A Zebra in the Bed
By Pen Stroke
Preread & Edited by
Kirk Heller, Val Busch, Tanya Hughes =====================================================================
“Tarnation, I am beat,” Applejack, the orange farm mare, muttered to herself as she stepped through the door of the Apple family’s farm house. It was quite easy to see just how tired the farming pony really was. She had mud up to her knees, her mane was an utter mess, and each hoofstep was a struggle. Big Macintosh, the big, red stallion who was also her brother, followed a few steps behind her, looking just as exhausted.
It had been a long hard day out in the orchards. A heavy rainstorm the night before had turned many of the roads around the farm to mud. The day had also stayed overcast, meaning none of the mud had dried. Big Macintosh and Applejack struggled through the muck to get the last of the southern orchard harvested. They had managed to finish, but just barely.
“I reckon I could pass out here on the floor if I were anymore tired,” Applejack said, doing her best to wipe her hooves on the doormat before going any further into the house.
Big Macintosh nodded before lifting his head and sniffing at the air. “Well, at least somethin’ smells good.”
Applejack sniffed at the air as well. Her brother was right! There was a smell wafting out of the kitchen that was making her mouth water. The long day had given her a fierce appetite. She began to walk towards the kitchen, led on by the tantalizing aroma. “Granny Smith, you makin’ some of your famous Apple Noodle Soup?” she asked as she poked her head in the door.
“Oh, hey Applejack.”
“Apple Bloom,” Applejack said, making no effort to hide her surprise. She had expected to see Granny Smith, her old, white-maned grandmother, standing at the stove, lovingly stirring at a pot. Instead a yellow filly, her younger sister Apple Bloom, was the one stirring the soup. She was standing on a stool so she could reach the stove.
“Just what do you think you're doin’?” Applejack scolded as she stepped into the kitchen. “You know you aren’t supposed to use the stove on your own.”
“Now don’t snap, Applejack. I’ve had my eye on her the whole time,” Granny Smith commented, supporting herself with her walker as she limped out from the pantry. “Here Apple Bloom, add two tablespoons of this.”
“Okay, Granny,” the young filly chirped. She took the spice jar and began to carefully measure out the first tablespoon. At the same time, Applejack moved up beside Granny Smith, her head tilted to one side.
“So, she’s the one that’s makin’ the soup?”
“Well of course,” Granny Smith said as she settled into a seat at the kitchen table. “A pony needs to know how to cook for herself, and it’s never too early to pass on the family recipes.”
Applejack laughed a little. “Yeah, and I guess I can’t get too upset on account of how good that’s smellin’. You makin’ enough for everypony?”
“Yep,” Apple Bloom assured as she continued to stir, “and it’s almost ready.”
“But don’t you two get any ideas about sitting down at the table muddy as you are,” Granny Smith said firmly to Applejack. “You better wash up before dinner, unless you want to be eatin’ Apple Mud Soup.”
“All right Granny, we’ll get to washin’. Come on Big Mac.”
“Just don’t be too loud upstairs,” Apple Bloom called as her siblings left the kitchen.
Applejack couldn’t help but pause a moment, wondering why she had to be quiet. With a shrug, she began walking up the stairs to the home’s second floor while Big Mac went to use the bathroom on the ground floor.
On the second floor of the Apple family’s farmhouse was a long hallway marked by several doors on either side. There was a bedroom for her, Big Macintosh, and Apple Bloom along with a single bathroom the three shared. The only pony on the farm that didn’t sleep upstairs was Granny Smith. Her bedroom was on the ground floor since it was too much to ask the old mare to go up and down the stairs every day.
After trotting down the hall, Applejack slipped into the bathroom and opened the blinds, letting the golden rays of Celestia’s setting sun light the room. She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror and laughed a little at just how dirty she was. “Well, just look at yourself. You look like you’ve been rollin’ in the mud with the pigs,” she told her reflection in the mirror.
The mud and dirt, however, couldn’t hold up against a nice warm shower. Soon, Applejack was clean as a whistle and ready for dinner. The warm water had also helped her recover from the long day on the farm. Being an apple farmer was not an easy life, but there was reward in the hard work.
Letting her mane hang free, Applejack quickly placed her hat back on her head and left the bathroom. She began walking down the hallway, thinking of the big bowl of soup that was waiting downstairs. But, as Applejack moved towards the staircase, she noticed something from the corner of her eye.
The door to her bedroom was open.
Arching an eyebrow, Applejack moved to her bedroom door and slowly looked inside. At first glance, everything seemed to be in place. The room and its furniture, which were painted varying shades of green, looked just as they had when she had left that morning. Her favorite roping rope was hanging near the door, and the place where she hung her hat at night was unoccupied.
But then she saw it, something that made her fall silent and look on with wide, disbelieving eyes. There was a lump beneath the covers of her mattress, and it was slowly rising and falling. It was breathing. Something was sleeping in her bed!
And she didn’t take too kindly to the intrusion into her personal space.
Without a word of warning, Applejack quickly moved to the side of the bed. She then turned around, and bucked with all the strength her back legs could provide, causing the bed –frame and all– to jump an inch off the floor before coming back down with a hard crash. A moment later, the thing that had been sleeping beneath her covers sat up.
“By the sun and the moon in the sky, are you trying to frighten me so bad that I die?!”
“Zecora!” Applejack snapped, moving quickly to the side of the bed. “What in Sweet Apple Acres y’all doin’ here? What are y’all doin’ in my bedroom? Who said you could come in here?!”
“I did,” Apple Bloom replied sharply, running into the room and over to the zebra, putting herself between Zecora and Applejack.
“Apple Bloom... girl, you got ten seconds to explain just what this is about.”
“Zecora is sick, and I said she could stay with us until she felt better.”
Applejack lifted an eyebrow, looking again at the zebra. She couldn’t deny it, Zecora didn’t exactly look healthy. Her usually well kept mohawk of a mane was slumping, her eyes were tired, and her usually very smooth voice was raspy. In all, she looked quite unwell.
“Sick, huh. Then how did she get here?”
“I brought her here. You see, I was going to visit her...”
“Visit her!” Applejack snapped, glaring at her sister. “I thought I told you I don’t want you goin’ nowhere near the Everfree Forest by yourself. Who knows what kind of nasty critters wouldn’t just love to gobble up a little filly like you.”
Applebloom stomped a hoof. “I’m not that little anymore.”
“You’re still a right tasty mouthful for one of them chimeras or hydras. That and you’re still littler than me, which means you’re goin’ to listen and listen good. I don’t want you goin’ into that forest by yourself.”
“Well, how else am I supposed to go visit Zecora? That last few times I asked you to walk with me, you said no.”
“Well... I was busy.”
“No you weren’t,” Apple Bloom snapped, stomping another hoof. It was now her turn to glare accusingly at Applejack. “You’re just scared of falling into more poison joke.”
“Well, I think I have every right to dislike that particular plant, considerin’ it done shrunkified me. Also, just why were you goin’ to visit Zecora?”
“Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were too busy to do Cutie Mark Crusader stuff. You and Big Macintosh didn’t want me trying to help you in all the mud either. So, I decided to go see her. But, when I got there and saw how sick Zecora was, I just couldn’t leave her there by herself.”
“Apple Bloom, I’m pretty sure Zecora can take care of herself. That and she knows all those natural remedies. I bet she could whip herself up a cure faster than Rainbow Dash can clear a cloudy sky.”
“Of this you are mistaken, Applejack. A cure for this, there is a significant lack,” Zecora offered before coughing into her hooves, shivering, and sinking back into the bed.
“Say what now?”
“There isn’t a cure,” Apple Bloom said. “I took her by Nurse Redheart when we went through town. She has something called Trio Cold. It’s some nasty bug that lasts three days, no matter what you do.”
“And how long has she had it so far?”
“She said she started feeling sick this morning.”
“Another two days then,” Applejack said, glancing at the sickly Zecora before turning back to her sister. “Now Apple Bloom, I’m all for lettin’ Zecora stay here. It wouldn’t be right neighborly of us to just leave her to suffer in her hut, but why did y’all put her in my bed?
“Well, my bed's too small for her. Big Macintosh, well he’s a boy, and it didn’t seem right putting Zecora in a boy’s bedroom. And Granny Smith really needs her bed. So all that was left was your bed.”
“And just what’s so wrong about the couch downstairs?” Applejack asked.
“Applejack,” Apple Bloom said, sounding aghast, “that’s no way to treat a sick pony, makin’ her sleep on the couch.”
“No, Apple Bloom, it is quite all right. On the couch, I can be comfortable for one night.”
“No!” Apple Bloom said as she looked back and forth between the two mares. “Zecora, Nurse Redheart said you need bed rest and that means you need to rest in a bed. And Applejack, I thought Zecora was one of your friends now. Wouldn’t you give up your bed if Rainbow Dash or Twilight Sparkle or Pinkie Pie or—”
“All right, all right,” Applejack said as she touched her forehead. “There’s no need for you to beat a clean rug. You’re right; the Apple Family treats their guests like they are part of the family. I just wish y’all had asked me before you put her in my bed.”
Apple Bloom smiled and turned to look at Zecora. “Then you go ahead and get comfortable again. I’m going to bring you up some famous Apple Family Apple Noodle Soup, and then you’ll be feeling better in no time.”
Zecora smiled back at Apple Bloom, though she had to suppress a cough before she could reply. “Thank you, Apple Bloom, for your tender care. I promise, once I am well, I will be out of your hair.”
“Now, don’t you talk like that. We don’t want you leaving until you are feeling one hundred percent better,” Apple Bloom said firmly. “Now you go ahead and get tucked back in. I’m going to run and get you that soup.”
With that, Apple Bloom dashed away, running down the hall and stairs to fetch the promised soup. Applejack turned to leave as well but stopped to look back at Zecora before she left. She agreed with Apple Bloom. When a friend was sick or in trouble, the Apple’s were the first to offer a helping hoof.
That, however, didn’t make the idea of sleeping on the couch any more appealing to Applejack.
Applejack stumbled into the kitchen the next morning. She yawned and made no effort to cover her mouth. Her mane was a mess from her bed head, and her eyes were tired from a less than restful sleep. She had tossed and turned all night on the couch, searching for a comfortable spot. She eventually found it, too. That one spot where she could really sleep. And that was when the rooster crowed, announcing the rising sun.
“Morning, Applejack!” Apple Bloom said with a friendly wave of her hoof. She and Big Macintosh were already seated at the kitchen table, enjoying their breakfasts.
“Mornin’,” Applejack said back as she moved to the cupboards to get a bowl. “So, how’s Zecora doin’? Did she sleep well in my bed?”
Apple Bloom nodded her head. “Oh yeah, like a log. She’s never been so well rested. In fact, she wanted me to ask you what kind of mattress you have. I think she wants to get one for herself.”
Applejack grimaced, rose up on her hind legs, and placed her forehooves on her back. “Well, I’m glad she enjoyed it.” She carefully popped her back. A smile of relief then spread onto her lips. She then grabbed a bowl from the cupboards and began to fill it with oats from a box. “And I’ll admit, you were right last night. We Apple’s always help our friends when they need it, and I expect you to do the Apple family proud as you take care of her today.”
“But I can’t.”
Applejack winced and stopped pouring the oats. She looked over her shoulder at Apple Bloom. “Care to run that by me again, Sugarcube?”
“She’s got to go to school, AJ,” Big Macintosh said as he finished his own breakfast. “And I’ve got to haul that load of apples to the next town over. They’re having that big pie contest, remember?.”
Applejack sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Oh land sakes, if it ain’t one thing it’s the next.” She then looked back at her brother and sister. “Well, I guess she’ll just have to take care of herself. ‘Cause we all know Granny Smith can’t get up those stairs. Besides, she has that big bingo tournament in town today, and we all know better than to keep Granny Smith from her bingo. I swear I still have a lump on my head from the last time we tried.”
“But Applejack,” Apple Bloom whined, “we can’t just leave Zecora alone. Nurse Redheart said the second day of the Trio Cold is the worst part.”
“And just what am I supposed to do about it?” Applejack asked, huffing a little. “With Big Mac goin’ to the next town over, I’m the only one workin’ the farm today. That means I got a mountain of chores to do. I can’t be hoverin’ over a sick zebra all day.”
“But Applejack, have you seen her this morning? She’s exhausted from coughing all night.”
Applejack looked coldly at her sister. “I thought y’all said she slept like a log.”
Apple Bloom blinked, her eyes going wide. She then forced a smile and began to fiddle with her mane. “Well, she did... when she wasn’t coughing.” Apple Bloom then put her hooves on the table, standing up in her chair. “But you just got to help her, Applejack. She can hardly move now. Not to mention, she’s got the chills, a burning fever, and she’s going through tissues like Rarity when she’s watching a sad play.”
“I doubt it’s as bad as all that,” Applejack said as she continued to fill her bowl with oats.
“But it is,” Apple Bloom whined. “She’s coughing so hard she’s bouncing out of the bed. When she sneezes, she shoots up against the ceiling. And when she blows her nose, boogers fly everywhere!”
“What have we told you about them tall tales, Apple Bloom?” Big Macintosh asked, eyeing his little sister.
“Not to exaggerate the truth?”
“That’s right,” he said before he pushed himself away from the table. He then moved up beside Applejack, a tone of concern in his voice as he dropped his bowl in the sink. “But, AJ, Apple Bloom’s right about one thing, Zecora is just too sick to be left alone.”
“So that means I’m the one saddled with carin’ for her?”
Applejack flicked her tail in annoyance. She then sighed and grabbed her bowl of oats off the counter. “Fine, but I can’t just sit around all day playin’ nurse either. I got chores ta do. So, on your way out of town, Big Mac, stop by Fluttershy’s and ask her if one of her bird friends can stay at Zecora’s window today. Make it a loud one.”
“Why would Zecora need a loud bird?” Apple Bloom asked.
“So she can call me if she needs me,” Applejack said as she sat at the kitchen table with her bowl. “She gets the bird to squawk, I hear it on the farm, and then I can come back to the house to help her.”
A wide smile spread onto Apple Bloom’s face. “That’s a great idea!”
“Yeah, I suppose it is,” Applejack said before taking the first bite of her breakfast. She then smiled a little. “I wonder what kind of little feathered friend Fluttershy will send over.”
Applejack winced, turned away from the tree she was bucking, and looked back towards the farm house. It had been a few hours since breakfast. Big Macintosh was on the road with the apple delivery. Apple Bloom was in school. Granny Smith was in town at her bingo tournament. Applejack was the only healthy mare on the farm, and she had been getting through her chores well enough. That was, until—
She winced again at the sharp loud bird call. Honestly, Applejack had been expecting Fluttershy to send over a small bird that could sit on the window to her bedroom. A little bird like that could sing a little song whenever Zecora needed somepony.
But, instead, Fluttershy had sent over Pleasant, who was anything but. The peacock was the size of a large turkey and was famous for his big, beautiful circle-spotted tail feathers. Yes, Applejack couldn’t deny the fact Pleasant was very pretty. But, by Celestia, she never knew that such a pretty bird could make such an awful racket. Pleasant’s call sounded like a dozen cats getting their tails caught under the same rocking chair.
“I heard y’all the first time!” Applejack shouted back at the bird as she began to trot back towards the house. The bird called out again and again. With each call Applejack’s jaw tightened and the speed of her trot increased. Soon, she was in a full gallop, trying to reach Zecora as quickly as possible just so she could make the peacock stop.
“I’m here! I’m here! Stop your squawking! I’m here!” Applejack shouted as she rushed through her bedroom door. She panted hard, having sprinted up the stairs, and looked around the room. Zecora was lying back in the bed, looking worse than the day before. Used tissues filled the trash can and dotted the floor around it. A half-eaten breakfast grew cold on the bedside table. The peacock, Pleasant, sat on the ledge of the window, looking back at Applejack with his beady little eyes.
“YYEEEEAAAAAWWWW!” Pleasant screeched.
“Would you stop that, I’m here already!” Applejack shouted before throwing her hat at the bird. Pleasant, however, didn’t even flinch as the hat hit his side. He just turned his head and stared back at her before screeching, “YYEEEEAAAAAWWWW!” once again.
“Why Fluttershy called you Pleasant, I’ll never understand,” Applejack muttered before taking a deep breath to calm herself down. She had to fight back the urge to push Pleasant out the window. No, she had to be nice to the most annoying bird she had ever come across. Why? Because the bird belonged to Fluttershy, her friend, and her friendship with Fluttershy was more important than—
Applejack winced again, but didn’t even turn to look in Pleasant’s direction. She instead focused on Zecora. She moved to the side of the bed and looked down at the sickly zebra. “Well, I’m here. What do you want?”
“I am sorry, Applejack, but my thirst does amass. Can I get more water in my glass?”
“You had that bird squawkin' like that because you’re thirsty? Because you wanted a glass of water!” Applejack snapped as she grabbed the empty glass from the end table. “You couldn’t wait five darn minutes for me to walk back to the house. You had to make me run back here like the place was on fire. What is wrong with you?”
Zecora sniffled and rubbed her nose with a tissue before pointing at Pleasant. “Only one time did I ask the bird to make the call. He was the one who chose to bawl.”
“YYEEEEAAAAAWWWW!” Pleasant screeched, a happy bob in his head. He, personally, seemed to be pleased with the job he had done. He even began to fan his tail, blocking the light from the window with his big, gorgeous feathers. It was like he was celebrating the fact he had gotten Applejack to the bedroom so quickly.
“Hush up you,” Applejack scolded, picking her hat off the ground to throw it at Pleasant once more. She stopped short, however, when Zecora began to cough into her hooves.
It was a loud, hard cough. It was the kind that made a pony’s, or in this case zebra’s, whole body twitch. This went on for a good minute before Zecora was able to calm her throat. She then groaned and sniffled as she turned over in the bed. “I am sorry, a burden I did not want to be. Please, go back to work, bucking your tree.”
Applejack sighed, watching as Zecora was overwhelmed by another fit of coughing. “Hold on, I’ll get you that water,” she said before quickly slipping out of the room. A few moments later, she returned, having filled Zecora’s glass. She set it on the bedside table and then gently nudged Zecora’s shoulder.
“Listen,” she began, “I’m sorry. I know y’all didn’t get sick on purpose, and I know y’all didn’t come here askin’ to stay in my bed. From the sounds of it, you were just plannin’ on ridin’ out this nasty cold all by yourself until Apple Bloom found ya. And I’m sorry I’ve been actin’ like a bull that got its nose ring taken. Apple’s help their friends when they need it, and you’re my friend as much as anybody.”
“I guess...” Applejack lifted a forehoof and scratched the back of her neck. “I guess I’m just fumin’ cause nopony asked me about this first. That make sense?”
Zecora nodded as she sat up in bed. “You are a kind soul that is willing to care, but you also believe in being honest and fair. If someone needs to borrow your bed, if they need a place to rest their head, all you want is for them to ask first, so you don’t feel as if you’ve been coerced. And, so, please allow me to make amends. May I please stay here while I mend?”
Applejack smiled and laughed a little. “One of these days, Zecora, we’re goin’ ta get you talkin’ normal like. But yes, you can stay here as long as you need, and thanks for askin’.”
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today, I learned the importance of asking ponies for help. And no, it isn’t because I got neck deep in my own pride like I did that one Apple Bucking season. No, this time I learned a lesson because some ponies expected me to help but didn’t ask me first.
It’s good to help other ponies, and jobs are always easier when you get help. But, when you demand or expect ponies to help without asking, it can make those other ponies feel like they're being taken advantage of. It makes them feel less like a friend and more like somepony you only come to when you want something.
But it’s when you do ask for help that you’re being a real friend, because you're respecting the fact that they deserve to have a choice in the matter. And, I guarantee, more often than not, they’ll be willing to lend a hoof.
P.S. Always wash your sheets after you’ve let a sick pony sleep in your bed. Otherwise—
Applejack choked on a cough, spitting out the quill she had been writing with, and covering her mouth with her hooves. She coughed for a few good seconds then lay back in her bed, sniffling and wheezing as she stared up at the ceiling.
Zecora had started feeling better the day before and had gone back home to her hut last night. Applejack was happy to see her healthy again. She was even happier to be able to sleep in her own bed again. But then, the next morning, she woke up feeling horrible. Her nose was running, her legs were achy, and she couldn’t keep herself from coughing.
She had caught Zecora’s cold!
“Here, some tea to sooth your throat and a new quill to finish that note.”
Applejack rolled her head to one side, smiling up at Zecora. The zebra had set a cup of tea on the bedside table. She had come back to the farm to thank them for their hospitality but had stayed as soon as she found out somepony had caught her cold.
“Thanks, Zecora,” Applejack said weakly as she took the fresh quill from her.
“It is the least I can do after all I put you through,” Zecora assured. She then turned and walked out of the room, heading back downstairs to continue cooking Applejack’s lunch. At the same time, Applejack snuggled underneath the covers of her bed and continued to write her letter to the princess.
P.P.S. And always know that, when you help a friend, they’ll someday help you in return.
Questions, Comments, Concerns?
My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic © Hasbro
I do not own the intellectual properties this fan-fiction is based on.