Granny? Macintosh?”
Granny Smith’s face scrunched up, making her wrinkles stand out hideously.
“Reckon ah don’t...” She said, defeated.
Little Macintosh concentrated. “How’s about.... Applejack?”
“That sounds like a wonderfu-” Summerfree paused, a look of confusion coming over her. “Wait! How’d ya know what an Applejack is?”
“It’s the name of that tasty drink pa gave me the other night.” Macintosh said innocently.
Summerfree shot her husband a venemous look.
Baldwin threw his hooves up in defense. “What?! He’s a growing colt! It’s about time he got his first taste of life!”
Summerfree returned to her son. “Applejack is a fantastic name, Macintosh.”
“Applejack...” Baldwin whispered. “I like it.”
The filly seemed to react to the name itself, instantly snuggling closer to her mother and drifting off to sleep.
Little Macintosh panted, sweat pouring down his coat as he attempted to buck trees in the intense summer heat.
He reared his hind hooves back, then kicked as hard as he could. A dull thud resonated from the tree, but the branches would not release their fruit.
Mustering all of his strength, he reared one last time. Using every ounce of energy he had left, he rocketed his hooves out, impacting the tree with what seemed to him an unstoppable force.
Another thud, slightly louder than the one before it, came from the tree. Although the limbs gave a small rattle, the apples held firm.
Finally he collapsed from pure exhaustion, sighing at his failure. Baldwin spotted his son’s fall and dropped his basket, galloping at full speed across the orchard.
The yellow stallion reached Macintosh and lifted him to his hooves, brushing off the dirt and blades of grass stuck to his coat.
“Ah’m fine pa! Just need a bit of rest is all!” The colt protested while his father cleaned him.
Baldwin gave his son a stern look. “Remember what ah told ya ‘bout work? You ain’t big enough yet ta be applebuckin’.”
“Ah’m eight years old pa!” Little Macintosh said, returning his fathers glare. “Ya told me ya were buckin’ when ya were seven!”
“Uh... well....” his father stammered. “Some colts grow faster than others! I just happened ta be an early bloomer! You can start buckin’ when yer growth spurt comes in. Now head on back down the house and take a long rest. Yer mother should be done with supper by the time ah’m done.”
The colt stomped out of the orchard, grumbling under his breath. He was smaller than almost all of his classmates in school, even most of the fillies. Constantly being teased for his miniature size damaged his self-esteem, and not being able to help his father buck apples didn’t help any either. Macintosh took a long draught of water from the well to sate his thirst then trotted to the porch and slumped down onto the hard wood. From the shade he watched his father work his way through the orchard. Although his dad wasn’t a giant, he had no problem clearing an apple tree in one swift buck.
Applejack galloped out from behind the house, a blue butterfly teasing the filly as it continued to flutter just out her reach. Her determination to catch the insect faded as she saw her defeated brother laying on the porch. Curious, she slowly trotted up to her red sibling.
“Macintosh?” She said, nudging the red foal with her hoof.
“Macintosh!” Applejack called louder, nudging him again.
“MCINTOoOoOoOoOoSH!” She shouted, shaking her brother at full force.
Macintosh growled and rose to his hooves. “What’ya want?”
“Why are ya so sad lookin’?”
“Ah ain’t sad! Ah’m just.... just.... yeah ah’m sad.” He sighed in defeat. “Ah tried to help pa with applebuckin’, but ah’m just not big enough. Pa says I’ll have a growth spurt, but he’s probably just lyin’ ta make me feel better.”
Applejack listened intently to her brother pour out his frustrations as he stamped his hooves.
“Ah just hate bein’ so small, that’s all” He concluded, lowering his head.
His sister came in closer, using her own head to raise Macintosh’s chin.
“But you’re my big brother right?”
Macintosh gave her a small smile. “S’pose so.”
“Well then that settles it!” Applejack shouted with determination. “Ya ain’t small at all! Now let’s get them apples!”
“But pa said...”
“Pa said not to go buckin’ ALONE. I’ll be there right beside ya cheerin’ ya on!”
Macintosh turned from his sister to look at the immense apple orchard. For the past week his parents had gone through every portion of the orchard and bucked each tree until they were bare. His father was beginning to buck the last section and showed no sign of stopping. Unless he acted now, the harvest would end and he would miss his chance to help his parents and prove himself.
“Let’s do it!” The red colt said, leaping off the porch.
Applejack stumbled after her brother as he raced towards the orchard. “Hey! Wait for me!”
Macintosh entered the orchard and galloped up to an apple tree that sat on the edge of the orchard. Judging from his father’s bucking pattern it would be the last tree he would harvest, giving Macintosh plenty of time to attempt harvesting it himself.
“Ah’m here.... ah’m here...” Applejack panted as she leaned against a nearby tree for support.
Stepping back and taking in the tree before him, the colt gave a small gulp. It was one of the biggest in the orchard and dwarfed the tree he had failed to buck before. Despite the size, Macintosh was teeming with energy and was determined to knock down every single apple from all of its branches.
“Well, here ah go!” Macintosh said, facing his hind hooves to the monstrous tree.
Raising his hooves, he gave a mighty kick. Although he impacted the tree dead-on, the branches gave a dull rustle and refused to drop any fruit. Macintosh repeatedly bucked the tree in vain.
“Ah can’t do it!” He cried.
Applejack finished catching her breath and trotted to her brother’s side.
“Ya quittin’ already?!” She asked disappointedly. “If my big brother can’t buck apples. Ah guess I’ll never be able to either.”
“Oh horse apples Applejack!” Macintosh scowled. “Just because ah can’t do somethin’ doesn’t mean you can’t!”
His sister flopped onto the ground beside him. “S’pose I’ll just be a knitter instead of a big, strong apple bucker.”
Macintosh frowned at his sister, then furrowed his brow. “Alright! Alright! Git out of mah way! Ah’m gonna topple this here tree.”
Applejack jumped up and backed away in excitement. “You get them apples Macintosh!”
The colt pawed the ground, kicking a bit of dirt. Giving a loud snort, he rocketed his hind hooves out and struck the tree. The branches shook, but no apples fell.
Macintosh didn’t let the lack of fruit cull his ferocity and bucked again, this time harder.
“Them apples are hangin’ on for dear life Macintosh! Keep goin’!”
Macintosh continued his relentless assault, each buck coming out faster and stronger as his sister cheered beside him.
The siblings froze as they heard something plop to the ground. Turning to see the source of the noise, they saw a large green apple nestled amongst a patch of disturbed grass.
Macintosh turned back to his sister with a big smile, but she merely hopped up and down, pointing her hoof at the tree.
“You ain’t done yet! Knock em all down!”
He nodded and resumed bucking the tree. Apples began to fall one by one, then two at a time. Finally, bushels began to rain down upon them as the tree shook.
Macintosh kept kicking the tree, even when the apples ceased to fall.
“Macintosh calm down! There ain’t an apple left in that tree!”
Together they looked around, dozens upon dozens of apples littering the ground beside them.
“Guess ah should have brought a basket. Heh.” Macintosh joked.
“Pa’s almost here with the cart, he can help us pick- OH MY GOSH. Macintosh, you- your cutie mark!” Applejack squealed.
“Cutie mark?” Macintosh asked, puzzled. “I ain’t got no cutie mark.”
“No ah mean you got one right now! Look!”
Macintosh hastily turned his head to see his flank. Sure enough, a large green apple half sat on each side.
“Ah can’t believe it!” Applejack shouted, hugging her brother.
Macintosh slowly returned the hug, still trying to take in the life-changing event that had just occurred.
“Oohh Pa’s here! Pa! Pa! Come here!”
Baldwin eyed the apples on the ground, then looked at his son.
“Macintosh, you did this?”
“Forget the apples pa. Look! Macintosh has his cutie mark!” Applejack cheered.
Baldwin gasped. “Well ah’ll be! Applejack, you run in and grab your ma and Granny Smith, we’re havin’ a big ole pie tonight!”
“You got it pa!” Applejack said, racing towards the farmhouse.
Baldwin turned to his son. “Macintosh... ah’m sorry fer doubtin’ you.”
“Don’t worry about it Pa. It was me who was doubtin’ myself. Applejack... she made me see what a downer ah was bein’ and gave me the strength to pick myself back up.”
“Welp, I reckon that’s what bein’ family is all about.” Baldwin said, embracing his son.
“And ah’m lucky to have a family as great as y’all.” Macintosh said, returning the hug.
Fillies and colts poured from the bright red school as the bell gave it’s last ring for the day. A steady stream began to make its way out of the building and back into Ponyville. Two foals lagged behind the main group, chatting to each other.
“Finally!” Applejack sighed. “School’s so borin’, ah almost fall asleep every time the teacher starts talkin’.”
“Ain’t botherin’ me none.” Macintosh replied. “Just have ta listen to a lady talk fer awhile then solve a bunch of simple questions.”
“Yeah well yer the one to talk Mr. perfect. You gonna show that test score to mom and pa?”
“Reckon not.” He said. “You know how crazy they get every time I bring home my regular tests with a perfect score. If ah showed them ah aced the final test, they’d be talkin’ for days. I’ll just wait till they ask.”
“S’pose that’s a good idea. We’ll be able to focus on Applebuck season instead of some stupid grades. As good at school you are, yer much better at buckin’, especially with how big you’ve been growin’.”
Macintosh didn’t reply, picking up his pace instead.
“Whoa whoa what’s the hurry for?” Applejack asked.
“Look at the town hall. Somethin’s goin’ on.”
What looked to be the whole village was squeezed into the town square. Everypony was focused at the front of the town hall, discussing amongst themselves on why they had been summoned.
Applejack and Macintosh pushed their way through the mass of ponies until they stood at the front of the crowd.
The mayor of Ponyville stood behind a podium at the top of the town hall stairs. Looking over her papers one last time, she cleared her throat and raised a hoof.
“Quiet! Everypony quiet please!” She shouted. “I have grave news!”
The crowd fell silent and turned to the mayor.
“Our weather team has reported a massive storm system arriving here from the Northwest plains.”
Gasps and murmurs immediately spread through the crowd.
“If it stays its current course, it could be here by sundown!”
“Why can’t the weather team just stop it from reaching the town?” A dark blue mare called.
“We have discussed that idea, and the weather team and I have agreed that the risk of casualties due to heavy wind and lightning far outweigh the chance of any severe structural damage. As long as everypony stays inside, the storm should blow over without any harm done. I urge everypony to gather their foals, friends, and family, and stay inside until the end of the storm.” The mayor concluded.
The crowd quickly dispersed, scrambling to find their loved ones and prepare to weather the storm. On the horizon, a mass of grey began to seep across the flatlands.
Worry began to build up in Macintosh’s stomach as a cool wind whipped against his mane.
“That’s the calm before the storm, Macintosh.” Baldwin told his son as they stood atop a hill overlooking the Apple farm. The sound of thunder could be heard in the distance, with what looked to be a curtain of grey lingering beneath the blackened clouds. “Whenever ya feel that cool wind start ta blow, ya grab your sister and get inside, ya hear?”
“I hear ya pa.” Macintosh said, giving his father a nod.
“Good. Ah already made sure the family’s all rounded up. Only thing we can do today is help your ma with the cookin’. C’mon.”
Macintosh turned to his sister. A look of confusion and even a slight hint of fear could be seen on her face. He gave her a slight nudge with his muzzle, catching her attention.
“Wh-what? What the hay is goin’ on Macintosh? It’s just a storm right?” Applejack asked, looking to her brother for reassurance.
“Forget the storm Applejack, last one to the farm has ta wash the pigs tomorrow!” Macintosh said cheerfully.
Although his sister was temporarily confused at her brother’s odd behavior, she was never one to back down from a challenge.
“Yer on!” She said, taking off.
Macintosh wasn’t nearly as competitive as his sister, but he had no problem outrunning her due to his superior strength and older age. Even then, when the two foals neared the farm, he feigned exhaustion and slowed down enough for her to beat him.
Applejack pranced around to celebrate her victory. “Ah did it! Ah did it! I beat Macintosh!”
“Guess Ah’ll be cleanin’ the pigs tomorrow.” He said as he faked panting. Looking up to the sky, Macintosh saw the grey clouds in the sky began to blot out the sun, creating an eerie shadow over Sweet Apple Acres.
“C’mon Applejack let’s get inside the house.”
The siblings galloped up the farmhouse porch and flung open the front door and the screen door behind it. As they entered the house, Summerfree immediately swept them into her hooves and squeezed them tightly.
“Oh thank Celestia yer here!” She cried. “I was just about to go out and start lookin’ fer you myself.”
Applejack and Macintosh returned the hug warmly.
Macintosh slipped out of his mother’s embrace. “Where’s pa? Granny Smith? Is Apple Bloom alright?” He asked worriedly.
“Ah’m right here!” Granny Smith called from her rocking chair. Summerfree’s quick hug had blocked the old mare from his view. “Apple Bloom’s safe in the baby room and yer pa’s out makin’ sure the cows and the chickens and the pigs and the corn and the.... the lettuce... and...”
Baldwin burst through the farmhouse door, quickly catching sight of his foals.
“Hoo-eee! You two were beginnin’ to give your ma and I a scare! Ah’m glad you made it back home safe. The farm’s all present, secure, and accounted for. All we gotta do now is sit tight and wait for this monster ta blow ove-” *BOOM*
A crash of lightning accompanied by a swift gale of rain sounded outside the simple farm house. Although both Macintosh and Applejack considered themselves brave ponies, they both jumped and quickly buried their heads into their mother’s welcoming bosom.
“It’s alright, it’s alright.” Summerfree whispered.
Baldwin led them into the living room and had the family form a circle with Granny Smith. As the wind howled and the thunder roared, they shared stories of how their days had gone.
“...and that’s when ah saw this here storm brewin’ on the horizon. I rounded up all the farm and came back inside to find y’all already home from school. Speakin’ of which, how was yer last day of school?”
Applejack scowled. “Just as plain and dull as ever! Ah’m glad the school years over and we can get ta buckin’.”
“Ha! That’s ma girl. Did y’all ever get yer scores for that last big test?” Baldwin asked.
Applejack was surprised by her father’s memory, but rustled through her saddlebags and pulled out the test.
“84!” She said proudly. “Much better than ah thought I would get.”
“Good job Applejack, we’re so proud of you.” Summerfree said, reaching across the circle and nuzzling her daughter.
“How ‘bout you Macintosh?” Baldwin asked. “Got any groundbreakin’ scores to bring show us today?”
Macintosh sighed as he realized he had been pulled into the same situation he wished to avoid. ‘Oh well’, he thought. His parents would be crazy for a few days, then calm down.
“Well...” he began, pulling out the test. “Ah got a-”
A fierce knock rattled the door, interrupting Macintosh.
“Who in Celestia’s name could that be?” Baldwin said, raising to his hooves and trotting to the door. Curious, Summerfree followed closely behind.
Baldwin opened the screen door then turned the knob as three more rapid knocks sounded. Throwing open the door, the yellow stallion was met face-to-face with two burly earth ponies.
“Damascus?! Wootz?! What the hay are ya doin’ all the way out here with this storm ragin’? Shouldn’t ya be holdin’ down the smithin’ shop?”
“There’s an emergency Baldwin.” Damascus said hurriedly.
“Well come on in out of the rain!”
“No can do. Mr. and Mrs. Berry are missing their two foals. We searched every building in Ponyville but couldn’t find either of them, which means they might be out in this storm. We’ve got search parties spreading out and scouring outside the town. I’m part of the search group sent to check up here, and I was wondering if you could help?”
Baldwin grabbed his straw hat and nodded to the two ponies. “Damn right ah’ll help. Summerfree, Granny Smith, watch the foals will ya?”
Summerfree shook her head violently, trotting to her husbands side. “Ah’m comin’ with ya Baldwin. Somepony’s gotta make sure you don’t do nothin’ stupid in this here dangerous weather.”
Baldwin puffed up and raised himself above his wife. “No, and that’s final! Ah’ll be fine. Now stay here!”
Summerfree smiled at him then gave him a quick kiss, instantly deflating the energy he had mustered.
“Ah’m comin’ with ya, and THAT’S final.” She said.
“Ah.... Alright.” Baldwin resigned. “Just stay close ta me. Let’s g-”
Baldwin felt a strong warmth wrap itself around his hind leg. Applejack had thrown herself onto her father in desperation. Macintosh had nuzzled himself up against his mothers side.
“Mom! Pa! Please don’t go out there!” The filly cried. “It’s too scary.”
Her father turned and embraced his daughter.
“Don’t worry girl.” He said. “Just a bit of water. Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen.”
“The foals are probably just hiding under a tree somewhere.” Summerfree said, kissing both her foals on the head. “We’ll be back soon.”
Baldwin turned to his son. “Macintosh, hold down the farm for me till’ ah’m back.”
“You got it pa.” Macintosh promised.
“Alright, let’s go! Hiiya!”
Summerfree and Baldwin rushed out the door and into the pouring rain, closing the door behind them. Applejack trotted to the feet of Granny Smith’s chair and collapsed. Macintosh laid down beside her, trying to mask his fear in front of his sister.
“Macintosh, ah’m scared.” Applejack said, snuggling up to her brother.
“Yer mom and pa are smart ponies.” Granny Smith said. “Ah reckon they’ll be back within the hour!”
Macintosh brought his sister closer, hugging her tightly. “Granny’s right Applejack.” He whispered into her ear. “Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to the two bravest and strongest ponies in Equestria.”
“Thanks Macintosh.” She whispered back. “Ah just hope yer right.”
Baldwin grimaced as the cold rain blasted his face. Winds howled at a speed even he had never faced before, and the lightning was so rampant it seemed almost as bright as any summer day. Although he was worried for his family still in the house, his grandfather had built every structure on the farm to hold against a storm like this. Knowing his mother and children were safe brought his attention fully to the task at hand: two foals lost in the storm of the century.
“Alright!” The yellow stallion shouted above the fierce winds and roaring thunder. “Damascus and Wootz, you go ahead and check the barn and stalls for those foals! Summerfree and I will scour the orchard! We’ll meet ya back here when yer done!”
“Make sure you two watch out for lightning while searching near those trees!” Wootz called as he galloped off with his partner.
Summerfree nudged her husband and pointed to the far end of the apple orchard. “We should start at the end so we can work our way back towards the house.”
“Right. Just... stay by my side.” Baldwin said with a hint of worry.
“Ah’m right here.” Summerfree reassured him. “C’mon.”
Side by side, the two ponies galloped across Sweet Apple Acres. The farm had been turned into a sick blackened manifestation of itself. The lightning arcing across the sky would temporarily reveal the true beauty of the apple trees, only for them to darken once again. Once they had reached the back of orchard, they began frantically searching the base of the trees.
What little light the sun gave began to quickly fade away, leaving Baldwin to rely on the lightning itself as his only source of illumination. The stallion’s eye caught two lumps huddled beneath an apple tree in the distance.
“Summerfree!” He called as he rushed to the apple tree. “Ah found em! They’re right ove-”
A giant flash erupted in front of Baldwin. The familiar feeling of opening a hot oven rushed across his face, followed by a resounding crash that dulled his hearing. The apple tree in front of him ripped in half and began to collapse upon him. Although Baldwin could see he was in peril, his body was too stunned to move itself.
Just before the tree would crush him, Summerfree tackled her husband, sending both of them flying out of harms way.
Both of them hit the ground as the tree crashed down.
“Th- Thanks.” Baldwin said as he caught his breath. If not for the harsh rain repeatedly pelting his face, he would have passed out then and there.
Summerfree rolled over and staggered as she rose to her hooves.
“Now what did I tell ya? Knew ya would need my help.” She said as playfully as she could while she lifted up her husband.
Baldwin gave her a thankful nod, then turned to the apple tree in horror. “Ah Celestia... the foals...”
The yellow stallion trotted forward and looked under the tree, bracing himself for what he would find. Summerfree held her breathe behind him.
“.... Dammit!” Baldwin scowled as he lifted his head back up.
“What is it?!” Summerfree asked fearfully.
Her husband turned and laughed softly. “Ain’t nothin’ but one of our saddles hitched ta two baskets.”
Summerfree sighed in relief. “Let’s finish up the orchard. We’re almost back to the house.”
The storm only increased in strength as they searched through the rest of the apple trees. Confident that they had scoured the whole orchard, they trotted back to the farmhouse. Any semblance of sunset’s light had disappeared, and Baldwin could barely see his hoof in front of his face in-between lightning strikes. As they approached the house, the faint outline of two burly ponies waved them over.
“Wootz! Damascus!” Baldwin called.
“Good to see you two! we were beginning to think you got crushed by a tree or struck by lightning! Any luck with the foals?” Wootz said.
“Nope. Didn’t find nothin’.” Summerfree answered.
Damascus shivered as a gust of cold wind swept through the Acres. “What do we do now? I doubt the foals got past the orchard...”
“Look.” Baldwin said. “We can’t see a damn thing anymore. Let’s head back ta Ponyville and check up with other search parties ta find out if they already found the foals. If they haven't had any luck, hopefully we can wrassle away a unicorn and get a source of light.”
“Seems to be about the only reasonable thing we can do right now. Lead the way.” Damascus said.
The four ponies took off down the well-trodden trail that connected Sweet Apple Acres to the town. The dirt path had turned muddy, each hoof fall flinging mud across their faces. It wasn’t long before they reached the bridge that stretched across the river and into Ponyville. The river itself had turned into a monster, threatening to swallow and crush anyone who fell in. In front of the group, the bridge shook and creaked in protest of the rising current.
“Ain’t no way in hell ah’m crossin’ that!” Baldwin said, eyeing the unstable bridge.
“But there isn’t another bridge for miles!” Damascus reminded him.
Summerfree trotted up to the foot of the bridge. “Come on Baldwin. One at a time and the bridge should hold.”
Realizing they had no other choice, Baldwin wearily approached the unstable footing. “Alright... but me first.”
The stallion stepped onto the bridge. His ears pulsed as the river roared, the bridge creaked, the rain fell, and lightning arced across the sky. Slowly, he placed one hoof in front of the other. The further along the bridge he trot, the harder it shook. Noticing how close he was to the other side, Baldwin leaped the final few steps.
“Summerfree! You next!” He shouted.
Summerfree wasted no time, galloping across the precarious bridge.
Baldwin winced, expecting the worst. Still, the bridge held as she arrived at her husband’s side. Wootz followed next, traversing the river as easily as Summerfree had.
“Damascus! Come on!” Baldwin called.
Damascus began to gallop across the bridge. Suddenly, the sound of wood splintering rang out from the bridge. The burly earth pony began to lose his footing as the bridge shook violently.
“Jump!” Baldwin screamed.
Damascus jumped as far as he could, crashing into Wootz on the other side of the river.
“Thank Celestia!” Summerfree breathed.
Baldwin looked back at the bridge which continued to shake faster and more violently.
“We ain’t crossin’ that again that’s for sur-”
A cry rang out from across the bridge. “HELP! HELLO!? HELP!”
All four ponies turned to see two foals approaching the other side of the bridge.
“Look Straw!!!!” One of the foals cheered. “Grown-ups!”
The kids raced across the bridge in excitement.
“No! Stop!” Baldwin cried.
The foals tripped halfway across the bridge as it buckled wildly beneath them. Unable to withhold against the raging torrent any longer, the cracked wood gave in and the bridge collapsed upon itself, throwing the foals into the black waters.
Baldwin and Summerfree leaped into the river without a moment’s hesitation.
Baldwin struggled to keep his head above water while at the same time looking for the foals. A loud scream rang out behind him, only to be muffled by the roaring river. Paddling as hard as he could, Baldwin fought against the current. A flash of lightning illuminated a small filly in front of him which he caught with his teeth. Making sure not to hurt her, the stallion dragged her to the shore. Baldwin placed the foal on the bank, then tried to lift himself out as well. The muddied bank made it impossible, causing both himself and the filly to slip back down into the maw of the river. Using the last of his strength, he pushed the foal off the slippery banks and onto the stable grass.
Baldwin tried again to free himself from the river, but only slid farther back as he struggled against the mud. The stallion gave one last look, searching for his wife. Down the river, the second foal lay at the top of the bank. The red mare was nowhere to be seen. A strong wave crashed into him, dragging him further into the river. Despite his efforts to hold onto to the bank, hours of galloping and struggling against the harsh weather had weakened him. Unable to keep hold, Baldwin slipped from the bank.
Macintosh tucked his sister into bed. Despite the raging storm, she had eventually succumbed to exhaustion and fallen asleep in his hooves. The storm itself had died down, with the rampant lightning ceasing and the rain making light taps on the bedroom window. Satisfied that Applejack was comfortable, Macintosh returned downstairs. Granny Smith slept in her rocking chair, mumbling incoherent words. The colt himself wanted to sleep as well, but it had been several hours since his parents had left and worry kept him wide awake.
Macintosh looked towards the test he had loathed to show his parents. A red ‘100’ marked the top, a smiley face beside it. When his parents returned, he decided, he would show it to them. He imagined how they would walk in, soaked and exhausted, only to have a second wind upon seeing the score. Maybe they could bake up a giant apple pie in celebration, the aroma luring Applejack as she tiredly stumbled down the stairs.
A soft knock came from the door, tearing Macintosh from his fantasy. Opening the door, he was met face-to-face with Damascus, Wootz, and the mayor, a yellow coat covering her head. Damascus held a familiar straw hat between his teeth, his eyes averted from the colts gaze.
“Mctinosh.” The mayor said with a sympathetic voice. “We need to talk to your grandmother.”
Macintosh looked from pony to pony, his eyes finally resting on the mayor. “She’s asleep right now. What is it? Where’s my mom and pa?”
The mayor looked towards Damascus and Wootz for support, but their eyes were focused intently on the ground.
“Well... there’s.... there’s been an accident.....” She began.
“Wha? Is that your ma and pa?” Granny Smith called, slowly trotting to the front door.
The mayor breathed a sigh of relief, then quickly regained her composure. “Mrs. Smith, I’m here to report that... the two foals lost in the storm were found and rescued by your son and his wife.”
“Ha!” The old mare laughed. “Ah knew they could do it. They off havin’ a parade over their heroics?”
“No... while they rescued the foals from the Clearwater River.... they didn’t make it themselves.” She finished.
Damascus trotted forward, meeting Macintosh’s eyes for the first time. He lowered the tattered straw hat onto the colts head, then backed away.
“Bu... what...” Granny Smith stammered a bit, tears forming in her eyes. She said nothing more, instead deciding to turn around and trot back to her rocking chair. A few rocks later, she burst into a muffled sob, not wanting to wake her granddaughters to a nightmare.
Macintosh watched his grandmother, then turned back to the mayor. “Where’s yer proof?”
“What?” The mayor asked, stunned,
“Ah ain’t believin’ a word you say!” Macintosh said harshly. “My parents wouldn’t let some river get the best of them. Thanks for the hat, ah’ll make sure to return it to my pa when he gets back.”
Macintosh slammed the door, then stomped upstairs and into the room he shared with Applejack. Slipping into his bed, Macintosh huddled under the covers, a mix of emotions ripping him apart.
“Macintosh?...” Applejack called sleepily from across the room. “What was all that commotion downstairs? Are mom and pa back?”
“Wasn’t nothin’ Applejack.” Macintosh lied. “Mom and pa will be back by the time ya wake up.”
“Oh... alright then.” She said yawning. “Goodnight big brother.”
“Goodnight Applejack.” He responded bluntly.
Macintosh tossed and turned throughout the night, unable to sleep. The mayors words echoed in his head and tormented him. Eventually his thoughts turned morbid, imagining his parent’s corpses washed up in some unknown land far downstream.
A thousand nightmares rended his mind and kept him awake until dawn. Macintosh looked out the bedroom window which oversaw the whole apple orchard. The red fruit hanging from the trees gleamed in the sun, ripe for the picking. Today was the beginning of applebuck season, and without his parents help, he would need to begin work immediately to make sure every apple was harvested in time.
The sad realization of his parents’ deaths finally hit him, and he struggled to stifle his soft crying.
“Macintosh?” He heard Applejack call. “Why are ya cryin’?!”
“Don’t... don’t worry about it none Applejack.” He sobbed. “Ah just need some fresh air is all.”
Macintosh grabbed the tattered straw hat from his bed and left the room without looking at his sister. He silently crept down the stairs, being careful not to waken Granny Smith (the blanket she always sat with was stained with tears) and left the house.
Outside, yesterday’s rain had brought a fresh summer air along with it, giving the farm an overwhelming presence of life. Macintosh trotted to the barn, his hooves splashing in puddles of water. Throwing open the barn doors, he was greeted with the squealing and squawking of the farm animals. The colt grabbed a bucket and filled it with slop, then filled the trough. Pulling the lever, he let out the pigs, only to be knocked to the side and covered in mud as they ran him over to reach the trough. Macintosh then filled a bucket with feed and spread it over the chicken pen.
Satisfied, he grabbed a saddle and attached a basket on each side. Just as he had done for the past 4 years, he left the barn with the saddlebaskets and began to trot out to the orchard, this time alone.
“Macintooooosh!” He heard his sister call out from the front porch, but didn’t turn around.
The sound of hooves sploshing through water came up from behind him.
“Macintosh, what are ya doin’?” Applejack asked. “Aren’t ya gonna wait for mom and pa to get back home before we start harvestin’?”
Macintosh slowly turned around, meeting his sister warily. “Applejack... mom and pa.... they ain’t comin’ back.”
“Huh?... What’ya mean?...” She stammered.
“Ah’m sayin’ they died in that storm last night savin’ those two foals.” Macintosh said quickly.
Applejack looked at her brother, catching the serious and somber look in his eyes. The filly began crying, her tears being lost in the already flooded farmland.
Macintosh embraced his sister, rocking her back and forth. “Ah got ya... ah got ya...” He whispered, holding her until she was reduced to soft sobs.
“What’s gonna happen now Macintosh?” She said in between tears.
Macintosh lifted his sister to her hooves, brushing away her tears. “Ah’m gonna start buckin’, and ah ain’t gonna stop till it’s finished. Ah’ll take care of you, Granny and Apple Bloom, ah promise. Now go back inside and get some sleep.”
Applejack broke away from her brother’s hooves, shaking her head. “No can do Macintosh! Ah’m helpin’ you harvest every last apple in that orchard, and you can’t stop me!” She said defiantly.
Macintosh smiled at his sister’s stubbornness, strong even in such a dark time. “Come on then.” He said, trotting towards the barn. “Let’s get ya a saddle.”
From sunrise until sundown, the siblings traversed the orchard, following the same path their parents had taken a year before. Although some trees had fallen, and others tried to hold their fruit, none of them could withstand the teamwork of the two determined foals.
As the sun began to sink below the horizon, Applejack bucked the last tree of the section.
“Good work Applejack.” Macintosh said, panting. “At this rate, ah think we might be able ta- well ah’ll be darned.”
“Huh? What is it?” Applejack asked, confused by her brother’s sudden remark.
Macintosh gave a small chuckle. “Reckon you got your cutie mark.”
Applejack turned her head, spotting three red apples marking her flank. “Oh my Celestia! Yes!” Applejack cheered, running in circles. “Just wait till ah show mom and pa! They’ll be....” Applejack paused, looking to her big brother.
Macintosh wrapped her in his hooves, holding her tight. “They’d be the two proudest ponies in Equestria.”
Macintosh released his sister, nudging her. “Now go on back into the house and get Granny Smith. We’ll have a big ole pie tonight.”
Applejack mustered up a smile for him, then trotted slowly back to the house.
Macintosh looked at the cart of apples, realizing he needed to pull them back to the barn. Returning to the red building, he journeyed to the back and found a worn, brown harness. As he put it on, a voice rang in the back of his head.
“Macintosh, hold down the farm for me till ah’m back.”
“You got it pa.” Macintosh said to his father, wherever he may be.