In this Tale From Switch City, Cris journeys to Switch City by train, but winds up at a station called Cardboard Junction. Magic and whimsy ensue.
Tales From Switch City
Switch City: A place built upon a nexus in the multiverse. Where every single timeline in existence collides and meets together, and where the borders between them are tenuous. So thin, that it is easy to accidentally slip from one reality into another without even realizing it. These accidents are known as Reality Shifts. Due to the complicated nature of multiple timelines, it’s impossible to say for certain how many Reality Shifts have occurred. The difference between two timelines could be as simple as what color shirt you wore for your third-grade photo, or as complex as the world’s population being a completely different species, or the use of magic or hyper advanced technologies. There was, however, one group of people where subtle changes tended to have more effect; visitors to the city. For those just passing through who had no intention of staying, even a slight change could dramatically alter how their lives unfolded from there. But Switch City is, if anything, a dramatic place, and dramatic outcomes were to be expected.
Cris had no intention of staying in Switch City. His visit was of pure coincidence. The young man, his head sporting curly brown hair, had been ordered to travel for work. His job had agreed to foot the bill so long as Cris traveled by train. Buts there was no direct train from his home to his destination, this meant he had to change trains. It just so happened the switch was happening at the appropriately named Switch City. When Cris saw the city’s name, he thought it was kind of cute. He had assumed by the name that the city was some kind of travel hub, where trains proceeded with changeovers to different regions. It likely had a small local population, but nothing big. He had no idea what the real switch was that was awaiting him.
His train car was abandoned. It seemed not many people came to the city by train, so he had it to himself. And while that meant a somewhat private trip, it also made it was a little dull. He found himself drifting off in his seat when he was interrupted by the overhead PA system: ‘Ding!’ A chime played indicating an announcement. “We are approaching the final stretch for Switch City. Estimated arrival is in three hours.”
“Three hours?” Cris yawned. That was considered the final stretch? He had been on this train for almost a full day at this point, and he was dying to get out of the traincar and stretch his legs again. Though this urge was being fought by the simple desire to just find a bed as soon as possible and face plant onto it. Traveling was exhausting.
Well, there were three hours till he arrived, no one to talk to, and the scenery passing by was very mundane. That meant there was enough time for a nap. He was dressed comfortably, as he was not yet on the clock, and his stuffy business clothes were packed away in his suitcase in the overhead compartment. If he could manage to fall asleep on the train, maybe he could at least have enough energy to get to the next train platform before falling into his seat. His eyes flickered closed,. and before he even knew it, he had fallen into a deep slumber.This may have been for the best, as the version of Switch City he arrived in was so different from his own reality, that seeing the actual changeover when reality shifted might have been too much for him to comprehend.
Instead. he slept soundly- until he felt something soft poking at his nose of all things.
“Hey, mister…? Mister. The train reached its stop. You need to wake up if you’re getting off.” The voice sounded far too young to belong to any worker on the train, but it was enough to rouse Cris.
“Just five more minutes…” Cris muttered. His own voice sounded oddly light. But, as he opened his eyes, he froze. There was a cat sitting in the seat next to him. No- judging by its body proportions and its short tail, it was actually a kitten. A calico if he wasn’t mistaken. Except… The kitten was almost half as big as he was. Where did they raise cats that big!?
“There you are, mister. Was afraid you weren’t going to wake up.” The calico kitten spoke.
The calico kitten actually spoke.
“Wha?” Was all Cris managed to say.
“We’ve reached Cardboard Junction.” The kitten continued. “Whether you’re heading into town or taking a connecting train, this is your stop.” She purred, clearly happy to see Cris was awake. “You won’t be able to get back on the train after you leave, so don’t forget anything.” With that, the kitten leaped down from the seat, and ran out of the train car on all four legs.
“Talking cat…” Cris muttered under his breath, “…and a really big one too.” He went to stand up, but as he did, his shorts slid down to his ankles and his sandals slid right off his feet. Not only that, but he was practically swimming in his now gigantic shirt. “WHAT!?” Cris gave a shout, realizing once again something was wrong with his voice. He didn’t understand what was happening… And right now he really needed to.
He looked up to where his luggage was stored above his seat. There was no way he could reach it in his current state. He needed both an immediate explanation, and likely some help. Where did that calico go? It’d run out of the car right? He quickly took off after it, ignoring his bare feet slipping on the smooth train floor, and exited the car. He froze again as he saw the ‘train station.’
There was so much wrong that he couldn’t process it all at once.
First off, the entire train station was made of cardboard. The walls were just boxes stacked on top of each other, while the floor were boxes that had been flattened and laid out. Even the rails were just cardboard tubes that had been linked together. Every single thing was made of cardboard! At least all the buildings… Which brought him to the next oddity.
The train didn’t look like the one he had boarded. Instead, it looked like a giant version of one of those mall trains. The kind that kids ride around on, especially around Christmas time. All the cars were painted bright pastel colors and looked like giant toys. Heck, the engine itself looked like it might be made out of plastic and rubber.
And finally, there were the other visitors to the train station. All of them were giant kittens about half as big as Cris was. They were wandering about the station like it was all perfectly normal. Occasionally one kitten got distracted and pounced on another, or started chasing the reflection of light off a surface, or just started running back and forth along the train platform at full speed for no reason whatsoever. As he observed the giant kittens a thought occurred to him. Were they really giant? Despite the toy-like design of the train, the luggage compartment was too big for him to reach and get his stuff. None of his clothes fit, and his shirt was practically a tent hanging off of him. It seemed less that the cats were big, and more that he was small. But how- and more importantly why- did that happen!?
Cris’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a train whistle. Though it was just a playful ‘toot toot’ instead of a proper loud whistle, it got the message across. He turned around just to see the doors to the passenger car close behind him, as the train he had arrived on pulled out of the station.
“H-hey wait!” Cris chased after it, his shirt tripping him as he ran. “My stuff is still on there!” He tried, futilely, to catch it, but it quickly picked up speed and disappeared away from the station. Taking with it his luggage, his shorts, and by extension his wallet and cell phone. This meant he had no money and no way to call anyone for help. All he had was quite literally the shirt on his back, and that was starting to prove a hindrance of its own.. Even so, he was somewhat worried he might not even have that much longer.
Cris struggled to his feet. It was surprisingly difficult. The shirt had somehow gotten even bigger on him. When he finally managed to stand up, it dragged on the floor and the sleeves covered both his arms. He had to hold it close to his chest to prevent it from falling off completely. What the heck was going on?
Maybe that calico kitten would know what was going on! But… There were kittens everywhere! They had all kinds of fur patterns and colors too. He looked around desperately but didn’t see the calico anywhere in sight. Come to think of it… he didn’t actually see her leave the train, he’d only assumed. If she worked with the railroad, she might have left with it. Someone else was going to have to tell him what was going on.
Assuming he wasn’t dreaming.
Was he dreaming?
He tried to pinch himself.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Cris gave a shout, briefly drawing the fleeting attention of a few kittens around him. That hurt far more than it should have. He looked down at his arm and saw he had actually managed to draw a little bit of blood. How had he done that just from pinching himself? The answer became apparent when he looked at his hands, though that descriptor was increasingly inaccurate. His fingernails were now black in color and appeared to be sharp claws. He had claws. But why?
“Okay, that’s weird, but this is no time to panic,” he mused to himself. Actually, while he was alarmed he oddly didn’t feel like panicking. In fact, a large part of him wanted to jump atop a pile of cardboard boxes and see how high he could climb. He didn’t know where that urge was coming from, but this wasn’t the time to panic or to frolic. If this was a train station, and all signs pointed to it being so, even if it was made of cardboard, there had to be some kind of customer service center or a ticket booth and someone there would be able to help. He just had to find it.
He looked around for signs to tell him which direction he should search. Many of them were hard to read due to being written in crayon, and made out of cardboard like everything else. But, he saw what looked like a blue ‘i’ with a circle around it. That usually meant information! It was pointing up a flight of stairs! He had a place to go! He had a destination. Mentally, he was finding himself more excitable. but having a plan did a lot to calm him down despite the strange circumstances. Though being calmer had the strange effect of making that playful urge to jump on the boxes stronger. Or maybe he could tackle one of the other kittens and see if they wanted to play and… Wait, what was he thinking? He had to find out what was happening!
Cris hurried to the stairs. Much like everything else, they were made of cardboard, but had the added difficulty of each step being taller than a normal human step. The staircase itself was made up of multiple piles of boxes next to each other, stacked, each row having one more box than the previous one. The kittens looked like they had no troubles with the stairs. They each nimbly leaped up one box at a time as if it wasn’t a big deal. Cris, who found the first row box to be as big as he was,was a little more intimidated. He didn’t have a cat’s reflexes! How was he supposed to get up!? Well, he supposed he had to climb.
He grabbed the top of the first box, his new claws digging in to secure him. Despite being cardboard, it was surprisingly sturdy and held his weight as he pulled himself up. But, he needed both arms to climb, and as his shirt was bunching up around his shoulders. He reached an arm out of a sleeve and through the neck hole to get a better grip, causing the whole thing to slip right off of him, leaving him in nothing but his birthday suit. He let out a small gasp as he stood atop the first ‘step’ and stumbled back as he rushed to cover himself, realizing he was now completely naked. He nearly fell right back off, but luckily, by instinct his tail positioned itself to help center his gravity and kept him on his feet and saved him from a nasty fall.
“That was close…” Cris sighed with relief. Wait… Tail!?
He forgot about his nudity as a new concern shoved it out of the way. He had a tail now. It looked a lot like the tail all the kittens had. His had brown fur with darker brown spots on it. First he had somehow gotten tinier… Then he had claws… And now he had a tail. And come to think of it… Hadn’t his own voice sounded weird to him… Almost like…
It suddenly clicked. He was turning into a kitten!
Well, that would certainly make it a lot easier to get around. And that would make it absolutely trivial to see how high he could climb atop boxes. He could get up by leaps and bounds! Especially if he had paws instead of these clumsy human feet!
As if the universe had read his mind, his feet changed right before his eyes. He suddenly found himself standing on his toes, and the same brown spotted fur from his tail began to appear over his feet, slowly reaching up to his knees. At the same time, matching fur appeared over his hands. As they took on a more paw-like appearance, his new claws retracted into hidden sheaths.
He almost let out a laugh. His paws looked so soft. No one could tell from a glance they were actually death mittens: able to strike out with his claws at a moment’s notice if needed! Or use them to climb the greatest heights! Like that pile of boxes nearby and…
Was he enjoying this!? Why was he enjoying this? This was a serious situation he found himself in! Humans didn’t just turn into kittens, and yet all he could think about was wanting to test out the new feline parts of his body. But… He was part cat now. He was definitely a kid now, though who knew how old. His size didn’t give him any hint since he had also apparently shrunk… speaking of which…
Another cat leaped up the stairs, startling Cris from his thoughts. The cat was the same exact size as him. He might have still been partially human… But he was definitely completely cat sized now.
“Ohhhh I get it now.” His mind went off on another tangent. He was wondering how he would have even gotten his luggage out from the upper compartment being so small. But kittens could jump and probably get it open super easy. So that was the secret behind it and… Wait what was he thinking about! He had to get to that information booth!
Cris eyed the next box wearily. Climbing this one was difficult, but he now had four sets of claws instead of just two. Surely it would be easier… On the other hand, er, paw… What if he just… Jumped?!
As soon as the thought entered his head, he gave in to the impulse and leaped up to the next box. It was easy. He landed on all fours and gave a smug grin. He still had to reach the top but now it was obvious he had conquered these stairs. That’s right stairs! Who was your boss now? Cris was! And he was going to jump all the way up.
While crouched on all fours, he absentmindedly licked one of his paws and rubbed his ears to celebrate. His ears which were now located at the top of his head. He quickly reached up to touch them. Pyramid shaped ears atop his head. Cat ears. The sense of shock lasted only a second. Why shouldn’t he have cat ears? If the rest of his body was turning into a kitten it made sense that part of him would too. Besides, he had a staircase made of boxes to conquer. This time he was going to see if he could land and balance on two legs.
Cris stood up, wiggled his tail as he prepared and leaped! Landing on two legs proved to be a bit more challenging, but using his tail for balance he managed it! He gave out a joyful laugh as the fur from his elbows and knees slowly spread up covering more of his body.
“Okay time to stop playing around!” Despite the words, Cris had every intention of playing around. “Time to zoom up the rest of these stairs like nobody’s business!” He didn’t bother trying to land on two legs again as he leaped up. He just jumped as fast as he could, from one box to the next. It literally took less than a minute before he made it to the last box and had reached the upper level. He stood up on two legs again and took a few steps forward. He looked down at his body. The fur had grown further, and now his entire body was covered in fur from head to toe. In fact, he felt around his head again and his human hair was gone. There was just fluff instead! Well, that made sense. He was a cat.
Wait! No he wasn’t! The entire reason he came up here was to find the information booth and put a stop to this! Wasn’t it? He couldn’t explain it, but he… really was enjoying the changes. But this was a work trip. He had important business to do.. The right thing to do was try to stop this right?
The other kittens in the area were preoccupied with their own travel and games. And it wasn’t as if any of them could read his thoughts. No one gave Cris an answer to his question. So, remembering why he had wanted to climb the stairs in the first place, he looked around for the information booth. Eventually he found it. It was just a single cardboard box with another blue ‘I’ with a circle drawn around it and a gray tabby kitten sitting atop the box. Well, he wasn’t sure what he was expecting. He headed towards the information booth… or box.
As he did, he felt his face push out into a muzzle. Whiskers sprouted near his nose. He was almost 100% kitten at this point. The only difference between him and the other kittens at the stations was he was still walking on two legs.
“Excuse me-ow!” Cris started… Then covered up his muzzle as soon as he said it. Had he made that joke on purpose? Or had a meow just slipped out because he was part cat?
“Yessss?” The gray tabby purred. This one was a boy. As he addressed Cris, he started to knead the top of the information box. The number of scratch marks along the top of the box seems to indicate this was a habit of his.
“Um… I don’t even know where to begin…” Cris thought for a few minutes. “I mean I’m a kitten… Or mostly one and…”
“And you didn’t expect that to happen?” The gray stopped kneading to sit up and hold his forepaws over his muzzle to stifle a giggle. “Really? Did you for some reason think you’d be the sole exception to the operations of Cardboard Junction?”
“Uh… Maybe?” Cris decided to give that answer rather than admit he had no idea what ‘Cardboard Junction’ was.
“Cardboard is the fastest way to travel.” The gray tabby explained. “Everyone knows that. But only cats can travel by cardboard. And only kittens can travel by cardboard efficiently. Most entrances here are through cardboard boxes. Walk into a box in one place, walk out of a box here… There are other entrances like the trains. But because traveling here is meant only for kittens, anyone who comes here becomes a kitten.” The gray tabby began to absentmindedly lick at a paw and straighten his head fluff, “It’s really not that complicated. But every now and then we get someone who seems to think for some reason it’s not going to happen to them and shows up here at this booth all confused.” He gave a big stretch as he finished his explanation. “Really I’m supposed to go into it a lot more but I get kind of tired of it.”
The tabby had no way to know that Cris was from another reality where Cardboard Junction didn’t exist. Then again, who knew how many of the previous people showing up panicked about their transformation into kittens had also been from other worlds? It wasn’t the tabby’s job to learn quantum physics and understand the multiverse. He just told people what times the trains left, what boxes took you where, and apparently told people that yes, the obvious was correct: they were turning into a kitten.
“Can I change back?” Cris asked with a hint of hope. But for some reason as he asked, he felt strange. He didn’t realize why until he got an answer.
“Of course.” The gray tabby asked. “Quite easily.” With that answer a sense of disappointment washed over the new kitten. Cris understood the strange feeling. He had been hoping the answer was no. Then the decision would have been taken out of his hands and he could stay a kitten and completely forget about the work trip. And he could get back to that whole seeing how high he could climb thing.
“Oh…” Cris couldn’t hide the sound of dejection in his voice.
“Though there is a time limit. And you’re reaching the end of it.” The gray tabby spoke up. “You have to leave Cardboard Junction before you transform completely into a kitten. You’re like 90% there. All that’s missing is for you to stop walking around on two legs. Once that happens, you can’t change back.”
“How much time do I have?” Cris asked as he kept hoping it would be a really small number.
“It varies. It could be a day.” The gray tabby started.
“A whole day!?” Cris whined. He had plenty of time to talk himself out of staying a kitten and being happy.
“Or it could be an hour, or even a few minutes.” The gray tabby continued in an annoyed tone at being interrupted. “It all depends on how in sync you are with your internal kitten. The more you embrace it, the faster the changes occur. Some people come here because they want to turn into kittens. People like that it hasn’t been unheard of for their transformation to be complete in under two minutes.”
“Is that so?” Cris wondered. Was he in sync with his inner kitten? With all these urges he was having, he could blame them on the transformation… except… he knew deep down they were coming from him. He had the opportunity to try things he couldn’t do as a human and especially not as an adult. And now he just wanted to run around and play and enjoy being a kitten. And with that thought, he suddenly lost his balance, wobbled back and forth for a bit, and then fell down until he was standing on just four legs.
“Ah.” The gray tabby scratched his ear with his hind leg. “It would appear you just ran out of time. Looks like you’ve gone full kitty now. That means the change is irreversible.”
“Ah, darn.” Cris said in a voice that didn’t sound even remotely disappointed. “Guess that means no point catching the next train for my work trip. No way they’d let a kitten in the door. Oh well…” He turned to walk away from the information box. His tail was held high, indicating his good mood. “Guess I’m stuck like this. Nothing left to do except… CLIMB THOSE BOXES!”
And with that Cris burst into a sprint as he tore through the train station at top speed. He wasn’t going to be satisfied with climbing any pile of boxes. No, no, no… he had to find the biggest pile of boxes in the entire station and get to the top of those. Then, and only then could he declare himself the King of the Boxes! And also this station. But mostly the boxes.
Cris giggled to himself. To think he had almost gone on a dumb stupid work trip instead. He had no idea how he had come to be in this magical place. But, he realized there was nowhere else he’d rather be. He’d happily stay a kitten forever. It was way less stressful and a lot more fun than being a human. Now then…
Where to start climbing?