Applejack and Granny Smith had set the table for dinner, awaiting Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh to arrive at the table. A labourer's dinner of hay, oatmeal porridge, guest drink and a stiff one to sooth the aching muscles of a hard day's work awaited the adults. Apple Bloom had her nice treat of much the same, barring the drink in exchange for juice. A simple meal, but Granny Smith knew well the importance of a strengthening meal over a fancy one.
"Where are those ponies at?" Applejack wondered, remembering having sent Apple Bloom to look for her older brother.
The front door sounded the arrival of two ponies, a young one and an adult and there the other half of the family arrived.
"What took ya'll so long?" Applejack asked as she sat down by the table.
"Oh, I was tellin' Big Mac 'bout this thing in school, is all," Apple Bloom explained.
"Anythin' ya wanna share?"
Big Macintosh gave Apple Bloom an encouraging wink before taking his seat.
"Well... it's a funny story Pip was tellin' us when we caught 'im drawin' this funny thing on the playground durin' recess. It wasn't finished then, but he said it was one of them ponytales up in Trottin'ham 'bout some creature stealin' food. I don't rightly recall how he told it, but I reckon it was some sprite or spirit that lurked 'round the trees and took food when no pony was lookin'"
"Well, that's sumthin'. What did it look like?" Applejack asked.
"Like this," Apple Bloom replied and passed over a detailed drawing.
Applejack threw the paper aside of fright when she first saw the creature detailed in the drawing.
"What manner of apparition is that, I ask!?" Applejack demanded, resting a hoof over her chest, "tryin' 'ta give me a heart attack?"
"It's not that scary," Apple Bloom claimed as Big Macintosh chuckled.
"Wuz that?" Granny Smith asked and Applejack picked up the paper and passed it over.
"Just don't look right at it, Granny Smith," Applejack warned.
"My, quite the resemblance to your uncle, Apple Strudel, ho ho!" Granny Smith joked.
"Am I the only pony here who finds that thing scary?" Applejack demanded as the other three laughed at her.
"Wuz that? A tree spirit, or sumthin'?" Granny Smith asked.
"Like I said before, I don't rightly recall. I just took the drawin' home after school," Apple Bloom repeated.
"You took Pip's drawin'? Why in the world would you do that?" Applejack asked.
"He didn't take it, and I kinda liked it. And Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon would probably give him a hard time if they knew he was drawin' it anyway."
"Now, now, return that drawin' tomorrow, or at least ask permission to keep it. We don't take none of what's not ours in this house, Apple Bloom."
"Fine, I'll do that tomorrow; first thing."
The gathered ponies bit into dinner, but Applejack was still puzzled by that drawing. Such a strange face on a tree. A food thief.
"Still, that is one strange thing to put on paper," Applejack remarked, "this is in Trottin'ham, you say?"
"Uh-huh. Probably wouldn't prowl 'round our orchard, though. But it would be right fun if it did."
"Don't say that, Apple Bloom!"
"Well I had this chill earlier today," Big Macintosh informed, "and it wasn't right at all. A pony should not have been freezin' on a day like this."
"Perhaps its the spirit!" Apple Bloom said enthusiastically. "Pip said it was called the 'Weight of the Watchers' or sumthin' like that!"
"Says 'Wight of the Waters' on the paper," Granny Smith corrected.
"Yeah-yeah, but that might have been it, big brother! You could have felt it's presence!"
"Enough now!" Applejack scolded. "Don't go scarin' other ponies needlessly."
"But you're the only pony scared of it, sis!"
Big Macintosh let out a loud laughter. Applejack was sure they were just playing a prank on her.
"You drew that, didn't you, Big Mac! You took art classes, so I know you can draw!"
Big Macintosh shook his head in denial and kept laughing.
"Laugh it up, but I'm not gonna let you get to me more tonight!" Applejack asserted and finished her meal.
Applejack was awoken from the whimpering coming from Apple Bloom's room. Sure a scare prank was being plotted against her, Applejack snuck up on her sister's door and slid in carefully so as not to make the door creak. To her surprise, Apple Bloom was still in her room, and not doing anything other than spying out the window.
"What'cha doin' up so late, sis?" she asked.
Apple Bloom jumped with fright. "Don't scare me like that!" she hissed under her voice, trying best not to be heard.
"Why you lookin' out the window like that?"
"Somethin's in the barn, and it's tryin' to get out!"
"What're ya talkin 'bout?" Applejack said and glanced out herself, spotting the barn doors rocking back and forth.
"It's a monster for sure!" Apple Bloom cried, still trying to remain silent.
Applejack made a rational headcount and realised one family member had been missing since earlier that day: Winona.
"Gosh darn it, I must've locked our Winona in the barn when I shut the door!" Applejack grunted and trotted downstairs.
"It could be dangerous!" Apple Bloom pleaded from the threshold.
Applejack rolled her eyes as she stepped out into the dark and skipped over to the barn, where Winona could be heard scratching furiously at the woodwork.
"Gonna need to replace some planks after this," Applejack sighed.
Just then she heard a strange noise. It come form the distance, like a heavy trot from a pony heavy as Big Macintosh; no, much heavier than Big Macintosh. Applejack looked to the orchard from where she swore it had come from but saw nothing standing out. A faint flicker or two, perhaps, but nothing conclusive.
"What in tarnation...?"
Applejack had barely touched the padlock before Winona tried to squeeze her head through the non-existent gap between the two doors. Figuring this might not be an easy open-and-get-back-in kind of thing going on, she stopped, went back into the house and fetched a lantern. Just in case Winona was planning on storming off into the night.
Back at the padlock, Applejack turned the key and, much to her suspicion, the little dog shot through the widening gap and soared into the orchard. Applejack groaned loudly at the thought of having to follow the dog out there.
"Where did she go?" Applejack wondered to herself, after the third time she could have thought she had heard Winona's panting.
Big Macintosh held the lantern high and inspected every tree they passed. He was not keen on detail but was still no less thorough for it when he wanted to be.
"I don't think the trees have taken her," Applejack joked and kicked a fallen apple aside. "But dear, oh, dear, have these trees dropped a lot of apples."
"Somepony's disturbed 'em," Big Macintosh asserted.
"Tell me about it. Yeah, we had an apple thief here, no doubtin' it."
"This here don't add up."
"Not sayin' I know much of trails, but it just stops here. Not sure what to make of it." Big Macintosh pointed to the sudden stop of fallen apples.
He hung the lantern over the lowest branch by a nearby tree as the two siblings began surveying the area, not missing a single nook or cranny. They parted ways in agreement to return in five minutes and Applejack tapped her hat to signal trust in her brother staying safe.
Applejack, tired as to be expected, took a short break. She knocked her forehead against the trunk of the tree with the lantern hoping for a pain-induced burst of energy. To her surprise, instead of a hard surface, she found a cushion.
"What the hay...?" she thought and backed away. The bark on this tree looked a little odd. In fact, the whole tree seemed a little out of place. "This ain't our tree, is it?" she wondered.
The tree was shorter than most, and barely had a crown to speak of. And certainly no apples growing from it. Behind it grew a large brush that had no place there. If this tree and brush had managed to grow from spring and reached this height, it surely was a record, but it certainly was not a tree she would have planted.
"I think I hear Winona," Big Macintosh said and pointed to the dark.
Much right, the little dog was incessantly sniffing around, looking for something it could not quite locate.
"There she is," Applejack said with a sigh of relief.
As she turned back to the tree before her, it seemed to have changed. The top of the tree looked to have twisted from its original position, almost as if it had followed her with its gaze, had it possessed a head. Also now one of the branches looked like it was reaching for the lantern, as if trying to take it off.
"What've you got, AJ?" Big Macintosh asked.
"I've gone crazy, brother. I really have."
Suddenly the brush behind the tree shook and let out a loud sigh and inhaled like a living being. Applejack fell on her back and screamed in horror as the tree opened a pair of dead eyes that gazed right into hers.
"THAT TREE'S ALIVE!" she cried and crawled backwards.
Winona came snarling like a rabid wolf and jumped at the brush. The animate tree caught her mid-air by the throat and suspended her between itself and Applejack. Winona coughed and barked whilst trying to wriggle free from the tree's grip, but just then the tree thrust another of its branches into her neck. Winona whined and the tree took the lantern and threw it toward Big Macintosh who was just charging in, forcing him to halt.
The tree jumped up the brush and gave a loud, mind-numbing call prompting it to come alive and gallop away, crying out with the sound of an equine. Both disappeared into the dark in moments and Big Macintosh rushed to help Applejack up.
"IT HURT WINONA!" Applejack roared and tried to charge after. Before she got more than a step away the sound of hooves approached. Heavy hooves, too heavy to belong to a pony.
Enclosing upon the brim red light was two discernible figures. A dark horse and, upon it, a strange figure, not a tree, but a living thing clutching Winona with its talons under its reptilian maw. It rode the horse over the fire, almost extinguishing it, and flew past Applejack and Big Macintosh at speed. Applejack got just one short moment to see the face of their intruder. Indeed, some tree spirit. Pale bark-like skin it had, and a solid, inorganic body top to toe. And a pair of dead, grey eyes with pupils that felt as the pull of the void to look into. The horse disappeared into the dark once more, but this time the sound of it also faded.
Big Macintosh gave chase, but Applejack knew already that neither of them could hope to match the speed of a galloping horse. And Winona had not uttered as much as a peep after the sting.
"Give it up!" Applejack yelled, "we lost her! Big Mac!"
She had seen that face only once before. The drawing Apple Bloom had taken from Pipsqueak. The Wight of the Waters. Such visage. Such malice. Applejack felt her eyes well with tears. Winona had been taken from her, before her very eyes, to never return.