Kickaha contributes a lot to the zoo by donating former humans. But he never really goes as a customer, and decides maybe it’s time to change that.
The rust colored foxyote was sitting on the couch in his burrow wearing his usual green cloak. He was currently reading a newspaper in which the main article was the fact that newspapers still existed somehow. The clock ticked away along the wall as he looked up and noticed that it was past noon and nothing had happened as of yet today.
“Well.” Kickaha folded the newspaper up and set it aside. “I guess we’re having one of those days again.” Today was a day where nothing seemed to be happening. That meant that no doubt something was going to happen. Kickaha didn’t have normal days. It was merely a matter of how predictable the chaos was for the day. There was the usual chaos, which often resulted in a number of transformations to both Kickaha, his friends and random bystanders. Then there was the other kind of chaos which included that, but also alien invasions and molemen. And the thing about the second kind of chaos was that it tended to leave a bit of a mess. So if that was how the day was going to go Kickaha would prefer that said mess occur somewhere other than his home. “Alright, what should I attempt today then…” Kickaha mused.
There were always a number of options. He could go to the park and take a nice walk around the lake. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with aquatic monsters today, or worse, lake pirates. The park didn’t even have a proper lake! It was more of a pond if anything. Not even enough room for a real pirate ship. Sure he could understand there being a monster. There was no telling how deep the lake actually went, and nothing said that a monster had to stay a consistent size… Or the people the monster chose to interact with. Tadpoles with kaiju fascinations were truly terrifying creatures.
Kickaha considered his options carefully. He was alone today, so nothing that required two people. But where to visit? A movie would only kill a couple of hours, and he had trouble seeing over the backs of other people’s seats anyway. There was the arcade, but he was pretty sure that was now just a vast wasteland incapable of sustaining life. Really he had no idea if it was because of the arcade or the fact it was in a mall that happened. Go-Karts would be a lot of fun, but not as much fun without some friends along. He’s just be racing strangers who might not appreciate the ingenuity Kickaha brought to kart races. What was he to do? There had to be something.
The zoo! He hadn’t been to the zoo in forever! Well, that wasn’t technically true. He had actually been there just a few days ago. And again last week. And several more times over the past month. Kickaha was something of a known presence at the local zoo at this point. However, those had all been business trips. He was on the job. Usually it was where a job ended. He hadn’t been there as a patron to actually enjoy himself in well… He wasn’t sure he ever had. One could make the argument it was pointless. After all, Kickaha lived in the woods so saw wild animals all the time. But he only saw the local wildlife. Not animals from around the world.
Transformation victims excluded of course.
Yes! The zoo was the perfect place to spend the day. Aside from being able to see several exotic animals he was bound to find good conversation. Kickaha stood up, adjusted his cloak so that it hung off his back correctly and walked to the front door. The zoo was in the city, not a short walk, especially on the tiny legs of a three-foot tall foxyote. Luckily, Kickaha already had a preferred form picked out for travel. As soon as he was outside he shrunk down, his fur giving way to black feathers as he took on the form of a raven then lifted into the sky flying towards the city. He didn’t understand why more people didn’t travel this way. Sure, not everyone could use the Art to transform themselves, but by this point there were plenty of potions, wands and artifacts in play that could produce the desired results. And they said flying was one of the safest ways to travel. And yet humans stuck to being humans and using cars or walking. Maybe it was their weird obsession with pants? After all, turning into a bird, even temporarily would mean leaving those behind for the duration of the flight. Kickaha had a far more sensible form of dress. His green cloak was large on his crow shaped body, but it stayed on for the entire flight. If only humans had the sense to use such practical attire.
Flying the trip didn’t take too long. The familiar sight of the city came into sight and then the zoo. Kickaha flew past the front of the zoon where there was a sign advertising it as the ‘s City Zoo. The letters of the city’s name were still missing from the sign after a recent incident that Kickaha was involved in but clearly had no responsibility for. He had merely had an idea to expand the zoo’s collection to make it stand out more by offering actual real live mythical animals. It wasn’t his fault they didn’t know how to appease or contain a griffin. Honestly, after she broke out of the exhibit and crashed through the sign, it was amazing there were any letters left at all. Perhaps Kickaha should have donated a human transformed into a griffin. At the very least they would have had to learn to fly properly before crashing into a sign and disappearing into the mountains and thus giving the zoo at least a few weeks of them on display.
Kickaha could have easily landed inside the zoo and changed back without anyone noticing. But, since this was pleasure instead of business, he figured he should actually pay for his entrance this time. It was important to support your local businesses. Also, trickster or not, using your powers to get or do things for free tended to make you come off as a self-entitled jerk. He landed outside the front gate a giant archway, before growing back to his foxyote form.
He looked up. The archway was still damaged, and thus much like the sign out by the road the letters for the name of the city were missing from it. This one was sort of maybe possibly Kickaha’s fault. From a certain point of view. He had arrived early one morning and an employee told him not to bother him. Said he was a bear until he had his coffee. Honestly, after that Kickaha was contractually obligated to do what he did. If he didn’t, his license for being a trickster who specializes in karmic transformations might be revoked. Obviously, he didn’t have a real license. But metaphorically speaking, the point was he had a certain professional image to maintain. And so the deed was done and Kickaha learned a very valuable lesson that day.
Small black bears can actually throw foxyotes a considerable distance when properly annoyed. And colliding with a metal archway was not a good way to start your morning. The zookeeper had wanted Kickaha to pay for repairs for the sign. And in a manner of speaking Kickaha had, but apparently the revenue raised by his ‘donations’ had either not raised enough to cover the costs yet or it was simply not a priority.
Kickaha proceeded through the archway and to the ticket booth. It was a small shack standing next to two turnstiles. One for going in, one for going out. No one else appeared to be here so there was no line and Kickaha could head straight to the booth. Once standing in front of the ticket window he waited patiently for the person on the other side to notice him. The fact that only his ears passed over the top of the counter was part of the problem. After a full minute passed without being acknowledged he made an ‘ahem’ noise to get their attention.
“Huh what?” The girl working the ticket stand snapped to attention, seeming disoriented. It was very possible she had been sleeping, or at the very least completely zoned out. “Welcome to the zoo, tickets are $10 for an adult, $5 for a child, no re-entry.” She spoke in the most bored of voices. Then she paused as she noticed that she could not see the actual customer before her. “Right, so a child ticket $5.”
“Well… Actually…” Kickaha started to correct her but she was already hitting buttons on her cash register. A colorful ticket marked ‘Admit One Child’ was set on the counter.
“Will that be cash or credit?” The girl spoke without giving Kickaha an opportunity to correct her about his age.
“Cash.” Kickaha replied. The foxyote did not have much use for human money. But he did find occasional uses for it, such as buying lunch from the pet store or visiting certain human attractions and so occasionally did odd jobs for cash. He never made what most people would consider a livable wage, but the great thing about the forest was that rent, utilities and usually food were all included for free. As a result what little he did make was 100% expendable income. Well, almost 100%. He still paid taxes. He may have been an animal and lived in the forest, but the IRS had still found him. The IRS always finds you. And they would not accept ‘I am an animal’ as an excuse not to pay his income tax. At least it wasn’t very much. “And you can give me an adult ticket.” Kickaha reached into a pocket inside his cloak and produced a small wallet before pulling out a twenty dollar bill and giving it to the girl.
“It’s cute you want to be grown up, but you should enjoy being able to get in places young while you still can.” The girl replied. She took the twenty and gave Kickaha $15 in change and a child’s ticket.
“Okay but the thing is…” Kickaha started and realized it was probably pointless. She wasn’t paying much attention and clearly just wanted to get through this transaction as fast as possible so she could go back to doing nothing. Kickaha supposed he would just have to take the child ticket. But, he was trying to be an honest paying patron so had to make a quick adjustment first. He snapped his fingers and felt his cloak grow larger on him as he started to shrink. One spell later he was eight years old wearing a now slightly larger cloak. Age spells were useful for the company he kept. Sometimes he needed the youthful energy and lack of impulse control to keep up. Now the proper age for a child ticket, he took both the ticket and his change.
“Just present the ticket at the ticket window to be let in.” The girl in the booth continued to speak in her same bored voice.
“Wait…” Kickaha tilted his head. “This is the ticket window.”
“Yes.” The girl replied in a deadpan tone.
“So… Doesn’t that mean I just give the ticket to you?” Kickaha asked.
“That’s what I just told you to do.” She had the annoyed tone of someone who had explained something one too many times.
“But… If that’s the case, why even do a ticket?” Kickaha asked. “You could just take my money then wave me through.”
“We need the tickets to track how many visitors we have every day.” The girl sighed as she realized she was going to have to give the full explanation. “Otherwise when we empty the register at the end of the day we won’t be able to tell if the money matches up to the ticket sales.”
“I feel like there are several ways to solve that problem.” Kickaha held up three fingers. “I mean, I got three just off the top of my head. You could use one of those clickers where you just hit it each time a person goes through. Have two separate ones, one for kids one for adults and that gives you total patrons of each for the day. Or you could keep a log of the sales, and easily tally up how many tickets were sold at the end of the day. Or, consider this, since we live in the twenty-first century and technology has advanced beyond the point of printing ink on paper, you could have a computer that keeps track of it all for you and tells you the exact amount that should be in the register.”
“Computers cost money.” The girl replied.
“Yes, but so does buying and printing tickets.” Kickaha explained. “Not to mention the extra time it takes to hand someone a ticket and then give it back. Depending on the customer that could take from a few seconds to several minutes, and I assume you’re paid hourly meaning on busy days more workers might be needed. There are plenty of low end computers that would likely cost you less money to buy than what you’d save in the first month of having it.” He paused. “I also know where you can get one for free but it sort of has a supernatural Daemon virus on it so you know that could come with some drawbacks. But, making deals is something he specializes in so he’s great with numbers and could easily keep track of all your patrons.”
“Look, I just work here.” The ticket seller gave an exasperated sigh. “I am already aware of the redundancy of the current system and have had it pointed out to me several times. Often many times within the same day. Please just give the ticket back and go in.”
“Oh.” Kickaha felt slightly embarrassed. It was not something that happened often. But he actually felt kind of bad for harassing the poor girl about the inefficiency of the ticket system. It was easy to forget that many humans were in jobs they hate and have no control over, and that anyone in a customer facing position endeared a nonstop barrage of insults, inane questions, insane ones too sometimes, and unwanted commentary. It was no wonder so many of Kickaha’s ‘victims’ wound up deciding to stay animals instead of going back to their normal lives. Kickaha decided to just hand the ticket back to her and not say anything further.
“Thank you. Enjoy your time in the zoo.” The girl had to lean out the window to take the ticket. As she did she saw Kickaha for the first time and suddenly went rigid. Kickaha was expecting a comment about him being an animal. Instead, he was surprised to hear a completely different objective. Surprised and a little hurt by it. “Wait a second, aren’t you banned from this place?”
“Excuse me?” Kickaha asked. “This would be news to me.”
“Just a second…” The girl turned to look at a wall inside her booth. There on the wall was a picture of Kickaha with the sentence ‘Do not admit under any circumstances. EVER!’ written beneath it. “Yeah. Got a picture and everything. You can’t go in.”
“I’m banned?” Kickaha didn’t understand. He did so much good for the zoo. Why would they ban him of all people? “Why?”
“Let’s see…” The girl grabbed a large file sitting on a counter beneath the poster. “Ruining the habitats.” That was a lie, Kickaha had made them more realistic to what they were like in the actual wild. It was important to keep the animals happy after all. “Property damage.” That one was true, but Kickaha had already started the process of paying for that. “Getting the animals riled up.” That one Kickaha had no clue on. Sure, he had deposited a few animals here who weren’t always animals, but he couldn’t think of anything he would have done to ‘rile’ them up. “And bringing a wave of chaos with you every time you come.” That one was fair.
“Hang on.” Kickaha looked thoughtful. “You said there’s a picture of me, right? Or at least of the person banned. Can I see it?”
“If you really need proof.” The girl took the picture off the wall and held it over the edge of the booth so Kickaha could see it. It would seem that she was telling the truth and, for some reason he could not understand, the zookeeper had decided to ban him from the premises.
Or at least a certain version of him.
“I’m afraid there’s been a mistake.” Kickaha spoke up. He was sure to make sure that nothing he said was technically a lie. “That picture is clearly an adult foxyote. I am a young cub. After all you sold me a child’s ticket.” He was suddenly thankful he had turned himself into a kid just to go along with it. “So knowing that the person banned is an adult, why can’t I go in?”
“Well…” The girl paused as she took the picture back. She looked at the picture then looked at the eight-year-old Kickaha. Then she looked at the picture again which was clearly of an adult. “I’m sorry… Must have been someone else. You a relative or something? You look just like him, even wear the same cloak.”
“Something.” Kickaha replied. “And cloaks are very practical. All foxyotes I know wear them.” He was the only foxyote he knew.
“In that case sorry for the confusion.” The girl didn’t really know what to make of the situation. However, she did want this conversation to end. So she accepted Kickaha was a different person without him ever actually claiming so, took the ticket and waved him in. “Have a good day.”
“Thank you.” Kickaha tried his best to sound earnest. He should have a talk with the zookeeper next time they met. Maybe get a chance to recommend some changes to make the girl’s job less miserable. Or perhaps he could help her transfer to a new position in the zoo. Considering she had been asleep on the job, she’d excel in any of the feline exhibits.
Kickaha stepped through the turnstile. It was somewhat difficult. Well, not hard to get past. As his species he could easily duck under it. At his reduced age he could go under without even having to try. But to make sure the turnstile worked properly he had to grab the bars as he went by and move them. As he did he heard a clicking and noticed a small counter go up by one. The turnstiles were already counting how many patrons were entering the zoo. But then why did? No, he wasn’t going to start that up again. The girl’s life was hard enough.
Kickaha walked into the main plaza of the zoo, intent on just focusing on trying to enjoy himself. He looked at the different sections of the zoo trying to decide what he wanted to go with first. The closest exhibit was American Animals. He already saw the local wildlife pretty often. Perhaps it was best to go elsewhere. Then again, it might be good to check in on how a few people were adapting.
“HEY!” Kickaha’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud shout. He turned around to find a middle-aged man that was dressed as if for jungle exploration. “What do you think you’re doing out of your exhibit?”
“I’m a customer.” Kickaha explained. “Not one of your animals on display. I would think that would be rather obvious you know.” He gestured down at his legs. “Walking on two legs and talking and all.”
“… Why would that make you special?” The man asked.
“Uhhhhh, because normal animals don’t do either?” Kickaha replied.
“Uh huh.” The man fixed Kickaha with a glare and then pointed behind him at one of the closest exhibits. Kickaha spared a glance. It was the wolf enclosure. It had been remodeled since he last saw it. For starters, there were now recliners in it, fancy end tables, and modern art statues around the enclosure. There were two wolves sitting in the recliner, one male, one female. The male was sitting with his legs crossed reading the newspaper while the female was playing a handheld gaming console. “Oh… Jimmy and Kimmy. Hi. You two are bipedal now?” Kickaha had met the two when he had been roped into something called speed dating. It talked about finding your heart’s true desire. Kickaha had thought it was a game about trying to correctly identify the dates of various artifacts in a head to head competition with who could get it right first. It turned out it was just a way for lonely humans to pretend to be interested in each other before walking away thirty minutes later and never talking again. During the time Kickaha had met two people who both identified as ‘lone wolves’ on the written profile everyone had to fill out. The two seemed made for each other, so Kickaha intervened. He turned them both into wolves at the same time, which gave them a common interest to talk over. And they really hit it off. It was a shame that humans didn’t have anything to help bring people together like that.
“Oh, hello Kickaha!” Kimmy put down her game to wave. “Well zoo life is great and all, but we both realized we rather missed having thumbs. So we decided it was time for a little change.”
“Indeed.” Jimmy turned the page of his paper without looking up. “Though I would appreciate it if the zookeeper could get me a proper subscription. This local paper doesn’t really tell me what’s going on in the world proper.”
“I see then.” Kickaha studied them. They had looked like normal wolves last time he saw them. They had the ability to talk. After all, conversation would have been difficult without it. But they had definitely been quadrupeds when they moved into the zoo. But, it wasn’t all that surprising. A lot of Kickaha’s magic tended not to last. There were basically two major exceptions. The first was when Kickaha put the extra effort into it to make it last, something that was not always the easiest thing to do. The other, was when the spell should have worn off but clung to the person because they wanted it to. For some reason or another they didn’t want to go back to their original form. Jimmy and Kimmy had been the latter. If they preferred being wolves but only missed a few small human comforts it was entirely possible that they had only partially broken the enchantment. “I’m glad to see you settled in so well. But… What’s with the sculptures?”
“Oh.” Kimmy waved a paw dismissively. “The whole completely natural habitat was a bit too rustic for our tastes, so we decided to request a few decorative changes. The zookeeper was a bit reluctant at first, but he gave in.”
“Excuse me.” The strangely dressed man was getting annoyed as Kickaha talked to the wolf couple. “We still need to get you back in your exhibit.”
“Okay, so, you have two-legged talking animals now. That is a new development.” Kickaha rubbed his chin. “But I’m still a foxyote. You can’t have an exhibit for me. I’m biologically impossible.”
“If you’re biologically impossible then how are you here?” The man asked.
“Now see here, sir.” A key asset to Kickaha’s lifestyle was the ability to convincingly feign righteous indignation. “I don’t go dredging into the details of how your parents brought you into this world, and I’ll thank you to extend me the same courtesy.”
The truth was that Kickaha had no idea what the answer to that one was. In fact, his entire childhood was nothing more than a dim recollection to him. This might be because he’d lived so many childhoods since then that they tended to run together. He imagined that there was an interesting story there, but there were enough interesting stories in the present that he didn’t feel the need to dwell on it. When people asked about it, he usually made up something entertaining. But this situation called for keeping it simple.
“Uh huh.” The man looked unimpressed. “Who do you think you’re trying to fool?”
“At the moment, no one.” Kickaha shrugged. “But I am giving a consideration to the 1940’s explorer cosplayer.”
“I have no idea who that is.” The man sneered. “But I am Jeremiah Mercier Dupont the Third, Assistant Zookeeper. Or Three for short.”
“You go by Three for short?” Kickaha asked with genuine interest. “Is that just like a childhood nickname that stuck, or just really like the number three or what?”
“Well my brothers are Jeremiah Mercier the First and the Second started the tradition going by One and Two, I just continued it.”
“Your brothers have the same name?” Kickaha looked thoughtful. “I would have assumed it was your father and grandfather?”
“What? That would be ridiculous.” Three replied. “My father is Bob and my grandfather Tom.”
“Okay Three…” Kickaha took a step back. “Regardless of -HOW- I exist I’m still something that doesn’t normally exist and so you wouldn’t have an exhibit for. Not like an endangered animal situation but an unnatural occurring element in nature.”
“Like wolves that walk on two legs and talk?” Three asked.
“Yes exactly!” Kickaha nodded. “They were made that way with magic and- Oh shoot that did not help my case.”
“If you won’t go back willingly I’ll take you back by force.” Three warned.
“And how do you plan to do that?” Kickaha grinned as he stared up at the adult human, showing no fear despite how much bigger he was.
“With this.” Three reached into a pack on his back and pulled out a small metal pole that was about six inches long. He pressed a button on it and it suddenly extended to a full four feet in length as a large net popped out on the end of that.
“Huh, not a bad answer.” Kickaha eyed the net. “But you really just carry that around all day? You work at a zoo; you’re not a dogcatcher.”
“Ever since working at this zoo I’ve discovered that it pays to be prepared for any occasion.” Three replied smugly. “The net is cutproof, fireproof, acidproof, doesn’t conduct electricity, and is immune to magic as well as dampens the magic of anyone caught in it.”
“Wait, it does what?” This time there was a small amount of alarm in Kickaha’s voice. “What is that made out of?”
“I have no idea.” Three replied. “Bought it from a guy named Gary after my last net was set on fire by a dragon when we tried out that whole mythical exhibition thing.”
“Gary?” Kickaha’s ears perked up. “Kind of a strange man? Wears a cloak, never really see his body, works at a shop you’ve never seen before and haven’t seen since visiting?”
“Yeah that about sums it up.” Three nodded.
“Huh.” Kickaha knew where it had come from. And that meant there was a pretty good chance that the net worked as advertised. Which meant if caught in it he wouldn’t be able to magic his way out. He also knew there was about a 90% chance the net was also cursed in some way and didn’t know if it would trigger on the person wielding the net or the person caught in it. Maybe the curse had already kicked in and that was why Three dressed like that. “Well. Honestly. Did not see this one coming.”
“Now then, ready to stop being difficult and get back to your exhibit?” Three asked with an edge to his voice.
“Okay, okay, I understand.” Kickaha held up a paw. “But, look, before you do anything. There is just one thing you should hear. Just one teensy little thing I need to say to you. Just let me say this one little thing and I’ll go.”
“Well alright then, spit it out.” Three grumbled.
“Bye!” Kickaha shouted. And then he went as promised. He took off in a full sprint into the Africa section.
“H-hey!” Three was practically steaming with rage. “Get back here!” He gave chase after Kickaha, and despite his age he was pretty quick of foot.
“Wow, fast for an old guy.” Kickaha glanced over his shoulder to see the assistant zookeeper coming for him. Kickaha was going to be overtaken pretty easily. He was an experienced runner, but he wasn’t quite as fast as a little kid as a fully developed adult. And while he could easily change his age back to normal he had only paid for a child’s ticket and so should stay a child while inside the zoo. Curse his commitment to following a bit through to the very end! Well, there was one way to end this quickly. Three wanted someone to go into an exhibit and it wasn’t going to be Kickaha. He just had to decide what animal Three would go with.
What was appropriate? They were in the Africa section. And Three certainly was a persistent predator. A lion was highly appropriate. But Kickaha had learned his lesson from the archway incident. Perhaps something a little less capable of running him down and mauling him was in order. He thought for a moment and had an idea. A meerkat! It’d make him smaller than Kickaha and easily placed in one of the nearby exhibits.
“Alright Three, sorry it came to this.” Kickaha paused. “Okay not really, moments like this are what I live for. But either way at least you’ll be way more unique than your brothers by more than just a number.” Kickaha pointed a paw at the zookeeper assistant and fired a beam of green energy from it.
And promptly saw the beam vanish as Three swung his net forward and blocked the shot. The magical blast just dissipated.
“Magicproof net.” Three grinned. “Like I said, I’ve learned to prepare for anything.”
“Well, there went plan A.” Kickaha muttered. “Just means I’ll need a clever plan B.” Kickaha tried to figure out just what that clever plan would be. Sadly he didn’t have time to come up with a proper plan. His attempt to stand his ground and fight back with magic had given Three more than enough time. One swift motion of the net and suddenly Kickaha was lifted up off his feet and suspended in the air inside the mesh of the net. “Ah dang it.”
“No more trouble making out of you.” Three puffed out his chest smugly.
“Now that’s not fair.” Kickaha squirmed around in the net trying to get loose. “I didn’t even cause any trouble yet!” He couldn’t get loose of the net no matter what he tried. Well, the net itself was magic resistant, but Kickaha wasn’t. If he was small enough to slip through the mesh he’d escape easily. It’d mean being very, very tiny but would only be for a few moments.
Kickaha quickly pointed a paw at himself and tried to zap himself with the strongest shrinking spell he knew. Nothing happened. Not even a small glimmer of light. That was right. The net itself wasn’t just immune to magic, it suppressed the magic of anyone else caught in it. That could be a problem.
“So I don’t suppose you’d consider talking this out?” Kickaha asked hopefully.
“Sure. You can tell me which exhibit you got out of.” Three replied. “I’m guessing either the fox or coyote enclosure.” He paused. “Or since you walk on two legs and seemed to know the two wolves by name, maybe you go in their exhibit?”
“I don’t belong in any of them because I’m a customer.” Kickaha gave a weary sigh. No magic was a problem. He was going to have to trick Three into letting him go somehow and the only thing he had at his disposal were his words and his wits.
Well, technically he could just let himself be put into one of the enclosures, wait for Three to leave, then leave the enclosure, changing form to do so if needed. But that was terrible conflict resolution. Sure, it fixed everything easily and avoided escalating things any further. However, that would be a boring way to end this little endeavor.
Besides, even if Kickaha could easily escape any enclosure in the zoo allowing himself to be put into one would technically mean he had been outwitted by an assistant zookeeper. Kickaha wasn’t omnipotent. He couldn’t say there weren’t times where others hadn’t gotten the better of him. However, magical tricksters do not get outwitted by assistant zookeepers who aren’t even smart enough to remember what exhibits exist in their own zoo.
Okay, maybe that last part was partially Kickaha’s fault. New exhibits did get added pretty routinely thanks to him. And his way of informing the staff of the new animals was to just let them find the new exhibit in the morning. Maybe it was a little understandable for him not to have a perfect catalog in his head of what animals were here. But, the point still stood.
And so the game of wits had begun. The guy was named Three. It couldn’t be that hard.
“Alright, so I can see I’m not going to convince you on the exhibit thing.” Kickaha picked his angle of attack. “But we can at least both agree I’m an unnatural creature that doesn’t appear normally in nature.”
“Right, just like the talking wolves.” Three nodded. He was leaving the Africa section and heading for the America one. Most likely the fox or coyote exhibit. “Or the talking cheetah, or the red panda that looks almost human aside from his ears and tail, or the kobolds.”
“Huh so Amy and Ted are getting along with their new life fine.” Kickaha remembered those two. Amy had been on the high school track team and obsessed with pushing herself to new limits. Kickaha had thought training as a humanoid cheetah would help her reach those heights. But after the training session was done she didn’t want to change back. It turned out being able to run faster was more valuable than her humanity to her. Unfortunately, it had gotten her kicked off the track team. Turned out performance enhancing magic was actually illegal in the official rulebook. It was printed right there on page 108. Rather than change back after that, she had decided to find someplace she could stay in her current form and continue to train and push herself to faster speeds. That was when Kickaha suggested the zoo. She had a very large enclosure to practice in.
As for Ted… Well, Kickaha was only partially responsible for that one. A bit back he had lost an important book, while looking for it had gone through all his other books including spell books. Kickaha didn’t need a spell book to cast magic, but they were useful to have to look up more useful things. He must have dropped one of the books when checking the various school libraries around. Ted had found it, attempted to cast a spell on himself and well, failed. Well, maybe it was a partial success. He got the ears and tail, and even fur up to his knees and elbows, but that was it. However, Ted kept insisting that the spell had succeeded, and strangely enough no one seemed to notice Ted wasn’t a normal red panda and just treated him as a normal animal. Well everyone but Three apparently. Was it simply because he was holding an anti-magic net, or was he more perceptive than he acted? Either way, Ted had moved into the zoo to escape homework and chores. Kickaha kept expecting him to get tired of it and be ready to go back to normal, but it had been three months now.
“Those two are demanding.” Three grunted. “The cheetah made me set up hurdles in her exhibit so she could practice jumping them, and the red panda constantly demands random sweets.”
“Right, right, they can be a handful.” Kickaha nodded. “But, um, quick question. Since when do you have a kobold exhibit?” While Kickaha could claim responsibility for many things in the zoo, that one was new to him.
“Oh they’re not an exhibit, they just work here.” Three replied. “Were going to be part of the mythical exhibit, but that all fell apart. Turned out they preferred working for a zookeeper than the dragon that broke out, so we kept them around. They do most of the maintenance around the zoo, feed the animals, cleaning, that sort of stuff.”
“Okay, so you can understand that not all humanoid animalish things are exhibits, right?” Kickaha asked. “And you’re not going to find a foxyote exhibit. Therefore, I can’t be one of the exhibits.”
“Well you’re too young to be an employee.” Three pointed out.
“I’m older than I look.” Kickaha was now extra annoyed that the girl wouldn’t sell him an adult ticket.
“Maybe but you’re clearly a cub.” Three continued smugly. “Maybe we’re combining the fox and coyote exhibit?”
“I mean, you could do that but…” Kickaha was familiar with the occupants of those exhibits. Most of them weren’t transformation victims or there because of him. They were fellow tricksters. The zoo animal thing was a cover. They liked to wait till there was a single patron near them and then start talking to them. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if their exhibits were combined, but the residents would probably start trying to prove their superiority starting with something simple like a game of chess and eventually escalating to a complex military game involving recruiting humans as animals to act as pawns. It never really stopped being chess. Just very complicated chess. Kickaha could try to talk them down. But as a hybrid of their species, both of them liked to pretend he didn’t exist. “Those animals would get into a really big fight. The damage done would be irreversible.” That was true.
“Maybe you’re in your own exhibit?” Three mused. “We do like to put cubs on display as they bring in a lot of new patrons.”
“Not exactly.” No matter what Kickaha tried, Three wouldn’t believe he didn’t belong in the zoo. But, maybe he could convince him he belonged someplace that would leave him a little more free. “I don’t officially work at the zoo, but I am closer to the kobolds in that I’m mostly here as support for the animals.”
“Oh yeah and how do you do that?” Three demanded.
“I get then acclimated to their new environments.” Kickaha was again technically telling the truth. “I mean, I would imagine the Zookeeper has told you about me, you are his assistant.”
“Oh really now?” Three asked. “Then why haven’t I heard of you before?”
“Maybe you just need a name to a face.” Kickaha grinned. “Kickaha of the Art, pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“KICKAHA!?” Three nearly dropped the net. Kickaha thought his name might carry some weight around here but that seemed like an extreme reaction. “THE Kickaha? The one who leaves a wake of chaos everywhere he goes?”
“To be fair, that’s not entirely my fault.” Kickaha sounded sheepish. “Even if I’m behaving myself, like now, crazy stuff just tends to happen, like now. Like a random lunatic showing up with an anti-magic net.”
“If you’re really Kickaha you ain’t supposed to be in the zoo at all.” Three muttered. “But Kickaha is an adult and you’re clearly a cub.” He paused. “But those wolves also used to walk on four legs so people can magically transform.”
“Honestly, I’m surprised you made that connection.” Kickaha grinned.
“What?” Three stopped walking and looked back at Kickaha in the net. “One day they’re wolves, next day they’re walking on two legs. Then there was the incident with the dragon and the griffin. Seems pretty obvious magical transformations are a thing. That’s why I got me an anti-magic net.”
“You’d be amazed how many people have the same amount of evidence and fail to reach that conclusion.” Kickaha paused. “But anyway, yes, I am THAT Kickaha, but I’m also a paying customer, so you can’t just kick me out after you’ve already taken my money.”
“Mmmmm.” Three was unsure. That was good. “If you’re not Kickaha, you belong in an exhibit. If you are Kickaha you’re not allowed in the zoo at all. But if you bought a ticket I can’t just turn you out.” The gears were turning in his head. “Wait. Did you turn yourself into a kid just to get a discount on your ticket?”
“Not exactly.” Kickaha grumbled. “I made my best effort to buy an adult ticket. The girl at the ticket sales wasn’t that attentive.”
“No, she ain’t.” Three seemed to reach a conclusion. “But if you know about her, you were outside the zoo, meaning ya likely did buy the ticket. Guess maybe you don’t belong in an exhibit.”
“Yes see!” Kickaha gave a sigh of relief. “So now you know you can let me go.”
“You could just be a kid claiming to be Kickaha to scare me.” Three thought out loud. “Or you could be THE Kickaha and turned yourself into a kid as a disguise or to scam your way into paying for a cheaper ticket, which is wrong.”
“Again I tried to buy an adult ticket.” Kickaha sighed.
“Alright, think we need to go have a talk with the head zookeeper. He can sort this out.” Three resumed walking, but changed directions heading for the administrative office.
“Oh good!” Kickaha felt like he had won. “Frederick and I go way back at this point. He loves me, he’ll vouch for my identity. I’ve done so much for him.”
“YOU ARE THE BIGGEST PAIN IN THE BUTT I HAVE EVER HAD!” Frederick shouted when they were in his office later. He wore a simple outfit, slacks, a dress shirt and a sturdy vest over it. “Do you have any idea how many problems you’ve caused me?”
“Wait! I was helping! Bringing in new customers, providing new animals… Can you imagine just how dull this place would be without me?” Kickaha was — much to his annoyance — still in the net. Three was holding him steady above Frederick’s desk.
“You brought me animals that understand the idea of collective bargaining!” Frederick shouted. “All the animals in the zoo, they unionized. Now if I don’t meet their demands they all go into hiding and refuse to come out where the visitors can see them. Do you have any idea how much I’ve spent trying to please these people?”
“Is it more money than you’ve made in sales?” Kickaha asked.
“Not important.” Frederick stated bluntly, which pretty much answered the question. “The point is it used to be simpler. I put an animal in an enclosure. It doesn’t talk back, make demands or cause problems.” He rubbed his face. “How did you even get in here? I put up pictures of you and warned people not to let you in.”
“Yes, well, the picture was of an adult.” Kickaha shrugged. “So ticket sales was convinced it couldn’t be me.”
“You turned yourself into a child to deceive my staff and pay a reduced rate for entry?” Frederick roared.
“No, I didn’t deceive anyone.” Kickaha groaned. “Despite any opportunities to do so. She made assumptions and I finally gave up and played along.”
“So, what do we do with him boss?” Three asked. “Set him up in his own exhibit?”
“No!” Frederick shouted. “I want him removed from the zoo as fast as possible! Even if he’s not causing trouble it just follows him around.”
“Fair.” Kickaha nodded. “But you can’t just take my money and kick me out without letting me get to go see the animals.”
“I’ll give you a refund.” Frederick snapped. “Heck I’ll double what you paid just to get you to leave.” He reached into a drawer and proceeded to count out one-dollar bills.
“I guess that’s fair.” Kickaha sighed. “Really though I thought we had such a good relationship.”
“Ten dollars, double what you paid to get in.” Frederick stated. “Three let him out of the net so he can take his money and go.”
“Alright boss…” Frederick tipped the net upside down and dumped Kickaha onto the floor.
Immediately, Kickaha felt his magic come back to him. This wasn’t a good thing. It was a giant surge of energy, one that he couldn’t contain. He realized what had happened. The net was suppressing all of his magical energy while he was inside of it, and now that he was out, all of the energy that had been suppressed had all come back at the exact same time.
So that was what the cursed part of the net was.
Kickaha did his best to contain the swelling magic inside of him, but it was like trying to stop oneself from sneezing. Green light erupted from his body flying in every direction and suddenly Kickaha was even shorter than he had been as a foxyote cub, unless you counted the ears. He had become a rabbit in the magical blast. He had to hop up onto a chair to see Frederick who had become a kangaroo. A normal kangaroo. And from the fact that he just had his arms crossed and was glaring at Kickaha it looked like one that couldn’t talk. Then there was Three who was… Completely unchanged.
“Anti-Magic net.” Three said proudly as he stood there, the only person in the room in his original form.
“Well, that was certainly a thing that happened.” Kickaha blinked a few times. He snapped his fingers and tried to change back to normal. His spell fizzled. It looked like the burst of magic had burnt him out. It’d come back naturally, but it meant he couldn’t change himself or Frederick back to their proper forms right now. “You know what, this was actually the most fun I’ve had in awhile. You can keep the refund. I’ve had more than a day’s worth of fun.” Kickaha grinned. “I’ll see you next time I have a new animal to drop off.”
With that Kickaha quickly hopped out of the office and towards the zoo exit. He could hear the sound of angry kangaroo noises coming from behind him. However, Three made no attempt to pursue him. After all, Kickaha was leaving like he was supposed to, and there was no way to translate Frederick’s angry squeaking into any orders to do otherwise.
“Not a bad day.” Kickaha mused as he jumped in the air to use the exit turnstile. “I should really consider making this a regular thing.” With that he hopped back towards the forest. Unable to fly, it was going to take longer to get home. He wanted to get home in time to catch dinner. Or… Harvest dinner? He had no idea how long he’d be a bunny kid. He might be on a diet for a couple of days while he waited for this to wear off. Annoying, but honestly, worth it. Today had been fun, and he learned that some of his ‘friends’ were getting along great in the zoo.
He’d visit again soon sometime. But, maybe he’d give Frederick enough time to calm down before coming back, at least wait till he wasn’t a kangaroo anymore. Well, if he changed back from being a kangaroo. Kickaha hadn’t exactly had any control of that blast so had no idea how long it would last. He only knew that he could change back to normal. Probably whenever being a kangaroo stopped being interesting.
Well, at least given enough time it’d be something they could all look back and laugh at. And hopefully not an uncomfortable laughter followed by Kickaha having to run very fast. There was no telling how Frederick would take this. Humans were unpredictable. Then again, he wasn’t human right now. So maybe everything would work out fine.