Hanging up the phone, Eren rests his forehead in the palms of his hands, elbows planted on his knees. After a couple minutes he leans back in his seat and opens some of the links Julie sent him on his phone. After scrolling through a few articles and watching a couple short videos Eren thinks to himself, “Well, I’ll have to research this more thoroughly later but I think I get the gist to get things started.”
Making his way out into the garage, Eren grabs a few large cardboard boxes and sets one up in the garage, the guest bathroom, and out on the patio. Going back to each to set up a shallow pan of litter and a small amount of kibble and water. Finally, he sets a smaller box on the coffee table and lines it with a potty pad.
Satisfied, Eren takes a deep breath to calm himself before heading to the room holding the three colts. Cracking open the door, he can hear some light crying and the call for “Daddeh?”.
Addressing the group, “Sorry about that, daddy had to take care of an emergency. In fact, I might need each of your help with it. Who wants to help daddy?”
Quick to their feet, all three hop up and down, excitedly now forgetting their previous sadness. “Fwuffies hewp daddeh!” and “Wuv daddeh!”
Forcing himself to offer a light smile, Eren reaches down to Slater, “I think I will need Slater first since he is so strong.”
Slater happily lets out a “Gud upsies!” as he is lifted up into Eren’s arms.
As Eren closes the door, he says “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in for a moment for you two.”
Eren makes his way to the couch in the living room and places Slater down in the shallow box. The grey colt glances around a moment before noticing Eren’s stern gaze, causing him to nervously ask, “Daddeh, why am sowwie bawks time?”
Replying calmly, “This isn’t a sorry box, this is just a question box. I need your help by answering a couple of little things.”
Looking somewhat relieved, “Otay, daddeh, Swateh du bestest as Swateh can.”
Eren asks, “So exactly happened at the shelter?”
Slater begins to shuffle around a bit, “Fwuffy nu knu, was dere den daddeh gib fluffies nyu housie.”
“Oh, so you don’t know what happened to Bucky and his sisters?”
Slater’s shuffling intensifies, lowering his gaze as he speaks, “Uh, bad munsteh fwuffy huwt dem and gib foweveh sweepies and wowstest owwies. Fluffies scawed and hidey undeh bwankets.”
Bluntly, Eren asks, “So you and the others had nothing to do with it? You only hid?”
Nodding as quickly as he could manage, “Fwuffy onwy hidey. Fwuffy am gud fwuffy.”
Turning the laptop screen to face Slater, Eren hits play. As each second passes, Slater’s eyes widen and he begins to shake a bit until eventually he lowers his stance in the box to hide and covers his eyes with his hooves. A small amount of scaredy poops escapes his rear.
As the video ends, Eren closes the lid of the laptop, “Why are you lying to me?”
Slater starts pleading, “Swateh sowwie, Swateh am bad wowstest fwuffy. Nu eveh du again.”
Following up, Eren says, “Oh, never again? Well what happened in the saferoom? You didn’t seem very sorry when you were hitting Bucky in the castle.”
Slater, weak-willed as he is, just lays there sobbing loudly in the box, unable or unwilling to look up at Eren.
Slater lets out a “Eep” as Eren lifts him out of the box by the scuff, holding him eye level. “Listen to me. You will be spending some time alone until I decide what to do with you.”
With that, Slater cries out “Nuuu!” as Eren carries him to the garage and places him down inside the cardboard box before closing up the top. “Use this time to think about what you’ve done, you have done an awful thing. I’ll be back in the morning to discuss what happens next.”
Eren leaves the light on in the garage as he exits, allowing a small amount of light to beam into the box preventing complete darkness. The crying “huuhuu” and pleading gets, thankfully, blocked out as he closes the door.
Taking a moment to remove and replace the soiled pad in the box on the coffee table, Eren sits a moment to collect his thoughts. “One step at a time, need to do this right if it is going to work.” Taking a few sips of his now cold tea before getting the energy to stand again, Eren makes his way to the door.
Slowly opening the door Eren looks down at the two colts sleepily laying next to one another before they both pop their heads up. Breeze hopping to his feet and running over to Eren. Jasper quickly says, “Am Jaspeh tuwn noa, wan oud of dummeh room.”
Eren feigns pondering as he asks, “Well, I need someone quick next but I’m going to need the smartest fluffy last.” looking over to Jasper “Oh, so you want to go now right?”
Breeze hops up and down, hugging against Eren’s leg, “Bweezy am fastest, pick Bweezy Daddeh!”
Jasper quickly follows up with “Take dummeh Bweezy, Jaspeh am smawtest su gu wast.”
With that Eren lifts Breeze up and closes the door before making his way to the living room, Breeze happily cooing and peeping.
As Eren lowers the young blue colt into the box he says, “This is the question box. Daddy is going to ask you some questions and I want you to tell me the truth. No lying or the question box will tell me.”
Nodding happily as he props his front hooves on the edge of the box, Breeze says, “Yes Daddeh, Bweezy wan hewp!”
Eren asks plainly, “First, what happened at the shelter. Specifically, what happened to Bucky and his sisters.”
Breeze’s energy deflates as he plops onto his rear, “Bweezy nu wike finking bout, was bad and scawy.”
Calmly, Eren presses, “I know, but it is really important to daddy. Who hurt Bucky and his sisters?”
“Munsteh meanie fwuffy gib Bucky sissies foweveh sweepies.” the dark blue pegasus colt says, tears forming in his eyes.
“And who hurt Bucky?” said bluntly.
Sheepishly, almost asking, “Was munsteh?”
Sighing heavily, Eren saying with disappointment dripping, “Breeze, the box told me that was a lie. Who hurt Bucky at the shelter?”
Shaking his head, a few tears flinging wide, “Nu wan say, nu wan fink bout…” Breeze breaks down, tears flowing, “…huu… was hewd. Hewd huwt Bucky special wumps!”
Raising a brow at the response, “Oh, the herd did? But who in the herd did it?”
Blubbing, Breeze closes his eyes and starts repeating, “Nu mean tu… nu wan say… nu mean tu… nu wan say…”
Eren carefully lifts Breeze and carries him to the guest bathroom, lowering the colt into the box. “I have to punish you, you were a part of a very bad thing and didn’t tell anyone what happened and then you lied to me. You will have to stay here alone to think about what you did wrong until tomorrow morning.”
Breeze sits still just mumbling to himself as Eren speaks, “Understand?”, before the young colt sniffles and nods slightly.
Eren closed just one end of the top of the box, leaving half of the interior lit up and the other shaded. Leaving the light on, he exits the bathroom.
As he trudges back to get the final colt, Eren instead decides to visit the saferoom. Leaning against the door frame he quietly watches as Lillian and Bucky quietly stack blocks with one another. After successfully stacking the third block Lillian backs up a few feet by scooting slowly while Bucky moves a ball into position in front of her. It takes three attempts but Lillian finally hits in the correct direction instead of narrowly missing, sending the tower tumbling.
As a cheer erupts and ends in a hug tackle, Eren quietly takes his leave turning his attention to the door across the hall. Taking a deep breath, attempting to steel his resolve. As he turns the knob and pushes the door open he exhales.
As the door opens Jasper, confidently saunters over with his head held high, “Time fow smawtie Ja…um, smawtest fwuffy Jaspeh tu hewp Daddeh.”
Without saying a word, Eren scoops Jasper up in his hand and makes his way to the couch. Unceremoniously, he places Jasper in the box, silently staring at him.
Cautiously, Jasper speaks “Daddeh, why in bawksie? Why am daddeh hab meanie face?”
“Why daddeh nu maek tawkie ta Jaspeh?” the unicorn continued.
Exasperated after two minutes of silently being stared at, Jasper raises his voice, “Why am daddeh being dummeh? Smawtie Jaspeh nu wike dis!”
Shaking his head, Eren finally responds, “There it is. Smartie huh?”
It was Jasper’s turn to stare silently, this time his anger was at himself as he thinks, “Oh fluff…”
Eren, dropping down onto his knees so he can be eye level with Jasper, says, “I don’t know all what has happened to you or what is going to happen next yet. I do think you are a smart fluffy and I have seen you be kind and caring.”
Sternly, “I want you to look at me and listen carefully.” Slowly, Jasper fixes his gaze to Eren’s as Eren continues, “I’m going to be blunt. No one likes smarties. If I take you back to the shelter right now you will either end up dead…forever sleepies in the incinerator tonight, do you know what that is?”
Lowering his gaze a moment but snapping it back to meet Eren’s eyes, Jasper nods, “Jaspeh fink so, am burnie bawks?”
“That’s right, or you might get adopted by someone else before then…but the people who knowingly adopt smarties do it to give smarties the worst hurt and pain possible, for as long as they want until they make you forever sleepies…Do you want either of those?”
Intently listening, Jasper shakes his head, “Nu wan.”
Eren nods, “Good, I don’t want that either. I’m going to ask you some things and I want you to answer me honestly. I will know if you lie to me, even a little, and if you do we will leave immediately to the shelter. This is the only chance you have and I promise that if you don’t lie you won’t go there. Understand?”
Hesitantly, Jasper replies, “Jaspeh pwomise nu wie tu daddeh.”
“Good, I know exactly what you did and I’m going to show you something so you know I will know if you are lying.” turning the laptop screen to Jasper, “I want you to watch and listen, no looking away.”
For the next few minutes Jasper stares at the screen, wincing at times as shame washes over his face. A few seconds after the video is finished Eren closes the lid to the laptop, waiting for Jasper to look back at him.
Once Jasper finally looks back to Eren, the questions begin, “Why did you hurt Bucky at the shelter? Why didn’t you help his sisters?”
Taking a moment before responding, Jasper says, “Fwuffies wewe sweepies in fwuffpiwe when otheh fwuffies come. Gween fwuffy stawt du bad fings and Jaspeh nu ku wat du, fwuffy am in hewd.”
Jasper sullenly continues, “Jaspeh was scaredy and maddies and finkie-place nu workie su wisten tu munsteh fwuffy. Den Jaspeh and Swateh keep Bucky down and gib his speciaw wumps biggest huwties, but nu wan his sissies tu be foweveh-sweepies.”
As he looks down at the unicorn colt, Eren speaks, “Ok, but what about how you treated Bucky in the saferoom? No one was telling you to do bad things there.”
Shoulders slumping, “Jaspeh nu wan Bucky teww daddeh…”, Jasper takes a moment to collect his thought as his ear lay flat against his head, “…but…but Jaspeh fink Jaspeh am jus bad fwuffy. Wan be smawtie fow hewd but du tu many bad fings, nu du nufing wight.”
After a couple minutes of silence, with Jasper lost in his own thoughts, he finally looks up to Eren again. “Jaspeh am wowstest fwuffy, am nu gud dummeh. Nu deserb wuv or huggies or pway or daddeh or housie…and nu deserb hewd. Jaspeh am weady tu gu tu shewter…onwy deserb foweveh-sweepies.”
Unable to hide his confusion for Jasper’s sudden self-introspection, Eren asks, “What has you thinking like that all of a sudden? We don’t have to go to the shelter, you just need to stop this whole smartie business.”
Tears actively start soaking the fluff under Jasper’s eyes, “Jaspeh nu fink can stop finkie-place fwom being smawtie.”
It was now Eren’s turn to sit in contemplation before addressing Jasper, “Well, good news is that I think I know a way to help. I can’t tell you yet but you have to trust daddeh.”
Tilting his head slightly to the side, Jasper asks “Weawwy? Jaspeh twy but finkie-place keeps tewwing Jaspeh bad dummeh fings.”
Giving a small nod before shifting back to a stern tone, “Bad news is you still need to be punished. You will be spending time alone in a box until tomorrow, from there we can see what will be next.”
As Eren speaks, Jasper can hear an inner voice, one of his mother, hisses out from the back of his mind, “Sowwie bawks? Bestest babbeh nu get sowwie bawks!”
Suddenly, Jasper’s attitude shifts and he stomps a hoof down, “NU! Smawtie nu wan sowwie bawks.”, before collapsing down in confusion and sobbing loudly, “Jaspeh am sowwie daddeh, am undewstand but…but…”
Utterly confused at his point, Eren scoops up Jasper and carries him to the patio in the backyard and carefully places Jasper into the box. As he closes it up, Eren says “Take this time to think about everything that has happened and what you really want, I’ll come get you in the morning. Daddy loves you.”
Before heading back inside, Eren takes a moment to wander the backyard. As he walks along the waist-high wooden fence he looks for any damage.
The backyard was sectioned off into several areas of different size, meant for a variety of purposes. The section immediately connected to the back of the house held the patio and an area to entertain guests and a large, finely crafted dog house. Fenced off to the side was a section originally meant for his kids to play, it even had a similar caste-like playset to the one in the saferoom, just larger.
The section adjacent to both of those, just behind them and the size of both together, was set up for a vegetable garden. The past few months had left it unattended and because nothing was ever planted it only had weeds. A gate at either end leads farther out, one to a half assembled greenhouse and a few fruit trees along one side of the fenceline and patches of berry bushes scattered around. The other gate led out to a large, expansive pasture that included a lovely pond; Eren’s wife had hoped for some livestock for wool and milk, but the barn was never built.
Eren then thought to himself as he looked out to the pasture, “I really should reach out to Kali’s brother, maybe he’ll be up for finishing things here.” He was one of the few of her family members that he liked, and the only one that still talked to him.
He had worked hard to create this little piece of paradise for his wife and children, which made it so difficult to even venture out here. It is why he told his brother-in-law to not continue with the construction.
His thoughts raced back to some of the articles had looked over about smartie-friends, a trait that smarties of all types shared was a desire for a herd. “My wife and I’s dream for this place isn’t dead. No, it has just changed. Now it could be theirs too.”
As he gets back inside and closes the door, Eren says, “But they are going to have to earn it.”
Tonight, he would research and plan…and of course spend some time with his sweet Bucky and Lillian, he would have to think of something to do for them too.
Tomorrow, training will begin and Eren hoped it would be successful and that he wouldn’t make any major mistakes. Ultimately, it will be a test of their resolve and he could only hope they would come out the other side all the better.
Wishful thinking or doomed to fail? Either way, life was about to change.