• Published 21st Jan 2015
  • 3,335 Views, 193 Comments

The Mailmare - Bad Horse



The Equestrian Postal Carrier's Hoofbook lists three circumstances under which mail service may be suspended. The end of the world is not one of them.

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1. The Flowers

“Pa!”

Wild blinked groggily. “Wha—”

Corn was pushing on his shoulder with one hoof. His lavender eyes were close, quivering in a sea of white.

Wild shook himself awake. Pink. Not white. White was gone. He rolled out of bed.

“Somebody’s coming, Pa!”

“Gimme the rifle.”

Corn pulled the rifle’s mounting yoke off his shoulders and draped it over Wild’s. Wild cinched the buckle tight under his neck. He followed Corn into the front room of the farmhouse, setting his hooves down carefully and quietly as he went. After five years, it was still “the rifle” to Wild, never “my rifle” like the sergeants made him call it during the war. The ugly black thing still looked to him like some predatory stick insect.

Corn pointed out the front window, down toward the road. The sky was still cloudless, and in the red glow of the sunset he could see something moving down by the old mailbox.

Wild pointed his nose at the binoculars slung around Corn’s neck and grunted. He kept one hoof on the rifle’s stock while Corn held them up for him.

“There’s a pony out there, all right,” he muttered. He couldn’t tell what color it was in the red light. “Got some kind of military saddlebags on. Look like they’re meant for flying.”

Corn drew in a breath.

“Wait… yeah, it’s a pegasus. Dammit.”

The land before the overgrown dirt road was cracked and dry, losing a little more topsoil every time a storm came through. Anypony standing on the road should see just another abandoned homestead. But up the hill from the road, hidden behind hillocks or thorn bushes, there were wisps of green, scrawny plants of whatever sorts could survive in the dim light of the eternal sunset. No carrots or potatoes, but peas, beans, lettuce, and spinach.

He heard Sun’s high-pitched voice, shaking with excitement. “Pa! What’s going on, Pa?”

“Ssh. Get in the cellar, Sun.” Wild kept his eye on the strange pony, who was sniffing at the mailbox. The mailbox flag, which had been down for the past five years, was sticking straight up, like a bright red cape beckoning any passing bulls.

“Dammit, Sun.”

Those town ponies must have been filling Sun’s head with stories again. He’d leave the colt at home next time he went, no matter what May said.

The pegasus opened the mailbox and reached inside. It pulled out an envelope.

Wild should’ve whipped the colt last time he put a letter in the box. Now somepony would die for his soft-heartedness. Any fool could tell the difference between a letter that had sat in a mailbox for five years and one that hadn’t. Wild shrugged off the binoculars. He unlatched the window and softly pulled it open a few inches. He heard soft hoofsteps behind him and knew now his wife was in the room too.

“Don’t, Wild,” she whispered. “Let them take the crops. You know we can’t stay out here on our own forever.”

“Hush, May,” he grumbled. “Town’s no safer. Just a big bullseye waitin’ to be hit.”

He took a deep breath, pulled back the bolt on the rifle, and aimed.

A hoof pushed the rifle to one side. In a reflex, Wild lashed out blindly with the stock before he could stop himself. He looked over, heart thumping, and saw shock on Sun’s face. He’d have bashed the colt’s head in if he’d been any taller.

“Celestia’s piss!” he snarled. “I damn near killed you, son!”

But the little colt grabbed onto his foreleg, pulling the rifle down. “Don’t, Pa! It’s the mailmare! I told ya she’d come!”

Wild tried to shake the colt off. “Shut up and get down. There ain’t no mailmare.”

“Pa—” Corn said.

“Get this fool colt offa me right quick, Corn.”

“Pa!” Corn said. He was looking through the binoculars again. “It—it took the letter!”

Wild kicked Sun under the elbow with a rear leg. The colt grunted and fell back.

“Pegasi’ll take anything,” Wild said, raising the rifle again.

“And it pushed the flag back down!”

Wild paused, his hoof on the trigger. “What?”

“I said it it pushed the flag back down, Pa!”

“She pushed the flag back down,” Sun said between gasps.

Wild lowered the rifle and grabbed the binoculars, yanking Corn toward him by the neck as he did so. He peered through the binoculars.

The pegasus reached over its shoulder with the letter still in its mouth. It flipped the saddlebag cover open and dropped the letter in. It nosed around in the bag, grabbed a different letter in its teeth, pushed that into the mailbox, and shut the door after it. Then it stared at the mailbox and... smiled. Grinned, even.

“You better leave her alone!” Sun said. “They say she’s the baddest pony in the Waste. Nopony can stop her!”

“Hush!” Wild said. But it was too late. The strange pony whipped its head toward them, and for a moment Wild and the pony looked straight at each other.

It was a mare. There was something wrong with her eyes. Not so much that he couldn’t read the sudden fear in them. She jumped into the air and was gone before he could blink.

“Dammit,” Wild said. “Dammit, dammit, dammit!

And then that fool colt was running across the yard, on a cloudless day. A pegasus would see his bright yellow ass from a mile away. Not that it mattered now, Wild supposed.

“I am going to whip that colt’s hide like it’s never been whipped before,” Wild said. “And then I’m gonna whip it again in the other direction.”

“Wild,” May said.

“Don’t you even,” Wild said.

Then Sun was bursting through the door again, letting it slam behind him like it was before the war. Wild stood up to his full height and took a step toward the colt, even as his wife laid a hoof on his shoulder.

Sun spat a letter out onto the windowsill. “We got a letter from grandma!”

“Don’t lie about your grandma, colt,” Wild said. “You never knew her.”

“Pa—” Corn said.

“Go out into the yard and bring me a switch, Sun, and it’d better be thick or I’ll pick one myself.”

“Not now, Wild,” May said, looking nervously at the sky.

“Pa,” Corn said. “He ain’t lyin’.” He pointed his nose at the letter.

Wild stared at the envelope. “The Flowers,” it said, in his mother’s shaky writing.

He flipped open his jackknife, tore the envelope open, and shook out a letter. Everyone gathered with their heads in a circle around him.

“‘6th of Rain’s End, 1007,’” he read. “Two days before the war.”

“What’s it say?” Corn asked.

“What kinda crazy pony risks her life delivering five-year-old letters?”

“Wild,” May said. “The letter.”

Wild read it slowly, in a voice somepony might use in church. “‘Dear Wild, May, and Corn.’ That was before your time, kid,” he said, glancing at Sun.

His eyes wandered around the edges of the paper. The room, the ponies receded from view until he was aware only of the sound of their breathing. He waved the letter gently. It filled the room with an exotic crinkling sound.

“It's lighter than an eggshell,” he said.

“You haven't forgotten how to read?” May said.

“Naw,” he said quietly. “I ain't forgot.”

Wild cleared his throat. “‘Dear Wild, May, and Corn,’ he read again. ‘It was lovely having you over for Winter Wrap Up, and kind of you to come even though I know they don’t do it right in the city. Grandpa is still grumbling about it even as I write this. I think he enjoys grumbling about it more than he ever enjoyed the old festival. Celly knows he can’t do much else anymore.’”

Wild paused and swallowed. The family all looked at each other in the red light.

“‘Soon the robins will return, and the flowers will come up. We’ll go to the park in the afternoon again. He can grumble with the other old men while I gossip with the other old women.’”

“What’s a robin?” Sun asked.

“It’s a bird that don’t lay eggs for you,” Wild said.

“We haven’t had flowers in a long time,” May said.

“We’ve got lots of flowers!” Sun said. “The peas got flowers, and the beans got flowers.”

“Those aren’t proper flowers, dear,” May said.

Wild resumed reading. “‘We’re so excited about May’s news! Do pick out a name ahead of time, one for a colt and one for a filly. Don’t put it off or you’ll end up naming it Wall.’” He rubbed Sun’s head. “She’s talking about you, kid. ‘The kettle’s at a boil, so that’s all for now. Write back soon. Love, Grandma.’”

He folded the letter up and slid it carefully back into the envelope.

“You think grandma and grandpa are okay?” Sun asked.

“I don’t know, son,” Wild said. “I sure do wish I could write them back.”

“I did, Pa! I wrote her a letter. I told her I was Sun and I’m her grand-colt, and that I take care of the peas, and also that my favorite color is yellow and my favorite food is fresh peas.” He looked down sheepishly. “It was a lot about me.”

“You sent her a letter,” Wild said. “You honest-to-Celly sent her a letter.”

He patted Sun’s head. Then he looked around the sitting room, and out the windows, out across the whole of their little homestead. “We’re Flowers, and by Celestia, we’re gonna plant some flowers around here,” he announced. He looked over at his wife. “Some proper flowers.”

Author's Note:

The month name "Rain's End" comes from Superfortress78's Equestrian Calendar. The plot idea comes from David Brin's The Postman, which worked it better in the first half and then pissed it away in the second.

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