• Published 21st Dec 2012
  • 2,861 Views, 43 Comments

Warmth - Dark Avenger

"Hey, Pony Joe! Another donut!"

  • ...


"For sale, Baby shoes, Never Worn"

— Ernest Hemingway


"Hey, Pony Joe! Another donut!"

The colt never even raised his head.

Pony Joe took a quick glance at him and sighed. Without a word, he grabbed a mug from the shelf behind him and poured it full of the hot stuff. Shaking his head, he then took out a box of his "strong" donuts and dipped one of them into the steaming brown liquid.

That kid again, he thought. This is his fifth round.

Joe looked back at the youngster again. He sat motionless at the far end of the counter with his head between his hooves. He could not have been in here for more than an hour, yet he was already going through more rounds than most other guests twice his age. Joe sighed again and placed the box back under the counter. With a slight flick of his hoof, he then slid the mug over to the colt.

The place was almost empty by now. The chairs and round tables stood barren, leaving the worn stools before the counter as the last refuge of the few patrons who stayed behind. Everypony else had either gone home, or went outside to face the blizzard, willing to risk a nasty cold to take part in the nighttime festivities.

Pony Joe wiped a bit of sweat from his brow. The heating had been turned up a little too high, making the alcohol-tainted air feel heavy, and even the all but deserted place feel cramped. Nopony would speak. An occasional sneeze or cough, a sigh, glass touching wood, somepony ordering another drink; these were the only things to break the silence weighing down on them.

Outside, the streets were bustling with activity. Even at this late hour, the Hearth's Warming Eve fair was still in full motion. Ponies milled and rushed about, carrying boxes of presents, as well as some last-minute decorations that still needed delivery. Families, young and old couples, and the occasional group of restless children wandered among vast the maze of stands, buying all sorts of trinkets and sampling a bit of the holiday cuisine.

A few blocks away, a couple of mischievous colts were setting off fireworks. A pair of guards came looking for the source of the disturbance, and the little daredevils would hide among the alleys, giggling to themselves.

On the square before the castle, a small crowd had gathered around a choir of colts and fillies from a nearby school. The older ponies cheered and stomped their hooves proudly as the children kept singing with joy, undeterred by the strong, icy winds biting into their ranks.

The fire of friendship lives in our hearts,
As long as it burns, we cannot drift apart!
Though quarrels arise, their numbers are few,
Laughter and singing will see us through!

Joe smiled. The singing reminded him of how he felt when he was their age. He remembered how much time was spent organizing and rehearsing their little act, how he thought the whole choir thing was stupid and pointless, how cold it was, and how much he wanted to go home already.

He remembered how the adults used to cheer for them and how happy they all looked. He remembered how by the time they were finished, the pride and joy he felt made him forget all of his frustration, and how he went back every year to do it again.

No matter how cold those nights became, he could always find some warmth.

There was a sudden, odd noise. It reminded him of laughter. Pony Joe's head snapped up. Had someone finally entered again? he thought.

No, the doorway is empty. He heard the noise again and realized it was coming from the middle-aged pony to his left. She must have had a few too many. She was not laughing, either; she was coughing. Six glasses of punch apparently did not cure her cold.

More noise came afterward. Hooves landing on hardwood. Somepony was getting up, ready to leave.

It was an older stallion from Manehattan. He said he came "to the heart of Equestria" to have some fun. He had been in here ever since he got off the train, and his only company was the cider he had been drinking. He burped, mumbled some sort of farewell, and stumbled out through the door.

Joe nodded silently, gathered the glasses the stallion had been drinking from, and placed them into the sink behind the counter. He watched the aging pony trudge outside and pull his coat tight over his body. Must be getting really cold out there, he thought.

To his right, the maroon colt raised the mug to his mouth. He grabbed the donut with his teeth and ate the whole thing in one bite. Grimacing slightly, he took a couple of sips from the hot chocolate, then lay his head back down on the counter.

"She isn't coming, is she?" Joe asked while using a rag to wipe some of the glasses clean.

The colt did not respond. Joe threw the rag into the sink and rinsed it with some water.

"No... she isn't," the kid finally muttered, his head still resting on the counter.

"When were you going to meet her?" Joe asked.

"Eight o'clock."

Pony Joe glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. It was half past ten.

"In front of the big tree on the square?" he asked.

"Yeah... I was there all day..." the colt mumbled, then took another sip from his drink.

Of course you were, he thought. Pony Joe knew this story by heart. Mares and stallions, young and old, impoverished and wealthy; the actors may have been different, but the play was still the same, and he had seen it so many times before.

Yes, that's how it always goes. Somepony walks in, looking all miserable, and asks for something strong to drink.

"Want another?" Joe asked, gesturing toward his now empty mug. The colt nodded.

Most of them don't even stop until they're all out of bits... or until they end up all over the floor.

Sometimes, Joe would be the one to ask them what the trouble was. He only felt that it was right, with it being Hearth's Warming Eve and all. Other times, he would be dragged into hearing about their misery, when all he wanted to do was serve their drinks.

They have a few rounds, waiting for that pleasant, warm haze to settle in. Then they start telling their stories.

"Think maybe she's just running late?" Pony Joe asked, then handed the kid his next round.

"No. I know she isn't." The colt took a bite of his donut. "She's never been late," he said. The alcohol was weighing down on his head more and more.

With this kind of story, the ending was the most important detail: the other never showed up. Sometimes they did, and they broke up that very night. Tears, curse words, prayers, and a great deal more drinks would follow.

The filling was a strong mix of jelly and gold rum. When served with the usual dose of hot chocolate, it was said to be the perfect remedy for the heartbroken during this season.

"Chocolate for the cold; rum for the soul..."

Not all of the stories were about "that special somepony," however. Ponies would cry their hearts out about anything in here: family, career, politics; even the weather that day could bring forth somepony's tears.

Such visits were not limited to the day of Hearth's Warming Eve, either. Every week, from Friday to Sunday, the "lost souls" of Canterlot wandered to Pony Joe's.

Let them come, he would tell himself. They're customers too, just like everypony else.

"So, you're just going to sit here, drinking all night?" Joe asked.

The maroon colt murmured something, but did not raise his head.

"Well?" Joe said.

"No... I don't know. I guess..." the kid babbled while swaying on his seat.

Pony Joe put down the glass he was holding and leaned closer to him. "Listen to me," he said. "Today wasn't your lucky day, all right? You win some, you lose some. Think sitting here on your flank, moping all night is going to change that?"

"No!" the colt moaned. "Look, I just..." He paused for a moment and looked like he was about to fall off the stool. "I just didn't want to feel any pain..."

"Nobody does, kid," Joe said. "Look around you." He gestured toward the other patrons. They all sat hunched over their drinks and stared blankly ahead. "You think they want to feel any? Think I keep the place open to see them like this? To see you like this?"

The young stallion turned his head to look at them. He did not reply for several seconds and slowly shook his head.

"Take my advice: this night isn't over yet," Joe said. "You are still young, and there's so much more ahead of you that life has to offer. So what the hay are you waiting for?"

He grabbed the kid's half-empty mug, dumped its contents it into the sink, and poured a fresh dose of hot chocolate into it. After adding another "strong" donut, he placed it in front of the brooding colt.

"Here," Joe said. "One more round, on the house. Drink up, then get out there and do something with your life already!"

The colt raised his head slightly and stared at the mug in front of him. He picked it up slowly, ate the whole donut in one bite again, and chugged down the steaming liquid all at once.

Pony Joe smiled and patted his shoulder. "Don't you worry, kid," he said. "Just forget about what happened tonight. It gets better."

At that moment, the youngster raised his head completely and stared straight into Joe's face. His smile disappeared as soon as he saw the look in the colt's eyes.

It was not a look of happiness, sorrow, or even anger, which he might have expected. The young pony's face was empty, devoid of any kind of emotion. Behind those brown irises, the spark of youthful lust was long gone, replaced by a look of grim determination and morbid acceptance. Somehow, today was already far behind him, along with all the rest of the days that would follow. The sight chilled Pony Joe to the core.

After what felt like an eternity, the maroon colt finally looked away. He retrieved a dozen bits from his coat pocket and left them on top of the counter. Without saying another word, he got off his seat, pulled his coat over his shoulders, and walked outside.

"Seven rounds, and he's walking in a straight line..." Joe whispered in disbelief.


11 PM. Closing time.

Pony Joe busied himself with doing a final sweep of the floor. Behind him, three young ponies argued quietly about whose house they should stay at. From the sound of it, adding cider to their debate did not move things along any faster.

They were his final guests for the night. He was about to close the place when they showed up, begging him to be allowed to stay for just a few minutes. Reluctantly, Joe let them inside. A half-dozen other patrons had yet to leave anyway, so it did not make that much of a difference.

Joe had other things on his mind. Ever since he left almost half an hour ago, he just could not stop thinking about that colt. What could have been bothering him to make him look so... off? he thought, shuddering as he remembered the look on the pony's face.

"Who are you, kid? Where the hay did you go?" he muttered to himself.

Glasses clinked, and ponies cheered; the youngsters apparently found their solution for the rest of the night. Joe permitted himself a slight chuckle. If they keep this up, I doubt they'll make it to anypony's place, he thought, remembering all those nights spent on the streets after "just a couple of drinks."

The door to his place burst open again, letting in a freezing gust of air. A large white pegasus stallion stepped in, wearing the traditional gold armor plating of the Royal Guard.

"Whew!" he huffed while stomping his hooves to get the snow off of them. "Hell of a breeze we got out here... Hey, Joe! Happy Hearth's Warming Eve!"

Joe nodded back and smiled. "Hey there, Sunburst! The usual?"

"Nah, I think I'm gonna need something a bit stronger this time. I can't feel my goddess-damned wings!"

Joe nodded once more and trotted back behind the bar to retrieve a large bottle and a shot glass.

"Rum? Haha, excellent! My soul could use a bit of warming up, too!" Sunburst mused while dusting himself off. He removed his helmet and took a seat before the counter.

Pony Joe nudged the glass in front of his friend. "Cheers!" the guard exclaimed, then drank up. The trio of colts to his left raised their cider mugs to him in response.

"Damn, I needed that!" Sunburst said. "These last few hours weren't going easy on me. Sucks having to work a shift on a holiday, right?"

Joe picked up the broom again.

"Heh, I guess you should know," the pegasus went on. "Why the hay do you keep this place open today, anyhow? Business that good?"

"It makes ponies happy. I like to see them being happy," Joe replied curtly.

"Yeah? Well, why not close early at least? I don't see a lot of happy folk here by the evening."

"I don't want to send them away, out into the cold. Why not let them feel wanted somewhere?"

"Sure, sure, whatever works for you, Joe," Sunburst said with a laugh. He poured himself another shot.

"You know," he said, his tone suddenly going a bit darker, "every year, when Hearth's Warming Eve comes 'round, I wish that everypony would stay out of trouble this time. Just one day without anything bad happening to anypony." He raised the glass in front of his face, stared into the amber liquid for a while, and gave a slight chuckle. "I'd take it, even if it means I'm left without a job."

Pony Joe did not reply. The right corner still had some dirt piled up in it. One of his guests had dragged in a lot of mud before sitting down. He sighed and went over to sweep it up.

"Well, tonight wasn't going to be my lucky night either," Sunburst said. "Bumped into a small crowd on Lily Street. Figured it must be some kind of trouble." He downed a second dose of alcohol and gave a small grunt. "Ambulance carriage was parked next to them. I knew it wasn't going to be good news."

Joe placed the broom back in its corner, walked back behind the bar, and poured the next shot. He paused for a moment, bottle in his hoof, and took out a glass for himself.

"Pegasus mare. Young. Barely past twenty. The ponies in the neighborhood said she must have been in a hurry somewhere. She was flying way too fast among streets that were much too narrow."

Down went the third round. Joe poured himself a shot, while the pegasus rested his head on his hooves.

"Paramedics said that by the time they got there, there was nothing they could do. She probably didn't feel anything by the time she hit the ground."

I just didn't want to feel any pain...

Sunburst was still talking to him, but Pony Joe could no longer hear what he was saying. The rum burned a path down to his stomach, leaving behind a dull throb and a lingering warmth. His attention drifted to the sound of those colts' and fillies' singing outside. What came through before as muffled noise he could now hear with absolute clarity. He could hear every one of their wonderful voices, the faint tremor in each note as they all shivered slightly in the cold.

We are a circle of pony friends
A circle of friends
We'll be to the very end!

Comments ( 43 )

Congratulations, you gave me feelings! What a great read! :pinkiehappy:


Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! :raritywink:

No character tags? Interesting...

Interestingly, I was kind of expecting more plot to this whole story. It was a true slice of life, that's for sure. However, I did not find it very sad, to be honest; despite the apparent relation between the events that were talked about. Hm, maybe I'm just not very sympathetic. :applejackunsure:

I definitely felt something with the conclusion. Great story.:twilightsmile:

The realization at the end hit me like a ton of bricks. Good job.

This was fantastic! Thank you for making this great piece of fanfiction!

Kamelot - Serenade

Sigh... :pinkiesad2:


No tags for Pony Joe (as far as I know), and it's way too short to mention "OC ponies," or anything...

1899198 Could do "other" :rainbowwild:

Okay, I might as well write a little review.

I'll start with nitpicks. In the show, we get a glimpse of Joe's place, and it (to me, at least) seems pretty obvious he runs a cafe, not a bar. You went with the latter, and that led to the setting that has 'bar attributes' - drunk ponies (how unexpected!), generally more vulgar language and Joe being a bartender. The latter interferes with my headcanon, but serves well here, so I let it slide. Another thing I could mention is formatting, namely the very beginning - usually, the epigraph is put on the right side of the page, and there's no break following it.

Now, to less subjective matters.
I think I didn't really get the message, but let's assume it was to show that there's still a dark side even to such a celebration as Hearth's Warming Eve.
Then how you went about it would be showing all the ponies coming to a bar to drown their misery in alcohol, show how Joe tries to help it, and then... I don't get it. Did that colt went off after that mare to kill her, so she tried to escape and crashed in the narrow streets? Okay, it's probably me being stupid (and sleepy), but I think the ending needs some more clarity.
Back to the message - it was pretty abstract, and by that I mean I really didn't get what were you going for - it isn't that strong, you aren't really making a point, but rather just show us a series of events. If you wanted that dark edge to the holiday - it wasn't all that dark; if you wanted to show that every encouragement, even from a stranger matters (I have no idea where I got this from) - then it's even less clear. Here, Joe tries to help someone who is drunk and in torment - pretty much the same as trying to control 200 kV electricity currents with a metal stick - you have absolutely no control.

What I'm trying to get to, is that as a story, this is a pretty solid piece, but as fanfiction it lacks substance.
I'll assume you tried to go full Hemingway, but, well, you're not exactly Hemingway, so trying to send a strong message in such a short notice is kind of a futile task. Don't get me wrong - write more, just don't limit yourself. Lastly, congrats on the EqD feature:pinkiesmile:


Thank you for the review.

I'm kind of a noob at properly formatting a story, so I don't mind any nitpicking. I'll do my best to clear it up next time. Also, Hemingway is way above anything I could ever cough up. I just wanted to experiment with something similar, and this quote just came to mind somehow. :twilightsheepish:

As the very first line might suggest, the setting was partly inspired by the ending of "The Best Night Ever." Yes, it might come across more as a "pub" rather than a cafe, and the latter might indeed be more appropriate. To that, I'll only reply: note the time.

There isn't any distinct message that I try to convey with this story. There is a central theme (which I think is painfully obvious), and while I do have my own interpretation, I leave it completely up to the reader to decide what it means to them. So far, your "version" is the one that I least expected, but it's interesting to see these kinds of reactions. :raritywink:

As for my feature on EQD, thanks alot, but... well, I'll just let someone else explain: :derpytongue2:

“I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.”
(Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse Five)

1899696 Well, regarding the whole 'message' ordeal - it is more or less something I'm looking for in fanfiction; literature is not among the arts I like to be abstract
I'm actually curious about what you were expecting, care to share?:twilightblush:
Regardless, I blame any stupidity on my side on the time - it's 5:40 around here, and I'm not exactly wide-awake...


It's funny: the more I think about your interpretation, the more I'm convinced it works almost as well as my own (or any other, really)... :pinkiecrazy:

I don't really want to give away why everything is written as it is, though. Not just yet. I never really expected anything either, to be honest. Maybe that some would like this story, and some would not, which is fine by me. It only gets really interesting once they describe why they liked or disliked it, or were at least interested by it.

My interpretation is that the girl who died was rushing to meet the colt at Joe's place. Of course, she doesn't make it; she's dead. That's why the colt can't just 'forget it' and move on, like Joe wants him to. It's not just his crush not meeting up with him on Hearth's Warming, it's someone very dear to him dying (and therefore NEVER being able to meet up with him again).

This part I'm a little less sure about, but again, my personal interpretation: After the death of his love interest, the colt tried to drown his sorrows in alcohol/hot chocolate. My opinion is that he committed suicide at the end of the fic, but I'm of two minds on what part Joe's store played. Was the colt there to get really drunk so dying wouldn't hurt? Or was the drinking 'removing the pain', and once he'd decided to leave the store, the only way to get rid of the pain was to die? I think I prefer the last interpretation, at least, I prefer the idea that it was Joe's well-meaning encouragement that in actuality made the colt end his life. And when Joe hears the news about the filly, those pieces slot into place; finally, he realizes why the colt's determined look of 'morbid acceptance' haunted him so much.

Pony Joe wants to give people a place they're 'wanted', to make people happy. He thinks he's doing good by sending the colt out into the cold, but his help is really more damaging in this case.

On a more abstract level, the story itself sends a message about how the story you think you've seen 100 times before may not be the story this time: Joe assumes he's seeing a young man who's been stood up, but what he's really seeing is a deeply depressed colt who's just learnt somebody he loved has died trying to reach him.

1903786 looking back, I might've gone overboard with dark undertones, but oh well. I guess the whole reason why the story isn't exactly clear is because we don't have much knowledge about the timeline - the guard came in half an hour after the colt's departure, and there's plenty of ways how all of the ponies involved could spend that time. Note to 1900250: if those events would be clearer, we'd have a more, eh, centered theme.

Still though, It's interesting to see this story from another angle:twilightsmile:


I like the way you think. :raritywink:

I would like to mention that the setting of Pony Joe's place - and the role of Pony Joe himself - had two major "inspirations." The first was, as I have mentioned before, the scene at the end of "The Best Night Ever." The other was a scene from a short movie that I saw a while back. The conversation between Pony Joe and the colt is more or less based on this scene, although the original is far more vulgar, and (as far as I know) doesn't have any kind of tragedy at the end.

The short summary is: "kid walks into a bar, looks miserable, bartender is sick of seeing people like that, gives the kid a couple of free rounds, tells him to stop whining and move on." The scene is actually far more interesting to watch than to read my sloppy abridged version, and seeing it would probably help make it look less like I just "copy-pasted" it, but unfortunately I can't find an english version anywhere.

One thing I might suggest when trying to find an interpretation is: don't focus on the "plot" so much. The important stuff is in the details, as scarce as they may be.


This was originally a submission for a contest, and the word limit was at 3000, thus part of the reason why I chose to leave so much "beneath the surface."

One free review as promised.

Grammar mistakes I found:
Smaller mistakes: 0
Sentences with major flaws: 0
Overall: I didn't find anything wrong :yay:

Plot and pacing:
Didn't seem rushed or slow. Good idea, carried out well.

Distinct ponies, well thought out.

Probably one of the best oneshots I have read and the poeple who downvoted it wouldn't know a good fiction if it crawled down their throat and bit their intestines. They should be banned from the site.
9.5 out of 10
(That it probably a little biased but oh well)

p.s. Do you like my new review style?


Thank you for the review!

Personally, I think every reader is entitled to their own opinion. They definitely don't deserve a ban for keeping me aware that no matter how good I might think I am, I could always be better...

As for your review: This style appears to be a bit more stripped down and to the point, which, I suppose, is more practical. I guess the only thing I lack would be pointing out any specific highlights for you in the story (if there were any... :raritywink:) It feels a bit "technical" this way, a somewhat rigid approach to something as soft as prose... :duck:

Other than that, though, it's a good review! :twilightsmile:


Am I reviewing reviews now? :derpyderp2:

Well it would be more in depth if there was more that I had to say about about your story. I just didn't find anything wrong with it and thought it accomplished its purpose.

I was being a little dramatic about the people who down voted your story. Maybe just a tad...:twilightblush:

And for the record you did just review a review :raritywink:

Okay, Honest review/Feedback coming up:

So where to start... The story itself is pretty good. The characters behave naturally. Thought at the beggining I could not understand how were the ponies at the Joe's store got drunk off hot chocolate untill you said that he mixed rum in it.The twist at the end was unexpexted and was really executed nicely. Basicly there is not a whole lot to tell about the story. It was a good and solid read.

Overall: A nice short story that is totally worth reading.

Final verdict: 7.5/10.

Best Wishes, Zelos:twilightsmile::twilightsmile::twilightsmile:.

The songs would have been more effective without such a wonky syllable count.

(Try thinking of them as poetry, it makes them fit into prose better.)

Overall it's got plenty of heart.

Well done.


You mean the song (not plural) that the children are singing? That's from the show... :raritywink:



That is true, but also irrelevant.

A song that works well in an animation might not work as well in writing.

Think about it.

When you listen to music, the beat instantly gives you the rhythm and stress of each syllable.

But in prose (just as in poetry) all you have are the syllables themselves, caesuras, and whichever meter you choose.
(And a few sneaky tricks as well, but I'll keep this simple.:raritywink:)

Here's an example of a song written specifically for a book, extracted from chapter 1 of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:


Right from the first stanza, a pattern is established: each line has exactly eight syllables.

However, if you watch the same song being sung in the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the overall prosody of each word changes dramatically, causing some lines to have more beats, while some have fewer.

The first line, for example, seems to have ten syllables in the movie, just because of how it was performed, and other aspects of the soundtrack that were used.

Bottom line -- the fic would be better if you gave writing poetry a shot. :raritystarry:

I know it's unreasonable to expect you to go to all that extra effort, but I'm just saying -- it would be better.

Hell, you might even have fun with it. :rainbowlaugh:


1) I already did some poetry in another fic of mine... :raritywink:

2) The song is taken directly from the show, exactly the way it is. I can't really change that, nor did I intend to at all. Structurally, it might indeed not have been the best choice, but I'm quite certain that the intended effect does not depend upon that.

Thank you for your input, though! :duck:

1899559 I think Dark Avenger meant that the mare was the depressed colt's marefriend and the colt knew. He wasn't chasing her. She was trying to be on time.

Was this supposed to be a pony version of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?


What the fu-- :pinkiegasp:

I swear I never actually read that one before (despite Hemingway otherwise being a huge influence on "Warmth"), but I'm less than a paragraph into it and... wow... :derpytongue2:

So... is that a good or a bad thing? :twilightblush:

Also, it's actually a pony (and slightly more morbid) version of this: (link)

I've read plenty of material, seen plenty of characters go through suffering for the sake of plot. This is just plain sad. :fluttercry:


Awkward wording you got there... :unsuresweetie:

So does this mean it was worth your time?

4470450 Oh, indeed it was. I meant it was heartbreakingly sad, tragic. Like seeing a puppy out in the rain.

4470450 Or even, 'The Little Match Girl' sad.


Thank you! :twilightsmile:

All it takes is a cold winter day to come up with this stuff, I suppose...

Well, it's believable when you consider that when I hit page down to scroll past the banner (I need large font to read comfortably), I completely scrolled past the "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." at the top of the page :twilightblush:and thought the first line was "Hey, Pony Joe! Another donut!" So, I thought you sounded like Hemingway without seeing the quote. I guess that's a good thing? :pinkiecrazy:


How does the saying go? "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"? :twilightblush:

Or was it "bad artists imitate, good artists steal"? :trollestia:

welp, i had this safely put under 'read later' for a while, and now, after finally reading this, i have to say that that was a mistake in my own accord. two weeks of leaving it in the back burner was a bad decision. it's an incredible read and i mean it. the pacing is even and steady throughout, the dialogue is as natural as natural could possibly get, and the characters are only as flowed out as they are needed. overall, it is, as i previously stated, amazing.


Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :raritywink:

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