The last thing she remembered, she was settling herself into bed for a much-needed afternoon nap….
A rapidly descending wind swept roughly through Applejack’s golden mane, which slowly lulled her back into a conscious state. Her eyes creaked themselves open, but it was not the ceiling of her bedroom that met her unfocused vision. It was instead an open blue sky, and clouds that somehow seemed much closer than she was used to seeing them.
Feeling slightly confused, Applejack rose her head up from the non-existent pillow that lay underneath it. She writhed herself free from the non-existent blanket that covered her body. There was nothing but empty sky in nearly every direction she looked, and as her awareness was restored, Applejack understood exactly what was happening.
She was in midair. She was falling.
A fearful cry emerged from her mouth as she gripped the reality of her situation, and her mind was instantly riddled with confusion as to how this could have possibly happened. A quick and thorough look around revealed nothing in sight but the sun, the clouds, and the hard, unforgiving ground a very far distance below. There was no hot air balloon in sight that she had slipped out of, no structure from above that she had fallen from, and no pegasi from any direction who were rushing swiftly to her aid.
With her adrenaline kicking in quickly, Applejack aimed herself towards a cloud just beneath her, hoping beyond hope that it would gently catch her like a pair of white, fluffy arms. But as expected, her body simply passed through its airy surface, taking a rush of condensed water as it did so.
Her one and only hope had failed her. She quickly realized that she would continue to fall until she reached the earth several miles below….which would most certainly claim her life.
Applejack closed her eyes, wracking her mind as to how this could have possibly happened. As far as she could tell, she had somehow been moved from her bedroom and carried up high in the air, where she was presumably dropped. Though not a particularly light sleeper, Applejack was certain that she would have awakened if somepony….or something had moved her from her bed and climbed thousands upon thousands of feet in the air to release her. Was this simply some plum crazy spell of Twilight’s that had gone wrong, as they occasionally did? Was it a particularly cruel prank from Rainbow Dash, who was now waiting somewhere near the ground to swoop in and save her at the very last minute? Or rather, perhaps it was a prank of Discord’s instead? It certainly seemed more in-tune with the dark humor he revelled in with so much twisted pleasure.
Or perhaps some old enemy had returned to take revenge, and this was simply how they had resigned to do it? At that moment, Applejack had the unnerving thought of each of her friends waking up in a similarly grim circumstance, mere moments away from a seemingly inescapable death...
Regardless of how and why Applejack went from being snug in her bed to plummeting from the sky, it quickly ceased to matter to her. Her attention shifted instead towards her apparent inability to save herself, and the fact that there was no sign of any possible salvation anywhere in sight.
She was tumbling through the sky, flipping over and over like an uncoordinated gymnast, barely able to control her flailing limbs. She was falling fast enough for the rapidly descending air to sting her cheeks and tingle her stomach, but curiously, she also felt as though she were suspended in slow motion. Several minutes seemed to have passed since her awakening, yet her distance from the ground had not appeared to change.
Applejack aimed herself at another cloud, and like before, she passed through it, dissipating the cloud entirely as its condensed water drenched her body again. It was simply no use. The clouds would not catch her like they would a pegasus, not that a pegasus would ever be faced with the dilemma of falling to their death…..except perhaps Fluttershy.
Even a unicorn would stand a greater chance at survival in this situation. Applejack knew that the most basic spell for all unicorns was levitation, which they could even use on themselves. If they could not use a spell to fly, they would at least be able to stop their fall when only a few feet from the ground and thus land safely.
But Applejack had neither of those advantages, and there was no question that she would be entirely flattened once her body made contact with the ground, provided nothing about her predicament changed between now and then. Even Pinkie Pie, an earth pony like herself, could probably find a way to….
The thought of Pinkie triggered a brilliant idea to form as suddenly as a bucked apple falling upon Applejack’s head, and her hope for survival was quickly reignited. If she were to curl herself into a ball just before striking the ground, she would possibly bounce right back up and repeat the process until her momentum eventually subsided and allowed her a safe landing. Though she was unsure whether or not the ability to bounce like a ball was simply part of Pinkie’s exclusive reality-bending repertoire, it was the only thing she could think of that would grant any remote possibility of saving her life, at least short of the Wonderbolts swooping in to her rescue out of thin air.
Applejack’s fear ebbed away slightly as her situation now felt somewhat less dire, yet it remained present enough that she still trembled in the rushing breeze that continued to whip vigorously through her mane and tail. There were still massive questions on her mind, and although she now felt safer than she had minutes ago, she still felt that they were in need of answering.
What if she did not survive? What if this was….it? What if she was now experiencing the final moments of her life?
Applejack inhaled and exhaled a series of steady breaths as she reflected on what it would mean if her life were to end within the next few minutes. She had never truly given much thought as to how much time she would have to live. Granny Smith had been fortunate enough to see life well past the point where she was white-haired and wrinkly, while Applejack’s parents were barely even half Granny’s age when their lives were tragically extinguished.
On that unforgettable day, Applejack realized that death could arrive suddenly and unexpectedly, no matter how much she did not anticipate it. Death did not care how young she was, or how many years of her life it was mercilessly stealing away. It would come for her whenever it wanted to, and there was nothing she would be able to do about it when it did.
Applejack felt tears rising to her eyes, which the swiftly descending wind extracted before they could be shed. She realized how much she did not want to die in this manner, especially not while she still had no idea how and why this had happened.
As the ground finally surfaced into view, revealing that she would be falling directly into the middle of an arid canyon, memories of Applejack’s life came swirling through her mind, accompanied by voices of the past. Her memories centered upon one of the only moments she could recall as a foal. She saw herself giggling with joy as her parents engaged her in a simple game of peek-a-boo. If only she had known back then how much she would eventually come to miss their beaming faces….
“Where’s my little apple?”
The question was answered by the innocent and jovial giggling of a foal, knowing full well what was coming next...
“There she is!”
The giggling erupted into full-blown laughter as her mother abruptly revealed her face—a face that she loved, and would love forever, even when it would eventually become nothing more than a memory...
Applejack’s memories shifted, and the next thing she saw was herself at the very first Ponyville rodeo she had ever competed in, with all four of her tiny hooves stuffed into bright red boots as she posed for a picture with her very first blue ribbon, smiling with unwavering pride.
“Honest to goodness, six years old and already lassoing like a pro!”
“Smile for the camera, sweetie!”
She conjured the widest grin her cheeks would possibly allow. Within moments, there was the sound of a shutter snapping and a simultaneous flash of light, and in a matter of seconds, the moment was captured forever on a flimsy strip of printed memory, seemingly insignificant, yet still worth so very much...
Her memories continued to shift rapidly, playing through her life as though the strands of her memory were the reels of a film. She next saw herself as an eager and feisty thirteen-year-old on the day she had learned a valuable lesson in honesty—the virtue she would commit herself to live by for the remainder of her days. She had found herself in Ponyville General’s surgery room, admitting to an entire audience of ponies that she had lied repeatedly in a desperate attempt to save the partnership between Sweet Apple Acres and Rich’s Barnyard Bargains. It was a day she would never forget, and Granny and Big Mac would certainly make sure of that...
“Please don’t make Granny and the farm suffer for what I did! This whole thing is my fault…”
Applejack hung her head, fully enveloped in a sense of shame and failure which was greater than she had ever experienced in her entire young life. Then came the voice of her big brother, with whom she had angrily clashed against the idea of telling the truth throughout the entire ordeal...
“That’s...not entirely true. Maybe if I paid more attention to what you had to say instead of talkin’ all the time, none of this woulda happened in the first place. I just need to...talk less, listen more, especially to you.”
He wrapped a tender hoof around her back, unleashing a massive surge a relief throughout her body which she expressed through a sigh. The relief was quickly followed by gratitude, as Applejack knew he could have staunchly insisted that he had been right all along, something that she certainly would have expected, but he had instead chosen to take the fall alongside her.
“Thanks, big brother. And whether it’s me runnin’ Sweet Apple Acres or you, I know it’ll be in good hooves.”
They embraced each other tightly, and Granny was then rather quick to assert that neither of them would be running the farm for a good long time...
The reels of memory changed again, and the next image to enter Applejack’s mind was the day she met her younger sister for the first time. Her mother had stated for months that they would soon be receiving a new member of the family, who was, somehow, growing within her tummy—a process her parents refused to disclose to her until she was, in their words, “a heap older.” When the day of delivery finally arrived, Applejack soon learned that she had not been nearly as prepared for it as she had thought she was...
“Come meet your new sister, Applejack.”
The nervous filly carefully shuffled her hooves forward, quivering with fear despite months of anticipating this very moment. She hoisted herself up onto a seat beside her mother's bed, then slowly leaned forward to get a first good look at the being that was cradled in her mother's hooves.
“This is Apple Bloom, sweetie. Won't you say 'hi?'”
But tears were quickly filling Applejack’s eyes and she was rendered unable to speak. She was really staring at a new sister—a brand new sister. A brand new member of her family with whom she would be connected to by blood for the rest of their lives. And here she was! Applejack still could not even begin to understand how this new sibling had ended up in her mother’s tummy, or how they had managed to remove her, but it no longer mattered. Her new sister was here now, and they would soon have a lifetime of sisterly bonding to share….
“Oh, Applejack, don’t cry…”
But those words would be lost on her…
The very next memory to pervade Applejack’s thoughts, the one she dreaded the most, was of the unforgettable night that Granny Smith had sat by her side and told her, as delicately as possible, that she would never be seeing her parents again. It had been the very first time she had ever seen Granny shed tears….
“W-What d’ya mean they ain’t comin’ home no more? Where’re they goin’, Granny?!”
Granny struggled to maintain eye contact, but Applejack could easily see that she was losing a fight to keep tears from leaking down her aged face.
“Applejack, honey, they…”
Granny was clearly lost for an answer, but she did not need to give one. Applejack could easily tell from the somber look on her face that their lives would never be the same again from this moment forward.
“I don’t want them to go!!!! I don’t want them to go, Granny!!!!”
She felt her grandmother's hoof tightly clutching her side.
“I know, honey, I know. I don’t want them to go either….”
Tears were sliding up from Applejack’s eyes by the time she forced the image out of her head. The image that replaced it was of her vigorously shaking Twilight’s hoof on the day of the Summer Sun Celebration—the day that her small-town country life subsequently changed forever as she rose to become one of Equestria’s defenders over the course of a single night.
“We here at Sweet Apple Acres sure do like makin’ new friends!”
“‘Friendsss…?’ Actually, I….”
Applejack then wasted no time introducing this new friend to every last Apple who had shown up for that year’s reunion, each of whom were just as welcoming as she was as they opened up a seat for Twilight at their lunch table.
Only twelve hours later, Applejack would find herself venturing into the Everfree Forest alongside Twilight and four other ponies whom she had been merely acquainted with up to that point. They would eventually end up inside the castle ruins deep in the forest, standing before the once-mythical Nightmare Moon...
“Applejack, who reassured me when I was in doubt, represents the spirit of Honesty!”
And as soon as Twilight said those words, several crystal shards, glowing with an orange hue, began to circle around Applejack's body. The next thing she knew, her hooves were lifted off the ground, bright flashes and rainbow-colored lights surrounded her from every direction, and when it was all over, she knew that she would remain connected with each of those five ponies for a very, very long time....
Several additional moments of Applejack’s past weaved in and out of her mind like a needle and thread, stitching together the quilt of her life. Such moments included the brief period she had spent in Manehattan with her distant aunt and uncle Orange, and her summer at Camp Friendship, where she had grown close to one of the biggest future celebrities in Equestria, without even being aware of it until many years later. Housed within Applejack’s memories was evidence of a relatively short, yet largely enjoyable life, marred slightly by a nearly unbearable tragedy early on. There were only a few moments in her life where she would have desired to act differently if ever given the chance to repeat them—only a few choices that she would or would not have otherwise made. If this was how she was going to end, there would be very few regrets she would be taking to her grave.
It was painful to think about how her family would react to her death. Granny Smith was surely no stranger to tragedy, but she had never buried a grandchild before. Apple Bloom would likely take her loss the hardest, knowing that she would forever miss out on all remaining moments of sisterly bonding they had yet to share—never would they compete together in another Sisterhooves Social, and never would they develop new games out of their farm chores again. Big Mac would surely try his best to remain strong, to keep his grief suppressed and support Granny and his younger sister, but once in private, he would surely break down harder than the both of them. Applejack could already imagine the entire Apple family coming from every last corner of Equestria to attend her funeral as she was buried directly beside her parents….that is, assuming whatever would be left of her body would ever be found in the middle of this canyon, which was who-knows-how-many miles away from Ponyville...
Tears continued to rise from Applejack’s face, and terror instantly gripped her as she saw her final destination drawing closer and closer. She had lost any faith in the notion that performing Pinkie’s bouncing trick would have any ability to save her life. She was going to die, and she was going to die in only a few more moments. She desperately wished for more time. Why couldn’t she have more time with her massive family, many of whom, as much as she was loathe to admit it, she did not know very well? Why couldn’t she have more time with her friends, with whom she had shared strong familial bonds, even before the revelation that Pinkie’s family may have been distantly related to her own? Why did it have to end like this…?
In a moment of the purest desperation, as the canyon bed seemed only feet away, Applejack closed her eyes and began to flail all four of her legs rapidly, knowing that it would accomplish nothing, yet still hopelessly pushing to survive. But to her complete and utter disbelief, she found herself slowing down. Within moments, she had come to a complete stop in midair, suspended only thirty or so feet away from the ground below.
There was no practical or possible way that Applejack could have explained what was happening. She was flapping her legs, and she was no longer falling. She was….flying.
A sensation far deeper and more potent than confusion nagged at Applejack’s mind, and she remained hovering for over a minute as she attempted to understand this most surprising development. Flying was surely impossible for her, but if it was, how was she doing it? If earth ponies had the ability to float in midair by flapping their legs, she would have surely heard about it before now. Ponies could only fly by means of wings, magic, a flight contraption, or, if you happened to be Pinkie Pie, by spinning your tail like a propeller.
The only potential answer that stood out to her was that this entire thing had indeed been one of Discord’s pranks after all. She could not think of any other being who could feasibly grant her the ability to fly without wings….or a tail propeller. Applejack’s fear of dying faded in an instant, and an intense anger surged forward to take its place—anger towards Discord, whom she imagined was watching from somewhere unseen and laughing his draconequus head off.
Applejack gently lowered herself into the canyon bed, and immeasurable relief spread over her as her hooves touched bare earth again. She was alive. Beyond all hope or expectation, she had survived this seemingly hopeless ordeal. She would have at least one more day to spend time with her family and friends, and she could hardly wait until she had the chance to embrace them all again.
“Discord!!!” she screamed as seething anger overtook her relief, her voice echoing across the canyon walls. But the draconequus did not show himself. A second and third call also did not warrant an appearance either. If this had indeed been a prank, why would Discord not show himself now, taking delight in the success of his prank, or at least feigning ignorance as to how she had ended up in this situation.
On a hunch, Applejack closed her eyes and focused her thoughts on an apple tree rising out of the arid dirt in front of her, its leaves concealing her away from the glare of the sun. When her eyes opened again, she found a shadow cast over her, sourced from a hastily-grown apple tree now standing beside her as though it had been there all along.
She had proven herself wrong. This was no prank. She had full control of everything around her. It could only be a dream…
And almost as soon as that thought had crossed her mind, Applejack was surrounded by a white, blinding light that consumed herself and everything around her. The next thing she knew, her eyes were creaking open to see her bedroom, as well as the serious face of Princess Luna, who was standing by her bedside.
“Welcome back,” the princess said with a slight frown.
“How long was I asleep?” Applejack asked at once.
“Roughly twenty minutes, as I intended,” answered Luna. “Shall I assume that you are satisfied?”
“Golly, I didn’t remember anythin’. I didn’t even know I was dreamin’ until after I found out I could fly,” replied Applejack as she rose from the bed. “Up to then, it was….terrifyin’.”
“Then you are satisfied?” Luna asked again.
Applejack fell silent and somber as nearly every second of the last twenty horrifying minutes flashed rapidly through her mind, her bones quivering slightly as the feeling of inevitable death overtook her again.
“I hope it was quicker for them,” she muttered softly, as though speaking to herself. “I hope they didn’t have to feel the things I felt….”
“Applejack, I cannot say I fully understand your reasoning as to why you asked me to do this,” said Luna, “but I want it to be made clear that I have no intention of doing so again. Therefore, I do hope that the experience was satisfactory for you.”
Applejack fell back into silence as she recalled seeing the ground drawing closer and closer in the last few minutes of her fall, unable to imagine how it would have felt to make contact with it.
“How much does it....hurt?” she asked almost tearfully.
“Long lived though I may be, Applejack, I have still lived but one life,” replied Luna. “I know not how it feels to die. Nor do I imagine that death in a dream would feel quite the same as true death. It is not a sensation that can be replicated.”
Applejack refused a response and instead exhaled a sigh. She was certain that requesting Luna to induce the dream for her was among the most foolish things she had ever done, yet she still felt that the experience had been almost exactly what she had hoped for, even with the absence of smashing into the canyon bed.
“I understand that your penchant for dependability leaves you feeling that you must carry more weight than you should, Applejack, but I must advise you not to carry the weight of those who have passed,” Luna said suddenly. “All ponies must bear the struggle of death one day, but it is not our struggle until that day arrives, and that is why I shall not do this for you again. And if you’ll forgive my bluntness, I must say that I do not believe that your parents would have wanted you to undergo this experience for their sake.”
Applejack nodded slowly in understanding.
“It felt real….and for a good while, I truly thought I was a goner,” she stated honesty, her lip quivering. “I’m plenty satisfied enough. Thank you, Princess Luna.”
“I take my leave now,” Luna replied with a nod, then she closed her eyes while her horn went alight.
Luna’s eyes opened again.
“If you were so against this, why did you agree to it in the first place?” asked Applejack.
Luna hesitated, as though struggling to come up with a way to answer the question that Applejack would find unoffensive.
“It was pity,” she said in a low voice. “When you told me that today was the anniversary of their deaths, I felt sympathetic towards you. I did not wish to deny you, and some part of me thought that it might even be cathartic for you. But I now ask that you heed my words, Applejack. Let your parents remain at peace, knowing that their daughter is no longer trying to carry their burden—a burden that is not hers to carry.”
Applejack said nothing as Luna made her exit in a massive blue orb which disappeared almost as quickly as it materialized, leaving her alone in the room.
With Luna's words ringing inside her head, Applejack walked slowly over to her dresser, opened the top drawer and removed a tiny, wooden case inside. Her hooves trembling, she slowly opened the lid and found herself staring into the faces of her mother and father, who were graciously smiling back at her in yet another flimsy piece of printed memory, which held more value and significance to her than nearly all other possessions in the room. She could not deny that tumbling through the air to her presumed death had left her feeling closer to them, and their voices from the past had been so vivid in her head that Applejack was almost stunned that she could still remember how they sounded.
Applejack took several deep breaths as she wiped away the tears leaking down her cheeks, then she gently closed the case, forcing her eyes away from her parents’ smiling faces again. No matter how many years had since passed, no matter how certain she was that she had moved on, each and every time this date arrived, the pain of her parents’ deaths still tore through her as viciously as though it had only just happened.
But she would endure, just as she always endured—just as she had trained herself to endure. If she was to shed any tears, it would happen only in private or within her head where nopony could see them, especially not her family and friends. She had no room for grief, not while she needed to serve her role as a source of strength for her family, each of whom were always in low spirits on this particular day...
Applejack gently placed the wooden case back in the dresser drawer before finally exiting the room to spend some time among her living family, with whom she had no intention of ever sharing her terrifying experience.