Valentina [By MuffinMantis]

Tina lay where she was dropped, none-too-gently, and cried. She’d cried a lot lately, more tears than she thought a fluffy could hold. “Pwease, nu weabe Tina!” she sobbed. “Wiww be gud! Pwease! Nu wan gu fowebah-sweepies! Nu wan babbehs gu fowebah-sweepies!”

Her mummah’s brother just turned and walked away, not even acknowledging her pleas. The smaller human, though, one Tina didn’t recognize, knelt down for a second, patting her head. “Sorry, it’s not my decision,” he said. Then he popped a candy, something Tina hadn’t tasted in so long, into her mouth and walked away, leaving her and her barely-peeping foals on the damp, muddy ground.

Tina knew they wouldn’t be back. Nobody ever came back, not for Tina. She was alone, and she would die alone, hopefully before having to hear her babbehs die. It was the one last thing she could hope for. No parent should have to hear their children die.

She lay there, for how long she had no idea, but gradually she felt the tiniest flicker of strength building. The sugar in the candy combined with her desperation to give her a sort of feverish, frantic energy. She forced herself to move and felt her eyes grow watery again. On the ground, a few inches away, was another candy. Feeling gratefulness that her limited vocabulary couldn’t begin to express, she crawled over to it and ate it as well.

Now she just had to wait, had to let the spark grow. If she was strong, she might be able to save her babbehs. That’s all that mattered now. If she could save her babbehs then nothing else mattered. But there was only one way she could do that, now. She had to find them a home for when the last trickle of vitality she had dried up.

She forced herself to stand, grabbing her babbehs from the ground where they lay unconscious, sides barely moving as they struggled to breathe. She began to walk, resolve wavering between every exhausting step, slowly making her way down the gentle slope, towards the lights she saw far off in the darkness. Towards, perhaps, her babbehs’ future home.

Fences and gates deterred her from even approaching most of the housies, and the few others she found had stairs which she couldn’t hope to climb in her current state. Night slowly turned to day, and the first rays of sunshine illuminated something beautiful. A house without a fence, with a gentle ramp instead of stairs. Her last chance.

Tina struggled even more as she tried to climb the ramp. It wasn’t steep by any means, but the energy from the candies was long ago depleted, and even taking a step on level ground was a seemingly insurmountable struggle. How she found the strength to reach the door, she didn’t know, but she collapsed gratefully on the doormat. Everything was out of her control, now. All she could do was wait and rest.

She didn’t have to wait long, fortunately. As she felt the icy talons of death snatching away the sensation from each of her limbs, the door opened, and an unfamiliar lady stood looking down at Tina. She couldn’t muster the strength to look up at her face, but the lady didn’t immediately kick Tina, so she felt some hope.

“Fuck,” she lady said, making Tina flinch. “You had to pick the worst possible day to show up, didn’t you? Fine.”

Tina gasped as she was rapidly picked up and she and her foals were carried into a bright saferoom. Two fluffies, a unicorn stallion and a earthie mare, stared at her as she was set down. “Daisy, Onion, help her eat. I’ll make some formula but I need to go. I’ll be back later.”

Tina couldn’t really process the words, simply laying on the comfortable padded floor where she was placed. The stallion, Onion, came over to her, flinching a bit at her scent, then somehow managed to lever her up and half-walk, half-carry her over to the food bowl. By the time he’d finished the nice lady had already brought the formula and left, and Daisy was rotating the babbehs so each could drink.

Reason vanished for a moment as the sight and aroma of the bowlful of chow broke through the fog into Tina’s perception, and she began to wolf down the food. One bite, two, three, four, many. She stopped trying to keep track, too focused on eating for even such a long-held habit. She ate and ate, trying to fill the nagging void inside her.

Finally, she came to her senses, and her eyes focused once more. She started to shake, dread roiling in her belly as she struggled not to vomit. She sobbed, trying to crawl over to her babbehs, pleading and bargaining and weeping. She’d finally realized why the munstah lady had brought her and her babbehs here. As the last of her strength faded and she slipped into unconsciousness, she was tormented by the truth.

They’d been brought here to die.

Long Ago

Babbeh sat in the darkness of the box, since she didn’t have any choice in the matter, and tried to ignore the growling of her stomach and the discomfort in her rear. She’d felt the box shaking and moving, and that meant it was almost time! She trembled with excitement and anxiety.

Suddenly the box opened, and she was blinded by the light. She froze, trying to get her bearings, then she remembered. Had she taken too long? Was she not going to be good enough? The anxiety ate the excitement, and she felt genuine terror.

But now wasn’t the time for that! She had to focus! Fighting down the fear, she said the line she’d been told over and over. “Happy Vawentine’s Day!” she chirped, and did the dance she’d been taught. The two humans in the room were saying things she couldn’t understand, but soon the mister left, coming back with a pair of scissors.

Babbeh shook with fear and hope. Had she done a good job? Was the mister going to send her to skettiland with the scissors? She hoped so. Back in the factory, she’d heard stories. Good babbehs were given forever-sleepies and went to skettiland, but bad babbehs who didn’t say the words or who didn’t dance well were left to go forever-sleepies from tummy-owwies, and went to the Bad Place instead.

She closed her eyes in anticipation, waiting to feel the scissors bite into her flesh. It would only hurt for a little while, then she’d be in skettiland with all the friends from the factory, with her mummah and brothers and sisters. She hoped it didn’t hurt too bad, though.

She heard a snipping noise but felt nothing, then heard another and fell forward, her numb back legs released from the straps that kept her sitting upright in the box. She peeped in pain and surprise as the catheters were removed, eyes opening. What was going on?

“Am babbeh bad babbeh?” she asked, tears welling up. “Nu gu to skettiwand?”

She heard a soft retching sound from the nice lady. “Bryce, what the fuck?”

“They tell them if they’re good they’ll die and go to skettiland. She probably thinks we’re going to leave her to starve. She and a few dozen others were rescued from an illegal mill.”

“That’s seriously messed up. What’ll we do with her now?”

“I thought with the news maybe we should get a pet, and she needs a loving home. Just for a while. If it doesn’t work out there’s a no-kill shelter, and with her colors she’ll find a home quickly.” The mister lifted Babbeh in a cupped palm. “What do you think? Want to live with us?”

“Nu gu fowebah-sweepies? Nu huwties an’ skettiwand?”

“No!” the nice lady said. “You can stay here with us.”

“Babbeh wan’ gu skettiwand!”

“You will,” the nice mister explained, “but you can stay here for a while first. We’d be very happy if you stay.”

“Babbeh wiww stay if mummah an’ daddeh wan’.”

“That’s good. I promise we’ll make sure you never want to die again.”

Tina’s life after was full of happiness she’d never imagined possible in the misery of the factory. Her new mummah and daddeh gave her everything she could hope for, toysies and a soft warm nestie and tasty nummies. When she had bad sleepy-time-pictures they’d let her sleep in their bed, and when she felt lonely they’d take her to the fluffypark to spend time with her friends.

Sometimes she felt bad, though. She felt like she only took from them, like she was being too selfish. Some nights she’d cry quietly, remembering the factory and wondering how such a bad fluffy as her could have such a happy life when the others there couldn’t. She felt overwhelming guilt remembering all the babbehs that’d been just like her, broken and hoping for nothing more than to die. What had she done to deserve this life that they hadn’t?

But she tried hard to hide this pain and this guilt. Mummah and daddeh gave her so much, she would not give them heart-hurties. So she tried her best to just accept the happiness and not blame herself for what she couldn’t control. It was hard, though, sometimes.

Slowly, though, the cracks began to show. Sometimes daddeh would be too tired to play with her, or would snap at her when she talked to him. She was sad when this happened, but understood that daddeh saw bad things saving fluffies like her, and sometimes he couldn’t stand to be reminded. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t his.

Sometimes when daddeh was gone mummah would lay in bed and cry, but it wasn’t until Tina was older that she learned that mummah wanted to have babbehs of her own, but couldn’t. Tina felt awful about that, so even when she saw babbehs on FluffTV and desperately wanted her own, she bottled it up inside for mummah’s sake.

Worst, though, was when mummah drank the silly-wawa and got angry at Tina, calling her a worthless replacement, saying she’d never be mummah’s real child. When that happened Tina would hide and cry, wracked with guilt, feeling as if it was somehow her fault that mummah couldn’t have babbehs. She felt like a parasite, like she only made mummah and daddeh hurt more, like they only kept her because they felt responsible.

Slowly her happy life grew colder and sadder. Daddeh grew more and more distant, and sometimes Tina would overhear the stories he told mummah, and would have nightmares for days after. Mummah drank the silly-wawa more and more often, but never when daddeh was around. Every day it seemed like they all grew more miserable.

Then there was the…incident with the smarty at the fluffypark. Mummah and daddeh both said it wasn’t Tina’s fault, but she still blamed herself. She’d wandered off, away from the other fluffies and their mummahs and daddehs. And now, she felt like she hurt mummah and daddeh even more. Daddeh could barely stand to look at her, seeming haunted by what he saw at the illegal mills, and mummah grew more and more hostile. As Tina’s belly grew, it seemed like it pushed against the cracked facade of happiness, and sooner or later it would break.

Then the bad night happened. Tina couldn’t remember most of it, only that mummah drank more silly-wawa than normal and came into the saferoom, screaming at Tina, demanding to know why she could have babbehs when mummah couldn’t. Then the…thing with the bottle happened. Somehow, Tina kept her babbehs, but it hurt so much and she bled so much, she wasn’t sure she wanted to keep living.

Daddeh came home unexpectedly that night. After he took Tina to the vet, he left and never came back. Mummah and Tina were left all alone, and things only got worse. The facade had broken, and its brittle shards cut their happiness into aching shreds.

The alarm chimed, and Tina struggled to her hooves, excitement flooding through her body. She ran to the bowl and hungrily gulped down the three remaining bites of bitter, dry kibble. The taste didn’t matter though. It was the precious day, the day she suffered for, it was the day she could play with her babbehs. It was nummies day!

Lately, though, she barely had the energy to play with her babbehs even on nummies days. Every four-and-three days she’d get a fresh bowl of nummies, so she only ate one small bite a day on days except nummies days, then she’d eat three or even four bites of kibble! With her tummeh that full of nummies she could run and play, just a little, with her babbehs.

She moved to the other side of the room, into the small circle of light cast by the dim nightlight, where her babbehs gathered, suckling from the formula dispenser. They never wandered into the dark parts of the room, too scared of what might lurk outside the light, but lately Tina had layed in the darkness as far away from the light as she could. She had…thoughts…the last two days before nummies days. Horrible thoughts, unimaginable thoughts. And she was scared she might act on them if she dared stay too close to her babbehs.

She pushed that out of her mind, though, and tried not to feel envy for her babbehs. They got all the formula they wanted, while Tina had to have tummy-owwies. Sometimes, she wanted so badly to steal the formula. Other times, her hunger became so awful that she wanted to…NO! Don’t think about that! She would never do that! But even still, she felt guilty.

The door opened and Tina closed her eyes as the light turned on, blinding her. After her eyes adjusted she saw mummah standing there, bag of kibble in one hand and bottle in the other. This was going to be bad. It always was when mummah had silly-wawa on nummies days.

“Hewwo, mummah!” she said, faking happiness. Damage control. Bite back the hatred, don’t let it show. Pretend, and maybe it won’t hurt so bad this time.

“Fuck off,” mummah said, and Tina silently rejoiced. Mummah was barely slurring at all! “You’re lucky I decided to even show up today.”

And so the nummies day ritual began.

“Tank 'ou, mummah.”

“Shut up. What are you?”

“Tina am twash.”

“And why do I even keep trash like you around?”

“Su mummah nebah fowget daddeh weft.”

“Want what are you babbehs?”

This part hurt. “Babbehs…babbehs am…”

“Guess you don’t want food, then.”

“Babbehs am twash!” Tina blurted out.

“And…and why…?” mummah asked, sounding a bit more confused, then draining the last of the bottle.

“Mummah keep babbehs su can seww tu pay fow nummies fow Tina.”

“That’s right. Don’t forget it.”

Mummah poured another bowl of nummies, spilling much of it onto the floor. Tina didn’t object, though. The more that went on the floor, the more she’d get in total. Pride wasn’t something she could afford.

“Come here.”

Tina flinched but obediently walked to stand in front of mummah. The form that had once meant happiness and love to her loomed threateningly. She braced herself, hoping that this time it wouldn’t be too bad. Maybe it’d just be a kick or a beating this time.

“Fucking whore,” mummah slurred, and Tina knew it was going to be bad. “Fucking the first time I’m not watching. Fuck you.”

Tina closed her eyes lay down, back legs straight and keeping her hindquarters elevated. The easier she made this, the less rough mummah would be. Just close her eyes and wait for the thing with the bottle to be over. Don’t struggle, that just makes it worse.

But this time, she just couldn’t. She couldn’t take this anymore! Better to die now, better to let her babbehs die now than keep living this nightmare! Why? Why had all this happened? What had she done? WHY DID SHE DESERVE THIS?

She rushed over and hugged mummah’s leg, trying desperately to see the old mummah she loved so much in the monster that violated her over and over. Maybe if she could find the old mummah, then mummah could find herself. Maybe if she infuriated mummah enough, she’d finally kill her.

“Wai?” she sobbed, clinging desperately to the boney leg through the too-large, tattered jeans. "Wai am ebewyfing so wong? Wai mummah an’ daddeh an’ Tina onwy hab heawt-huwties? Wewe owd mummah an’ daddeh gu? Tina onwy wan wub! Nu wan huwt mummah an’ daddeh! Tina am sowwy! Tina nyo Tina am twash, am onwy gud fow gib mummah saddies, bu’ Tina hab saddies, tuu!

“Pwease, mummah! Pwease come back! Tina am scawed, nu wike munstah mummah! Nu wan huwties an’ bad-enfies! Tina pwomise wiww be gud, wiww du anyfing mummah wan, jus’ pwease come back! Pwease, mummah…pwease. Tina miss 'ou.”

She went limp. She knew she’d messed up, knew things would be even worse now. Might as well earn the tiniest bit of mercy she could by not resisting. It wouldn’t save her, but maybe mummah would exhaust herself and not hurt the babbehs.

But nothing happened. She opened her eyes, confused, and mummah was gone. The light was still on, and she could hear her babbehs chirping in confusion. Had…had mummah decided to spare her? Dared she hope that was the case? Would mummah come back with some new torment Tina couldn’t imagine?

But mummah didn’t come back. Mummah never came back.

How long it’d been since Tina had eaten she couldn’t guess. All she knew was that one nummies day hadn’t had any nummies, hadn’t had mummah come back. Even the babbehs were out of formula now, and pleaded with desperate peeps for milk Tina couldn’t give them.

She lay in a daze, her vision wrapped in a gray veil. Eternity passed, each moment agony as her body cannibalized itself. She was dying, and her babbehs were dying, but she wasn’t sad. She barely felt anything anymore. No, she wasn’t sad, she just felt the tiniest bit of happiness that her babbehs wouldn’t have to live like she had.

She slipped deep into unconsciousness, dreaming of the happy days. Then, she felt a hand lifting her, carrying her, and words she couldn’t comprehend being spoken.

“Just throw them out, nobody wants them. Shame about the foals, though. Good colors, but there’s no way they aren’t traumatized to hell. Letting them die is the kindest thing we can do for them.”

Onion watched the emaciated mare eating, and felt overwhelming pity. Clearly she’d lived a truly horrific life, if the scarring was anything to go by. He supported her the best he could, trying to ignore the reek of filth and dried blood that clung to her. He tried not to blink, though, because when he did the brief glimpse he’d caught of her hindquarters flashed across his vision. After she was done eating he’d have to go and vomit. Thankfully Daisy hadn’t seen the state of the withered mare.

The mare looked at him, seeming to actually see him for the first time since her arrival. Then she looked at the half-empty bowl of chow and something seemed to change. All the relief evaporated from her face and posture, and she somehow pushed herself away from him, dragging herself towards her foals.

“Pwease…” she gasped, between wheezing breaths. “Tina am sowwy! Wiww du anyfing! Speciaw-huggies! Wiww gib wickie-cweanies! Anyfing! Pwease! Nu mean tu! Nu mean tu!”

Onion was confused and horrified. What had this poor mare endured? What was she apologizing for? She’d eaten half of his breakfast, true, but he’d get more as soon as mummah was back from the wedding. It wasn’t a problem.

“Pwease! Tina am sowwy! Tina nyo…Tina nyo Tina nu taste pwetty, bu’ pwease nu num babbehs! Pwease num Tina! Tina am sowwy! Nu mean to steaw nummies! Tina…Tina wiww wast until nummies day! Pwease…jus’ wet Tina hug babbehs one wast time!”

Onion glanced over at Daisy, who was trying to comfort the panicked foals, and came to a decision. Suppressing the growing urge to go vomit and cry in the corner, he approached the frantic mare and hugged her, barely managing not to recoil when he felt her bony frame under the thin layer of matted fluff.

“It am otay,” he said, soothingly. “Nu am angwy. Mummah wiww gib mowe nummies. Tina am safe nao. Nu nee’ be scawed. Onion pwomise nu wiww huwt babbehs. Tina west nao.”

But none of his words mattered, for the mare had collapsed into a coma.

Tina! Tina! Wake up!”

Tina opened her eyes in a bright, colorful room. She felt…strange. It was hard to describe, hard to even comprehend, but she felt…off, in a way that seemed somehow familiar. She couldn’t feel her heartbeat, and her breath was eerily silent, without the wheezing she was so accustomed to. She tried to roll over to stand, only to overshoot and tumble off the table.

For a brief moment she panicked, but a hand caught her and lowered her to the floor. “Good morning, Tina. You’ve been asleep for a long time.”

“Wewe am Tina?” she asked, shocked by the ease with which she formed words.

“Don’t worry, you’re safe. Your mummah is here to pick you up so you can go home.”

Tina shook, imagining how furious mummah would be. She always hurt Tina more when she tried to run away. Worse, she’d stolen nummies! Once she’d done that when mummah forgot the bag and mummah had…Tina forced herself not to relive those memories. No, right now she didn’t have time, she had to save herself.

“Pwease, nice mistuh,” she pleaded to the vet. “Kiww Tina. Tina nu wan gu back.”

The vet looked repulsed and confused for a moment, then realization dawned. “No, I didn’t mean your old mummah, I meant the lady who rescued you. It’s okay, you’re safe.”

“Nu huwties?”

“None. I promise.”

“Otay. Tina wiww twy tu wib. Jus’ fow nao.”

Tina cried the entire car ride back to the nice lady’s house. She remembered car trips, back in the happy days, and somehow it hurt. All the memories of happiness seemed to be on the other side of a bleak gulf, and when she recalled them she felt the horror trying to suck her in again. The motion of the car was a constant reminder of joy long gone.

Her new mummah held Tina on her lap the entire way back, occasionally gently stroking Tina’s short, shaved mane. The warm softness was something Tina hadn’t realized she’d desperately missed for so long. She’d forgotten so many things, given up wishing for anything but food. Now, though, the hunger was gone and she realized all the things she’d lost, and some of the things she’d gotten back.

Tina,” mummah said, breaking the silence. “Do you want to stay with me? Do you have anywhere to go?”

“Daddeh…weabe Tina an’ mummah. Mummah weabe Tina tuu, bu’ Tina nu wan see mummah nu mowe. Tina nu hab anywun, onwy hab babbehs nao.”

“Okay, you can stay with me. Tina, I want you to listen. I can’t promise that you’ll always be happy with me, or that bad things will never happen, or that we’ll never fight. But I can promise that I will never hurt you like she did. Is that enough?”

“Tina…Tina nu wan anyfing mowe.”

“Mummah!” shouted a voice when Tina was set down on the saferoom floor. She froze for a moment, seeing her babbehs. For her, it’d only been yesterday that they were barely-breathing, emaciated puffballs. Now, though, they were talkie-babbehs, almost big fluffies themselves. She felt a twinge of sadness, hated that she hadn’t been there for their first words, hated that all her time spent with them had been in darkness and grief.

“You just missed it, I’m afraid,” mummah said. “They started talking yesterday. I thought you should be here for when they get their names, though.”

“Tank 'ou. Tank 'ou fow eberyfing. Tina am su happy, nu nyo wut to du.”

“Don’t be silly. Play with your babbehs, they’ve missed you. I think they had something to say.”

“Tank 'ou, mummah, fow pwotect babbehs. Am sowwy nu coud hewp mummah.”

A Few Weeks Later

Tina woke up and gently worked her way free from the fluffpile, careful not to wake any of the others. She always woke up earlier, so she could watch them sleep for a little while. Her joy at the sight of her sleeping family was something she could barely contain, but she always stayed quiet to avoid waking them.

Her body still ached in places, and mummah had tearfully told her that she’d never fully recover from some of the harm she’d sustained in the dark room, but she didn’t mind. It was a reminder, of course, of things she wished she could forget, but here, in the quiet softness, listening to the gentle sounds of the others sleeping, those times seemed so distant, and what she’d suffered just made what she had feel that much more precious. Here and now, she was genuinely thankful to be alive.


Man, this sure is just how it feels when you’re a kid and you can’t even start understanding what’s wrong. Top marks.