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Closing Time · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Apple Knots
        Lotus ran a hoof along the base of her neck, smoothing out minuscule knot in the muscle. Being a professional masseuse didn’t exempt her from the occasional cramp after a hard day’s work. She gazed longingly at the spare massage table in the corner. If only she could lay there for a few minutes and get a massage of her own.

        She slid across the room towards her cushioned target. Massage or no, a few minutes off her hooves would be heavenly. The massage area was surrounded by privacy screens, after all. Unless somepony came in demanding her attention, she could just nod off and let the last hour of the working day pass by.

        The bell over the spa’s front door rang and, like every good business pony, she automatically put on a smile. That pavlovian grin faltered when she heard Rarity’s bubbly voice.

        “I’ll have to skip the usual, Aloe. I’m afraid I only have time for a quick massage today.”

        Lotus rolled her eyes. Why couldn’t she ask for a hooficure, or a facial?

        One of the privacy screens slid aside, and Rarity trotted in with a monogrammed towel draped over her back. “Good afternoon, Lotus. I trust you’re doing well?”

        Lotus nodded. In this room, words were reserved for patrons. She spoke with her hooves, and with great eloquence.

        “Marvelous. I was hoping you could concentrate on my lower left side today; it’s been rather painful as of late.”

        Lotus nodded again and motioned to the massage table in the middle of the room. While Rarity climbed on, she took one last glance at the other table in the corner. One day, so help her, she’d be the one being pampered.

        “Lotus? I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a rush, so if you’d be so kind…”

        She could also paralyze Rarity from the neck down and claim it was an accident. If only that pony wasn’t responsible for a quarter of the spa’s income. That styled mane and well brushed coat was paying her mortgage.

        Her hooves pressed into Rarity’s back. When it came to a massage, a pony’s exterior was immaterial; a brushed coat was the same as a matted one. What mattered was the pony beneath the skin, the creature composed of muscle, tendon, and bone.

        Rarity sighed contentedly. “Oh, that feels wonderful. Have I ever told you what my sister’s been up to, Lotus?”

        Thoughts belonged on that list as well. Tense muscles usually had memories wound around them, just waiting to be released.

        “I’ve never understood how such a little filly can cause so much stre—ah!”

        A quick roll of a hoof cut the story, and the muscular tension, short. Lotus knew all about Sweetie Belle, the source of all the tightness in Rarity’s neck and shoulders. She’d rather find out what her mid and lower back had to say.

        Her hooves moved lower. The muscles weren’t as tight here, or as well developed. Instead there was a slight but unmistakable feel of fat. She prodded the unwelcome substance. And what is this doing here?

        Rarity sighed, this time not with contentment. “I simply must start saying no to Pinkie Pie and her endless parade of sweets. It’s bad enough that Spike keeps bringing me roses…”

        Lotus pressed a little more firmly. If you already know what the problem is, then fix it.

        “It isn’t strange that I allow him to do that, is it? It’s one thing to consider him a close friend, but I still haven’t decided if…”

        That was more than enough about Spike for today. That just left the lower back.

        “Ah, yes. Right there!”

        At last she found something new: in the midst of Rarity’s elegant muscles was a knot, small but clearly uncomfortable. Lotus’s hooves slowed to a snail’s pace. Smoothing this spot out would take a moment.

        “Thank you, Lotus. I… I did something I shouldn’t have, the other day.”

        Finally they were both getting somewhere.

        “I wasn’t always determined to be a fashionista, I’ll have you know. When I was just a filly… I wanted to be a dancer.”

        Rarity tensed and let out a yelp. Lotus traced slow circles with one hoof while she ground the other into the knot. Let me work. Almost done.

        “I… I saved up my bits to take a class after school. The instructor… she told me my legs were all wrong for a dancer, that… that I’d just end up hurting myself.”

        The knot vanished, sending a shiver through Rarity’s entire body as it did. Lotus slid a hoof up and down the muscle to ease the residual pain.

        “She was right, of course. I was heartbroken. The other day I saw Sweetie Belle practicing one of her little plays and I just had to try one pirouette… I know how foolish it sounds.”

        Lotus returned her attention to Rarity’s neck, the usual muscle stress zone for a unicorn. After that little bout, there was likely some more tension waiting to be released.

        “Sometimes I envy ponies built for more physically active lives. My friend Applejack spends her whole day on a farm doing chores and seems to be in be in perfect health. Hers certainly isn’t a glamorous life, and yet… never mind. I should be happy with what I have: my sister, my friends, my business… even my little dragon suitor, I suppose.”

        Lotus stepped away from the table, the unspoken sign that her work was done.

        Rarity rolled onto her hooves and stretched her left legs. “You’re a miracle worker, Lotus! I can’t thank you enough for squeezing me in with no notice. Until next time, then?”

        Lotus smiled and made a small bow. Knowing Rarity, next time would be within forty eight hours.

        Lotus couldn’t take her eyes off the clock. There was just a half hour left until four. The spa was empty, and so was her stomach. Stealing cucumber slices from the facial supplies just wasn’t enough. She’d even stoop to eating a greasy hayburger from that place down the street.

        Would Aloe mind if she disappeared for fifteen minutes? She’d be back in time to help close up for the night. She could even bring her something too, assuming she’d finally quit that ridiculous ‘grass only’ diet.

        Then the bell rang. It couldn’t be Rarity again, could it? There were only so many ways to convey “you love your sister,” “you like the dragon,” and “be grateful” through massage. At this rate, she’d need to write it out on her back with a marker.

        Then a quiet voice drifted through the privacy screens. “Um, excuse me? L-Lotus? If… if you’re not too busy, could you—”

        Lotus opened the screen herself. Waiting for Fluttershy to muster the courage to do it would take hours. Fluttershy gasped and took a step back. “I-I’m sorry if you’re busy. I just—”

        She motioned for her to come in. Let’s just get this over with.

        Fluttershy smiled. “Thanks. Rarity keeps saying I should come here more often, especially when I need to relax.”

        Lotus nodded towards the table. Get on, already.

        “Oh, right. Sorry!”

        Fluttershy flapped her way off the ground and onto the massage table. “I’m… I’m feeling kind of tense, a-and I’m going somewhere special tonight.”

        Lotus began with the lightest of touches, simply to avoid startling her. She started on the middle of her back, the usual tension spot for a pegasus. The muscles quivered of the own accord, almost as if they were trying to hide. Fluttershy calling herself tense was the understatement of the century.

        “I’m… I’m usually not this nervous, it’s just—eep!”

        Lotus pulled a hoof away. She’d forgotten how sensitive Fluttershy was about her wings.

        “I-It’s okay, Lotus. I-I really need to loosen up, so if you think a w-wing massage would help…”

        Nothing short of prescription pharmaceuticals would help more. Lotus worked one hoof into her back while the other teased the base of her wing. Massaging a pegasus was an especially delicate task. Wings were full of thin muscles and thinner bones; hurt could be meted out just as easily as healing.

        “Some… some of my animal friends are getting too pushy again. I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but…”

        Lotus held a wing between her hooves, slowly applying pressure along the length of the primary muscle. The beat of Fluttershy’s heart, echoed in her wing’s blood vessels, rose for a moment and then fell. In an instant every muscle in her body loosened. If she was any more relaxed she’d be asleep.

        “Oh, wow… that does feel good.”

        That was enough for one wing. Too much of a delicate wing massage was just as dangerous as a rough one. Lotus walked around the table, and Fluttershy, for once, held out her second wing willingly.

        “T-thank you for doing this. I… I know why my animal friends are upset too… it’s actually why I’m here.”

        Lotus moved her hooves along the second wing one last time before letting it go and returning her focus to her back. Fluttershy wasn’t an especially strong flier, if these muscles were anything to go by. Still, she could coax a little more tension out before sending her out on whatever her nerve-wracking errand was. She probably needed to buy groceries.

        “I’m… I’m going on a date tonight. The animals don’t like it, they think I’m abandoning them.”

        Lotus’s hooves stopped cold for a second. Jittery here had a love life?

        “I’m not, though! I’d never leave them. I just… I just wanted to do something nice for me, like Rarity keeps saying I need to.”

        Lotus decided to give her lower back a try. If Fluttershy wasn’t much of a flier, she’d have a good deal of tension saved up from using her hind legs.

        “If only I was more assertive… I… I’ve turned him down dozens of times; either because I got scared or because my animals talked me out of it.” She raised a hoof and struck the table. “I’m so tired of being a pushover all the time. Why can’t I be more like my other friends? I bet nopony ever says no to Applejack; she’s so strong, she’d never let something like this turn her into a wreck like me.”

        There was that name again. Strange. Lotus ran her hooves along her back one last time and stepped away. She could’ve stopped after the wing massage.

        Fluttershy lay there for a minute before raising her head. “Oh, am I done?”

        Lotus nodded.

        Fluttershy sat up on the table and ran her own hooves over her spread her wings. “Wow, I… I feel great! Rarity’s right, you are a miracle worker.”

        Lotus smiled and gave a small curtsey. I do what I can.

        Fluttershy slid off the table and gave her a hug. “I… I think I can do it now. I’m really going out on a date! It’s going to be the best night ever!”

        Fluttershy literally flew out of the room and, judging by the sound of the bell, out of the spa two seconds later.

        Lotus couldn’t help laughing; that wing massage had definitely done the trick: Fluttershy was so loosened up that she’d forgotten to pay.

        At long last, it was closing time. The massage tables were put away, the suspiciously empty cucumber bowls were hidden behind some towels, and Lotus was poised by the door. Aloe stepped out from behind the front counter and nodded. “Shall we, sister?”

        Before Lotus could respond, there was a loud thump on the door. “Anypony home? Got a special delivery here for Aloe and Lotus Blossom.”

        Lotus squeezed her eyes shut. Come back tomorrow. Why can’t you just come back tomorrow?

        She could hear Aloe open the door, and something large roll through the entrance.

        “I’m awful sorry I’m gettin’ this to ya so late in the day. I’ve got a barrel of genuine Sweet Apple Acres mud and a keg genuine Sweet Apple Acres cider. Don’t mix ‘em up.”

        Lotus opened an eye. Apple?

        Aloe was holding out a bag of bits. “Your timing was perfect. Thank you, Applejack.”

        Applejack reached out to take the bag with a trembling hoof, and dropped it the moment Aloe released her grip. The mouth of the bag burst open, spilling bits across the floor. She stomped her hoof on the ground and winced. “Dang it!”

        Aloe knelt down and started sweeping the bits into a pile. “It’s no trouble, Applejack. Are you not feeling well?”

        “Eh, well enough. Just got a pinch in my side is all, nothing a night off my hooves can’t fix.”

        Lotus narrowed her eyes. She stepped toward Applejack and gave her a gentle but well-placed tap on the shoulder.

        Applejack shivered and let out a pained grunt. “What’d ya go and do that for?”

        Aloe jumped up and stood between them. “Applejack, this sounds like more than a pinch.” She glanced at Lotus next, who simply nodded. “My sister Lotus happens to be a professional masseuse. She could give you a brief massage, if you like.”

        “She’s a ma-who? Oh, a massage? Nah, I’m not really into that sorta thing. Plus, with the way the crop’s been lately, I really shouldn’t be treating myself.”

        Applejack glanced at the ground.

        Aloe stared at Lotus.

        Lotus smiled at her and nodded. No charge.

        Applejack noticed their twin smiles and backed up. “Oh, no. I don’t want nopony treating me like a poor little invalid. I can take care ‘a—”

        Aloe rushed behind her and gave her a shove towards the massage area. “We insist, Applejack; we can’t have our principal cider and mud supplier out of commission. Just lay down on the table, and let Lotus do what she does best. The last two ponies she saw today actually called her a miracle worker.”

        “Well… well all right.”

        After a few more shoves, and a helping hoof or two, Applejack was face down on the massage table. She wasn’t any larger than Rarity or Fluttershy, and yet the table gave a worrying groan once her full weight was pressed onto it.

        She reached up to adjust her Stetson, which appeared to be surgically attached. “Nothin’ too fancy now, especially if you aren’t even gonna let me pay for—oof!”

        Lotus wasted no time. An earth pony didn’t call for much in the way of special treatment; they were tough all over, and all over is exactly where they could carry muscular tension. Her hooves sank into Applejacks back, and her jaw dropped a moment later. There was muscle here, more than she’d expected for a pony of this size, and all of it was as tight as piano wire. Confound it, pony. Are you nothing but knots?

        Applejack voice was two octaves higher than before. “Careful now, whatever you’re doin’ is… gettin’… a bit… painful.”

        This wasn’t going to be a quick job; it couldn’t be if Applejack wanted to walk home tonight without a pair of crutches. This was the massage equivalent of open heart surgery, all except for anesthesia. I hope you’re as tough as your friends think you are, Applejack. She found the nearest nerve, or at least where it was supposed to be, and dug deep.

        “Hrrg! Lotus, that hurts somethin’ fierce. I don’t know if I can take much m—ah!” The sounds that followed were usually reserved for giving birth.

        Relief came ten seconds later, when a sizable knot finally smoothed out. The mountain of contorting muscles under Lotus’s hooves stopped shaking, and the agonized moaning soon followed suit. It was just as well they were doing this after hours; the regular spa patrons would think she was killing somepony.

        “Whoa… I mean… that still hurts a whole lot, but not like before… not even like before I walked in here. Heh, for a second I could swear you were tryin’ to get a confession outta me.”

        Lotus moved on to the next set of knots. I’m not trying anything.

        “What a mean is—ooh, that smarts—sorry if I came off sounding rude before. I didn’t mean to insult what ya do here, and I really appreciate you straightening me out like this.”

        Lotus shook her head. This wasn’t going to be enough, not if she intended to live up to that ‘miracle worker’ title. She paced to the back of the table, put a hoof on a support rung, and started to climb. A moment later, she was standing on Applejack’s back and bearing down on her muscles with all the force she dared apply.

        “Hrrg! Here we go with the painful again…”

        Lotus smiled. At least you’re not screaming.

        “So where was I before? Oof! Right. Truth be told, sometimes I think I’m on the receiving end of ponies not bein’ fair. Not strangers either, mind you. Truth is… well… the truth is…”

        Lotus dragged a hoof down her back, tracing a nerve and, interestingly enough, making one of her back legs kick. So, what is it that troubles the paragon of physicality and assertiveness?

        “Truth is… I wonder about my friends sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘em all to death. Just I wonder if they really… know who I am. Whenever we do somethin’ together I end up talking ‘apples this’ and ‘Apples that’. Sure that’s my talent and all, but I do like other things too. I could go hoof to hoof with Pinkie in the kitchen, and definitely best Rainbow Dash if she’d ever play fair… but do they remember any of that? To them I anything but an apple farmer?”

        Lotus leaned in hard. The big knots where gone now, and the pain with them. That just left working the deep tissue into a recognizable state, not to mention doing something about all that tension trapped between her ears.

        “It’s not like I’m not being honest with ‘em. It’s all probably just my imag—hrrg!”

        Wrong answer.

        “I… I am honest! Nopony could rightfully claim I’m not. I’m just not… ugh, what is it?”

        Applejack felt like putty underhoof. If it wasn’t for her skin she’d be oozing off the table.

        “Ya’ know… maybe ‘open’ is the word I’m lookin’ for. I’m honest with everypony from sunrise to sunset but… well I don’t talk to ‘em about much. Guess if I want to figure out how my friends really see me, it wouldn’t hurt to ask, right? Heh, least not as much as gettin’ a massage did. Rarity really does this once a week?”

        Lotus returned to the floor and passed her a towel. Only once if I’m lucky.

        Applejack chuckled. “Heh, maybe I’ve had her all wrong. If she can live through you workin’ her over, maybe I should be doing iron pony competitions with her instead of Rainbow. First event next time is gonna be you walking on us with steel horseshoes.”

        Lotus found herself chuckling too. I can’t wait.

        Applejack rolled off the table, arched her back, and bucked the air. “That really is a miracle! I feel like a brand new pony.”

        Lotus moved to bow, but found Applejack’s hoof propping up her chin. “None ‘a that, now. I’m the one who should be bowing, especially now that I can do it without thinkin’ I’m gonna die.”

        Lotus grinned. Fair enough.

        “Oh, and I’m not leavin’ this place until something comes outta your mouth. Talkin’ to myself this whole time is borderline creepy.”

        Lotus stuck out her tongue. Nope.

        Applejack laughed. “That’ll do.”
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