Deven takes a naturist walk through the woods but finds a gateway into another world. In this strange place he finds himself getting younger and his only salvation may be at the paws of a strange cat.
The Cats of the Forest of Time
Deven couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. He was currently standing on a trail leading through a forest that had been a good hour train ride and then a two-hour hike to reach. In theory, no one ever came to this forest, which was a bit weird because it had clearly maintained trails. Still, he had been told again and again he wouldn’t run into anyone else here and that he could be free to enjoy himself.
Deven looked down at himself, currently dressed in a polo shirt, jeans, and shoes with ankle socks. He had to push his brown shaggy hair out from in front of his blue eyes to get a good look. Why was he still nervous?
Well duh, it was because even though he wasn’t doing anything wrong, society could be weird about things like this. And if he was found out there might not be any actual legal consequences but their could be social ones. But… He had come all the way here he wasn’t going to chicken out now.
Deven took off his shirt and tossed it to the ground. He then sat down on a rock to remove his shoes and socks setting them next to the shirt. Next, his jeans came off and they went atop the pile. After a few seconds of anxiety, he removed his boxers as well. He was now standing completely naked in the forest.
Deven had been an at home nudist up to this point, only able to hang out naked in his own house in private. The idea of being able to go on nature walks or be outside in the buff had a certain appeal. He may have been a nudist, but he’d much rather be a naturist given the option. And so this was his first attempt at being just that. A forest that appeared on no maps and apparently had no name. Apparently only a few people knew about it at all. Deven himself had learned of it from a friend who had come out here for very similar reasons… Though said friend always got cagey on how he learned about the forest and had a habit of disappearing for months on end.
Well, nothing to worry about now. Deven was here, and he was going to enjoy himself. He started down the forest trail, feeling the light wind as he did. It was summer, he wasn’t foolish enough to attempt this during a colder season. That made the wind a real blessing as he proceeded. It felt unnaturally humid within the forest, especially for where he lived… But at least without clothes on he didn’t get that gross groggy feeling. He continued down the trail, taking in the sights, looking for signs of animals and rare plants. As time went on, his walk became less nervous as he gained more confidence that he was alone out here and there was no one to bother him.
The trail through the forest went in a circle, and was about five kilometers in length total. A decent hike, and Deven began to enjoy himself more as he went on. Even without the naked thing he really didn’t get out to enjoy nature enough. That was part of why his skin was so pale. Maybe if he came out here regularly that would change. He was nearing the end of trail almost back to where he had stored his clothes when he heard something. Another person? An animal? Deven jumped off the trail and hid in the tall grass just in case. A moment later, a deer walked by looking for something to graze on. No one else was here, Deven really was safe to continue his experiment. Still, that had startled him. He sat down to catch his breath for a moment when a strange glint caught his eye. There was some kind of emerald light coming from deeper in the forest. That was curious. But investigating it would require leaving the trail.
Deven considered for a moment. The odds of meeting someone off the trail were even more unlikely, and he was curious what was causing that light. Plus, going off the trail turned out to be easier on his feet since it was mostly grass. He followed the source of the light to see what it was… And found himself somewhat disappointed.
There was a set of stones in the formation of a triangle, well boulders might be a more accurate word. Each of them was colored slightly differently, a green one, a red one and a blue one. The glint he saw had just been the light bouncing off the green rock. Nothing special. Though, it was strange to see them arranged in a triangle like that. Had someone set this up? If so it must have been years ago, all three rocks were covered with moss.
The rocks were about chest high in comparison not Deven, he walked up to one and tried to rub away some of the moss, curious if there were any carvings or signs of workmanship on it. The rock was warm to his touch and as he wiped away the moss he saw there were indeed carvings. They were pretty worn away though. These rocks had likely been here for over a hundred years. Deven wondered if he was the first person to find them since whoever put them here. He wanted to take a picture, then remembered his phone was back in his pants pocket. He made a mental note to bring a backpack next time to carry a few essentials. He got ready to leave, but decided to check out the other two stones before he did. Maybe the markings on them would be less worn down once the moss was cleaned.
Deven stepped past the green stone, walking between it and the blue one on his way to investigate the red stone. At the moment he reached the exact center of the triangle he felt a shiver go down his spine. He wasn’t sure why, and he ignored it. As he got to red stone he discovered it had much less moss on it and the carvings looked brand new in perfect shape. He glanced over at the blue one, even from here he could see that one was in decent shape too. Why had only the green one degraded? Deven walked around the stones to get a look at the blue on the way back to the green and froze. The carvings in the green stone were perfectly visible now, showing intricate vines curling around the rock. He would have sworn they were barely visible. Had he just not rubbed enough of the moss off?
Well, it had been fun exploring, but he figured he should get back to the trail before he got lost. He started back in the direction he remembered the trail being, but as he continued along the way no trail came into sight.
“That’s strange, I know it was this way.” Deven muttered. The missing trail wasn’t the only thing changing. But the other changes were too subtle. Had Deven been wearing even a single garment he might have noticed it, but he was now slightly younger than he had been a few minutes ago, now somewhere in his low twenties.
Deven did his best to try to retrace his steps. He could find his way back to the three stones easily enough. Then, he should have come from the direction the green rock was facing. So why was their no trail when he went that way? Was it just longer walk than he remembered it being? That could be it.
Deven decided to walk a bit further, though as he did became aware of how tall the grass was outside the trail. He had known it was tall, and remembered it being up to his knees in a few places on the way in… But in some spots it was up to his chest. Sometimes he had difficulty seeing ahead, and had he not been so focused on looking for the trail he might have noticed the grass was the same length. He however was much shorter as a fourteen year old.
Eventually Deven emerged from the grass into a clearing. He paused and looked around. He knew he hadn’t encountered this. He had somehow missed the trail and gone too far. Still… The clearing was another pleasant discovering. A ring of trees formed around it providing shade while there a large pond fed by a nearby stream. This was a elcocme sight! As Deven had nothing on him, that included water bottles, something he felt foolish about now. Again, next time, backpack. Well, getting lost had provided him a small boon at least.
Deven approached the pond and knelt down next to it. He quickly cupped some of the water into his hands and took a drink. It was quite refreshing. Maybe this place being so far from civilization had certain advantages. He looked down at the pond smiling and then froze as he saw his reflection in the water.
Because it was the reflection of a ten-year-old boy.
“Okay, that’s got to be some weird trick with the water!” Deven tried to laugh it off but noticed how high pithed his voice was. He looked down at his own body, focusing on that for the first time since getting lost. He was a lot younger than he had been. It was… Actually something he didn’t mind much but why had it happened? Had it been from drinking the water? Had he found the legendary fountain of youth? That’d be hilarious. Some kind of ancient archaeologist site and a legendary fountain in the same day.
Still, it was going to be really hard to explain to people back home why he was a ten year old boy. But, there wasn’t much to be done. He probably should have been panicking more, but if anything he was enjoying the youthful energy. He left the clearing, trying to work his way back to the stones in search of the trail again, completely unaware that his age hadn’t stopped regressing at ten. By the time he got back to the stones, and again no trail he was only eight years old.
“This makes no sense.” He muttered to himself. How could he have missed the trail so many times? Now he wished there was someone out here he could find for help. Plus, since he was a kid now he was maybe likely to get in serious trouble for running around naked. He sighed, and once more tried to trace the path back from the stones to the trail. And once more he reached the clearing, no forest trail in site. A now six-year-old Deven let out a high-pitched scream of frustration. Being younger must have been messing with his emotions.
The shout got a response though.
Specifically, a loud hissing noise.
Deven spun in place afraid it might be a snake. Instead, he saw a cat. It was a brown tabby, and he was pretty sure a female but wasn’t going to pick her up to check. His shouting must have startled her.
“Sorry.” He reached out to try to pet the cat in apology but she pulled away. “I didn’t mean to startle you, I’m just a little lost and…” Deven felt like crying but was holding it in. Just because he had the body of a child now didn’t mean he needed to act like one.
He wondered how long he had been out here… He was thirsty again and dehydration was going to become an issue. But if he drank from the pond what if he got younger? He walked up to the pond and looked down at his reflection again.
Except he wasn’t ten anymore, he was four.
“W-what!?” Now Deven was confused. If it wasn’t the water, then what caused it! Why was he still getting younger? He fell backwards onto his bottom trying to understand everything that was happening. The trail was gone, and now he was a toddler! And how had it taken him this long to notice! Well, the forest was really overgrown making it hard to realize things were getting taller than him… Except, it hadn’t been this overgrown earlier. It wasn’t just that he was smaller, the forest had changed and was wilder and more untamed. It was like he was somewhere completely different.
Frustrated and unable to figure it out, Deven started to cry as he shrunk down to two years of age. Now he was conscious of the constant age changing and he had to worry about the fact that he might turn into an infant! Maybe that could have been fun somewhere safe, but out in the woods he’d get eaten by something! He tried to think of something to do, but he couldn’t stop crying and wouldn’t stop getting younger.
The tabby cat watched him with interest from beneath the tree where she had been resting. She got up and walked over to Deven, rubbing against him making a purring noise. Deven stopped crying and just noticed how warm her body was. As a baby now he found himself reaching out and clinging to the cat. She may have been just a cat, but Deven was now an infant, slowly approaching being a newborn and she was the only other thing around that could provide any form of comfort.
The cat wriggled out of Deven’s lap and wrapped herself around him instead. Suddenly he felt himself being lifted into the air. He let out a yelp as he felt something fuzzy grab him by either side beneath his arms as he was lifted up into the air. And then, he was turned on his back and cradled into someone’s arms.
The cat was gone, but in her place was now a woman in her 40’s, though she was getting younger by the moment. There were traces of the cat about her though. For starters, she had both a tail and cat ears. And her hands and feet were still covered in fur, that was what Deven had felt pick him up. She also had pads upon her palms, and though Deven couldn’t see on the bottom of her feet. And much like Deven, she was naked, without a single stitch of clothing.
“You really are just a lost child aren’t you little one?” She spoke in a soothing voice. “You should know better than to play in the Forest of Time. I’ll help you get out… But I need to stay a little longer.” As she spoke she began to walk in a seemingly random direction. Deven didn’t understand how the cat had become a woman, but being held by her made him feel safer. He learned his head against her, unable to do much more. He had been reduced to a mere newborn, but at least that meant he couldn’t get any younger. He didn’t wink out of existence or anything like that, just simply stayed an infant.
The cat-woman walked with purpose, and it was clear she knew her way through the forest without a trail. Occasionally she sniffed the air, or her ears twitched listening to something. Then she’d move on. All along getting younger. After a few minutes, they reached the edge of the woods. She walked out from the woods and sat Deven down in the grass.
“Wait here for a moment. I need a bit longer, but I’ll stay where we can see each other and make sure nothing happens to you ok?” She patted Deven on the head with her paw then walked back into the forest. She didn’t go very far. Instead, she just sat down just within the forest’s threshold and started to grow younger again. Soon she was in her young thirties, and then her twenties. Right around the age of twenty-three she stood up and walked out of the forest. “There back in my prime.” She walked back over to Deven and knelt down to get eye level with him.
“Bwuh.” Deven couldn’t even talk. He was beyond confused. This area outside the woods, there should have been a rural town, but instead was just miles of open fields. He really was someplace else! And he was a baby! And just met a cat who was a person.
“Now what to do with you?” The tabby asked as she looked around. She sniffed at the air again and her ears twitched. “Strange, there’s no signs of any other humans around… Or any trail of you walking into the forest.” Her green eyes studied him full of curiosity. She bent in closer and sniffed him. “And you don’t smell like the other humans.” She sat their kneeling for a moment thinking. Then spoke again. “Are you aware enough right now to answer yes-no questions by nodding or shaking your head?”
“Okay… First off, have you ever seen a werecat like me before, or a gnome, a faerie or really anyone non-human?” She got a head shake. “Is magic real?” Another Shake, but then Deven paused as he considered what was happening. “Don’t change your answer, I got what I needed. Last question. Did you walk directly through the center of three colored stones.” Deven nodded.
And she understood immediately.
“You really must be confused.” She patted his head. “I’ll do my best to explain. These woods are called the Forest of Time, and anyone who spends time in them gets younger. I come here to restore myself to my prime every couple of decades. But… Because time flows strangely here it’s also connected to other timelines and well…” She thought for a moment. “Best I can explain it is magic rocks pop in within other forests when the timeline is connected and they act as portals. Now you’re in another world far from your own. If you walked through the stones again you could return to your own world… But…” She looked down at Deven, seeing him as a helpless infant. “I suspect no matter how tame it is it’ll be a struggle for you.”
Deven nodded as he considered it. He wouldn’t even be able to explain the situation to anyone that might take care of him or tell them who he was. He wouldn’t even make it out of the forest. He started to tear up again.
“Alright, alright none of that.” She stroked his head. “I may have a solution. I had been looking for a traveling companion for awhile now… Though I had been hoping for someone more… Well never mind. Point is I hadn’t planned on adopting a kid, but life alone is getting well… Lonely. So… Here’s the deal, I can either take you back to the stones and toss you through back to your world… Or you can stay with me and I’ll take care of you. Nod once if you want to go back home, or twice if you want to stay with me.”
Deven considered this for a bit. This wasn’t his home or where he belonged… But the tabby had been nothing but nice since her met her. Maybe it was because she was the first person he bonded with after turning into a baby but he felt safe with her and wanted to be near her. He nodded twice.
“Okay… But I’m not raising a human. You’re going to need the same abilities as me to keep up.” With that the woman shrunk back, fur covering her entire body as she changed back into the normal cat. She walked forward and licked Deven on the face making him giggle. And then while he was laughing and distracted, quickly bit his leg.
Deven yelped and almost started to cry, but the tabby booped his nose with a paw and pointed at his leg. Dark brown fur was starting to grow in over it and it was spreading outward to the rest of his body. When it reached his foot it turned into a paw, and soon the fur was going down the other leg. He shrunk even smaller as the fur spread up his stomach, then reaching his arms. It covered his head as his face pushed out into a muzzle and his ears became large pointed things atop his head. He was a baby kitten now!
Deven stood up, realizing he could walk a bit like this as a full kitten. He was in complete disbelief of what happened. He looked to the tabby… Or should he think of her as mommy now? He had seen her change forms… She said she was a werecat? Deven tried thinking about being human again. He slowly started to get bigger, he got his hands back, and that was about it. His mommy chuckled as she stood up on her hind legs, shifting to a humanoid cat rather than her earlier human-like form.
“Don’t push it, you’re young, you’ll get control of it as you get older.” She patted him on the head. “For now you’re mostly going to deal with involuntary changes based off your moods and environments. But don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe.” She then shrunk back down into a normal cat and Deven’s features returned to normal as well.
Then mommy bit down on the back of his scruff and lifted him up and took off running.
The endless meadows eventually gave way to a town, but not one like Deven had ever seen before. It looked a few centuries too outdated… But he was in another world now. His mommy trotted gracefully through the streets and people’s legs till she reached a bazaar of several stands selling various things Deven couldn’t even identify. She stopped at a specific one and suddenly grew back up into her human-like form with the ears and tail. She cradled Deven in her arms as she looked at short squat bearded man on the other side of the stand.
“Clariss?” The bearded one seemed surprised. “I didn’t expect to see you back in town so soon.”
“Yes well…” Clariss, or mommy stroked Deven’s head. “I needed a few extra supplies for this month.”
“Uh huh and did you bring any coin?” He asked.
“Does it look like I have money on me?” Mommy gestured at her naked body. As Deven looked around he noticed that no one had even reacted to it, just treated it as a regular sight. In fact, there were other critters like her, but different animals walking around, and many other species he had never seen that were naked. Apparently, even some humans were. As Deven watched all this he felt himself growing, as he became more human-like, assuming a similar form to his mother’s. A bright blue eyed baby with brown cat ears and a tail, and brown fur over his hands and feet. “But I have a little one now, and the food you gave me is a bit too tough to chew for his age.”
“You have a son now?” The man seemed surprised. “And who’s the father?”
“No one of importance.” Mommy snapped and that ended that conversation. However, it did make her realize with her brown tabby coat and Deven’s uniform brown fur she could pass him off as her genetic son. That could be useful to make explaining things easier. “The point is I need softer foods.”
“And I need money so I suggest you come up with some coin.” The man spoke haughtily.
“I’m going to skip the part where I say think of the starving baby and try to guilt you into giving me what I want. I already know you have no conscious Grifford.” She lent in closer to him and spoke in a whisper. Deven’s cat ears could make out what she was saying. “And I know you still owe me for clearing your warehouse out from that rat infestation. That’s the type of thing that can get you in a lot of trouble if the wrong people found out.”
“Ugh.” The man who was apparently named Grifford recoiled at that. “I’ve given you a discount on merchandise! And I always pay extra on the regents you bring back for me to sell.”
“And I appreciate that, but consider this. Give me the food I need to keep the little guy going and we’re even. No more discounts, no more paying extra for what I sell to you.” She smirked knowing she was about to get what she wanted.
“No more discounts?” Grifford looked at Deven. “And growing children eat a lot… Meaning you’ll be doing more spending… Ok, deal, but as you said, we are even now! So I owe you no further favors.” He began to gather up several food items from his stand and placed them in a sack which mommy took.
“Thank you.” Mommy gave a polite bow to Grifford then stepped away. “I prefer to travel on all fours, as it’s faster… But think I’m gonna have to stay like this awhile to carry both you and the food. Don’t worry, home isn’t far away.”
Home was not was Deven expected. It was not a house. Den might have been more accurate a word. Apparently, mommy lived in a cave within some smaller woods about thirty minutes from the town. The cave was not completely barren though. There was a large circular shaped bed in one corner of it. And several containers for storing things. There were also strange glyphs on the walls and the floors. Mommy touched one as they went in and suddenly the room lit up as if it had lamps. She sat Deven down on the floor while she went and took the sack of food to another glyph, one that was on the floor. There was a container sitting atop the glyph.
Deven curious what was going on shifted back to a full kitten and walked over to her. As he did he could feel cold coming from the glyph and container. It was like a fridge. After putting everything away mommy looked down at Deven.
“Hmmmm what do I call you?” She asked. “I imagine you already have a name… But I’m going to need something to tell people and it’ll be awkward if I have to change my story in a few years when you can talk.” She walked to the back of the cave and opened up another box, from this she produced a parchment of paper and what looked like chalk. “Okay… Imagine your paw as a hand, and look at me, and focus on being just like me.”
Deven nodded and did what he was told. He shifted back to his catboy form, but this time on purpose.
“Good.” Mommy grinned. “Now you don’t have a lot of dexterity right now, but I imagine you can at least handle a few basic letters. Try to write your name.”
Deven nodded and took the chalk. His writing was clumsy and ugly but he managed to spell it out.
“Deven huh?” Mommy looked down at it. “Well good now I don’t have to make something up that could cause problems later. Anyway… This experience had worn me out. I think it’s time for a nap before dinner.” She yawned and shrunk back down into a normal tabby cat. Deven, watching her shrunk into kitten form without even realizing it. It only occurred to him he had changed when she bit down on his scruff, picked him up, and carried him to the bed. There she sat him down and curled up next to him.
And Deven cuddled up as close as possible. His new mommy was strange, not human, but she was warm, and he didn’t just mean her body temperature. He didn’t know if the attachments he was developing were due to his age or her kindness, but he already couldn’t think of her a anything else than mommy.
Ten years later
A tabby cat darted through the Forest of Time knowing exactly where she was going. Not far behind her was a kitten, though slightly grown up who followed her every step. After a few minutes the two came to a stop at a bush full of flowers. The tabby cat grew and changed into her human-like form. The younger kitten did the same a moment later.
Deven was now ten years old. But of course, if he stayed in these woods long that would change.
“These are prefect.” Mom started to cut flowers from the bush. “Moon Thistle. Used in a lot of potions. Will fetch a lot on the market.” She passed some to Deven. “Carry as much as you can, and then we’ll be out of here as fast as possible.”
“Awww come on.” Deven whined. “I haven’t been here in forever, don’t we have a little time to explore?”
“Hmmm.” Mom considered it. She was in her 30s again, she preferred to be in her 20s, but didn’t usually give herself a heavy stay here till she had reached 40. Still, she wouldn’t mind going down a few years. “You know you’ll end up a toddler again, right?”
“But I just want to look around a little!” Deven pleaded. Growing up as a werecat had enhanced his senses quite a bit and now he was constantly wanting to explore new places.
“You’re never going to grow up and become an adult huh?” Mom fixed him with a stare. “Well… I guess I’m in no position to judge given my own situation. A mother who never reaches middle age and a kid that never hits puberty. Guess we’re quite the pair.”
“Then does that mean?” Deven’s eyes lit up.
“Yes yes!” Mom nodded. “But only for a little bit! I want you still old enough to talk and control your form when we leave! You go a day under two years and you’re grounded for a month got it?”
“Got it mom!” Deven responded as he shrunk back into his cat form. He then ran up to his mother and rubbed against her legs affectionately before bounding off into the forest to explore for a little bit. He’d be a toddler by the end of the day again.
But… He was okay with that. His mother had been lonely and finally had a companion, and Deven had someone who could watch out for him in this strange world and enjoyed staying a kid. Plus he never had to wear pants! Apparently, people were used to werebeast and other species just walking around naked! It was great.
Deven felt his body youthening again as he climbed a tree just to see what was up there. If he had to be out of the woods by the time he was two he only had about fifteen minutes. It was time to make the best of it.