Chapter 1—Everything Hurts Me
He groaned. “Ugh, I really should have rethought that sandwich,” he thought. The bread was okay…Rye. The hay, the tomatoes, they were all good. They were bought only recently. So that leaves…the lettuce! Oh Celestia, why? Why would such an innocent green leaf harm me so?
Caramel placed his right hoof on the seat of the porcelain bowl. Trying to steady himself, he burped again. Each explosive pocket of air was another threat of seeing more than just air. Please don’t puke, please…He burped again. The inside of his mouth tasted…salty…for some reason. Stupid lettuce...how long was it in my refrigerator?
Suddenly, there was a knock on his door. “Caramel?” came a muffled voice, “Y’all in there?”
“Macintosh!” Caramel yelled back, before feeling another bout of nausea. He stood up to open the door, but immediately collapsed back down, his eyes wide with fear as another large pocket of air escaped from his frustrated stomach. I kind of wish I could just get it over with. It’s getting really annoying.
“Caramel! Ya in there?”
Caramel reached out with his hoof toward the voice—out the bathroom, across the hallway, through the messy living room and to the front door. At least, he wished he could extend his hooves like that. Unfortunately, they were still barely two feet from his body. Tensing all the muscles in that leg, he scrunched up his muzzle, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Open sesame.”
Celestia dammit. Why did I even try that?
“Macintosh! Help!” Caramel yelled loudly before dipping his head back toward the bowl.
A gallop, bang, and crash later, Caramel’s front door was in shambles. A trip, yell, and thud later, so were Big Macintosh’s forelegs. I have got to clean up this place.
The red stallion appeared at the door of the bathroom, slightly panting from his trip. “Ya’ll okay there, Caramel?”
“Not [burp] really…”
“More like…food poisoning…”
“Would y’all like me to leave?”
“Actually…could you stay here? Just for a bit? I think I need you to hold my mane for awhile,” Caramel slurred very fast, for as soon as he was finished, his mouth opened and out gushed a combination of rye, tomato, hay, and bits of offending lettuce.
Caramel made his way to Sweet Apple Acres. The sun had barely risen, but ponies were already ambling onto the roads of Ponyville, pulling their carts and heaving their saddlebags full of merchandise to sell. It was “the salespony hour,” as those in business liked to call it—the time in the morning that was optimal for setting up booths and taking inventory, and as it was a Saturday, the market would be bursting with ponies soon after. His mane ruffled in the cool breeze and he shuddered from the cold. It was late February, and Winter Wrap-up was still scheduled for a few weeks later. I think it’s the 21st of March this year.
Once he finally reached the farm, however, Celestia’s orb had risen from its slumber and began its graceful arc across the sky for the day. Caramel volunteered at Sweet Apple Acres regularly on the weekends, and whenever he could find time any day else. On the weekdays, however, he had a steady job helping Derpy with delivering packages and mail, as well as assisting Rose with flower arranging. Of all his work, he enjoyed his volunteering the most.
Does it count as volunteering if I’m being paid? The tan stallion wasn’t exactly earning his share of bits for the work. Of course, they had offered. Applejack had graciously offered fourteen bits per hour, and Granny Smith, in an even more magnanimous act, offered sixteen. He turned down both of them. Instead, due to the perhaps obdurate insistence of the whole Apple family, he was given a share of apples, apple fritters, and various other apple-related confections that he never seemed to get sick of. Apple Bloom had even asked him to be a second big brother: “Y’all sure do like apples, Caramel. You should be my big brother number two! Maybe my cutie mark will be in having lots of siblings!”
“Mornin’ Caramel,” came a low, soft grunt.
“Oh, good morning, Mac.”
“Oh yes. Thanks for all your help. I think I got it all out of my system, and it’s been two days after that, too.”
“Ya did say you’d come, but never showed up. I thought somethin’ might be botherin’ ya or somethin’ like that.” Macintosh grunted again he stacked another hay bale onto the growing column. “These bales hafta be moved.” Always one with getting work done…
“Sure. So I just pile them onto the cart?”
“Eeyup,” came the reply, although it sounded strained—perhaps because the red stallion had just hauled up two bales at once. They don’t call him “big” for nothing…
Every once in awhile, there would be another thud as another bale landed on the cart. Shortly after, there was always a squeak, as the wheels struggled to take the weight of the combined hay. “Mac?”
“Isn’t it time to move? I think we have enough on the cart for one trip.”
The columns of hay were now taller than three ponies standing on top of each other. What a silly image. As if three ponies could stand on top of each other…It would certainly be entertaining. With a nod, Macintosh hooked himself up to the handles and started walking. Caramel pushed from behind, listening closely in case there were any commands he needed to follow.
Once the cart was in its final position, so began the seemingly sisyphean task of unloading. One at a time, each bale of hay had to be taken down and laid in a sort of barrier. It’s probably for efficiency stuff. The farm seemed to be restructuring itself very often nowadays, after they had learned about the different aspects of efficiency in an agricultural business.
Caramel reached behind a bale and pulled it closer to him, off the cart, and onto the ground. He pushed it to the wall of hay, now as tall has his neck, and lifted it up with his forelegs.
Suddenly, a sharp pain shot up in his left hoof. “Gah!” he cried, and pulled away reflexively. He stumbled back and tripped on a large rock halfway embedded in the dirt. His back hoof twisted in an awkward angle and he fell on the ground. Oh buck.
“Ow! Ow! Oww!” he groaned, gritting his teeth and taking sharp breaths. In a twisted sense, Caramel felt slightly grateful that he had two injuries on two hooves—it seemed to hurt less if he didn’t know which was worse.
“Caramel, I’ll get ya into the house. C’mon.”
“Mac…it hurts…I don’t think I can walk.”
“I’ll carry ya.”
Before the smaller stallion could protest, Macintosh lifted him with his hooves and with some difficulty, placed him onto his back. Caramel gripped the body of the large stallion as tight as he could without it hurting more. With every step, he could feel the strength behind the muscles and tendons inside the masculine stallion, but also the softness of his fur.
“Let me see your hooves,” said Macintosh gently when they were inside.
Caramel extended his foreleg that had caused his trip in the first place. There was a long gash down the leg, reaching down diagonally and spiraling around. Macintosh fetched some gauze and wrapped it around the leg tightly—up and down, around and around—until every millimeter of red disappeared behind a fluffy cloud of white.
Caramel retracted one leg and gave another—at least, he tried. Before he could get it too far out for Macintosh’s examination, a shooting pain inside made him bend it back as he recoiled in agony.
“It’s okay, I’ll just look at it from here.”
“Sorry I had to get hurt, Mac…taking so much time away from your work…”
“It’s alright, Caramel, it ain’t your fault. We’re done for the day, anyways. That was all we had to do today,” he said as he wrapped another piece of gauze around the hind-leg. This one was wrapped tightly—so tightly that the now handicapped pony could no longer bend that joint. “Feel better?”
“Eeyup,” said Caramel, giggling slightly at his poor impersonation of his caretaker. He looked into his eyes and saw the care and sympathy behind those green orbs and his heart fluttered. He really cares…he’s such a good friend.
Macintosh averted his eyes to the refrigerator and shortly after, he handed Caramel a glass of apple juice. I guess rest time begins.
After every work day came rest time—Caramel and Macintosh would relax in the house and chat about things in their life. Usually, it consisted of Macintosh occasionally asking questions and Caramel revealing his life story in a matter of minutes. The tan pony was still sitting on the floor, so the large stallion joined him. “How ya been doin’ lately?”
“I’ve been good. Rose gave me a raise last week, so I’m hoping I’ll have some extra bits soon. I accidently dropped a fragile package that was supposed to go to Doctor Whooves. You know, the one who’s with Derpy? And when she found out, Derpy flew home screaming something about the universe and time and I have no idea. So I’m not looking forward to talking about that later on. I also finally cleaned my living room. How’s your legs, by the way?”
“They’re all fine, Caramel. Don’t you worry none.”
“Good. I would hate to hurt you…especially after…all you’ve done for me.”
“Tain’t not a problem.”
A few moments passed before either of them spoke again. In truth, Caramel had wanted to ask if he had received anything interesting for Hearts and Hooves Day, but he decided against it. Never mind, Mac doesn’t like answering these personal questions.
“Y’all got a fillyfriend yet?”
The tan stallion blinked a few time with his mouth closed, slightly taken aback by the sudden question about his love-life. “Erm…no…I…no…” he said.
“Never probably will, anyways.”
“And why is that?”
“Erm…” Caramel immediately regretted saying that last part. He often had trouble talking about this subject. He had come to terms with it long ago, but it still felt strange hearing the words coming out of his mouth. It felt like he was revealing something so private about himself, like he was walking into a battlefield with a target painted on his flank. “I uh…I like stallions.”
There was no answer.
“Uh…is something wrong?” Oh, he’s going to hate me. He’s going to hit me. He’s going to ban me from his farm and I’ll never get to see him again! Oh my best friend is going to hate me! He opened one of his closed eyes and peeked at his friend and confirmed that his neck was, indeed, also red. Oh buck.
“Tain’t nothin’ wrong with it, Caramel.”
Caramel let out an explosive sigh. I knew that red neck thing was just a myth. What was I so worried about? So what if he hated me, anyways? I have other friends. Something about those last few thoughts was disturbing, however. The thought of Big Macintosh not liking him made his heart drop a few centimeters in his chest.
“It’s getting’ late, Caramel. I’ll carry ya home,” he said suddenly, as if he felted like the conversation had reached a nice finish. Caramel wanted to refuse; he wanted to say, “I appreciate the offer, but I can walk home myself.” Unfortunately, the gauze was wrapped so tight, he couldn’t move very well. He had no choice but to accept the offer, although it seemed more like an ultimatum to him.
On the walk back to Caramel’s small house, the tan pony once again wrapped his legs around the furry body under him. “Mm…my big strong stallion,” he slurred quietly with his eyes dreamily shut. Where did that come from?! He opened his eyes again, slightly perturbed by what he had just said. I’m too tired…Soft bed, here I come.