One night, Cris feels a strange sensation, something calling him into the woods. He has no idea what or why he suddenly feels drawn to the forest, but he follows the call… And as a result winds up undergoing a major transformation. Or perhaps… He simply became more true to himself.
Cris was out in the middle of the woods some time close to midnight. Why was he here? He couldn’t really explain it himself. He felt like someone had called him here. That didn’t make any sense. He had simply been at home minding his own business when it happened. Then suddenly, he felt drawn to the forest on the outskirts of town. He put his shoes on and was out the door before he even realized what he was doing. It wasn’t until he was lost in the middle of the woods that it occurred to him to think about his actions.
Why had he just done all that?
And yet, even as he asked himself that. He still felt like he was being called. Like somewhere deep in the woods someone was shouting his name. But he didn’t hear anything. It didn’t make any sense. Was this just a trick of his imagination? If so, it was a pretty good one to get him out here, especially this late at night. He knew he should be trying to find his way out of the woods, and yet he wanted to go further in, find out what was calling him.
Or if anything even was calling him. Perhaps the daily grind of work had finally driven him insane.
Cris moved through the woods, branches tearing at his jeans and shirt as he walked straight through underbrush into a deeper segment. Then, suddenly he stepped through a bush and there was a large open area. There was an extremely large oak tree, bigger than most buildings in the center of the clearing. Other than that, it was just grass and flowers. The tree itself looked ancient, almost as if it was older than the entire forest. Was this what Cris had come out here to find? But again the question of why? And how did he know where to find it?
The answer to that was something it would take some time for him to completely understand. But he got a clue as to why when he stepped towards the tree and the ground beneath his feet lit up. A glowing purple circle of light, strange symbols and stars interwoven throughout the entire circle and Cris standing right in the middle of it. The circle was centered around him. Startled, Cris tried to jump out of the circle but his body refused to move more than a couple of inches. It was like an invisible wall surrounded the circle keeping him in.
And that was where things got truly strange. Cris’ clothing began to get much looser on him. His features softened. Muscle tone faded away. He let out a small shout of surprise, only to find his voice was much higher pitched than it should have been. Like a child’s voice. He was getting younger! For about half a moment he wondered how this could happen, then remembered the magic circle and realized that question had already been answered. How it worked, and the fact magic was real brought up a lot more questions but it wasn’t as if there was anyone around he could ask right now.
As Cris continued to get younger, most of his clothing fell into a pile at his feet, leaving him only in an oversized shirt. Then other changes started. The first, he didn’t notice as he couldn’t see it. But he did notice the sudden difference in his perception. It was like his hearing had suddenly improve a thousandfold, able to make out every noise in the forest. He had no idea that his ears were now covered in brown fur, pyramid shaped, and sitting atop his head.
But, the next physical change was hard not to notice. And that was the very sudden sprouting of a brown fluffy tail from the tip of his spine. It was like a cat’s tail! Or actually it probably was a cat tail. Cris was about to ask why he suddenly had a tail, and then again remembered the magic circle. His real questions should be on how that thing was possible and how it worked. It was the obvious culprit for his changes.
He should have been more scared. Getting younger, suddenly having a tail. But… It was strange. Something about having a cat tail just felt right. It was hard to describe, but it almost felt like a part of himself had been missing until just this moment. A part he had never noticed before. But as he looked back over his shoulder at his new tail he could feel nothing but a warm feeling of comfort at seeing it.
The physical changes didn’t stop with ears and a tail though. Cris soon had claws in place of his nails. And then fur covered both his hands and feet. The fur grew in, extending up to his elbows on his arms and up to his knees on his legs. His hands had small pads on them, and fluffy sheaths hid his new claws. His feet changed more drastically. He nearly fell over as his gait shifted, and he found himself standing on his toes. His feet looked like the hind legs of an animal, and they two had pads on the bottom of them. Paws and paw-like hands.
At that point, Cris got distracted from the change as his clothing was getting so large it was getting hard to keep his shirt on. He grabbed at it, trying to hold it up around him as he got smaller. But soon he was starting to feel weaker. He lost his grip, and fell backwards onto his bottom, getting tangled up into the shirt. He tried to stand back up. But no matter how much he tried he couldn’t manage to stand for more than a couple of seconds before falling over.
“Meow.” Cris tried to talk. But he wasn’t able. That could have been part of the whole being a catboy thing, or it could be because he was close to a newborn in age.
Suddenly, the inside of the great tree lit up, like the lights inside a house. Something emerged from the trunk of the tree. An old woman dressed in furs and leathers, messy gray hair, as long as her body. Though she was short as she hunched over, supporting herself on a staff.
And suddenly, Cris remembered something from his childhood. Well, his original childhood. Just old playground rumors. People used to say that the woods were haunted, and there was a witch in them that ate children. After growing up, Cris realized these were just made-up stories, likely to scare children away from playing in the woods where they might get hurt. But, in his current state, looking up at the woman, his was being forced to reevaluate his worldview.
“What are you doing in the circle?” The probably witch asked. “You’re not the familiar I summoned… And… You’ve made a complete mess of the spell…” She sighed and tapped her staff against the ground. The magic circle disappeared.
“Mew… Meow!” Suddenly concerned that he might be on the menu. Cris tried to crawl to safety. But the old woman was quick for her age. She picked him up off the ground and wrapped him up in the shirt he had been wearing.
And then something strange happened. The panic he felt faded. He felt calm, safe. The moment the witch had touched him it was as if he had an instant connection to her. Someone like family.
“Well…” The witch gently cradled Cris in her arms. “Don’t know how you managed to mess it up. You must think like a cat or something. But… I guess we’ll both have to make the best use of this. Hmmm… Do I feed you human food, or cat food?” She thought for a moment. “Milk now and fish when you’re older is probably a safe bet.” And with that she turned and walked back into the tree.
The tales were partially true. The woman Cris met that night in the woods was indeed a witch. And she lived inside the tree. The inside of the tree was essentially a large wooden cottage, with some surprising modern comforts, including cable TV and internet access. Not quite the usual signs of an evil child eating witch.
Cris came to know the witch simply as Matron. And she had no interest in eating him. In fact, she was quite good to Cris. And over the next five years had seen to his every need. Matron was as baffled as Cris by what had happened on that night. She previously had a familiar, who fell in love with an alley cat. So, she released the familiar from her services so they could go pursue their love. Then she had cast a spell to summon a new familiar. It was supposed to only effect cats, and only cats that would answer the call and want to become familiars. Somehow, Cris had heard the call, and he had followed it. It made the entire spell go awry, turning him partially into a cat and reducing him to an infant.
Now five years old, Cris had adapted to living with Matron quite well. He was a rambunctious youth. And fully capable of speech again now that he was older. Now that he was old enough to at least help out, he was being taught how to be a familiar. It largely involved helping the witch find the right spell book or the right potion ingredient. It was sort of like being a secretary, but there was magic and you got to have a tail. When he wasn’t assisting Matron, he had the run of the woods. Even at five years old, thanks to being part cat he was far more agile and acrobatic than he had been as an adult. The forest was a playground of trees to climb and explore.
Today was another day much like any other. Cris had just returned back to the great oak tree after prowling around in the woods. He was naked, which had been the norm for him for the last five years. His old clothes were far too big. And while he could have maybe fashioned a loincloth or something if he wanted, it just didn’t seem to bother him. Nudity didn’t bother him, and Matron didn’t seem to care, so he never bothered trying to get new clothing.
“Good there you are Cris.” Matron addressed him as he got back. “Another witch from beyond the hills is having trouble getting a new familiar. Her arms are just too unsteady to draw the circle, so we’re going to make a potion, essentially a magic circle in a bottle for her. Grab me the book on Familiar Binding Rituals.
“Right!” Cris purred affectionately as Matron ruffled his hair. While he had not been the familiar she wanted, she had made the best of it, and proven to be an affectionate caretaker, often doting on him. Cris almost treated her like something akin to a mother, one he was eager to please. He quickly ran to the back room where there was a shelf of several books. The one he needed was on a high shelf beyond his reach. Maybe that would have been a problem to someone who wasn’t part cat. But hie numbly climbed up the front of the bookshelf, grabbed the book and leaped down to the ground. Then he brought the book to Matron who sat it on a table next to a cauldron.
Cris jumped up onto the table to watch her work. Five years ago he had learned magic was real. And he had not stopped wanting to learn more about it since. Anytime Matron worked a spell or potion Cris liked to watch to try to figure out how it worked. He watched the old witch diligently read from the book before grabbing certain herbs and mushrooms tossing them into the cauldron. Cris spared a glance at the book and froze recognizing a picture on it. There was a drawing of the same magic circle that had transformed him five years ago. They were making the same spell! Just in bottle form.
“So… Is your friend going to wind up with a human, or demihuman as a familiar too?” Cris asked looking at the book.
“I hope not.” Matron let out a laugh. “I’m still confused as to how it happened to you. Been studying this spell the last five years since it happened and can’t find anything wrong with it.”
“Huh? You have?” This was news to Cris.
“A spell misfires like that and you tend to want to know why.” Matron responded. “But everything I find says the spell worked correctly. And… You did become my familiar. The problem was, you’re not a cat.”
“Well I’m part cat now.” Cris insisted.
“I hadn’t noticed.” Matron teased and scratched one of his ears. “Best I can have my theories, like, you were already part cat before you walked into the circle. The magic just made it more obvious.”
“Already part cat?” Cris gave her a confused look. Five years was a long time for a child, even one that used to be an adult, so he didn’t remember al the details from that night very well. “I’m pretty sure I was human.”
“Maybe on the outside. But in here.” Matron poked Cris on the forehead. “An entirely different story. You may have been human, but you thought like a cat and so were able to hear the spell’s call. Once a human triggered it, then it didn’t know what to do and tried to remedy the situation and basically collapsed in on itself… And you.”
“What makes you certain I thought like a cat?” Cris asked.
“For starters, you sleep in late into the day. Are more active at night. I’ve seen you get mesmerized by string or small moving animals. And you treat the entire forest as if it’s your territory to do as you wish with.”
“But… I do that because I’m part cat now.” Cris explained.
“Spell didn’t do anything to your noggin.” Matron smiled and shook her head. “You’re still you. Meaning you chose to do all those things. You likely wanted to do them as a human but simply wouldn’t because of social repercussions. Now, you have an excuse to act out however you please.” She paused for a moment. “Perhaps that’s why you were deaged as well. You do seem to enjoy acting childish.”
“Do not!” Cris stuck his tongue out.
“Case and point.” Matron grinned smugly.
“So… Does that mean that there’s never gonna be another familiar like me?” Cris asked.
“Not unless something goes wrong.” Matron noticed a pleading tone in his voice. “Is something wrong.”
“Well… Just get bored sometimes.” Cris enjoyed living in the forest. Everyday was an adventure. But Matron was too old to be running around the woods with him. He would have loved to have a brother or sister as a playmate.
“You want company.” Matron looked thoughtful. “Nothing says a witch can only have one familiar. But if I cast the spell again more likely than not I’ll get a normal cat. Though, they could still keep you company.”
“There anyway you could make another catboy or catgirl?” Cris asked. “Maybe the same age as me?”
“Knowing what happened… It’s possible. But there’d have to be someone in range who wanted to be like a cat, and would want to answer the call to be a familiar. These binding spells only work on the willing. Of course, they know what the familiar wants deep down better than the familiar themselves sometimes.”
“So it could be done…” Cris grinned. “I know what I want for my birthday.”
“Your birthday is a long way off.” Matron huffed.
“Still! I want a brother or sister to play with! Someone my own age!” Cris insisted.
“Heh, more likely than not the only way they’re going to be the same age as you is if I give you a bit of a youth potion to turn you back into an infant. Remember, the spell made you a baby. It’d do the same thing to anyone else who walked into it. Probably.”
“Huh… So I’d go back to not being able to talk or walk.” Cris crossed his arms and thought about it. Being able to run and explore the forest was a lot of fun. If he became an infant again it’d be at least three years before he was capable enough to properly run and play. And it was only at age five that he had really gotten agile enough to climb to the top of trees and leap to other branches. Five years of mostly hanging out around the oak tree.
Though, he wouldn’t be alone. Even if he was too young to talk or walk he was certain he and a his new sibling familiar could get into a bit of mischief that’d be fun to pass the time.
“I think I’m okay with that.” Cris grinned and nodded.
“Hmph.” Matron muttered. “One of you is enough trouble. But… I suppose children shouldn’t grow up by themselves. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Yes!” Cris shouted and did a little happy dance on top of the table now that he was going to get a brother or sister.
“After we finish the current work.” Matron replied. “I’m missing some Moon Sage. Think you can go out in the forest and find some.”
“I’m on it!” Cris leaped from the table and took off through the front door on the tree’s trunk. This was far from the first time he had been given an errand like this. And he always followed through on them. But this time, there was a bigger prize for when it was done. And so, Cris was just a little more focused on doing what was asked of him today.
After all. This life was pretty good. But it’d be even better with a friend. And he’d have one very soon.