You sit in your rocking chair, nursing a glass of whiskey. You have a good view of the street from your porch, and of the cardboard box you left by the sidewalk. You check your preparations one last time. Alcohol? Check. Bucket of popcorn? Check x2 combo. Box with "Best Pony" written on it in a public area? Checkmate atheists. You settle in to watch the show.
The first victim is Pail Complexion, pulling an empty cart now that her deliveries are done. The milkmare nods to you and you respond in kind. She keeps walking until she spies the box. Pail pauses, glancing at you. You shrug. She unhitches herself from the wagon and approaches the box cautiously. She puts a tentative hoof inside, looking around warily. When no objection makes itself known, she climbs inside and trots a small circle before laying down, resting her chin on the corner of the box. You smile at the sight, feeling only a little guilty about what will happen.
You don't have to wait long, Applejack comes down the road hauling the Sugarcube Corner order of apples. She spots the box, Pail, and the unattended wagon. She is visibly confused, moving closer. You know the exact moment the farmpony sees the writing on the box. Applejack stiffens, unhitching herself from her cart. As she approaches, Pail looks up and her ears fold back. Still, she remains in the box. You raise your glass to her bravery. Applejack nods to the milkmare.
"Good mornin', Pail."
Pail gets to her hooves, tail swishing nervously.
"Good morning Applejack. How's the family?"
Applejack chews a bit on the stalk of wheat in her mouth.
"Good, good. And how's the Mister?"
"He's doing well, working on a new cheese flavor."
The two mares stand in silence for some time, eyeing each other. Finally, Applejack tilts her head.
"You really think it's for you?"
Pail juts her chest out, her modest tuft prominently on display.
"I certainly fit inside."
The orange mare rolls her eyes.
"With room to spare. No need to be stubborn, it's plain as day who belongs in there."
"That's rich, coming from you. Why don't you go overwork yourself until your friends save you from yourself again?"
You rock back, shaking your head in admiration. Applejack scowls.
"That was only the one time, and it don't have no bearing on right now."
You grab a handful of popcorn and start munching as a challenger approaches. Cheerilee crosses the street, her eyebrows raised.
"Why are you two arguing like schoolfillies? It's just a bo-"
Then she sees the writing. Applejack nods to her.
"Mornin' Miss Cheerilee. Why don't you see if you can talk some sense into Pail here."
The teacher sighs.
"Both of you are being ridiculous. What could be more important than guiding and shaping the ponies of tomorrow? Applejack might have a point, being a supporting member of a team of national heroes, b-"
Cheerilee eyes her.
"Oh, did I miss the part where you became an alicorn princess?"
Applejack scrunches hard, the wheat stalk hopelessly mangled by her contorted muzzle. The teacher turns back to Pail.
"But as for you... considering how many nipples you fondle every day, it's more surprising that you aren't a huge dyke."
Pail's face is red with anger.
"Me? A dyke? I have a husband, unlike Miss Supporting National Hero and Miss Herd-bait Schoolteacher!"
Cheerilee scrunches, tail lashing in anger.
"I would have a coltfriend if SOMEPONY didn't clamjam me at every opportunity!"
A crowd is beginning to gather around the commotion. You are having the time of your life! Who needs daytime soap operas when you can have Jerry Springer on your front lawn? Applejack turns on Cheerilee.
"Ah ain't leaving some sleazy schoolteacher to take advantage of mah brother's demure and docile nature!"
Rarity shoves her way through the crowd, like a fabulous, melodramatic shark that has scented scandal in the water.
"Darlings! This is hardly the sort of thing to be airing out in public, let alone in front of a delicate stallion like Anonymous!"
Applejack takes a deep breath, then spits out her wheat stalk.
"You're right, Rarity. Beggin' your pardon, Anon."
You wave dismissively.
Rarity spares a smile for you before turning back to Applejack.
"Now, to the matter at hand. Surely the "best pony", as it were, must be exceptional? And while we are both Elements of Harmony, I'm afraid my other accomplishments far outstrip your own."
"What are you talking about, Rarity?"
The fashionista tosses her mane.
"It's quite simple, you inherited a farm and tend it well. Meanwhile, I built a business from the ground up and have expanded into Canterlot itself. There is simply no comparison."
Applejack grits her teeth.
"Are you saying you work harder than me?"
Rarity raises her eyebrows.
"Perhaps not harder, but certainly more successfully."
Applejack winds up for some sort of response, but a deep voice yells above the murmur of the crowd.
"Pail Complexion, you were supposed to be home an hour ago!"
The ponies part as Bo Vine strides up to his wife. Pail smiles sheepishly.
"Hello, my dearest."
"What's all this nonse-"
He looks down at the box, sighs, and fixes Pail with dry look.
Pail shrugs helplessly.
"It's just... you know?"
Bo shakes his head.
"You don't need a box to tell you that. You will always be best pony to me."
You join in the collective "dawwww". Pail steps out of the box and nuzzles her husband.
"Sorry for making you wait. Let's go home, my love."
You watch her hitch herself to her wagon and head out. It's a bittersweet feeling, watching the couple trot out of sight. Perhaps you should settle down, find a mare and make a real connection. You ponder such things, idly wondering what that whistling sound is. It's getting louder. Then the sky floods with a rainbow of colors as somepony breaks the heterosexual barrier. Rainbow Dash slams into the box, making the whole thing bounce and skid across your lawn. You stare in shock as she sits up, both she and the box miraculously unharmed.
The dam breaks, and the air is filled with angry voices. The crowd devolves into an all-out brawl as each pony tries to forcefully prove their ascendancy. Pinkie noisily slurps from a glass of mint julep. You look to find the mare in her own rocking chair beside yours, a trough of popcorn before her, a confetti shotgun across her lap.
This is no loon. This is a fully operational gigglestation.
"Hi Nonny! How's your lawn?"
You look out at the brawling mass of ponies. Their hooves are tearing divots in your carefully manicured grass.
You march towards the rioting ponies.
"Hey! Stop fighting! Can't you discuss this like unreasonable ponies?"
Bon Bon tumbles out of the melee and glares at you.
"Buck you! You're not a pony, you don't know what it's like!"
Then she dives back in, catching Spoiled Rich in a headlock and giving her a mean noogie. You put your hands on your hips and scowl at the problem before you. You think you can probably take on a few ponies at once, but you know Applejack is in there somewhere, and there's no way you can handle all that and her. That's why it's something of a relief when Princess Sparkle teleports above the crowd.
"EVERYPONY CALM DOWN. I HAVE DETECTED AN ARTIFACT OF CHAOS MAGIC AND-"
"Buck you! You already have a castle, you don't need the box!"
The crowd murmurs in belligerent agreement. Twilight frowns.
"WHY WOULD I NEED A B-"
A hard candy hits her horn with uncanny accuracy.
"OW, THAT REALLY STINGS!"
Classic Bon Bon. Still, it's pretty clear that the palhoncho won't be able to do anything.
If the other princesses tried to show up, it's probably spark some sort of uprising.
Maybe Zecora has some sort of calming potion?
"EVERYPONY, JUST TAKE TURNS SITTING IN THE BOX! If you want to, that is."
You are jolted out of your big think, and you stare at Fluttershy. When did she get here? The ponies look around sheepishly, muttering that it's a pretty good idea. Fluttershy trots over to you as the crowd forms an orderly line.
"Don't think I didn't recognize your handwriting on that box, mister!"
You lean back.
"Is watching ponies fight really that fun?"
You know on an instinctual level the answer you are supposed to say.
Close enough. The yellow pegasus just sighs.
"I still don't understand why you and Discord don't get along, you really are a lot alike."
"It's simple. He's a filthy casual lolrandumb Gary Stu with a huge ego. And he's dumb and smells bad."
Fluttershy shakes her head in wonder.
"Word for word."
Then she hits you with a Glare.
"You're going to take responsibility for that box!"
You tilt your head.
"I'm going to marry it?"
The Glare gets 20% more done with your whimsy.
"You're going to take care of the box, replace it when it gets damaged, and help ponies feel better!"
You blink. That... sounds kinda reasonable. You do feel a little guilty about how strongly the ponies responded to your prank.
"Alright, I'll go do that. Thanks for saving my lawn."
Fluttershy blinks, clearly expecting some more resistance.
Silly buttermellow, you know when to fold em'. And when the local kind, gentle mare gets angry, that's a good indication that you should not be playing out this hand. You smile, wave, then walk towards the box. Applejack looks up at your approach.
You sit down on the grass.
"Morning, Applejack. Sorry about indirectly provoking you into a fight."
She scratches her cheek.
"Well, Ah reckon writing on a box ain't a crime, but Ah'll accept your apology anyhow."
The two of you sit in silence for a bit. The box seems fine, for all that it was in the middle of a brawl. You aren't really sure what else you should be doing here. Applejack clears her throat.
"If you're set on making amends, would you mind...saying Ah'm a good girl?"
You blink and she blushes. Adorable.
"You're a good girl, Applejack."
She gets a wiggly smile.
"Thanks, Anon, Ah-"
You reach under her hat and pet her head.
"You work so hard and your apples are delicious. I'm proud of you."
Her face turns bright red, and you know if you weren't petting her, she'd be hiding her face in embarrassment at all the praise. Hehe, this is pretty fun. You spend the rest of Applejack's turn in the box petting and praising her. She climbs out on shaky hooves, unable to meet your eyes. Roseluck hops in the box and looks at you eagerly. You chuckle, turning towards your next victim.
The next few days are pretty hectic. Most of the town drops by at some point, not to mention a handful of visitors. After a tip from one of the weather ponies, you commission Apple Bloom to make a booth for the box. Basically, a raised platform with three walls and an overhanging roof. You modeled it after a bus stop, and it does a similarly good job of keeping the rain out.
As the days go on, something odd starts happening. First, a stallion brings a pair of cushions, one for the box, one for you to sit on. Then, Bon Bon or her customers drop by and leave a few candies every once in a while. One morning you even find some candles arranged around the box and some matches nearby. You are a little leery of actually lighting them, considering it's a wooden booth and a cardboard box, but if it makes your visitors happy, you let them.
Speaking of, three stallions are approaching. Time Turner and Mr. Cake fussing over a visibly distraught Caramel. They nudge him into the box, and Caramel's sobs turn into whimpers as he curls up on the cushion. You absently stroke his neck, looking at Time Turner inquisitively. He sighs.
"His marefriend left him for a stallion in Manehattan."
You grimace, looking down at the sad pony.
"That's rough, buddy."
Caramel just sniffles. The other stallions sit down on the sidewalk, watching over their friend sympathetically. You look around, and find a hard candy.
"Here, have this, I think it's peaches and cream flavored?"
Caramel looks at you in despair.
"Her name was Peach Fuzz!"
Back to sobbing.
"Well, crap. Sorry."
You've never been great at consoling people, and apparently you're worse at consoling ponies. What did Uncle Nemo always say?
"There's, uh, more than one way to skin a cat."
You frown, trying to remember the platitude.
"No, wait, I think it goes, 'If wishes were fishes, not a drop to drink.'"
Caramel furrows his brow.
"I'm pretty sure that's two sayings put together."
You growl in frustration.
"It's something like that, it's on the tip of my tongue..."
Caramel waits patiently while your brain percolates.
"There's always a bigger fish."
"I have no idea what you're trying to say, but thank you."
You pat him on the withers.
"At this point, I'm not sure either. Glad I could cheer you up a bit."
Caramel smiles, wiping the tears from his face.
"Actually, could I have that candy after all?"
You raise your eyebrows.
You hand it to him. He unwraps it and pops it into his mouth. Caramel bites down with a crunch. He seems obscurely pleased about it, for some reason. Well, whatever floats his boat. Once he swallows, Caramel resolutely gets to his hooves.
"Thanks guys, I'm feeling a lot better."
Time Turner smiles.
"What are friends for?"
Mr. Cake nods.
"It's the least we could do. Why don't we drop by the Corner and I'll get you a double chocolate cupcake?"
Caramel licks his lips.
"Hard to say no to that. Let's go! You too, Anon!"
You shake your head regretfully.
"Thanks, but I really should keep an eye on things over here, just in case somepony comes by."
Caramel looks concerned.
You scratch your chin.
"I mean, I probably could head out, but I'd hate for somepony to show up and have no one to talk to."
Mr. Cake gives you a half smile and a shake of his head.
"That just leaves you alone with no one to talk to, and that isn't much better."
"I'm used to it, and somepony always comes by sooner or later."
The baker huffs.
"Suit yourself. I'll have Pinkie drop by later with a cupcake, alright?"
"That does sound nice, thanks."
The trio of stallions make their final round of goodbyes, and soon enough it's just you and the faint murmur of ponies in the distance. You take a moment to breathe in the quiet, then take out your knitting project. Getting the arm just right has been giving you trouble, so who knows when it will be done. But when it is, some lucky foal is going to grow up with Trogdor as one of their first stuffed animals, and that makes it worth all the effort.
You look at the robes, then at Fluttershy. She smiles nervously while Discord pretzels and pouts behind her. You scratch your cheek.
Fluttershy looks away.
"I just thought, you know, since it's a shrine and all, um. You don't have to if you don't want to, ah, wear it or keep doing this because I said so back then. S-sorry."
You pick up the clothes.
"I don't mind trying it on, it looks neat. And don't worry, I've been enjoying box duty. It's pretty fun."
She sags in relief.
"Oh good, I didn't want you to feel forced to do all this just because I yelled at you. And, um, can I see how you look in the Neighponiese shrine priest robes? If you don't mind?"
You shrug, looks like it would easily fit over the clothes you are wearing.
You put on the baggy pants, then the poncho sort of thing with the wide sleeves. It takes a few tugs to get it to look right, but you think you got it. You turn towards Fluttershy and spread your arms.
"What do you think?"
Her eyes are wide, pupils dilated.
"A real kannushi!"
You raise an eyebrow at Discord. He huffs.
"She wouldn't stop pestering me until I made it for her. Be grateful I didn't curse it or something."
"Thanks for that. So, uh, weeb stuff, am I right?"
Flutterbutter is still in her own world. You're pretty sure she's still breathing. Discord rolls his eyes then picks them up off the ground and pops them back in.
"You have no idea. At least it's not a beach episode."
"There is that."
Fluttershy still hasn't moved. You should probably fix that. You strike a pose, pointing at her.
"In the name of the moon I will punish you!"
That's how it went, right? Flutterbutter faints with a goofy smile on her face, nose faintly bleeding.
"Yeah, we're done here."
The two disappear in a puff of smoke. Well, that happened. You sit down on your usual cushion. You could take off the robes, but eh, too much work. About half an hour later, Lyra strolls by. She stops when she sees you.
"Hey Anon, h-"
Her eyes go wide, face flushed.
Maybe you should take off the robes. Fricking weebs.
You wake up, unusually cold for a July morning. When you opened the window last night, it was just to let a cool breeze in, not so that you could see your breath in the morning sunlight. You roll out of bed and close the window.
"Wonder what's up with the weather team? Some kind of event?"
You shrug, put on some slippers and a bathrobe, and set about your morning. You pull 6 blankets from the closet, put on several layers of clothing and your coat, and pour some vegetable soup into a thermos. It's a bit unwieldy carrying it all to the shrine, but it's worth it when you are all bundled up and warm on your cushion.
You pass the morning hours in meditation, absently nodding at the occasional pony walking by. Then it starts hailing. Above the sound of hailstones hammering on the roof, you hear mad laughter.
"That's right! Flee before me! Soon you shall all be as chilly and unhuggable as I, Cold Snap!"
You peer out into the storm to find a white pegasus mare flapping in place above the deserted streets. You frown. Of all the times for the Elements to be on a diplomatic mission... Oh well, might as well see what you can do.
"Hi! Wanna talk?"
Cold Snap must have heard you, she banks and lands in front of your shrine.
"A bull, eh? Feel free to use all your masculine wiles, nothing can stop my wrath!"
You shrug and pat the cushion in the box.
"Have a seat."
Cold Snap looks at the box, then at you.
"I- I can sit there?"
She blinks, then slowly steps inside, ruffling her wings. You wait for her to settle down before grabbing the extra blankets and wrapping them around her. Cold Snap tilts her head.
"What are you doing?"
You finish tucking her in and give the blankets a pat.
"No reason to be colder than you have to be."
"I'm always cold. Some blankets aren't going to change that."
You pat her on the neck, and she is rather cold to the touch.
"I have just the thing, just a sec."
You grab the thermos and unscrew the cap.
"Here, drink this. It's vegetable soup, made it this morning."
Cold Snap scowls.
"That won't fix me either. I've always been cold, no matter what."
You put the cap back on the thermos.
"That sounds rough. Something to do with pegasus magic, I assume?"
"Ever since I was a filly. Nopony wanted to hug me, all the other fillies and colts would just run away from me. And now they are going to pay."
The sound of hail on the shrine roof intensifies. You frown.
"Not even family?"
Cold Snap looks away.
"Dad was always working, so I didn't get to see him that much."
You wait for her to continue, but she doesn't say anything else. The realization hits you like a wave. She had a single parent father. It's pretty rare in Equestria, most foals are born into herds. This poor mare. You scoot over and pull her into a hug. She squawks in surprise, but the blankets around her keep her from flailing that much. You pat her reassuringly.
"Shh, it's okay."
Cold Snap slowly relaxes into your embrace, resting her head on your shoulder.
"Aren't you afraid I'm going to freeze you solid?"
You shake your head minutely.
"Nah, you're not a bad pony."
"You don't know that."
You stroke her neck.
"Sure I do. You're sitting in the box, and the box never lies."
Cold Snap starts breathing heavily. The sound of hail softens in the background.
"I- It's just a box! It doesn't know!"
You nuzzle her neck.
"Just because it doesn't know, that doesn't mean it's wrong. You may have made mistakes, and it can be hard to let go of your anger, but I believe that at your heart, you are a good pony. Maybe even the best pony."
You smile, not that she can see it.
"Really. There are things only you can do, ponies that only you can reach, and smiles only you can make. You are the best pony at being you, and that is a wonderful thing."
Cold Snap snakes a forehoof out of her blankets and wipes her nose.
"You sound like a foal's show."
"Wisdom is wisdom wherever it comes from. Feeling better?"
"Yeah. I missed this. Could we do this again sometime?"
You ruffle her mane.
"Of course. Any time you want to hug or talk, I'll be right here."
The mare takes a deep breath then pulls out of your embrace.
"Thank you. For everything."
You nod pleasantly.
"Glad I could help. It's what I'm here for."
Cold Snap gives you a crooked smile.
"Reaching ponies only you can reach?"
She rubs her face.
"I think I'm going to have to sit in this box a while longer before I can believe all that."
"That's not a bad idea. Take as long as you like."
Cold Snap nods and settles down to bask in the sun. You look at her fondly for a moment, then turn your gaze outward. You see the hailstones have completely melted away, summer having returned to Ponyville.
It doesn't take long to pick up the groceries that aren't covered by the box shrine offerings. Even so, you end up hearing quite a few ponies wishing you a happy birthday. It still kinda surprises you how many ponies you've gotten to know over the handful of months you've been the box shrine attendant. Of course, when your job is to talk to anypony who drops by, you rack up friendly acquaintances pretty quick. The thing that surprises you the most however, is just how much you like this job you stumbled into. The ponies are cute and it's a good feeling when you help them smile.
You shake your head in wonder and place the last of the groceries in the pantry. You drink a glass of water and set it by the sink. As you head outside again, you pause. That's one huge crowd at the shrine. You stroll over and spot Pinkie Pie out in front with a huge present. She grins.
The crowd echoes her and cheers. You can't help but smile.
"Thanks everyone. We having the party here then?"
"Yuppers! But before that, we need you to open this very special present!"
You approach the box. It's about knee height and a yard long and wide. You wonder if it's a bigger cushion or something. You tear into the top wrapping paper easily, because there is nothing under it. The box is just empty.
Pinkie grins, her tail wagging in anticipation.
You remove more of the paper, and notice some writing on the inside of the box walls. You turn it around to read it.
[I'm glad I could confide in you, you have a real talent for calming ponies' troubled hearts. - Mayor Mare]
There are many more such messages written inside. You smile at the crowd.
"Aw, this is really sweet. Thank you, everyone."
Ponka is vibrating in impatience.
You raise your eyebrows.
You take off the last of the wrapping paper. The outside wall facing you is blank, but maybe... You rotate the box until you see it.
You suspected from the moment you first opened the present, but it still makes you feel warm inside your chest. You look at Pinkie.
"Mind if I try it out?"
She is hyperventilating.
"Just dooo ittttttt!"
You laugh and turn towards the shrine. You grab your cushion in one hand and put the box in its place, then replace the cushion. You climb in, doing your best to ignore the expectant gazes of the crowd. As you settle down, you idly think that the walls would have to be higher if you wanted to really have the cat experience.
You take in the view, the walls covered in thank you notes, the crowd of ponies beaming at you, the trees with their fall foliage, a few high cirrus clouds trailing across a blue sky. Despite all your flaws and mistakes, despite being from another world and culture, sitting in this box, you know you belong and make a difference here. You blink rapidly, and wipe the tears from your eyes.
"I am best human, aren't I?"
The crowd cheers. A little foal waves his stuffed animal dragon.
"THATCHED ROOF COTTAGES!"
You have never been more proud of yourself in your entire life.