They Shoot Ponies, Don't They?

by Donnys Boy

Chapter 1

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“They Shoot Ponies, Don't They?”

by Donny’s Boy

Chapter 1

It was crazy--that’s what it was. Missing an apple tree, especially an apple tree who had the best new home that an apple tree could ever ask to have. Besides, she’d made Braeburn promise to take the very best care of Bloomberg that he could, and nopony knew better than she did that an Apple was always true to their word.

But today marked the one-year anniversary of the trek out to Appleloosa, one full year since she’d last seen Bloomberg, and Applejack couldn’t deny the slight ache in her chest or mild sting in her eye. It was crazy, she knew--Big Mac had said so, and Twilight had said so, and even Applejack had said so that morning to the dang fool pony staring back at her from the bathroom mirror--but crazy as it may have been, the truth remained the truth. The truth always did.

And the truth was, Applejack missed her favorite apple tree.

The farmer sighed as she trotted down the rows of trees that presided over Sweet Apple Acres like proud sentinels. She patted a few of the trees’ trunks as she passed by. She supposed the trees didn’t know just what she was thinking about, that she was mooning over Bloomberg, and that meant there really wasn’t anything to feel guilty over. She felt guilty, anyway.

As she made her way down the rows, Applejack paused here and there to buck a few trees. It wasn’t harvesting season. There wasn’t any real reason to do it. But it gave her something to do, an excuse to stretch her legs and a feeling of purpose, and so she bucked the occasional tree on her walk around the orchard. And if it helped keep her mind off a faraway town in a faraway desert, well, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.

Eventually--inevitably--she ran out of trees. With another heavy sigh, Applejack trudged back toward the barn and hoped, just this once, that Big Macintosh hadn’t finished up all the chores. All the way back to the barn, she kept her mind busy thinking of everything that might still need to be done. The plow might still need fixing, or the hogs might still need slopping, or Granny Smith might need a hoof getting supper started. There was almost always plenty to do on a farm, after all.

But as Applejack came upon the barn, she passed by the hogs, who were happily eating at their troughs, and she spotted a perfectly immaculate plow as soon as she stepped inside the barn’s large red doors. Big Macintosh glanced up from a nearby pile of straw where he was reclining, and he quirked a brow in her direction.

Applejack felt her ears droop. “I don’t reckon Granny could use any help with supper, huh?”

“I don’t reckon so.” Her brother slowly shook his head. “Apple Bloom’s in the house helping right now.”

Applejack nodded in defeat.

Big Mac waited a beat or two before he asked, in a casual tone, “You feelin' any better than you was this morning?”

“It was just one apple tree,” retorted Applejack, scowling. “You and me both know that, Mac.”

The other pony merely made a thoughtful humming noise in the back of his throat.

Applejack turned on her heel. “I’m gonna go check the mail.”

And that’s just what she did. She pretended she didn’t notice Macintosh’s eyes on her the entire walk out of the barn, and she pretended she didn’t notice how loud the door slammed when she kicked it shut behind her. Instead, she just kept on walking, marching with grim, resolute dedicaton down to the mailbox at the end of dirt road that led away from the house.

There was only one letter in the mailbox, a bright pink envelope that had been labelled with Applejack’s name in an exuberant, familiar cursive script. Applejack raised an eyebrow as she tore open the letter.

Dear Applejack,

I was going to send you a “Happy One-Year Anniversary of Giving Bloomberg a Great New Home!” card but then I thought maybe it isn’t that happy. I mean, you probably miss Bloomberg a whole lot, even though I bet Bloomberg’s super happy in his new home with Braeburn and Little Strongheart and all his other new friends, and it’s not very happy when you miss your friends.

Can something be kind of happy and kind of sad at the same time? Like when your belly’s full of delicious cupcakes but your mouth is empty because you already ate all the cupcakes? Maybe it’s like that.

Oh, but anyways! It’s been a whole entire year since we took Bloomberg to his new home, and so I thought we should remember that! I wanted to throw a party for Bloomberg, but Dashie said that was crazy and that apple trees don’t like parties.

What do you think, AJ? Do apple trees like parties? I bet if anypony knows, that pony’s you!

Talk to you soon,
Your Friend Pinkie Pie

Applejack stood with her letter for a few moments. She stood, and she pondered over this very crazy little letter written by a very crazy little pony. And then, finally, for the first time all day, Applejack smiled.

Very carefully, she carefully tucked the letter underneath her hat. Then she started trotting down the road towards town. She didn’t think she could stop herself even if she wanted to, but then, she wasn’t at all sure that she wanted to stop. So she gave a tiny little shrug and let her hooves continue on, carrying her through Ponyville, while she smiled and waved to the town’s ponies along the way. In no time at all she found herself in front of the architectural marvel that was Sugarcube Corner, staring at the front door and wondering just what exactly she was going to say when she stepped inside.

That little problem was solved for her, however, as suddenly the door swung open and a pair of pink hooves plucked her from the stoop.

“Applejack! Hi! Didja get my note?” Pinkie's eyes were huge as pie plates and stared into Applejack's face with unnerving intensity. “Do you know about whether apple trees like parties? ‘Cause I really, really hope apple trees like parties!”

Applejack gently shoved the other mare back a few feet before reaching up to readjust her hat. She glanced around the large, colorful bakery, mostly just to get her bearings, and gave a friendly nod to Mr. Cake when she spotted him behind the counter. Mr. Cake smiled back and--unless Applejack was imagining it and she didn’t think she was--there was a distinct hint of amusement in the stallion’s eyes.

The air was a little too hot. It always was in Sugarcube Corner. But Applejack shook that off just like she shook off the dirt from her hooves.

Finally facing Pinkie, Applejack answered, “Yep, sugarcube, I sure did get your note. Was sweet of ya to remember about Bloomberg.”

Pinkie beamed. “Well, of course I remembered! I mean, it’s Bloomberg. Who doesn’t love Bloomberg?

“Heh. Woodpeckers, maybe.” Applejack grinned back at her friend. “And to answer your last question from before … well, I ain’t entirely sure, I'll admit, but I don’t see why apple trees wouldn’t like parties. Especially a genuine Pinkie Pie party. Ain’t nobody who doesn’t like one o’ those.”

“Perfect! Then we’ll go to Appleloosa this weekend to throw a party for Bloomberg!”

Applejack stopped grinning. “Beg pardon?”

“To Appleloosa. This weekend.” Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “To throw a party for--”

“For Bloomberg,” Applejack interrupted, nodding briskly. “Right, right. I followed all of that just fine, Pinkie. It’s the part where you think I can just up and leave the farm to go on a trip to Appleloosa that’s got me a mite confused.”

Pinkie tilted her head. “Well, why not? Isn’t it the slow season right now down at Sweet Apple Acres?”

Applejack frowned. That was just plain dirty fighting on the part of the other mare, bringing up a fact like that, something Applejack couldn't refute without telling a big, bald lie.

“Might be the slow season,” Applejack admitted with a grumble. “How d'you even know about that, though?”

The other mare laughed. “I grew up on a rock farm, Applejack! Remember? I know all sorts of stuff about farming!”

“Sure, like you knew how to fix the water chu--”

Applejack cut herself off, but it was too late. Suddenly the bakery was deathly quiet, quiet enough that she could hear Mr. Cake suck in his breath through his teeth. Meanwhile, Pinkie was still smiling at her, just like always, but it wasn't the same. The pink mare's eyes looked dark and watery, like the surface of a lake that had monsters churning the depths far below, and silently Applejack swore at herself.

She'd come down into town to thank Pinkie for doing something nice for her. To maybe do something nice for Pinkie in return. And this was how she repaid her friend?

“Pinkie Pie, I'm right sorry. I didn't mean to--”

“It's okay, AJ!” Pinkie chirped. “We don't gotta go to Appleloosa this weekend. We can throw a party for Bloomberg another time.”

The words were cheerful enough, and Applejack didn’t think Pinkie was lying, per se. But there was a difference between something being true and something not being a lie. Still those blue eyes looked stormy, and still that grin didn’t fit quite right on Pinkie’s face.

Applejack took a deep breath and set her jaw. “Look. I ain't promising nothing here, but ...”

Pinkie leaned back a bit and blinked at her.

“But I'll think on it. Okay?”

Pinkie kept on blinking for a few seconds longer, before her grin widened and her eyes lit up like fireworks. “Okie dokie lokie!”

Before she could manage to shove her hoof in her mouth yet again, Applejack quickly said her goodbyes and left for the farm. It took longer to get back to Sweet Apple Acres than it had to get to Sugarcube Corner, but then, it always did. Applejack loved Pinkie Pie to death, but nopony could tire out Applejack quite like that pink filly could, except maybe Apple Bloom on one of her more ornery days. Still, she was glad she’d taken the time to go down to visit Pinkie. And even a simple farm pony like herself could appreciate the way the sun setting over the distant hills painted the whole entire sky with warm, friendly oranges and bright, cheerful pinks.

As she arrived at the farmhouse and stepped inside, greeted by the smell of something savory on the stove and the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen, Applejack paused in the doorway. She reached up to take off her hat and pull out the pink envelope she'd kept safely nestled against her mane.

Rereading Pinkie's letter, she smiled all over again.

In the car of a train rattling down the lonesome tracks of the wide desert plains, Applejack sat across from Pinkie Pie and shifted uncomfortably on the hard wooden bench. Pinkie Pie bounced a bit on her own bench and smiled broadly at Applejack. The rest of the car was empty except for a loudly snoring Apple Bloom, asleep on the bench beside Applejack, and the silence stretching out between the two older earth ponies seemed as long as the train tracks ahead. Applejack reached up to readjust her hat, just to give herself something to do with her hooves.

It wasn’t often that it was just her and Pinkie, all alone. It was strange, and worse, it was strange that it was strange. Applejack’s chest felt a little tight, a little tense, and she couldn’t understand why. She didn’t feel like this when it was just her and Rainbow Dash, or her and Twilight, or even her and Rarity. She knew how to act with those three--it was easy enough, after all, as she just had to laugh at Dash and to nod at Twilight and to baby Rarity--whereas right now she wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to say or do with Pinkie. Pinkie was just so wild, so unpredictable. So utterly unlike the routines and traditions that governed Applejack’s life and that fit the apple farmer as snug and comfortable as an old, worn-in Stetson.

Abruptly, Applejack realized that finding herself all alone with Pinkie wasn’t the only thing that was strange, and she frowned. “You’re bein’ awful quiet over there. Something wrong, sugarcube?”

Pinkie Pie quickly shook her head. “Nuh uh! Everything’s okie dokie.” With a soft giggle, Pinkie leaned forward to add, in a stage whisper, “Twilight said I should try not to annoy you too much, ‘cause sometimes I talk a lot and maybe you wouldn’t want to talk the whole trip out to Appleloosa ‘cause it’s a really long trip.”

“Twilight said all that, did she?”

“Uh huh!”

Applejack’s frown deepened. “Well, I reckon Twi meant well, but truth is I don’t mind a bit of chit-chat to pass the time.” She leaned back and, studying Pinkie’s bright expression and happy eyes, she coughed to clear her throat. “So, uh, I guess let’s talk? First thing I oughta say, I reckon, is an apology. Sorry about my baby sister taggin' along and all.”

“Oh, that's nothing to be sorry about!” Grinning, Pinkie reached down and gently patted Apple Bloom on the head. The filly snorted and mumbled something in her sleep. “Apple Bloom's a great little pony, and more ponies means more fun.”

Applejack chuckled. “I reckon that's all true.” She gazed down at her sister with a fond smile. “It's just that I promised her, next time I went out to visit Cousin Braeburn, I'd take her with me. Sneaky little devil made me Pinkie promise, even, and y'know better than anypony that--”

Nopony breaks a Pinkie promise,” finished Pinkie, nodding slowly and seriously.

“Right. Exactly.”

The silence fell over them again, like a heavy blanket, and Applejack turned to look out the window of the train car. Nighttime in the desert wasn't like nighttime in Ponyville. There weren't any street lights or lamps in houses to break through the darkness. The nearly full moon above lent some visibility, though, enough for Applejack to spot a few cacti and rock formations breaking up the monotony of the desert.

It wasn’t much to look at and so, after a few minutes, Applejack glanced back over toward Pinkie Pie. Pinkie was still bouncing in her seat a bit, as well as quietly drumming her hooves against the bench. The poor mare had never looked so bored in all the years Applejack had known her.

Applejack licked her lips. Already the parched desert air had her skin feeling as dry as parchment paper. “Say, Pinkie. You wanna trade parts for the play next year?”

With a start, Pinkie looked up.

“The Hearth’s Warming play,” Applejack explained, feeling her face warm. She didn’t know why she’d asked about that. It was just the first topic of conversation that had popped into her head, and she’d latched onto it like a rattler on a mouse. “You could play Smart Cookie instead of the Chancellor next time, if’n you’d like a change.”

“Aw, don’t you like being Smart Cookie?” Pinkie reached forward to tap Applejack on the nose. “I think you make a super great Smart Cookie! I mean, you’re tons smarter than me, and you’re totally like a cookie, if cookies were more like ponies. Or maybe if ponies were more like cookies?”

“I ain’t saying you gotta swap with me, mind ya. I’m just saying--” Applejack shut up. Her ears gave a twitch. “Wait a minute. Go back. You think I’m smarter than you?”

Pinkie giggled again. “Well, yeah! Duh!”

Applejack thoughtfully chewed on her lower lip. She opened her mouth to respond but quickly closed it again when she realized she didn’t know what to say.

“I mean, don’t you think you’re smarter, Applejack?” asked Pinkie. It almost hurt for Applejack to hear the note of genuine curiosity in the other mare’s voice.

“No! No, ‘course I don’t think I’m smarter.”


“Pinkie Pie,” said Applejack, with a stern glare, “in all the years we’ve been friends, you ever know me to say something I don’t mean? To say something that I know ain’t true? Not countin’ all that Discord nonsense.”

Pinkie shook her head.

“Well, then. There’s your answer.” Applejack leaned back with a quiet sigh. Her shoulders sagged as though under a yoke. “You don’t always listen too good, sometimes, I’ll be the first to admit. But you catch onto stuff quick as a whip if you’re actually paying attention proper.”

Slowly Pinkie Pie smiled. It was a soft smile, smaller yet somehow brighter than her usual ones. Applejack felt funny, seeing Pinkie smile at her like that. She wondered if Pinkie was just tired. It’d been a long day of traveling. Or maybe it was Applejack who was tired, too tired to be thinking straight, so tired that she was seeing things that weren’t really there.

Applejack gave her head a shake, trying to knock all of those funny little thoughts out of her head. “It’s gettin’ late, sugarcube. I reckon we oughta take ‘Bloom and go back to the--”

But Applejack got no farther than that, as suddenly the door to the train car burst open with a bang, and in the doorway appeared two stallions and a mare. Even before the newcomers had a chance to step inside, Applejack was up on her hooves, head held low, adrenaline coursing through her blood. All three ponies had bandanas wrapped around their muzzles, obscuring their faces, and Applejack felt her stomach drop as she realized just what was going on.

One of the stallions, a unicorn, took a step forward. In a light orange glow of magic he held a knife, and from behind his bandana there came a dark, nasty laugh.

“G’evening, ladies! This here’s a stick-up!”

Author's Notes:

So far, this is shaping up to be the least shippy ship fic I've ever written, but I guess we'll see. Mostly, this story's going to be a character study of Applejack and an experiment to see if I can write an action-oriented western of sorts, as I don't really write many action-adventure stories.

The first half of this chapter, by the way, is adapted from a story I wrote for the Thirty Minute Pony Stories writing prompt "It only takes a moment to fall in love" (http://thirtyminuteponies.tumblr.com/post/42932926877/prompt-257-compilation-little-fleeting-wonders).

Edit 9/3: The original title for this story was "Drought," but as I've written more and more, I've liked this title less and less. The current title is a reference to the film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?[/] (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065088).

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 4 Minutes
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