"Here Winona," called a certain orange earth pony as her energetic brown and white pet dog scurried towards her. The canine responded to her owner with gleeful barks. Winona spotted the stick on the ground in front of her owner and was unable to hide her excitement. It was time for a game of fetch.
Applejack smiled as she watched her loyal companion joyously run around. She loved times like this when they could just simply relax outside and play. It was a calming time of bonding just between her and her dog, and today was an ideal time for them to be outside.
It was a warm day, with the sound of birds and cicadas coming from nearly every direction. The sight of puffy clouds above in the blue sky contrasted beautifully with the many shades of summer green below. The smell of plants and apples and barns and farm animals was just as ubiquitous as the sounds of birds and cicadas. Applejack couldn't ask for a more perfect day.
"Alright Winona, I ain't holding back none on this next throw. You better go long."
She understood the orange mare, giving her a quick bark in response and braced herself for the throw.
Applejack leaned down and picked up the stick in her mouth. She cocked her head back and tossed the stick with all her might. Winona barked and kept her eyes glued on the stick as she chased it. It flew through the air at impressive speed, but Winona kept pace with it. She could finally see it land somewhere in a thick group of apple trees.
Winona sniffed around the trees for the stick. She followed the scent around various apple trees, before finally finding the stick leaning against one of the massive amount of trees. She gleefully picked up the stick in her mouth, eager to bring it back to Applejack. However, when she looked up, something caught her eye.
In the distance she could very vaguely see what appeared to be a creature moving ever so slightly behind a group of apple trees. Because the figure was so far away, Winona couldn't tell what kind of creature it was, but she could at least tell that it was bigger than the bunnies, birds, and squirrels that usually roamed Sweet Apple Acres. She knew that Applejack was waiting on her to return the stick, but the curiosity of finding out what this creature was, and what it was doing in the middle of the acres was getting to Winona. She carefully set the stick down, and began to make her way over to the creature.
As she approached it, its shape started to become clearer, and eventually it was apparent that the being was a pony, not any bigger than Applejack. However, the shadows from the trees prevented Winona from getting a good look at what the pony looked like. Winona sniffed the air to try and detect the unknown pony's scent, but couldn't identify any smell. Winona found this quite odd, considering how effective her nose was at picking up the scents of creatures. However, this only made Winona all the more curious about this enigmatic figure.
She increased her speed, trying to get to the pony as quickly as possible. She was mere feet away from the mysterious pony when it suddenly turned and galloped away.
"Winona? Are ya there girl?"
Winona's ears perked up at the sound of Applejack's voice. Her owner was obviously growing worried about her, as it shouldn't have taken her this long to fetch the stick. She was compelled to forget about the unknown pony, and return to Applejack, but she felt enticed by the mystery of the strange pony. She was determined to get a better look at it, fetch could proceed once she returned. Winona turned back around and took off towards the direction the pony had ran off to.
Winona ran as fast as her paws could carry her, but she couldn't seem to find any trace of the strange pony. She looked in every direction to search for any sign of their presence, but found nothing. She ran through various areas of the acres in an attempt to find them, but still nothing. She was about to give up when out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something move behind an apple tree to her left.
Winona happily panted as she ran off to the apple tree, confident that she would find her target behind it. She reached the tree and jumped behind it. Giving off many loud barks to alert the creature, she watched something dart out from behind the tree, very much startled by the barks. However, rather than a large pony emerging from behind the tree, it was instead a tiny rabbit.
The startled rabbit was terrified by Winona's sudden barking and took off running. The brown and white canine was disappointed that she still had not found the pony she was looking for. Defeated, she began to make her way back to the house, where Applejack would no doubt be worried sick about her. Winona felt terrible that she had kept her friend waiting for a wild goose chase.
Just as Winona started to head back to her owner, a sound erupted behind her. It wasn't an explosion of sound, at least to someone like you or me, but it sounded much louder to Winona because she was a dog.
Winona jolted her head up and looked towards the direction from where the familiar sound of a twig being stepped on came from. Much to her surprise and joy, she saw that the shadow of the unknown pony had caused the noise, and was now in eye sight again in some distant apple trees. Not wasting time, Winona ran at the pony at top speeds.
The mysterious pony once again began to gallop away from Winona, but this time she was close behind, doing her best to keep pace.
She called at the pony with her barks, trying to get it to come to a stop, but it simply continued to trot away. It also seemed to keep away from open areas and instead stayed within the shadows of the apple trees, making it impossible for Winona to identify the pony from her distance. As Winona sniffed the air as she ran, she still did not catch the scent of the pony, making it all the more difficult to figure out who it was.
She chased the enigmatic pony for what seemed like hours. The pony had by now led her away from the more familiar area of Sweet Apple Acres in favor of the mysterious Everfree Forest. It would take Winona quite some time to make her way home by now, but there was no use in giving up on identifying this pony after coming this far.
She kept her eyes locked on the unknown equine, making her way around trees and jumping over debris from the forest when necessary. The pony suddenly came to a stop for a short while to look around for the next place to run. It eventually eyed a bush and took off through it. Winona capitalized on the pony's short pause to catch up to it, and was now mere feet away from it. She watched it run through the bush and quickly jumped through it herself.
Winona barked in surprise as she suddenly found herself soaring towards a slope on the other side of the bush. Winona lost her footing as she immediately found herself on the edge of the steep drop. She threw her paws up and attempted to grab the ground to prevent herself from falling, but lost her grip and violently slid down the slope.
Her body plummeted down it, picking up speed as she fell. Small rocks protruding out from the side of the slope pummeled her body, some causing small cuts. Eventually, she finally reached the bottom, and landed with an awkward thud.
Pain spread throughout her body as she tried to recover from the fall. She looked at the scratches that the rocks had caused. There was a small amount of blood in her fur around the cuts, but it was nothing major. All she had to do was pick herself up and get back home so Applejack could-
Winona emitted an incredibly loud howl of agony as an unbearable amount of pain jolted through her body when she tried to plant her front paw on the ground. Her body collapsed back on to the ground. She winced as the lingering pain haunted her. With her paw this sore at the time, there was no way she could stand up.
Not being able to go anywhere yet, Winona licked her wounds, and tried to clean her fur of any blood. Her tongue cleansed her fur, and it eventually looked free of any red spots, although now her coat looked disheveled due to the licking. After recovering on the ground for some time, she decided to give standing up one more time. One by one, she planted her three good paws on the ground. With one final shove, she began to lift up her injured paw.
Suddenly, Winona produced the loudest yelp she had ever made as she felt a hoof press down on her injured paw. She looked up to see what was no doubt the mysterious pony she had been pursuing earlier. The darkness of the forest made trying to identify the pony difficult. The fact that the agonizing pain was numbing her body and making her vision blurry didn't help. However, Winona was able to distinguish the eyes. Cold, dark, and filled with demented joy, staring down at Winona menacingly.
Winona growled and tried to lunge her head at the attacker. Perhaps a good bite to their hoof would free her. She clamped her jaw down on to the pony's hoof as hard as she could, determined to make them release her. However, the pony simply kicked the canine in the gut for her efforts. She groaned as the new pain of the kick lingered inside of her.
With some fight still left in her, Winona then tried to scratch at the demented creature with her good paws. She flailed about trying to land as many scratches as she could. Winona was successful in landing some scratches, but they seemed to have little effect, if any at all. Keeping their cruel and intimidating gaze locked on Winona's face, the pony delivered dozens of kicks to her gut, effectively taking the rest of the fight out of the determined dog and putting her through unfathomable pain.
Winona whimpered as the pony applied more pressure to the paw it was standing on. As if getting a sick thrill from seeing her pain, the monstrous pony placed another hoof on the paw to double the pain. It was unbearable for Winona, and it felt like the pony could crush her if they applied full force. She howled out in pain, hoping that somepony would, by some miracle, hear it and save her.
The pony finally stepped off of the injured dog's paw, leaving it in such a state of brutality that standing up would now be impossible for her. Winona could only watch in terror as the pony leaned down and glared at her with its cold, heartless eyes.
"Night night little doggie," it said in a slow and almost demonic voice. Just hearing it made Winona shudder in fear. The voice was cold and emotionless, and the handicapped dog knew from it that something terrible was about to happen.
The pony slowly placed its front hooves on Winona's head, slowly applying pressure to the skull. The pain grew more brutal by the minute as the pressure became more intense and her skull became more strained. Finally the pony brought their hooves up, keeping their sinister eyes locked on Winona's. The terrified dog closed her eyes tight as the pony brought her hooves down for one final blow.
Twilight's eyes snapped open as she jolted out of her sleep. She felt herself sweating profusely and her heart was racing as she tried to recover. It had been yet another nightmare. This marked the tenth one in a row.
"That was... disturbing." The lavender unicorn felt unsettled. These nightmares had been consistently haunting her for a short while now, but this one felt so real. If felt to her like Winona was in legitimate danger, about to have her head crushed by a deranged pony. Twilight had to stop herself from becoming sick at the thought of the poor dog receiving such abuse.
"You finally up Twilight?" She looked up to see her loyal assistant and friend, Spike, standing at the top of the stairs. "Did you have another bad dream?"
"Y-Yeah, I did."
"Even worse than the one from yesterday?"
"Well, want to talk about it?" The baby dragon hopped up on Twilight's bed and sat down next to her.
Twilight began to explain the events of her dream as Spike listened carefully. She watched as the look on his face grew more and more shocked and disturbed as she described the final details of her dream, up until the final horrific event.
"Whoa. That IS pretty messed up."
"What disturbs me the most is how...real that dream felt. It wasn't like the other nightmares where there were just a couple of monsters, or where I was falling into darkness. It felt like it was actually happening. Like Winona was really about to die."
"Twilight, now you're starting to get a bit carried away. I know it was a messed up dream, but it was just that. A dream. I'm sure Winona is perfectly fine."
"I don't know Spike. I can't shake the feeling that there was something up with that dream," Twilight paused, a chill running down her spine as she reflected on the nightmare. "What's even worse is that even though it spoke to her in such a demonic voice, the voice sounded oddly familiar. Like it was somepony I know that was about to kill her."
"Look, if this dream is getting to you so much, why don't you just head on down to Sweet Apple Acres and check on things yourself? You can ask Applejack to let you see Winona and once you see that she's alright, you can relax."
The egghead pony smiled at her dragon friend. Despite being a baby dragon, he had moments of brilliance, and gave great advice.
"I think I'll do just that Spike. Thanks for listening."
Twilight gave Spike a hug and cantered down the stairs and out the door. She looked up at the sky. It was a regular bright, sunshiny day. Applejack would no doubt be out and about, working hard on a day like today. With her goal in mind, Twilight made her way to Sweet Apple Acres.
Applejack brought back her hooves as she gave her target one final look. Determination coursing through her, she snapped her hooves with all her might. An audible smack could be heard.
The cowpony looked back and smiled at her work. She had hit her mark dead on.
"Yeehaww, got all the apples down with one buck!" The orange mare proudly looked at the tree behind her. Every single bright red fruit was neatly resting in a basket she had placed below the tree. Applejack grabbed the handle of the basket by her teeth and dragged it over to the next apple tree.
"Applejack! Where are you?"
Applejack's jerked her head around, slightly startled by the familiar voice of her good friend Twilight Sparkle. She turned around and flashed her unicorn friend a grin as she approached her.
"Well howdy Twi. What bring ya to Sweet Apple Acres today?"
"Oh you know, just paying a visit." Twilight looked around, trying to hide her nervousness. Applejack looked at her curiously, sensing that her friend was possibly hiding something.
"Well, ya know that yer always welcome here sugarcube." Applejack finished placing the basket under the apple tree, and gave the tree a solid buck, knocking the apples out of the branches and into the basket. "Don't mind me though, just finishing up mah work fer the day."
"It's quite alright Applejack." The lavender unicorn continued to nervously look around the acres. "Say, would you happen to know where Winona is?" she finally asked.
"Winona?" Applejack pondered, a bit perplexed as to why her friend wanted to know where her loyal pet was at. "Well ah reckon she's inside the barn snoozing on some hay right about now. Why ya ask?"
"Just curious," Twilight replied.
Applejack gave her friend another curious look. "You alright sugarcube? You're acting kinda off today."
"I must be tired. I should go rest for a minute. I'll be in the barn." Twilight quickly galloped off towards the barn before her friend could reply. She knew her attitude must have seemed quite strange to Applejack, and she planned to explain what was troubling her soon, but for now she was determined to check on Winona.
Twilight quickly made her way to the bright red barn that the Apple family owned. It towered above the countless apple trees, with the apple weathervane on the roof spinning in the wind. The inside of the barn was illuminated by the light, showing the hay covered floor and various work benches and farm tools.
The purple unicorn poked her head into the barn. "Winona? Are you in here?" She listened, hoping for a responsive bark to come from somewhere inside. However, there was no response. "Winona!" Twilight called the dogs name over and over as she started to search the inside of the barn for Winona.
The smell of hay lingered in Twilight's nostrils as she began searching every nook and cranny for Applejack's loyal pet. She checked under the work benches and behind the many piles of hay, but couldn't seem to find her anywhere.
"Hmm, now where could she be? I'm almost certain I checked everywhere in here." Twilight's train of thought was interrupted by a sudden faint noise. So faint, in fact, that in a normal situation it would have been unnoticeable. But in the quietness of the Apple family barn, it caught Twilight's attention. It was the faint sound of hay rustling.
Twilight immediately glanced over to the direction the sound had came from. In the corner of the barn was a small hay stack that she had previously missed as she had been searching the barn. "Winona? Are you there?" Twilight slowly made her way towards the pile of hay. Suddenly, the memory of her nightmare flashed in her head. The scene of Winona about to have her skull crushed by the mysterious pony played over and over in Twilight's head as she was becoming closer to the hay.
The lavender unicorn gulped. Beads of sweat trickled down her head as she grew more anxious. "Winona? WINONA?" Pushing away the morbid thoughts of Winona's imminent demise, Twilight swiftly ran around the pile of hay to see what was behind it: Nothing. Twilight looked at the blank space, perplexed. She finally let out a sigh.
"Darn. I guess she really isn't in here after-"
Before Twilight could finish her sentence, she was caught off guard by the loud and familiar barks of Winona. Twilight jumped back, letting out a yelp as Winona emerged from under the hay. Losing her balance, Twilight fell on to her back. The energetic dog jumped over to her and began licking her face.
"Sweet Celestia Winona, you scared me half to death." Winona happily panted as Twilight picked herself up from off of the ground. Her heart was rapidly beating from the shock she had just experienced, but the purple mare couldn't help but smile from seeing that Winona was perfectly fine. It felt as if a gargantuan amount of worry had been lifted from Twilight's shoulders.
"Ah see ya found Winona just fine." Twilight and Winona looked over at the barn entrance and saw Applejack leaning against the barn door.
The country pony trotted inside and joined Twilight and her loyal pet. She bent down to talk to Winona. "Ah got to talk to Twilight for a bit now sugarcube. Head on over to the house and play with Apple Bloom."
Winona gave a gleeful bark to show that she understood, and took off towards the house. Once she was out of sight, Applejack turned to face Twilight.
"Alright now sugarcube, time to come clean. Ah can tell when something is worrying my friends. What's wrong?" Applejack gave her unicorn friend a look of concern.
"It's hard to explain," Twilight responded.
"Shucks Twilight, ya know that you can tell me anything. Please tell me what's bugging you." Twilight looked into Applejack's eyes and sighed. She knew very well that her friend was one of the most stubborn ponies in Ponyville. There was no way she was going to avoid telling her the truth, simply because Applejack wouldn't let her.
"Alright, I'll tell you. But I'll warn you now," Twilight gave Applejack a stern look. "It's a bit disturbing."
The orange earth pony was a bit taken back by her friends blunt statement, but nodded to signify that she understood.
"Ah'm all ears sugarcube."
"Well, it goes back to a little bit before a week ago when I had my... incident."
"Ya mean when you went plum loopy and made everypony go crazier than a rabid dog in a-" Applejack cut her metaphor short when she saw the look of seriousness on Twilight's face. "Sorry. Yeah, I remember."
"Well, after we straightened things out with Princess Celestia, I started to feel better and thought that I had already fully recovered from my breakdown." Twilight paused. She somberly looked down at the floor as various grotesque memories came flooding back. "But things only got worse."
"Wadaya mean Twi? Ya seemed ok any time I saw you since then."
"It wasn't something that happened to me while I was awake though, Applejack." Twilight felt tears forming as the horrible nightmares replayed in her head. "It was what happened to me when I went to sleep."
Twilight then told Applejack of each of her dreams in detail. As painful as it was to remember the images of monsters and hopelessness, she fought through to tell her friend of how the dreams grew worse and more twisted as they progressed. Finally, she told Applejack of her most recent dream involving Winona.
"It was terrible Applejack, it felt so real. It was like I was there watching that pony put Winona through all that pain." Twilight stopped and looked over at her friend. She was looking at the ground with tears forming in her eyes as a result of Twilight describing the horrible things that had happened to her beloved pet in Twilight's dream.
"Applejack? Are you ok?"
"Ah'm fine Twi. Just a smidge shook up from hearing about all of that ah guess." The orange mare wiped away her tears and looked at her friend. "So what happened next?"
Twilight gulped as she relived the final moments of her nightmare. "The pony spoke to Winona and-"
"Hold on, they talked to her? Well what did they sound like Twi?"
"I...I don't know how to describe it. The voice sounded distorted and demonic. Like it shouldn't have been coming from a pony. And yet...it sounded oddly familiar. Like I recognized who was doing it, but couldn't tell who due to the demonic tone of the voice."
"No offense sugarcube, but that don't make much sense."
"Believe me, I'm just as perplexed about it as you are. All I know is that it sounded chillingly familiar."
"Well, alright then. So what happened after they spoke to her?"
Twilight gave her friend a skeptical look, knowing she wouldn't enjoy the details that she would describe to her. Applejack returned the look with a slight nod to signify that she would be ok.
"The pony took their front hooves and stood on Winona's head. It kept applying more and more pressure until it finally brought it's hooves up and began to bring them down. They were about to crush her skull with their hooves, and right before the hooves hit, I woke up."
Twilight looked at Applejack to see how she was doing. Her earth pony friend was obviously disturbed by the details of Twilight's story, but was continuing to try and remain calm. "And that's why I came here to Sweet Apple Acres today. The dream felt so real that I just had to see that Winona was ok for myself."
"Shoot, that don't surprise me. After a dream like that, I reckon I'd double-check too." Applejack gave Twilight a comforting smile. "And I'm mighty sorry to hear that you've had to see all of that Twi. Nopony should have to be put through that. I really hope seeing Winona here helped you feel better."
"Don't worry Applejack, it helped more than you know. It was such a big relief to see her safe and sound. Who knows, maybe this will help me relax and overcome all of those horrible dreams from now on."
"Well ah'm glad to hear that." The orange mare gave her lavender friend a quick hug. "Wadaya say we head on back to the house and have some lunch?"
Twilight smiled back at her friend and nodded. "I'd love that."
Applejack and Twilight trotted into the Apple family house, still talking among each other.
"So is Rarity still on her fancy business trip to Canterlot?" Applejack asked.
"Yeah, but she should be coming back tomorrow if I remember correctly," Twilight responded.
"Is that right? Well shoot, we should all get together then, and she can tell us about how her little trip was. Might help you feel more relaxed too, Twi."
"I'm sure it will," the lavender pony responded with a chuckle. An audible growl then suddenly came from her stomach. "But right now I think it'd be best if we ate. I'm starving."
"Sure thing sugarcube." Applejack poked her head into the kitchen and saw Big Macintosh in front of the stove. "Cooking up lunch there Big Mac?"
"Eeyup," the red stallion responded.
"Think you could whip something up for me and Twilight too?"
"Eeyup," he said again.
"Thanks Big Mac, you're the best." Applejack returned to the living room where the familiar rustic interior, family portraits hanging from the wall, and country scent greeted her. She joined Twilight near the center of the room. "Feeling better Twi?"
"Lots. I can't thank you enough for listening to me and letting me see Winona today. I bet tonight will be the first time I get a good nights sleep in weeks."
"Glad to hear it sugarcube."
Big Macintosh finally walked into the room with three plates of eggs and applesauce balanced on his back. Twilight caught the plates in her aura and levitated them down to the table sitting in front of them. The three of them were happily enjoying their meal when Apple Bloom trotted down the stairs from the second floor.
"Hey sis! Howdy Twilight! What er you doing here?"
"Oh, just paying a visit. How are you today Apple Bloom?"
"Doing purdy good. Granny Smith was just trying to teach me how to knit upstairs. Thought it might have been my special talent." The yellow filly then sadly looked back at her flank. "No luck though."
"Knitting? What about Winona?" Applejack asked.
"Well what about her?" Apple Bloom responded.
"I told her to come play with you here at the house. Didn't she show up?"
"I don't think so. Shucks sis, I ain't seen Winona since this morning."
A look of confusion appeared on Applejack's face as she turned to her brother.
"Big Mac, have you seen Winona?"
"Nope," he responded with a concerned tone.
"Well that ain't right. I told her to come here, and she always listens to me. Where could she be?"
All four ponies began to grow worried as they exchanged glances with each other. Twilight in particular could feel a knot forming in her gut as the thoughts of Winona in pain returned.
"Alright, nopony panic," Big Macintosh said. "Apple Bloom, you check upstairs and make sure Winona isn't just snoozing in one of the bedrooms." The blank flanked filly nodded and galloped up the stairs. "Sis, Twilight, y'all check the yard and see if she's outside somewhere. I'll check in here and downstairs."
Applejack and Twilight nodded in understanding and turned to make their way for the front door.
"Now Twilight, I know what you must be thinking, and don't worry yourself. I'm sure Winona is fine, she probably just saw a squirrel outside or something," the orange mare said in an attempt to help de-stress her obviously unsettled friend.
"I hope you're right," Twilight responded as she felt her heartbeat rapidly accelerating.
"You have my word Twilight, everything will be just fine." As the duo reached the front door, Twilight quickly grabbed the door handle in her magic and opened it. "Just fi-" Applejack stopped dead in her tracks as Twilight gave off a loud scream.
Applejack hadn't noticed anything wrong until her eyes caught the blood on the doorstep. Atop the blood was an animal carcass: dog, female, brown and white fur. One of the legs had been bent in an atrocious way and in several places. The head was barely attached. Around the neck was a red collar with a gold name tag. It said, "Winona."
Applejack finally found her voice again and began to scream.