• Published 14th Jan 2014
  • 6,344 Views, 345 Comments

Tales Of The Cricket-Verse - Bucking Nonsense

A collection of short stories about Mole Cricket, and other changelings, attempting to fit in with pony society.

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Applepluck Season

"Uh oh..."

As Applejack stared at the hoofprint that her kick had left in the tree, she knew that she had a problem on her hooves. The tree in question was one of the oldest trees in Sweet Apple Acres: one of a group of about fifty that had been first planted in Granny Smith's day. Some of the sweetest apples in Sweet Apple Acres came from these trees... and now it appeared that they were now too old to be bucked. A simple kick had left a terrible mark on the tree, and while it would certainly recover, it meant that, for these fifty trees, at least, their bucking days were over. Instead...

...Instead, she'd have to pluck them.

It wasn't an enjoyable exercise. It would mean getting out the ladder, asking Big Macintosh to hold it steady, climbing up, plucking a few apples, then climbing down, readjusting the ladder, climbing back up, plucking a few more apples, then doing it all over again... and again... and again. It could take hours, possibly even days, for the fifty trees in this orchard to be cleared of apples, instead of about fifteen minutes of bucking.

Well, she could kiss her free time goodbye for the next few days. That was a pity, she'd already made a few commitments to her friends. She hated having to tell them that she wasn't able to do all the things they'd planned. It always felt like she was letting them down. She supposed she could ask them to help her out, but she didn't like the idea of imposing upon her friends just because she didn't like the idea of working harder than she already was.

"Ah, Miss Applejack?"

Applejack whipped around, turning to see who had spoken. And there, surprisingly, was Cricket. Well, (Ex)Commander Mole Cricket, but he tended to go by just Cricket now. The changeling had been in town only three days, and surprisingly, he wasn't making anywhere as near a ruckus as anypony had expected. She hadn't heard him walk up behind her. In fact... what was he doing here at all?

As if reading her thoughts, Cricket made a noise, and his pet, Miss Bunny Wunny Cuddlewumpus (he hadn't been the one to name her, apparently, and blushed when anypony asked about that), appeared atop his head, holding up what appeared to be a package of dog biscuits. "A delivery from Miss Fluttershy," Cricket explained, "For Winona. Apparently they'd been included with an order of pet medicine she'd purchased to take care of Angel Bunny's upset stomach yesterday. She asked me to swing by and drop them off..." After a moment, he cocked his head to one side, and asked, "Is something wrong?"

Applejack shook herself momentarily. Apparently, she'd let her irritation about the current problem show. "It's nothin'," she said, and then, unable to stop herself, added, "Well, it's nothin' I can't handle, anyhow."

Cricket seemed to take in the scene for a moment, then asked, "A problem with the trees?"

What? How in tarnation did he guess that? She looked back, then noticed that her two hoofprints were still quite clearly visible in the tree she had kicked just moments ago. So... not a guess, just an eye for detail. "Well," she admitted, "it's got a bit to do with it." She turned back towards the trees, and with a gesture of her forelegs, indicated the fifty trees in front of her. "These here trees are among the oldest in Sweet Apple Acres, maybe even all of Equestria, by now. They also happen to have some of the sweetest, most delicious apples in Ponyville. My family and I save these for when we cook for special occasions, or for when we want to make a gift for friends and our distant relations. And I just found out that they're getting pretty close to their last legs. We'll have to replant this orchard pretty soon, sad to say, but that's not the problem. The problem is, in the meantime, if we're gonna harvest them, it's going to mean that, instead of bucking..."

"By which you mean, you kick the trees to make the apples fall off?" Cricket interjected, curious.

"Yeah," Applejack said, nodding, "Instead of bucking, I'll have to pluck them off, one by one, which is a bit more of a chore..."

"Huh," Cricket said, looking at the trees in question. "You know," he continued, a little awkwardly, "if you want, I could handle that for you."

Applejack's eyes widened in surprise. Here she was, she'd not even asked, and here he was, volunteering to do it for her. They weren't even friends: they'd hardly even spoke, outside of their introduction three days ago. "Well, I wouldn't turn down the help," she admitted, "but have you ever done anything like this before?"

Cricket smiled a little, and said, "Well, before I ended up here, I spent the better part of a year picking crystal berries. It helped keep Miss Bunny in carrots, and paid the rent." At the mention of carrots, the rabbit in question perked up, looking around excitedly. Upon discovering that there weren't any carrots coming, she sat down with a small frown, disappointed. Cricket continued, "Plucking apples can't be much different. At least I don't have to worry much about accidentally squishing the apples when I pluck them."

Applejack nodded, and said, "Well, I reckon that is pretty close. Let me see you do it."

Cricket actually saluted (AJ supposed that was force of habit), sprang up, then got his wings flapping at high speed. Hovering in place, he gently took an apple in both hooves, then, with a small twist, plucked the apple off. The branch didn't even wobble when he did so. That was... surprisingly good, for somepony, or somebuggy, who'd barely had any experience doing it.

Applejack nodded, and said, "Pretty good, for a first timer. If you'd do that for all the apples on these here trees, I'd be grateful." As he went to work, she thought of something. "Ah, but I don't know if I'd be able to pay you for it."

Cricket, who, by the time she'd finished that last sentence, already had both forelegs full of apples, chuckled, then said, "Well, for what will be only, what, fifteen minutes of work for me, I'd hardly feel right charging you. Ah, but there is one thing I need, if you don't mind my asking..."

Uh oh. Whatever it was he was about to ask for, it had better not be expensive, or else she might have to tell him to stop, and put those apples back where he found them...

Cricket stated, seeming a little pleased with himself. "Well, it took some doing, but I was finally able to cut through the red tape and purchase a plot of land in town. It took a bit longer than expected, but Mayor Mare was able to help get things moving. And as of this morning, I've got all the materials that I need to get started building my own home here in Ponyville. I ordered a ready-to-assemble house from Canterlot, and the whole thing arrived today on the first train in: I have the wood, nails, screws, ceiling shingles, all the stuff I'll need to assemble my new home. I was looking forward to not having to sleep under a lean-to tonight, but I made a minor oversight..." He visibly flushed with embarrassment, or perhaps that was just from the exercise, as he admitted, "I forgot to order the tools I'll need to put it all together. I already checked in town, and apparently, there aren't any tools available in the local stores, and it'll be a few days before they'd be able to get more. Between now and then, there's a rainstorm scheduled, and if some of that stuff is left out in the rain, I'm given to understand that it'll warp, crack, or just plain rust. So, if you could see to lending me any of your tools, I'd be grateful."

In the time it took him to finish that little speech, he'd already completed half the orchard. He was doing the job, one apple at a time, faster than Applejack normally could by bucking. Those wings of his didn't make him as fast as Rainbow Dash, but he had a whole lot more control in the air than "Crashie" did, so he had an easier time moving from apple to apple, and tree to tree.

Well, given that he was doing, in a few minutes, a chore that AJ would have spent much longer to take care of, she didn't think she'd have a problem with loaning him a few tools. Shoot, that didn't even seem like a fair trade, given that he didn't even have to be asked to lend a hoof. If he was going to be nice enough to offer a helping hoof, the least she could do was return the favor...

Applejack, smiled, nodded, saying, "I'd be happy to, partner. And if you'll give me an hour or so, I'll see if Big Macintosh and I can't help you put it all together."

Cricket finished depositing the last of the apples from the old orchard into a basket, and said, blushing a little with embarrassment, "Well, you don't have to go that far. I mean, I wouldn't say no, of course, but I wouldn't have any way of paying you back."

Smiling even more broadly, Applejack said, "Well, it ain't no big deal, partner. After all, that's what friends are for. Of course, provided you're in town this time next year, I wouldn't mind having a little help doing this again." Applejack extended a hoof.

Cricket took it and shook it, saying, "I'd be happy to, Miss Applejack."