• Published 10th Jun 2013
  • 3,963 Views, 285 Comments

When The Mare Comes Around - nanashi_jones



I woke up in a shallow grave off Highway 5. When I dug myself out, I was Applejack. And trouble followed with me.

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Reason To Believe

My stomach growled, I had finally worked up a sweat, and I had no idea which way I was going. Forward was all I knew.

South, Applejack said.

“Thanks,” I muttered, rolling my eyes.

We’d been going for a few hours now and while Applejack’s body was definitely fit, I hadn’t exactly filled her stomach to capacity this morning. The two apples I’d pushed into my pack were a distant memory. I needed food.

Plus, while I wasn’t an expert on pony moods, I could tell that Applejack wasn’t one hundred percent happy with me. But, she wasn’t going into details and it wasn’t my job to keep her happy. The effect was like being trapped in a car on a road trip with someone you know you’ve pissed off, but they wouldn’t freaking own up to why they were angry at you.

“If I’d known I was going to be on the freaking lam, I’d have packed a canteen,” I grumbled. “Or a restaurant. How much do you usually eat?”

A bit, Applejack replied, her tone cool. Normally, I’m workin’ the orchard with somethin’ to snack on nearby. Can we get some water? We’re parched.

“Least that isn’t a problem,” I muttered, steering to the side.

The creek I’d been following for the past some odd miles came back into view and I stopped to rest as I drank from it. I’d briefly considered I might be giving myself worms for not boiling the water, but thirst won out and the stream was pretty clear so far.

I licked my lips. “I swear if I’m drinking some guy’s piss, I will beat everyone up.”

You’re a real charmer, ya know that? Applejack said.

“Whatever,” I countered. “We need real food.”

The cool demeanor she’d been generating warmed a bit as I felt her thinking. Which is even weirder than all the already weird stuff. Nobody should be able to feel it when someone else is thinking. Nobody!

I’m with ya there, she said after a minute. But how do ya propose we go about that? You were pretty stern after we left your friend back there. Y’know? Not bein’ seen, not goin’ anywhere crowded, not leavin’ any traces, not-

“Okay! Okay! I’m an idiot! Thank you!”

Much as it galled me, she was right. When we’d first set out, all I could think of was all the ways I could be tracked. Primary of which being my face.

I wasn’t just any talking pony. I was Applejack. I had a bit of fame on me. I couldn’t just go cover-of-Us celebrity and wear shades and a hat. An orange pony with a Southern accent would stick out here like a decent superhero comic. So, I’d patted myself on the back at first, opting to stick to the woods and ditching my cell. Applejack’s wilderness knowledge kept us more or less on track, so I thought I had covered all my bases.

Then, I got hungry. Then, I ate the only food we’d packed. The creek was helping, but we needed for-real supplies. And soon.

I dropped the red backpack on the ground. It was holding up surprisingly well. I figured the straps would have given a half hour ago and I’d have to MacGuyver something. I didn’t exactly have rubber bands and paper clips lying around, so I was glad it was working out.

Unzipping the pack with my teeth, I stuck my head in and bit down on my wallet. It had come with my purse and was one of those long, billfold things that could hold checks if need be. I wasn’t so lofty. Inside was thirty-two dollars, a credit card and my bank card. I was certain the last two would light up like Christmas for whoever sent that smelled-of-weed Private Investigator, but I wasn’t so certain that I didn’t stare at my available cash.

I only had thirty-two dollars and that was only going to get me so far.

I sighed. “I have a dumb idea,” I said.

Yeah? Applejack asked.
~
I went past four parks with jungle gyms before I found one that was nearby a gas station with an ATM. It was one of those units that charged five bucks just for the “service” and then my bank would charge me again and I hated using them, but this definitely fit “emergency.”

This place was actually pretty active. Lots of people running around and some kids were already messing around near the trees. Their moms, or nannies, were paying more attention to their iPads or chatting with each other. I was hidden pretty well by the trees and low-lying plants and could see the monkey bars and swings easy.

This ain’t that dumb of a plan, but I don’t like it, Applejack said. Don’t seem honest.

“Shh. I have to be cute or whatever.”

I targeted a girl with pigtails in a pink skirt and blue t-shirt. Exactly what I needed right now.

“Pssst!” I said, popping my head out of the cover.

She stopped in mid-kid-activity.

“Psssssst!”

She looked around.

“Psssssssssssst!” Great, I sound like a tire losing air with a Southern accent.

She locked on just before I could start hollering her over and when she saw me, her eyes got really, really, really big. She came over at a dead run and stopped just beyond the brush of forest.

“Oh wow. Did you just call me, pony?”

“Yeah, yeah I did,” I said.

Her eyes managed to get even bigger.

“You can talk?! Are you- Are you a magical pony?”

I resisted the urge to say I was a hyper-advanced alien from the planet Ponoidus and nodded slowly with a big, friendly smile. At least, I hope it was big and friendly. I think my eye was twitching.

“Yes, I am and I need your help.”

“Me?”

“Yep.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Are you gonna grant me a wish?”

Maybe I’d picked too young.

“Ellie, what’re you doing- Whoa.”

I cringed back. While I’d been talking to the amazing child of one-hundred questions, two more kids had broken away to come over and see what had her attention.

While “Ellie” was needfully young and shorter than me, the two who’d joined us were just about my height, and looked older than I was hoping for. One was a boy in jeans and a Transformers t-shirt, while the other was a girl in shorts, plain green shirt and a... Cowboy hat. Sure.

The older girl was staring at me in a way that looked a bit like she knew who I might be. The boy was just sizing me up like he wasn’t sure I’d bite or not.

“Ellie, what’d you find?” he asked.

“A magical pony!” Ellie said. “An’ she’s gonna grant me a wish!”

“Hey, I didn’t say that!” I snapped.

“Holy shit!” the boy said.

That snapped the other girl out of it. “Connor!” she said in a tone that was older than she was. “You shouldn’t swear!”

“The horse just talked,” he protested, waving his hand at me. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Be polite. And she’s not a horse,” the other girl said. “She’s a pony.” She stepped forward to me and smiled. It was weird. Nobody smiled at me like that. Not even my cousin’s kid, who smiled at everything.

“Hi,” she said. “My name’s Carrie. Are you- Are you really Applejack?”

I blinked at her. Okay. Sure. In terms of best case scenario, you couldn’t beat this.

“Yes,” I started with a smile. “I...” And I stopped.

Remember when your parents told you about Santa Claus? Then you found out how it really worked? If they’d just said what Santa was from up front, you would’ve been fine. You wouldn’t have been disappointed or lost the magic of childhood or whatever fresh bullshit adults whine about in therapy. You would have thought, “Oh, okay. People are nice around this time and they like to hang it on an old dude in a red fuzzy outfit. Cool.”

My parents were disappointing in a lot of ways, but going along with that? Really disappointing. They figured, oh, she’s a kid, she needs magic or whatever because she doesn’t understand. I didn’t know how I would feel about kids of my own, but I didn’t want to bullshit someone when they were young. Life was prepared to fling enough disappointments at them. They didn’t need me adding to it.

“Yeah, I know her,” I said finally.

Carrie blinked at me. “You know her? But... You look just like her,” Carrie said.

“Sound like her too,” Connor said.

“Yeah, well, I woke up like her and she’s... Kinda in my head, but I’m not her,” I said.

“She’s in your head?” Ellie said, squinting at me and twisting her own head around as if she could spy Applejack sticking out behind my mane.

“Like your conscience,” I said. “Only, a real voice.”

Darn tootin’ I’m real, Applejack said.

“For instance,” I sighed. “She just said, ‘Darn tootin’ I’m real.’”

“This is messed up,” Connor said, folding his arms. “Prove it.”

“Prove what?” I asked.

“Prove you’re Applejack.”

I stared at this kid, my expression falling into disbelief.

“Dude! I’m a talkin’, buckin’ pony with apples on my butt! What more proof do you need?”

“What’s going on over there?” a voice called.

Carrie turned quickly. “We found a lizard! We’re playing!”

“Okay...” the voice wavered. “Don’t wander too far.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Carrie shrugged, but looked at Connor. “Why do you always gotta be like this, Connor?”

“What? I listen to adults too. She could be a changeling.”

Carrie glanced at me. I could tell she didn’t like that idea at all.

“Can I pet you?” Ellie said.

I looked back to her. “Uh. Sure. Just... Stay above the apples.”

She grinned like I just gave her the keys to Disney World and pressed her tiny hand into my fur. At first, she was rough, doing that little kid thing where she tried to get a feel for me. Then her hand stopped grabbing and smoothed out to gentle caresses.

“You’re so soft...” she whispered.

I blinked at her, my mouth a little open. “Thanks...?”

“She’s totally telling the truth,” Carrie said.

“And how do you know?” Connor asked, rolling his eyes.

“‘Cause if she was a changeling, she would’ve said she was Applejack and try to snare us with a love spell.”

Connor folded his arms and his mouth bent into a frown of consideration. After a minute, he nodded.

“Yeah, okay. She’s Applejack,” he said. “Only she doesn’t have a hat. Where’s your hat, not-Applejack?”

I couldn’t tell if I liked Connor or I wanted to strangle him.

“Didn’t get the hat, just the pony,” I said. “And my name is Rachel.”

“Are you an adult?” Connor asked.

“What has that got to do with anything?” Carrie said.

“Hey!” I said, trying to curb them. I got a squeak of worry out of Ellie, so I looked at her and said, “Sorry. You’re fine.”

She resumed stroking my neck, which felt way better than it had any right to.

“Look, I’m sure you two can debate this all day, but I need some help.”

“Why’s that?” Connor said.

Yep, definitely wanted to strangle Connor.

Through only slightly gritted teeth, I said, “None of your business.”

“Then why should we help you?” he said, leaning back, head tilted at a snotty angle.

“Because polite. You’re such a jerk sometimes,” Carrie said and she took a step closer to me. “I’ll help, Rachel.”

Ellie giggled as she poked at my ear. I flicked it away with my new, creepy, ear-controlling ability and gave her a look. She grinned sheepishly, returning to basic petting.

“Thanks,” I said and slid my backpack off. Fishing out out my billfold, I laid it on the ground. “Look, I need you to go over to that ATM and get as much money as it’ll give to you and let it keep the card.” I bit down and slid my card out of its slot. I dropped it in Carrie’s waiting hand.

Carrie wiped my spit off on her shorts and looked at the card. She seemed to be thinking something as the excitement dimmed in her eyes.

“You’re scared, aren’t you?” she said, softly.

I guess Applejack doesn’t have much of a poker face. My eyes dropped down briefly before looking back to her, I nodded at Carrie. “I can’t be seen right now. And I kind of stick out, you know?”

She nodded and grinned a full smile at me. I could tell she’d just lost a tooth. I felt my heart d’aw a bit.

“You’ll get noticed,” Connor said, pointing at Carrie. “Tara isn’t going to let you get over there.”

He thought something over.

“I’ll be a distraction.”

Carrie raised an eyebrow that I shared.

“It’ll be fun,” he said. And the smile he flashed told me he’d be breakin’ hearts when he was older.

Carrie blushed and fiddled with the card. “Maybe you’re not such a jerk after all.”

Connor shrugged and looked off.

“Can I ride you?” Ellie asked.

I looked at her flatly. “No.”
~
Ellie kept me company while Connor went over to the monkey bars and started being a very impressive distraction.

“Attention playground! I am King Connor and I have a procli- Proc- I got something to say!”

His voice was big and it carried across the area easily. He was either some theater prodigy or just plain loud by nature- I bet it was the latter. Either way, he had everyone’s attention. Carrie booked it across the edge of the playground to the gas station without so much as a sideways glance.

Unfortunately, by the look on his face, I could tell he had thought through his distraction plan as thoroughly as I had thought through my “run away from not-Detective Sue Waters” plan.

“Um...” he said loudly.

Then his eyes found something and he said, “I stole her underwear!” He pointed to a girl who was nearby a wall of spinning blocks with tic-tac-toe symbols.

She responded appropriately: “You did not!”

“Shows what you know!”

“Connor, quit making a scene and get down from there!” said some brunette who had to be a nanny- I looked more like Connor than she did.

“Gotta catch me first! Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo!” Connor then proceeded to drop down between the bars and run around the playground as the woman chased after him. It wasn’t long, but it was long enough for Carrie to get back in the area, panting.

Connor was caught and given a talk that I could tell he was already tuning out. His attempt to hide his victorious smile didn’t help his case.

“Back,” Carrie said, leaning on her knees. “Jeez.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“He said ‘underwear,’” Ellie giggled.

Carrie looked at me.

“It was a good distraction,” I said.

She shrugged and pulled out a wad of twenties and my card. She gave an apologetic smile.

“Sorry. I couldn’t get it to keep it.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t think I was thinking it through anyway. How much could you pull?”

“Two-fifty,” she said.

I nodded. About what I figured.

I took the card first, then the wad. Once I’d thrown both back in my pack, I peeled a twenty off.

“For you and your dude over there,” I said through clamped teeth.

She took the money with a laugh. “He’s not my dude,” she said. “He’s just a friend.”

I shrugged, adjusting my pack on my back. “Whatever. Thanks for your help.” I looked over at Ellie. “And the petting. That was nice too.”

Ellie beamed. I hadn’t let her ride me, but I did let her play with my mane during the distraction and that had been enough to keep her happy.

“Where are you going?” Carrie asked.

“Hopefully, New York City. I got official pony business and all.”

“‘Cause you’re an Element of Harmony,” Carrie said.

“‘Cause Applejack is. I’m no Element, I’m just trying not to die.”

Worry took over Carrie’s entire expression.

“You’re gonna die?!”

“No! No,” I said, raising a hoof, trying to calm her down. “I don’t plan on it, but that’s why I’m scared and I have to keep running.”

“A bad guy’s after you?” she said.

I nodded.

She frowned. “That stinks.”

Tell me about it.”

“Well, I know you’re not Applejack, but you’re alright to me,” she said. Then, she lifted her hat up and plopped it right on my head.

I twitched slightly and it slid on my mane. I reached up a hoof and I felt as Applejack adjusted it about.

Now we’re talkin’, Applejack said.

I stared at Carrie.

“You didn’t look right without it,” she said. “Besides, it needs to go on adventures like it used to.”

I took the hat off and saw why it had fit Carrie so well. It was an adult’s stetson with a little packing in the top. It also looked like it had seen some travel with nicks in the rich, brown felt and a name on the inside.

“Liana?” I said.

“That’s my mom,” Carrie said, her voice getting softer. “She used to go on adventures. That was her hat for them.”

“Used to?” I said.

“She died a year ago. Cancer. They tried to tell me she was sleeping or something, but...” Carrie shrugged looking away.

I looked at her, then looked at the hat she’d given me. I stepped from the relative safety of the brush and wrapped a foreleg around her.

“Thank you,” I said.

She wrapped her arms around my powerful neck.

“She’d want you to take it on adventures.” Her voice sounded wet and heavy.

We were like that for a minute before Ellie leaned in and hugged me too.

We all released at about the same time.

I stepped back into the protection afforded by the trees and bushes. I pulled the wadding out and flipped the hat on my head. Rather than sliding, it fit. Perfectly. I struck a pose for the girls and Ellie clapped as Carrie beamed.

“Think that’ll do?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. She wiped at her face.

“Welp, then I best, uh, mosey along...”

Carrie laughed.

“Okay, so I’m not a cowgirl,” I said, rolling my eyes. Smiling kindly, I added, “Seriously. Thanks Carrie. Thanks a lot.”

She nodded and just as we were about to turn from one another, an idea struck me.

“Hey,” I said. “One second.”

I got the backpack off again and rummaged around, pulling out a pen and scrap of paper. I left my protective forest one more time.

“Write down your contact information,” I said. “When the adventure’s over, I need to get your hat back to you.”

Remember how I said Ellie looked like she had the keys to Disney World? That was nothing compared to the expression that exploded on Carrie’s face.

She scribbled down a phone number and e-mail and handed the paper back. I committed her last name to memory as best I could and returned the paper and pen to my backpack.

“Time for me to go,” I said.

She nodded.

“Applejack, care to add anything?” I said, looking up.

If you don’t mind me usin’ your mouth for a sec.

“Uh... Go ahead.”

Then, I felt my mouth move without me doing it. Before I could start freaking the royal hell out, Applejack spoke, and I completely forgot about my mouth.

“Carrie, I’m much obliged for the use of this here treasure. I’ll take care of it like it were my own. And if you don’t mind me sayin’, your ma’d be mighty proud o’ you right now.” She straightened up and winked. “Y’all take care, y’hear?”

And my mouth was my own again.

I felt stunned. And a bit dizzy. Even though it wasn’t my voice, I’d gotten used to the sound of it and me using it. Hearing Applejack speak... She sounded so sure of herself. And composed. And... Sincere. She was sincere.

“You take care too Applejack!” Carrie said, snapping me out of my thoughts. She was practically glowing, she smiled so wide.

“Thanks for letting me pet you, Miss Jack,” Ellie said.

I waved my hoof and walked off, back into the brush and dense forest. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the girls waving some more and I returned the favor one last time before they were out of sight.

“That was pretty... Cool,” I said. “Weird, but cool.”

If’n you ever want to foalsit...

“Oh, no,” I said. “Once with kids is all I needed today.”

We set a steady pace in search of food.

You know... Applejack noticed. You probably could have asked them t’get some grub from that gas station.

Swearing impressively, which was only facilitated by my twangy, Southern drawl, I turned on my hooves to trod back to Carrie, Ellie and Connor to beg them one last favor.