The next couple of weeks were uneventful. Candy and her foals were getting along just fine—even the alicorn filly, in spite of the fact that Candy still cringed every time the “pointy-wingie babbeh” latched on to her teat. Prejudice is a hard habit to break.
Pineapple, Grapefruit, Orchid, and Cherry all had foals due in about ten days. Grapefruit, Orchid, and Cherry, who all shared a pen, chatted from sunrise to sunset about their “tummeh-babbehs”. Steve didn’t mind the vapid “soon mummah” chatter—but he’d be damned if he stayed in the room when they all joined in together for an off-key “mummah song”. If there is a hell, Steve thought, then that’s what plays on an eternal loop in the ninth circle.
Wizard waited on Pineapple’s every need. Pineapple was one of Steve’s first two herd mares to get pregnant, but Steve thought she was in for a big litter. She had been immobile for several days already. Steve found it almost cute how Wizard nuzzled her when she sang her mummah songs. Wizard even tried to make up “daddeh songs” of his own—this usually amounted to an atonal run on sentence with no rhyming words.
Steve fulfilled his promise to Katie and took lots of pictures of Candy and her foals. He drove to FluffMart at least twice a week for supplies, so he and Katie saw a lot of each other. Katie gave Steve her phone number, and they had been on one date at this point.
Steve took her to a new tapas bar in University City. It turned out that Katie was a grad student at the university studying nutrition science. Selling fluffies and accessories at FluffMart paid her rent and groceries.
Steve told Katie how he was able to dabble in fluffy breeding, too: his series of children’s books had been incredibly successful, and so he moved back to North Carolina when he couldn’t (and didn’t have to) put up with New York City bullshit anymore.
“You know, I think my little sister had some of your books. It took me a minute to remember, because your books are all ‘by Stephen P. Cochrane’, and I’ve always seen you as ‘Steve’.”
“Yeah. I remember reading one of them to Kathy and to our fluffies. They always liked the one about ‘The Fluffy Who Flew to the Moon’.”
“That was a good one. I think that was the first book I ever wrote about fluffies. Never thought back then that I would ever have one, though. Of course, it was published right after Cleveland—people weren’t too keen on buying fluffy books for their kids.”
Steve and Katie sat and talked for a few hours, and then Steve took Katie home—she had a midterm the next morning, and a full shift at FluffMart afterwards. Katie said she wanted to see the farm sometime, and kissed Steve on the cheek as she turned and walked up the steps to her apartment.
Steve took advantage of the quiet at the barn to start preparing his garden soil for the spring. The bipolar Carolina weather of February had given way to mild March days, so Steve only had a couple more weeks until the threat of frost had passed.
Steve had decided to plant extra lettuce and carrots this year as a special treat for his fluffies, and he harvested too damn many tomatoes and squash to use. Peppers were always a good addition, but he hated the taste of pickled peppers, so he only planned for enough to eat fresh (plus some to dry out and crush at the end of the season).
Steve enjoyed vegetable gardening, and found it relaxing enough to get lost in thought about for hours. He was startled out of his daydream by an eardrum-piercing shriek.
“SCREEEEEEEEEE! Mummah, hewp babbeh!”
Steve turned just in time to see what had happened. Candy’s foals, whose eyes had been open for about a week, had been outside playing in the sunshine. Her red pegasus colt had drawn the attention of the neighborhood red-tailed hawk, who had swooped down unnoticed and grabbed the foal.
“Mummah! Why nu hewp wingie babbeh?!? Babbeh haf huwties! Huu huu!”
The other four foals had run into the barn, each trailing a stream of runny shit behind them. “Tuu scawedy!”, the colt’s white earthie sister yelled.
“Nuuuuu! Biwdie-munstah nu take wed babbeh! Nu huwt babbeh! Put babbeh down!” Candy flapped her undersized wings helplessly as she pawed at the fence, unable to save her foal.
“Mummah haf wingies! Fwy tu babbeh an sabe babbeh!” Steve had come over and was petting Candy through the fence, trying to console her. But Candy’s heart was broken over her soon-to-be-devoured baby.
The hawk perched on a branch more than twenty feet in the air. The foal continued to scree and cry and flap its wings helplessly as the raptor tugged a chunk out of its side. Its entrails spilled out, and blood began to trickle to the ground like water droplets from a grisly icicle.
“SCREE! Wowsest owwies! chirp”
The foal is dead, but I’ll be damned if I just stand here and let that fucker eat Candy’s baby. Steve scanned the ground and found a piece of red clay the size of a baseball. He picked it up and chucked it at the bird.
The hawk let out an agitated cry, but flew off and dropped the foal. Steve was unable to get to the foal before it hit the ground, but it didn’t matter—it was beyond saving. The enfeebled colt slowly flapped his wings, and moved his front hooves in a back-and-forth motion. When he looked up and saw Steve, he put out his hooves in a “give huggies” gesture. Steve held the foal close to his chest, ignoring the blood that soaked into his shirt.
“Daddeh, pwease gif babbeh tu mummah. Mummah wan gif babbeh huggies. Huggies make aww fings bettah.”
“Candy, this baby is about to d—take forever sleepies. Huggies can’t help him now.”
“Mummah kno, daddeh.” Candy had stopped sobbing. She looked up at Steve with tears still in her eyes, “Bu mummah huggies make wed babbeh heawt huwties gu ‘way.”
Steve nodded. Candy couldn’t save her foal. Hell, he couldn’t save her foal. But Candy knew how to make her baby feel loved in his last moments. She sat on her rump and cradled her foal between her front hooves.
“Mummah wuv wed babbeh. Mummah awways wuv wed babbeh. Mummah wiww wememba wed babbeh foweva…”
Steve Cochrane walked into the barn. All was silent, save for the gentle huu huuing of Candy’s four remaining foals, who were taking turns hugging each other and sobbing into each other’s fluff.
Steve looked at each of his fluffies in turn. Each one had tears in their eyes. Even Seraph, the seemingly unflappable pegasus stallion, sat on his hindquarters with his eyes downcast. This was the first time Steve had seen a herd in mourning—it was almost human, really. These manmade creations, never intended to breed outside of a lab, all joined together to share in the sadness of one family unit.
The walk back to the garden was a long one. Steve had always found the little creatures to be cute, but had no idea he could get attached so easily. He picked up his hand tiller, started turning over soil, and resolved to keep his mind on the spring planting.