Chapter Three

Black River Killer

Applejack wandered bleary-eyed into the kitchen.

Big Macintosh was already up and making breakfast.

AJ yawned. "'Morning, Big Mac."

He grunted in response.

AJ sat down at the table. She took a sip of the apple juice already set out and sighed. She never thought she'd miss instant coffee, but for someone used to using caffeine to wake up even instant was better than nothing. Big Mac had thrown their whole supply away shortly after Fancypants's party.

She looked at the food spread over the table. At least there was that to look forward to. Big Mac had started consistently getting up earlier than everyone else in the house and making breakfast. Not plain breakfasts either. Nice meals, with things like crêpes, and pastries from Sugarcube Corner.

Big Mac set the food out on the table. Today it was French toast, with scrambled eggs and blueberry muffins.

As AJ scooped some food onto her plate, Big Mac made his way towards the front door.

"Hey, ain't ya gonna have breakfast?" she called after him.

"Already ate," came his reply.

Applejack sighed again. That was another thing he'd been doing, leaving before anyone else showed up to eat. Or rather, leaving before Rarity showed up to eat.

It was late in the afternoon. The oppressive heat of earlier had broken, giving way to a light chill, and large dark clouds.

Applejack had just finished packing up her apple stand for the day when Rarity walked up to her.

"Howdy, Rarity," AJ said.

"Hello," Rarity replied.

After a moment of silence Applejack asked, "So, uh, what's up?"

"Oh, I just thought I'd walk back to the farm with you," Rarity answered.

The overcast sky seemed to match Rarity's mood as the two ponies walked back towards their home.

"I pretend to be asleep sometimes, in the morning," Rarity said, breaking the silence. "If Big Macintosh hasn't gotten up yet, I pretend to be asleep, until he leaves to go make breakfast. I can't stop thinking about that night, about him with his hooves at Blueblood's throat, pushing him against the railing. When I see his face, I see it twisted and angry."

She stopped walking and faced AJ.

"Please, Applejack. Please. I need to know what happened, all those years ago."

Applejack sighed and continued walking. "Ah told ya Ah didn't think it was mah place to tell ya, an' Ah suppose that was a part of it. Really though, Ah guess Ah jus' didn't want to think about it. Ah didn't want to have to remember what it was like then. Ya probably heard the story Ah told Apple Bloom and her friends 'bout when Ah got mah cutie mark. Well, Ah never told 'em the whole story…"

It was winter, but there wasn't any snow on the ground. There was nothing to cover the dead brown grass staining the cold countryside.

Inside the Apple family farmhouse, AJ was helping Granny Smith cook. They heard the front door open and then slam shut.

"Hi, Big Mac," Applejack called as the red colt entered the kitchen.

Big Mac didn't reply as he went to get an apple off the counter.

"Where ya been?" Granny Smith asked him.

"Out," he replied.

"Well, ya didn't finish yer chores," Granny Smith said. "Ah told ya we needed that fence put up today. Ah also needed ya to take an order of apples into town for the Cakes. Now it'll be late."

"Then it'll be late," he snapped. "What do Ah care?"

"Ah can't both be looking after the farm, and a new foal, Big Macintosh! Ah need yer help!"

Right on cue, Apple Bloom started crying in her rocking crib. Granny Smith hurried past Big Mac to go take care of her.

Applejack had been keeping her head down, concentrating on the pie crust she was making. She looked up after a moment. "We're doing a project in school," she said, "on what our families do for work."

"Uh huh," he replied indifferently.

"Everypony's havin' their parents come in an' talk 'bout what they do. Granny said that ya could come in and talk 'bout the farm."

He sighed. "Ah don't wanna do that, Applejack."

"Well, why not?"

"'Cause Ah ain't yer parent, AJ!" he snapped. "They're gone, remember?"

She glared at him, eyes watering. "Granny says that jus' 'cause they died don't mean they're gone. She says that the Princess takes you to the Green Pastures, an—"

"Oh sure, 'the Green Pastures.'" He shoved his face close to hers. "Ya wanna know what the Green Pastures is?"

"Quiet," Applejack said. She had started crying.

"The Green Pastures is a fairy tale they tell little foals, to make 'em feel better."

"Shut up!" Applejack shouted. "It ain't a fairy tale! They're there! Granny said so! Ah hate ya! AH HATE YA!"

Big Mac was about to reply when he was interrupted by a loud banging on the door. They heard it swing open, and suddenly Cheerilee, one of Big Mac's classmates, hurried in. It was clear from her panting and her tangled mane that she had ran there.

"Big Mac," she said, after catching her breath, "it's Ace!"

"What about him?"

"I overheard him talking after school," she said. "He was really mad at you about something. He was talking with a couple of his friends about finding you. Saying they're going to 'teach you a lesson.'"

"That so?" Big Mac asked grimly. "Well Ah won't make him look far."

"No, Big Mac, don't," Cheerilee said wide-eyed. "Don't go looking for him. He'll hurt you; he has his friends with him!"

"Ah ain't scared of him," Big Mac said. "If Ace wants trouble, he'll get it."

"No, don't go Big Mac!" Applejack shouted, panicking. She ran forward and wrapped herself around his leg. "Ah don't want ya to get hurt, please don't go!"

"Thought ya said ya hate me?" Big Mac said. He shoved Applejack away. "Ah already made up mah mind." Turning, he strode out of the house and towards town.

"What happened then?" Rarity asked.

"I left," Applejack answered. "Ran away, to our relatives in Manehatten. Jus' couldn't take it nomore."

"But what happened between Big Mac and Ace?"

"Don't know," AJ said. "Ah guess it got worked out. Don't know how, though. But when Ah took over runnin' the apple stand, Big Mac tol' me Ace gets free apples. Said to take the cost out of his own wages. Ah asked Big Mac why, and he jus' said he owed him."

Rarity said, "But when you returned home, Big Mac, was he still…"

"Naw," AJ replied. "When I got back he was different. Quieter. He stopped gettin' into trouble. 'Stead he buckled down, really concentrated on working the farm, taking care of the family."

"But what changed?" Rarity asked insistently.

"Reckon you'll jus' have to ask Big Mac," AJ answered.

Author's notes:

The chapter title is taken from a song by Blitzen Keeper.