Sink or Swim, Part 2
Even though it cost me ninety bucks, I didn’t think much about Bob for the next few weeks. I went to work, I came home, I played X-Box. It wasn’t till I went out to the lake again that I even thought about fluffies. There weren’t any around this time, the capture being a massive success. The only evidence I found that fluffies even been here was a picked clean skull washed up on the shore as I sat staring out at the placid waters.
I had a date the next day, so I didn’t give much more thought to the creatures. The girl was the usual type I hung around with. Vapid, nice to look at, fun at parties. My go to first date plan was always to go to the zoo so that I could fake being interesting for a few hours but the zoo was closed for a private event. So I opted for the aquarium instead, which has a more romantic atmosphere with all the dark tunnels and scenic seascapes. Plus, if you buy a girl an otter plushie from the gift shop, she thinks you’re sweet and sensitive, which makes your chances for a second date pretty good.
It was a Tuesday, so there weren’t many people at the aquarium. I’d been here plenty of times before and nodded knowingly to a few members of the staff as I escorted my date through the shark tanks, the corals reefs, and the penguin exhibits. Ladies love penguins and anyone who tells you different is jealous of their fashionable tuxedos. What was more interesting than the penguin exhibit was the new exhibit that had just opened over the weekend on the other side of the rock wall. As we spiraled down the massive ramp surrounding the penguin enclosure, we finally saw what they’d been promoting for the past few weeks: a sea fluffy exhibit.
A dozen or so sea fluffies lounged on the rocks like small, multicolored seals, babbling to themselves waving at people that walked by. Two green foals pushed around a beach ball, while another large orange sea fluffy sat atop the highest rock and declared that rock to be “fwuffy wand now!” As we approached the railing, a handful of them dove into the water and swam towards us as fast as their flipper legs would carry them.
“Pway? Nu fweind? Haf nummies?” they asked in a chorus of babbling voices.
A wave of frustration swept over me again as my thoughts turned back to Bob and my misguided attempts to teach him to swim. He was probably still at the shelter waiting for an adoption that would never come. I looked dejectedly at the sea fluffies as my date cooed and waved at them.
“They’re so friendly!” Brandi said. “It’s so neat that we have wild animals that we can play with at the beach. Not like those nasty ponies at Assateague.”
“There’s fluffy ponies on Assateague?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” she replied. “Like, real horses. Fluffies can’t swim there. Hey you should take me there for a weekend!”
I muttered something that sounded like agreement as the orange sea fluffy continue to proclaim his ownership of the rock he was sitting on. I looked down at the signage which had a clever cartoon of a fluffy pony and a sea fluffy talking to each other at the water’s edge. It was written in clear English instead of fluffspeak, which I suspect would not convey the information the way the exhibit designers would want.
“Hey friend!” the fluffy said to the sea fluffy. “I thought water was bad for fluffies!”
“I can hold my breath for up to ten minutes!” the cartoon sea fluffy replied. “Not only that, but special oil glands in my skin keep my fluff from getting wet, even after spending all day playing in the water!”
It was like a wave of inspiration rolled over me. If I could prevent their fluff from getting wet, I could teach fluffies to swim. Holding their breath was something I could teach on dry land and once they’d mastered that, they’d be able to swim. A plan started to form in my mind as I watched a door open in the rock face and a familiar face stepped out into the fluffy exhibit. It was the lady from the shelter carrying a basket of fruits, vegetables, and trashcan full of debris.
“Ooh, a zoo keeper!” said Brandi. “I bet she’s going to feed the sea fluffies!” A crowd began to gather around the sea fluffy enclosure as the fluffies lined up for food.
“Good afternoon, friends of fluffies!” she said in a cheery voice. “We’re going to get started in just a minute, but we’d like to thank our exhibit sponsor, Fluff TV, for their generation donation of this sea fluffy habitat. Through their donations and the donations of other fluffy industries, like Fwuffy Fawms Cweamay and Floofe Brother Engineering, we learn more every day about our friends, the sea fluffies. Everyone say hello to the nice people visiting!”
The fluffies all turned, raised their flippers, and as one said “Hewwo fwiends!” The only one that didn’t was the orange smarty atop the rocks. He blew a raspberry instead and pouted atop the rock. The lady glared at him, but maintained her smile.
“Sea fluffies came about in the late 20XX’s as Hasbio’s last official product,” she continued. “Meant primarily as koi sized pets, the entire stock was released by lead scientist into Lake Erie to prevent liquidation in bankruptcy dealings. All other records were lost in the ‘mysterious’ fire at Hasbio a few days later that destroyed all the records and genetic data on fluffies and their variants. What is known about sea fluffies is that water isn’t bad for these fluffies!” The audience laughed as she delivered the line with such an exaggerated eye roll that I could tell she’d already repeated it a dozen times over.
“So what do sea fluffies eat?” she asked. “Just about anything, really. Just like regular fluffy ponies, sea fluffies can digest anything they can get their flippers on. They prefer kelps and sea grasses, but love squid, when they can find it. Now these guys get a mostly vegetarian diet, because we want to use proteins as a reward for trainable behavior.” She set the basket up where the fluffies couldn’t get to it, though they bounced and pleaded around her ankles for “nummies.”
“Because they’re so trainable, we’ve started a cooperative effort with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to train sea fluffies to retrieve garbage from our oceans,” she continued. “Sea fluffies can carry up to three pounds in their mouths, so for every few pounds of trash they bring in, they get a squid, which they call sea skettis.”
“Skettis! Skettis! Skettis!” the fluffies chanted, even the orange loudmouth.
“You want sea skettis?” asks the lady. “You have to earn your sea skettis. Go get it!” With that, she flung the trash can into the enclosure, scattering the plastic bags, plastic bottles, and empty cans into water. The fluffies dove in after them, dragging back the trash to a labeled bin near the water’s edge. All except the orange smarty, who just stood expectantly by the shore. In just a few minutes, the enclosure was clear again and the fluffies bounced around the lady’s feet.
“Sea skettis for everyone who picked up trash!” she said, throwing out a handful of squid to the waiting fluffies. She tossed another handful to the fluffies before snatching up the large orange sea fluffy. “None for you, fatty. You didn’t help.”
“WAN SEA SKETTIS!” he shrieked. “WAN SEA SKETTIS NOW! GIF SKETTIS OW…”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence, as she dropped him head first into the pool. What would have been fatal for a normal fluffy was but a mild annoyance for the already upset sea fluffy. She smiled and turned to the audience.
“So if you see a sea fluffy picking up trash in the bay, give them a pat on the head and a treat if you’ve got one. With the help of sea fluffies, we’ll keep our shores clean, and with more training, we’ll start cleaning up the Pacific garbage patch. Thanks for coming out today!”
The crowd applauded politely before breaking up. The lady set out the baskets of food for the fluffies, pausing to knock the orange smarty in the water again before she left. I couldn’t help but watch her go. She really did care about fluffies.
“That was so neat!” said Brandi. “I always wanted to be a marine biologist, but there was too much math involved.”
“Oh, and what do you do now?” I asked idly.
“I’m an accountant,” she said, without a trace of irony.
I did wind up taking Brandi back to her place, but I couldn’t get fluffies out of my mind for the next few days. I spent most of work the next day reviewing waterproofing methods for fluff and doing more research on sea fluffies. It all boiled down to getting a fluffy properly oiled up so that their fluff repealed water, then they’d float like a cork. I couldn’t just dunk them in a barrel of 5W30 though; it had to be sea fluffy oil.
It was Sunday by the time I made it back to the shelter, and sure enough, she was working the counter again. A playpen full of foals occupied the corner of the lobby. She looked up at me and frowned. She was wearing a name badge this time that read “Amy.”
“Drown any more fluffies lately?” she asked.
“I saw your show on Tuesday at the aquarium,” I said. She cocked an unsure eyebrow. “So what else can you tell me about sea fluffies?”
“Well they’re an invasive species, but a good source of food for anything that can eat them,” said Amy. “They’ll destroy kelp beds if left unchecked, but they also eat sea urchins. They’re flippers are leathery enough to avoid their spines, so they flip them over and eat the middles out. Great for the West coast, because the dolphins, otters, and sharks will eat the sea fluffies too. They’re way less of a problem in the sea than they are on the land.”
“How would one go about getting sea fluffy oil?” I asked.
She looked at me for a long time, trying to decide if I was pulling her leg. She had a quiet, thoughtful look to her that I didn’t often see in the women I hung around with. Eventually, she answered my question.
“You’d have to wring out a sea fluffy,” she said at last. “If it were me, I’d skin the sea fluffy, scrape down the hide, then run it through a roller press to wring out the oil. Only I can’t imagine anyone’s ever done it because why would you need sea fluffy oil there, Ahab?”
“It’s actually Roger,” I said.
“Charming,” she replied. “Doesn’t answer my question.”
“Because keeping fluffies dry is the key to teaching them to swim,” I said. “I had a brain wave at the aquarium the other day, and thought you’d be the person to ask since you volunteer here and are apparently some kind of marine biologist.”
“You’re still on about that swimming thing?” she asked.
“Is Bob still here?”
“Let me see,” she said, typing sarcastically without looking at the screen. “Oh look, this three-and-a-half-year-old feral with the ugly colors has been here for 89 days. Gosh, I wonder what’s going to happen to him tomorrow?”
“Look, can I adopt him or not?” I asked.
“Sure,” said Amy. “Someone was kind enough to pay his adoption fees, so he’s only five dollars.” I roll my eyes.
“Five dowwahs!” shouts a fluffy from the playpen. “Dats what fwuffy goe fow deez days? Back in Owtis day, fwuffy fibe fow a dowwaw!”
I look at the yelling blue unicorn foal, then back to Amy. She just rolled her eyes.
“Otis is an eight-year-old micro,” she said. “He used to belong by some crotchety old guy before he passed away and I guess he picked up on his bitching.”
“I’ll take him too,” I said. “Wait, how many micros do you have?”
“That whole play pen,” she said, with a gesture. “What’s your goal here, Ahab? I’m not going to adopt a whole bunch of micros out only for you to drown them.”
“I figure I’m not going to be able to get much sea fluffy oil, so I want to see if it works the way I expect,” I said. “I’ll take a micro, coat him in the oil, and watch them float. I’ve already got an idea on how to stop him from inhaling water. If that works, then I’ll scale up to full sized fluffies.”
Amy gave me a skeptical look before opening up the desk drawer. She handed me a battered business card that read “Floofe Brother’s Engineering.”
“Who are these guys?” I asked.
“Assholes,” she said. “But they’ll be able to get you what you need. Now let’s go get Bob for you.”