“Mummah wab babbehs, babbews wub mummah! Mummah hab nyu daddeh, so many heawt-happies!”
The off-key tones of Merry’s newly-improvised verse of the mummah song echoed throughout the car, amplified rather than muffled by the acoustics of the dark, cramped carrier she and her foals were safely locked away within. Normally a fluffy would have been sobbing at being placed in such a sorry-box like container, but it seemed even that was insufficient to dampen Merry’s spirits: No, she’d allowed herself to be placed into it without so much as a protest or word of concern, merely bubbling her thanks, because the day she’d awaited so long had come.
She had a new daddeh, and not just her, her entire litter as well! The mean shelter-ladies had told her over and over it wouldn’t happen, that most people wanted to adopt one or two fluffies at most, not an entire brood. First they’d wanted to give her babbehs forever-sleepies while they were still tummeh-babbehs, and then they’d wanted to take them from her, to adopt them out one-by-one instead of together with her. But each time they’d tried she’d cried and wailed and screamed, until the mean shelter-ladies had rolled their eyes, shrugged their shoulders, and decided she was more trouble than she was worth.
But Merry had been right, and they had been wrong, for that very morning, the kindest, nicest new daddeh she had ever met had walked into the shelter. She’d known he was a good daddeh from the moment she’d seen his pale blue eyes: The exact same colour as her own pretty fluff! And he must have known she was a good fluffy too, because the moment he saw her, his calm face had broken into a smile that stretched from ear-to-ear.
Indeed, Arthur had fallen in love with the sky-blue mare the moment he’d lain eyes on her, curled in a corner of her pen surrounded by chirping foals, with the all-too-familiar tag on the front counting down the days until ‘disposal’, all save five of the boxes marked with an angry red X. The shelter workers—a pair of older women, with tired, wrinkled eyes, but a kindly manner—had tried their hardest to talk him out of it, but their every protest had only cemented his choice.
Stubborn, defiant, overprotective, and almost certainly afflicted with IMS: to a man of his tastes, Merry was a smorgasbord of hidden flavors just waiting to be discovered, and he had every intention of savoring them all.
His spirits were every bit as high as Merry’s own during the drive home, so much so that the normally-grating sound of what passed as singing to a fluffy seemed almost whimsical, and before long he found his voice joining Merry’s own, eliciting a squeal of delight from the backseat.
“Nyu daddeh wike Mewwy mummah song?” she gasped gleefully, her pale snout appearing against the bars of the carrier in the rear-view mirror.
“It’s a lovely song, Merry.” Arthur lied, adjusting the mirror so she could see his eyes sparking back at her within it.
“Mewwy so happeh! Neba feew dis many heawt-happies, nyu daddeh!” the fluffy gushed.
“I feel the same way.” he replied truthfully, pulling into the quiet suburban street he lived on, and taking the last turn into his drive on muscle memory, his eyes never leaving the mirror.
Now he was home, the next step was to introduce Merry and her brood to their new safe-room: a term wholly undeserved by the place he’d set aside for them. In truth, all he’d done was set up a series of temporary fluffy-safe plastic barriers in a corner of his garage—the same corner that already housed a cabinet and a set of storage shelves, both piled high with old tools, broken bicycle parts, boxes of nails, and other such definitively non-fluffy-safe items he’d deliberately neglected to remove.
As he retrieved the carrier from the car, to Merry’s excited declarations as to how pretty her ‘nyu housie’ was, he briefly contemplated getting around to finally setting up an actual safe-room. He’d bought the house with a mind for it, after all, and yet for nearly a year now since moving in he’d left that spare bedroom empty and unused.
Ah well. There would be time for that later. For the moment, the garage served his purposes far better than a true safe-room would have.
“Well, Merry, welcome to your new home!”
From the moment Arthur lugged the carrier into the garage, a strange sense of wrongness came over Merry, bringing a sober hush to her previously excited babbling, though not the fearful chirping of her disturbed foals. She struggled to twist her head, peering out from behind the bars in confusion, unable to comprehend why her fluttering heart had suddenly sunk like a stone. Her nose twitched and flared at an unfamiliar smell, one she couldn’t quite place, yet for some reason filled her with a sense of subtle, implacable dread.
In front of her lay a cold concrete floor, slicked with faded oil-stains, and upon it, a brightly coloured fence arranged in a rough semicircle. And yet—the semicircle was split down the middle by another fence, dividing it into two halves, each which contained a pair of fluffy beds, twin food-and-water dishes, and an identical set of litterboxes. Finally, her eyes settled on the furthest section of the pen—and the pink fluffy that stood on her hind legs within it, surrounded by a mob of peeping foals no less numerous than Merry’s own, and wearing a look of confusion that mirrored the one on Merry’s face. Arthur set Merry’s carrier down in her side of the pen, unlatching the gate and allowing the blue fluffy and her entourage of foals to wander out.
“Nyu daddeh? Who am dis fwuffy?” the pink mare questioned, and Arthur made a show of slapping his forehead and shaking his head.
“Oh, silly me!” he muttered in an apologetic tone. “Why, I got so excited to see such a good fluffy and her babies who needed a home, it plain slipped my mind I’d already adopted you and your foals, Magenta!”
Needless to say, the fact he’d already prepared two pens and pairs of everything passed completely unnoticed by both fluffies.
“It am otay, daddeh nu mean to, was assident!” Magenta consoled him in a soft, honeyed tone. “Owd mummah wud fowget too! And daddeh nu mean fowget. Just wike daddeh no mean fowget to gib Majentah sketti wike daddy say he wouwd dis bwite-time!”
As fluffies went, Magenta was the rare sort with a small measure of talent for deception, though less through any real intellect on her part, more a result of circumstance. Her previous owner, Arthur had been told, had been an elderly lady in the early stages of dementia, prone to bouts of absent-mindedness and forgetfulness. And Magenta had slowly learned that if she spoke sweetly, her ‘Mummah’ would readily believe almost any lie that spilled from her conniving snout, lacking the presence of mind to realize her adorable pet was taking advantage of her. It was a skill she’d only honed after her late owner passed, when she found the shelter staff and even other fluffies far more difficult to manipulate, forcing her to develop more sophisticated lies.
“Sketti?” Merry piped up hopefully, her snout appearing over her own side of the fence next to Majenta’s. “C-can Mewwy hab skeeti too, nyu daddeh?”
“I did promise you ‘Sketti’, didn’t I?” Arthur played into the pink mare’s deception: for the moment, it served his purposes just fine to let her think of him as a forgetful fool, as easy to manipulate as her old owner. It would embolden her to try things she wouldn’t dare dream of getting away with otherwise, and he was eager to see what tricks she would try.
“But, oh dear! I don’t have enough sketti to feed two mummahs!” he declared mournfully, with another shake of his head: “In fact, I don’t have enough kibble to feed two families of fluffies.”
“Su wha nyu daddeh do? Fin mowe nummies?” Merry interjected hopefully, wagging her tail.
“No, it isn’t that simple, sweet Merry.” Arthur explained. “I’m afraid one of you and your foals are going to have to go back to the shelter.”
Immediately he was met with an orchestra of pleading and begging, cries and hasty declarations of love, until he silenced both distraught fluffies by raising his palms.
“Look, the two of you are such good fluffies, I couldn’t possibly bring myself to choose between you.” he stated. “I think there’s only one way to settle this. I’ve enough kibble to last two of you for an entire week. So, you shall both stay here for a week. Five bright-times!”
“So, nu fwuffy need to go bak to da sheltaw?” inquired Magenta, scrabbling her back legs in a futile effort to pull herself further over the top of the fence, and closer to Arthur.
“No, one will still need to go back to the shelter at the end of the week.” Arthur had to hold back a smile as the hope faded from the pair’s eyes. “But. You’ll have an entire week to show me which of you is the best fluffy! And at the end of the week, the best fluffy and her babies get to stay!”
Before the words had even left his mouth, another chorus rose, which he again silenced.
“Now now, girls. Good fluffies don’t beg and annoy their daddies, do they?” he pointed out. “If you want to prove you’re the best fluffy, you need to prove it by being a good fluffy. Always making good poopies in the litterbox, and making sure your babies do the same! Taking good care of all your foals! Being grateful for the food I give you, instead of begging for sketti! Do the two of you understand?”
His hands moved upward again, preempting the inevitable attempt to shout their answers over one another, and so both Merry and Magenta merely nodded. Reminded of her precious foals, Merry quickly dropped back to all fours, waddling over to them and curling around them protectively—a motion which caught the eye of the somewhat more self-centered Magenta, prompting her to hurriedly and clumsily imitate it, not wanting to be outdone from the outset.
“Very good, girls, very good.” Arthur smiled, turning on his heel and striding towards the open garage door. “Now, daddy has to do some work. I’ll be back at dinnertime to feed you both, and check how good you’ve been.”
"Otay daddeh!" the pair cried in unison to Arthur’s retreating back.
“Hrm, although…” Arthur froze mid-step in the doorframe, musing as if making an aside to himself, though still speaking loudly and clearly enough for both to hear him.
“I did have my heart set on adopting a family of fluffies.” he pointed out. “So if anything were to happen to all of one mummah’s babies… why, I suppose I’d have no choice but to take her back to the shelter, even if she were the best fluffy, wouldn’t I?”
The instant he finished speaking, the two fluffies locked eyes. And for a long, pregnant moment, they simply stared at one another, the brightly-coloured, spacious safe-pens they occupied suddenly seeming more as claustrophobic, foreboding cages.
“But that wouldn’t happen. A good fluffy would never let anything happen to her babies.” Arthur concluded the thought, having already planted the seed of doubt. And without another word, he closed the garage door behind him.
“Hewwo Maw-jen-tah. Am Mewwy. Wan be nyu fwiend?”
Merry was the first to break the sombre silence that had fallen in the garage following Arthur’s departure, uncoiling herself from around her foals and waddling over to the fence that divided them—though she stopped a good foot short of it, raising one wavering hoof as if to take another step, before returning it to the concrete. Her eyes studied the pink mare warily, as one might a snake they’d disturbed, wondering if it would strike or simply slither away.
“Majentah wan! Wub pwetty nyu fwiend Mewwy!” the pink fluffy declared, in the same sickly-sweet voice that always heralded her clumsy attempts at deception, though Merry couldn’t possibly have known that, and had no reason to think it anything but genuine. Her blue fluff visibly relaxed, the tension vanishing from her haunches, in an inaudible sigh of relief that Magenta immediately noticed—though she wasn’t the only one.
In the corners of the room, a pair of mounted cameras watched silently, recording the every interaction between the two fluffies, and feeding it back to a screen in Arthur’s ‘playroom’—at this stage, a spartan little space opposite the empty spare bedroom he planned to convert into a saferoom proper, and furnished with only a comfortable lounge chair and a bare wood workbench. Up until now, the garage had been his place of handiwork, but with it occupied by the fluffy pens, he’d had to relocate the lion’s share of his tools. He’d originally intended to move them back to the garage once this was over, but with the idea of the saferoom playing in his mind, and the sight of the workbench, conveniently placed across the hall, and equipped with all manner of torturous implements… he was contemplating making it a more permanent arrangement.
“How manies babbeh Majentah hab?” inquired Merry curiously, venturing another couple steps closer to the fence in an effort to get a better view of the chirping balls of fluff nestled in her rival’s pink embrace.
“Hab got… um… two babbehs… an two… and den wun…” Magenta struggled to count, before simply rolling away from the fluffpile and all the way over onto her stomach, revealing five peeping foals. “Dis manies!”
“Am gud babbehs!” Merry gasped with delight, poking her snout through one of the many gaps in the fence—gaps more than large enough for a foal to squeeze through, though too small for either of the mothers to follow. “Mewwy hab dat many babbehs too! Wub all babbehs so many muches!”
“Mewwy babbehs wook wike gud babbehs.” Magenta cooed, that same sweet, poisoned tone creeping back into her voice. “Dey bestest babbehs, so gud Mewwy no nee’ watch dem! Wet gud babbehs 'spwowe nyu housie, kno noffing bad happen to dem!”
“Nu, Mewwy am GUD MUMMAH!” Merry announced firmly, as if the mere idea had offended her. “Watch aww babbehs aww bwite-time.”
“Bu’ if gud mummah hab gud babbehs, nu nee’ watch dem.” Magenta countered. “Dey good babbehs, so onwy gud fings happen to dem.”
Merry paused to consider this a moment. Was that true? Undoubtedly, her babies were indeed the best babies a mother could have, even Magenta had said so. And everyone loved babies, doubly so good babies, let alone the best babies as hers obviously were. Surely Magenta was right, and only good things happened to good babies?
She began to nod her head slowly to agree, yet suddenly gave a violent, defiant shake instead, as the idea she’d have to allow her babies out of her sight to explore occurred to her, and with it, the anxious panic she felt any time she strayed from them for longer than a minute. Indeed, between her stubborn attitude, and having been allowed to spend every waking moment since giving birth in a small cage with her foals, her doting predilections had blossomed into the typical over-protective, over-attached behavior characteristic of Irritable Mare Syndrome.
She wasn’t as severe a case as some, being willing to stop playing with her foals long enough to feed them, if less often than she should. But play with them she did, in her every waking moment, despite the fact her young needed far more sleep than she did, and despite their tired chirps of protest which she all too often mistook as cries for further play and tighter hugs. They were only allowed to sleep when she did, and she herself would often put off settling down for a nap in favor of more play, a habit that had already manifested in tired, dark bags beneath each of their eyes.
Suddenly reminded of them, she scampered back over to her own fluffpile, who’d taken this rare opportunity for much-needed and much-deserved slumber while their mother was distracted. And as Magenta watched Merry wake her foals to a chorus of protesting chirps, she began to formulate a new plan.
The bright sunbeams filtering through the small, dirty garage window high above the pens slowly gave way to gentle orange ones as afternoon turned to dusk, then faded entirely as night set in. For a time, the two fluffies comforted one another—genuinely, in Magenta’s case, for she was no less afraid of the dark than Merry—until the garage door opening announced Arthur’s return, with a bowl of kibble for each of them. They each gushed to him between bites about how they’d cared for their babies in his absence, with Magenta embellishing the details slightly from what Arthur had watched via the cameras, though Merry didn’t think to correct her, having been more preoccupied forcing her own foals to play with a set of blocks far too large for them to even handle. After the meal, they settled in to feed their young, and afterwards, with some prompting from Arthur, carried each of them to the comfortable beds, and settled into a pair of fluffpiles.
Fortunately for Magenta, Merry had tired herself out with excitement, and so forewent the usual ritual of ‘dawk-time huggies’, a process of disturbing each of her desperately slumbering foals in turn, plucking them from the bed and hugging them over and over until she herself grew weary. Instead she simply curled around them, and soon enough, her tiny legs gave a kick that showed she was running and playing in her dreams, now.
Her path lit by the bright moonlight that was now filling the room, Magenta made to uncoil herself from her own babies, and had almost succeeded when one of the foals rolled over, flailing its little hooves.
“Mummah?” the red foal peeped, squirming about in an attempt to find the warmth of its mother’s fluff that had vanished from around it, and it was met with a hiss from Magenta.
“Quie, tawkie babbeh.” Magenta said in a low tone. “Mummah so pwowd of ouh, make fiwst tawkies! Mummah be bac soon!”
However as she made to creep from the bed, the foal, blinking its freshly-opened eyes and shivering in the near-darkness, tumbled quietly from the bed, and began to crawl after the clip-clop of its mother’s hooves, its frail movements too gentle to make even a sound.
Magenta paused to consider the shelf before her, a shelf positioned right next to the fence dividing her pen from Merry’s with an open end looking over the fence. Strewn across it were various odds and ends, most noticeably a dusty old skateboard—a keepsake from Arthur’s youth he hadn’t bothered to toss out—which sat precariously close to the edge. Standing up on her hindlegs, she was able to plant her hooves against the shelf, and a few nudges from her snout later, the board came toppling over, landing with the wheels against the edge of the shelf, and the other end against the ground, and forming a perfect ramp for Magenta to scamper up.
She scaled it with relative ease, clambering up onto the shelf, and nosing her way through the various items, pushing them aside to clear the path to Merry’s end of the shelf.
Her stomach gave a warning rumble, and indeed, had been giving them for some time now, but she’d put off making good poopies in the litterbox as she knew she was meant to. She had other, more devious plans for this foul payload of feaces.
With a few clumsy bumps and a misstep that sent a pair of gardending shears clattering to the concrete below, she managed to turn herself about until her rear end was hanging out over the fence, pointed directly at Merry’s side of the pen.
“Dummeh mawe an nu gud dummeh babbehs.” she muttered, lifting her tail. “Twy take nyu daddeh fwom Majentah. Majentah show ouh!”
And with that, and a noise like a deflating balloon, Magenta let loose a torrent of semi-liquid shit, spraying out in all directions like a foul brown shotgun blast, before arcing and falling to the ground, splattering itself across the concrete of Merry’s pen. The river quickly slowed to a dribble as the small creature exhausted the limited capacity of her tiny bowels, and, tail still held proudly high, she trotted back the way she had came, nose held upwards in triumph.
She was so proud of herself that she pounced up onto the end of the skateboard-ramp in a single self-satisfied leap—one that ended in a sudden yelp of panic as her weight dislodged the wheels, and the end of the board rolled forwards from the shelf, carrying the startled pink fluffy with it.
Board and fluffy alike clattered to the ground, Magenta landing on her side atop her makeshift ramp with a frightened bleat.
Fortunately the fall had been a short one, too short to injure even a frail fluffy, and it seemed for a moment the only thing that had been damaged was her dignity. But then came a sound that turned the mare’s blood to ice in her veins.
Eyes wide with horror, Magenta twisted her body, thrashing in an effort to right herself, until her head managed to clear the edge of the board, and she let out a heart-wrenching wail. Beneath her, the head of her talkie baby gazed back up into her eyes, the light slowly fading from its own. Most of its body vanished beneath the wheel of the skateboard, the wheel her entire weight was currently atop, and the same wheel that was now the center of a slowly expanding crimson pool of boo-boo juice, forming a red spiderweb as it oozed into the coarse valleys and cracks in the concrete floor.
The wheel of the skateboard had come down upon the tiny, fragile foal like a hammer, instantly crumpling its body in on itself, until the entire ribcage had been crushed flat, painting the concrete red with a spurt of blood and what had, previously, served as its organs, now looking more like ground mince. It struggled to draw breath, the fluffy pancake that had been its torso inflating slightly with each gasp, before collapsing again as the air escaped. For the last moments of its life, the red foal stared up into Magenta’s eyes with equal parts confusion and betrayal, unable to comprehend why its mother had done this.
And then the sharp, ragged motions of its breath stopped entirely.
Another cry from Magenta roused Merry from her slumber, and the blue fluffy leapt to her feet, bounding across the floor to investigate the terrible wails—until one of her hooves slid out from under her, having fallen on the concrete slick with Magenta’s sorry-poopies, and found no traction. Her head hit the floor with a dull crack, and she didn’t even have time to wonder what had happened before she slipped from consciousness.
A note on my other stories—I do plan to return to them. The final chapter of ‘All Bestest Babbehs’ is 100% planned out, I just need to find the time to sit down, re-read the previous chapters to refresh the trivial details, and actually churn it all out. ‘Stress Relief’ is a lower priority and less structured, but I still have some fairly developed ideas for where I want to take it.
Although, I’ve realized I’m making a habit of perhaps biting off more than I can chew with longer, slower stories, so am making an effort to adopt a quicker, more satisfying pace.