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And at the End, You Shall Remain Alone · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Afterword
"Big Mac's about done moving the extra tables into the barn, I think," Applebloom said as she hauled a stack of plates though the kitchen door. She watched Applejack wash the same dish three times before piling more onto the dirty stack on the counter. "Rain's finally startin' to come down, too."

"Reckon she'd be fine with that, now that everypony else is good and gone," Applejack said. She looked at the bowl in her hooves with surprise before setting it aside and starting on another dirty one. "Granny never did care for those sappy clichés. 'Bad enough somepony up and died without the weather chimin' in on it,' she always said."

Applebloom scrunched up her nose and cocked an eyebrow. "I don't remember her ever saying anything like that."

"Yeah, well..."

Quiet fell over the kitchen, punctuated by the clatter of kitchen wares and the patter of rain outside. Applejack washed, and sometimes rewashed, dishes, while Applebloom took to putting the clean ones away. The sisters carried on like this until Big Mac burst through the door, half soaked in rain and half in cold sweat, clenching a letter in his teeth.

Applebloom jumped at the sudden noise and nearly dropped her stack of extra clean plates. "What in Sam Hill are you doin' burstin' through the door like that?!"

Bic Mac's ears twitched and he danced anxiously in place. His eyes darted between his sisters and his mouth remained stubbornly useless.

"Baby's coming early?" Applejack asked, barely looking over from her remaining workload in the sink.

Big Mac's head raced up and down.

"Go on then. You can still make it before the kiddo comes. I'll be alright here, don't you worry."

The two mares were swept up in a lightning fast but vice tight hug before their brother bolted out the door toward Our Town.

"You mean 'we', right?" Applebloom asked after a moment. "I'm here too, you know."

Applejack sighed. "'Course you are. For now. You'll be goin' on back to Canterlot before too long, though." AJ tugged on the brim of her hat. "World keeps on turnin', tragedy or not, and you'll be in for a mess if you miss too much school."

"I could take a semester off." Applebloom moved in to nuzzle her sister. "Figure it wouldn't hurt to take a little break. Especially with our new nephew on the way. I could split the time between the farm and the bakery."

"Yeah, well..." Applejack returned the nuzzle. "Maybe you've got a point there. Would be nice having some company, and those two might need an extra set of hooves until they get used to things."

"Alright, it's settled then. I'll—"

"—Why don't you check around outside and make sure Big Mac got everything put away before the rain up and ruins something?"

Applebloom's eyes narrowed at her sister for a moment before she headed out the door into the rain. "Fine, I'll finish up out there."

Applejack slumped into a chair, laid her head down on the kitchen table, then listened to the sound of an empty house.

She'd have to get used to it, sooner or later.
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#1 · 1
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It's "Apple Bloom". Two words. But then, I think Granny Smith died, so it's not the time to complain.
#2 · 1
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This seems like it should be titled "Afterward" rather than "Afterword".

Anyway, that aside...

Hmmm.

I have to say, I like stories about Applejack dealing with stuff; she's an interesting character in that regard, and her family focus works in interesting ways.

I'm not sure if she'd really be willing to let Apple Bloom come back and "look after her" (more or less), though; while Applejack is certainly a pony who would feel loneliness acutely, I also feel like she'd be downright ornery about somepony taking pity on her for it, especially if it might mess them up (as Applejack does not like imposing on other ponies).

I do like the life goes on loneliness vibe I got here, though.
#3 · 2
· · >>horizon
I really like the payoff, here. It falls into that sweet spot of being just significant enough to make me feel the emotions you intended me to feel, while still not over-reaching the scope of a minific. And, I'm a sucker for these family relationships kind of story, so I just had a great time reading this.

My biggest complaint, would be that your narrative structure feels really funny to me, personally. The first 1/3 is a tonally quiet exchange between AB and AJ, the middle 1/3 is a high-intensity scene between AJ and BM, and then we're back down to super-low key for the last 1/3. as AB leaves AJ alone with her thoughts. It's a bit of a roller coaster, to me.

I think it would have suited the theme of this story the best if we actually went the other way around. Start with Big Mac bursting in on AB and AJ. Three ponies in the room, high energy. Then go down to a muted convo between two ponies. Then, finish off with an intimately lonely scene with only one pony in the room. This would even reflect the subject of the story, about being how the ponies in Applejack's life are leaving her.

So, yeah, I think the takeaway here is that you need to try to manage your audience's energy levels. Taking us up and down and left and right will give us a bit of whiplash, especially when this piece is supposed to be a thoughtful one instead of one with a twist or a reveal.
#4 ·
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Y'know, for all that this doesn't feel particularly ambitious to my novelty-seeking brain -- it's a straightforward slice-of-life with no crazy headcanon or unusual worldbuilding to cram in -- it feels like it works. It's right in that sweet spot where show-don't-tell carries the emotions, and the exposition is worked quite smoothly into the dialogue. Good job!

That said, in editing I would really bear down on the pacing here. >>Bachiavellian makes a great point. More than that, though, Applejack's turnaround from sisterly camaraderie and nuzzling to sending AB outside so she can be alone happens in the blink of an eye, with no inciting incident that I can see. Both of those give the story an uneven feel that's holding it back from its full potential.

Still going to be near the top of my prelim slate, I think.
#5 · 1
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This story takes a long time to get going. That's probably word count better spent on reinforcing the story's emotional punch.

Why's Big Mac rushing off to Our Town? Sugar Belle is staying in Ponyville now, interning with Mrs. Cake (even though we haven't actually seen her at Sugarcube Corner since). Oh, okay, this is a future story. Still, odd that she'd go live back there unless Big Mac went with her. I guess you never said Big Mac still lived at Sweet Apple Acres, but you never said he didn't either, so the reader's likely to assume the status quo.

In the end, this feels like a story about Applejack suffering from empty nest syndrome. Granny's died, Apple Bloom is away at school, Big Mac has moved out to be with his family. But here's the problem:

You don't ever indicate that until the story's last couple of lines.

That's not going to build up any kind of emotional investment in her situation. Hell, the story doesn't even try. Everything is presented factually. Granny's gone, but nobody expresses missing her. Big Mac leaves, but nobody says they miss having him around. Apple Bloom will need to return to school, but Applejack only states that as a fact. So the whole thing feels like this mundane situation that Applejack doesn't really care about until we're told finally, in the last two paragraphs, that she actually does, but only mildly. There's no emotional arc here, and I'm not going to empathize with Applejack due to a little perfunctory stab at it in the closing passage. That's what the entire first part of the story's about: building up that investment so that there's this big house of cards you've constructed for her, only to have it all come falling down, and for someone who's so predicated on family, she now has none present, for someone who had such aspirations for the family farm, it's just her now. I think this is way too understated. You're writing it to Applejack's external stoicism, but she's your perspective character, and that's not the way she feels internally.