The world was quiet now. Finally, everything was peaceful. Joshua wished he could stay like this forever.
“Are you ready to come out?”
He heard her voice… But he didn’t listen to it. Instead he just turned away.
“You can take as much time as you need.”
At this point, Joshua felt like no amount of time would be enough. It was peaceful here. Things made sense here. Why would he ever leave? To his relief, the prodding voice let him be, and so he could rest. But… Even he knew he couldn’t stay here and sleep forever… As nice as it sounded… And so eventually… It was time to wake up and come out.
Joshua rocked back and forth in place, and as he did cracks began to form throughout his peaceful world. Harsh light broke through into his quiet darkness… And then his old world came falling apart.
He was still in the cave, not much had changed. His own clothing was scattered in a pile on the ground around him. He could vaguely remember when he had started shrinking out of them, right before he had been brought into his own peaceful world… As for that world… The fragments of it lay around him piled atop his former clothing. The person he had come to see had transformed him and sealed him away in an egg. Inside the egg it had been peaceful, he had slept for hours and felt no stressor fear… But now he was back in the larger world, and his tiny naked body shuddered from the cold.
“There, there, it’s okay…” The owner of the voice, the one he had come to see spoke up. She knelt down on her knees to get as close to eye level as possible with Joshua. She was a strange creature, not quite animal, not quite human. She was an alligator, covered in green scales, with a long snout and longer tail. Yet, she stood on two legs like a human, and reached a height of around five feet. She scooped Joshua up off the ground and clutched him to her chest, warming him in an instant.
Joshua slowly began to take in more of the world around him, starting with himself. He had been a human and in his twenties before he came here… Now he was about twenty seconds old. Just like the alligator that held him, he too was covered in scales. He twitched his new tail as an experimentation… He really was like her now… A creature halfway between gator and human. He knew she had promised she could do this to him… But he hadn’t believed. For now, he buried his snout and face into her chest and held out his arms to embrace her.
“A cuddly little guy aren’t you?” The gator began to stroke the top of Joshua’s head. The longer he was out of the egg, the more awake he felt. He could remember coming to the cave now after he had heard the rumors… A magical witch that could grant wishes… Her name was Heloise… And it turned out that while she was a witch, her powers didn’t really grant wishes… In fact they were mostly limited to making others like her.
But that was enough to grant the wish of someone who just wanted to run away. But… Maybe he shouldn’t run away forever.
“Are you feeling any better?” Heloise asked. She sat down on the cave floor and held Joshua in her lap.
“Grooooawr.” Joshua nodded slowly. After the nap inside the egg, and now being held like this, things did feel a little better.
“You can stay like this as long as you like.” Heloise moved Joshua so that he was cradled in her arms and began to rock him back and forth. “In fact, I can even put you back in the egg if you need more time. You just let me know when you’re feeling better and ready to take on the world.”
Joshua just nodded at this. As she rocked him, he began to feel tired again. He had just woken up… Just hatched actually… But he supposed in the body of an infant like this he didn’t have much in stamina. And… In Heloise’s embrace he just felt so warm and safe. It was hard not to drift back into slumber. And in sleep… His worries were forgotten completely… Replaced with dreams of adventure, exploring a giant swamp, making a huge splash jumping into the water, scaring the birds…
And when he awoke… He was still safely in Heloise’s arms.
It was hard to say how long Joshua stayed like this. Being so young, he wound up taking a lot of naps, and from inside the cave he couldn’t tell day from night. But… Eventually it did come time to return. There was no telling how many days had actually passed… It was enough for wearing pants to feel awkward now… But eventually he agreed to be returned to his original form and age.
“Thank you…” After getting dressed, Joshua gave an embarrassed bow to Heloise who watched him with idle interest.
“Don’t worry about it, we all get stressed out sometimes.” Heloise let loose a small laugh. “The important thing is to get back up and go again after you finish taking care of yourself.”
“Yeah…” Joshua rubbed the back of his head. Part of him would have rather stayed a baby alligator… But being that small and helpless gave him time to think… And he realized he really couldn’t bring himself to do that. “I guess so…” And that was why he was heading back now.
“But… Hey, we all need a break sometimes, so feel free to stop by next time life gets to hectic.” Heloise winked. “And maybe bring a friend. You’ll have more fun if there’s someone your own age to play with.”
“R-right…” Joshua laughed to try to hide how much the idea appealed to him. Instead, he quickly gave the gator a wave before finally leaving the witch’s cave.