Ellis walked alongside Applejack as she hauled the cart of apples along the dirt trail to the Apple family barn.
“So,” Ellis recapped, “Whatcher sayin’ is that y’all own this whole apple grove?”
“That’s right!” Applejack replied proudly. “S’called Sweet Apple Acres! The Apple family owns all this land, and it’s our job tah provide the apples fer Ponyville!”
Ellis scratched his head. “Ponyville? Now that right there just sounds silly.”
The orange mare gave him an inquisitive look. “Silly? Now why’s that?”
“Well, fer one thing, we don’t have a town named ‘Humanville’ where Ahm from. Why would y’all name a place after your species?”
Applejack gave a scoff. “Well don’ go askin’ me that stuff. Ponyville’s been around fer a loooong time. Ah grew up right next to it.”
“Well Ah don’t mean to offend, ma’am. Ahm sure it’s nice an’ all.”
“Don’t sweat it, Ellis.” Applejack assured. Honestly, she felt silly talking to a stranger so freely, not to mention said stranger was twice as tall as her and walked on two legs. But she was fascinated by Ellis; he was the farthest anything could be from looking like a pony, yet he and Applejack share so many similarities. A question formed into her mind.
“So, Ellis, where are you from?”
He grinned with gusto. “Me? Ah was born n’ raised in good ol’ Savannah, Georgia!”
“Suhvannergeorgah? Never heard of it...”
Ellis frowned. “S’nice place! Lotsa stuff tah do!”
Applejack put her hoof to her chin. “That anywhere near Manehatten?”
Ellis blinked. “Manehatten?”
“How ‘bout Stalliongrad?”
She paused. “...Neighpon?”
“AW C’MON NOW YER JUS’ MAKIN’ THIS STUFF UP!”
She giggled. “Dunno why yer frettin’ over names. They’re just places.” Ellis sighed in defeat.
Another question hit her. “Hey, Ellis, whaddya do fer a livin’?”
Ellis shrugged. “Ahm a mechanic; Ah work on cars.”
Applejack craned her neck behind her over the yoke, looking at the wagon she was hauling. “Carts?”
”Cars.” Ellis enunciated.
“What the hay is that?”
“Machines ya put gasoline in an’ they move on their own.”
“That anything like trains?”
“Kinda-sorta, ‘cept they don’t run on tracks. Never worked on a train, though.” Ellis looked over at the earth pony. “What about you? Whaddayou do fer a living?”
“Ahm an applebucker.”
Ellis halted in confusion. He dug the wax out of his ear with his pinkie. “Run that by me again?”
“Ahm an applebucker. Ah buck apples.” Applejack repeated.
Ellis still didn’t catch it. “Care to elaborate?”
Applejack huffed. “Ah harvest the apples by kickin’ the trees with mah hind legs! Is that such a outlandish concept to ya?”
Ellis waved his hand. “Naw, naw... ah just misheard ya is all. Thought ya said somethin’ else...” Ellis trailed off as a thought hit his head. A smile spread across his face.
“Say, Applejack, when do ya start buckin’ apples?”
Applejack smirked with pride, since someone wanted to talk about her profession. “It’s applebuckin’ season now. Ah start buckin’ ‘em at the crack a’ dawn.”
Ellis snorted “An’ fer how long atta time do ya buck ‘em?”
“Ah buck ‘em all day from sunrise tah sunset!”
Ellis snickered. “An’ how hard do ya buck ‘em?”
“Ah give ‘em mah signature, hard, buckin’!”
Ellis lost it. He collapsed to the ground, clutching his stomach, hooting and hollering, laughing harder than he ever laughed before. Applejack was dumbfounded.
“What’s so funny ‘bout applebuckin’, huh?” She yelled, hot-faced. Ellis continued to chortle. “Ah’ve bucked apples all mah life! AH BUCK ‘EM ‘TILL AHM DARN NEAR SORE!!!”
Ellis hollered even louder and Applejack’s face got redder. Laughter was infectious, though, and she soon found herself cracking, the corners of her mouth turning skyward.
“There ain’t nuthin’... funny bout... oh, consarn it.” She started laughing with Ellis, the two rioting together in oblivious, cathartic laughter. They rolled on the ground and laughed until their sides hurt, until they got a bad case of the hiccups. Tears rolled down their eyes and stupid, goofy grins plastered their faces. They shared the best laugh they both had in a really, really long time. After a minute or so, Ellis and Applejack lay on the ground, gasping for air, jitters and twitches mingling with their bodies. They both turned their head towards each other and gave an honest, glowing smile.
Applejack got up off the ground and reattached the yoke to the cart. “Ah reckon ah just busted mah gut there. Why was that so funny, anyway?”
Ellis grinned slyly. “Ah... no good reason. Jus’ sounded funny to me.”
Applejack looked nonplussed “Mah work is hard an’ hones-”
“Big sis! Big sis!” Apple Bloom shouted from the distance, interrupting Applejack in mid-sentence.
She released a long, tired sigh. “Here we go...”
Ellis leaned over to the farmpony. “Who’s that?” He asked.
Before Applejack could answer, little Apple Bloom came into view. “Applejack! Ah heard ya laughing an’ ah came tah see wha-” She stopped and gawked at Ellis. Compared to Apple Bloom, he was almost four times taller than her. Ellis was starting to fidget from the filly staring at him.
“Uh... hi?” Ellis said cautiously.
Apple Bloom shot forward in the direction of the human like a bullet out of a gun and started racing around his legs like a hyped-up puppy.
“OHMAHGOSH OHMAHGOSH OHMAHGOSH WHATISIT WHATISIT WHATISIT?!?!?!” She blurted all at once. Ellis was starting to feel silly.
Applejack was relieved. ”That coulda gone worse.” She thought. “All right, settle down Apple Bloom. This here’s our new friend.” Apple Bloom stopped racing around Ellis’s legs and sat in front of his legs, craning her neck up the towering figure. Ellis knelt down and stuck out his hand for a hand/hoofshake.
“Name’s Ellis. Ahm a human.” He spoke sincerely. But the filly ignored the gesture and instead inhaled a long gasp of air and began to gush out a stream of questions.
“Ohmahgosh whereareyafrom whatsthatyerwearin howdoyawalkontwolegs areyouanalien doyahaveaspaceship whatsyourcutiemark whatsthatonyourback?”
”Mah back?” Apple Bloom kept babbling on questions as Ellis reached up and grabbed the handle of his “lucky machete.” ”Ah still have it!” He exclaimed in his head. Ellis loved to tell stories, and his “lucky machete” story was quite a doozie.
Before Ellis could begin, though, Applejack shoved a hoof into her little sister’s mouth, effectively silencing her. “Hold up there, sugarcube! Ya meet a stranger an’ yer manners go right out the window?” She released Apple Bloom, who then turned her eyes to the ground and kicked the dirt a little. She raised her eyes to meet Ellis.
“Ahm sorry...” She apologized with shame in her voice.
Ellis gave her a friendly pat on the mane. “Think nuthin’ of it, girl.” She giggled a bit.
Applejack intervened. “Hey, Apple Bloom, why don’t ya go on ahead and tell Big Macintosh and Granny Smith that we’re havin’ a guest over fer supper?”
Apple Bloom gave a mock salute. “Can do, sis!” With that, she galloped off towards the farm.
Ellis scratched the back of his neck. “Aw, man, I don’t mean to impose or anything-”
“Nonsense! It won’t be any trouble! Yer our honored guest now, Ellis!”
“If y’all say so...” Ellis trailed off and walked alongside of Applejack as they trekked the dirt road. The sun above their heads indicated it was a little after noon, and they still had a few more minutes of travel ahead of them. Ellis passed the time with more questions.
“So, Applejack, how big is yer family?”
“HUGE! Why, we got relatives all over Equestria! There’s Fritter, Bumpkin, Red Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Caramel, Strudel, Tart, Braeburn...” She mimicked a counting fingers motion by tapping her hooves together in a similar fashion while naming her relatives. Ellis waved his hands in a cutting off motion.
“Alright, alright, ah get it. How about just the ones that live with you?”
“Well there’s the one you just met, mah little sister Apple Bloom. Over at the farm we got mah brother Big Macintosh and Granny Smith. What about your family?”
Ellis hesitated. He really didn’t want to talk about his family. “Uh... s’not very interesting or as big like yours... I guess I could tell ya ‘bout mah best buddy Keith! Me an him, we grew up together, two peas in a pod! We were brothers in all but blood! Why this one time, me an’ him we rigged up two lawnmowers...”
“Oh look! We’re here!” Applejack interrupted. Ellis sagged a bit in disappointment, but he turned to see a weathered, red barn. He thought it looked homely enough.
“Ahm more of a city boy, but ah did live on a farm fer about 4 months with mah great aunt!” Ellis pipped.
“Y’all don’t have tah worry, sugarcube. We’ll make ya feel right at home.” Applejack reassured. “Welcome to the Apple family homestead!”
As they strolled closer to the barn, a large, red earth pony came to meet them halfway. He had a short, shaggy tan mane, heavy, muscled shoulders and hindquarters, and he had a big, green apple adorning his flank. He switched his wheat stalk to the other corner of his mouth and narrowed his eyes in curiosity at the strange creature waling alongside of his sister. Readjusting the yoke that was commonly seen on his neck, he trotted up to talk to the two.
“So you must be this ‘Ellis’ lil’ Apple Bloom was tellin’ me about.” He spoke with a gentle, baritone voice. “Ah really didn’t know what to expect when she came runnin’ home, shoutin’ about some kinda alien that walked on two legs and that we’re havin’ him over for supper!” He flicked his head to Apple Bloom, who was bouncing right behind him. The workhorse held out hoof. “Name’s Big Macintosh. Ahm Applejack’s older brother.”
Ellis took the hoof and shook it firmly. “Pleasure to meet ya. S’nice tah be meetin’ the family.”
Big Macintosh half-smiled. “Eeyup.” He faced his sister. “I’m gonna get back on the job, sis. Y’all take care, an’ I’ll see ya for supper.”
“Can do, Big Mac.” She gave the apple cart a tug towards the direction of the farm. “C’mon Ellis, ah could use some help with this here load.”
“Sure thing, ma’am.”
Ellis and Applejack made their way to the barn door, Apple Bloom bouncing close beside them. The starry-eyed filly could barely contain her enthusiasm, her mind was bursting with questions. She absorbed every detail about the bipedal creature: his hat, his clothing, the way he walked, the strange black mark on his right ar-
Wait a second...
“Hey, mister! What’s that-”
“Sugarcube!” Applejack cut her off. “Can this wait until we get these here apples in the shade?” Apple Bloom pouted and almost protested, but Ellis gave her a smile.
“It might be best tah listen to yer sister, now. I’ll tell ya everything once I help her get these stored. That sound alright?” The little pony still frowned, but nodded nonetheless. Ellis ran ahead and swung the barn door open, squeaking on its hinges. Applejack pulled the cart into the cool, refreshing shade of the structure’s interior. Once inside, Ellis helped unlatch the cart from the yoke and pushed the cart against the far wall, properly stored. Applejack removed her yoke and hung it on a hook on the barn wall.
“Hoo wee...” She sighed, massaging and stretching her neck. “Feels good tah relax in the shade after some good ol’ hard work.”
“No kidding.” Ellis agreed, taking a seat on a barrel while Apple Bloom follow him intently. “Alright, alright, little buddy, shoot.”
Apple Bloom inhaled deeply, prepared to continue her hyper trivia, when she was once again stopped by her older sister.
“Settle down there, sis. Ask him one at a time.”
Apple Bloom thought hard for a moment, collected herself, and then pointed her hoof to Ellis’s right arm.
“What’s that right there on yer foreleg? Is that where yer cutie mark is?”
Ellis blinked. “Cutie mark?”
“Uh huh!” The little filly squeaked. “Everypony has a cutie mark! It’s something they get when they discover their special talent.” She pointed to Applejack’s flank. “Like mah big sister’s! She got hers when she found her talent in applebucking!”
Ellis took off his hat and scratched his short-cut hair. “Huh... I was kinda wondering what the hell that was. Ah thought it was just trendy.”
“Nope.” Applejack confirmed. “Ah tried to live in Manehatten with mah aunt an’ uncle, but then ah realized that mah place was here on the farm. When ah came home, this appeared on mah flank.” She gestured to the three red apples contrasting her orange fur.
“So they’re basically magically appearin’ ass-tattoos? How the hell does that work?”
She shrugged. Ellis facepalmed.
“Well, whatever. I guess you could say this is a ‘cutie mark’, but it ain’t as girly sounding. Where ahm from, this is called a tattoo.” He rolled up his sleeve to show them the intricate design that was permanently inked onto his arm. Apple Bloom ooh’d and aah’d. “But this didn’t appear on my arm. Ah had it etched on to my skin. Doesn’t make it any less true, though.”
“What does it mean?”
Ellis grinned. “It means ahm a badass zombie killin’ machine!”
The two Apple ponies shared the same flabbergasted expression.
“What, ya don’t believe me? Whaddya think this was for?” With one instinctual motion, he unsheathed his machete and held it out for them to see. It’s blade was chipped and worn, but still sharp enough to cut flesh and bone with enough force. The flat was pitted with rust and the handle was wrapped in grip-tape. To their horror, the nature of this tool was evident to them as the metal was caked with spats of black, dried blood.
“‘Fore ah got here, I went through six kinds a’ zombie hell, an’ this little sucker helped me along the way!” He got on his feet and slashed through the air horizontally a few times. “Hordes of them! Squealin’ an’ hollerin’! Trippin’ over each other tah get a taste of mah blood! Ah could tell ya ah was scared tah death, but then I’d be lyin’! I said, ‘Y’all messed with the wrong Ellis today!’ An’ ah picked up this here machete,” He twirled the blade around in his hand for effect. “An’ weeded mah way through a building full of infected. After all that, ah was covered head tah toe in blood! Stunk tah high heaven ah sure did... Applejack?”
During Ellis’s story both Applejack and her sister backed away from the human. She didn’t know what to think. Gone was the image of a friendly giant, conflicted with the visage of a madman, talking about blood and death like it was a glorious game. Applejack wasn’t ready to believe that Ellis was a psychopath just yet, but the rising fear in her heart threatened to overcome her rational. She was having a hard time believing his outlandish tale, too, but the element of honesty knew that nopony could make this up.
“What’s wrong?” Ellis stepped a bit closer. “S’not like I’d use this on you. You ain’t no zombie.” He spoke sincerely, but Applejack scooted herself and her sister a bit more in reverse, incredibly uncomfortable of the weapon in his hand.
Ellis swore his heart just landed in his stomach when he realized why they were so timid. “Aww shit guys, ahm sorry. Ah didn’t mean tah make ya scared! Ah really am a nice person, but I had tah do what ah had tah do! Them zombies don’t listen to reason-” Ellis was about to sheath the blade, when a newcomer suddenly entered the barn with a tray of baked goods in her mouth.
“Ohmygosh, Applejack!” The pink party pony exclaimed through her clamped teeth, bouncing up and down in her usual mannerism. “You just HAVE to try these apple cupcakes! They’re my new reci-” She froze in mid-bounce as she opened her eyes to the scene before her.
Pinkie Pie remained suspended in mid-air, the tray of cupcakes clattered to the barn floor as her jaw hung open. Ellis, still holding the machete, stood dumbfounded at this affront to the laws of physics. Meanwhile, said pony’s brain was electrified with sudden thoughts. These thoughts were interpreted to the best ability of the author and they are as follows:
Two legs. Scary. Big knife. Blood. Applejack. Hairless monkey. Cupcakes.
Yeah, I don’t know either...
Ellis shifted uncomfortably. “Uh...”
Pinkie released a ear-shattering shriek. “MONSTER!” She bolted out the door, leaving a blurred, pink streak behind her like some kinda cotton candy-colored rocket. The wind tugged at the trees when she raced by them. Ellis could safely conclude that it was impossible to be any more confused at that moment.
Applejack sighed. “There goes the town...”