It was a sunny, spring day in Ponyville, filled with ponies enjoying the sun while it still lasted. Rainbow Dash was dashing in the sky, clearing all the clouds. Twilight Sparkle was writing her weekly report to Princess Celestia. And Applejack...well, Applejack was walking.
Applejack kicked the ground with her hooves, making dust fly up into the air. What could Fluttershy have needed so badly that she had to make one of her falcons send a message to Sweet Apple Acres? Apparently, Applejack needed to come over to her yellow friend's cottage right away. The letter itself wasn't written in her usual style, with words and phrases such as "please" and "If you don't mind, that is.".
"I shudda just asked Twilight to come with me," Applejack muttered, making even more dust fly up. "But it's too late now. I can see the cottage from here."
Indeed she could see it. For the cottage was within only a short distance beyond trees and bu-
Applejack whipped her head around to see a huge, white bunny hopping out of a thistle bush behind her, its eyes wide and threatening.
"Uh...stay back...bunny? Critter?"
"Angel!" A soft voice was barely heard over the snarls. Applejack took the chance to look back, tearing her eyes away. Fluttershy was flying to them both hurriedly, looking startled as usual.
"Angel, you've met Applejack before," Fluttershy smiled at the raging rabbit, once she had reached them both. "She's a friend. Now go inside the house. That is, if you don't mind."
The bunny, Angel, crossed its arms and started going over the path to the cottage reluctantly, but not before giving Applejack one last glare.
Fluttershy turned back to Applejack, blushing slightly. "Hello, Applejack. I'm glad you got my letter."
"Er, you too, sugarcube. I didn't even know critters could make that kinda sound. Now what was all that fuss you sent me in yer letter?"
"Oh, that! Nopony's been to see me in a while, and I was getting slightly lonely. I thought you would might like a nice cup of tea."
Applejack sighed in relief. "Oh, well, that's great! I'm more of a cider person myself, but I'd love a cup! I thought there might be some sort of problem!"
"Oh, no, no problem at all. Come inside." The two of them trotted over the path and inside the house, much to Applejack's worry. What if that mad bunny (what was her name...Angel?) would attack her again? And she couldn't even defend herself without Fluttershy getting all upset?
Applejack was getting worried, after 5 minutes of sitting around. Fluttershy had made a blazing fire and had dimmed the lights, but there was no tea, nor cider, to be found.
"Er, Fluttershy? Darlin'?"
"Yes, Applejack?" Fluttershy looked up from the bird care book she was reading, a toucan perched on her shoulder. Her eyes seemed vapid, probably due to the stuffiness of this place.
"Er, where's the tea?"
"Oh, the tea!" Fluttershy jumped up, flying in the direction of the kitchen right away.
"That mare's got her head in the clouds," Applejack muttered, watching the flames flicker, trying to make out shapes.
"Got the tea," Applejack heard Fluttershy say soothingly, and turned her attention back to her. Fluttershy set the tea down on the table between them before sitting down once more. "Drink up! That is, um, if you can."
"'Course I can," Applejack sputtered, downing a cup of tea in one sip, just to prove she could. But immediately, she regretted it. The tea was bitter, and tasted metallic. And it- wait a minute...why was everything spinning? She was so...tired...so...tired...
"Wake up, AJ," A voice commanded, jolting Applejack awake from her slumber. On habit, she jolted her hooves up in a kick- or at least, she tried to. For some reason, they were strangely immobile, but they still had feeling in them. Strange. She blinked nervously as she looked around. Instantly, she knew where she was, for she had many adventures here before..
The Everfree Forest.
"What in tarnation?"
Applejack looked down to see in panic that she was strapped to a t-shaped pole; about 6 feet high off the ground. That explained the immobile hooves, for they were bounded to the pole by thick ropes, the limbs sticking in opposite directions so that the orange mare looked like a letter t herself. What was worse, was that Fluttershy was there, down on the ground, smiling warmly at her as usual.
"Are they too tight? The ropes?" Fluttershy smiled, her eyes still looking vapid and glazed over. But Applejack saw something in those eyes as well, something that wasn't there before. A glimmer of madness. "I wouldn't want you to be uncomfortable. It's bad enough you are up so high."
Applejack laughed nervously, the noise echoing in the clearance. "So...are...um...I being a scarecrow? So dang birds don't eat yer animals' food?"
"It has to do with food, yes." Fluttershy grinned even wider. "But not in that way. You see, my squirrels are hungry."
These words settled on Applejack for one terrifying moment as her heart stopped. What if-
Applejack felt claws and teeth digging into her skin all at once as little brown things crawled up and down her body, making her figure burst with pain. Squirrels ran up and down her flanks and sides, taking bits of her flesh out. Faintly, she could hear undigested parts land on the ground with an almost comical SPUT.
Applejack screamed like a banshee, but a squirrel jumped into her mouth just as she did, tearing into her mouth. Her tongue was on fire as she gagged, bits of blood and tongue flying as they found their way out of her mouth. For the first time in her life, Applejack cried.
"Squirrel friends!" She heard Fluttershy call softly, and the squirrels froze, the wave of pain subsiding slightly as blood ran down the pole and her body.
"We have to preserve her, you know. Otherwise, she'll taste bad, come winter."
The squirrels ran down to meet Fluttershy, the one in Applejack's mouth reluctant to do as such. Applejack sighed, but still cried, for this pain...it was one like she had never felt before. But she was relieved. Maybe this was all a terrible dream! Yes! She would wake up, Fl-
She stopped her thought process, her mind only able to register the scene below. One of the squirrels was holding a matchbox in its mouth, bounding towards Fluttershy, as though all of this was perfectly normal.
"Thank you, Wheaty!" Fluttershy smiled as she took the box, giving the squirrel a slight. "Now, if it's not too much trouble, could you guys please do your work? We don't want her to end up like Sweetie Belle!"
Applejack's eyes widened with fear. Sweetie Belle? As in Rarity's sister? One of Applebloom's friends?
How many ponies has she done this to? How many lives have been spent on...animals?
She turned her mind away from her thoughts, not bearing to face the truth. She stared at the squirrels in both fear and curiosity watching the squirrels scurry off, grabbing sticks off the ground, then placing them at the bottom of the pole. Over and over again the squirrels did this, until the stack circled all around the bottom of the pole, reaching a yard high.
"Good job!" Fluttershy smiled. "You're all such good helpers! Extra helpings of dinner for you!"
Applejack started to cry again as Fluttershy lit a match, throwing it onto the pile of twigs.
For one sheer moment of relief, the match sputtered out. Applejack sighed in relief, blood flowing even faster from her mouth as she did. However, the match was relit again, spreading to the sticks.
Applejack thrashed, trying to escape the bonds, as though she could escape the thick ropes. Bu she turned one good eye towards the fire, watching as the blaze traveled up the pole, spreading to her flanks. She let out a shrill, never-ending scream, tears and blood mixing wildly as they dropped.
It was nothing like she had ever experienced before, worse than a thousand hornets stinging her at once. It was unbearable as she attempted to thrash around even harder, spreading to just below her chest, at her stomach. She watched weakly in horror as her legs fell off her body, the limbs turning quickly into charred lumps below as they fell into the flames.
This was the end...
Suddenly, the pole split in two, Applejack falling down as her arms were still held by the arm ropes and experiencing the raw agony of it all. Fluttershy grabbed a bucket of water carried by a squirrel, putting the blaze out.
Fluttershy grinned as Applejack moaned, breathing raggedly as her eyes started to droop.
"Flutter...shy...why?" Applejack moaned, closing her eyes, as though drifting off to sleep. But it was still enough time for one more tear, her last tear, roll down her cheek. And Applejack was no more.
Fluttershy shook her head. "Honestly, Applejack, didn't you listen? I need to feed my squirrel friends. Now you guys," She pointed at the squirrels. "If you can, can you please make bark containers to keep her in? It would be really helpful to me, and to you."
The squirrels nodded, hunger in their eyes.
"Good! Now, I've got to go back to Ponyville, if it's ok with you. I need to write a letter to Rarity..."