Cris encounters the store that wasn’t there yesterday, but it’s surprisingly benevolent. Doesn’t stop weird things from happening to him though.
The Cat Trap
The little bell rang above the door as Cris entered the old rundown looking shop. It had looked like an antique shop, and it was a brand new one apparently. It had opened up between the grocery store and the haircut place. This wouldn’t haven unusual, except that yesterday those two stores had been physically connected. Not only had the new store just popped up overnight, but it had physically separated the other two stores into separate buildings. That alone was enough to get Cris’ attention.
“Hello!” A woman’s voice gave a warm greeting. It took Cris’ eyes a minute to adjust to the dim lighting of the store before he saw a small counter with a young woman who apparently, was huge fan of the color purple. She wore a long dress with a purple floral pattern, a silver necklace with a shimmery purple gem embedded in a pendant and had even dyed her long waist length hair purple. It was a little hard to tell in the dim light, but Cris thought that even her eyes might be purple. “Welcome to the Seelie Market! Full of strange and wonderful items that will change your life.” She paused. “I’m kidding mostly. Everything is clearly labeled with instructions on how they work and what they do.” She paused again. “But the items are magical artifacts, just in case that wasn’t clear. Feel free to look around, examine our stock. If anything is in a display case, it means it’s touch activated. I lock it up for customer safety, let me know if you need me to open the display.”
“What?” Cris stated flatly. He wasn’t sure what he had expected. And… She had said she was selling magical artifacts? Had he hit his head on something before coming into the store. Speaking of which. “How… Is this store here?” Cris managed to form a sentence through his confusion. “Erm what I mean is it wasn’t yesterday but-“
“Ah, I see this must be your first time experiencing the ‘store that wasn’t there yesterday.” The woman gave a nod. “Well basically, the answer is magic. I mean, I’d think that was obvious I just told you I sold magical artifacts.”
“But… There literally wasn’t space for this store to exist in!” Cris was trying, but it was really hard to process reality right now.
“Well, yeah, I’m already dealing with spatial magic making the store appear out of nowhere. It’s not that hard to move other things around to make space. The real tricky part is getting the store to line up just right with the electrical grid and sewer system so we have electricity and plumbing.” She gave a shrug. “Compared to that altering the spatial parameters of a universe is child’s play.”
“Um right I’m gonna… Look around.” Cris’ head hurt trying to process what he had just been told.”
“Sure thing!” The lady smiled. “Just give a shout of Miss or Lady if you need me!”
“Eh?” Cris was given pause again. “Don’t you have a name.”
“Of course, I do.” The lady rocked back and forth on her feet energetically.
“Shouldn’t you give me your name to call you if I need help?” Cris asked.
“Now why would I do something stupid like that?” The lady seemed almost insulted by the question.
“Because that’s generally how manners work?” Cris muttered under his breath. Everything about this shop just got stranger and stranger. Considering the impossibility of its existence he was almost willing to take her claim that she sold magical artifacts at face value.
That was, if this was all really happening. There was no guarantee that he wasn’t asleep in bed. Or had hit his head and was now unconscious with a concussion. The world felt real… But this being some kind of dream was about the only explanation he could think of for what he was experiencing.
Cris began to walk through the aisles. The shelves were old, made of oak, and rose all the way to the ceiling. The shop was surprisingly organized. One aisle was full of jewelry. Amulets, necklaces, rings, bracelets, all kinds of very shiny and expensive looking things. And yet despite how expensive they looked the priciest was something called a ‘Luck Attracting Bracelet’ for $20. Cris was curious what would happen if he tried something on. But jewelry wasn’t really his thing.
Plus, every book, TV show, movie and video game he had ever played was currently sitting in the back of his head telling him not to touch anything. Generally speaking, when ‘the shop that wasn’t there yesterday’ showed up in stories bad things tended to happen to people who messed with the merchandise.
The back of the store was less organized, and everything was locked in a glass case. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how things were organized in there. Masks, a feather duster, a bag of marbles, a dime, a statue of a bronze griffin. It was just an endless mess of oddities. Come to think of it, she had said the stuff that was touch activated was locked up. At the thought something might happen even just by touching one of the strange items Cris took a step back by instinct. They were behind a case, but he was more than a little weirded out by the shop. He was starting to think it might be time to leave.
The sound came from Cris’ feet. He looked down, and saw that he had stepped on the tail of what appeared to be a small stuffed mouse. The mouse skidded forward slightly, moving on a pair of wheels and he realized it was a cat toy.
“Huh… Where did that come from?” He muttered. The toy didn’t respond, and instead came to life and zoomed around a corner. Every hair on Cris’ body stood on end. He didn’t know why, but… There was something strange about the toy that made him want to try to grab it. He stepped around the corner and looked down the aisle, seeing the mouse toy perfectly still at the end of the aisle, close to the front of the store.
Cris began to approach the toy. As he moved, his clothes started to itch and feel uncomfortable. And they began to get baggier. When his pants were just about ready to fall off his hips this was enough to distract Cris from the toy. He quickly grabbed at his pants to hold them up, and then paused, seeing gray fur with dark gray stripes running up his arms.
“What the-“ Cris shouted in alarm, but didn’t finish the thought. The toy took off again, curving around the aisle and heading down another. Without thinking, Cris darted after it. He nearly tripped, falling on his face with both his pants and shoes far too large to move in. He didn’t let this slow down long, wiggling out of them so he could go after the toy. Somewhere in his brain, he processed the fact that his legs were now covered in the same fur. Not only that, something was off about his body, not just the fur. He was scrawnier, almost like when he was a teenager. While part of his brain tried to wave a little red flag it was overridden by his incredibly strong desire to catch that toy.
“H-hey!” The shopkeeper shouted as she saw transforming Cris run around a corner. “Don’t touch that toy! It’s cursed! Oh shoot… How did it get out of its box?” The shopkeeper sounded panicked, as she grabbed a broom and dustpan by the counter and chased after Cris and the toy. “You need to stop chasing it!”
She was probably right. But… The toy, it taunted him. Once again, it stopped at the end of an aisle. Giving Cris the opportunity to catch up. He ran full speed, nearly tripping over his shirt this time. He scrambled out of the neck hole. Other than being fuzzy, he looked like he had as a five year old. But he was much smaller than he should have been. It wasn’t important. He dropped down onto all fours, as small pads formed on the bottom of all four of his feet as he sprinted after the toy. Once again, it zoomed away right before he reached it. But Cris was starting to feel a lot faster. He skidded around the corner, and a tail grew out from the tip of his spine helping him maintain his balance and he continued to chase the toy. Now he was too close to catching it for it to stop and taunt him. The mouse toy had no choice but to continue running away.
“Look I know it’s fascinating, but you have to look away!” The shopkeeper was chasing after what was now clearly mostly a cat, and the toy. “As long as you break your concentration before you completely change it can be reversed!”
Those words, certainly meant something. But a childlike glee had risen in Cris. His skull slowly changed shape, his face pushing out into a muzzle, and his ears becoming more pyramid shaped as they moved to the top of his head. There were no traces of humanity left. He was a completely normal cat. Or, more accurately a kitten. Maybe three months old based on his size and his fairly short tail.
He should have been alarmed, but with the kitten body came new instincts, instincts that made his fascination with the mouse toy grow even stronger. He chased it through multiple aisles, never slowing down once. Then, right as the toy was about to turn around a corner, he leaped through the air, pounced upon the toy, and caught it in his mouth. He happily rolled onto his back and began to bite at the toy and tear at it with his paws.
“Dang it…” The shopkeeper rounded the corner and saw the small kitten playing with the toy. “Too late…”
“Meow?” Cris looked up from the toy, noticing for the first time how much bigger the shopkeeper, heck the entire world was. The shopkeeper took this chance and lunged at him. He was too fast though and jumped back running underneath one of the shelves.
But he hadn’t been the target.
The shopkeeper smacked the mouse toy with a broom and slid it into the dustpan. She then very quickly ran back to the counter, opened a plastic shopping bag, dumped the toy into it and quickly tied the bag shut.
“Mrow?” Cris was able to think clearer now. And, he was realizing a couple of things. One, was the fact he had transformed into a small kitten. The other, was that he was pretty sure this wasn’t a dream. He slowly walked towards the front counter and looked up at the shopkeeper.
“I did try to warn you.” She gave a sigh. “It got out of its box. I keep all the cursed stuff locked up in the back where it can’t hurt anyone. This little thing, is surprisingly nefarious and keeps finding ways to escape.”
“Mew mrow mew!” Cris tried to ask questions. But of course cats couldn’t talk.
“I’m afraid there’s no way to reverse it. Once you’re a kitten, it’s permanent. Even the kitten part.” She crossed her arms. “You won’t age a single day but… It could be worse. Gray tabbies are cute. You could have wound up as one of those hairless cats.”
“MEOW!” Cris bristled.
“Look I’m sorry!” The shopkeeper put her hands on her hips. “But I did tell you the place this was full of magical artifacts.” She paused. “No, there’s no excusing it. I messed up. I can’t seem to keep this thing contained and now you’re stuck like this.” She picked Cris up. At first he squirmed, but she began to scratch his ears and he found himself purring happily as she set him down on the counter. “Now what do I do with you… It wouldn’t be ethical to just throw you out on the street… And if I put you in a pet store it’s going to cause trouble when you never get any older but your owners do.” She looked thoughtful, then suddenly brightened up.
“Mew?” Cris tilted his head looking at her.
“You know, some stores have like, store cats!” The shopkeeper pointed out. “The longer a customer stays in a store the more likely they are to buy things. And people stay in stores with a cat longer because they want to pet it. You could stay with me and help run the shop. Well, more sit there and look cute while I run the shop.”
“Meow?” Cris looked at her with uncertainty. She had turned him into a kitten! Well let him get turned into a kitten. Well, failed to stop the transformation at least and now she wanted him to work for her?
“I mean… Faeries don’t really age either, so it solves the you never getting any older problem. Neither one of us can outlive the other so there’s no risk of you winding up on the streets alone and hungry.” She smiled.
“MROWL!?” Cris jumped back in surprise. Had she just said faerie!? Faeries were real! Why did he find that surprising after he had just magically turned into a kitten? He should probably keep a more open mind about the existence of the supernatural. Come to think of it… He had read some myths about faeries. Well, they might not be myths. But, if you had a faerie’s name you could control it. That would explain her earlier reaction.
“I mean… Okay this isn’t perfect, but you know, humans live only like, seventy or eighty years. Some make it to a hundred tops, and by then their body is falling apart on them.” The shopkeeper was clearly trying to find some way to appease Cris. “You’ll get to live a much, much longer time, see way more things… And only about 15% of the human population actually encounters real magic. You’ll be surrounded by it every day. And the store travels all over the world, well really multiple worlds so it’s a chance to see other places too… And…” She paused. “And I suppose, since this is kind of my fault, I can take a cut of my profits and put you on a meat diet. I can serve you grilled fish. I mean I know cats normally eat it raw but online articles say you’re supposed to cook the fish you buy at stores before giving it to your cat to kill bacteria…
“Mew?” Cris gave the shopkeeper a questionable look.
“What? I get like two customers a day tops. Part of the magic of the store is most people can’t even perceive it unless they’re open to its existence. People whose hearts are set in believing magic isn’t real can’t perceive it. The point is, I have a lot of downtime. I kill it reading internet articles.”
“Mrow…” Cris felt unsure. Before he was reduced to five pounds of fluff he was pretty sure he didn’t believe in magic.
“Oh, you may think you didn’t believe.” The shopkeeper seemed to guess what he was thinking. “But unless your heart was open to the idea, maybe even hoping for it, you wouldn’t have been able to see the store. Some part of you believed in magic, maybe even wanted it to be true, and while not the most ideal circumstances, you are being given the option to live in a magical reality hopping shop. What do you say?” She looked at him hopefully.
“Meow…” Cris thought for a moment. His life was well, no more exciting than most adults’. The endless cycle of work and sleep. As he thought about it more, being a cat was kind of an upgrade in lifestyles from a human. And if magic was real… Which he was forced to admit that it was very obviously real now. He would rather live a life filled with it than go back to his normal life. He made his decision. “Meow!” He held out a paw as if to shake hands.
“Ok… I promise you’ll be the most pampered shop cat that ever existed to make up for this.” The shopkeeper took his paw and shook it lightly. “Glad that’s settled… But what now? Not any other customers yet.”
Cris got distracted from her. Having accepted his new lot in life, he was finding himself warming up to it surprisingly fast. After all, cats were the type of creatures that just did what they wanted, when they wanted, and people found that endearing in them. And so, he was no longer paying attention to the shopkeeper who he supposed was his owner now. Instead, his ears twitched and he looked over the counter seeing the bag that the toy was tied up in. He could see movement in the bag, the toy was still active. He tried to swipe at it from atop the shelf, but his paws couldn’t reach.
“You want to play with the toy?” The shopkeeper gave him an annoyed look. “But it’s cursed!” She paused. “Then again, I guess it can’t turn you into a kitten if you’re already a kitten… Hmmmmm.” She looked thoughtful. “This thing never behaves and gets out of its box constantly… Having someone who could chase it down really quickly whenever it’s loose would actually be really useful. Think you’re up to the task?”
“Meow!” Cris gave an affirmative nod. That cheeky little toy wasn’t going to get the best of him! No matter where it tried to run or hide he’d chase it down and catch it.
“Well in that case, I suppose there’s no harm. No one else in the store anyway. And, you can consider it training as part of your new job as official store cat.” The shopkeeper untied the bag, and carefully dumped the toy onto the floor without ever touching it herself.
Cris was aware that she had said words. But he was more aware that the toy was loose again. And it was zooming away. He jumped down from the counter and gave chase after it. The contest was on, and he was going to teach the little toy what happened when you decided to mess with a kitten!