Vance moves into a new apartment where the old tenet disappeared. After something starts stealing his cookies he discovers the secret behind the previous tenet’s disappearance.
What Happened To The Tiger
“And here are your keys and you’re good to move in.” The deer extended their hand out to Vance.
“Uh thanks…” Vance took the keys. The white dragon with a rainbow mane and stripes took them. He didn’t wear clothes, so just had to hang onto them. “But… What changed? You didn’t have any free units yesterday… Did someone move out in hurry?”
“Maybe, don’t really know.” The deer shrugged. “The unit did belong to a tiger, but he ran off awhile ago. He owes me several months rent, and was holding the place till he got back… But decided it was time to rent the apartment out to someone who would pay rent on time.”
“Huh.” Vance rubbed the back of his head. “What do you think happened to him?”
“Bum probably owed people money and ran out of town.” The deer muttered angrily. “The place is yours now. We cleared out most of his stuff. There might be a few things left over we missed. If you find anything just toss it.”
“Uh… Right…” Vance took this moment to take his leave while making a mental note never to be late on a rent payment. Hopefully whoever this tiger was wouldn’t randomly show up and wonder who was living in their apartment.
The rest of the day was a long one. Even for a dragon, unloading an entire apartment worth of furniture on their own was not a quick or easy task. Especially when the apartment was on the third floor and there was no elevator. By the time he got everything inside it was evening. He’d worry about returning the truck he rented tomorrow. For now, it was time to rest.
He went into his new apartment. It didn’t quite look welcoming yet. Not with cardboard boxes stacked everywhere. There would be time to make the place a bit more homely later. He had his recliner and an end table set up at least so he could relax. He dug through the different boxes in his living room until he found the one he was looking for. A box full of books. He actually had several boxes full of books. The next few days would largely be spent getting them organized and shelved. For now he was just going to read one to relax.
He sat the book down on the end table then headed to the kitchen to make a quick snack. A cup of tea and some shortbread cookies. With snacks prepared, he sat them on the table before collapsing into his chair and picking up the book. He picked the book up and began to read while waiting for the tea to cool. After a few minutes he grabbed a cookie then froze. Something was off. The cookie was missing a bite.
“Okay what?” This was a fresh box. Who or what had taken a bite out of it? Well, judging by the size of the bite, probably something small. Maybe a mouse had nibbled away at it? But… Why would this place be infested with mice? It wasn’t like there had been anything to eat before Vance moved in. Maybe the entire complex was infested?
Vance stood up and glanced around the room, trying to identify any holes or hiding places that a mouse might be hanging out in. He’d probably have to put out traps or something. He didn’t see anything in the living room. Maybe something had just gotten inside while he was carrying furniture and he had just afield to notice. He gave a heavy sigh. He was too tired to deal with this tonight. He’d figure out where he needed to set traps tomorrow. For now he just wanted to enjoy what part of his snack hadn’t been contaminated by a rodent nibbling on it.
Except as he returned to his recliner, he discovered that two whole cookies were now missing from the package. While he had been looking around the living room for mouseholes the culprit had struck again! And how had it managed to eat two cookies so fast? Each cookie itself was only slightly smaller than a mouse.
Vance glanced around the room looking for any clue as to what was stealing his food and where they were hiding. Then, a clue. One of the cookies lay on the floor at the edge of the living room next to the hallway. It looked like the mouse or rat must have been hiding in another room and had just come out when it smelled the cookies.
Vance approached the cookie on the ground, but as he got close, the cookie was suddenly pulled around the corner of the hallway by an unseen force. Vance broke into a run, nearly colliding with the wall as he rounded the hallway. From here, he could clearly see the cookie running away from him. It took him a moment to process what he was seeing. There was something beneath the cookie, he could see bits of white fur. Whatever it was, it was smaller than the cookie but that hadn’t stopped it from running off with it. The small cookie thief was heading for the bedroom, slipping under the door crack before pulling the cookie through the crack after it.
Vance flung the door open not wanting to lose sight of it. The cookie was already halfway across the bedroom. It moved into the closet, but that was where the trail ended. When Vance opened the closet door entirely there was nothing there. He hadn’t stored anything here yet, so the closet was just empty space. There wasn’t exactly anyplace to hide in it, not even for a mouse. He glanced around above the racks, and checked the walls for holes, but no sign of where ethe moues could have gone. He was sure it had come in here! And as he looked over the floor he could see small crumbs from the cookies that had split off. It had definitely been in here.
Had it somehow left? No, Vance had his eyes on it up till it had gone into the closet. If it had gone somewhere else he would have seen it. It had to still be in here somewhere. But where? Vance studied the crumbs on the floor seeing if he could follow them to the tiny thief. The crumbs marked a path that led straight to the back of the closet wall and then just stopped. It was as if it had gone straight through the wall… except there was no hole or anything there.
“Hmmmmm.” Vance reached forward with a paw and pushed against the wall. A small area around where he pushed moved slightly while the rest of the wall remained still. He pushed harder, but nothing happened. He felt around the wall trying to find anything strange. And very slowly he began to feel a small crack that ran in a rectangular shape covering a part of the wall close to the floor
“A secret door?” Vance tilted his head. Why would there be a secret door? Why would a mouse be smart enough to use one? He wedged his claws into the crack he felt, slowly pulling a piece of the wall away. And then, the wall swung open.
It was indeed a door, though one that was only about three feet tall. It appeared to lead into the crawlspace. Someone had used this small area for storage. There were a couple of boxes of odd junk and children’s toys. Were these things that belonged to the previous owner? Vance had been told if he found anything to just toss it out.
Well, he could go through all this junk later. At least now he knew here the mouse was hiding. Still, with as many boxes as were in here there were plenty of places that it could be hiding. Vance began to pull boxes out of the crawl space one by one to remove any hiding places. As he did, a toy gun fell out of one of the boxes. It was one of those plastic guns that lit up and made noise when you pulled the trigger. Though it had far more buttons than Vance was used to seeing on most toys. Then again those were probably just for show.
He picked the toy up to put it back in the box, only to have the thing light up when his hand closed around some of the buttons. The batteries weren’t dead. That was unexpected. The toy suddenly coming to life and making a loud “PEW!” noise had almost been enough to shock Vance into dropping the thing.
And if he had dropped it, he might never have discovered the true identity of the cookie thief. But as he held it, the toy made noise, it also emitted bright red lights. The light enveloped Vance’s body until he was glowing bright red. And then the gun started to feel heavier in his hand. At the same time, the crawlspace and all of the boxes were also growing large. The entire world was!
The gun had stopped making noise and light, but Vance’s body was still glowing. One of two impossible things were happening right now. Either the entire universe minus him was getting bigger, or he was shrinking. Given the glowing red light around his body, it was a pretty safe bet he was shrinking. But how? From a children’s toy!? Except… If it did something like this it clearly wasn’t a toy.
Soon the gun began to get too awkward and heavy for him to hold in one hand. He dropped it and could only watch as the world stretched out further above his head. Soon, the crawlspace was a massive cave, and the cardboard boxes as large as buildings. Vance continued to shrink until even the gun, laying on its side, was taller than him. He could only be an inch tall at best.
“Okay… So shrink rays are real and for some reason made of plastic.” Vance found talking to himself made it easier to stay calm. He had just been thrust into an impossible situation. But, unless he was actually sound asleep in the armchair and this was all a dream, it clearly wasn’t impossible anymore. This didn’t feel like a dream… And as tired as he was from moving furniture all day he was pretty sure he hadn’t been sitting down long enough to fall asleep before he started chasing the mouse.
The mouse! Vance’s new size suddenly brought up new possibilities. Was he really chasing a mouse, or someone else who had also been shrunk by this toy? If it was latter, it would explain how they were smart enough to open the hidden door to the crawl space and go inside to hide. And most likely… They were still in here somewhere. If Vance could find them, then maybe, just maybe he could get an explanation of what was going on, as well as figure out how to get back to normal.
He stepped forward among the giant boxes as he glanced around for the cookie thief. He knew they had white fur on at least part of their body, but not much more than that. As he tried to locate them, he couldn’t help but feel like something was watching him. Then, as he rounded the corner of one giant box it appeared.
“ROAWR!” A figure even smaller than Vance leaped down from atop one of the boxes, tackling the dragon and knocking him to the ground. “I win!” The figure replied smugly as he sat on Vance’s chest as Vance lay flat on his back flabbergasted by what he was seeing.
The small figure was a white tiger, one with golden stripes. He also looked like he was only maybe six years old, still just a cub. Compared to Vance, he looked normal sized which meant the tiger was likely somewhere around half an inch tall.
“Win what?” Vance finally managed to ask. “And what are you doing in my apartment?”
“Your apartment?” The tiger sounded affronted. “This is my territory!” He huffed and crossed his arms before sliding off of Vance’s chest. “And this is my secret lair! How did you get in here?”
“I rented the place.” Vance replied dryly. Then he paused as he studied the cub. The landlord had said the previous tent had been a tiger. Did the tent have a child? One who had been shrunken somehow and then was just left behind? “Where are your parents.”
“Dunno.” The tiger shrugged. “We’re not on what you call talking terms. Haven’t spoke to ‘em in decades.”
“You’re six years old.” Vance gave the tiger a confused look. “Or maybe five?”
“Six is right.” The tiger beamed.
“Then how can you not have talked for decades?” Vance slowly stood up and tapped his foot impatiently.
“Well obviously I wasn’t always six, but I guess I have been for a awhile now. Ever since I became a werekittenmousetiger.” Aurum explained.
“What?” Vance stared at him blankly.
“Werekitten curse mixed with a mouse curse mixed with being a natural born tiger!” The tiger explained. “Now I’m a tiny tiger cub! And gotta say, I don’t miss being a big adult. This is way more fun.”
“So you used to be older?” Were Vance not currently an inch tall, he would have dismissed that as impossible. But, given the current set of circumstances he was willing to be a little more open minded to impossible things right now. “Wait… Does that mean… You’re the tiger that used to live in this apartment?”
“Uh, I clearly still live in it.” The tiger stuck his tongue out. “Or did you miss the part where you invaded my territory?” The tiger huffed. “I swear, why even bother marking territory if people are gonna just walk all in! I rubbed my tail against all the doors and windows so people would be able to tell the place belonged to me.”
“Uh huh…” Vance was right. This was the missing tenet. They hadn’t run off! They had just… Been reduced to this! It was still hard to believe the guy had been an adult. Not with the way he was acting. “So… You turned into a kid and got small… And now you think like a kid too?”
“I think I always thought like a kid.” The tiger shrugged. “But you know, previously kind of too scared to act how I want. Boss and coworkers are so pushy.” He grinned. “But it feels like that doesn’t really matter now.”
“I… See…” Vance had a pretty good understanding of the situation now. Well, at least as good an understanding as he was going to get. Somehow, the tiger had been turned into a cub and shrunk. And then, he supposed the little guy must have been living off crumbs or whatever he could find since then. That wasn’t a proper way to live. But… It wasn’t like the little guy had too many options. Regardless of if he had been an adult, he was a little kid now, wasn’t going to easily get a job to pay for things. And then there was how hard it’d be to prove his identity or he existed. And those problems were before he even considered the logistical problems of trying to live a normal life at half an inch tall. Really, the little guy needed someone to look after him.
And right now Vance was probably the only one who knew he existed like this. Meaning it was probably going to have to be him.
“What’s your name?” Vance managed to rouse himself from his thoughts to ask that.
“Aurum.” The tiger replied happily. “And who are you? Should I just call you intruder?”
“I’m Vance.” The dragon gave a sigh. “And I had no intention of invading your territory. But, I am the current tenet of this apartment. I only wound up in the crawl space because I was chasing a cookie thief.”
“Hey! It’s not theft if it’s already in my territory!” Aurum insisted. “And you didn’t even offer to share!”
“I didn’t know you were even here until like two minutes ago.” Vance stared blankly.
“Well… I already ate the cookie! So it’s gone! So doesn’t matter! So there!” Aurum stuck his tongue out.
“But you stole two… They were bigger than you… How you could possibly…” Vance started.
“Oh I know the answer for this!” Aurum bounced up and down. “Calex says it all the time. What was it… A shapeshifter’s metal symbolism.”
“Metal what?” Vance looked dumbfounded. “Wait… Do you mean metabolism?”
“That’s what I just said!” Aurum huffed.
“That is not even close to what you just said.” Vance tapped the tiger lightly on the head. “And who is Calex?”
“Another werekitten. But not a tiger or a mouse.” Aurum shrugged. “I kind of maybe played a joke on him and it caused his curse to mutate in a weird way and now I’m all small… But like I mean that means cookies are bigger now so you know, I think I came out the real winner in that little prank war.”
“I feel like I only understand about half of what you’re saying.” Vance trailed off slightly. “I mean… You’re using words. And I understand their meanings… But the context escapes me.”
“So… Are you some kind of shapeshifter too?” Aurum seemed to have an attention span as short as an actual child’s. “I would have sworn you were bigger when I stole your cookies.”
“No I-“ Vance paused. “Wait you just admitted you stole them!”
“Just a turn of phrase! They were in my territory so not actually stealing.” Aurum insisted.
“Do you actually understand everything you say, or do you just talk and words come out?” Vance groaned. It felt like in addition to being taken care of, this cub was in need of schooling again. “Just… I was following you after you stole my snack. Found the crawl space, then I knocked a toy gun out of a box, and suddenly it zapped me and I was an inch tall.”
“Oh you found one of Calex’s shrink rays?” Aurum asked, saying that same name again. “I thought I had lost that! I mean, his owner makes them so he has so many so I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t notice I borrowed and then lost one. But if you found it I can return it now to make sure he really doesn’t notice I borrowed it without asking.”
“A lot of information there… A lot of questions to ask for later… But for now… You know what the toy does and how it works?” Vance asked.
“Of course!” Aurum beamed. “It’s useful for teasing Calex… And also for Calex teasing me… And for giant accidents where we’re not sure who really won but someone is probably dangling us upside down by our tails.”
“Ok that’s… A lot of stuff… But you know how tto work it, that’s the important thing?” Vance asked. “Which means… I can get back to normal size… Can you show me how it works?”
“Oh sure!” Aurum smiled widely. “I mean it’s only fair since you found it after I lost it.”
“How was it lost?” Vance demanded with a swish of his tail. “The thing was put away safely in storage!”
“Ohhhhh! No wonder I couldn’t find it.” Aurum bopped himself on the head lightly. “I can never remember where anything is if I put it up properly. That’s why it’s better just to leave things laying out, so they don’t get lost.”
“That’s not how…” Vance tried to stay focused. “Let’s just… Get to how to operate the thing.”
“Sure! Where’d you find it?” Aurum asked.
“It’s just around the corner of this box.” Vance turned to lead Aurum back to the giant toy. Though he supposed at this point he should stop thinking of the thing as a toy. Regardless of what it looked like, it was clearly a marvel of technology Or possibly magic. He wasn’t really sure. He wasn’t very sure about a lot of things right now.
“Hmmmm, it’s bigger than I remember.” Aurum studied the ray.
“Or it’s just you’re smaller.” Vance tried to be patient.
“Maybe… But you don’t know it’s not both.” He began to climb up the side of the plastic wall that made up the side of the gun.
“Fairly confident I know.” Vance muttered to himself. But for now, he was just going to let the tiger cub do his thing. After he got back to normal size he could figure out what to do with the cub. Kicking him out on the curb obviously wasn’t an option. And Vance didn’t really think taking him to an orphanage or foster house and leaving him in the care of the system was a wise idea. Again, he didn’t really see any other realistic options other than taking care of the tiger cub himself.
He didn’t really know a lot about taking care of kids… Then again, if Aurum stayed this small it might be more akin to taking care of a pet.
“Okay… So none of these buttons are labeled!” Aurum called from where he was atop the gun. “But I remember the buttons cause of the sound they make. It goes…. Boop beep boooop bop.”
“Whatever works for you.” Vance didn’t have any idea how the thing worked. Most he could do was listen to Aurum right now.
“Alright then…” Aurum began to press buttons.
“Huh that last one didn’t sound right…” Aurum rubbed his chin. “Wait am I standing on the left side or the right side of the gun? Let me take a look.” He started to walk towards the edge of the gun. At the same time the thing lit up with a bright red light. And then Aurum was caught in that light.
The very tiny tiger was suddenly getting even smaller.
“Ohhhhh, yup, I’m on the left side. I wanted the buttons on the right side for the reversal options.” Aurum didn’t even sound mildly concerned as he shrunk even smaller. “Heh, Calex should really get Odin to put labels on these buttons.” He bonked himself playfully on the head as he continued to get smaller.
“H-hey! You’re going to be too small to press any buttons soon! Get off of there!” Without thinking, Vance leaped onto the side of the gun and quickly scaled up it. It didn’t take him long to reach where Aurum was. By this point, the tiny tiger was so small that Vance could easily scoop him up in one hand. The dragon did so without hesitation before jumping off the side of the plastic toy-like device.
But now there was a new problem. Both him and Aurum were covered in the same red glow. And both of them continued to shrink. Their size remained consistent compared to each other, as the tiny tiger cub remained small enough to fit in Vance’s palm. As for Vance, soon he was so small that when he looked outside the crawlspace, the carpet fibers in the bedrooms were each as tall as trees.
“Oh… wow… We’re really small…” Vance muttered as the shrinking stopped.
“Nah this is still pretty big really.” Aurum chirped happily from Vance’s hand. “I mean… We’re not even able to see atoms yet. Or play with universe string. That’s always fun when me and Calex do it…”
“You’ve been as small as…” Vance facepalmed with his free hand. “You keep mentioning this Calex… Is he someone who knows how to fix this?”
“Yeah probably.” Aurum nodded. “But last few times he was over didn’t see anything in need of fixing.”
“Because you’re fine with being half an inch tall for some reason.” Vance shrugged. “Does he come over often?”
“Pretty often.” Aurum nodded.
“I see…” Vance gave a sigh of relief. He didn’t know who this ‘Calex’ was. But surely they were less chaotic than Aurum. And so he’d just have to wait till his next visit. In the meantime, well, he supposed he was going to have to live off of cookie crumbs and anything else he had unpacked in his pantry. And probably break smaller pieces off to feed Aurum. “How often does this Calex come over?”
“Pretty often.” Aurum replied. “Unless he’s like, out of the country on a top-secret mission. Or in space. Or subatomic. Or an egg. Or in another plane of existence.”
“I want to believe you’re just saying things that pop into your head and they have no real meaning but…” Vance’s shoulders sagged. “It’s been that kind of day I’m pretty sure you’re being honest.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Aurum seemed confused.
“I just…” Vance gave a sigh, plucked the tiger cub out of his hand between two fingers and sat him on his shoulder. “It doesn’t matter. I guess… Let’s just figure out how to get around this place at this size until your ‘Calex’ friend shows up.” Vance stepped out of the crawl space and looked around the forest of carpet fibers. It was a long walk back to the living room. Maybe he should just feast on the cookie crumbs here for the night and make the walk in the morning. Who knew how long they’d be stuck like this? Hopefully Aurum’s friend would at least show up before the next month’s rent was due. It would be really awkward if there wound up being three tiny figure sharing the apartment if a new tent arrived.
But he supposed there was no point worrying about it now. He just had to figure out to get along until the time. And… He supposed he had a new pet to take care of as well. Something told him this was only the first of many hijinks his new charge was going to get him involved in.