Another knock sounded as Fluttershy reared up to unlatch the upper half of her door. She took a moment to compose herself and soften the exasperated frown on her face, then swung the top part of the door open and gently lifted off, hovering and craning her neck over the sill to peer outside.
A blonde earth pony mare with white freckles on her ruddy orange cheeks stood on her doorstep with a winning smile on her face. She was dressed in a dapper red and white striped vest with a starched collar and black cravat, and had a pair of weather beaten suitcases hanging like a set of panniers across her back.
Her grin widened as she tipped a straw boater in greetings. "Howdy do, ma'am. Am I addressing the lady of the premises?"
Fluttershy's brow furrowed. "Er... yes?"
The smiling pony reared up and leaned on the sill of the half door, wedging her fore hoof in next to the hinges to preclude it swinging shut. The hovering pegasus was forced to recoil a bit as the mare began to speak in a rapid-fire patter. "Greetings and salutations! I represent Apple-Smith Seed Suppliers (incorporated), a family owned purveyor of the finest domestic and/or agricultural seeds, bulbs, root stock, and saplings in all of the great Republic of Equestria. Fruits and flowers, whatever your needs, you can get it all from Apple-Smith Seeds (incorporated)."
Fluttershy pursed her lips. "Um... I don't... really have time for..."
The brash salespony kept rolling, turning to cast an admiring glance across the bemused pegasus' homestead. "I have to say you've got a pretty little spread here, prettier than anyplace I've seen yet in this neck o' the woods. Have you ever considered the aesthetic and practical value of adding a beautiful apple tree to what you've got goin' here?"
She ducked down and brought a sample case up from the doorstep, plunking it down in place on the door sill before Fluttershy could even blink, let alone slam the door. It came open with a snap, revealing a tray full of saplings and grid of cubby holes each containing samples of large and succulent looking fruit, glistening and sparkling with faint preservative magic.
The blonde mare leaned around the side of the densely packed wall of product with an avid smile and continued. "Apple saplings and seeds are an Apple-Smith (incorporated) specialty, lovingly tended in our greenhouses outside Manehattan and guaranteed to give you an excellent yield when full grown."
A slightly dubious look came to her face. "Or, if you're the sort that doesn't like apples, and I'll be honest with you I haven't met a pony yet who is, I've got pears, plums, peaches, persimmons, pomegranates, cherries, quinces, kumquats, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, tangelos, and much, much more all in a variety of varieties to suit all palates and planting plans."
Fluttershy interjected with a slight huff. "I'm sorry... I don't need any kind of trees, thank you... I really..."
The salespony slammed the case shut and swapped it for another with lightning speed, like a Las Neighgas dealer collecting, reshuffling, and dealing a fresh hoof of cards. "Of course not, what with you living so close to this majestic forest and all. You strike me as the sort of filly who likes her flowers. Well take a gander at these beauties and just imagine how your garden will grow and glow if you give 'em a go."
She popped open the second case to reveal a tiny garden of multicolored blooms, with a densely packed rack of seed packets hanging from the upright part. "Yes ma'am, a feast for your eyes and your taste buds! You'll get the full value of your bits back in a bumper crop of bounteous blossoms, believe you me."
Fluttershy glanced across the rainbow of blooms, letting out a gasp as her eyes lit on a lurid blue flower among the other samples. She hovered back a couple of wing beats and jabbed a hoof at the azure blossom. "Where did you get that ?!"
The sales pony nodded towards it with a slight hint of wariness furrowing her brow and a slight scrunching of her muzzle. "Um...It's... It's a beaut, isn't it? You've got a good eye, my mare. That particular specimen is so new to our luxurious lineup of spectacular seeds that our... um... our marketing department hasn't even come up with a name for... it... yet..."
The pegasus' aquamarine eyes bored into her as the sales pitch trailed off on the blonde mare's lips. "Where did you get it? When did you pick it? Tell me!"
The freckled pony cleared her throat nervously and gave a wavering smile. "Well... Okay, I'll be honest with ya, I found several patches of it growing in those woods yonder. A-about yesterday afternoon, I guess. I'm something of a seed finder as well as a seed seller for Apple-Smith (incorporated), y'see."
She gave a shrug, trying to regain her momentum. "It figures ya wouldn't be interested in a locally grown plant, but one pony's weed is another pony's treasure. Consider our range of exotic orchids and... HEY!"
She reared back in shock as Fluttershy lunged forward and slammed the case shut, then shoved it off of her door sill, where it landed with a crunch at the indignant earth pony's hooves. Her clearly enunciated uptown Manehattan accent lapsed into something a bit coarser and closer to the teeming pony metropolis' waterfront . "WHAT'S TH' BIG IDEA?"
The blonde pony braced her hooves on the sill and snorted twin puffs of steam out of her nostrils, her apple green eyes flaring in anger and her ears laid flat back beneath her straw boater. She met Fluttershy's gaze with a snarl. "If yez broke anythin' in this case then ya just bought it, missy!"
Fluttershy jabbed a hoof at the fallen case. "That blue flower is Poison Joke, you silly pony! Who knows what it's going to do to you!"
The sales-mare's face went pale behind her freckles and she backed away. "P-poison wha?"
The butter yellow pegasus tsked and dropped to the floor behind the lower half of her door, pushing it open and advancing on the unsettled earth pony, who in turn took several steps backwards, her sample cases forgotten on the stoop. Fluttershy's face was grave as she beckoned to her with a jerk of her head toward the doorway. "There's no time to explain! The effects could set in any minute! We need to get you inside and into the bath right away!"
The itinerant seed seller continued to back down the path to the pegasus' cottage. "F-fuggeddaboudit. I just had a friggin' bath last S-saddiday."
Twilight Sparkle appeared in the doorway with her head cocked in curiosity. "What's going on out here?"
Fluttershy turned her head and called to her past her ruffling wings. "Twilight, I need you to go into the kitchen and look in the cabinet over the sink for a foal food jar full of little green pellets. It's got 'PJ Cure' written on the lid. Take it to the bathroom and have Rarity fill up the tub, then dump it all in when it's about half full, okay?"
A look of wide eyed consternation settled on the lavender mare's face as she stared past her hostess down the path. Fluttershy's gaze whipped around and she brought a hoof to her mouth as she caught sight of the blonde earth pony sales mare. Her striped vest was hanging on her like it was several sizes too large, and it seemed that she was at least a hoof or two shorter than she was a moment ago.
The seed seller's voice trembled as she met their gaze. "Whassamatta? Wha... whatta yez s-starin' at? I... I ain't..." Suddenly, her boater plonked down over her eyes, settling on the bridge of her nose. "EY! WHO PUT OUT TH' LIGHTS?!"
With that she reared, thrashing her forelegs frantically, then wheeled and bolted. As she ran she dwindled, her dapper outfit billowing and crumpling around her until it flopped empty to the dusty hoofpath, left behind by a rapidly scooting straw boater from beneath which a reedy wail and the patter of tiny hooves issued.
Fluttershy took wing, barking forcefully over her shoulder. "Twilight! Get going!" Galvanized out of her bemused reverie by her hostess' commanding tone, the lavender mare spun on her hoof and scrambled inside.
The butter yellow pegasus sailed after the fleeing hat like a hawk, planting a hoof on the brim and stopping its headlong flight before it skittered over the edge of her hoof bridge and into the creek. A squeaky voice cried out in panic underneath as it tugged to get away. "Help! Somepony slipped me a mickey! I can't see nothin'! What's goin' on? Help! Help! Heeelllllp!"
Fluttershy kept it pinned with her hoof and crouched down beside it, whispering softly in as soothing a voice as she could muster. "Calm down. It's okay. You aren't in any danger."
There was a pause, and then an angry trill came from inside the hat. "'Sez you! It's all dark n' smells like sweat n' pomade in here!"
The pegasus flicked an ear and cleared her throat impatiently. "I'm trying to help you, but you have to calm down. Nopony is gonna hurt you. Now listen carefully, um... I don't think you ever mentioned your name."
Another pause, and the reedy voice replied cautiously. "Th' name's Applejack."
The butter yellow mare let out a breath and kept her tone even. "I'm Fluttershy. Nice to meet you. Now listen carefully. I'm going to pick up the hat, so don't be alarmed, okay?"
She slowly lifted the boater up from the boards of her hoof bridge, and gave a gentle smile to the hoof tall pony crouching underneath. Applejack blinked in the light, and looked up, her eyes bulging white around pinprick green irises and her legs going stiff like four table legs as her ears and tail drooped. "Cheese n' crackers! A friggin' giant! Yaaaaaaiieee!"
With a whinny of stark terror she spun on her hooves and darted across the bridge as fast as her tiny legs could carry her. Fluttershy lunged for her, landing on her belly with her hooves clapping on empty air as the diminutive earth pony evaded her and galloped into the tall grass beyond.
The frustrated pegasus slapped a hoof to her forehead with a sigh and lurched up onto her haunches. She brought the hoof down to her lips and let out a loud, trilling whistle. A moment later she was answered by the keening of a falcon, who launched from one of the treetops around her cottage and circled in to land on her withers.
Fluttershy rolled her eyes and nodded toward the winding trail that rustled through the grass to the accompaniment of a piping, long winded scream. "Be gentle, okay?"
The raptor gave a nod in response and vaulted from his perch, ruffling her long, pink, frazzled mane with his wing wash. He flew like an arrow with speckled fletching and dove into the overgrown grass of the meadow, then came up an instant later pumping his wings with a tiny orange shape thrashing and kicking and wailing in the grip of his talons.
Fluttershy took wing herself and jerked her head toward her cottage, beckoning him to follow her. She lashed her tail in irritation as the sun crept inexorably across the sky above.
Some time later, a full sized earth pony mare sat slumped in Fluttershy's tub, a sheepish look on her face. "I can't thank yez enough fer fixin' me up, Miz Fluttashy. I feel like a real prize chump fer losin' my marbles n' gallopin' off like that when ya were just tryin' to help me out."
The pale yellow pegasus stood on the bath mat with a soft, fluffy towel tucked under her wing. She let out a weary sigh and pawed at the rattan beneath her hooves. "Don't worry about it, Miss Applejack. It just seems to be how things are going for me today."
Twilight and Rarity, who were standing in the doorway observing, both exchanged a chagrinned glance at one another. The pale mare cleared her throat uncomfortably as her fellow unicorn bit her lower lip.
Applejack turned to face her rescuer, laying a dripping hoof on the edge of the tub as an earnest expression creased her brow beneath sodden strands of her blonde mane. "Well I really owe yez one. If I'da been off all alone someplace when I shrank up I'da sure been in deep dooky."
She shook her head with a rueful chuckle as her gaze ran along her foreleg, as if she was making sure it was still the proper length. "Boy, am I gonna get th' works from my Mam n' Pap when I get back home n' tell 'em 'bout dis. They always worry 'bout me when I'm out on th' road." She rubbed a temple with her forehoof. "And I just know my brudda ain't gonna shut his big yap about it neither. Yak yak yak, that's all that big palooka ever does."
Her freckled cheeks compressed in a broad, open smile. "I knew I was in luck when I spotted yer house from th' road. I figured I was gonna make a sale, not that yez would be yankin' my tail outta trouble. Alls I knew was I had a real good feelin' about this place deep in my gut, like I had a pal here I didn't even know about."
Fluttershy blinked at her, her own brow furrowing in mild bewilderment. Now that Applejack mentioned it, she could feel an inkling of that unexplainable sense of connection welling inside her even now. Her expression settled into a gentle smile as she reached out a hoof and laid it atop the earth pony's. "If you want to thank me, then promise me you'll stay out of the Everfree Forest from now on, okay? It's dangerous for ponies to go in there."
She glanced over her shoulder at Twilight, who wore a pensive expression on her face.
The blonde mare let out a sigh. "Yeh. I guess I shoulda never gone in there in th' first place."
She gave Fluttershy a weary shrug. "Truth is, this is one o' th' thinnest sales beats in all of Equestria. Mosta th' farmers out here are growin' rocks, and even tho I make some bits from sellin' seeds fer food gardens, I have a tough time meetin' my quotas. So I'm always on th' lookout fer some new stock t' bring back, t' make it worth it fer my family. I just figured if I went in to th' woods just a little ways n' took a look around, I might come out with somethin' good."
Applejack let out a sigh that changed to a wry chuckle as she slipped her hoof out from under her pegasus rescuer's and laid it on top as another grin lit up her features. "Well, I guess I turned up bupkus fer all th' trouble it got me, but I think I found somethin' good out here, or more like somepony. If promisin' t' never go back there makes everyting jake, then no problemo. I'll just find someplace else ta scrounge fer seeds."
Rarity cocked her head with an inquisitive expression on her face as she leaned a bit in the bathroom doorway. "If you don't mind my asking a personal question, darling. I get the impression your parents are fairly prominent in the family business. Why are you even out here hoofing it door to door in the first place, let alone on a sales route that isn't very profitable?"
The blonde mare gave another chuckle accompanied by a shrug. "I guess yez could say I'm chasin' rainbows. Literally."
A dreamy look settled in her green eyes as she reminisced. "I was at my aunt n' uncle's starin' out th' window one day, wonderin' what I was gonna do with myself when I grew up, and all of a sudden there was this huge BOOM!" She splashed in the tub with her hoof for emphasis. "And I saw this amazin' rainbow pointin' like a big arrow outta town, with this big ring o' colors kinda deal spreadin' out in all directions."
All three mares faces went blank with shock as she told her tale, their eyes going wide and their legs stiffening beneath them.
Twilight stared into space with a look of wonderment. "R-ring of colors?"
Rarity murmured under her breath. "Huge b-boom?"
Applejack nodded sagely. "Yeh. I knew it was a sign dat somepony up dere knew what I oughta do, and da answer I came up with was ta go out on da road, just like my Gramma an' Great Grandpap an' generations o' my family have always done, sellin' seeds an' never puttin' down roots." She bobbed her head down at her flanks. "An' dat's why I got apple seeds for a cutie mark."
Fluttershy ruffled her wings as her ears laid back. "A... a sign?"
They all exchanged a mystified look as the blonde earth pony cocked a dubious eyebrow at them. "What?"
Before anypony could say anything further, a sharp rapping came from the yellow pegasus' back door, accompanied by a sandy voice muffled by the intervening rooms and walls of the cottage. "Fluttershy? Are you home? Hey! It's me! Open up!"
The pegasus mare's expression of stunned disbelief disappeared beneath a furrowed brow, as she shouldered past Rarity and Twilight and trotted to answer the new arrival, murmuring under her breath in consternation. "Rainbow Dash? Now what could you possibly want?"
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.