Margaret aimed a spray of water at the pecan tree, rinsing the blood and assorted gore off the bark. Cider lay nearby in a cardboard box, wrapped in a layer of quickly reddening towels. As she watched the reddened water run down the bark of the tree, Margaret felt empty. Could she have saved him? Rationally, no. It was a given that the fluffies were all going to out live her. She didn’t need a doctor to tell her that. And when she did finally kick it, she doubted anyone would be willing to spend thousands on a mentally ill unicorn to keep him in therapy.
Yet Margaret couldn’t help but ask herself if there was another way. The energy and resolve she had before pulling the trigger was gone, leaving nothing but a vast emptiness. Margaret turned the spray of water off and began to reel the hose up, placing it back on the wall where it belongs. Returning, Margaret retrieved the box that housed the dead unicorn. Carrying the it through the gate, Margaret nearly tripped as the herd swarmed to surround her. “Hello dears, give me just a moment and Mommy will come talk to you about what happened.”
“Buh Mumm-” Jackson began. “No buts, Mommy will be back very soon.” Reluctantly, the herd parted to allow Margaret passage to the house. Carrying the makeshift coffin inside, Margaret lay a few paper towels down on the kitchen counter before placing the box atop it. She had briefly considered leaving him on the porch, but the risk of attracting coyotes was far to great. She would need to call either Bill or Thomas to come dig a hole deep enough to prevent some pest from desecrating the colt’s grave.
With a sigh, Margaret turned and walked back out to the garden, the fluffies already waiting at attention as she took her place on the deck. “I’m sure you all have a load of questions, and now is your time to ask them.” Jackson slowly raised his hoof. “Wha happen tu Cidew?”
Margaret grimaced. “Cider had to go forever sleepies because he was so very sick.” Honey and Dawn began to cry loudly at this declaration, Bumbler silently shaking with grief as the rest of the herd gasped in shock. “Buh Cidew am onwy widdew babbeh!” Clementine cried out as she wrapped her hoofpads around her foals in shock, the foals chirping in surprise at the sudden embrace. Margaret nodded sadly. “Cider had a terrible sickness and he wasn’t going to be able to get better from it.”
Button gasped. “Do fwuffies awso hab sickies?” Margaret quickly shook her head. “No dearies, the sickness Cider had was a sickness that can’t be spread.” The herd seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. “Tomorrow, we will say our final goodbyes to Cider, so there will be no work. Now please head to your beds, its far past all of our bed times.”
Margaret turned to head back inside, but was stopped short by a tug at the hem of her pants. “Mummah, nee’ huggies?” Grapenut stared up at the old woman with a worried look in his eyes. “Mummah make sad wawas su nee’ huggies wite?” Margaret wiped at her eye, surprised as her finger came back dampened with tears neither she nor the other fluffies seemed to have noticed. Perhaps the stallions position at the front of the formation gave him an advantage in sighting the tears.
“No dear, I will be fine.” Grapenut’s worried expression intensified. “Nu, if mummah fine den nu make sad wawas. Dun’ wowwy, huggies make sad wawas gu way.” Margaret stared at him, momentarily stunned. “You make a sound point. Alright dear, one hug.” Grapenut cooed gently as Margaret held him against her chest, nuzzling his head under her chin. “Wub mummah.”
Margaret held him there for a bit, and for the first time in a long while, allowed herself a few moments of silent grieving. After making sure her cheeks were fully dry, she set Grapenut on the ground. “Alright dear, head on off to bed, I’ll see you in the morning.” The two made their way to their respective beds, Margaret turning to make sure Grapenut made it to his coop before heading inside and quickly doing her nightly routine, making a note to call Thomas early tomorrow.
Thomas showed up early the following morning, shovel in hand. The morning pleasantries were short lived, and soon Thomas was at work digging a grave in the soil, using his shovel to hack a rough rectangle out of the thick prairie grass. Margaret had a difficult time deciding where to place the grave. After some discussion with Thomas, they decided on an area in the corner of the garden, out of the way enough to not disrupt work yet close enough to allow the fluffies to come and visit the departed, with enough room to expand.
Margaret watched as Dawn and Honey played a game of huggie tag with Clementine’s foals, giggling and laughing as the smaller foals waddled at them chirping happily. She had been hoping that the fluffies would get over the death quickly, especially since Cider had isolated himself with his odd behaviors even since he was a small foal, and it seems so long as they weren’t directly talking about the colt, they did. That is, with one exception.
Bumbler still sat in his usual place in front of the rose bed. Even by his usual stoic demeanor he was clearly depressed by the loss of his firstborn son. Every now and then another member of the herd would stop next to the unicorn, talk for a bit, give him a hug and then trot back off to their games or nap. Margaret prayed that he would be able to recover after the burial.
For now, it was time to prepare the body. Thomas had managed to quickly fashion a coffin from an old egg crate. Margaret lifted the bloodied bundle from the ratty cardboard box and placed it into the coffin. The bundle was much heavier than she had expected, perhaps part of the fluffy programming involved shifting their weight to make lifting them easier.
“Margaret? I finished digging!” Margaret hefted the crate into her thin arms and walked out to the garden. Thomas had dug down about four feet into the soil, propping up a wooden cross with “Cider” painted on it in calligraphy script behind it. Margaret smiled. “That looks lovely dear. Would you mind making one for Scarlet too? She never got a proper burial.” Thomas nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ll make one tonight.”
Thomas walked over and took the coffin out of Margaret’s hands, setting it in the hole. “Are we going to have any sort of ceremony?” Margaret nodded. “I’m hoping that a proper goodbye will help Bumbler deal with his loss.” The old woman sighed. “Certainly helped me with Leo.”
“Hope so, seeing the little asshole that depressed hurts my heart.” Margaret chuckled. “He really seems to have redeemed himself since his smarty days hasn’t he?” She let out a long sigh. “Well it’s finally time to say goodbye. Are you able to stick around for a bit afterwards Thomas? I have something I need to discuss with you.”
Thomas nodded. “No problem. I can always make time for you Margaret.”
“I hope so.”
Before Thomas could ask for the meaning behind those words, Margaret turned and walked over to the deck. “Line up dears!”
The fluffies quickly made their way into formation, Honey and Dawn assisting Clementine in herding the foals into place. Margaret smiled at the foals indignant chirping at the abrupt end of their playtime before putting on a stoic expression. “Today is a very sad day. Today we say our final goodbyes to Cider.”
Margaret led the herd to the grave, careful to prevent any of them from falling into the open grave. “Cider will be taking his forever sleepies here, so we can visit and talk to him when we miss him.” A tentative pink hoof rose from the back of the formation. “Wiww Cidew make wakies if we tawk enuff?”
The old woman shook her head sadly. “Sorry sweetheart, but Cider isn’t going to ever wake up.” Dawn’s eyes began to grow wet with tears. “Buh bwudda onwy sweepies wite? Why no wakies?” Archibald trotted over and wrapped the filly up in a hug. “Cidew am tu tiwed tu wakies, nee’ sweepies tu be stwong enuff to make it tu Skettiwand!”
Margaret breathed a sigh of relief as Archibald told the enthralled herd of Skettiland, a mystical world made of the bestest sketties in the whole world that fluffies go to after they take their forever sleepies. Explaining the concept of death to the mental equivalent of children had not been high on her list of desires for that afternoon. According to Archibald, to get to Skettiland you needed to be really, REALLY well rested to make the journey, since you needed to grow a pair of big wingie places and fly there.
“Buh why nu’ can go tu Skettiwand now?” Honey cried petulantly. “Wan’ eat aww da sketties!” Archibald shook his head sadly, Margaret’s ring flashing in the sun as he did so. “Fwuffy nu’ am weady fo’ Skettiwand yet.” The filly shifted around grumpily, but seemed to accept the answer. Margaret took this as her chance to bring the goodbye ceremony to a close.
“Alright dears, its time for us to say goodbye to Cider for now, at least until you meet him again in Skettiland.” Margaret smiled as a chorus of “Bye bye Cidew!” came from the herd. Margaret turned to face The young man leaning against the fence. “Thomas, can you give me a hand in filling the hole in?” Thomas flashed her a thumbs up as he picked up his shovel and walked back through the garden gate. “Alright, the rest of you can go back to playing.”
The herd dispersed quickly with a single exception, Bumbler walking up to watch as Thomas filled in the grave. Margaret walked over to sit next to the stallion. “What are you thinking about dear? Are you worried about Cider making it to Skettiland?” The pony huffed sadly. “Mummah, am Skettiwand weawwy weal?”
Margaret smiled at the pony. “Of course it is dear. All good fluffies go to Skettiland.” Bumbler visibly tensed up. “Am… Am fwuffy gud fwuffy naow mummah?” Margaret smiled and picked the pony up, placing him in her lap. “Of course dear. While you used to be a bad fluffy, you are now a very VERY good fluffy.” Bumbler relaxed, snuggling himself into her lap. The two watched as Thomas filled in the hole. Bumbler shifted around to face Margaret. “Mummah?” Margaret looked down at the unicorn. “Yes dear?”
“Wiww Punky gu to Skettiwand?”
Margaret laughed. “No, Punky will never be able to go to Skettiland. She was far too mean and nasty to get there.” Bumbler looked back to the now filled in grave. “Dat am gud. Nu wan’ Cidew to see Punky evah ‘gain.” The two sat and stared at the grave for a few moments longer, The old woman stroking the unicorn’s soft back. Finally, Margaret set the pony down on the ground. “Alright dear, I need to go have a chat with Thomas. I will see you at dinnertime.”
Hauling herself to her feet, Margaret motioned Thomas over to the table and chair set on the deck. “Take a seat dear, I’ll brew us some coffee then we’ll talk.” As Thomas took a seat Margaret walked inside and set the pot to brew, picking two mugs out of the cabinet along with some cream and sugar. Filling the cups, she placed them on a tray alongside the cream and sugar, carrying them out to the deck and sitting in a chair beside Thomas. The two sat and sipped their coffee for a few minutes, just watching the fluffies frolic and play.
“So what did you want to talk to me about Marge?” Thomas asked as he took a long sip of coffee.
“I’m dying Thomas.”
Thomas spat his coffee out, sputtering and choking. “What do you mean you’re dying? You seem fine!” Margaret smiled sadly. “I can just feel it coming Thomas. I expect I have one, maybe two years left before I kick it.” Thomas leaned back in his chair in disbelief. “Have you told the family yet?”
Margaret nodded. “Of course I did. None of them are very happy about it, but none of us really have a choice in the matter. “So why are you telling me?” Thomas asked confused. Margaret reached over and gave Thomas a pat on the back. “Thomas you’re like an adopted son to me these days. Also, I have a pretty big request for you.” Thomas nodded slowly. “Ok, shoot.”
Margaret looked out at the garden. “It was only about half a year ago that I was completely prepared to die. Will was written, bucket list crossed off, all I was doing was taking care of my garden. I have lived a good, long life. Leo went on ahead of me and I was ready to meet him again. I had nothing to regret.” The old woman let out a sigh. “But now, I do. I will regret not being able to take care of these fluffies, not being able to provide them a safe place for the rest of their lives, not being able to be their mommy any more. And that’s why I wanted to ask you Thomas. When I am finally gone, I plan to leave the house and land to you, along with a sizable chunk of my estate, on the condition you take care of the fluffies until they die.”
Thomas attempted to cut the old woman off. “What about the family? Wouldn’t they object to you leaving the house to me?” Margaret laughed. “They’ll be fine with it, Bill already owns the actual family home, this is just an old workers house that I had him renovate when I moved out.”
The two were quiet for a few minutes longer as Margaret finished her coffee before Thomas responded to her, straining to keep from choking up as he spoke. “I’ll do it. Not only am I going to do it, I’ll turn this place into a goddamn fluffy sanctuary.” Margaret laughed loudly. “Don’t know if I would go that far Thomas, but just take care of them for me.”
The two sat for a while and a few cups of coffee longer, before Thomas said his goodbyes and Margaret went inside to begin preparing dinner for the herd.