Kyle Brunher had kept a herd of Fluffies on his land for the past decade, though they weren’t pets so much as Ferals that got through the back fence that he’d mostly ignored. The patch of trees in the center of the property gave them shelter, every so often he’d remind them to shit in the compost heap and toss them the food scraps he’d normally put in it instead if they did. Otherwise the little shits would have to climb or dig through the centipede and spider infested seven foot by seven foot and five foot tall pile of vegetation held in place by wicker he’d woven as walls, all slowly turning into oozy stinking plant superfood. Truth be told it was more beneficial to him that way since the small tunnels the little worker caste made exposed the lower layers and supercharged the decomposition, saving him time and effort of turning it over. Still, he was a fair man who had always enjoyed feeding wildlife, so he didn’t make it a regular requirement.
Not long after the first ones had arrived he’d discovered they had found their way through the fencing by tunneling and were tapping dirty hooves and hoof-shaped toes on the screen doors like zombies. Each one was thrown into an old booze crate with a towel at the bottom from his pappy’s day which had once stored his vinyls, then a milk crate beside it was filled with the ones that had gotten stuck in the holes. He’d fed those ones some of the good stuff, cut up apples instead of cores, since the good lord knows the morons he makes need all the help they can get. $300 later he had a fence they couldn’t get through.
Over time enough had meandered into the yard that he had a decent assortment. Ones as small as a mouse, ones as big as his poor departed hound, some with horns and some that looked like they had plants growing in their matted fur. The first time he’d seen one he’d nabbed her and tried to pull it out, thinking she was just in such bad shape, but the roots went all the way to her skin and she’d screamed that her “tree baby” was supposed to be part of her. Since she didn’t seem to be in a bad state he’d returned her to the flock, and noticed another with some heather blooming off his sides on the return trip. The idea made his skin itch, but he’d started to enjoy seeing the variation in them on his morning walks over the years.
The shallow creek, barely enough to reach past the chest of the larger ones in even the hardest rains of spring and fall, managed to eliminate the dumbest in his herds. The corpses attracted coyotes and flies until he fetched them, but a yard without pesticides ensured the spiders and small birds made short work of the buzzers and ever since the death of his beloved childhood cat at the hands of the beasts he’d felt very little when finding a coyote with bared guts twisted up in the barbed wire protecting his chickens or with bloody vomit around their mouths from the poisoned meat he’d throw out every so often when he found their marks in the dirt.
They all mostly got out of the way of the large but slow riding mower when he hauled it out during the dry months, and it provided a scheduled culling for the more aggressive shits who decided to stare it down or charge, though he’d take a beer break if he managed to spot a few oblivious mothers or young in the grass. The little leaders called Smarties seemed to act like little warlords, scrapping over territory and clan size; they were fairly amusing though he tried to keep the bloodshed to a minimum. Each one seemed to carve out a section of the field as their own, some making boundary lines out of rocks though it meant little as the smarter ones would rearrange them to create conflict in rivals. Some acknowledged the farmer’s authority as food provider and passive observer, others would challenge him for dominance. He usually ignored the little bastards since nothing they could do would actually force him to deal with him and at worst would just kneel down and pinch their ear until they screamed and ran away, but the practice confused him until he spent an afternoon sipping lemonade by the fence under an umbrella. One of the most clever ones and one that did not have a name responded to a dispute over ownership of a corner of the yard where the dandelions came in and the pregnant females dwelling there by saying that the farmer owned it, that he’d seem the farmer sleeping there and had fathered the unborn Fluffies. The lie worked, and the aggressor turned and ran to the fence challenge the farmer instead. Curious what would happen he pinched the little leader’s ear until he shrieked and took off running with his tail between his legs. Over the next few days that Fluffy’s territory shrank, his subordinates claiming to belong to others now when he gave them orders and most confrontations ending with the shamed Smarty slowly retreating rather than a scuffle. By the end of the week he only had his three mates, some of his older daughters, and his old blind father in a little patch of grass surrounded by the rocks of others. The little king was now just the head of a tiny clan, while the clever one now spent all his time grinning as the womenfolk of his territory occupied the dandelion patch. The farmer felt used, and hated politics, but the medieval ways of them provided better entertainment than the shlock they put on the tv these days.
He kept a tassel on the end of his walking cane to whip any with if they bothered him, enough to redden the soft skin of the weaker ones if they didn’t get out of the way. It didn’t always work though, and just annoyed the larger and hardier breeds. Since he liked them best he had more patience with their bullshit, so ultimately it was his ever-present galoshes and loud “FSHHH” noises followed by a hollered “GIT” which kept him safe from their fouler assaults and ankle-hugging demands. Their voices, however annoying, kept the loneliness of life ever since Kait died at bay. Mostly they asked to be adopted and made requests of things a pet would have, but when he felt like engaging with them they were easily distracted towards other topics like the weather, the birds, the current geopolitical situation of the yard warlords, and how pretty the flowers were. A few times he’d brought one or two into the new fancy fence separating the “lawn” around the house from the field, since the greys, murky greens, browns, and all the desaturated colors seemed to suffer varying degrees of bullying from the others sometimes and he respected sensible colors like that on animals. A very small herd of their descendants now lived in the inner area, but the constant insults lobbed at them from the further out herd kept them well-behaved while the farmer’s continual reminders that that more babies meant less food kept their numbers somewhat low (though the fact that many of the males seemed to be lacking testicles from the violence of the others was likely the more influential factor). Only once did he bring one with the bright colors he wasn’t fond of inside as well, a strange one with a glittering and color-changing opalescent coat with white mane, born with a horn and wings which caused no end of hatred from the others for some reason. The camo herd hated her too, but when he heard her screaming and found a green and brown one chewing on her leg he dropped it back in with the other herd and let its moderately disturbing fate serve as a warning for the rejects to leave their new sister alone. Eventually he gave the fancy mutant to his favorite granddaughter who went nuts for it for some reason, keeping it for years and having a taxidermy done on the body on its death. At holiday visits they even joked they had insured the corpse, and he laughed each time despite not understanding the joke. He’d heard she’d had many descendants though, and that made him happy that she’d found love.
Not long after he’d found another strange one, this time not quite as pitiable. There had been shrieking, and when he’d reached the herd they were running around in panicked disarray and trampling each other. As the large man entered the yard they began to calm down and organize, the leaders trying to marshal their herds back into their territories. He’d collected the bodies, about forty trample victims that ended up filling the old barrel he usually collected their bodies in for nitrogen composting, and examined the remainders. They’d been torn apart with bite marks, but more flat ones rather than those of a predator. The culprit was easy enough to find, one young orange and blue Fluffy with blood all around its mouth. It protested its innocence while he held it by the scruff, but admitted its predilection when he steered the conversation towards enjoyment of biting into a Fluffy leg (thinking of course of his mother’s fried chicken at Christmas so long ago, a memory now unfortunately tainted by this event). He gave it a look over while on hold over the phone with the vet, noting the strange and vacant marble-like spiral eyes and the messed up teeth, like broken yellow graveyard fence posts. A short car ride later and he was leaning on an examination table in exasperated boredom while two specialists argued whether the cannibal was a mutation or a different breed, apparently a hot topic for their community with evidence either way. The freak was obliviously chewing on some medical waste from previous Fluffy procedures, mostly a pile of legs with some stillborns mixed in, bits of jiggling red and white viscera and different fluff colors mixed into the slightly foamy drool around its cheeks and chin as it chomped like a smiling goat with eyes going in different directions, leaving a slimy mess below it. Tired of the discussion he interrupted them with an irate throat clearing and asked what to do with it. One recommended killing it, the other suggested selling it for a decent chunk of change, the fact it was a breedable female making up for the obvious brain damage, which earned a glare from the other. They explained some folks had an interest in such things, the same folks who buy snakes specifically because they eat smaller animals. A bit repulsed, he thanked them for their time, paid the $50 for the visit, and went home. He thought about selling her often from that point on, but didn’t really want to associate with those kinds of folks. He’d known plenty growing up, and even more on the rigs he’d spent his prime working on. He didn’t like them then, and didn’t want to deal with them now. He also hated the idea of cannibals, so the little monster got a diet of cheap canned and rotisserie chicken. It complained in its eerie disharmonious and slurred way, and an ear pinch until it squealed would shut it up. Sometimes it would snuggle on his lap like a dog, and he’d feel affection as well as pangs thinking of all the animal friends he’d lost to age and accidents over the years. Others it would sit in front of its food bowl on a silicone mat from the end of one meal to the start of the next, even pissing and shitting in place sometimes, and he’d wish it would choke on the bones it gnawed on.
One summer day while sipping spiked lemon tea in the shade of the old weeping willow he wondered how the Fluffies would react to a miniature horse. The thought stayed in his mind for a month before he started talking to the feed store employees about it. An old friend he hadn’t spoken to in years was selling them for $590 a pop, and since the farmer’s worthless middle stepson had disappeared again into likely another coke binge he decided to blow the money set aside for him for Christmas on his experiment. The two old men had a beer together which turned into a long afternoon reminiscing, and at the end of the day he’d walked away with a grey runt for just two hundred. Unfortunately the money was a bit wasted since the horse largely ignored the Fluffies. It grazed and played with a ball in its size, sometimes mowing over a Fluffy with the orb but rarely doing them serious harm. Smarties tried to attack it sometimes but lost authority as its light and annoyed kicks delivered them permanent limps or substantial scars, some dying agonizingly slow deaths from internal damage as they got weaker and weaker while pretending to be unharmed. A few times the more charming Fluffies and the horse chased each other, but the horse became bored as it took them so long to reach her, and she outpaced them immediately so they barely had time to run alongside each other. Usually she’d just give up and do zoomies by herself around the field. The only real interactions were them snuggling on her at night or in the colder months, and sometimes them pushing the big ball with group effort to her only to have it batted away lazily with one hoof each time.
After only three years she got sick and died rather quickly. He’d made back a bit over her cost in the advertising views on the internet videos he’d uploaded of the interactions every so often. In the end the experience only answered one question, which was why people wanted one over the other. The Fluffies seemed able to live anywhere, were cheap and replaceable, didn’t seem to need much exercise, and the talking made them more interesting. Plus they shit far less, that damn tiny horse seemingly never stopped lifting her tail and dropping mountains of crap then eating it. The only upsides to the beast he could tell was that the will of an aggressive horse could be easily broken, and their bodies were far less easily broken.
The rainbow squatters were the winners in ol’Brunher’s book.