Part 1 of a Patreon reward for Frinkel about her moving to a nice quiet town where things get a little more fuzzy and a lot more wholesome.
The train rocked back and forth as it traveled through the underground tunnel. Frinkel looked at the darkened window unable to remember how many hours it had been since she had last seen light. Two? Maybe three? They had been going underneath the mountain for awhile. She supposed it made sense. Her destination was in a mountainous reason. Most of them were too steep or tall to go over. Going under was just more practical. Well… That or an airplane. But the train ticket was cheaper.
A large part of Frinkel couldn’t believe she had actually gone through with this. It was something she wanted, desperately needed even. But it was completely unlike her to follow through. Moving out to the middle of the country, attempting to completely restart her life. Yeah, it was something she had thought about doing a lot. Between a stressful job, climbing rent and feeling like each day she had to give up just a bit more of herself just to get by, it was a lot. And yet… No matter how much she wanted this that didn’t make it any less terrifying. Yeah, her normal life was rough at times, but it was the life she was used to. And now she had run away from it for something new.
It was all because of that small cottage. Frinkel had often fantasized about moving far away. Sometimes she even looked up homes to see what it would look like. The problem was this time she found one that was feasible. The cottage wasn’t large by any means. It had a bedroom, a bathroom and combination living room and kitchen. However… It was bigger than her one room apartment! And the mortgage would be much less than her rent! In fact so much less that she could easily make it by three months with savings! And that was a good thing… Because she had one major problem now.
She didn’t have a job. Commuting to her old one was impossible. She had been on this train for almost two days now. And they were unlikely to let her work remotely. Yet, she had bought the house, bought the train ticket, and she was on her way. She had three months to make this work. Three months to find a job!
“Perhaps this was a mistake.” Frinkel sighed. How could she do this to herself? Just because she wanted this didn’t mean she could have it! What if she didn’t find the job! It’s not like she’d have the money to just move back to the city! There was no guarantee that her old job would even take her back! There were so many things that could go wrong… Just…
Frinkel forced herself to stop and take a deep breath. What was done was done. Panicking would not help now. Instead she just had to pull herself together and do everything she could to find that job! Still… A small town out in the middle of the country… How much work would there be?
Frinkel was interrupted from her thoughts by the cabin suddenly being flooded with light. The train had finally made it out of the tunnel! And now it was as if Frinkel had entered an entirely new world! And as isolated as this place was it might as well have been. Aside from the train tracks there were hardly any signs of civilization! Instead the landscape was dotted with trees! Trees with trunks as wider than Frinkel could stretch out her arms! There were flowing streams of water, blooming flowers, and Frinkel was even lucky to see a colorful bird fly straight past the train window! She felt as if she had walked into some kind of nature documentary.
“Now approaching Morning Vale Station!” The conductor’s voice suddenly sounded throughout the cabin. “This is the last stop on this line! Please gather all belongings and members of your party and prepare to exit from the side doors.” Frinkel looked around at this. There wasn’t anyone else on the train. Just her. Still, she grabbed her large rolling bag and prepared to exit.
But found herself confused when the train came to a stop. This place was less at a station… And more just a wooden platform in the middle of the woods. Frinkel took a few steps off the train and looked around in confusion. There was a large clock mounted on a pedestal near the platform, and a lamppost next to it. Other than that the place was empty! She didn’t even see an employee in sight she could ask questions! She considered getting back on the train… But didn’t get a chance! The train doors slid closed behind her and pulled away! She was now stranded in the middle of the woods!
She was starting to feel panic rise as she looked around trying to figure out what went wrong. Had she gotten off at the wrong stop? But this was the final stop. It had to be right… Unless she had somehow taken the wrong train? But… Morning Vale was the correct town name. She looked around for some clue. There was clearly a walking trail visible going into the forest. Was that the right way? Would it maybe lead her into town? Where else was she going to go?
Frinkel briefly considered her options. She could wait at the station and hope someone eventually showed up… Or she could explore the trail and hope something happened. It was… Not an easy choice. However, this place looked abandoned. If she hadn’t just gotten off she would have assumed the train didn’t even run here anymore. No one was going to come here… That meant… It was time to walk along the trail.
The fact was that it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience. The canopy of the trees provided enough shade to keep it from getting too hot while still letting enough light through for Frinkel to see. Under any other circumstances it would have been a great nature walk! But… It didn’t matter how pleasant a walk it was, being lost in the woods wasn’t a nice feeling. And as she continued along the trail in search of a town she grew more and more nervous. Who knew what wild animals might be lurking about! Was she even safe out here?
And then she heard the frantic movements of something running along the trails. Frinkel freaked out and nearly hid behind a tree thinking it might be an animal. That was… Until she heard it shouting.
“Ohhhh noooooo!” It was a girl’s voice that called out. “I’m laaaaaaaate!” As urgent as the voice sounded it did wonders to improve Frinkel’s mood. She felt a wave of relief wash over her at knowing someone else was here.
“W-what’s wrong?” Frinkel heard herself call out… But then she froze completely as she saw the source of the voice as it came around a corner. It was… Not human.
The creature appeared to be a squirrel. But it was much larger than any squirrel Frinkel had ever seen. But it was still less than half Frinkel’s size. Yet… There was no mistaking it looked like a large talking squirrel! Just one that wore clothes! The violet furred critter was currently dressed in blue and white sundress.
“Oh!” The squirrel came to a stop as it heard and saw Frinkel. “I got the dates confused! The train was coming today! I don’t suppose you know if it came yet or not?”
“Um… Yes…” Frinkel was having a hard time processing what she was seeing so instead replied on auto-pilot.
“Oh noooooooo!” The squirrel seemed distraught. “We’re supposed to be getting a new resident today! But I was worried if no one was at the station to meet them they’d be confused! I heard her name was Frinkel. She sounds nice! But now she must be so confused… I have to find her!” With that the squirrel prepared to take off running for the train station.
“But I’m Frinkel…” Frinkel managed to speak.
“What!?” The squirrel spun in place and stared at Frinkel as if seeing her for the first time. “Oh! You certainly don’t look like someone from around here! That makes sense! Welcome to Morning Vale!” The squirrel ran right up to Frinkel and held out her hand. It was a little awkward. She was barely as tall as Frinkel’s knees.
“Um thank you?” Frinkel’s brain was slowly catching up with what happened as she bent down to take the squirrel’s hand… Or was it a paw? It was kind of both.
“I hope you’ll forgive me! I really thought the train was coming tomorrow before my brother told me it was today! I’m usually really good about this! I’m really really sorry!”
“It’s, it’s okay!” Frinkel desire to calm the young girl down slowly overrode their shock of the situation’s weirdness.
“Anyway it’s a pleasure to meet you! I’m Brook! I was actually the last person to move here before you! It’s a town tradition the newest villager welcomes the next one! Come on! The town’s not far away! I’ll show you around!” Brook began to tug at Frinkel’s hand.
“Ok.” Was all Frinkel could manage as she allowed herself to be led by the squirrel. She was trying to process exactly what had happened. Was she still asleep on the train? Just… A talking squirrel obviously couldn’t be real… Yet as she followed along and felt Brook’s furry hand she certainly didn’t feel fake!
“First thing you’re going to see is the town hall!” Brook was chattering away not noticing Frinkel’s discomfort. “It’s going to be the big brick building with the clock tower in it! Morning Vale is divided into two sections by a stream. City hall, as well as most of our ships and cafes are located on this side! Most people’s houses, including your new cottage are on the other side.”
Frinkel just nodded in silence as she listened and looked around. Town hall did come in sight. And it was strange. It was just a normal brick building… But it just sat there in the middle of the woods. There was no sidewalk leading up to it, no roads. Just a building. And… That seemed to be how things worked! Once they reached the actual town the line of trees became thinner and Frinkel could see most of the town in the distance. There was no sense of organization to it. No pathways, other than natural trails that had been formed by years of people walking them. Instead it was as if people had just plopped down wherever they felt like and built a home or store. Most of the buildings were wood, but occasionally there’d be a larger one made out of stone. Frinkel had missed the explanation on what they were… And instead wound up following Brook through the town, and then onto a wooden bridge that crossed a stream.
“There’s three bridges to get across total.” Brook was still explaining things. “Though in a lot of places the stream is shallow enough to wade or jump across. I recommend the bridges though, it’s rude to walk into someone’s store with wet paws… Anyway your cottage is actually just about a five minute walk from mine! We’re coming up on it now!”
The cottage in question was just how Frinkel had seen it on the online add. A small building made of stone and wood with a single door and single window. There wasn’t another house or building within several yards of it.
“If you ever need company just come on down my direction!” Brook was still chattering away. “Just out your front door and turn left! It’s only about five minutes! I’m always happy to have guest!” She finally released Frinkel’s hand as she led her to the front door. Though at this point she paused and looked thoughtful. “If you’re just moving in today you obviously haven’t had time to get any groceries right?”
“I guess?” Frinkel barely heard what she had said.
“Great!” Brook shouted then paused. “I mean that’s bad! But I mean it’s great I can invite you over! What I mean! Is you should come over for breakfast tomorrow morning! I’m sure my brother would love to meet you too!”
“Sure?” Frinkel replied before she was aware of what she had committed too.
“GREAT!” Brook’s face lit up. “I’ll let my brother know to expect you right away!” And with that the squirrel took off running.
“Um okay then?” Frinkel looked around in confusion. After the squirrel vanished she was alone again. But at least she was home? She slowly tried the cottage door. It opened easily enough… There was no lock. She had to bend down to get through the door though. It was like it was made for someone half her size. And once inside she was in danger of her head scraping the ceiling. Well… She knew the place was cozy. But she had really pictured it being bigger than her apartment.
At least it came prefurnished. Not with much. There was a single bed, a chair and a table. All three looked as if they were sized for children. Well… Getting better furniture was something to worry about after finding a job.
“I live in a cottage in the woods, my neighbor is a squirrel, and I don’t have a job.” Frinkel sighed and collapsed onto the tiny bed. Suddenly she felt very exhausted and overwhelmed by the entire thing. She really hoped after a nap things would make a bit more sense.
Frinkel must have been more exhausted than she thought. She didn’t wake up until the morning sun crept through her window. She rolled off the tiny bed and stood up. She was still in that same cottage… So that part hadn’t been a dream. Though she must have imagined it being smaller because today her head was no longer in danger of scraping the ceiling. There was something else that felt off… But she couldn’t quite figure it out. She was just going to get cleaned up and change clothes… But the thing that was off became very apparently when it got caught in the bathroom door.
“YEOWCH!” Frinkel gave a shout as suddenly pain shot through her… Something as she tried to close the door. But… Whatever hurt was something new… Something alien… Yet now that she was aware of it she could move it. She slowly looked back over her shoulder and saw that she currently had an extra appendage sticking out of her backside. It was a fluffy blue and black striped tail. “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!?” Frinkel collapsed backwards. Naturally her tail followed her. She had a tail! But she didn’t have a tail! She couldn’t have a tail! That wasn’t possible! Frinkel scooted back against the wall as if trying to flee from the fluffy thing. But… Of course that wasn’t possible! Wherever she went her tail was sure to follow.
After a few attempts of escaping it Frinkel finally froze up. She slowly reached out a hand and touched the tail. She could feel it. Well… She knew that. She had certainly felt it when she shut the door on it! But… It wasn’t possible. She stood up and swished the tail from side to side idly. Moving it was as natural as moving an arm or leg. When she didn’t focus on it though it seemed to take on a mind of its own! Right now it was curling around her legs, as if her tail was just as uncertain and anxious as she was.
Frinkel sighed. She had no idea what to make of this. It wasn’t like she was in pain… And it was kind of cute. But… Humans didn’t have tails! What would people think when they saw her? Well… If she had squirrels for neighbors maybe it wouldn’t be that big a deal in this town.
WAIT! That was right! Her neighbors! She was supposed to have breakfast with them! And… The strangeness of the previous day came back to her all at once. Why were such weird things happening since she got here!? And now she had to run. Strange talking squirrel or not, Brook was the only person she knew in this town… She must have already made an awkward first impression yesterday… If she didn’t show up now what would the squirrel think of her?
Frinkel started for the front door, but then hesitated. She couldn’t run around outside like this. Her pants weren’t going to stay up with that tail swinging around behind her. How did the squirrel manage it? Come to think of it… She tried to picture what Brook looked like in her head. She was pretty sure the squirrel had some kind of tail hole cut in the back of her dress… Well… If that was what it took…
Frinkel quickly opened her suitcase and found a spare outfit and a pair of scissors. She then tried to cut a small hole in the seat of her pants. It wasn’t easy. The first hole was too small. Try as she could she couldn’t shove her tail through it. The second one was too big and left parts of her exposed. Frinkel would ruin three more pairs of pants before she managed to cut one the right size.
It was an uncomfortably tight fit as she pushed her tail through… But it at least fit. As Frinkel finished getting ready she felt as if everything fit her strangely. Her pants though tight around the tail felt loose on her waist. Then the sweater she put on also felt a little too big. The strangest was when she tried to put on her shoes. They were a whole size too small! She couldn’t even walk in them without risking tripping. She had no idea what was going on there… But realizing the morning was forced to ditch them and continue barefoot as she ducked out the small doorframe.
Brook had told her to turn left and walk for five minutes. Those were easy directions to follow. Frinkel once again found herself on a leaf covered trail as she walked the paths between the trees. The forest was alive this morning with the sounds of birds singing. All in all, it was altogether more pleasant than her walk yesterday, even without shoes.
It didn’t even take a full five minutes before she came to another house. Though…Frinkel wasn’t sure if she’d even call it a house. It was almost more like a house shaped tree. It was as if someone had found an ancient oak tree as wider than most houses and just hollowed out the inside, installed a door, a window on a higher floor, and a then mounted a small red mailbox outside. Frinkel wondered at first if it was even a real house. She hadn’t been walking long… Maybe this tree-house was just someone’s modern art project.
“FRINKEL!” She got her answer quickly as the front door opened and Brook came running out. “I’m so glad you came and-” Brook paused and seemed to notice Frinkel’s disheveled look. “Is something wrong?”
“I um…” Frinkel wasn’t sure what to say. Surely the squirrel noticed the addition of a new tail today. Frinkel slowly wrapped her tail around her legs again while she tried to think of how to explain.
“Did you sleep alright?” Brook asked not taking the hint.
“No…” Frinkel muttered. “I mean yes… Just… I have a tail.”
“But why wouldn’t you have a tail?” Brook asked in genuine confusion.
“Because I’m human!” Frinkel managed to state.
“Huh so humans don’t have tails?” Brook tilted her head. “That’s so strange! But I guess I’ve never really seen that many humans, and you have one.”
“But I didn’t have one yesterday!” Frinkel protested.
“You didn’t?” Brook seemed unsure. “Truth be told I was in such a rush I didn’t really look. But… I don’t know why you’re alarmed. It’s a pretty tail! It matches your ears! Now come on in breakfast is ready!” With that the squirrel quickly scampered back into her tree-house.
“Um… thanks.” Frinkel felt herself blush at the compliment. Even if she still wasn’t sure how she felt about having a tail and… Wait matched her ears!? What did that mean? Frinkel reached a hand up to touch the sides of her heads. She didn’t any ears there. She grasped around until she felt something up higher. Her ears were still there… But they were sitting atop her head! And they were all fuzzy and triangle shaped! And based off Brook’s comment they matched her tail in color. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Frinkel gave a shout as she realized more of her body had changed.
“What’s wrong!?” Brook came running back out of the house. “Did something happen?”
“M-m-my ears!” Frinkel stammered as she continued to grasp at them. They twitched and moved on their own just like their tail.
“I think we need to get some food in you. When’s the last time you ate anything?” Brook fixed Frinkel with a look of concern.
“That’s not the problem! I ate on the train!” Frinkel exclaimed. “It’s just this isn’t-” She didn’t get to finish her sentence before her stomach released a very loud growl. Come to think of it… The train had been almost a full day ago. She hadn’t had dinner the previous night. Maybe things would make a little more sense after food.
“Let’s get you inside.” Brook tugged on Frinkel’s tail to rouse her out of her thoughts and then led her inside. Frinkel had to bend down again to avoid hitting her head (or ears) on the doorframe. At least she had enough room to stand up straight once inside.
The inside of Brook’s house was far more normal than what Frinkel expected. And it was bigger than her cottage. She had entered into some kind of living room, that appeared to have a bookshelf against the wall, a fireplace (despite being inside a tree!), and a couch and several wooden chairs. From here Frinkel could see another room that she guessed was the kitchen. There was a second squirrel with red fur in there dressed in an apron over some overalls. He was busy at work over a wooden stove that sat across from a large round table. Past the kitchen was a staircase that seemed to lead higher up into the tree where Frinkel guessed the bedrooms are.
“Frinkel that’s my brother Chip!” Brook explained. “He made breakfast for us.”
“I’m the older one so take care of the more responsible things.” Chip flashed a smile as he stepped down from the stove and removed his apron. “Please, take a seat at the table anywhere you want!”
“Older? Pffft, we’re not even two years apart.” Brook moaned. “Ignore him, he has an older sibling complex.”
Frinkel did her best not to laugh witnessing the two. Despite the fact they looked like squirrels, they acted as any siblings might. She instead turned her attention to the tables. The chairs of course were too small for her, being sized for the squirrels instead. She was forced to set a chair aside and sit down on her knees instead.
“Now then Brook tells me you just moved here.” Chip spoke up happily as he carried plates to the table. He slid one of them down directly in front of Frinkel. The contents looked normal enough! Scrambled eggs with a side of diced potatoes.
“I was the one who welcomed her.” Brook busied herself fetching glasses that she filled with orange juice before taking a seat herself.
“Yeah… As I recall you forgot the date too.” Chip stuck his tongue out.
“I got there!” Brook protested.
Frinkel quickly grabbed a fork and shoved a bite of eggs into her mouth. It was the only thing she could do to not burst out laughing. For the moment she was starting to forget her worries and just how strange this situation was.
But a single question made that moment pass.
“So what do you do for a living?” Chip asked. It was an innocent enough question. The problem was it reminded Frinkel of the fact she was currently jobless and only had three months to fix that before her savings ran out.
“Um…” Frinkel dropped her fork and paused. “The truth is… I don’t have any work yet.”
“You moved all the way out to a new town without finding a job first!?” Brook was taken aback. “That takes some guts!”
“Or a lack of foresight.” Chip grunted.
“Don’t be mean!” Brook shoved her brother lightly on the shoulder. “She’s our guest.”
“Just saying that’s something you’d want to take care of pretty quickly.” Chip responded. “Unless you just had enough money saved up to retire already.” He laughed at that. “If that’s the case I’m going to need you to tell me your secret.”
“I don’t…” Frinkel stared down at her half-eaten eggs feeling completely dejected now.
“H-hey!” Chip seemed to pick up on the mood change. “Look it’s not like it’s that hard to find a job here. I mean… There’s plenty of cafes and stores always looking for help in town. I bet if you look across the stream you could find something before the day was up!”
“Really?” Frinkel’s ears and tail perked up. That was a strange, but not unpleasant situation.
“Sure.” Chip gave a warm smile. “I’m sure if you have enough… What was it… Guts! To come all the way out here someone would be happy to have ya! Why don’t you head on out as soon as you finish eating.”
“I… I will! Thank you!” Frinkel wasn’t sure if Chip was telling the truth or just being nice. But a little encouragement did wonders to lighten her mood. She’d find that job and get her life sorted out! And… Then figure out what was up with the talking animal thing down the line. “Thank you so much for the food.” Frinkel stood up as soon as she finished. “I’ve got a full day of job hunting though, so I should probably get going.”
“Hang on…” Chip’s eyes flashed to Frinkel’s tail as she started to leave. “Those clothes… Did you make that tail hole yourself?”
“Um… yes…” Frinkel felt herself blush as she became self conscious of her new tail again.
“I see…” Chip muttered. He stood up and began to clear the table of dishes, but not before shoving his sister lightly on the shoulder.
“Huh?” Brook paused then realization looked up. “Oh! Um! You know… There’s a local tailor shop that makes the clothes for most of us here! I guess… You’re probably not looking for that before you get a job… But uh- I have a bunch of old clothes I don’t wear anymore. Some of them might fit you better! Why don’t I bring them over tonight?”
“Ah…” Frinkel realized what they were trying to do. She supposed that she must not have looked at her absolute best right now with her clothes fitting as loosely as they did and the whole lack of shoes. “Um sure, if that’s okay…” She managed to say. Though she doubted anything that the little squirrel had grown out of would fit her.
“I’ll bring them over after you go job hunting!” Brook smiled happily. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“R-right!” Frinkel had a lot of conflicting emotions right now. A lot of the panic about her strange transformation had settled… But she was still in a brand new town that was just so very strange. A mix of anticipation, hope, dread and even excitement ran through her.
But… The best she could do was take it one step at a time.
“Right then…” She took a few steps outside the squirrels’ tree-house and started down the forest trail. “Let’s go find a job.”
To Be Continued