Kickaha revisits Gary to swap stories again. Unfortunately, in doing so some laws of physics get broken, and the universe may fall apart. These things happen.
The Perils of Owning a Multi-Dimensional Small Business
Long, long ago, before the appearance of the first cells that would one day evolve into humanity, perhaps even before the Earth itself came into creation, the universe was already inhabited. Creatures of darkness and madness, whom mortals have forgotten the existence of and ignore all traces of to retain their sanity. Some of these ancient creatures lurk at the edges of the universe, waiting for the day they return it to a void of infinite darkness. Others meddle in human affairs, trying to lead Earth down the path of disaster. And some have found a way to integrate into man’s world and even be productive members of society.
One of the eldest creatures in existence is Garentuiliea Yornaeoth of the Silver Void, the Dream Specter Whom Stalks the Darkness of Eternity, Ruler of the Ninth Court of Autumn Leaves. Due to the fact most mortals rely on an inefficient form of verbal communication rather than directly imprinting one’s thoughts into another’s mind, they often have trouble pronouncing and remembering his full name. Because of this, he chose to go by the much easier to remember Gary.
Gary was counted as a member of the Sidhe, and a member of the Autumn court. But even the faeries considered him an ancient being and were not fully aware of his true nature. Was he simply one of the oldest members of the Sidhe, so ancient that even younger faeries found his nature alien? Or was he some form of elder god or eldritch horror that had simply stayed in place when the faerie courts were first formed, and had one court form around his existence? Largely, they were unable to understand his nature because they assumed he saw and experienced time the same most did. But, technically, none of the theories on his origin were incorrect. It was simply a matter of perspective, and if you defined ‘the past’ as what you had experienced previously or as what had come before the current moment in time. The two may sound the same, but are incredibly different, especially for creatures that exist in more than four dimensions.
Regardless of his origins, Gary’s current nature was so strange and bizarre that even the Elder Gods preferred to give him three galaxies of breathing room. He was, after all, born with a purpose. Or perhaps he was created? ‘Spawned’ might be the more accurate term. It was difficult to tell, since an older version of Gary was responsible for creating the youngest version of him. Regardless of the nature of his creation, he had one job. He was the one who would bring the end of days. Not just for Earth, but for all worlds and timelines. His birthplace was the Silver Void, a world of nothing; and to the Silver Void all things would return.
At least they would if the universe was running strictly as intended. But, ask anyone in change ofeven the slightest amount of planning, and you’ll quickly learn that things never work quite as they were intended. And that included the universe and its most ancient beings. Gary was supposed to end all of existence, but there was one simple problem that he had no solution for.
What happened next?
If all timelines were erased and everything moved to the Silver Void, then there would be nothing left. Gary would simply be back in his void for all eternity, hoping another universe popped up. Maybe after a trillion years he might get lucky and a new world would be born. But that was a lot of time to sit there by yourself being the only thing in existence. And therein was the problem. The End of Days was boring. Life was interesting. Life was full of variety, full of surprises. Gary thought he knew the inner workings of humanity, but no matter how much he came to understand them, they always proved themselves capable of doing something more foolish than he thought was possible.
And sometimes they really caught him off guard by something more clever than he thought possible.
Humanity, and many of the sapient mortal races from across the different timelines, were contradictory creatures. They all seemed to be capable of both impossible intelligence and excruciating stupidity, often at the exact same time. But when they consistently managed to surprise even Gary, it said something about them. What it said, Gary wasn’t sure. But having them around was a lot more interesting than a Silver Void.
And so, Gary defied the destiny he had created himself for, and chose to never cause the End of Days.
Besides, he had misplaced the all powerful Rod of Null-Time needed to do his job anyway.
But Gary did need something to occupy his existence beyond simply trying to understand humanity. Sure they were full of surprises. But just watching all the time got old. And so, Gary got involved. As the owner of a small business. A shop of curiosities. Often thought of as ‘the shop that wasn’t there yesterday.’ Of course, it only appeared that way from a four-dimensional perspective. In truth, the shop had always been there the entire time. And it had always not been there. It just happened to occasionally line up with space-time in the right manner to appear existent in different realities. It was only mortal’s limited perspective of time that made it seem to wink in and out of existence.
When Gary first opened his shop, it was largely random where and when its path would cross through any given universe. But after years, and with some lessons from a later version of him who existed before him (sometimes it was best to just nod and smile than try to understand Gary’s existence), he had mastered the art of controlling the shop’s travels. But rather than choose a universe and timeline himself, he found it was more fun to put the store in a state where it would respond to the will of others. And so, the store appeared to those who needed or wanted it.
Of course, this being a magical ship of curiosities, the needs and wants of its visitors were more karmic than physical And while his customers might leave with physical merchandise, what the shop really sold was experiences. As the items in his store had many strange and fascinating effects, often able to change the person who owned them or the world around the person, Gary became known in the supernatural community as something of a karmic trickster. However, try as he might, Gary was not a mortal; and no matter how much he thought he understood them, he could never truly get inside their heads. He had about as much luck as a human trying to understand what went on in the mind of a cat. This had the rather unfortunate side effect that some of the lessons he taught were very hard lessons. A large portion of his customers wound up physically transformed, and while they learned a valuable lesson about some virtue or vice, the transformation was often permanent. It would force them to adapt to their new form, or maybe even a new world, regardless of their wishes.
Today, Gary’s shop was open as usual. But he found himself feeling rather bored. Today’s client was an athlete. Some kid on a high school track and field team. He had a big track meet coming up that he was desperate to win at all costs… Naturally, he was going to learn a lesson about how cheaters never prospered, and there was going to be a cheetah pun involved in it. And really, Gary had just seen this scenario way too many times. That was the problem with infinite timelines. Even though mortals constantly found ways to surprise him, it didn’t change the fact there were quite a few reruns.
And so cute the script.
Scene 1: Gary welcomes the customer to their shop, tells them how it is full of curiosities and trinkets that will change their life. It’s not Gary’s fault the customer doesn’t realize how literal Gary is. The customer eventually picks out something that will no doubt make them faster but also turn them into an animal or animal hybrid. Since this customer’s motivation was a track meet, there was a 90% chance it was going to be a cheetah, and a 10% chance of a roadrunner. The roadrunner was less common because it would require a much more esoteric closing pun. The customer buys the item as Gary gives vague warnings.
Scene 2: The customer uses the item in some way. They run faster than they ever have before. They’re certain they’ll win the meet. Pride and confidence swell in them.
Scene 3: The day of the meet, the physical changes begin. Magic tended to have something of a will of its own. So naturally the customer would be punished for using magic to cheat, and by the time the meet starts, their transformation would be too far underway to try to conceal.
Scene 4: The customer desperately tries to return to the shop for help, only to find the store is no longer there.
Scene 5, Variation 1: The customer makes amends, apologizes for their actions, breaks the hold of magic on them, and changes back to normal.
Scene 5, Variation 2: The customer comes to terms with their transformation, realizes that what they did was wrong, and grows as a person even if they don’t change back.
Scene 5, Variation 3: The customer is a stubborn jerk who refuses to accept any responsibility for their situation, and is stuck in the form forever..
The curtain closes and the story ends. If you missed anything, don’t worry… the next showing is in three days.
Gary gave a heavy sigh. The customer had arrived, and Gary had already given his opening lines laced with possibilities and vague warnings. Now the customer was off wandering the aisles, looking for his destiny. Gary really wanted something to happen just to mix up things a bit.
And then something happened. The little bell above the door rang, indicating he had another customer. That wasn’t supposed to be possible. With the exception of people who entered the stores as a group, only one person should ever be able to visit the shop at the time. It was just the way it worked. It had to do with that whole not-existing-in-linear-time thing.
And then a short figure trotted eagerly into the shop. Some might have thought him a fox, based on his rusty orange fur colorings, with brown and yellow markings. Others might have thought him a coyote based on his size and shape. Technically, both were correct. It was a magical creature known as a foxyote. They were biologically impossible to exist, which naturally meant that it had to exist. Because whenever you tell the universe that something is impossible, it tends to produce results that disagree just out of spite.
The foxyote stood on two legs like a human, but was only three foot or so in height. He wore a short green cloak that went down just past his upper back.
“Kickaha.” Gary spoke the name of the one returning customer the store had ever had. Suddenly, from seemingly everywhere, there was a loud outburst of applause, laughter, and the sounds of someone whistling.
“What was that?” Kickaha blinked in surprise. Kickaha, much like Gary, was a magical trickster. Though he was a bit nicer than Gary. Then again, Kickaha wasn’t born for the sole purpose of destroying the world. He was actually born because- Well, actually, he didn’t know much about his birth at all.. The point was that, while they played similar roles, they had a very different existence.
Kickaha addressed the empty air. “I’ve had people get excited when I show up before… But usually if someone starts whistling, it means the dog catcher is about to try to smack me with a net.” Now the sound of laughter resonated through the shop. It sounded fake and scripted. “…Okay. Even I find that weird. Your shop has a laugh track now?”
“What? No?” Gary gave Kickaha a quizzical look. “What even is a laugh track?”
“I honestly would think you’d be familiar with the concept. I mean, you run a shop that you update to fit the era it exists in, so you must have had TVs in here at least once. You never watched anything on them?” Kickaha asked.
“Oh, I know about TV.” Gary shrugged. “I just see no purpose in it. Why would I watch actors play out the same stories I can watch real people live through?”
“I suppose that makes sense.” Kickaha crossed his arms. He knew bits and pieces about Gary’s existence. Probably about as much as any mortal could know without going insane. Or worse, sane. A lot of Gary was still a mystery. Kickaha didn’t even know what he looked like beneath the robe, except that he probably had blue fur of some kind. Sure, he had seen him without the robe, on a number of adventures where they had been transformed into smaller animals. But whenever they got back to normal, Gary somehow always had his robe back on before Kickaha could get a good look at him. “But… Why does it sound like you have a studio audience then? Well, a fake studio audience?”
“Do you mean the sounds that played when you entered?” Gary tilted what Kickaha supposed was his head. “I don’t know what a ‘laugh track’ is, or a ‘studio audience.’ But I can tell you that was the sound of the universe breaking.”
“The universe breaking sounds like a laugh track?” Even by Kickaha’s standards, that was weird.
“If that is what you say, sure.” Gary crossed his arms. “I simply know it makes this specific noise as it is the most obnoxious and meaningless noise in existence.”
“I can’t say that’s wrong…” Kickaha paused. “Um… If the universe is broken, shouldn’t we be more worried about that?” There was the sound of gasps from the invisible audience, that was really just the sound of the universe crumbling in on itself.
“To be fair, the universe is mostly held together by chewing gum, bits of string, and hopeful wishes.” Gary replied as if it was a simple matter. Of course, he wouldn’t care that much. Just because the universe ended didn’t mean he would. “When it comes time to return all things to the void, all I’ll have to do is go to a place and poke a bowling ball with a rod, sending it rolling down a sidewalk, setting off a chain of events that will destroy existence as you know it.” He paused. “For this reason, I have banned bowling balls from the shop, no matter how appropriate they might be for the customer. Also, I misplaced the rod during a round of golf, so I couldn’t actually do it if I wanted to anyway.”
“Um… Right…” Kickaha knew when it was better to just run with the explanation he got than ask more questions. “But… Shouldn’t I don’t know, be just a little concerned if the universe is breaking down?”
“Well, you could easily reverse it simply by turning around and walking out the door.” Gary huffed.
“What?” Kickaha spoke feigning hurt. “But I thought we were friends! I just thought you might be bored and enjoy swapping stories again. Now you’re acting as if the universe will end if I see you?”
“Because it will end.” Gary sighed exasperated. “Here’s the thing. I don’t get return customers. The shop only passes through each universe once. The fact you manage to somehow keep showing up is already stretching reality near its limit. But this time, I already have a customer. Only one person, or group should enter the shop at any time. The shop doesn’t even intersect with your reality right now. How did you even get in here?”
“I just came through the front door on the usual street.” Kickaha shrugged.
“But… How? That’s not possible! That door literally does not exist right now. The entire building it’s connected to does not exist!” Gary often grew exasperated with Kickaha. But, that was a large part of why he allowed him to keep coming around. Kickaha tended to generate new experiences, both good and bad. And when you are older than time itself and on your ten trillionth rerun of “School Track Athlete Learns Winning Isn’t Everything,” any new experiences are welcome. Even the bad ones.
“Well… I don’t really know what to say. Because… The door was there. I walked through it. So, it obviously exists.” Kickaha shrugged.
“But it doesn’t!” Gary retorted. “You… Must have somehow caused some kind of reaction to create a temporary doorway where one shouldn’t be.”
“I mean… It was there when I was out for lunch.” Kickaha replied. “Seeing the store was back was what gave me the idea to come by and talk after I was finished with my meal.”
“I presume you mean rodents?” Unlike many people, Gary was completely unfazed by Kickaha’s diet. Kickaha respected him for being able to appreciate a proper nutritious diet. Maybe. Gary didn’t seem to be willing to eat a mouse himself. But Kickaha also hadn’t seen Gary eat anything, so that probably wasn’t a case of him being judgmental.
“Yeah.” Kickaha nodded. “But, I think I need to cut down on fast food. Pretty sure it’s not good for my health. Think I pulled a muscle trying to catch up with that mouse.” Once again there was the sound of laughter. “Okay, even I find that really bothersome. You’re… Like some kind of entity thing. Can’t you stop the universe from breaking?”
“Well you could just walk out the door.” Gary pointed out. “Just… Come back in an hour or two if you wanna talk. The store should be empty by then.”
“Yeah but…” Kickaha stopped. It was his natural instinct to fight against anyone trying to dismiss him. Often because it led to playful antics. Sometimes to things not so playful, and more terrifyingly vengeful. For example, every time Kickaha went to a mall, there was usually an encounter with a mall cop. And mall cops were vengeful creatures with fragile egos. As Kickaha had learned the hard way. Multiple times. Since he kept going back, some might say he was a slow learner.. But he liked to think that he was just being scientific about it. Humans loved the whole science thing. Well, actually, most of them hated it and refused to listen to it. But, while science was definitely outside his department, he could at least try out the scientific method and see if the same actions created the same results each time. It was always a fun surprise when they didn’t.
So what could Kickaha do in response to a rejection by reality itself? It just wasn’t in his nature to walk away from things that were clearly a terrible idea. The most unexpected things came out of terrible ideas. What kind of fool would pass up a chance like that? And if reality itself was rejecting him, surely staying here was the most terrible idea of all. So he would stay.
But, the thing was, while Kickaha could bounce back from just about anything, Gary was one of the few things in existence who could probably put him in a state he wouldn’t bounce back from. Also, destroying the entire universe was probably a bad outcome. All his favorite things were there. And so… Even though it went against his very nature and what he stood for, Kickaha deferred to the judgement of the closest authority figure. He turned towards the door and started to leave. There was only one problem.
“Um…” Kickaha’s voice was uncharacteristically serious. “The shop door is gone.”
There was a loud ‘Ohhhhhhhhh’ sound created by the universe coming apart.
“What do you mean it’s gone? You just came in?” Gary stormed from behind his counter to where Kickaha was standing. But sure enough, there was no door. Even the windows were gone. There was no exit from the shop. “Well… That’s not good.”
“How not-good are we talking?” Kickaha asked. Gary’s scale of what constituted a problem was noticeably different from Kickaha. “We talking mild inconvenience or-“
“The shop has gone into emergency lockdown.” Gary explained. “That happens if the universe it’s in is about to suffer a total collapse. It would be a relatively easy fix… Except I don’t know if it’s your universe or the customer’s universe that’s about to collapse. Look, I gotta head downstairs, work on the engine, check the chronometer and figure out our spatial time coordinates. Try… Not to break anything while I’m gone.” Gary walked back towards the counter, as a wall slid aside revealing an iron staircase. A scent of sulfur lingered as the door stood open. “And make sure the customer doesn’t break anything either. Or get broken himself.”
“Uh, right. I can handle that.” Kickaha nodded eagerly. He had some experience with running supernatural businesses. Failed experiences were still experiences. And really, much more valuable than any experience running a successful business. After all, you learned much more from a failure than you did a success. And so that meant that Kickaha was brimming with wisdom on how to run a store like this. He went behind the counter and scrambled up onto Gary’s seat and waited for the customer to appear, ready to make their purchase.
Except, after a few minutes had passed, the customer had not come out from any of the aisles. Had the customer maybe been shunted out of the store when Kickaha arrived? No, that couldn’t be the case. Gary would immediately know if someone had left the shop. So it meant he was still browsing. He hadn’t found whatever item he was destined to buy. Now, Kickaha wouldn’t normally interfere.
Okay, that was a lie. But he liked to think of it less as ‘interfering’, and more as ‘enhancing someone’s situation.’ But, if the universe was suffering some kind of breakdown, there was the chance that the customer could buy the wrong item. Also, Kickaha probably needed to make sure the actual purchase didn’t occur till the door was back. Wouldn’t want the customer to panic and realize they were stuck. So… It was time to put on the old foxyote charm, seek out the customer, and make overly long sales pitches until Gary got back up from whatever he was doing.
And so the foxyote was on the hunt. He jumped down from the chair and moved through the different aisles, trying to locate the customer. He didn’t actually know anything about them yet. Their gender, species, age, occupation if any. All a mystery. Some people might think that would put him at a disadvantage for when it came time to make his sales pitch. But, that was because they were working under the logical fallacy that a salesman would only attempt to sell someone something they could use. A wise dog had once taught Kickaha that, with the right pitch, you could sell two vacuum cleaners to someone who lived in a hole in the ground. Was he still a dog? Probably. It seemed to be helping the guy’s sales so it was doubtful he’d allow the enchantment to wear off anytime soon. Kickaha’s magic was usually more temporary than Gary’s… But sometimes either by refusal to acknowledge it, or by embracing it and refusing to let go, people could extend a spell that was meant to last a day or two for an indefinite amount of time.
Humans were such interesting creatures. Something Gary and Kickaha saw eye to eye on.
Kickaha continued to wander from aisle to aisle, not having caught sight of the customer yet. Part of him wondered just how big this place was that he hadn’t run out of aisles to check yet. Then he remembered the owner, and realized that the shop probably had an infinite amount of space and only appeared to have a limited volume to customers. In fact, Kickaha was fairly confident he had been able to see the entire shop from Gary’s counter on previous visits. The shop being so big right now probably had something to do with the whole universe-coming-unraveled thing.
Thankfully, even if the shop itself was infinite, most humans were not capable of walking an infinite distance in a short time. And humans who were shopping tended to stop and look at things a lot. After several minutes, Kickaha finally caught up with the customer. A human male, in their teens, probably in high school. He was wearing jogging shorts, a t-shirt, and a pair of running shoes.
Kickaha may not have been older than time, but it didn’t mean he hadn’t been around enough to pick up on patterns. They said you couldn’t judge a book by its cover, and while that was true to an extent, some well-placed observations could get you some of the basic facts before you got to the hidden depths. After all, the cover’s job was to lure you into a book. Sure, the book got deeper after that, but only after the cover got your attention.
Based on his dress, the boy clearly jogged. But for general exercise, as part of a school activity, or by the act of having run away from a sudden problem very fast? Kickaha was quite familiar with the last one. But, you generally didn’t have time to change into exercise attire for those types of runs. The fact he was wearing workout clothes in the store implied he either had been in the middle of a jog when he saw the store, or was just the type of person who wore those clothes everywhere. But, his brown hair was short, and neatly combed. It appeared that most of the hair on his body was shaven. Personal aesthetic, or to reduce wind resistance? Possibly both. The lack of a pedometer decreased the chance of him doing this just for exercise, but didn’t prove one way or the other. He simply may not have needed one or been unable to afford one. But, after putting it all together, Kickaha concluded that the kid was on the track team at school. How did he come to reach the correct conclusion? Well, there were all the observations he had made.
And also the boy’s t-shirt had his school’s name on the front and the number 9 printed on the back. The sports uniform did kind of make it obvious.
“So, find what you’re looking for?” The customer hadn’t noticed Kickaha yet, so he chose to remedy that. “I assume you’re probably looking for something to run faster or to give you better stamina or-“
“Huh?” The boy turned and looked at Kickaha. “What… Are you some kind of store mascot?”
“No.” Kickaha replied dryly. “I’m pretty sure Gary wouldn’t let me hang around the store enough hours to qualify as that.”
“So weird…” The boy muttered and walked up to Kickaha. “Your voice sounds like an adult, but your costume is clearly sized for a child.” He grabbed one of Kickaha’s ears and tugged on it. “Though I don’t recognize you as a mascot from any of the other local schools…”
“H-hey! Stop that at once!” Kickaha muttered. “That hurts!” Kickaha was at the end of the day an animal. A highly advanced and sophisticated animal. Well advanced anyway. But still an animal, and that came with certain instincts. Kickaha snapped at the kid. Not hard, and he deliberately missed the kid’s hand. Just a warning ‘stop that’ bite. No actual contact made, but clearly getting the point across.
“Those… Are some really sharp teeth.” The boy took a few steps back.
“If it’s all the same to you, let’s not go into the whole Red Riding Hood style story.” Kickaha tapped his paw against the ground. “You would not believe how upset people got last time I was involved with a faerie tale.”
“Are you some kind of robot then?” The kid asked.
“What? No. Why would you think that?” Kickaha crossed his arms and stuck his tongue out. “I am a foxyote, a magical and completely respectful creature.” The sound of laughing echoed throughout the shop again.
“What was that?” The boy asked.
“Just the sound of the universe dying. Don’t worry about it.” Kickaha pushed the kid further down the aisle. “Instead let’s focus on what’s in this store you can’t live without! I’m sure there’s something!”
“Whoa, don’t push me and…” The boy paused and looked down at Kickaha. “Wait… You’re… Some kind of real talking animal?”
“Nothing gets past you does it?” Kickaha asked, trying not to sound disingenuous. Trying. The universe chuckled.
“But… That’s…. Impossible. Animals don’t talk. I mean…” The kid looked at Kickaha and glanced over his body up and down. “I see… Must be having a dream.” And then the kid collapsed. Kickaha barely acted in time to catch him and stop his head from slamming into the ground. He had still fainted though.
“Yeesh, it’s like you’ve never encountered talking magical animals before.” Kickaha gently set the kid down.
“KICKAHA!” Suddenly, a floor tile swung open, and the top of Gary’s hood poked out. “I must warn you that this customer comes from a world without any talking animals or normal magic. So it is of the utmost importance that you put on some kind of disguise before you-“ Gary paused mid-sentence as he noticed the unconscious teen on the floor. “Oh.” The sound of laughter echoed. “Dang it. I thought I fixed that.”
“Yeah, I could have used a slightly more advanced warning on that one.” Kickaha replied.
“What are you talking about?” Gary asked. “I mean, this is decades earlier from your point of view. In fact you might not be born yet and-“ Gary paused. “Oh right, time only goes forward for you.”
“I mean it goes forward and back, but the backwards part is usually just a physical thing.” Kickaha explained.
“Ah… Well, this is unfortunate. This is far later for me, but earlier for you but not early enough.” Gary’s face was not visible but Kickaha could feel the frown. “I knew I should have opened up the left tile instead.”
“Okay, so I know there’s the whole non-linear time thing going with you.” Kickaha did his best not to think about how it worked. “But why didn’t you just tell me before you went downstairs?”
“I did! At least this is before! But also after.” Gary huffed. “But the fact I told you now and it’s too late means I can’t tell you earlier because then I wouldn’t have told you now and thus knew to tell you earlier. Surely you understand the basic concept of causality.”
“Let’s go with yes.” It wasn’t that Kickaha didn’t understand the nature of causality. He just didn’t know how causality and Gary intersected. And again, he knew better than to try to think about it too hard.
“Well… You need to wake the kid up. A lot of merchandise can manifest in people’s dreams.” Gary responded. “And unless you want him to suddenly be the Overlord of Jupiter, responsible for leading an alien invasion in about what I estimate is 200 years away from your point of view, you had best wake him up before the Red Spot of Jupiter gets into his head.”
“Wait, Jupiter is a gas giant… And the Red Spot is a storm on it. How is it-“ Kickaha started.
“Not that Red Spot! The other Red Spot!” Gary explained. “The one that looks like an ancient medallion, rusted over till it turns red. The first ruler of Jupiter was sealed inside of it and it’s constantly looking for a new host to restore him to power.”
“So there’s life on Jupiter?” Kickaha asked uncertainly.
“There will be, but not carbon based. They’re a little ethereal, and mostly made out of helium. Look I don’t have time to give you a history lesson on the Solar System War III. I need to fix things.” Gary ducked back beneath the tile and disappeared.
“So who were the first two wars with?” Kickaha wondered out loud. Not that he got an answer. “Okay… Right, time to wake the kid up. Let’s see… Probably best not to use smelling salts. Any I find in here would probably release an elder god or something. And still gotta find what product is for him and…” Kickaha snapped his fingers. “I can take care of the product myself, then take advantage of his natural instincts to get him back on his feet after.” Kickaha pointed a paw out at the unconscious boy. A beam of green energy zapped out from his hand, and suddenly the boy began to change.
Spotted fur sprouted over his entire body, as his ears moved to the top of his head becoming more rounded. There were two streaks of black fur on his face, almost looking like tears as his face pushed out into a muzzle. A long sleek tail with a white tip grew out the boy’s feet became more pawlike as he took a digitigrade stance, destroying his shoes and socks in the process.
“I have no idea what product you were going to buy, but there’s a 90% chance it was going to turn you into some kind of cheetah.” Kickaha mused. “Well, I suppose maybe a roadrunner. But cheetahs are cats, and I have more experience dealing with those.” Kickaha reached inside one of his cloak pockets and pulled out a long bit of string. He dangled it directly above the unconscious boy’s head, occasionally lowering it to touch the tip of his snout, and then raising it back up.
In his sleep, the boy began to swat at the string. And anytime he did Kickaha pulled it further out of range. Then suddenly, the boy awoke.
“MROOOAWRL!” He pounced upon Kickaha, getting the string. Even being a child, and part cheetah, the kid was still a head taller than Kickaha and pinned him to the ground.
“That did the trick…” Kickaha replied. “Um, you’re kind of heavy. Can you-“
“Why was I after a string?” The boy stood up. His shorts, which were already tearing, broke apart and slid off him. They just weren’t strong enough to stand up to his tail. “And… What!?”
“So, I’ve got good news, some more good news, and even better news.” Kickaha started out. “First off, whatever you need to run faster for — a track meet, probably — you’re going to make a record time. Second, you’re now free of the tyranny of pants. Trust me, once you get used to it you’ll wonder how you were ever able to stand them. And lastly, as a feline, you can now understand the true value of nutritious rodents and how they can give you the energy you need to get through the day! I’m sure I have the Spherical Mouse Simulator in my cloak somewhere if you want to get some test hunting in.”
“What? I’m not gonna eat a mouse. That’s disgusting.” The cheetah boy replied. He was still looking over himself, clearly confused. But at least he hadn’t fainted again.
“How do I keep meeting felines with no taste?” Kickaha shrugged. “Anyway… You’re all set for whatever you have coming up.”
“What… But what happened to me? I can’t be seen like this!” The boy protested.
“Why not?” Kickaha asked.
“Because I’m… Um…” The boy trailed off. “I don’t know but I’m sure I can’t.”
“I mean I walk around like this all the time and it works out fine.” Kickaha paused. “Although you did faint. That was very rude by the way. But I’ll forgive you since the universe was kind of coming to an end.”
“What?” The boy asked.
“Nothing, don’t worry. The point is, you’ll be able to succeed at whatever you were jogging at before. And you won’t have to worry about buying new running shoes either.”
“Okay, but people are going to freak out if I look like this. I mean what if my parents-“ The boy started.
“In my experience people don’t see things they don’t understand unless they want to. I mean you accused me of being both a costume and a robot.” Kickaha crossed his arms trying not to sound insulted as he spoke. “Most people are going to make up excuses, or refuse to acknowledge it. The ones who do, will likely only do so because your new form interests them and… Huh, if you refer them to Gary’s shop, I wonder if I get any kind of bonus.”
“I… What are you even talking about?” The boy looked at him questioningly.
“Look, trust me, I do this all the time. Go to whatever track meet, tournament or whatever you have planned. Run as you are, I guarantee you no one will say anything. At least no one over the age of eighteen.” Kickaha paused. “Kids tend to be more open to the idea that things they don’t know about can actually exist. Guess that’s why you fainted. As a teenager, you’re not quite a kid and open to new things, but also not quite an adult and closed up to them either. Guess your brain just didn’t know how to process it and overheated. But, now that you’re an animal too, hopefully it’ll be a little easier to deal with.”
“Um… Sure?” The kid sounded confused, but seemed to be going with it. Possibly because the explanation Kickaha was giving was better than no explanation or whatever he could come up with in his head to explain it.
“Still, I do feel bad about you fainting. So we’ll say this one is on the house.” Kickaha grinned. “I do hope you consider visiting again.”
“Um… Sure… I’m… Going to get some fresh air, and jog for a bit. Things are weird… I need to clear my mind.” The cheetah boy walked out from the aisle.
“Probably a good idea.” Kickaha nodded. Then he remembered the door was missing. “Wait! I mean before you go!” But the bell above the door rang as the door opened and the cheetah kid disappeared out the door. “Oh, I guess that’s back now.” Kickaha waited, to see if he was going to hear the most terrible noises in the universe. Instead there was silence.
After a few seconds of silence, the wall behind the counter slid open and Gary appeared.
“Alright, so I had to duct tape a crack in the singularity that causes the Big Bang, but I think the crisis is averted.” He looked around the shop, which was now a normal small size. “What happened to the customer?”
“I turned him into a humanoid cheetah and sent him on his way.” Kickaha explained. “He was a little disoriented, but I think he’s warming up to the new form.”
“What!?” Gary asked, completely bewildered. “He’s not supposed to warm up to it! He’s supposed to slowly start to change the day of his track meet and then try to hide and find the store again! If he’s already completely transformed, and just going to roll with it, then the entire script is thrown into ruins.”
“And that’s bad because?” Kickaha gave Gary a knowing smirk.
“Well, he won’t learn his lesson about not cheating if he wins by being a cheetah for starters…” Gary began.
“Technically he’s not cheating. I turned him into a cheetah. The fact he has a biological advantage in a foot race is just a coincidence he benefits from, not any choice he actively made to cheat.” Kickaha grinned.
“But there are no other animal people in his world.” Gary groaned. “Most people aren’t going to notice, because most people wouldn’t notice if a dragon landed on their car. People can be really thick when it comes to what they think they know to be fictional. But some people are gonna notice and start asking questions… Many will even want to be changed like him.”
“Which sounds like a lot of potential new customers!” Kickaha’s tail wagged happily. “And surely, more and more of humanity’s youth becoming converted to a new species as they embrace the benefits and pantlessness of giving in to their inner animal will make for a far more interesting viewing experience than one person learning not to cheat.”
“Yes but…” Gary paused. “Hmmm, given enough generations depending on how many adults refuse to acknowledge it and how many children seek it out, humanity might eventually be replaced by animal hybrids. It would take several generations but…” He paused. “Or perhaps he’ll be the only one and no one will notice. Either way, better than watching another freaking track meet.” Gary didn’t know how this was going to end or where the curtain was going to close.
And that was a big deal considering how he saw time.
“Alright, I guess you’re off the hook for this one.” He spoke in a relieved sigh.
“I didn’t even know I was on the hook!” Kickaha spoke taken aback. “I mean, I was trying to help.”
“Yes, yes, and we’ve shared more than enough stories for me to know how your help goes.” Gary replied with a short laugh.
“Hey you’re the one who left me in charge of the shop.” Kickaha crossed his arms.
“Only because the universe was about to collapse. It’s fixed but there were some really weird things in the new timeline.” Gary shook his head. “Like the year 2020 is an absolute mess now. But I suppose it’s better than letting that universe collapse.”
“So it was the boy’s universe then.” Kickaha looked thoughtful. “I don’t think I know too much about a universe without magic or stuff. How do your dealings in those worlds usually go?”
“Well…” Gary looked up at a clock on the wall. “I’ve got a couple decades before the next customer. I suppose I can swap stories for a bit.”
With the universe saved, and the customer gone, the two sat down for their usual routine, sharing stories of their various misadventures and the fallout from them.