It wouldn’t be horror without a little bloodshed. Or a lot… I read about this a long time ago and it’s been on my mind ever since. It was bound to come out in a story sooner or later, so here we go. Allow me to introduce you to the cutest ball of adorableness in all the fluffy worlds:
Mr. Fluffers and The 16th Avenue Massacre
“I’m telling you, Francine, it’s a bad idea,” Joe insisted as he opened the door for his wife. “If you want to get the kids a pet, start with something easy, like a goldfish.”
Francine glared at him. “You can’t pet a goldfish.”
“No, but it won’t shit all over the house, either.”
She gave him a look and he rolled his eyes, making a smooth U-turn back to the parking lot. “I’ll wait in the car.” It smelled better, anyway. Besides, the last thing he wanted to do was argue with his wife. Their daughters were seven and four years old, and were more interested in YouTube videos than anything in the actual real world. This pet experiment would be a disaster, and damned if Joe would lift a finger to fix it. Francine’s idea, her responsibility.
She sure was taking her sweet time in that pet store, though. With the sun blazing straight down, the car began to feel too much like an oven for his comfort so, even though he hated wasting gas this way, Joe turned on the engine and cranked up the A/C. And then he waited.
Finally, forty-fucking-five minutes later, Francine emerged with a perforated cardboard carrying box and two large shopping bags filled with God only knew what. “Yyyep, that’s the makings of a colorful credit card statement right there.” But the smile on Francine’s face made it all worth it. “Did you buy the whole store?” he asked when she opened the trunk to put everything away.
“Wait ’til you see what I got. The girls are going to lose their minds!”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he muttered.
Luckily, traffic was light on the way home and they got back in time to stash their purchases in the back of the garage before the girls saw a thing. Today was a big day for Kasey and Tris: the first annual Siblings Day. Joe and Francine had totally made it up last Christmas after their daughters had set the tree on fire, fighting over a present that had lost its name tag. It never hurt to foster a little sisterly love. This way, they got a whole day to remind them there were good things about having a sibling and sharing things they didn’t necessarily want to share.
They’d ordered all the girls’ favorite take-out food, lined up all their favorite princess movies, and finally, at the height of a manic sugar rush, Francine decided it was time to unveil their present. “This is a sibling present,” she told the girls sternly. “You’ll have to share it, and all the responsibilities that go with it. Understand?”
The girls nodded–or rather, tossed their heads wildly–in agreement, and Joe doubted they heard a single thing his well-meaning wife was saying to them.
And then came the grand reveal. Joe watched the girls grip the edge of the couch as they held their breaths, staring wide-eyed at the doorway where Francine had disappeared, and he couldn’t help grinning. Yeah, a pet was a stupid idea at this point, but just look at how excited they were. Joe couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this excited about anything. Francine came back, carrying the box-shaped present draped with the expensive silk scarf he’d bought her for her birthday that she never got to wear because they never had time to go out. She placed it on the coffee table, then dramatically pulled off the scarf to reveal a cage, and in it…
A bunny rabbit.
The girls gasped, then gaped wordlessly at the adorable ball of fluff before them. Joe hated to admit it, but the damn thing really was cute, squatting there with its big ears drooping down on either side of its round-cheeked face and big, shiny eyes. It was all brown, except for its front paws, like a pair of mismatched socks–one pure white, the other all black. Joe had never seen such coloring before.
The bunny twitched its nose and the girls went crazy, screaming their heads off in unison, then jumping up and running circles around the living room. Francine laughed, watching them, and so did Joe but, inwardly, he just hoped they didn’t accidentally slam into the TV.
“Remember, you’ll have to take care of it,” Francine reminded them.
“We will!” Kasey promised, speaking for her younger sister as well. “I swear we will!”
They crowded the cage, making baby noises at the bunny, who was surprisingly mellow in the face of all that chaos. Even when the girls rattled its cage, the bunny just blinked its big eyes at them and chilled out. Maybe this could work, after all…
“The pet store owner said it’s a boy,” Francine said. “What do you want to call him?”
“Mr. Fwuffers!” Tris declared, sticking her little index finger into the cage to pet her new best friend. Just when Joe started forward to yank his precious daughter’s hand back before the rabbit bit her finger clean off, the newly dubbed Mr. Fluffers twitched his whiskers, making Tris giggle in delight. Yeah, maybe they could make this work…
A week went by and Joe couldn’t believe the change in his daughters. They were wholly absorbed with their new pet. In the morning, they took Mr. Fluffers out of his cage and let him hop around their room while they got ready. They took turns cuddling him, tugging on his ears, and bumping noses with him for so long Joe had to take the animal away from whichever daughter had him so they could rush through getting ready for school and preschool. The moment they got back home in the afternoon, they closed themselves in their room and Joe heard nothing but giggles and baby noises coming out of there as they played with the bunny. They even split the chores. Kasey cleaned his cage every day, and Tris gave him food and water. They both brushed him down (even though he didn’t need it), and at night they both sang him a lullaby before falling asleep.
The trouble didn’t start until a month later, when Tris took Mr. Fluffers out of his cage and closed herself off in the bathroom to play with him alone. Joe heard the screaming from the garage where he was tinkering with his latest DIY gadget and raced inside, thinking someone was getting murdered. He and Francine both reached the hallway at the same time and stopped in their tracks.
“Give him back!” Kasey screamed, bashing the door with her kid-sized tennis racket so hard the handle cracked. “Tris! Open the door right noooooow!!” And then she just screamed, and screamed, until her face went bright red.
Joe snatched the racket out of her hands, then pulled her away into his arms, scared shitless to see his little girl in what he could only call a pure, unadulterated rage. “Hey, now, what’s going on. Easy, baby, tell me what’s wrong.”
But she couldn’t. She tried, but her scream-crying took every breath she drew. Joe rocked her as Francine rubbed her back, both of them trying to soothe the tears away, but they just wouldn’t stop until Kasey literally passed out from it.
When the hallway quieted, the bathroom door opened and Tris came out, holding that damn bunny in her arms and humming to herself as she carried him back to his cage. She seemed completely oblivious to the tantrum she’d caused.
“Give her to me,” Francine said, her voice shaking as much as her arms as she reached for Kasey.
Joe handed her over. “Take her to our bedroom. I’ll check on Tris.”
His younger daughter was on her own bed, voluntarily taking her daily nap, and Mr. Fluffers was in his cage, watching her. He wasn’t doing anything bunnies don’t usually do, but still it gave Joe chills and, not about to leave the four-legged peeper alone in the room with his baby girl, Joe took the cage out to the living room. New rule for the care and maintenance of the fluff ball: he would now be living far away from where his little girls slept. “Stupid rabbit,” he muttered to himself as he set the cage down. “I told Francine you were a bad idea. Don’t get why the girls get so worked up over you, anyway.” He crouched down to stare at the animal. It really was adorable, squatting there, watching him with those big, glossy eyes, totally mellow.
Mr. Fluffers twitched his pink little nose and Joe felt a smile coming on.
“I think she’ll be okay,” Francine said behind him. “She’s breathing fine, and seems to be comfortable. I think it was just a tantrum. Joe? Are you listening? Joe!”
“Shit, I’m sorry, babe. I think I’m still worked up over the whole thing. Come here.” He pulled his wife into his arms, squeezed her tight, and sighed into her hair. “Told you we should have gone with the goldfish.”
Francine laughed, but he could tell she was still shaken. “So Mr. Fluffers lives here now?”
“Yeah. Let’s see if it makes a difference. If not, I’ll butcher the little shit myself and serve it to the girls for dinner.”
The rabbit’s new home made a difference, all right. Kasey and Tris not only returned to their old, adversarial selves, they got worse. Every morning and evening turned into a vicious fight over who would hold the rabbit, who would brush him, who would give him carrots. Kasey, it seemed, still hadn’t forgiven Tris for the bathroom stunt, and Tris, having no idea she’d done anything wrong, fought right back. They couldn’t even get through a quiet dinner without one of the girls starting a fight.
It got so bad, Joe walked around his own house in a constant state of irritation. He snapped at the girls, he was curt with Francine–and she snapped right back at him every time. But they all still took turns making sure the damned rabbit was okay.
And on one particularly ugly day, all of it came to a head.
“I want to play with Mr. Fluffers,” Kasey said.
Joe, in the process of feeding the animal, replied, “No.”
“I want to play with him now!” Kasey insisted.
Joe’s anger boiled to the surface, but he tamped it down, kept feeding Mr. Fluffers and didn’t look at his daughter. “Your homework isn’t finished and your side of the room is a mess. When you finish your chores, then you can play with Mr. Fluffers.”
“NOOOOW!!” Kasey screamed, kicking the side of the couch.
Joe whirled on her and screamed right back, “I said no!”
Kasey turned away as if to run, but she spun right back around, the end table lamp in her hands, coming straight at his head. It slammed into his temple, knocked him over, but not out. Still screaming, Kasey came at him a second time, but the power cord pulled her up short, allowing Joe to get back to his feet and snatch the lamp out of her hands.
Kasey darted around him for the cage, but Joe caught her by the back of her dress and yanked her back hard enough to make her fall on her ass. “Is your room clean?” he demanded. “Then stay away from my fucking rabbit!”
Tris’ soft voice cut off whatever Kasey had been about to scream back at him, and both of them looked over to see the four-year-old opening the cage to take Mr. Fluffers out. Rage lit Joe’s blood. Tris’ side of the room hadn’t been cleaned in a week, either. He started for his daughter, but Kasey tripped him and Joe went down, his head aiming straight for the entertainment center. He knocked himself out cold.
When he came to, the first thing he saw was Mr. Fluffers, watching him with those big, shiny eyes. Joe’s ears were ringing so bad he couldn’t hear himself moan, but as it slowly subsided, he began to pick up on things. There was a strong, metallic smell in the room that he couldn’t place. No smoke, so the house hadn’t been set on fire, but something was definitely wrong. Joe sat up, clutching his pounding head, and squinted around.
What the… “Francine!”
Stomach roiling as the world spun in triplicate, Joe climbed to his feet and felt his way around the couch. “Francine!”
Joe couldn’t catch his breath; couldn’t think straight. Everywhere he looked, he saw streaks of blood, broken glass, odds and ends strewn all over the floor. He needed to get to the phone, call the police and paramedics–
A foot stuck out beyond the kitchen island. A tiny one, with a pink sock soaked crimson. Joe wailed and dropped to his hands and knees, crawling forward when everything in him told him not to. He found his baby girl mutilated beyond recognition, the skin of her face hanging off the bone, her neck stabbed open, her pretty princess dress torn and soaked with blood. Shaking so hard he almost collapsed, Joe reached out to touch her, but pulled back. If he touched her, if she was really there to be touched, then that meant his little Tris was really dead.
“Fran–” He couldn’t make his voice work. “Francine… Francine!” Where was his wife? And Kasey! He had to find his family. Pushing to his feet again, Joe stumbled out of the kitchen and up the stairs, trying so hard to ignore the streak of blood tracking up the wall as if drawn by a small hand. “Francine!” he shouted over and over again.
The bedroom was empty. So was the bathroom.
But the girls’ room…
“Oh, sweet Jesus, no…”
Holding on to the wall for balance, Joe shuffled his feet through the doorway. The lock was broken, as if someone had kicked in the door. Inside, in the corner, his wife’s body was curled in a ball on the floor, her arms still over her head, but the killer hadn’t gone for her head. Instead, blood had poured out of multiple stab wounds on her side and back. “No… please, God…” Joe rushed to her, pulled her away from that cramped space, her body already pale and cold. This is a dream. I’m dreaming. It’s not real. It’s not real… he kept repeating it to himself as he rocked Francine, deaf to his own hoarse cries.
“I wanted to play with Mr. Fluffers.”
“I wanted to play, and she wouldn’t let me.”
He looked over his shoulder. Kasey sat on the floor, a big kitchen knife in her hand. “Have you seen Mr. Fluffers?”
Joe set down his wife’s dead body and crawled over to his daughter. “Give me the knife, Kasey.”
Instead, her fingers curled harder around the handle. “I want Mr. Fluffers!”
“Kasey, please give me the knife.”
Her chin quivered. “Mr. Fluffers! Mr. Fluffers! MR. FLUFFERS!”
Joe caught his daughter as she flew at him, but not fast enough to keep the knife from plunging into his stomach. Kasey screamed, pulling the knife out and aiming higher, her eyes bloodshot from crying, her beautiful face contorted with rage. Joe caught her arm as it descended, mercilessly twisted to snap her bones. The knife fell out of her hand and she howled in pain but, like a creature possessed, she came at him once more, beating at him with her good arm, kicking him over and over again.
Joe ducked his head, reached for the knife she’d dropped–
Mr Fluffers squatted in the doorway, watching him with those damn shiny eyes of his. Just a little brown ball of fluff with one forepaw black, one white, and his big ears hanging limp on either side of his round-cheeked face. Such an adorable little beast, just the cutest thing in the world. Looking at him, Joe felt as if time had slowed, giving him just a little longer to enjoy the bunny. They had a connection–Joe felt it every time he looked into Mr. Fluffers’ eyes. Just like now.
Mr. Fluffers raised his black paw, then hopped a couple of inches closer and time snapped back to normal speed. Joe snatched up the knife, twisted around and plunged it into Kasey’s chest.
She gasped, her mouth forming a shocked O. Her eyes blinked at him, and for just a moment, she almost looked like his sweet little seven-year-old Kasey. The same girl who’d played Let It Go on loop for two months after seeing Frozen. The same one who kept a pack of bubblegum under her pillow at all times. The same one who always used to run straight into his arms when he picked her up after school.
So Joe twisted the knife. Kasey fell sideways, her hands opening and closing, she looked away from him, saw Mr. Fluffers, and smiled, reaching for the rabbit even as her eyes slowly closed.
He’s mine, Joe thought fiercely, just before he passed out.
* * * * *
Officer Grady shook her head as she pulled the white sheet over Joe Lawrence’s face. “What the hell could drive a suburban dad to do something like this?”
“Guess we’ll never know,” the ME replied. “Hey, you know that guy?”
“Who?” Grady followed his pointing finger. The crowd of neighbors wouldn’t be thinning out any time soon. Not with two young kids and a wife viciously butchered in their own house by the man who should have kept them safe. But one face among them didn’t look like it belonged. The tall, lanky black man standing off to the side seemed normal enough in his old fashioned brown suit and white shirt. His top hat might have been a little on the old side, but nothing too weird.
His eyes, though… they were so pale for a moment Grady thought he was blind. But they stared straight at her, through her, until every hair on her body stood on end in apprehension. She felt chills looking at him; could almost swear she heard the rattle of a snake’s tail.
Then, suddenly he looked down, bent over, and picked up something small and fluffy. With his unnerving gaze focused back on Grady, he scratched the creature’s head, then turned his back and walked away.
Grady shook herself off and rubbed her aching head. “Christ, this case is going to give me nightmares for life.”
She wasn’t wrong…