Scootaloo lay on her back in the warm, short grass, her legs flopped out to her sides. The sun was hot on her belly and barrel, but she didn't want to move. Not yet. Not just yet.
The thin breeze whispered to her, bending the grass stems so that they made a whisking noise against the tips of her ears. Briefly, it kicked up, rippling her coat. She idly whomped her tail left and right, hearing it swack across the grass, or thump if she brought it down hard onto the field.
The orange filly raised a leg, pretending that the effort was tremendous. She was Daring Do, trying to free her foreleg from an insidious trap! Dash was always going on about those books. She'd probably read them someday. Someday. But not now. Summer wasn't for reading books. Summer was for more important things.
Her hoof felt heavy as she held it above her, over her head. She covered a cloud with it, and imagined walking on the cloud. She wondered if she ever would walk up there. Probably, someday. But she'd have to be carried, or ride in a balloon. Her wings were wrong. Primaries. It was primaries this and primaries that. Horsefeathers. Her feathers.
But she could go fast. Maybe she couldn't fly, but she could go fast. Faster than Big Mac, in full gallop. Faster than the wind! Faster than Dash! No. Not faster than Dash. Never faster than Dash. Dash was the greatest. Nopony went faster than Dash.
Scootaloo turned her head, slowly. It felt like a boulder, and she was trying to roll it up a mountain. Slowly, slowly it finally came to rest, so that she could look to the side. She let her foreleg drop, narrowly missing her own head with her hoof. Dumb-dumb. That would have hurt. She remembered the other day when she had hit herself in her noggin with her own hoof, doing the same thing.
There was her Scooter. Scootaloo. Scooter. Scooter-scoot-scootaloo. That's how she'd gotten her name at the orphanage. Until she got that scooter, she was just Lil' Orange. Poor Lil' Orange, who couldn't fly. She'd showed 'em. Plowed right through the place, and out the door. Knocked over the apple cart. Didn't get hit by a single apple. Took them all day to catch her, and that only because she'd finally decided she was hungry and wanted to get caught.
Now she was Scootaloo. That was a better name, that was a great name. She looked lovingly over at her scooter. The wooden base, the wheels, the handle. Her helmet. They'd gotten her the helmet and made her wear it. She didn't want to at first, but now... now it was cool. And it saved her sometimes. She stretched out her foreleg, way, way out, and gave the helmet a little tap with her hoof. Helmet.
Ah, crumbs. Now she'd moved. Ow! Her tummy was really hot. The sun had soaked in like hot honey and her own coat was burning her belly. Scootaloo rolled over onto the grass. Ow! That just pressed her coat in closer to her stomach!
She endured it. It burned. She was Dash's heroine again, on a big grill! She could endure the torture, she was Daring Scoot! She gritted her teeth, staring out over the vast jungle of grass stems, at the distant, ancient temple of Sugarcube Corner. What mysteries awaited there? But first, she had to endure the trial of the burning grill!
The orange filly sighed. Her belly was cooler now. She lay her head down flat, the sweet smell of soil and grass in her nostrils. The greensward was her favorite place to lay in the sun on a long, lazy summer day. She stuck her tongue out and tasted the sweet blades in front of her. A small nibble filled her mouth with sun-drenched savor. You weren't supposed to eat the grass once it had gotten too short, but one little nibble wouldn't hurt. Everypony liked the greensward. It got nibbled short pretty fast.
Earlier she had been angry. She tried to remember what had made her mad. Oh. Yeah. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom didn't want to crusade today. Maybe they wanted to, but they couldn't. It was hard to remember. There was summer cotton in Scootaloo's noggin, and she couldn't think straight. Besides. Details weren't a summer thing. Summer was for more important stuff.
Like that clump of grass over there. Scootaloo raised her head, then lowered it so that her muzzle was flat to the ground. Grass stems rose on either side of it. There, ahead, was a tall clump. Nopony had noticed it. It was there for the nibbling. There was another, too, just to the side, and farther away. Twice as tall as the short grass. It was legal to gobble that. It wouldn't hurt the lawn.
The clumps were clouds. Scootaloo was soaring through the sky of green. She had just won the Pegasus Cup and was doing victory laps outside the arena in Cloudsdale. She dug her rear hooves into the grass and dirt and pushed her body over the grass. A few inches. A few more. She was approaching the first grass-clump cloud. She was racing Rainbow Dash, in the sky, and who would get to the cloud first?
Dash was zooming ahead, oh no! Scootaloo pushed harder into the earth with her rear legs, forcing her body through the grass, her forelegs trailing at her sides. Faster! Faster! In a burst of incredible speed, she zoomed past Dash and made it to the cloud first! She could see the tears of admiration on Rainbow's muzzle. "You're the best, kid. I'm super amazed!" Everypony was cheering! The Pegasus Cup wasn't important now, what mattered was that Dash had finally acknowledged her. It was the best day ever.
Scootaloo turned her head sideways and encompassed the clump of grass like a Quarry Eel. Chomp! She was a great eel, snapping out of the canyon face! Om, nom, nom. The grass was sweet and tender. It was so good. It tasted of endless summer days, of the way the sunlight trickles through the leaves and flows into all the hidden places and secret corners. Thick gooey sunlight drenching everything with warmth and golden wonder.
And the grass smelled, too. It smelled of green and the sharp tang that only comes when grass is at the peak of flavor. It almost melted in her mouth as she chewed it. She didn't want to swallow, not yet, not until every little drop of summer had been savored from it. Not until the last of the sunshine had trickled down her throat like a glowing golden river.
When she did swallow, there was nothing left of the grass but the material of it, the magic having been long since absorbed into her, filling her senses with languid days of light and sky. Scootaloo sighed. She was bored but not bored. This must be what life was like for the princesses. Forever, just stretching out like an endless, eternal summer.
If Sweetie Belle was here, they could work on that song. If Apple Bloom was here, she'd take her for a ride on her scooter and they could race over the little hills and catch some air. Where were they? It wasn't fair. Oh, yeah, they had stuff to do today. Whatever. Dumb stuff. Summer wasn't for dumb stuff. It was for the important things.
Like that next clump. Where was it? Scootaloo rolled and twisted her head. She'd seen it before, she knew she had. It wasn't where she thought it was. Now she couldn't find it. She was lost in the sky, endless blue... green... surrounding her, with no idea where she was. No clouds! And somehow the ground was gone too! How would she survive? She was the Great Scootaloo, the bestest flyer in Equestria! She must have traveled so fast she had flown past the edge of Equestria itself, and now she was beyond the distant Exponential Lands, out in the Potential Void. Somehow she must find her way back to the curving edge of the world.
There it was! She had a chance. The edge of the world looked like her scooter, a comforting sight for one lost in the Void. Pushing mightily with her hooves and flapping her wings, she struggled to fight the winds of the Void to reach the thin fabric of the world again! Closer, and closer! There it was! The wooden board of the world, the wheels of... of Equestria, and the... uh... Great Helmet of the... Thing, and she was going to make it, the Great Scootaloo was nearly there, nearly there, finally....
There. Scootaloo rested her head on the flat surface of her scooter. It smelled like sun-warmed wood and dust and fun. So much fun. Who needed to fly when a pony could spin off a hill and land still riding? Mostly. Mostly still riding, and not crashing. The helmet was a good idea. Hi, helmet!
Inside the helmet, it was dark. The helmet was a cave. A strange, domed cave, with a chin strap... fence. It was a fence to keep adventurers out! But not the Great Scootaloo. She nosed her muzzle closer and closer to the cave entrance, feeling the fence pass beneath her... jaw... as she entered the cave of darkness and wonder. Now part of her head was inside, in the strange... stuffy... hot... darkness. Alright, not so fun.
Scootaloo rolled back, her head beside her scooter. She could go for a ride. She could try that new trick. Only there wasn't anypony to see.
Briefly, Scootaloo wished there was school. That was weird. Why would she want school? That was dumb. Of course, if there was school, there would be Sweetie and Apple Bloom, and Cheerilee would probably have something for them to do and it might even be fun. No. What is wrong with you, Scootaloo? She shook her head. Summer was better. No school. No dumb lessons. No stupid stuff.
Summer was for important things. Like.... like... Laying in the grass. Somepony had to do that. It was an important job. It wasn't really summer unless grass got laid on. No, that wasn't what was important. No. There was something more important. The most importantest thing of all.
Ice Cream. Summer was for Ice Cream. The sweet treasure at the end of every summer adventure. It was the meaning of life, the greatest goal, the truth of being itself. Ice cream at the end of a long, lazy summer day. And it was time. The sun was close to the treetops now, it had gotten late in the afternoon. It was time. The best time.
She had soared the skies with Rainbow Dash, and been a Quarry Eel. She had been lost in the Potential Void at the very edge of the world! And she had explored the mysterious Cave of Stuffiness. It was time. It was the moment when all the danger, all the excitement, all the adventure finally paid off. It was when the world made sense. It was what was important.
Scootaloo sat up and grabbed her helmet with her forelegs. She nosed around in it until she found the place in the lining where she stuck her coins. Still there. The precious three bits. One bit a cone. She had enough for Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, but they weren't here. That couldn't be helped. A pony had to do what a pony had to do, and that meant eating ice cream with, or without her sister crusaders.
She nibbled a single bit loose from its moorings. Holding it in her teeth she slipped her helmet over her head with her forelegs, and gave it a rap with a hoof. Solid.
Rolling onto her legs, she put a hindhoof onto the scooter, and stepped into place. She wrapped her fetlocks over the handles. Ready for take off. Everything is ready. The golden bit gleamed in her teeth, shining in the light of the setting sun.
It was time. The moment that made, or broke a day had arrived. The moment of truth.
Scootaloo began flapping her wings. First slowly, to get the muscles warmed up. Then faster and faster, pushing her wheels through the grass. She turned the handlebars, curving back towards Sugarcube Corner. The angle was right....right... there! Aimed correctly. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
The orange blur shot forward towards the sweetshop, across the greensward, and the grass was sky and Scootaloo was flying, and at the end of it all was the Important Thing, cold and sweet and delicious, and it was summer.
It was all summer in a cone.
Her sister was being fussy again. This was nothing new, but today Rarity's picky ways seemed more frustrating than usual, because today was a magic day.
There were all kinds of days, Sweetie Belle thought, as she carefully unrolled yards and yards of silk out over the wide floors of the boutique. There were sleep-in days, though never enough of them. There were good school days, when Cheerilee had stories to tell or when she showed off things from her past, and great school days when Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were away with their father in some big city. And there were bad school days, when the Sugar Rumps were not away and being their usual selves.
But the best days weren't school days at all. The best days were summer days, when there was time to wander through the flowers in the green behind Sofas and Quills, or stand on the bridge near the City Hall and listen to the water sing of how much it wanted to make it to the sea. And bestest of all were special days. Special summer days.
And this was a special summer day, only Rarity had to use it all up airing out her silk.
"Silk has to breathe, little sister, it simply MUST!" She always went on about stuff like that. "If silk doesn't get a chance to breathe, why, it positively suffocates! Nopony would want suffocated silk! Why I'd become the laughing stock of the Textile Society! It would just be the WORST! They'd all be going 'Rarity, darling, what DID you do to that silk, strangle it?' Can you imagine?"
Actually, Sweetie Belle could imagine that scene quite well, and every time she did it made her laugh. In her version fabric guards show up from Canterlot Castle and haul her sister away in irons, where she is put in a curiously muddy cell and forced to iron cheap linen to atone for strangling the silk. While Sweetie Belle got a chuckle out of the thought when she was feeling particularly annoyed, it also made her sad. She wouldn't want anything bad to happen to her sister, not really.
She just wanted to... go.
It was summer. Right out there. Outside, beyond the delicate arches of the windows, beyond the spotless floor of the Carousel Boutique, and it was green and yellow and warm and filled with wonders.
But it might as well have been on the moon. Sweetie Belle imagined herself as princess Luna, stuck on the moon, looking back at the wide, flat world, her love of the diamonds of the night replaced by a yearning even for the warm glories of her sister. Sweetie Belle was trapped in the Moon Boutique.
It even looked like the moon, all white floored and empty. Empty except for the silk.
The floors and ponnequins were being increasingly draped with rainbows of silk, silk everywhere. Hanging from the carousel itself, covering the shelves, unrolled over every polished, meticulously clean surface.
Rarity handled the stuff up high, she wouldn't let Sweetie Belle levitate her silk that way. It was Sweetie's job to roll out the silk on the floor, and over the ponnequins and even up the stairs and into the bedrooms. Opal had been sent to stay with Fluttershy; there was no trusting the cat around unrolled silk. The result would be, as her sister would put it, "A DISASTER of UNPARALLELED dimensions of HORROR!"
There was no question that there would be a lot of ruined silk. Sweetie Belle found it hard to consider that a disaster, exactly, compared to what happened with those parasprites, or what sort-of happened with the Ursa. It was clear that her big sister had a wider, looser definition of what constituted a disaster than she did. Or anypony did.
Now Sweetie Belle was working with white silk. She probably wasn't supposed to be unrolling it, she couldn't remember. There was some silk that Rarity had told her not to do, to just let her deal with it, but who could remember all of that stuff? Silk was silk, and fussing over what color it was just seemed silly. Why should some colors be more special than other colors?
Cheerilee always told them that every color was special, and that all the colors needed each other to make the world beautiful. Cheerilee was the best teacher ever.
Sweetie Belle had to be really careful, and there were rules to follow. If she used her teeth, she had to be careful not to get the silk wet; front teeth only, and always a dainty bite. If she needed to use her hooves, she had to wear the hoofcovers, so that nothing might dirty the silk. This was silly, Sweetie Belle thought, because the hoofcovers were slippery on the floor, which was polished so shiny that it could be used as a mirror when the sunlight hit it just so. And on top of that, she had to take a bath and wash her hooves extra-special, with the hoof brush and everything, before any of this started in the first place.
If the boutique, or Sweetie Belle herself could be any cleaner, why, something in the world would just explode from the sheer cleanliness somehow. Everything was cleaner than clean. Sometimes her sister was really weird.
Sweetie Belle still wasn't good at using her horn. She kept practicing, but it was just really hard. Sometimes she wondered if she was broken somehow, like Scootaloo. They'd talk about that and end up sighing at the stuff they couldn't do right. She was missing Scootaloo right now. They were supposed to have fun together, because it was a special day.
"Special Day? What could be more special than SILK! Look at it Sweetie Belle! Glorious, fabulous silk! The creamy texture, the divine shades and hues! What could ever compare out there in that dirty old world of grass-stains and dirty, filthy DIRT with spending the day in here with the Creme de la Creme of fabrics?"
Sweetie Belle had thought of twelve things before her sister had finished. It wasn't fair.
The white silk billowed out after a careful push from Sweetie Belle's covered hooves. The shimmering bolt rippled and fluttered as it rolled across the carousel floor all the way to the opposite wall. It looked like snow, or clouds. It was so shiny that Sweetie Belle could see the hues of summer reflected in the silk from the view outside the wide windows.
Greens and blues and the soft earth-tones of the cottages. A touch of red from the shop across the way. The silk was like a river, shining in the light from outside. The sight made Sweetie Belle wistful. She should be out there, out in the warm air, out chasing butterflies, out crusading for her cutie mark, out with her friends. The silk was almost special.
But it wasn't special day special.
"SIS!!! Please! I wanna go play before the sun goes down! I was gonna meet Scoot and Apple Bloom! They're expecting me!"
Rarity had entered the room from upstairs, where she had been laying out the golden silk to catch the summer air. Her little sister's eyes were so wide and so pleading. Her little lip was quivering like a leaf in the wind. How could she not love the beauty of such lovely....
The white silk was spread all over the floor. Not on the floor. Never white silk on the floor, the top of the carousel, maybe, draped over the ponnequins, surely, but NOT ON THE FLOOR!
The quivering became a lip-quake, the eyes pools of ready-to-cry tears. Tears that would drip right on the white silk.
"Sweetie, you've been of such help to me today. I think... I think you've earned this." Her little sister looked up in surprise, her expectation of a scolding disrupted. A single, golden bit floated over to her and hovered in front of her muzzle, encompassed in Rarity's glowing magic.
"I think you've been cooped up in her for far too long. You should go get ice cream with your friends..." Rarity looked outside the big windows "... while there is still some day left. Here..." She floated two more coins over to her little sister, and held them until Sweetie Belle had all three gripped safely in her teeth.
"Now run along, and have some fun, alright?" Rarity opened the door with her magic, carefully, in case there was any wind that might affect the silk.
"Mmm Hmmm. Hmmmk Hmuuu!" Sweetie dashed for the doorway.
"You're welcome, dear sister. Ta Ta! Say hello to your little friends from me..." But Sweetie Belle was gone now, out into the silkless, grass-stained world.
Sweetie Belle galloped out into the late afternoon, the candied scents of flowers flooding her mind. Birdsong tickled her ears beside the wind from her own running, and the soft warm earth beneath her hooves softened the drumming beat as her gallop turned into a canter.
It felt so good to be free, to be out in the bright day. The warm fragrant air made her feel like she was floating in some sweetwater sea of expectant joy. Today truly was a special day after all.
The taste of metal in her mouth reminded her that she carried treasure, bits enough for herself and her friends to savor the proper ending to a summer afternoon. Her sister's generosity had made her lost day into a bountiful afternoon at least, and Sweetie Belle was already imagining the cool ice cream melting in her mouth, the sweetness drizzling down her throat like some icy stream of pure summer bliss.
She had to find her friends, her sister crusaders, a new quest was at hand. There was no cutie mark in this new quest. They had already tried to get Ice Cream Crusader Cutie Marks and that had ended in upset tummies and somehow, inexplicably, tree sap in their coats. Not one of them could remember how that had happened, or why.
Rather, this was a quest for something almost as grand as getting a cutie mark, something precious and good just the same. There was no realm like the Empire Of Summer, and only one way to rear up triumphant within it, as conqueror. To succeed at summer took neither cape nor badge nor mark, instead it took the right moment, just before Celestia's sun dropped below the horizon, and just the right treat.
The sun was low, racing for the tops of the trees, chasing the remaining day to see who might win before night took all. Where could her friends be? Sweetie Belle galloped again, her wind returned, searching the streets, her teeth clamped with terrible ferocity on the precious coins. Stirrup Street held neither Apple Bloom nor Scootaloo, she had been so sure one of them might be there. Scootaloo at least should be racing down that grand road, she loved to ramp off the slight unevenness of it, catching what air she could, while avoiding what ponies she could.
Sweetie Belle briefly looked over the costume shop, less to seek her friends than to stare at what appeared to be a chicken costume. She wondered if it was the one that Pinkie Pie had worn on Nighmare Night. Briefly she giggled imagining Scootaloo in one sized to fit the little pegasus. Scoot-Scoot-Scootalooooo! She called, as she ran on.
They might have gone bowling, so Sweetie Belle nosed a peek inside the alley; the smell of lane wax and corkleather shoes greeted her, but there was no sign of Apple Bloom or Scootaloo. Certainly not Scootaloo - Mr. Kingpin had made that clear after the Incident. She wondered if the old stallion would ever relent and let Scoots bowl again.
For a moment Sweetie Belle considered the library, but that was just silly. No self-respecting filly would be caught hiding out inside such a dark place on such a bright day. This was summer, and it was obviously a special day, surely everypony could see that much. Definitely not the library then.
By now Sweetie Belle was feeling winded again, and her gallop had become an amble. She was breathing around her coins, sweat making her coat feel damp. It was drying in the warm, bright air, and the coolness of that felt good, but it also felt uncomfortable too. Sweetie Belle didn't like her coat to be damp. She felt the little hairs standing up all over her back and flanks, the better to catch the drying breeze.
There were no sign of her sister crusaders amidst the market stalls, sadly. But there were the delightful smells and sights of the many things on offer. Sweetie Belle paused to sniff the scented soaps in their wooden cart, the strange and familiar mixing in her nose, making a banquet of curious sensations.
A fruit cart held bananas, a treat raised on a special plantation just behind Castle Mountain where Canterlot had been built into the living rock. There, it was said, the pegasai kept the weather always warm, and always hot, a tiny land of forever summer, tropical and shining. It must be wonderful to live there, Sweetie Belle thought. Summer that never ended, it was such a beautiful dream.
Finally she came to the greensward by the bridge, not far from her ultimate goal: Sugarcube Corner. Perhaps, perhaps the Call Of Summer would be profound enough, on this special day, to gather those who had hearts young and pure enough to heed it. The Call that brought all who truly loved summer to the same conclusion, that no proper summer day should end without the promise of ice cream.
Ahead of her, Sweetie Belle saw an orange blur shooting like a meteor across the grass. It could only be one pony, Scootaloo. She was already too far ahead to call, but Sweetie Belle tried just the same "Scootaloo! Scootalooo!!!" but there was no point. She knew that Scootaloo had only one thing on her mind, and there was only one place she could possibly be going. Scootaloo understood summer, and obeyed its loving command. She was probably the best subject of summer of the three of them, even above Apple Bloom, always busy on her farm.
Sometimes Sweetie Belle envied Scootaloo, which is why she teased her. Scootaloo reveled fearlessly in her dreams and her swiftness and her love of the seasons. And of all the seasons, none crowned the splendid and royal wonderland of summer.
Sugarcube Corner, where the ice cream was. Sweetie Belle galloped again, her three golden treasures still in her teeth, her hooves pounding the ground. Soon they would be together, soon there would be sweetness and laughter and sticky drops of confection in their coats which no amount of licking would entirely remove. Sweetie Belle smiled at the thought, as she ran, of the inevitable scolding she would get from her sister, and the bath she would need to take later to get the ice cream out. But for all the scolding, she knew her sister would give her coins for ice cream again.
The door jingled as she entered, a happy sound. That jingle was unique, and it sang of candy and cakes, of sweets and pastries and cookies and cupcakes. But mostly it sang the song of bright smiles, of laughing friends, and of the specialness of the most special of days.
The days of sunshine and ice cream.
The barn needed fixin' again. There was always something needing fixin'. The fence, out by the pigs, big brother was workin' on that. And sis was buckin' her apples. Even Granny was mendin' the comforter, what with fall a'comin an all. Something always needed fixin'.
Apple Bloom kicked the iron post with a hoof, lightly. The metal post gave a little twang. She kicked it again, watching the powdery, dry dirt around the base of it puff up with the kick. It left little, still, dust ripples that kinda made the dirt look like water, only it wasn't, 'cause it was dirt.
Twang. She could probably help with somethin'. She probably should help with somethin'. But she didn't want to.
Apple Bloom clomped over to a horseshoe, laying in the dirt. There were a bunch of 'em, from the last time her sis played with Rainbow Dash. They was always playin' and roughhousin and stuff when Rainbow came over. Apple Bloom put her own hoof over the huge horseshoe. It was painted blue. The paint was chipped all along one side, letting the metal shine through. Not shine, exactly. More like a dull gleam. Yeah, gleam was the word. They'd learned 'gleam' back before summer, along with 'gleaming', 'shimmer' and... another word like that.
Cheerilee always was goin' on about how words was important, and the more ya knew, the more tools ya had. That didn't make much sense, Apple Bloom thought. There was a lot of tools in the barn, and more in the shed. She couldn't see how learnin' words would make more tools appear. You needed bits to make tools appear, and that was the one thing there was never enough of. Apple Bloom would'a gladly traded some of her fancy words for some bits right now.
Sometimes it was hard, growin' up on a farm. It was mostly good. There was sis and big brother and granny, and stuff to do. There was always trees to buck and apples to pack and sometimes there was cider to make. The pigs needed carin' for, and there was always something to fix or mend.
And there were fun times, like running through the trees and chasing sis and riding around on big brother's back. And there was the pond to go swimmin' in or the clubhouse. The crusaders wouldn't have a clubhouse except for sis givin' them her old one. And there were rabbits to chase away from the apples and straw divin' and barn hidin' and playin' in the big mud pit out back, too.
But some days, growin' up on a farm wasn't so good. Especially on certain summer-type days when the sun was just so, and the air was still and it was hot and there was that feelin' to it all. Funny days. Days when nothin' was quite right, and yet not wrong exactly. Days when a pony just felt lonely and not like doin' anything, but still feelin' all restless inside, like you were gonna burst somehow, only you never did.
There was a strange kinda yearnin' that hid in summer. It prowled around the weeks somewhere in the middle, after the thrill of school bein' over done wore off but before the strange mix of sad and expectant that came from waitin' for school to start again. Somewhere in there, that was when the yearnin' lived.
And when it hit, there was nothin' any pony could do. Leastways nothin' Apple Bloom knew what to do. She'd asked her sis about it, but she didn't have an answer. "Y'all just gotta get through it, that's all. Why ah used ta get that funny old feelin' all the time, right smack in the middle ah summer. Still do, sometimes. Nothing to do but just keep busy, tha's what ah always do." Only Apple Bloom didn't want to be busy. That was the last thing she wanted to be doing was busy.
But she also didn't wanna be doin' nothing, either! It was a right quandary, no two ways about it. She didn't know what she wanted, but she knew plain as the day was long what she didn't want. She didn't want to be fixin' or mendin' or doin' any chores at all. And she didn't want to be out in the mud, nor the pond, nor even running around under the trees.
When she felt this way, sometimes the trees was scary like. The breeze goin' through all those leaves sounded lonely in a way that Apple Bloom didn't have a name for, and the quiet around the shissshing of the leaves almost seemed like it was stalking her, like it was ready to pounce somehow. And the sunlight, making little patterns on the ground, it was strange and oppressive, and the heat just made the air seem like it was tryin' to pull the wet right outta your throat.
It was a malady, was what it was. Summer malady. Doldrums. That was what granny called it. Doldrums. That old doldrums had been sniffin' and a prowlin' and a sneaking around the weeks, waiting for the right day to pounce on, and that musta been what happened. Apple Bloom looked at the side of the barn, behind the other post. Needed paintin'. Somethin' always needed fixin.
The doldrums had up and grabbed onto her, Apple Bloom reckoned. It was the worst part of summer, but it was a strange kind of bad. It wasn't fun, but she didn't want to trade it for the summer bein' over or anything. It still felt better than school, or workin' fixin' stuff. It was like a lazy sadness. It felt good, sorta, because it was all lazy-like, but it also felt sad, because it wasn't fun and it made everything not worth doin'. It was a sticky kind of sad. Summer was complicated, Apple Bloom decided, and sighed.
Doldrums was perfect for sighin'. You could sigh all day, and it would seem like the most right thing to be doin' with your time. You could start sighin' and soon as you knew, the day would be over and the sun would be goin' down. Apple Bloom gave the other post a little kick.
She could go stare at the pigs. No, that was too much work. Plus it was on the shadow side of the barn, and right now the sun was soaking into her flanks, and into her hocks an' quarters an' cannons an' it felt pretty good. That was one thing about when a doldrums caught you: the sun was extra warm and you could stand forever and it would be as good as goin' to the fair or somethin'. The doldrums had mind magic that made standin' and soakin' up the sun seem like the bestest thing ever. For a while, anyway.
Apple Bloom turned so that the sun shone down on her poll and forehead, and warmed her ears and back. She needed to let her hindquarters cool off for a bit. It'd kind of sneak up on ya, that sun. One minute you'd be baskin'n in it, and the next all filled with ouchies because your hocks were too hot.
Hot hocks. Hocks hot. Hot hot hocks. Hock hock. Words was weird, when you was caught by a doldrums.
There was only one surefire cure for a doldrums, one thing that'd scare that old summer beastie plum away. But the cure cost money. Money Apple Bloom didn't have. All she needed was a single bit. Just one! One bit wasn't much!
But sis said that they needed to save all the bits. The barn needed fixin' and they was still savin' up for granny's hip, and they needed somethin' for the kitchen. There was a whole list of things. Apple Bloom wished she could put one more thing on that list of stuff that needed bits for fixin'. Apple Bloom. She needed fixin'.
She heard a clanging sound. Looking down, she found it was her hoof kicking the horseshoe post again. She hadn't remembered decidin' to do that. Doldrums was funny like that. You could be standing there, minding your own business, soaking up the sun, and find you done started doing something for some reason, only you didn't know why.
Well, it felt good, somehow, to be kickin' the post. So what they hay. Apple Bloom decided to focus on the task, clearly it needed doin'.
"Heya there, little sis. whatcha doin?"
Apple Bloom didn't know how long she'd been standing there. "Hi, sis. Just kickin' the post, I guess."
Applejack watched her sister slowly, repetitively kicking the horseshoe post. Clang. Clang. Clang.
"Hang on there, a moment, Apple Bloom. Don't you go runnin' off, y'hear?"
"Sure." It wasn't like there was any other place better to be. Apple bloom looked up. She saw the tail of her sister going 'round the barn, back toward the house. The light was funny. It wasn't as warm now. Oh. Somehow it was late afternoon. How'd that happen? It was noon just a moment ago. Somehow summer got time all messed up. It must be one of the mysteries of the world. Funny old time.
Sis was back. She had something in her teeth. It sparkled all yellow-like. She spat whatever it was onto an upturned hoof.
"Ah reckon you have a bad case of the doldrums, sis. An' only one cure for that, 'cordin to granny, and ah ain't about to argue with granny. So hold yur hoof out, sugarcube."
"OK." Tink, tink, tink. It was three golden bits, right there in Apple Bloom's hoof, restin' up against the inside of her hoof wall, and balanced on the ridge of her frog. "What's this fer? Ya need me ta go ta town and get somethin' fer tha farm?"
"Yes. I need ya to fix somethin' that needs fixin' real bad. Don't let me down, sis. It's real important." Applejack looked very serious. It must be something important.
"OK, whatcha need me ta git?" Apple Bloom sighed. She couldn't help it, it just had ta come out.
"Ah need ya to march yourself down to Sugarcube corner and git yourself a big 'ol ice cream cone. An' git one for yer friends too, if ya kin find 'em. Th' cure work's better with friends. Think ya can handle it?" Big sis was smiling, all wise and smart and self-proud too.
"THANK YOU SIS!" Apple Bloom didn't mean to cry, she was a big pony now, so it must'a been the doldrums again, makin' her cry. Darn doldrums.
She almost dropped the precious coins hugging her sister real tight. "Ya take care now, not ta lose them bits, alright?"
"I'll be real careful!" Apple Bloom took the bits in her teeth and held them nice and firm. "Ank Ooh!"
"Yur welcome, Apple Bloom. Now GIT! Granny says you gotta get that ice cream into ya before the sun sets or the cure won't work. So git'a goin' sis."
"Ohay!" And with that, Apple Bloom was galloping off, past the barn, past the house where granny waved as she ran past, and on down the road that led into town.
As Apple Bloom galloped faster and faster she could feel the old doldrum being left behind in her dust. She could almost sense the ancient monster of summer falling further and further behind. Ahead she could see the tall tower of the city hall, the sun sinking lower in the sky, nearly touching the treetops behind Ponyville.
She quickly raced over the bridge and dashed across the wide greensward that was the shortest path directly to Sugarcube Corner. The words of both her sis and granny were in her mind "The cure won't work, less'n ya take it before the sun sets!" She hoped that Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo would be there, she didn't have time to go looking for them.
It was supposed to be a special day, but Sweetie Belle had to help her sister, and she herself had been needed on the farm, only she hadn't been a lick of help all day. She just couldn't do anything with that old doldrum on her like that. But Applejack had seen to her. Sis always saw to her.
Only Scootaloo had been free. Scootaloo was always free. But that was because she didn't have any family makin' demands on her. Sometimes Apple Bloom envied her that. Then she remembered how much she loved her sis and big brother and granny and then she felt mad at herself for even thinking that way. Besides, she knew Scootaloo envied her. She'd told her so, once.
Apple Bloom nudged open the door to Sugarcube Corner, and pushed her way inside, the coins still gripped tightly in her teeth. If only Scoot and Sweetie could get here, they could all have ice cream together, and the doldrums would be scared away so far he might never come back! Apple Bloom searched the sweetshop for any sign of her friends.
"APPLE BLOOM! OVER HERE!" It was Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle too, at the table in the corner, over by the jars of hard candies. They already had ice cream. They were havin' ice cream without her! Apple Bloom's heart sank as she clomped over to them. She could feel the doldrum creeping up again.
"What's the matter, Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle was licking her cone, filled with lemon ice cream with little candy sprinkles on it. "take a bit and go get an ice cream!"
"Or take TWO! You can have a double double super scoop! We've got a fortune! Look!" Scootaloo grinned broadly over her huge cone of ice cream as Apple Bloom looked up at the table top. There were three bits on the table. "We already spent three, we had six a moment ago!"
Tink Tink Tonk. "Now there's six again! Mah sis gave me some bits ta share!" Apple Bloom was smiling now, and the doldrum was running for the Everfree as fast as it could go.
"We're super rich!" Scootaloo was practically bouncing, fortunately she quieted down before her ice cream landed on the floor.
"WE'RE CUTIE MARK EARLY RETIREMENT INVESTMENT BANKER SUPER RICH CRUSADERS!!!" they all shouted in unison.
"How'do we do that, anyway?" Apple Bloom wondered out loud.
"Don't know. Guess we're just good at crusading." Scootaloo took a big bite of ice cream and instantly regretted it, her eyes crossed from the exquisite agony of brain freeze.
"Go get some ice cream, Apple Bloom! It's almost sundown!" Sweetie Belle nodded at the window, where the sky had become a soft pink.
Apple Bloom took a bit from the table and went to the counter. "I need ah ice cream that'll beat the doldrum once'n fer all!" She tossed the coin down.
"Wooo! I know just what you mean! I had a doldrum chasing me once, and I had to run all over the place, but it was right behind me and then it was in front of me - wait, that was because I was being tricky and stopped and let it run past me - but then it came back and so I climbed a tree, only who knew that doldrums could climb? I sure didn't! Let me tell you those doldrums can climb really good so then I had to..."
"PINKIE! Ahm sorry ta interrupt, but the sun is setting an' ah need my ICE CREAM NOOOWWW!"
"Here ya go." It was a double scoop triple fudge with little candy stars and a smile face drawn in bright pink frosting with a cherry on top that also had a little smile face painted on it in chocolate.
"How.... wha..." There was no explaining it. Apple Bloom hadn't seen Pinkie make the cone, but she must have. "T-Thank you.... thank you for the ice cream!"
"Remember to smile while you eat it! Doldrums can't stand a smiling ice-cream eater, it's their most un-favoritest thing EVER!" The pink pony grinned and blinked at Apple Bloom.
Apple Bloom carefully carried her cone back to the table where her friends sat. With some effort she managed to get seated, and got the cone safely held between her fetlocks where she could relax and enjoy it. She took a tentative lick.
Rich chocolate filled her mouth, sweet yet with that little bitter edge that nips at the tongue like a playful puppy. Somber tones, like chocolate trumpets sounded in her mouth when she pressed her tongue against her palate, squeezing the flavor deep into it.
"Remember to smile!" Pinky winked at her and trotted back into the kitchen. Oh yeah, remembered Apple Bloom. Doldrums can't stand a smiling ice cream eater.
More licks turned into nibbles as double scoop triple fudge worked its powerful summertime magic. For once the crusaders had nothing to say, their mouths filled with the treasure of a perfect moment, their smiles wide, their eyes half closed from the sweet joy that seemed to fill the world.
This was summer. Finally, this was summer in all its glory, all the beauty of life on their tongues, cold wonder sliding down their throats, the red sunset charming the world in a secret blush of innocent love. This was what they had needed, this was the perfect end to a magic day.
However short, or lonely, or busy or empty the day, all of summer could be rescued with this simple magic. They had made it, before sundown, and they had managed to do it together, the ritual of summer. The great rite of childhood, that was open to anypony however old they might be. The binding magic that cleansed the world of doldrums, evaporated sadness, shone light into the dark corner of loneliness.
All it took to do the greatest summer magic was a friend, a moment, and of course the special and wondrous sacrament.
The simple, pure miracle that was ice cream at the end of a hot summer day.