The Herp Walk
"It'll be ten bits for that bunch," Carrot Top said monotonously, not even bothering to look into the eyes of her latest customer.
Whoever chose to spend ten hard-earned bits on a thick bunch of carrots slammed their money down on the stand, grabbed the carrots, and trotted off without a word. Carrot Top sighed in relief, shaking herself out of her daze.
While today had been a mostly ordinary day at Ponyville town square, Carrot Top felt like she was trapped in some sort of boring nightmare. Sighing, the mare began packing up her stand, grateful that the sun was starting to set. The merchants around her were doing the same, indicating that this busy workday was finally over.
Opening a burlap sack and shoving the few unsold carrots inside, Carrot Top yawned and smacked her lips. Winter would be coming in less than a month—she could sense it in the crisp, autumn wind that teased her nostrils. Accordingly—and understandably so—ponies were stocking up their cellars and basement for the winter's frost, leaving Carrot Top and the other merchants with longer, busier days.
Grumbling to herself, Carrot Top whisked the sign reading "Carrots — 1 bit each, 10 bits a bunch" off the stand as she packed up the rest of her display. In less than ten minutes, she was ready to go, her vendor's stand folded back up. She slung the bag of carrots over her shoulder and looked around.
A slight smile spread across her muzzle as she saw that the Apple Family stand was still open for business. Trotting over, her thoughts turned to the pasta she was planning to cook once she returned home. Nothing like a good glass of cider to go with that pasta, she thought, trying not to salivate as she walked over.
"Well, howdy there, Carrot Top!" Applejack greeted as Carrot approached, flashing her a wide smile. Applejack leaned against her stand of crisp apples and fresh cider and chuckled. "Been a long day fer you, too?"
"Ugh, like you wouldn't believe, Applejack." Groaning as she set down the bag of carrots, Carrot Top stretched her aching hooves and sighed. "I only had three carrots left over from today! And I've practically picked all the good ones that were left in my gardens!"
Applejack chuckled again. "Ah know what ya mean, Carrot. This here's the last o' our cider an' apples fer the better part o' a few months. Winter's comin' fast."
"I know." Carrot shivered. "Anyway, I was wondering if I could get a few bottles of cider."
"Sure! Regular, cinnamon, or—" Applejack paused, winking before she finished, "hard?"
Stifling the urge to snort a laugh, Carrot Top said with a sly grin, "Hard."
"That's what Ah thought," Applejack said with a smirk.
Carrot Top reached into her purse and looked at the stand's sign. Fishing out seven bits, she passed them over to Applejack.
Applejack waved her off with a forehoof. "Tell ya what. How 'bout this one's on me fer today?" she said, offering a bottle of the Apple Family's finest brew.
"R-really?" Carrot asked, wide-eyed. A shameful trickle of drool escaped her lips and began to roll off her chin.
Applejack adjusted her Stetson and nodded again with a grin. "Sure! You've been workin' hard ta-day, right? Looks like ya need ta relax a bit. 'Sides," she added, looking away slightly as guilt crept across her muzzle, "this makes up fer Apple Bloom knockin' yer carrots inta that manure stand a few weeks back..."
Feeling her muscles tense at the mere mention of that incident, Carrot Top gritted her teeth for a moment. Upon noticing Applejack's sincere, apologetic expression, she sighed and forced a smile as she put the cider into the burlap sack along with the unsold carrots. "Don't worry about it, Applejack. Accidents happen."
"Heh, they sure do, don't they?" Applejack coughed and rubbed a forehoof against her chest. "Heh, Ah imagine ya've seen yer fair share o' accidents, wit' yer..." She paused to chuckle, her merry self returning once more. "Roommate, Ah bet."
"Yeah, well..." Carrot Top grunted as she lifted the heavier sack over her shoulder. "Derpy means well. She pays rent on time, and cleans up most of the messes she makes, so... I really can't say too much." Although, I really wish she would stay out of the fridge now and then...
"Could say the same 'bout Apple Bloom, minus the rent part." Applejack smiled. "Anyway, Ah hope ya enjoy the cider." As she began packing up her own unsold goods and displays, she added, "Let me know if it's good! Ah added a bit more kick inta this batch, if ya know what Ah mean."
The two shared a laugh before Carrot Top headed off, waving goodbye to Applejack before she began dragging her unsold wares and tired bones towards home. All the while, she licked her lips, imagining vegetables and buckwheat noodles simmering in a pot of tomato and garlic, accompanied by a strong swig of the finest cider in Equestria.
Derpy groaned and leaned back, resting her head against an emptied jar of whipped cream. On her bloated belly sat at least a dozen muffin wrappers, three corn shucks, an empty can of beans, five banana bread crusts, four banana peels, six cherry stems, seven apple cores, eight strawberry leaves, and ten thick droplets of molten chocolate. She yawned in pure bliss and sighed happily, stretching her hindhooves out against the cool linoleum. While the kitchen kept the lower half of her body cool, the fridge kept the rest at a cozy temperature, completing her Monday afternoon snack perfectly.
She burped again, loud enough to rival most Royal Guards and construction workers. Derpy patted her belly and smiled down at the remnants of her meal. "Mmm... I wish there were more of you, muffin..."
The sound of a key hitting the lock at the front door jolted her into a panic. As she started to sweat, the bloated pegasus scrambled to stuff herself inside the fridge, tucking her wings to her side and crawling on top of the bottom shelf. The cold refrigerator wrapped itself around her as she frantically tried to stuff herself inside it.
She heard Carrot Top step into the humble home and call out, her hooves tapping against the hardwood. Derpy threw a forehoof over her mouth to stifle a panicked gasp as she tried to mold her squat form to the contours of the traitorous refrigerator.
"Derpy? You here? I'm home." The sound of a large bag being dragged across the floor accompanied these words, along with a heavy sigh. "I hope your day went better than mine."
"Mmmf!" Derpy cried out behind her forehoof in pain as she bumped her head against one of the shelves. Tucking her tail against her body, she reached out with her other forehoof and tried to close the refrigerator door.
"Ugh, I know winter's good for business, but can't a mare get a break?" Carrot sighed in frustration as she trotted towards the kitchen. "Oh well. At least I have that pasta to look forward to..." She paused and withdrew the magical bottle of don't-give-a-buck from inside her bag. "And cider. Heh heh."
Closing her eyes as she shut the door, Derpy relaxed for a moment: finally, her overstuffed body was safely enshrined in the fridge. Now, she only needed to wait a few minutes for Carrot Top to go to the bathroom to freshen up—as she usually did after work—and then she would be home free! (That is, if she could manage to fly after ingesting an entire half-full fridge's worth of food, of course.)
The rhythm of hooves against the linoleum sent Derpy's heart rate on a fast track to cardiac arrest. At the same time, she felt a strange burning sensation begin to build between her flanks. Groaning in discomfort as quietly as she could, the pegasus flipped her tail between her hindhooves and pressed it against the slow-building fire. Itchy, itchy, itchy! Why is my muffin so itchy?!
Carrot Top threw the bag of carrots, pricing sheets, and display signs on the counter and carefully placed the cider near the oven. Scrambling around in cupboard for a few pots, she muttered to herself, "Looks like I'm cooking for one tonight... good... I'm not in a sharing mood, exactly."
The itching intensified down there, making Derpy squirm. Trying to control her little whimpers of discomfort, she braced her back against the refrigerator door and put her forehoof between her hindlegs, itching. Itch, itch, itch. Gah! Stop it, muffin! Itch, itch, itch. Why isn't this working?!
Laying out various ingredients for her dinner, Carrot Top scratched off her mental checklist as she placed each item beside the stove. "Orzo? Check. Garlic? Check. Onions? Check. Tomatoes? Check."
She paused and tapped her chin. "Hmm... think I need something a bit heartier for my pasta tonight. How about some... beans? Or maybe some corn?"
Derpy gasped and halted her itching. No, no, nonononono! You don't want those!! Just canned sauce and dried noodles! And a trip to the bathroom! Please, Carrot! Pleeeeeease!
Licking her lips as she leaned over to open the fridge, Carrot said, "Nothing better than some white beans in toma—AAAAAAH!
Derpy Hooves rolled ungracefully out of the fridge, landing on her stomach. Seeing stars, she weakly lifted her muzzle up from the floor and looked into the eyes of an enraged roommate. "Oh... heh... hey, Carrot. How's it—"
"Again?!" Carrot Top stepped back from Derpy for a moment, then opened the door wider, shoving her roommate aside. "Everything?! Really, Derpy? Again with this?!"
"S-sorry!" Derpy frowned and rubbed her bloated belly. She glanced up at Carrot, whimpering a little. "I—I was hungry!"
"Hungry enough to eat almost a week's worth of food?!"
Although Carrot Top knew this was a little more than a bad habit—everypony had their vices, and Derpy's was food (especially muffins)—any semblance of sympathy was tossed aside as she examined the bare fridge. "The bananas... AND the banana bread? The last can of beans and all the corn, too?"
Pulling herself off the floor with as much dignity as she could, Derpy glanced sideways at Carrot, her guilty eyes pointing to the ashamed above and the laughing below. "Sorry! I was hungry, Carrot. I'm sorry! You know that I'm trying..."
Carrot Top face-hoofed and closed the refrigerator door. "Yes, I know," she grumbled, shaking her head.
Derpy managed a smile as she rose to all four hooves, scratching a hindhoof up to that burning spot between her flanks. "Ahh—at least—ooh—I didn't—ngggh—empty the freezer, too!"
Ignoring her comment, Carrot Top opened the freezer. She sighed in relief when she saw bags of frozen corn, peas, and beans that had been spared from the Muffin Monster's hungry rampage. "Yeah, yeah," she said flatly, dismissing her with a wave of a forehoof as she selected a bag of frozen white beans. "Thanks for that, at least."
Derpy immediately brightened, her muzzle curling up into a faint smile. "You're welcome, Carrot."
"Uh-huh." After quickly opening the bag of beans and placing them into a pot of water on the stove, Carrot began to relax, knowing that her meal would only take thirty minutes at most to create. With another, lighter sigh, she glanced sideways at her roommate. "So, how was your day, Derpy?"
"Oh..." Derpy lifted one of her hindhooves again, curling it against her inner-flank region and scratching like a dog. "Just—ooh—you know. The—hnnng—usual stuff," she said, her eyes rolling towards the back of her skull as she began to itch intensely.
Carrot Top just stared at her, wide-eyed and jaw agape.
"Yeah," Derpy continued, closing her eyes, in utter paradise as the rough scratching of her hoof dug deep into her itchy skin, "just—ahhh—a normal day at work—you know. Lots of—ngggh—mail to—"
"What in Celestia's name are you doing?" Carrot Top asked, tilting her head as she continued to stare at her canine-like roommate.
Derpy's eyes shot open. "Huh?" She continued to itch.
Carrot stomped a hoof on the ground. "Stop that right now!"
Rushing over, Carrot Top grabbed Derpy's scratching hindleg and planted it on the floor. "You're gonna hurt yourself if you keep scratching like that, Derpy! You're rubbing yourself like a..." She turned away, her snout scrunching up in disgust. "Like a... dog or something!"
"But it itches!" Derpy whined, pouting. She sat down on her haunches and brought one of her forehooves down to scratch.
Pulling her offending forehoof up as it descended, Carrot snapped, "Don't you scratch yourself with that, either!"
"Then what am I supposed to scratch with?" Derpy whined further, mustering big, puppy-dog eyes at her roommate.
"Not a hoof! You're gonna hurt yourself, Derpy." Carrot glanced sideways at her. "I'm not sure why your flanks are itching, anyway. Here, let me go get some cream,” she said as she turned off the stovetop.
"But it's not my—"
She rushed off towards the bathroom before Derpy could finish.
Groaning, Derpy stood to all four hooves again, tensing her hindleg muscles in frustration. She started to trot a few steps, itching with every minute movement. Grimacing, Derpy couldn't help but brush her inner flanks against each other, the heat of a thousand celestial suns burning down there.
"Nnggg! Stupid! Itch!" Unable to wait for even a few minutes—even as she heard Carrot rummaging through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom—Derpy opened the freezer. Without hesitation, she selected a bag of peas and shoved it between her flanks, sitting down as the intense, cooling sensation spread through her. "Ahhhh..."
"Alright, I found the cream!" Carrot called out as she cantered in, holding up a large bottle of aloe vera. "That should fix whatever bi—GAAAAAH!"
The tube of cream fell to the floor, along with Carrot Top's jaw. Raising an eyebrow, Derpy looked over to her as she squeezed the bag of peas firmly between her flanks. "What? You said I couldn't itch, so I found something better!"
"But—but—but!" Carrot Top stuttered and started to shake, waves of horror and nausea rolling through her. "You're—putting those peas on—your—"
"Muffin!" Derpy said cheerfully, beaming. "My muffin is all itchy, Carrot!"
Carrot Top wretched, feeling her afternoon snack knocking at the back of her throat. Holding a forehoof to her mouth, she looked away and gagged. I was going to use those peas for a pie tomorrow, but now she's got them... down... there! On her... mu... m-m-muffin!
Oh, Celestia, now I'm saying it!
Concerned by the awful noises her roommate was making, Derpy placed a forehoof on Carrot's shoulder. "Hey, Carrot, you okay? You don't look so good!"
Swallowing down a mouthful of pre-digested crackers and peanut butter, Carrot Top weakly looked at her. "Derpy, take those peas from out of there. Right now."
Derpy looked down at the peas. "But... but..."
"No buts!" Carrot coughed, resisting the urge to dry heave again. "Those... those are no good now. Throw them away!"
"Oh..." With a guilty frown on her muzzle, Derpy rose to all four hooves and picked up the plastic bag in her mouth. "Okay..."
As she walked over to the trash can in the corner of the kitchen, Carrot Top couldn't help but notice the odd way the mare was walking. With each step, she brushed her inner flanks together, as if to itch that place between. Her eyes couldn't help but follow the pegasus's path to the trash can, confused by the strange display.
A knock at the door tore Carrot Top from her thoughts. She blushed as she realized that she'd been staring at another mare that way—not out of lust, but disgust. She muttered, "I'll get it. Stay here."
Trotting over to the door, Carrot called out, "I'm coming! I'm coming!"
Reaching the door, Carrot Top pulled it open, revealing a very cheerful-looking Berry Punch. "Hey there, Carrot Top!"
"Oh." Plastering a smile across her face, Carrot said, "Hey there, Berry Punch. How's it going?"
"Good!" Berry held out a bottle of expensive-looking wine. "I just wanted to drop by and give this to you. You know... just a thank-you for helping me out when I was short on rent last month." Her smile weakened as she rubbed the back of her neck. "Heh, thanks again for that."
"No problem, Berry," Carrot said, accepting the bottle and placing it on a nearby coffee table. "Just remember to watch your, er, budget next time," she said sternly, giving the partying mare a sideways glance.
"Uh, thanks! I sure will... heh..." Berry Punch trailed off and peered inside Carrot's home, looking around.
"Something wrong?" Carrot asked.
"Nah. I was just wondering if Derpy was home. I was gonna ask her about an..." Berry paused. "Odd piece of mail I received today."
Carrot raised an eyebrow. "Odd?"
"Ever gotten a whoopee cushion stuffed with guacamole in your mailbox?"
Taking a step back, Carrot could only tilt her head farther to the side and utter, "No...? I, uh, I don't think so?"
"Yeah, well," Berry Punch said, accepting the unspoken invitation and stepping inside, "I didn't think so, either. Anyway, is Derpy home?"
At that moment, the pegasus mare emerged from the kitchen, switching her hindlegs against each other with each step. "Oh, hi, Berry Punch!" she greeted, waving a forehoof to her as she grimaced. "How—arghh—are—nngh—you?"
Berry blinked and glanced from Derpy to Carrot. “Um…” She paused, biting her lip. Looking back to the pegasus, she asked, “Um, you alright, Derpy?”
“What do you—nngh—mean—haah—Berry?” Derpy brushed her inner flanks together as she stood near the entrance to the kitchen. She stood up on her hindhooves and crossed them, flashing both a mortified Carrot and a confused Berry.
“Oh, Celestia, Derpy!” Carrot retched as she turned away, shielding her eyes. “Just put the stupid cream down there and—” She gagged, then finished, “Go take a hot bath!”
“Um…” With a blank expression on her muzzle and glazed horror in her eyes, Berry Punch turned to Carrot Top again. “Did you see that?”
Derpy blushed and sat down again, spreading her wings to cover herself. “Heh… sorry, guys! My muffin is just so itchy!”
Berry brought a forehoof to her chin. “Your… muffin is itchy?”
“Oh, don’t encourage her!” Carrot exclaimed, still shielding her eyes in mortified shame. “Derpy, you need to go take care of whatever bite that is!”
“Bite?” Derpy tilted her head to the side. “But we don’t have a dog, Carrot.”
Waving her off with a forehoof—hoping that she would get the hint and leave her and Berry to their mindless chatter—Carrot sputtered, “Spider! Flea! Mosquito! Gnat! Whatever! Something bit you! Go put that cream on and… and throw it away when you’re done!”
Hanging her head in shame, Derpy rose to her hooves, then trotted into the kitchen.
Turning back around only when she was sure her roommate was out of sight, Carrot sighed and brought a forehoof to her head as she looked at Berry Punch. “Berry, I am so, so sorry! I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but—”
“Er, Carrot…” Berry Punch looked around the room. “Um…”
“What?” Carrot Top’s eyes widened. “What is it?”
“That… that wasn’t any insect bite, Carrot,” Berry said firmly.
“Huh? What else could it be?” Carrot asked, taken aback.
Berry Punch turned her hooves towards the kitchen and trotted inside, calling, “Hey, Derpy!”
Sitting in the middle of the floor with the tube of aloe vera still in her forehoof, Derpy glanced over at the two mares. “Oh, hey, Berry Punch,” she said, her ears flattening. “Sorry again about showing you my—”
“That’s fine!” Berry Punch held up a forehoof, discomfort spreading across her muzzle. “Um, Derpy, there was something I wanted to ask you.”
Probably about that random guacamole in her mailbox, Carrot thought as she rolled her eyes. Celestia dammit, these two better get their little chit-chat over with—and Derpy and her... blargh… MUFFIN get out of my kitchen before my appetite is totally ruined!
“Yes, Berry?” Derpy replied, squirting some of the thick, goopy cream into her opposite forehoof.
“Um, you might not wanna put that… on yourself,” Berry said with a slight retch. “Um, Derpy, this is a bit of an awkward question, but…”
Berry Punch paused for breath, looking at both of the mares, who were simply staring at her. Hadn’t they figured it out? Couldn’t they… tell? Was there some lettuce in her teeth again?
“Yes, Berry?” Derpy said, looking up expectantly as she put the cream down on the floor and wiped the remaining goo on her coat.
Carrot Top suppressed the urge to gag again at the scent of the cream. C’mon, Berry! Just hurry up and ask her about the freakin’ avocado!
“Well… uh…” Shifting her weight from one forehoof to the other, Berry Punch studied the intricate patterns of the linoleum. “You see, Derpy, I was wondering, if, if—”
“Oh, just spit it out!” Carrot barked, patience growing thin. She rounded on Derpy. “Derpy, what’s with the guacamole in the—”
Berry smacked Carrot hard on the shoulder. “This isn’t about that, Carrot!” she snapped, flattening her ears. She gestured to Derpy, who was struggling not to drag her itchy muffin across the floor. “This is about our dear friend Derpy here!”
Carrot shook her head rapidly, sure she was dreaming. “Did you just hit me?!”
Ignoring her, Berry turned back to Derpy and took a deep breath. “Derpy…” She closed her eyes and asked the dreaded question.
“Have you been tested before?”
Carrot Top’s jaw almost unhinged and hit the floor. “Wh-what?!”
Derpy titled her head from side to side as she squirmed against the cool linoleum. “Tested? Berry, I haven’t been in school since I was a filly!” She smiled. “And those tests to become a mailmare? My instructor said as long as I kept bringing him muffins, I was fine!”
Carrot Top’s stomach flipped at the word muffin. Coughing over her shoulder, she closed her eyes and began to shake her head again, hoping to undo the horrible mental imagery that just etched itself upon her poor, pasta-starved psyche.
Give him muffins?! Gah! MUFFIN!
This innocuous statement only seemed to confirm Berry Punch’s suspicions. A deep frown spread across her muzzle. “So you haven’t been tested for… you know?”
Derpy tapped her chin with a forehoof in deep thought. Staring intensely at a tomato-sauce stain on a nearby wall, she sat in silence for a few moments before turning back to Berry Punch with a shrug. “You know what? I’m confused, Berry. Are we playing charades?”
“Derpy…” Berry swallowed, all the terrible fancy mathematics adding up before her. “No, Derpy we aren’t playing charades.”
“Aww!” Derpy pouted, her eyes falling haphazardly to the floor.
Groaning as that last shred of disturbing mental imagery dissipated, Carrot Top looked up into Berry’s eyes. “What exactly are you getting at, Berry? Please, can we wrap this up before my appetite is completely ruined?”
Berry sighed and looked at her hooves one last time before speaking to Derpy. “Look, Derpy, what I’m asking you is if you’ve been tested for… you know, diseases. Certain diseases. You know, the kind you get from being with… you know, other ponies.”
While further confusion spread itself across Derpy’s muzzle like a particularly softened pat of butter across an unsuspecting, innocent piece of bread, Carrot Top could only look from Berry to Derpy and back again in horror. “Wa-wait a minute! Berry, are you saying that you think Derpy has the—”
“She’s got the walk, Carrot,” Berry said from the corner of her muzzle, gesturing towards the itchy pegasus, who was now rocking back and forth on her haunches in discomfort.
“The herp walk,” Berry said gravely, a little louder this time. She asked again, “Well, Derpy, have you been tested recently?”
Derpy looked from one concerned mare to the other, absolutely perplexed. Scratching her head, she said, exasperated, “I don’t know what you mean, Berry! You keep talking about being ‘tested,’ but I haven’t been tested for anything since that written exam to become a mailmare! Wait!” Her eyes slowly widened in horror. “Am I in trouble? Is this about the—”
“You aren’t in trouble, Derpy,” Berry said gently as she walked over to the mare and put a forehoof on her shoulder. “But I do think you should see a doctor about that, er…” She scrunched up her snout in discomfort before finishing, “Itch you can’t scratch.”
“Doctor?” Derpy’s wings began to unfold in slight panic. “Is th-there something wrong with my muffin?” Her wide, frightened eyes locked onto Carrot.
“Derpy…” Carrot sighed, concern for her pasta replaced with concern for her pegasus friend. “Have you, er… been with anypony recently?” she asked, blushing furiously as she did so. Berry Punch met her eyes and blushed as well.
“Well, of course!” Derpy said quickly, throwing her forehooves open. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Derpy, I think you should really see a doctor,” Berry said, taking a step back from the pegasus. “That… rash needs to be looked at. It doesn’t look good.”
Derpy’s jaw fell open as her wings unfurled in her panic. Looking desperately from one mare to the other, she choked, “Am I gonna be okay?”
Placing a forehoof on Derpy’s shoulder, Carrot said boldly, “Yes, Derpy. You’re going to be just fine. Berry and I are gonna take you to the doctor right now, okay?”
Berry nodded. “Yes, we’re going to—wait, what?!” She rounded on Carrot, her brow furrowed. “We are taking Derpy to the doctor?”
“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!” In one swift motion, Derpy shot to her hindhooves and threw her forehooves around both mares’ necks, hugging them tightly. Squeezing Carrot Top and Berry Punch, Derpy exclaimed, “Thank you so much! I don’t wanna go alone! Y-you t-two are the b-best!” Tears of gratitude and relief began to dot her eyes.
“Yes, we are taking her to the doctor,” Carrot hissed under her breath, glaring at Berry Punch, “just as we paid your rent last month. Got it?”
With a groan and a roll of her eyes, Berry whispered back, “Fine,” and continued hugging the distraught Derpy Hooves.