Mornings on Sweet Apple Acres started before any sane pony had the right to be up. Today had been no exception. The barn was still completely dark when Flim woke up to Apple Bloom tugging on his leg. "Urgh, Apple Bloom?"
"Yeah?" Her amber eyes twinkled with excitement, as she did a kind of rabbit hop in front of him. Apparently, the early hour was not slowing her down any.
Flim yawned loudly, "What time is it?"
"Uh . . . four?"
"FOUR?" Argh, what's wrong with this family? Even back home, we didn't get up till six. He tried to remain causal, "So, do you mind me asking why we're up so early?"
This appeared to be the correct answer, because Apple Bloom started to spin in happy circles. "Because we've got mornin' chores. Applejack said so."
Oh goody. "And dare I ask what constitutes morning chores?"
"Makes up." Flim was too tired to give a vocabulary lesson. He started towards the door. "Well then, let's get started."
"Wooohoooo!" Apple Bloom galloped out the door jumping a few times for good measure.
When he left the barn, Apple Bloom was staring him down. "Yes?"
"I bet I could beat you." The filly lifted her hooves up and down in place, an unmistakable request for a race.
Flim grinned and for a brief moment thought of joining her. Then reality hit him like a cold shower. He lowered his head, turning away from her. "I can't Apple Bloom."
Her expression fell, "Awe, you can't be that tired." She trotted over to him, tugging at his legs. "Big Mac always races me, even if he's tired. I ain't that fast, honest."
"That's not it, Apple Bloom." For some stupid reason, his throat felt tight. He looked away, turning to the darkened sky above them. "I can't . . . I can't run."
"WHAT? But everypony can run. It's like trottin' only faster. Come on, I'll show you."
Flim pinned his ears, rounding on her. "Shut up! I told you I can't!"
Apple Bloom backed away, a hurt look on her face. "Sorry. Sorry."
The sight of her cowering brought him to his senses. His voice came soft, "It's not your fault. Sorry for snapping." He wanted to kick himself for scaring such a sweet little filly. Sighing, he lowered his head to her level. "Listen, I might not be able to run, but I can still teach you."
Her hoof shuffled the dirt, "I already know how."
"But do you know how to win?"
Apple Bloom looked up hopefully, "You can teach me how to win? Even against Scootaloo?"
"You'll leave her in the dust."
"Really?" Apple Bloom leapt into the air, dancing around his hooves. Then she stopped short. "Wait a minute. How come you know so much 'bout runnin' if you can't run?"
Flim snorted a laugh, starting to walk towards the water pump. "Just because I can't run now doesn't mean I couldn't run before. I ran all the time when I was younger. Won my fair share of races."
"Really? When can we start?"
"As soon as we get done with chores, provided Applejack approves." Flim watched the filly bound around him like some excited dog. It was refreshing to see how excited she could be about a simple lesson.
"Now listen here, Big Mac." Applejack leaned in close to him as she adjusted her collar. "I've got to plow today, so yer in charge of Flim. Got that?"
Big Mac felt less than confident about that. But, he was not about to argue with his little sister, "Eeyup."
Applejack glanced nervously at the opposite end of the farmyard where Flim was talking to Apple Bloom. "He's a no good conman to the core so keep a sharp eye on him. Got that?"
"Eeyup." He watched his sister stare at Flim as though he were about to buck Apple Bloom in the face. It was obvious to him that the stallion was going to do no such thing. "Applejack, he ain't goin' to hurt her. You heard them earlier, he's teachin' her to run."
"Run? Everypony knows how to run, Big Mac! I know the truth. He's makin' her his little conman apprentice." Applejack groaned, pointing to the pair's little powwow. "Just look at 'em! Next thing you know, Apple Bloom will be talkin' all fancy like him."
Big Mac rolled his eyes. "That such a bad thing?"
"Yeah it is!" Though, from her tight lipped expression, she was not about to divulge why. Instead, she stamped a hoof against the dirt. "Flim, Apple Bloom get yer sorry hides over here!"
Apple Bloom ran over, Flim walking slowly behind her. The filly hopped up and down, beaming up at her big brother. "Did you see that, Big Mac? I was runnin' real fast."
In truth, he had not noticed anything different, but he was not about to crush her happiness. "Eeyup. Real fast."
Upon Flim's arrival, Apple Bloom sprung over to him. "How was it, Flim?"
Flim moaned, "Terrible! You didn't listen to anything I was telling you!"
"Ooops." Instead of the expected hurt expression, Apple Bloom looked more determined than ever. "What did I do wrong, teach?"
"Well, for starters, your start." Flim crouched down into a perfect starting position. "You should have started like this." Then, adjusting the position until it was absolutely awful, he continued, "You started like this. And your galloping form is sloppy and loose."
Apple Bloom cuffed the dirt, looking embarrassed. "Urgh! An I thought I was doin' what you showed me."
Flim gave a light hearted laugh, ruffling her forelock. "Well, you can't expect to be perfect off the block, kid. It took me years to get my position the way it is now. But," He winked, "I'm sure you'll pick up the basic in no time as long as you practice!"
Big Mac watched the exchange in awe. There had been plenty of times he had attempted to teach Apple Bloom something only to have it end in a frustrated screaming match. Apple Bloom was easily upset by failure, and would scream at him if he pointed out even one flaw. But Flim had been perfectly honest with her, and she was not even the slightest bit upset. Maybe I should take notes.
Applejack cleared her throat loudly, breaking up the conversation. "Flim, yer goin' to help Big Mac today. I got some get together in town later, so I'll be busy."
Flim stood up straight, jerking a nod. "Right."
Applejack started towards the fields. "Apple Bloom, yer comin' with me. I'm goin' to show you some basic plowin' techniques."
"URGH! Can't I play with my Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo?"
"After lunch." She nudged Apple Bloom along. "Come on."
Apple Bloom looked hurt, but nodded slowly. "Okay." Before she left, she ran back to Flim. "You'll teach me later, right?"
"Oh indubitably." Flim noticed Applejack's stink eye, and waved Apple Bloom off. "Better get going, your sister needs you."
"Kay! See you later!"
"Bye!" Flim watched them for a bit, then turned back to Big Mac. "So, what now?"
"Uh . . ." Truth be told, he had not expected to have Flim at all. The entire reason he had agreed to allow the young stallion to stay was to make his sister's life easier. It seemed stupid to take the extra help when she was the one that needed it. Ah well, guess it can't be helped. "I could use some help with the new orchard."
"New orchard?" Flim began to follow him as they walked backed towards the more remote corner of the farm. "Applejack never said anything about a new orchard."
"That's because she don't approve." He sighed, rubbing his temple. "She's stubborn. Doesn't want the farm to change at all."
The stallion's laugh surprised him a bit. Flim's eyes sparkled with amusement. "Now that is remarkable. It certainly explains a lot about our little competition."
"You mean the apple cider contest?" What's he playin' at?
Flim chuckled, looking around at the orchard. "Well yes, you see my brother and I have always been under the belief that innovation is the key to any successful business."
"Innovation?" Big Mac knew the word, but he did not see the connection. "You mean that crazy invention of yours? It didn't even work."
Flim's expression turned sour and he stamped a hoof. "My invention worked perfectly!" His voice became subdued. "It was just pushed beyond capacity."
"You two made that thing?"
"Of course." He snorted and rolled his eyes. "What, you think we bought it from some local flea market?"
"No, I . . ." What had he thought? Where the invention came from had never really crossed his mind. "I guess I thought you stole it or somethin'."
"WHAT?" The hairs on Flim's back bristled like a cat. "Flam and I are not thieves! I built the thing from the ground up!"
"You? What about yer brother?"
Flim gave a cold laugh, "Flam wouldn't understand the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer. He makes the ideas, does the advertising, but I do the technical work."
"Oh." Big Mac could tell their conversation was going south. For the life of him, he could not understand what got into Flim. The last time he saw the stallion, he had been working right alongside his brother without a single harsh word. Now, it seemed the subject of Flam was a sore spot. Maybe it would be best to switch the subject. "How does that crazy invention of yers have anythin' to do with Applejack?"
"It's got everything to do with it." Apparently the change in subject was just the thing Flim needed. He grinned at Big Mac, lengthening his strides to keep up. "The fact is that it represents innovation. Why, with that machine you could easily double the number of apple trees on Sweet Apple Acres."
He stopped dead in his tracks, locking eyes with Flim. "Are you serious?"
The younger stallion looked taken aback, "Yes. I thought you knew that."
"Nope." There was no way in Equestria that was true. If it was, then everything would change. Though there were a whole host of questions swimming in his mind, he bit them back. Instead, he decided to test the unicorn. "An just how am I supposed to sell that much cider?"
Flim laughed loudly, clapping him on the back. "You wouldn't. The machine can be altered to deposit the apples after sorting."
"Really? An yer sayin' it could have worked if you didn't push it?"
"Well, it did work!" Flim seemed to be getting a little frustrated. "We tested the darn thing hundreds of times before we took it around. I'm not about to sell product I'm not confident in."
He raised an eyebrow at that, "But you did try an sell that trash cider."
Instead of a response, Flim lowered his head. "Yeah. Yeah we did. I'm not proud about that."
"Eeyup." It was incredible, but Flim looked genuinely upset about that. Big Mac felt rather terrible for bringing it up. "So, you got to be a unicorn to run it?"
"Yes, well I'm not saying it would work for your farm. Just that innovation in general would be good."
"Try tellin' that to Applejack." There were days he wanted to kick his sister. She was so fixed on keeping up the tradition that she could never see past it for the opportunity. Well he did not want to miss out. Not this time. "So, I've got to get some supplies for the new orchard an fields. You care to come along?"
"We'll just swing by my place an get the wagon." Now that their walk had digressed into silence, Big Mac was left to his thoughts. He could not help but think of all the wonderful plans he had for the new fields. It would be hard work now, but the effort would pay off in the long run. After all, orchards do not grow in a day.
Flim was starting to wonder how Ponyville existed as long as it had without so much as an ounce of competition. Every store and vendor had a specific commodity unique to them. It was typical, it was quaint, but it was an unadulterated monopoly. If there was one thing Flim could not stand, it was a monopoly. Well, a monopoly he was not running that is.
As fate would have it, Big Mac needed to purchase some farming supplies from the seat of graft and corruption itself, Bargain Bob's. Flim could have chosen a better stage name in his sleep. Seeing Bob for the first time, one was keenly reminded of a bowling ball that had somehow grown hooves. He looked up, his beady eyes surveying Big Mac like a particularly tempting donut. "Well, hello there Big Mac."
"Howdy." Big Mac stepped out of the traces and made his way over to the sundry tools stacked in barrels on the grass. Bob apparently utilized the grass in front of his obnoxiously orange storefront to attract customers.
Bob smacked his lips together, "Can I help you with something?"
"Eeyup." Big Mac withdrew the list from his collar, handing it to him. "All that's on the list."
"All right. I'm certain I have what you're looking for." His round little hoof did a sorry attempt at a circle, apparently a gesture for Big Mac to follow him inside the store.
Flim leaned against the glass under the awning. It was an extremely hot day, and it felt nice to relax in the shade. He watched the townsponies pass by one by one. A few stared at him as though he had two heads. It was to be expected. After all, he had tried to scam them in the past. Ignoring the stares, he tried his best at a non-threatening smile.
After waiting for a while, he heard Big Mac's voice from the store. A part of him wanted to investigate. No, Flim. Keep your nose out of his business. Another louder shout came out of the open door. That's it. Taking a deep breath, he strode into the shop.
Flim could have cut the tension in the room with a knife. Big Mac was shooting daggers at Bob from across the counter. The shopkeeper was examining his pudgy hooves, a smirk across his face. "I'm telling you, the price is 83 bits."
"An I'm tellin' you this stuff ain't worth 83 bits!" Big Mac stamped his hoof so hard the window rattled.
It was not an unexpected scene by any accounts, but Flim was surprised by the pony's boldness. There was no way the small assortment of nails, replacement saw blades, and a few odds and ends was worth 83 bits. Business must be slow. Flim could not stop the smirk stretching across his face. He could take this pony down with a few sentences. As tactfully as he could, he pushed Big Mac out of the way. Instead of the tense attitude Big Mac displayed, Flim mirrored Bob's overconfident stance. "Well, look at what we have here, partner of mine."
Big Mac raised an eyebrow, but decided to play along. "What?"
Flim sighed theatrically. "I swear, it's the same in every town." A green aura surrounded his horn as he waved a box of nails in front of Bob. "One pony runs the only hardware store in town for years and never stops to consider."
The scowl on Bob's face could have curdled milk. "What are you getting at?"
"Oh nothing." Flim shrugged innocently, setting the box back on the counter. "Just that there's plenty of opportunity in a place as big as Ponyville."
"Opportunity for what exactly?" His distaste in Flim was more than apparent.
Flim looked at his hooves in the same manner Bob had done earlier. "Competition. Why, I'm certain I could undercut you by at least 70 percent and still make a tidy profit."
"WHAT?" The storekeeper took a step back, panic stretching across his face. "You . . . you wouldn't dare. The ponies here are loyal customers. They wouldn't go buying equipment from the likes of you!"
"Oh wouldn't they?" Flim's laugh echoed across the store. He locked eyes with Big Mac. "What would you, a longtime resident say to that?"
"I'd buy from you. Cheaper."
Flim clapped his hooves against the counter. "And there you have it!" He leaned in close, adding the final cherry on top. "Why, I wonder what would happen if I told all the townsponies about this brilliant opportunity we have here? I'd imagine a few ponies would start up their own hardware stores in response."
Bob's mouth opened and closed like a fish. He had been beat and he knew it. "All right. You win. I'll sell at a reasonable price. 40 bits."
"40 bits?" Flim feigned an insulted expression. "You are sorely mistaken if this small amount of tools is worth even half that."
"It's worth it all right!" He stamped a pudgy hoof against the floor, sending his many chins jiggling.
He snorted, "Yeah right. My brother and I dabbled in hardware, followed the market closely." Once again, he levitated the box of nails. "I know all the ups and downs of sales, Bargain Bob. So don't try to tell me this is worth anything more than 10 bits."
"10 bits? Are you out of your mind?"
Flim chuckled softly, "No I’m quite sane. But I wonder what ponies will think when I start selling the exact same hardware for those low prices?"
"Why you—" Apparently, he could not come up with the appropriate insult. "FINE! 10 bits it is and not a penny less."
"Well, I'm glad we agree on something." Flim levitated a few of the supplies, "Pay him, Big Mac."
When Big Mac came out, he was grinning from ear to ear. He deposited the supplies in the back of the wagon with a clatter, turning to Flim. "Thanks."
Flim shrugged, "I couldn't very well let him get away with charging you that much. You've got a dream to accomplish, don't you?"
"Eeyup." Big Mac looked as though he wanted to say more, but he just went to pulling the wagon. That was all right by Flim. The burly stallion did not have to say anything. It was simply the way he was, and Flim was happy to accept that.
Granny Smith was a bit of an enigma to Flim. It was as though she were always one step ahead of everypony else and that was a touch unsettling. Sure enough, after they had finished lunch, she caught him by the leg. "Hold on there a second, dearie."
What did I do? Flim put on his best innocent expression. "Yes?"
The elderly mare turned to her granddaughter and grandson. "Applejack, Big Mac. May I borrow Flim for the afternoon?"
"WHAT?" Applejack wheeled around, looking as though Granny had lost it. "You don't want him around, Granny! He's trouble."
Gee thanks. I love you too. Flim rolled his eyes, "I'm perfectly capable of staying out of trouble."
"I doubt that!"
Granny cleared her throat, breaking off their little argument. "Since Apple Bloom's off with her little friends, I'd like the company an help in the kitchen."
"But, he's a conman!" Applejack gestured to all of Flim as though "conman" was written in bright red letters. "There's no tellin' what kind of trouble he'll get into in the house."
Flim raised an eyebrow. What? Am I a dog now?
Granny walked over, putting a hoof on her granddaughter's back. "Give him a chance, Applejack."
"FINE!" Before any of them could say another word, she had stormed out of the house, door swinging in her wake.
Big Mac's eyes darted from his grandmother to Flim to the door. "I uh . . . I'll just get to work." He walked out, leaving Flim and Granny alone.
Granny walked over to the counter. "Ready, Flim?"
A small smile stretched across her face. "For makin' pies."
Flim nodded, joining her at the counter. At first, he thought that making pies would be easy. After all, it was just a bunch of filling mixed into a dough. Oh how wrong he was.
The Apple Family had a method of making pies that had been passed down for generations. At least, that was what Granny claimed. Flim was starting to believe it. Each step had a specific set of instructions that had to be followed to a t. Flim kept worrying that he would mess up, but Granny was always there right when he started to get lost. She was incredibly patient with his mistakes, and he soon got into a rhythm.
As they worked, Granny began to talk. What she told him took his breath away. It was not just a memory, it was a history lesson seen through her eyes. Flim found himself enraptured by the story of the zap apples. "You figured that all out on your own? Incredible!"
"Oh, it was nothing, dearie. You do what you have to do to survive." She placed the final pie in the oven. "Want to sit awhile?"
Flim followed her into the living room. It was his first time entering the room, and he was happy to see it. Every inch of it exuded a homely warmth that made him feel instantly welcome. Before he went to sit across from her, he levitated up a pen and some paper.
Granny raised an eyebrow, "What's that for, dearie?"
"Well" Flim took the chair across from her rocker. "I want to record all these wonderful stories!"
She gave a wheezy laugh, "Now what would you want to record stories from little old me fer?"
"Lots of reasons." The pen began to scrawl hastily on the paper, guided by his magic. "Your great grandfoals for one. You've got to preserve stuff like this for the next generation!"
"I suppose yer right. Just feels a might silly."
"Don't feel silly. This is something to be proud of." Flim looked expectantly at her, "Now, tell me some more about those zap apples."
For nearly two hours, Granny told story after story, only stopping to rescue the pies from the oven. Flim enjoyed every minute of it, writing furiously on page after page. It was only after he declared he was too tired to write more that they stopped. He reclined on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. "That was a lot of writing!"
"I can't believe you wrote so much. Mind if I take a look?"
"Sure." Flim levitated the stack of papers into the mare's lap. "There's a lot to read though."
Granny read in silence for a few minutes, then looked up. "These are lovely, Flim. Yer hoofwritin' is beautiful."
"Thanks. Mom taught me." Flim closed his eyes, flashing back to a different time entirely. "But my writing's nothing compared to Flam's. He's got this way of writing the G's with just the right kind of loop." He made a sweeping motion with his hoof. "Really beautiful!"
Granny was silent for so long, that Flim opened his eyes to check that she was all right. She was staring hard at the floor, rocking slowly. "Hey, is everything okay?"
"Yes. Just thinkin' like us old ponies tend to do." Her gaze made Flim feel as though she was staring into his soul. "It's a right shame you ain't with yer brother. Twins ought to be together, that's what my ma always said. Said there was a connection that could never be broken between 'em."
Flim gulped, looking away from her. "Yeah, well, our connection broke. After . . . after what happened, I don't think I could ever forgive him." He clutched his chest, grimacing. "He doesn't care about me anymore."
"Oh, dearie. I'm sure he does." Granny walked over to him, hugging him. "He might not say it or act like it, but deep down, he cares."
Flim did not know if he believed her, but, at that moment, he did not care. It felt good to be hugged again. He had not had a hug like that since he left home. An honest, it will be all right kind of hug. That was just the medicine he needed.
Applejack enjoyed parties, she really did. But, when said parties run into the evening hours, she got a little frustrated. Some of us have to get up before the sun. Sighing, she continued on towards the now in sight farmyard. It had been a lot of fun. Entropy certainly had been surprised to be welcomed in such a way. Applejack was glad for him, and for Twilight. It would be good for her to have another scholar around. At the very least, it would spare her from lectures on the chemistry of her apple trees.
The lights were still on in the house, indicating that Granny and Apple Bloom were still up. They're goin' to be tired tomorrow! She was about to go in, when she noticed a light from the barn. A little detour could not hurt. As cautiously as she could, she walked into the barn. Flim was lying on the straw, reading a book by lantern light.
He gave a big grin, "Hello, Applejack. How was the party?"
"Fine I guess. Long mostly." Her eyes caught sight of a half-eaten pie beside the book. "What? You stealin' pies now?"
Flim looked lost, then followed her gaze to the pie tin. "Why would I steal a pie? I'm not that desperate! Granny gave it to me."
She stamped a hoof in the dirt. "Why would she do a thing like that?"
"Don't know, ask her."
"I will!" She stormed out of the barn. I'm goin' to get some answers now! Trotting over to the house, she opened the door and strode into the dimly lit living room. "Granny! What in tarnation is goin' on?"
Granny looked up from her knitting, looking just as lost as Flim. "Nothin', dearie. Just waitin' for you."
Big Mac's voice made Applejack wheel around to see her brother sitting on the couch. "What are you doin' here?"
"Waitin' for you. Granny was worried." Big Mac nodded to Granny, then turned back to Applejack. "What's got you all fired up?"
Do you have to ask? "Flim."
Big Mac snorted, rolling his eyes. "Applejack."
"Don't you 'Applejack' me!" Her eyes flashed menacingly at her brother. "He's a troublemaker, I'm tellin' you. He stole a pie you know."
"I gave it to him, dearie." Granny continued with her needlework, pointedly avoiding Applejack's gaze. "He was such a sweetheart helping write down my stories."
"Eeyup. An," Big Mac's gave a broad smile, "He got me a great deal on supplies this mornin'. I ain't never seen a pony haggle like him. Plus he was a ton of help in the fields too."
"No, no, NO!" Applejack's hoof stamped the floor with each no. "He's a no good crook an I'll prove it to you!"
They shared a look of concern. Granny sighed, "Dearie, he's been nothin' but kind an helpful all day. Don't you think yer overreactin'?"
Don't they get it? "Argh! NO I AIN'T!" Before they could fit any more smug comments, she cantered up to her room, slamming the door. In the dark and silence, she found the tears coming now. Hiring that no good Flim was the worst mistake of her life. And now her family was in on his little trick. Well, she would show them. Somehow, someway, she would prove just how insincere the little worm was.
Well now, Applejack's out for blood. Flim better watch out. And yes, I know Bargain Bob is the most unoriginal name in the world. I apologize for the lack of imagination on my part. Then again, Donut Joe isn't much better . . .
A side note in case you're lost with the Big Mac thing. Big Mac lives in his own house now but visits with the family during the day. A bunch of townsponies and Cheese helped build the house in the remote corner of the farm where he's starting the new fields. It was his way of becoming more independent while still being close enough to help the family out.
A big thank you to SageBrony07 for giving me the idea for this chapter. It wouldn't have been possible without him.