Steve Cochrane started his day in the same way he started every day. At 6:00am, he woke up, walked to the bathroom, and relieved himself. At 6:10, he walked downstairs into the kitchen and fried three strips of bacon and two eggs and boiled water for tea—Steve never did care for the taste of coffee.
By 7:30, Steve was in and out of the shower, and dressed in his “work uniform”: an old t-shirt, a button-up shirt (which he usually didn’t bother to button up), and a pair of blue jeans. He then went to his home office/studio and sat down to work on his latest project.
You see, Steve was an artist—not “high art,” mind you. Steve had written and illustrated over thirty commercially successful children’s books. He published his first when he was 26 years old. Flash forward twelve years, and he was a self-made millionaire with acreage in rural North Carolina who could work at his own pace. To hell with 9-to-5 living.
Steve loved writing. He loved drawing, too. He even enjoyed going on book tours and talking to the kids who told him more about their favorite character than even he knew. But he needed a hobby. You may think this odd, because most people would kill to escape the rat race, and to be able to draw cartoon characters for a living. But Steve was getting bored—he hadn’t published a book in over a year, because he had run out of ideas. It was time to branch out for some inspiration.
By 11:00, Steve realized that he had been staring at the same drawing for three hours without making any progress, so he decided to get another cup of tea. Instead of going back to his office, he walked out to the back porch, picked up his binoculars, and looked off into the clearing.
When the real estate bubble burst five years ago, Steve took the money he saved and bought a 37 acre farm out of foreclosure. The three bedroom house he lived in was in great shape, and there was a garage/tool shed, a fenced-in dog run, a garden shed, and a huge barn about 50 yards away. He had a small garden and a greenhouse he built himself, because he enjoyed growing vegetables, but his favorite activity was relaxing on the porch and watching the wildlife that moved along the treeline.
Steve usually saw a deer or two, and there were always squirrels (though sometimes a hawk would snatch one), and occasionally a fluffy herd would move through.
It was the fluffies that interested Steve the most. He had written them into several of his stories, and those books had been some of his most popular. Steve had never owned a fluffy—though he had owned a few pets over the years—but rather had done most of his research from reading discussion boards online and watching seemingly millions of fluffy videos posted to FluffTube.
But here, in the piney woods of the Piedmont, Steve was finally able to observe them firsthand. There weren’t as many here as in Georgia, where they had originally escaped from Hasbio’s lab, but they were plentiful enough.
No such luck today. The treeline produced only a couple of frisky squirrels and a cardinal, the latter of whom was pecking at one of the suet blocks that Steve had made last month.
Steve sighed, and readied himself to go back inside for a sandwich when he heard rustling next to the garden. He got up and started walking slowly towards the noise.
“Why nu nummies fo soon-mummah? Why gweenie-bushies gif owwies? Haf wowstest tummeh owies. Nee nummies fo make miwkies fo tummeh-babbehs!”
Well, the day just got interesting.
Steve was surprised. Fluffies usually didn’t come this close to the house. They usually didn’t bother with his small garden, either, since he kept it well protected. The garden was still fallow, as the risk of frost was too high for planting. He had let the thorny bushes that served as a second line of defense around the garden go a bit, though.
“Huu huu, if soon-mummah nu fin nummies soon, wiww be mummah-nu-mowe, huu huu…”
Steve stepped gently around the corner of the greenhouse, where he found a fat, bright pink, pegasus mare with a red mane. She had gotten herself tangled in the bushes. As Steve knew, fluffies are awkward enough at the best of times. Of course, when the mares are pregnant, they quickly find themselves unable to move around. This one still had a few days before its legs would be unable to touch the ground, but extricating herself from the bushes was out of the question.
Then, the fluffy noticed Steve. “Huu huu…pwease, nice mistah. Pwease hewp fwuffy owt of meanie bushies. Fwuffy haf pokey owies an haf tummeh owies an haf heawt huwties.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you,” Steve said kindly, trying to settle the disquieted mare. “Let me take a look at you.”
He noticed that the worst of the briars had latched onto her right front leg, and that the pliable branches had wound themselves around twice due to her thrashing. There were some cuts and scrapes, but the worst part was going to be removing the briars from the thick fluff.
“I’ve gotten most of it off. Can you wait here so I can get some scissors to finish the job?”
“Fwuffy am gu nu whewe.”
Well, it was kind of a stupid question. Steve ran back inside to get the scissors from the kitchen. He stopped to grab a water bottle and some lettuce out of the refrigerator, too. When he got back outside, the fluffy jumped, startled. It was almost as though she hadn’t expected him to come back.
“I’m going to have to cut a little of the fluff off—it’s too tangled around these briars.”
“What am ‘bwiaws’?”
“The pokey things.”
“Otay. Fank oo nice mistah.”
“You’re welcome,” Steve said, as he started cutting away the tangled fluff. The fluffy ‘huu huu’ed some as he cut away her ‘pwetty fwuff’, but was soon out of the briars. She licked her wounds, and sucked on the water bottle that Steve had brought for her.
“Here’s some lettuce for you to eat,” Steve told the grateful fluffy. “Do you have a name?”
“Fwuffy haf name, bu fwuffy nu wemembah.”
Steve was taken aback. Who ever heard of a fluffy forgetting its name? Steve remembered in his research that Hasbio had hard-coded most of the fluffy pony lexicon—called “Fluffspeak”—but had left some room for owners to add new words to their fluffy’s vocabulary. One of those exceptions was for the fluffy’s name, because every child would want to name their own fluffy. Something really bad must have happened to this one to make it forget.
“Hmm…how about we call you… ‘Candy’?”
“Candee wuv nyu name! Fwuffy am Candee! Nice mistah be nyu daddeh?”
Oh, shit. Steve should have known this was coming. “Be nyu daddeh/mummah” was the default question every ownerless fluffy asked every human. He remembered all of the horror stories he had read online—how fluffies would shit all over their owners’ houses, scream and demand toys, spaghetti, and tv time. Add to that the fact that this one was pregnant …
But Steve was bored. And now he had an idea.
“Sure, I’ll be your new daddy.”
“YAAAAAY! Candee wuv nyu daddeh! Am happy wiv in nyu housie wif daddeh, an haf nummies fo tummeh-babbehs, an haf wawm beddie fo nestie.”
“Hang on, hang on. I’ll give you a warm bed, enough food, and a safe place for your babies, but I didn’t say you would be in the house.”
“Bu…bu…bu…fwuffy wan be wif daddeh! Daddeh sabe Candee fwom meanie bushies! Daddeh nu wuv Candee?”
“Of course I do! But I’ve got a better house for you. One where you’ll be able to go inside or outside whenever you want, and you’ll have lots of room for your babies!”
Candy gasped. “Weawy?!? Daddeh haf speshuw housie fo Candee? Candee wuv yu!”
Steve guessed that he had about two weeks until Candy had her foals. Right now, his task would be making her comfortable, and getting her up to weight—it was obvious just how malnourished she was judging by how quickly she had scarfed down the Tupperware bowl of lettuce that he had given her.
And he had been wondering just how in the hell he was going to use that barn for a long time. Its previous owners had dabbled in heritage pigs, so there were all different sizes of stalls—some for birthing sows, others for boars or for gilts. The pens may be bigger than what a fluffy would need, Steve thought, but too much space was a luxury, not an impediment.
“Candy, will you wait here on the porch so daddy can go get some things for your safe room?”
“Candee wiww be gud fwuffy fo daddeh. Wiww wait on powchie. What am powchie?”
“Right where you are is fine.”
Steve went in the house and up the stairs to the linen closet, where he found a couple of worn out blankets and a ratty pillow. Those would be more than enough for Candy. He then grabbed a tennis ball and an old water bottle that had belonged to his last hamster. There were a couple of carrots left in the fridge, plus a little more lettuce—he would need to go out to the store, but that should tide her over for the next hour or so, Steve thought.
He got back outside, and Candy jumped again. Something about this just isn’t right. Why does she seem so surprised that I came back? Together, they walked to the barn. All the way there, Candy rambled about how her nice new daddy had saved her from the meanie pointy bushes, and gave her nummies, and was going to give a new housie to her for her babies. Steve opened the door, and light flooded in to the barn.
The interior walls were painted white, like the outside of the barn. The roof was designed for ventilation (pig shit, right?), but it had the added benefit of allowing some natural light so that the electric lights wouldn’t have to run all day.
Steve opened one of the stall doors to the left. “How about this one, Candy?”
Candy waddled in to the stall. “Oh, daddeh! Dis am gud fo babbehs! Fank oo!”
Steve smiled. He reached into the bag and pulled out the pillow. He then pulled out each blanket and wrapped it around the pillow to make a soft bed, which he then set in the corner. He attached the water bottle to the pen’s wall, set the food bowl down next to the bottle, and filled the bowl with lettuce and carrots.
“Nummies!” Candy wolfed down the food so quickly that Steve was afraid she would choke on the carrots. Then, he slapped his forehead, not believing what he had forgotten.
“Candy, do you know what ‘good poopies’ are?”
“Yus, daddeh. Good poopies am in wittabawks, ow owtside, ‘way fwom beddie and nummies!”
Good enough for now, Steve thought. He then pushed open the flap to the outside pen. It was small, but large enough for her to waddle around and to have a corner to poop in.
“Candy, look. Here’s where you go to get outside.”
“Otay, daddeh. Nu wittahbawks, su Candee make poopies owtside.”
“Good girl, Candy. Are you happy with your safe room?”
“Candee am happy, daddeh! Candee wuv safewoom, an wuv daddeh wots!”
With that, Steve knew he’d better run to the store. He needed groceries for himself, and his new plans meant that he needed some fluffy food…among other things.
“Candy, daddy is going to go get some nummies for both you and daddy. Will you be ok while I’m gone?”
Candy didn’t answer. She had curled up and fallen asleep on her bed.