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No Turning Back · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Father and Son
Big Macintosh felt a soft touch on his back as he hefted his great wood-and-metal plow up onto its shelf. He startled, but drew a steadying breath and managed to guide the plow down gently. That done, he turned, expecting perhaps to see that Apple Bloom had come to call him in for dinner.

He looked from side to side in the warm, dark barn, but saw nopony. There were loose-packed bales of hay, and lances of late afternoon light spearing down through gaps and knotholes, and sweet-smelling casks full of juice in various stages of fermentation—but that was all.

Big Mac grunted, turned toward the great barn door, and walked across its threshold to the gently-blowing grass outside. He instantly felt his stomach clench with trepidation as he sighted the family home. Why’d Applejack and them all hafta run off to deal with more changeling problems now of all times? he thought to himself. He looked up toward the sky, and let his gaze linger on the gold-and-red-smeared canvas of sunset.

One more glance toward the house—bringing more pangs of anxiety—and he set off for the nearby hill overlooking the farm.

A chill wind blew through the grass around his fetlocks as he walked, gently teasing Big Mac’s shaggy coat. He maintained his pace while glancing around, again seeing only sights he’d expect on the working farm. One of those was the field he’d been plowing that afternoon, with its rich soil seeming almost pitch-black as the blazing sunset threw the landscape into either brilliant color or deep shadow. He allowed himself a tight-lipped smile as he studied it from afar.

At last, Big Mac reached the lone apple tree at the top of the hill. He settled on his haunches underneath it, gazed up at the fruit weighing heavy on its branches, and heaved a deep sigh. Then he raised a hoof to his eyes and looked out at the low-hanging sun and the long strings of fiery clouds that surrounded it.

“I wish it was all just as simple as apples,” he said aloud, to nopony other than himself. “Ain’t nothing to apples. Just grow ‘em and buck ‘em, year in and year out. Don’t hardly have to think about it, ‘cause there ain’t nothing much to think about. It’s all just…”

He trailed off, shaking his head and looking down toward the farmhouse again. “No. Granny, I love ya and I love this farm, but I can’t take over. I can’t. I’ll work it ‘til my dyin’ day, but you’re gonna just have to wait for AJ to get back and sign those papers, not me. I ain’t the kind of pony meant to be in charge of nothin. And that’s enough, ain’t it? World needs its share of ponies just willing to lend a strong back to things.”

The breeze blew again, and Big Mach felt it brush his coat once more—but this time came a stronger feeling as well. It was light for a touch, but solid enough to make him turn his head.

He jerked back at the sight of a sturdy yellow-coated stallion standing just behind him.

Just a strong back?” asked the newcomer, smiling beneath a shock of red mane sticking out from his tan stetson hat. “Son, I wouldn’t be so proud of you if you were just a strong back.”

Big Mac’s jaw drifted open as his eyes roved over the surface of the newcomer. “P… pa?!”

“Yeah, Mackie,” Bright Mac said with a smile. “It’s me. And I just want you to know that I’m proud of you… endlessly proud. But I need you to know that you’re wrong about something.”

“B… but… this isn’t possible…”

Bright Mac shook his head, and his smile turned wan. “I didn’t think so either, but I need—”

“Wait.” Big Mac raised a hoof to his mouth, and pointed with the other. “No. You can’t be here. Whatever you are, you can’t be my pa.”

“I can. I am. But I don’t know how long I have, so please, just listen.”

“No!” Big Mac rose to all fours and stomped closer to Bright Mac, who retreated several steps down the hill, eyes widening. “Now I don’t know if you’re some figment of my own imagination, or even a rogue changeling spy or something! But that is not a face you get to wear, you understand me?!” His hooves thundered closer, ever closer.

“Wait, son, no!”

The thing wearing the face of Bright Mac ducked around a thick set of bushes midway down the hill. Big Mac jumped forward, seeking to catch it.

But it was gone.

For long moments, Big Mac stood alone there on the hill, looking all about for where it could’ve gone. The soundtrack to his fruitless search was the soft song of the wind in the trees, and the hammering beat of his blood in his ears. At last, with rising confusion, he looked back at where he’d chased it down the hill. He trotted closer, focusing on the crushed grass that had been beneath his heavy hooves.

But there was only one set of hoofprints.

Late that night, Big Mac sat hugging his legs in the pool of guttering light cast by a lone candle on the kitchen table in his home.

He didn’t sit alone, though.

“You did the right thing, tellin’ us,” Granny Smith said from the nearby rocker. “And don’t you worry, Mayor Mare’s got all the regulars out watchin’ tonight. She’s even gonna have ol’ Spike send word up to the Princess herself in case she wants to do something.”

Big Mac nodded sullenly.

Granny Smith slowed her rocking. “I don’t suppose, though…”

He looked up, meeting her eyes.

“I know it’s crazy. Course it’s crazy, thinkin’ it.”

“It can’t have been him, Granny!” Mac all but exploded.


“I know, I’m sorry, I don’t want to wake up Apple Bloom either. But what I saw… I can’t have seen pa! There ain’t no comin’ back from the other side, y’know?”

“I know that better’n most ponies, child,” Granny Smith said, narrowing her eyes. “It’s why I finally up and had them documents drawn up when your Grand Pear mentioned hoofin’ over his orchards to them uncle Pears you kids have.”

Big Mac buried his face in his hooves. “I know, Granny. And I’m sure sorry for bringin’ it up like I did.”

She frowned. “Now, it could well be that this is changelings out makin’ mischief in some new, cruel way. Or, like as not, it could just be nerves. Lately you got more nerves’n a hog tap-dancin’ on a tightrope.”

“I can’t do it, Granny,” he said, shaking his head. “I feel more shame’n I know how to say, but as much as I want to help out… I just don’t think I can be in charge around here.”

Granny Smith grunted. “Well, I don’t suppose I’ll do any good pushin’ things if that’s how ya feel. Applejack should be home soon enough, and I’m sure she’ll sign if you won’t.” She looked away, toward the window and the moonlit fields beyond. “Truth be told, though, it don’t seem like her path is as tied to this place as it used to be. Might be that her heart’ll always be here, but ain’t no telling where her hooves might be on any given day.”

“I know. She’s… she’s everything I’m not.

“Now quit your blatherin’’ right there, boy. You’re an Apple, through-and-through, just as sure as any of us. You work hard! You’re loyal to the family! And just ‘cause she goes off and saves the world every now an’ then don’t mean there ain’t room for ponies doin’ other things! Somepony’s gotta make that world she’s savin.”

He looked up at her, nodding. “I just wish I could do more. But not with bein’ in charge.”

“You’re stubborn like an Apple, too.” Granny Smith added a slight smile. “Maybe there’s even some Pear stubbornness in there. But you ain’t fixin’ on what you can do; you’re too hung-up on the feeling that you can’t do this, or shouldn’t. But if you think about it, none of that matters much next to believin’ in yourself, and lookin’ for good ponies to keep by your side to help ya carry through the tough bits.” She gave him a broad wink. “That Sugar Belle sure looks like she’s gotta have a strong back to help hold up them nice, shapely flanks.”

Big Mac felt a rush of fire through his cheeks, and he buried his face again. “I know, Granny.”

He heard her sigh. “An’ I know it is crazy, Mackie, but don’t you think your pa would’ve told ya you could do this if he’d have had the chance?”

“I don’t know, Granny.”

“Well, think on it, then. And maybe if ya feel up to payin’ another visit to that hill tomorrow… I don’t know. Sometimes even crazy ain’t so crazy once ya get to know it. I mean, look at that maybe-distant-cousin-a-whole-buncha-times-removed that we’ve got, know what I mean?”

“Eeyup,” he said, snickering in spite of himself.

The next day, Big Mac’s concentration broke repeatedly from his plowing as far more ponies than usual came trotting through Sweet Apple Acres—some with guardspony armor, some without. A few guards stopped by to question him during his lunch break, and by the time he was done mustering up a few words to share with them, he’d lost his appetite, and simply went back to working.

He regretted that decision long before the sun began descending into the late afternoon. The last hour or so of plowing was sheer torture, with his stomach grumbling almost as loud as the sound of the plow turning up dirt. It was bad enough that he broke early, unhitching himself from the plow and leaving it there in the field as he set off for the farmouse.

A slight tickle on the back of his mane made him stiffen in his stride. He turned his head, but found nothing save for the open field behind him—and the hill beyond.

Big Mac sighed as curiosity won the battle against trepidation. With movements like lead, he plodded back across the field and toward the hill, trying to ignore his stomach and his nerves by turns. He climbed the hillside ponderously, looking all around himself as he went. It was empty, though; empty save for himself, the few bushes along the way, and the solitary tree.

He salivated as he caught sight of the ripe fruit hanging heavy in the tree.

His pace quickened. He walked right up underneath it and reached a hoof up to pluck an apple. He didn’t even need to buck them, with the branches hanging so low.

“I remember when you planted that,” said his father’s voice behind him.

Big Mac jumped again, and turned, seeing Bright Mac—or the image of him—standing nearby.

Bright Mac raised a hoof in a gesture of peace. “It was father’s day, right after Applejack was born. I remember you led me up here, and I…” He looked down at the grass. “I told you all the reasons why planting a lone tree at the very tip-top of a hill wouldn’t work.”

Tears sprung to Big Mac’s eyes. “Pa?”

“Your mother was right, of course,” Bright Mac said, meeting his eyes again. “There were ways that we could nurture it, and shelter it from storms while it was too small to bear them itself. But I’m… not proud of discouraging you. I did too much of that, sometimes.”

Big Mac felt a flood of warmth in his chest and face. He couldn’t speak, though he felt as if there was a knot of words, and questions, veritably threatening to burst out of his throat.

“I just want you to know that I’m proud of you, and of the pony you’ve become. And I need you to know that I’m sorry. I always tried to do my best, and learn from my mistakes, but I made a lot more of them than I wish I had. Especially with you. I learned so much from you, but I learned it the hard way sometimes, and I—”

“Why didn’t you come back sooner?” Big Mac blurted, half-choking his words through tears. “It wasn’t fair having to grow up without you!”

Bright Mac frowned. “It wasn’t fair not getting to see you grow up, and not getting to say what I needed to say when it would’ve made the most difference.”

“But how… how can you be here?”

“That’s not the important thing, Mackie; you are. You need to know you can do this. I know you feel like your sisters are leaving you behind, and I know you dream of being just like them…” He cracked a smile. “Alicorn princess and all, right?”

A hot wave of embarrassment came crashing down on Big Mac. “Pa, I—”

“You’ve nothing to explain or apologize for, Mackie. Celestia knows I used to like to sneak your Granny’s nightshirts out for a walk in the moonlight every once in a while.”

“You… did?”

Bright Mac turned a frown toward the setting sun. “Mackie, I know it doesn’t take much for it to feel like the world’s pushing you aside. It felt like time stood still for me here on the farm, sometimes. And fatherhood never quite took to me, through no fault of yours or your sisters—I just always felt it was work, even though I was proud to do it.”

Big Mac turned his eyes toward the ground.

“You need to know that I love you, son, and I’m proud of you, and my own failings as a stallion, and a father… well, they ain’t yours. Or they don’t have to be. I wouldn’t want them to be, at any rate.”

“Pa, I don’t blame you—”

Course ya do. As well you should. But let me tell you something, Mackie: if I can be proud of one thing I did in my life, just one thing, it'd be being there for your mother through her suffering after her pa left her.”

Big Mac looked up again, seeing his father’s ears turned down.

“That’s what I wanted to tell you, Mackie: even if most ponies don’t understand, and even if it’s for just one pony—even for yourself—your love can still mean the world to somepony. And you’ve got a great big heart, just full to bursin’ with love, all just waiting to come out.”

The breath caught in Big Mac’s throat. “Pa… how do I know you’re real? That you’re not just… some changeling, sent to tease my heart and take… take…” His voice was lost amid rough sobbing.

Bright Mac took a step backwards, and nodded. “Proof is valuable in some things, son. But sometimes, proof just ain’t there at the start of something. Anypony has it in ‘em to fail at doing just about anything; I was just a pony too, and I made plenty of mistakes, right up to my dyin’ day. But I believe in you, Mackie. I think you’d find it in you to take the farm if you could put aside your fear of failing at it. And for anything I did to put that fear in you… I’m sorry. Ten thousand times sorry. But not as sorry as I am proud of you. And that’s… that’s all I really wanted to say.”

“No, pa!” Big Mac’s vision blurred with tears as he leapt forward, reaching out to hug his father.

But nopony was there to hug.

“Night Court is adjourned!” Princess Luna declared from her podium the front of the room, pounding a great gavel before her.

Big Mac winced at the sharp rapping sound. Next to him on the bench, Granny Smith jerked back to wakefulness. He glanced around at the small crowd of ponies rising and gathering their effects to focus on her, and he smiled a bit at her halfhearted attempt to fuss and grumble like she’d been awake for the whole duration of their hearing.

Granny Smith cleared her throat, and shouted over the crowd: “Sorry about my ears there, Princess. Where didja say we had to go to get these here papers stamped again?”

Luna glanced at Big Mac, then at Granny Smith, and gave her a small smile. “Your papers are all in order, my good mare,” she said over the crowd. “You were even gracious enough to give us a thorough accounting of your grandson’s virtues prior to… resting your eyes for a moment.”

“Eh, sounds good ta me,” Granny Smith said, shuffling the papers in her hooves.

Big Mac glanced back at the crowd, which was actively dispersing. He raised a hoof gingerly. “Uh… Princess?”

“Yes, goodstallion Macintosh? Is there something else?”

Big Mac blushed. “Uh… d’ya mind if I… ask ya a couple other questions, not about the court?”

Luna turned to one of the bat-winged guards flanking her at the podium, and nodded. He trotted down toward the exits, following the ponies who were leaving, and preparing to close and lock the courtroom. “You may ask,” Luna said once the doors were shut.

“Well, uh… you mighta heard we had a… visitor up at our farm recently.”

“The possible rogue changeling,” Luna said, raising an eyebrow.

He swallowed. “I suppose that could be what it was, ma’am. I was wonderin’, though… could what I saw have been a dream you mighta sent me? Just like… a daydream, or something?”

“I only rarely send a dream. It is a subtle power, but one with weighty and complex responsibility.” Luna shook her head. “I understand that you might still be seeking answers. Know, however, that there is sometimes more to our world than what most ponies know or see, sometimes including myself.”

Big Mac nodded. “I understand, ma’am. Thank you anyway.”

“With that said… would you say that what you saw was evil, or disturbing, or that it wanted something from you?”

He frowned. “No, I reckon it was mostly just… encouraging. Well, I s’pose it did want me to own the farm, and it seemed to think there’d be a lot of love there if I took it.”

“I see.” Luna furrowed her brows for a moment. “Then I give you my word as your Princess: from this night forward, I shall keep a closer watch over your family’s dreams, in case this should prove to be something malign.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Big Mac said, bowing his head.

“But I urge you to take comfort in the meanwhile,” Luna said. “Most ponies would give anything to know their lost loved ones still care for them, and think well of their abilities.”

Big Mac felt something on his back again. A gentle touch, but firm. Hot tears returned to his eyes, and he turned—

—and there, gazing up at him with tear-streaked eyes of her own, was Granny Smith. “Come on, young’n; we best get back to the hotel and get some shuteye ‘fore the sun comes up.”

The two left, hoof in hoof.

Behind them, Luna smiled.
« Prev   3   Next »
#1 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>CoffeeMinion
Getting ghost vibes pretty early here.

Good, evocative language with strong visuals though.

"Big Mach" Simple typo, but I read it in a german accent, and just see Mac in lederhosen. :-)

“P… pa?!” Yup... ghosts.

"more nerves’n a hog tap-dancin’ on a tightrope." Nice!

"Somepony’s gotta make that world she’s savin." Another good bit of wisdom. Granny's really coming through great here.

The hilltop reunion works. Cliche but it works.

"Mackie" sounds weird. Not horribly so, just... never heard Granny use it in the show or comics, but now her and Pa are both doing it.

Cutting to Night Court is an odd choice. It... I get the intent here, but I don't know that it was needed for the story. Introducting Luna at the end muddles things, as her own "answers" are just vague at best anyway. I think it could be trimmed without detriment.

Overall... I'm not sure what to say. I enjoyed the read, I can say that. This story is a fairytale with no clear answer, and that's both its strength and its weakness. Though if I was put to the rack, I'd definitely argue for strength. Some great emotions on display here, and the ambiguity is played pretty well to make us care, without really giving any solid answers.

Lastly, bonus points for country-isms and accents. Very hard things to get right without sounding hokey, but I think this nailed 'em both.
#2 ·
· · >>CoffeeMinion
Genre: Touched By An Angel

Thoughts: So this is pretty clearly some kind of ghost story. It goes well out of its way to throw out enough possibilities to not feel utterly random or cliche by having a ghost appear, but I have to think that's what's going on here.

And that's bold. I mean, having a heart-to-heart ghost conversation could easily come off as cliche (there's that word again!) or boring. Taking that path requires a really strong execution to keep readers engaged, because the nature of the plot brings relatively less intrinsic interest IMO.

But I think this delivers. The descriptive language and emotional realness makes a strong connection and really sells the premise. It sets its sights firmly on the heart-to-heart emotional climax and lays enough groundwork for it to come off with maximum impact. Kudos!

I agree with >>Xepher that the ending feels a little off, though. I think it makes sense from a plot perspective to show Mac fully committing to taking over the farm, and I think it also makes sense that he'd want to check with Luna about the possibility of the ghost being a dream. It also helps nail down the whole theme of Bright Mac’s appearance being unexplainable, because it exhausts one of the more obvious possibilities. So I don't think it's a bad choice, but I think the execution (and particularly Luna’s dialogue) is a little lacking right now. But I think by that point the story's accomplished what it needed to and it doesn't detract too much. Tune that up and this'll really sing.

Tier: Strong
#3 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion
I ain’t the kind of pony meant to be in charge of nothin. And that’s enough, ain’t it? World needs its share of ponies just willing to lend a strong back to things.


Author, I'd like you to compare these lines of dialogue:

“I wish it was all just as simple as apples,” he said aloud, to nopony other than himself. “Ain’t nothing to apples. Just grow ‘em and buck ‘em, year in and year out. Don’t hardly have to think about it, ‘cause there ain’t nothing much to think about. It’s all just…”

“B… but… this isn’t possible…”

“Now I don’t know if you’re some figment of my own imagination, or even a rogue changeling spy or something! But that is not a face you get to wear, you understand me?!”

I'm struggling to read all three of them in the same character voice. If you're going to go with phonetic accents, keep them consistent throughout. A pony who says "ain't" isn't going to switch to "isn't" and then "is not".

The "rogue changeling spy" bit felt weird for a different reason. Mac seems bizarrely certain that ghosts are impossible, to the point where he calls out a platoon of guards to search the premises. And then the next day, he pretty much just accepts his father's presence on the basis of … nothing new that I can tell. I just don't understand from the story whether ponies in your setting expect ghosts to be impossible or not. I'm also not certain what purpose Mac's initial denial of his father's presence serves, other than to add wordcount; is this story about Mac trying to solve the mystery of an impossible appearance (in which case the ending hits a wall rather than resolves anything), or is the story about Mac coming to terms with his farm-running ability (in which case the mystery is a distraction)?

You could get away with putting in both plotlines if you were willing to resolve both arcs in tandem, but right now they don't seem to have anything to do with each other, which makes it feel to me like you're jumping stories halfway through. Then the ending resolves neither, which unfortunately suggests you might have run out of time.

I suspect this will clean up nicely, and it's got a number of solid and profound moments like the quote I highlighted, but in its current form it feels too incoherent to rise too far up my slate. Thanks for writing, regardless, and get going on that editing work!

Tier: Almost There
#4 ·
· · >>CoffeeMinion
I think I struggle with this one because it is quite cliché'd, and I also felt the country accent was rough throughout the story—Ol' Brighty didn't even seem to have one, and it would be weird for it to skip a generation. Unless there's some canon I'm missing here? Either way, it was a distracting thing to keep wondering about.

The court scene at the end, I think would work in a different story. A story that's similar to this one, but structured much differently. As has been pointed out, it stops the "ghost" plotline short of a resolution and yet tends to drag along the "dad" plotline a bit too far. If there's a way to tie those plotlines back at the right terminating point the impact would be much stronger. And don't listen to anyone saying that Luna doesn't belong in the story she is great and you are great for including her +1 slate credit for you. But in all seriousness, I truly believe that using her as a way to tie off the ghost plot may work, in a different story. Again, ideas are all here but the lasting feeling doesn't quite come home because of how it's ordered.

Also, I wanted to say that, apart from Schrödinger's Accent, this story mechanically flows very well. I was gonna mention how much I liked the "tap-dancing hog" and "lending a strong back to things" lines but it seems everyone else just wants to steal my thunder simply because I'm "late" for my "reviews".

Thanks for the read!
#5 · 4
Well, phooey.

Father And Retrospective And Son

In a bigger Writeoff, I would've preferred not to self-review this story. Over the last year or so I've come to realize I don't have the knack for self-reviews and it's not a skill that presents a lot of benefits anyway. This story adds some more layers to that by tacking in a more personal direction. But, the size of the field this time just didn't give me much of a smokescreen. All that's to say that I beg people's indulgence for >>CoffeeMinion.

I knew from the get-go that this was going to be steeped in cliche and would rely almost 100% on execution to get through. I thought it might've worked, and I took >>Xepher’s review as early confirmation. Alas, but >>horizon and >>Miller Minus made some really good points about things that were funky and things to improve.

I have a tough time thinking about how I would want to change this. Flawed though it is, it's the rare story that basically turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, plus or minus some stuff with the Luna scene. Nevertheless, I think it's probably worth trying to tune up for the sake of the emotional beats. Maybe switching the order of the Luna and Granny scenes would do it? Maybe Mac doesn't tell anyone at first and has disturbing dreams, then Luna comes to Mac in the dream realm and reassures him? I dunno.

Thanks to those who commented, and please let me know if anyone's interested in helping with edits or whatnot!