“CONTACT! TO THE NORTH!”
“GET ON THAT FLANK, THEY’RE COMING ROUND!”
“SHIT, NELSON’S DOWN, MEDIC!”
“HUDSON?! HUDSON WHERE IS DELTA SQUAD? WE NEED EVAC NOW!”
“DELTA SQUAD COME IN, THIS IS FOXTROT, WE’RE PINNED DOWN AT… DELTA COME IN… PLEASE RESPOND, WE NEED IMMEDIANTE EVACUATION, ENEMY AMBUSH, I REPEAT, ENEMY AM… RPG, EVERYONE GET DOWN, RP…”
Theodore Hudson burst awake, throwing himself upright so hard that he almost launched himself off the bed. He felt himself drenched with sweat but he couldn’t stop shivering, his eyes burned with ashes, his mouth tasted smoke and blood.
He looked out the window, even in the low moonlight he recognised the empty fields of his home, gripping tightly to the soaked bed-sheets, he closed his eyes and found his breathing again.
“323 Elm Parkway, I’m at 323 Elm Parkway. I’m at 323 Elm Parkway.”
He repeated the mantra a few more times before he felt his breathing return to normal and his heart-rate settle. With his head cleared, Theodore looked over at the clock beside his bedside, hoping it wasn’t too late to get back to sleep.
Too late to get a proper sleep, too early to do anything. Theodore grumpily pulled his covers up and rolled over, hoping he could at least get something resembling sleep before the sun properly rose.
Though he questioned if he really wanted to sleep in the moments before his eyes dropped closed.
Theodore looked up from his takeout lunch and over towards his friend, Tyler Cunningham, having just realised he’d missed what Tyler said.
Tyler chuckled. “I asked if you had a tough sleep. You look like shit and you can’t seem to focus on jack shit.”
“Yeah, yeah I uh… I had another nightmare. The ambush again.”
Tyler kept smiling but Theodore could see the concern in his eyes. “Ted… I don’t know what to say that you haven’t heard from hundreds of other soldiers and friends and doctors over the last five years. That whole operation was a clusterfuck, we went in blind and deaf and it’s a miracle we only lost as few as we did. I know it wasn’t your fault, but do you?”
“I try to tell myself that Tye, I tell myself the radio wasn’t tuned right, that nobody else saw them in the dark, but I look at myself and this… thing on my face, and I wonder what did I do to deserve to survive when others didn’t? Why am I here when Nelson didn’t, when Sullivan didn’t, when Robin…”
“Robin wasn’t your fault Ted, none of it was your fault. You didn’t do or not do anything different, you just got lucky. That’s all it comes down to.”
“Maybe, I don’t know, all I know is I need something to help me sleep, these nightmares are getting too much to handle, and that’s just the ones when I’m asleep.”
“Have you considered a therapy pet? They can be useful for keeping you centred.”
“I’ve considered it, but I’ve never had a pet before so I don’t wanna get one and not have it click with me, that’d be unfair on both of us.”
“What about a Fluffy?”
“A Fluffy? I thought they were horrid little things, don’t you remember what happened to Jonathan’s wife in Cleveland?”
“I remember Cleveland, but that was eight years ago and despite what John says they’re not as bad as they’re made out to be. You still get some absolute monsters sure, but usually only the ferals are any trouble. 9 times out of 10, you go to a store or a breeder and you’ll get something decent. The good ones are naturally emphatic plus the fact they can talk means they don’t really need to be officially trained as service animals. Buddy of mine over in Georgia, Chris Carter, he got some foals to help with his PTSD, and it mostly worked.”
“Long story, my point being, if you’re still on the fence about therapy pets, do a trial run with a Fluffy and see how it goes.”
Theodore thought for a moment, he knew Fluffies were a handful, but then maybe that distraction was just was he needed.
“I’ll think about it.”
A few days and a few bad sleeps later, Theodore found himself entering a Fluff-mart, he wasn’t sure where to start on the whole Fluffy thing so the lion’s den seemed the best place to start.
It was fairly quiet when he walked in, since the Fluffy craze was mostly over in this part of town it seemed more like a regular pet-store, which suited him just fine. Theodore made his way over to the Fluffy pens, as expected it was lined wall-to-wall with Fluffies, some with adult Fluffies and chirpy-foals, some with older foals playing with siblings. No Fluffy was alone which given what Theodore had heard about the need for companionship made sense, he briefly considered getting two Fluffies but decided against it, at least not until he saw how he coped with one.
Seeing nothing that stood out to him immediately, and still not knowing what he wanted to stand out in the first place, Theodore made his way over to the foal box, inside of the glass cages of the wall, these were open-air pens designed to give as much interaction between humans and the cute babbehs as possible. There were several in the store so Theodore approached the nearest one, finding an adult brown mare surrounded by 15 or so foals, ranging from still chirping to freely running and playing, all of them different colours and types.
The brown mare looked up from humming to the foals feeding from her teats and waved at Theodore. “Hewwo nice mistah, yu hewe tu be nyu daddeh fow babbehs?”
“Uh, maybe, I’m still not sure what I’m looking for.”
“Dat ok, aww babbehs am gud babbehs. Co-co hewp yu.”
“Cocoa? Is that your name?”
Cocoa nodded, smiling proudly at hearing her name said back to her.
Theodore looked around at the many foals, very few of them had stopped playing which he figured must mean good training from the store, none of the foals were begging to be taken home.
“Are all these foals yours?”
Cocoa laughed. “Heh, nu nice mistah, Co-co nu am mummah. Co-co gib miwkies tu wittew babbehs who nu hab mummahs, an wook afta big babbehs su dey find gud homesies.”
“I see, well… good job?”
“Fank yu nice mistah.”
“You don’t need to call me that, my name’s Theod… call me Ted.”
“Ok Ted. Yu wan see babbehs nyo?”
“Um, sure, let’s see them.”
Cocoa straightened herself up and carefully lifted the two feeding foals away from her teats, they peep in distress but a gentle lick and placement onto her back calmed them down.
“Babbehs, nice mistah Ted wan be nyu daddeh, show him how yu be gud babbehs.”
With surprising efficiency, the 15 or so foals stopped what they were doing and turned to face Theodore, all of them waving to a chorus of “Hewwo nice mistah Ted.”
Well, almost all of them.
A black colt with a silver mane, looking to be a month old if that, suddenly jumped in the air, shitting all the way as he did, and ran for cover between Cocoa’s leg, cowering at the sight of Theodore.
Theodore sighed, he’d half-expected this. The entire right side of his face had been badly burnt in the RPG explosion, leaving his face, shoulder, chest and right arm with awful scarring that even with years of surgeries, still looked rough and off-putting.
Cocoa kicked the black colt out from under her and bopped him on the head. “OW! Wai gib huwties, am gud babbeh.”
“Yu am BAD babbeh. Nice mistah Ted nu am munstah, he hab see-pwace huwties, need wub an huggies.”
The colt tried to look at Theodore but dashed his eyes away. “Nu can wook, tuu scawy.”
Theodore looked around the pen, while none of the other foals were being so vocal about it, it was clear from the shivering and faint smell of piss that most of them were also scared at the sight of him.
“Am sowwy Mistah Ted, Co-co twy teww babbehs tu be nice tu Fwuffies who am diffawent nu fink teww dem du sam fow hoomins.”
“It’s ok Cocoa, I should’ve realised this would happen. Thank you for the help though, I’ll let the workers know you deserve a treat.”
“Fank yu Mistah Ted, Co-co hope yu find Fwuffy who nu scawed.”
Theodore gave Cocoa a quick scratch on the head and turned to leave when he heard a little voice pipe up behind him.
“Fwuffy nu fink nice mistah am scawy.”
Theodore turned back round, standing on her hind-legs, wobbling more than a little bit, and resting her front legs on the edge of the pen was a little powder blue unicorn filly with a sunshine yellow mane, she looked quite young, with splashes of milk still on her face, but she was clearly old enough to walk and talk.
Theodore knelt down so he was eye-level with the filly. “Really? And why is that?”
“Fwuffy daddeh hab wun see-pwace as weww, he bwavesh Fwuffy eba, pwotect mummah and Fwuffy an bwuddas an sissies fwom meanies Fwuffies who gib daddeh wowstesh huwties and foweba sweepies.”
The filly sniffed at the memory of her father’s death, Cocoa walked over and cuddled her as she looked up at Theodore.
“Babbehs’s daddeh was wingie-pointy, some Fwuffies nu wike wingie-pointies, nu knyo wai. Meanies huwt babbeh daddeh, twy tu huwt babbeh’s famiwy tuu if hoomins nu find dem, bwing dem hewe, wet dem find gud homes wiv nice mummahs and daddehs who nu cawe if dey wingie-pointies.”
With her back to him, Theodore saw that the blue filly wasn’t a unicorn at all, she had two tiny wings fluttering on her back. The filly was an Alicorn.
Theodore reached out and softly stroked the filly’s back, Cocoa slowly shifted herself away so that the filly was moved closer and closer to Theodore’s hand until eventually she was gripping onto Theodore’s thumb and hugging it tightly.
Theodore smiled at Cocoa, clearly she’d done this before.
He looked down at the filly in his hand, unfairly rejected and maligned for her appearance, suffered loss at the hands of others, he felt an immediate kinship with her, something he hadn’t felt with any human for years.
Theodore tickled the filly’s nose, she giggled as she slowly opened her eyes again.
“Hewwo nice mistah Ted, fank yu fow huggies. Babbeh hab heawt-huwties finkin bout daddeh.”
“That’s quite alright, I have heart-hurties myself when I think about losing my friends. How about we go home together and help each other deal with these hurts.”
“Gu homesie? Yu wan take babbeh wiv yu? Be nyu daddeh?”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
The filly cheered and hugged Theodore’s thumb tighter. “FANK YU! Fank yu nice misah Ted, babbeh be bestesh babbeh eba, neba make bad poopies ow be meanie eba.”
“I believe you, but you need to stop calling yourself babbeh, not when I have a name already for yu.”
The filly gasped. “Babbeh hab namesie?”
Theodore wracked his brain, but one name was yelling at him, a name he knew he shouldn’t use, but he felt it perfect at that time.
“Robin, your name is Robin.”