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Just Like Old Times · FiM Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
My Gift To You
The bear. We needed the bear. How could I forget about him? Outdoor tea parties wouldn’t be the same without the bear. I looked around me. The critters waited for my instructions. Angel and the weasel stood straight, their stances fit for royal guards. The raccoon put down the wicker basket and took breath from the heavy lifting. The little choir of birds rehearsed their song, or at least tried to. I had no time to correct their mistakes, so they kept pouring clashing notes that were… not very pleasant to hear.

“Uhm… change of plans, we need a bear,” I told the raccoon. In the blink of an eye, he was gone, and a bear took his place.

“And… the scale is supposed to be C minor, so, uhm, please try to work on that.” The birds nodded. I really hoped they could get their keys right. We didn’t have much time to rehearse. Princess Twilight would come soon, and she would never stand it if they sang like that. It wouldn’t be very nice to make her listen a bad song. I wanted her birthday to be flawless.

I took out the red and white nap from the basket and laid it out on the soft grass. At least the place was perfect. A lush green meadow on the outskirts of Ponyville, framed by hills and slowly lolling trees. Not far away, I could hear the soothing gurgling of a stream twinkling in the sunlight. Occasional whiffs of breezes blended marvelously with the warm touch of the sun, and gently stroked green leaves and pink mane alike.

As Angel started to set up the teapot, the cups and everything else on the nap, I produced the old journal from the satchel to check if I did forget anything. We had the nap, the critters, the tea set, the muffins and the birthday cake… and me. I had no idea how Twilight would react when she would have seen me. It’s been so long. I thought it would make her happy, even if for a short time. But maybe she was very sensible, and she could get mad at me. She could get… sad. Oh my. Of course she’ll be sad, why wouldn’t she? This is terrible. I didn’t realize how stupid this idea was for a birthday present.

Twilight’s voice came from behind the hills. “Hello? Anypony there?” It was too late to get back now. I glanced at the others.

“Everyone do as planned, ok?” I whispered them.

“Yes, your Highness,” replied one of the birds. I winced.

“Don’t call me your Highness, not now!”

The critters moved into position around the nap. I hid behind the trees to make my surprise reveal. Once again, I looked at the journal. There was an old photo, crumpled and bleached out, made by Photo Finish so many years ago. One last check with the mirror. Daffodil coat, taffy mane, cerulean eyes, a weary smile peering from the mouth. Perfect. I took a deep breath, ready for the show.

Hidden behind the tree, I peeked as Twilight came in sight. She was holding the anonymous letter I wrote to bring her here. As her gaze fell on the picnic setup and the animals, she immediately stopped. I could almost see the memories resurfacing in her mind.

I stepped out.

“Happy birthday, Twilight.”

She was paralyzed. She stared at me. No words came out from her. Tears did.

What had I done? It was a bad idea. I shouldn’t have met her like that. I looked down, trying to hide my face from the world.

“Fluttershy…?” she whispered.

I couldn’t bear it anymore. I couldn’t break Twilight’s heart. I shook my head.

“It’s… exactly as I remember it,” she said with a broken voice.

“I thought… You would want to hang out with her again. For one last time.” I said.

She couldn’t stand it. She rushed to me, and we locked in a long, relieving hug.

“It’s the best gift you could give me. Thank you, Thorax.”

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#1 · 1
· · >>moonwhisper
I thought this was Discord at first, but a bug is fine, too. But seriously, once I realized who it really was, the voice fell well into place.

This story is kind of mildly disquieting at first, which seems to be by intent – Thorax has good intentions, but the whole thing is a little messed up.

But at the same time, he is trying, and Twilight sees it… and appreciates the gesture, as even if Thorax did the wrong thing, he did it for the right reasons. It was adorably hapless, in just the right way for Thorax, kind of dopey king of the Changelings. And it is a story that even fits in 750 words, even if a lot of it is told by implication.

Well done.
#2 · 1
· · >>Pascoite >>sharpspark >>moonwhisper
Angel and the weasel stood straight

So Fluttershy's dead but nor her bunny. Okay. I know he's a little demon but I don't think he is literally a demon.

As for the voicing, I won't as sure as my predecessor. It sounds more like Fluttershy several times than Thorax. And I don't know if this is intentionnal (as Thorax is readying for his role) or simply to mislead the reader.

Side thoughts: I'm not sure about Thorax and Twilight being intimate friends enough for the first to do that kind of gesture.
#3 · 1
· · >>moonwhisper
Hm. I felt like you were delaying the reason for all this too long, but then came the twist. I'll say this for you: the twist was well-timed. I just think if you could have led me to believe something before I got there, it would have been more effective. Like if you had built tension that I thought it was one thing, then you made it another. Now, what you have here—making me wonder what is going on at all before getting the explanation—is a workable thing. I just think it's less dramatic.

So as a concept, pretty well done. I do feel like there are some odd turns of phrase here and there, like someone used to foreign idioms, or maybe they're just not expressions I'm used to. And look back at your first paragraph. The sentence structure there is same after same after same, and there's not much variation in length, either. On the one hand, it creates a sense of going through the motions, but that's a very tricky business to keep interesting. It's also unfortunately placed right at the beginning, which tends to set the tone that the whole piece will have this plodding, repetitive structure. Of course, it doesn't, but first impressions are important.

I do think some of the emotions are a mismatch. Why is Fluttershy so worried about whether Twilight will be mad? She can't be. And her stand-in presumably is going to act exactly like he's supposed to, so why is she worried? Yeah, she's role-playing, but she snaps out of that so quickly that I don't see her getting that immersed in it. I'm also unclear on what the issue is (though I wouldn't be surprised if you dropped an adequate clue that I just missed). Is Twilight dead? Estranged from Fluttershy?

Oh... well, I got that completely wrong. I took it as Fluttershy who'd somehow become a princess and got Thorax to impersonate Twilight. I agree with >>Fenton that the voicing sounds much more like Fluttershy.

My miscomprehension notwithstanding, this was a pretty good story. I've seen things similar to it before, but this was a well-executed one, and the main point of a minific is to make something memorable. You blaze through reading 20 stories in a couple hours, and only a few are going to stick in your head for good reasons. This is one of them, at least for me.
#4 · 3
· · >>moonwhisper
Angel's not dead, he's a changeling. All the animals are, which is why one of the birds talks and why the raccoon changes into a bear.

This was good, but I think the beginning of the story is confusing in a way that's problematic, but hard to put a finger on exactly. I think Pascoite is probably right in terms of the arc of this story works a lot better if the last twist is a subversion rather than an explanation. The hints of something being 'off' are totally fine (Raccoon->Bear is the ideal amount of '...huh?'), but there's too much off, because there's really no clear sense of why Fluttershy would be doing any of this or what's going on.

I almost feel like this would work better if the stuff about how long it had been didn't come until you see Twilight herself. It's really hard to explain exactly how to pace something like this, and I don't want to just push in to say 'write it how I'd write it!' But rather than having a lot of mystery all swirling around at the very top, I think it'd help to slowly introduce it to people as it goes. Not to necessarily explain each part or have it railroaded into a misunderstanding that you expect from the reader. But just to get them acclimated a bit at a time. Okay, it's a picnic and Fluttershy is worried about things - why? Because it's for Twilight's birthday. But things are behaving weird - or are they? It's small enough that you don't quite feel like it requires an explanation. But then Twilight show's up and she's old. Huh? Oh wait, this explains things....... the reader thinks for one moment, until they realize it totally doesn't. And then you drop something like the bird saying 'Your highness' to really do one last totally disorienting thing to hammer it in, before pulling the curtain up for the reveal.

I'm perhaps being overly picky here, but it's because I think there's a lot that I like in this story. It just feels a little out of sorts, and if you can tweak some of it, it'd really come together. But writing something like this is very much an art and not a science so... apologies if I've overstepped my bounds in talking through it.
#5 · 1
· · >>moonwhisper
Okay, great job on the slow reveal. Fluttershy would know every animals name (not just "the raccoon" or "the bear") and I was about to call this out on it, but suspected it was intentional, which it was.

The down side is this story is really a one note wonder because of that. Sensing someone was "faking" Fluttershy is the only point of interest here, and while the story does that well enough, it leaves so many bigger questions unanswered (like what happened to Fluttershy? Why wouldn't Twilight consider this whole thing horribly macabre and freak out? etc.)

I guess I would've liked to see more of Thorax's reasons/emotions, rather than merely the practical arrangements and preparations.
#6 · 1
· · >>moonwhisper
Genre: Impersonation

Thoughts: What an interesting story to end with. I thought the twist was very well-executed, even though the whole premise raises questions that would be helpful to have answered. Is this an Immortality Blues Twilight who's just lost Fluttershy in the past year? What does the Twilight-Thorax relationship look like to prompt him to do just this? Or Thorax-Fluttershy for that matter. Right now this scores tons of points with me on concept, ambition, and execution... the only "but" is really just with the logic and backstory side of the concept.

With a mild tuneup this could be my #1. As is, it's still probably top 3.

Tier: Strong
#7 · 2
· · >>Pascoite

Wow, I never thought I would ever get first place! :D
Thank you very much!

I wanted to write something with Fluttershy, with a relaxing natural scene, and I had more or less the idea of remembrance as a gift for some time. It would have made sense that the changelings acted as the rest of the Mane Six, but it would have cluttered the fic with too many voices and characters. Instead, the changelings acted as animals.

As most of you pointed out, the story raises several questions. I left them unanswered on purpose. There's no right answer to what happened, what kind of relationship there is between Twilight, Fluttershy and Thorax etc. You can assume that Twilight and Thorax are immortal, as >>CoffeeMinion said. The way I wrote it, the background is not meant to be the focus of the story. Maybe in a longer format I could give more answers, though. Honestly, I didn't put much thought on it.

I realize there are some things that can be improved. As >>Fenton pointed out, it was hard to make the voice sound like Fluttershy's to mislead the reader while keeping it believable as Thorax's (for instance, not calling the animals with their names was intentional, but calling Angel "white bunny" would have been too odd and revealing). I also agree with >>sharpspark that the pace should slowly reveal the oddities and "clues" in the right order, but I also wanted to set up some kind of conflict (Fluttershy is worried) early on.

Anyway, thank you for reading and commenting this. I'm glad you liked it!
#8 · 1
Nice job with the medal.

I did want to reply to one specific thing in your discussion, and that's the fact that you intentionally left lots of things vague, like what happened to Fluttershy and what the relationships between the various characters are. It's easy to say you won. and thus you must have done everything right, but I'd call this a mistake. There are good and bad things to be vague about, and I'd have to count these as detrimental.

If you just want the story to have a cool twist to it, so that all that information is tangential to the plot and isn't critical in defining the story's power, that'd be fine. But you're writing a very emotional piece here. The whole point is to delve into what emotional investments the key characters have so that the reader will develop the same investments and empathize with them. But I don't know what to feel about any of this, except the default generic level of sad that comes along with a character death. Twilight's obviously broken up about it enough to go to these lengths, but I don't know why. Did she have a particularly close relationship with Fluttershy? You've singled her out, so either she was lost in a uniquely tragic way, or she was unusually close to Twilight. Does she get Thorax to impersonate the others at times? How close of a friend is she to Thorax? He seems nervous, so I can't imagine he's done this much before, if at all, but he's not treating it as if it's a chore, so at least you have a little there.

This just felt like one of those shipping stories where I have to take it for granted that two characters are in love without the story doing anything to demonstrate or justify it. So you're right that there are no answers as to what happened (less important unless that's what makes Fluttershy's death noteworthy) and what the relationships are (more important), in that the story doesn't even hint at answers to them. But I think this weakens the story, and there are ways to address that without much word count.

Still, it's a strong concept, and I ranked it pretty high on my ballot.

As to setting up the clues, this is a good strategy. Whenever I have a story that makes a gradual reveal like this, I do a very short-form outline where I lay out what clues I want to give the reader, then decide in what order it makes the most sense to give them. Ideally, you'd start with the most mundane ones or the ones that a reader is unlikely to catch the significance of until they see it in retrospect (though if you make those too fleeting, the reader will have forgotten about them by the time they could have understood them), then progress to the most shocking or context-changing.

Finally, a bit more about my misinterpretation of what was going on. I'm not that good at picking up subtleties, so if you think I'm an outlier on this, fair enough. But I thought Twilight was the fake one, because Fluttershy's initial worry was if the party wouldn't be good enough for her, and since I couldn't imagine Twilight ever getting upset about quiet, one-on-one birthday wishes, my mind immediately went to "that's not Twilight." It might help if you fine-tuned what Fluttershy's fears are so that it does sound in character for that to be a potential conflict with Twilight.