“Huu huu huu…” came the pitiful sound of a fluffy wailing in the night, “Huu huu huu…”
Claire stirred, and opened her eyes. It was 3:47am, and Snowflake was having another bad dream.
“Mummah! Mummah! Huu huu huu…” the little fluffy cried.
Claire pulled her complaining body out of bed and walked across her bedroom to the fluffies nest. The dismal near darkness of her bedroom was only brightened by her bedside clock, and a faint orange glow coming from Nutella’s horn, fading like an ember from a fire. Claire could just about see that Nutella was comforting Snowflake, as she made her way over to the fluffies.
“It otay mummah, bad sweepy tiem dweam go way naow,” the little brown Alicorn filly was telling her.
“Huu huu… it am so mean… buwny huwties… buwny huwties…” was Snowflakes miserable reply.
Claire sat down next to the Alicorn and the Unicorn, and gently stroked her tangled purple mane. Snowflake looked up at Claire, tears streaming from her one good eye, as the other was hidden by her eyepatch. Claire thought she could see a faint afterglow on Snowflake’s horn too. She blinked, wondering if her eyes were playing tricks on her. Surely only Alicorns had glowing, sparkly horns?
“Mummah…” Snowflake snivelled, before continuing with her pitiful huuing.
“Awwww, Snowflake,” said Claire, gently picking up the half-crippled fluffy and hugging her to her chest, “Did you have another bad dream?”
“Yes. It am wowstest dweamy tiem evew,” snuffled Snowflake, hugging Claire tight with her front hooves, taking some comfort in mummah’s bestest huggies. Nutella stood on her hind legs and hugged Snowflake from behind at the same time.
“Don’t worry Snowflake,” Claire hushed her, squeezing her gently, “Its only a bad dream. We all have bad dreams sometimes, even mummah.”
Snowflake blinked in the gloomy near darkness, “Mummah hab bad dweamy-tiem too?” she asked, “Weawy?”
“Yeah,” said Claire, her mind wandering back to the dreams she had had the night before last, “I’ve had… really strange dreams recently…”
“About… Buwny huwties?” asked Snowflake, seemingly believing that Claire might have had the same dream as her.
Claire looked at her fluffy, but her mind recalled the bonfire of fluffies, and the blonde girl with the scarred face. It had just been a dream though. Just a dream.
“Huu huu huu… it am wowstest dweam…” Snowflake began sobbing again. “Da meanie man wan huwt aww da fwuffies. Wan gib dem aww fowevew sweepies…”
Claire gently picked up Snowflake, and rose to her feet, carrying the sobbing fluffy to her bed. Sleeping in mummah’s bed normally made everything better. Behind her, Claire heard the sound of Nutella’s soft hooves trotting on the soft carpet of her bedroom.
“Hush Snowflake, no meanie can kill all the fluffies. There are too many of you,” Claire explained, trying to sooth her anxious little beast.
“Dis meanie wan to kiww aww fwuffies. Evewyfwuff. Da meanie dweam about huwting fwuffies. Snowfwake know. Snowfwake see da meanie-man’s dweam.”
Claire sat down on her bed, and turned on the bedside light, so she could see her little pet properly.
“Upsies mummah?” asked Nutella politely, so Claire lifted her on to the bed too, placing her next to Snowflake. By now, Nutella was nearly as big as her mother.
“Snowflake,” Claire began to explain, "You can’t see other people’s dreams. Dreams belong just to us… they are… private.
Hewwo mummah Claire remembered her cousin Alice’s fluffy saying to her in her dream. Why mummah-Cwaire in Humpfwee dweam?
Claire looked at the fluffy for a moment, sensing nothing but sincerity, but knowing the silly little creature was just confused and trying to be kind. She wanted to say something else, but before she could, Snowflake continued her story.
“Da meanie-man want gib aww fwuffies fowevew sweepies. An wan gib fowevew sweepies to aww da Chunnees too…”
Claire crinkled her eyebrows. “Chunnees? What are Chunnees? I’ve never heard of them?”
“Huu huu… Fwuffee nu know, but da meanie-man wan gib dem aww meanest huwties. Aww of dem. Buwny huwties. Fiwe fwom da sky.”
Something about the way the fluffy spoke sent shivers down Claire’s spine. Fire from the Sky… All of them…
Claire hugged both of the fluffies for a long time, before all three of them eventually fell back to sleep.
This time, there were no more dreams.
Claire woke up late the next morning, and had to rush to get ready for school. Running down the hall and into the kitchen, she nearly missed her mom, who practically grabbed her as she tried to dash out of the door, not wanting to miss her school bus.
“Claire, wait!” her mom snapped at her, though not unkindly.
“What is it mom? I’m gonna be late for school again!” Claire quickly replied, flustered and looking at the front door.
“It’s your cousin Claire. Do you mind if she comes and stays over tonight? Maybe Saturday too?”
“Oh god, are her parents arguing again? I don’t mind her staying mom, but they need to sort their shit out.”
“Claire!” Her mom said, clearly not impressed with Claire’s choice of language. “No, its not that. Its her fluffy Humphrey, he’s very unwell and at the vets. Claire, there’s a chance he might have to be put down.”
Claire turned to face her mom, her eyes suddenly wide with fear.
“Put down! Oh no! Mom, what happened?”
“They’re not sure yet. Alice woke up screaming in the night, and it looks like Humphrey has had some kind of seizure. Alice was practically hysterical. He’s at the vets now though, he might be ok. Alice’s mom asked if she could stay here tonight… just in case. She really looks up to you Claire.”
Claire looked at her mom, and squeezed her hand in comfort.
“Sure, Alice can stay here as long as she needs to,” Claire replied, wanting to help her cousin in any way she could.
Poor Alice, Claire thought, as she turned and walked out of the house, all fears of being late for school suddenly feeling insignificant.
After school, Claire went straight to the vets office, and met Alice and her parents. They were sat in the waiting room, with Alice in the middle looking utterly miserable, her parents either side of her, giving her what comfort they could.
“Alice!” Claire yelled, and half ran across the room, her ankle still throbbing from the day before, “Is… is Humphrey OK?”
“He should be, the vets are checking him over still,” explained Alice’s mom, “Alice has barely slept though, she’s been so worried.”
Claire knelt down in front of her little cousin and gave her a massive bear hug. Holding her close, she whispered in her ear.
“Its OK Alice, everything will be OK. Humphrey will be alright, I promise.”
But Alice just sat there, limp as a rag-doll, not returning Claire’s hug at all.
Claire pulled back and looked at Alice. Slowly, her cousin gazed up at her. Alice’s ice-blue eyes were red-rimmed from tears, and her blonde hair was a mess of tangles.
“Hugs don’t make things better Claire,” the seven year old told her, “Not really. Not ever.”
Claire wanted to tell her that they could - to lie to her - to make the world all better. But Claire knew she was right. Hugs couldn’t really fix anything. Only the vets could save Humphrey, and even that was not certain.
“The vets will fix things though,” Claire replied to her cousin, “Humphrey will be OK, you’ll see…”
The girls sat in silence for a while. Alice’s parents read magazines and checked their phones, but Claire found that nothing at all could distract her from her worries. In the background, the television blared, something about China and North Korea; President Quimby giving speeches and ultimatums. Claire reached for her own phone, but remembered it had been ruined by the water from the lake yesterday. Claire looked at the magazines, but nothing sparked her interest. She squeezed Alice’s hand in a way that she hoped was reassuring.
“C-Claire?” Alice whispered softly, looking up at her.
“What?” Claire asked her gently.
“Why is the world so unfair?”
Claire was stunned. She had no way to answer her little cousin’s question, but she realised it was the very question she had been asking herself, ever since her dog had died the year before. Why is the world unfair?
“Fluffies want it to be fair…” Alice continued, “They dream about Spaghetti Land, a really nice place. Fluffies can’t die in Spaghetti land. Only good things happen there.”
Claire just looked at her cousin and squeezed her hand more tightly.
“Our world isn’t like that though,” Alice told her, “Its really mean. Sometimes I think fluffies are the only nice thing in the world Claire.”
“They… they are nice.” Claire admitted, wondering how Alice had come to feel this way.
“Fluffies are good,” Alice continued. “Fluffies saved me Claire. I’d be dead if they didn’t.”
Claire gazed into her cousin’s eyes. Alice had always been full of joy, reminding Claire of happier times. What had happened to make her feel like this? Surely it wasn’t just Humphrey? Tears she could understand, but this? This was…
“Can we save the fluffies?” Alice asked, “Can we save ourselves?”
Claire tried to think of something to say, but her words caught in her throat.
“I want to meet the fluffies who saved me. I want to go to Seattle to meet Yellow and Piglet, and Luigi…”
“What are you two whispering about?” Asked Alice’s mom suddenly.
For some reason, Claire started to think up some kind of story or excuse, but she never needed to say anything, because the receptionist called them over.
Humphrey was OK!
“Mummah!” Called out the drab green fluffy, from a fluffy carrier box.
“Humphrey!” cried Alice, fresh tears pouring down her face.
“Mummah! Mummah!” the fluffy chirped, weeping too now, “Humpfwee am otay… vets say it am epi-weptic seizuwe… gib medicine…”
Claire looked on as Alice and her fluffy were reunited, flanked by her parents, and hugging each other so tightly, you might even believe that hugs do make things better.
“Mummah?” Humphrey asked Alice, “Wiww medicine make da meanie man bad-dweams go way?”
That night, Alice and Humphrey came to stay at Claire’s house. At first, her parents had wanted her to come home, but Alice begged and begged, saying that Claire’s mum was a nurse, and would know what to do if Humphrey had another seizure, and that Claire’s place was much closer to the vets if he got sick again.
Eventually, as always seemed to be the way with fluffies and little girls, her parents relented, and Alice was allowed to stay over at Claire’s. It was a school night though, so they were under strict instructions to go to sleep on time, and not stay up all night talking or playing with the fluffies. Alice also managed to persuade her parents to take her to Seattle, to meet the fluffies who had saved her when she was a baby.
Getting ready for bed, Claire cleaned her teeth and adjusted the bandage on her ankle. It was still a little swollen, but a lot better than yesterday. She walked back into her bedroom, and crawled into her bed. Alice was already lying on the other side of the bed, cuddling Humphrey, Snowflake and Nutella. Claire’s fluffies were cooing and fussing over Alice and Humphrey, looking after them as if they were baby fluffies.
“Snowfwake wuv Awice. Giv Awice bestest huggies. Make evewyting bettah…” Snowflake was half singing.
Nutella was hugging Humphrey, while Snowflake was hugging Alice with her front two legs. Her eyepatch always made Claire think she was an adorable pirate of some kind.
“Mummah wub babbehs… Babbehs wub mummah… Mummah gib miwkies… Gwow up Big an Stwong…” Snowflake sang softly as Claire turned on the night-light and turned off the overhead. Images of shooting stars and pegasi flew gently across the walls of her bedroom as the night-light cast its warm glow. But there were shadows too - in between the light.
“Humpwfee wike dis nesty,” Humphrey chirped contentedly, “Fwee fwuffies an two mummahs in da fwuffpiwe. Hab bestest sweepy tiems. Nu meany dweamytiems. Huu huu… Fwuffy nu wan bad dweamytiems. Nu wike shawe bad dweamies.”
“No,” agreed Claire, cuddling up to Humphrey and Nutella, who were laying between her and Alice and Snowflake. “No more bad dreams for any of us.”
“Weawy?” Asked Humphrey looking up at her innocently, “Mummah wiww make bad dweams gu way?”
“Yes,” Claire said, pretending to be an all knowing adult, “Mummah-Claire has magic and can make the dreams not come back.”
The fluffies eyes widened at the mention of the word “magic”.
“Mummah-Cwaire hab magic? Why nu teww fwuffies befowe?” Asked Snowflake incredulously.
“Its secret magic. That’s why,” Claire told her, giving her a knowing look.
“Mummah-Cwaire! Am magic mummah!” Humphrey gasped.
“There’s no such thing as magic silly,” snapped Alice, looking really glum.
“Nu magic?” asked Humphrey, looking suddenly crestfallen, “Den how mummah’s make da bad dweamytiems gu way? Humpfwee nu wan buwny dweamies… Nu wan see aww da Chunnees gu fowevew sweepies again… Huu huu huu… Humpfwee nu wike… Nu wike… Huu huu huu huu huu…”
“Its… Its OK Humphrey,” Claire quickly jumped in, her heart beating faster all of a sudden, “The vets gave you medicine remember? Thats a kind of magic. Only its science. That’s like grown up human magic. Really.”
“M-medicine wiww hewp fwuffy? Weawy?” Humphrey asked her, clearly desperate for reassurance.
“Yes. No more bad dreams. No more bad dreams for anyone,” Claire promised. But inside, she wasn’t sure it would work.
Claire lay down for a while. The fluffies talked about nonsensical things, like what kind of treats were the bestest, or how Alice smelled just like a fluffy, but Claire didn’t. They chatted and giggled for a while, as usual, until Claire’s mom knocked on the door and told them all to go to sleep. The fluffies carried on whispering for a little bit, but one by one they fell asleep. Claire was soon surrounded by gently snoring and cooing fluffies, warm and content. She stared at the ceiling for a while, watching the shooting stars cast by her nightlight. Then she felt Alice’s hand reach for hers under the duvet.
“Claire? Are you still awake?” Alice whispered.
“Yes,” Claire whispered back, rolling over to face her cousin, careful not to wake Humphrey or the other fluffies.
Alice just looked at her for a moment, her face half-hidden by moving shadows. After a while, she spoke.
“Claire… Did you have the same dream as me last night?” Alice plainly asked her.
“I had… I had lots of strange dreams last night,” Claire answered truthfully, “I can’t really remember them all.”
Claire felt bad, she was only being half-truthful with Alice. She wanted to make amends for it somehow.
“What did you dream about?” She whispered to Alice, “My mom said you woke up screaming?”
“I dreamed…” Alice started, “I dreamed the shared dream last night Claire. Lots of fluffies are having it. They can share their dreams you know.”
Claire wanted to tell her that couldn’t happen. She wanted to say it was impossible, but something within her told her it was true.
“They showed me a place - they call it the Dreamtime. Its were they keep all their memories. Like a library.”
Claire stared at her cousin, in awe of the strange things she was being told. She became so focussed that her head went warm and fuzzy.
“Its where they remember their mummahs, and babies. Their nice owners. Its why they all use the same words, even in different countries…”
Claire gazed at Alice, seeing a faint purple aura around her head, like an after-image from staring at the sun.
“Some of them call it sketty-land, but its real name is the Dream Time. Its a place that they have made. They took me there, to show me things… They showed me good dreams… and bad dreams…”
Claire breathed slowly, not quite sure if she was awake or asleep now. As Alice spoke, Claire remembered her dreams from the night before, but it became clear that they had not shared the same dream. Then Alice told her of things that no little girl could simply imagine.
“The president keeps fluffies. He likes to hurt them. He even has an Alicorn. The Alicorn’s name is Webber. Webber is very scared of Quimby, not just because he hurts Webber, but because Webber can see the president’s dreams.”
In her peripheral vision, Alice became aware of a twisting blackness. It seeped out of the corners of the room, and drifted into her consciousness from shadows that were deep and beyond. Alice’s eyes seemed to shine in the darkness, and drew Claire deeper into them as she looked.
“The president wants to kill,” her cousin told her, “Fluffies, and people too. Lots of people. Millions. He wants to burn them. Burn them all to ash and glass.”
Alice’s eyes shone violet in the gloom. Her third eye flared purple on her forehead, letting Claire see deep into the soul of the child.
“There is a monster, Claire. A real monster. It doesn’t live in the world. It lives in people’s heads. Its what makes people bad. Its what makes people hurt fluffies, or hurt each other. It’s horrid Claire. It’s hatred…”
Claire saw buildings set against a setting sun, skyscrapers, and people, a teeming city full of life. A flash of white, and then everything was on fire. Towers, stadiums, schools. Trees and cars and trains ripped apart, smashed like toys, and everything burning. Children holding screaming fluffies, parents holding screaming children. Their flesh, their hands, their faces, their eyes. All burned. Burned to ash and glass.
And there, in his bed, the president lay. Quimby. A man. Just a man, but within him a twisting blackness grew. It was horror. It was hatred. An evil thing that grew within men’s hearts.
“It has a name,” Alice told her, “Its name is… BOZDO.”
Claire’s heart clutched at her chest. The thing unnamed was bad enough, but named it somehow became real. It had crawled through the gaps between the worlds, and now it was here, waiting and wanting to kill.
“We have to stop it,” Alice told her.