Daniel's Christmas Story
|Pig and Whistle story universe
Daniel sighed as he sat at the bar of the Pig and Whistle. It was early morning on December 24th, and the raccoon fullmorph was the only one at the bar apart from Gordy and some mice teefers at the Small Critter Zone. He stared drearily out the window at the snowy landscape that Polyton had become, decked in colourful lights and festive decorations.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here so early.” Gordy said.
Daniel looked up at the bartender. “Wha? Oh... yea, just wanted to get away from the den for a bit and...think, I guess.”
“It’s your first Christmas with a fur coat, isn’t it?” Gordy asked. Daniel’s eyes widened in surprise.
“I’ve had this bar for a long time, kid. I’ve seen that look on your face a thousand times.” The minotaur answered warmly. “Why don’t you tell ol’ Gordy what the trouble is?”
Daniel sighed again. It couldn’t hurt, really, to get it all off his chest. Gordy was a good guy, always quiet and kind, he would keep whatever was said to himself.
“Like you said—it’s my first Christmas as a teefer. But it’s also my first Christmas away from home, my first Christmas without my family, my first Chris—well, you get the idea.” Daniel looked down at his raccoon paws. “I guess I’m just realizing everything I lost, y’know? My body, my voice,” he flicked the voder around his neck. It let out a hiss of static. “My home, everything.”
Gordy nodded sagely. “I hear ya. But all of us go through that at least once. Just got to find the parts of your life you can be happy with and build on them.”
“I know that.” Daniel replied with a feeble chitter. “I live with Jonas after all, and he’s adjusted pretty well. I dunno though... maybe it’s just the time of year, but I just wish I could turn the clock back before any of this,” he gestured to himself, “ever happened. Even if was just for a day.”
The raccoon felt a large hand pat him on the shoulder. He looked up to see Gordy smiling warmly at him.
“Listen, kid. It’s the holidays and you deserve to be smilin’. I’m gonna give you something that should cheer you up just fine.” Gordy rummaged around beneath the counter and pulled out a small tin. He opened it and offered it to Daniel. “Go ahead, take one.” Daniel peered inside. The tin was full of small gingerbread cookies of various shapes and sizes. His nose twitched at the sugary aroma wafting off of them. Daniel decided to take a gingerbread man with brown icing for hair.
“I thought you might pick that one.” Gordy said with another smile as he closed the tin and put it back under the counter. “Suits you. Now eat it up and I’m sure you’ll start feeling better.”
Daniel bit down on the gingerbread man, his raccoon teeth easily sinking through the soft cookie. It was, to put simply, exquisite. The flavour was simple, yet elegant in the way it danced across his tongue. A warm glow filled him as he swallowed, lifting the teefer’s weary spirit.
“Thanks, Gordy. That really did help.”
The bartender didn’t reply. He just nodded and began to take out some decorations for the Christmas party that would be happening later that day. Daniel finished his cookie and hopped down from the bar stool. Now feeling better, he decided to head back to the den and see what Jonas was up to. Christmas was a time to spend with friends, after all. As he waddled the way back home, the warm glow Daniel was feeling began to spread. Branching out from his stomach, it flowed through his legs and into his paws, up his neck and up to his ears; the warmth even reached the tip of Daniel’s tail. He just smiled at this feeling—it had been one heck of a cookie after all.
Daniel had a bit of trouble squeezing through the hole in the fence to get into Flynn’s backyard, and his teeth chattered as the cold air buffeted his face. It didn’t matter though, soon he was going to be curled up nice and snug inside... huh, that was odd. For some reason, the den entrance looked a lot smaller than it should have. The snow must have fallen through and filled up a part of it. Daniel leaned forwards to start digging it out before a shiver rocked his body. Ok, maybe he could dig after warming up. Making a bee-line for Flynn’s house, Daniel found the back door already open a crack. He pushed it open and stepped into the kitchen, relaxing as the house’s air warmed his frigid skin.
Jonas was sitting at the table looking over the newspaper with a piece of toast in his mouth.
“Oh, hey, Daniel.” The fox said looking up. “How was the Pi—” He stopped abruptly. The toast fell onto the newspaper as his muzzle hung open. There was a look of shock plastered across his furry face.
“Oh my...” was all Jonas could say.
Daniel raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Jonas? What’s wrong? What’re you looking at?” He checked behind him but only saw the door he had just shut upon entering. Jonas slowly raised a paw and pointed directly at Daniel. He ran a hand nervously through his hair; the fox was definitely freaked about something but—WAITAMINUTE! Daniel froze, realizing what he had just done. He had just run his hand through his hair... but he didn’t have either of those, except...
He brought his hand down to eye level and stared. There was no fur, no pads, not even a claw, just smooth pale skin and five long fingers. Daniel looked down and saw two legs ending in shoed feet. Without a second thought he rushed off to the bathroom, practically threw the door open, and leapt in front of the mirror.
“Oh my...” was all Daniel could say.
There was a human staring back from the mirror; a normal, fourteen year-old human. The human Daniel had been before getting sick. His hair was the shame shade of brown; his clothes were the same T-shirt and jeans he had worn the day he caught the Torch. Looking at his furless cheek, Daniel saw a purple discolouration—a bruise from when he had fallen down the stairs at the onset of TFOR. But... that had healed months ago, when he was in the hospital changing. Unless he hadn’t changed at all...
Daniel spun around, half expecting to find himself back in Minnesota. No such luck, he was still in Flynn’s house. A startled “yip!” made him look downward—something he hadn’t needed to do in over a year. Jonas was standing at his feet.
“Umm, what are you doing?” Daniel asked.
“Double-checking your scent.” Jonas answered. “So... it’s really you, isn’t it, Daniel?”
“I... guess so.”
Daniel wandered into the living room and sat down on the couch, still in shock over his reflection. Jonas hopped onto the cushion next to him as he stared down at his human hands in disbelief. The once-teefer wiggled his fingers and marvelled at how they responded. He looked over at Jonas.
“This is real, isn’t it?” He asked in awe.
The fox nodded. “I pinched myself after you ran into the bathroom. This definitely isn’t a dream to me. You’re human... but how?”
“I have no idea.” Daniel said. “Nothing different happened to me today except Gordy giving me a...a...” He trailed off. Gordy had given him a gingerbread man with brown icing—the exact same shade of brown his hair now was.
“No...” He muttered. “No, that couldn’t have been it.”
Jonas’s ears perked. “What couldn’t have been it?”
“Nothing.” Daniel said. “Gordy gave me a really good cookie earlier is all. There’s no way that could be related.”
“Yea, unless it was a magic cookie.” Jonas said with a snicker. “So... what happens now?”
Daniel blinked. “What do you mean, ‘what happens now’? We have to tell someone Jonas! I’m a teefer that’s been cured—that’s never happened before! This is huge, this is unheard of, this is—”
“This is a lot of things.” The fox interrupted. “But I think this miracle of yours can wait until after the holidays. You’ve become human on Christmas Eve, is running off to a hospital what you really want to do?”
Daniel blushed sheepishly. “Heh, not really. I guess I just got over-excited a bit. Thanks, Jonas.”
“That’s what friends are for. So, like I said, what happens now? ” The human grinned. “What happens now, Jonas, is that I borrow some of Flynn’s winter clothes and we hit the town!”
One closet-raid later, Daniel and Jonas strolled down the streets of downtown Polyton. Had Daniel still possessed a tail, it would have been twitching in joy. He was human. The word rang happily in his head. No more scents of exhaust clogging his nose, no more having to avoid being stepped on, no more being mistaken for a wild animal, no more waddling around, no more anything! Daniel looked down at Jonas walking next to him. Grinning, he bent down and scooped the fox up in his arms.
“Yip! What gives?”
“Hahaha, sorry, Jonas, but I’ve wanted to do this for the longest time!” Daniel laughed as he hugged his friend and scratched his head. “You’re just so small and cute!”
Jonas grinned despite himself. “Thanks, I guess.” He replied awkwardly. “I suppose it’s flattering this was on the top of your to-do list.”
Daniel smirked. “Yea, but there’s a bunch of other stuff too! Like eat a bunch of candy without getting all dizzy from a head rush!” He blinked. “Oh! The Twin Bells! It should be open now—I’ve just gotta show Miss Dia!”
Still carrying Jonas, Daniel ran off along the sidewalk to the bakery. Fresh Christmas cookies and cakes wafted into his nose when he opened the door, and Melanie was the only person inside when they entered.
Their boss looked up from the counter. “Why, Jonas, I didn’t expect to see you here on your day off. I don’t suppose you came to do some holiday overtime? And who’s your friend?” She asked, a smile tugging at her mouth . “Nah, just here for a visit, Melanie.” The fox replied. “But as for this guy,” he added, looking up at Daniel, “why don’t you wager a guess?”
Melanie blinked and looked the human over. “I’m not sure how good a guess I can make about someone I’ve never met before. Although... there is something familiar about him... the way he stands, and...oh my—those eyes, it can’t be—Daniel!?”
Daniel grinned. “Hiya Miss Dia!”
She gaped at the once-teefer. “But you’re—but how—” Melanie stammered. Jonas and Daniel exchanged smirks—it wasn’t every day their boss was rendered speechless. After several moments, she managed to compose herself. “You must have seen Gordon then. Those cookies of his are the only explanation.”
Daniel blinked. “Wait, so it actually was that gingerbread man I ate?”
Melanie nodded. “I haven’t a clue how he does it, been trying to get the recipe from him for years. Gordon likes to hand those gingerbreads out around special occasions and holidays. I guess you thought it was a ‘Christmas Miracle’, no?”
“Well... yes, actually.” Daniel muttered, blushing.
Melanie smiled. “Well, don’t worry too much about the cause. I say just enjoy what you’ve been given.”
“Hehe... will do! Though speaking of enjoying it...”
Five minutes and a ten percent discount later, Daniel eagerly looked into the bag of cookies, cupcakes, and candies he had bought from the bakery.
He grinned happily. “Ooooh! I can’t wait to dig into this! No more sugar headaches for me!”
“You may not get a headache but you’ll still make yourself sick.” Said Jonas, now walking alongside Daniel as his arms were needed for the bag. “You haven’t even had lunch yet. At least get some real food in you before going at that stuff.”
Daniel frowned. “Aww, c’mon, Jonas! It’s been a year since I could do this!”
The fox shook his head. “You may be human now but you’re still a minor. It’s my job to stop you from doing things like this. Besides, I have a place in mind for that you should like.”
“Huh?” Daniel looked down at Jonas, who pointed across the street. Following his paw, Daniel’s eyes lit up. The Super Noodle, the best pasta restaurant in Polyton, stared at the pair from across the street. The giant mechanical sign of a macaroni in a superhero costume (and, in accordance with the holidays, a Santa hat as well) waved at them as they crossed the street. Even without his raccoon senses anymore, Daniel could still smell the savoury aroma of freshly cooked pasta when he entered the restaurant’s doors. They were seated almost immediately, and Daniel was thrilled that, unlike Jonas, he no longer required a booster seat, and he eagerly looked through the menu when the waitress placed it in front of him.
“How’d you know to pick this place?” Daniel asked while perusing a list of exotic-sounding dishes involving Kraft Dinner.
Jonas smiled. “Easy. Either you’d like it because you enjoy pasta, or you’d like it on principle since most noodles are very difficult to eat with a muzzle. They have an excellent selection of spaghettis here.”
Daniel smiled back. “Touché, Jonas.” Looking up at the waiter he said, “I think I’ll have plain spaghetti and meatballs.”
“Garlic bread and macaroni for me.” Added Jonas.
The waitress nodded and left, taking the menus with her. When she was out of earshot, Jonas leaned in. “So, Daniel, any ideas on what you’d like to do after this?”
“Oh yea, definitely! There’s a ton of stuff I’d love to do.” Daniel answered enthusiastically. He started counting off on his fingers. “I wanna go horseback riding, rock-climbing, heck I’m psyched enough to even go swimming in this weather! Oh—and we just have to drop by the mall so I can buy a thank-you present for Gordy. We can give it to him at the Christmas party tonight at the Pig.”
“Hmm, well I don’t know about the first one, but the athletic centre has a rock-climbing wall and an indoor pool. I’m not sure if it’s open today but it couldn’t hurt to check after we eat.”
Their food arrived, and Daniel eagerly picked up his fork—ah, the wonders of being able to use cutlery! He spun the spaghetti around the tines and took a bite, thrilled at how his human mouth was able to easily chew the thin strands of noodle. It was silly, really, to be so excited about pasta, but to Daniel every bit of the spaghetti was another confirmation of who he was, another voice saying you’re human to him. He had his life back, and it was delicious.
Daniel finished his lunch at the same time Jonas did. After paying for the meal, they caught a cab to the athletic centre. Despite it being Christmas Eve, the centre was still open and Daniel was able to get an hour on the rock-climbing wall. With the instructor holding his rope, Daniel began his ascent. His human fingers gripped the plastic “rocks” and his feet found perches along the wall as he climbed. No paws could do this; no stubby animal fingers could manage these holds, but Daniel could—the human Daniel. As he reached up for another rock, Daniel’s hand hit the ceiling. He blinked and looked up—he had reached the top of the wall. Daniel let out a triumphant laugh as he gently pushed off from the wall and the instructor lowered him to the ground. Upon touching down, Daniel once again scooped Jonas into his arms and hugged him.
“I did it, Jonas! I really did it!” Daniel exclaimed, a huge grin on his face. “I couldn’t have done it before but now I can and I did! Did ya see me up there!?”
“I saw, I saw.” Jonas replied, chuckling a bit himself. “Congrats, Daniel, I’m happy for you.”
Daniel’s grin widened and he ruffled his friend’s head. “Thanks buddy!”
After saying goodbye to the instructor, the pair went down the hall and took a staircase to reach the pool. One swimsuit rental and changing room later, Daniel stepped onto the diving board. He looked around; no one else was using the pool apart from himself, Jonas sat off to the side watching him with a smile across his muzzle. Taking a deep breath, Daniel jumped. There was no fur for the water to soak and mat as he dove into the heated pool. The warm water surrounded Daniel and washed against his hairless skin, soothing rather than burdening him. Resurfacing, he looked towards the bench Jonas sat on and waved to his friend before kicking off and doing a series of laps around the pool. As he swam, Daniel wiggled his fingers and toes to let the water flow around them. He had almost forgotten what it was like to feel this kind of true mobility, unrestricted by scrawny limbs or fur. Daniel’s strokes slowed as he turned face-up and let himself drift along the pool. He closed his eyes and relaxed, the bliss of the moment washing over him.
“Ahh! That was amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a swim that much before.” Daniel said with a smile as he towelled off and sat down on the bench next to Jonas.
“I’m glad you liked it.” Jonas said.
Daniel blinked. There was something strange in his friend’s voice. “Something the matter, Jonas?”
The fox shrugged. “I suppose. I am happy for you, really, but I guess I’m just thinking about how I’m going to miss you when you’re gone.”
“Gone? I’m not going anywhere.”
“Of course you are.” Jonas said with a sigh as his ears and tail drooped. “You can’t live in the den anymore, and you aren’t going to be able to buy or rent a place anywhere. You’re obviously a minor now, and sooner or later someone will figure out that you’re a runaway. Word will eventually reach the authorities and you’ll end up being brought back to your mother.
Daniel’s smile faded.
“Don’t get me wrong though.” Jonas added. “I’m not bitter... I’ll just miss you is all. But hey, I’m sure your Mom won’t mind if I make an occasional visit to Minnesota, right?”
“Yea...” Daniel said absently. He glanced over at the pile of clothes next to the bench. Picking them up, he silently headed towards the changing room. As he got dressed, Daniel thought over what Jonas had said. He knew his friend was right—there was no way they could still live together. Daniel thought about asking Flynn to take him in, but knew that was a futile route. Flynn had a life of his own, and it would be unfair to complicate it further.
Daniel looked down at his hands, remembering how excited he had been when he first saw them that morning. It never occurred to him that being human again would mean giving up the life he had now. But, this is what he wanted, wasn’t it? To get his old life back? As Daniel walked out of the change room and met Jonas in the lobby to call a cab, he thought just what his ‘old life’ had been. Before the Torch, he had been a friendless loner who took refuge in websites and chatrooms. He had gone through each dreary day constantly looking for a purpose in the monotony of school life. As a raccoon though... Daniel worked a job he liked alongside people he enjoyed and respected, and lived with his best friend. There were no pressures of school, no pointless obligations; just a simple, happy life. The cab came and picked them up. “The Pig and Whistle.” Daniel told the driver. He wanted to speak with Gordy before the bar’s Christmas party began. Jonas didn’t say a word during the ride, and Daniel was thankful for it—even if he wanted to talk, he wasn’t sure what he would say. Upon arriving at the Pig and paying the driver, Daniel beelined for the bar while Jonas took a seat on a cushion by the fireplace.
“I didn’t expect to see you back until later.” Gordy said. “Figured you’d out horseback riding or something. Getting the most out of your body and all that.”
Daniel shrugged as he sat down on a bar stool. “I was, to be honest. But I got too caught up in it.”
The minotaur raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What’s that s’pose to mean?”
“I was too focused on my body—I didn’t give any thought to my own life. Being human lets me do more, sure, but it won’t let me be the person that I want.” Daniel sighed. “I just wish I knew all this before taking that cookie of yours.”
Gordy chuckled. “Oh, don’t be too hard on yourself. People like you are why I started giving out those gingerbreads in the first place. Sometimes the ‘what ifs’ of life can get to be too much for a person, so I give them a cookie and let them have a day seeing how things could be. Most of the time they find that ‘what if’ is a better fantasy than reality.“
Daniel nodded. “I can see that now, yea. But I guess the main thing is—wait, a day? It only lasts a day?”
“Of course it does. You didn’t think a cookie could cure TFOR did you?”
Daniel stared at the bartender. Then, suddenly, he burst out laughing. The few patrons in the bar stared, but Daniel didn’t care. “Hehe, yea, I did, Gordy.” He said after calming down. “I really did. But that was all part of your little plan, wasn’t it? This morning I would have seen a day of being human as a cruel joke, but now it’s like a brief vacation instead.” Daniel sighed. “Well played.”
“Just glad to be of service, kid. Now, what can I get’cha?”
“The phone, please.” Daniel said thoughtfully. “I’d like to make a call.”
Gordy smiled and passed him a cell phone. Flipping it open, Daniel dialled a number he never thought he’d want to call again. One ring, then two, then three. Blast, answering machine. He took a deep breath. May as well get it over with anyway, not like he’d get another chance.
“Hi, Mom.” He said nervously. “It’s me, it’s Daniel. I’m calling because, well, I guess you could say I’ve got a chance to borrow a pretty realistic voder. I just want to say, Merry Christmas.” Daniel’s eyes began to water; he fought hard not to cry. “No, actually, that’s not all. I want to thank you, Mom. I want to thank you for being the loving, overbearing, neurotic parent I ran away from. If I hadn’t left when I did, I wouldn’t be here where I am now. I’ve got friends, Mom, good ones. I’m living with one of them, the one I wrote about. I’ve got a job too, maybe even a career depending on how things work out. I’m taking care of myself, I’m healthy, and—” it was getting harder to fight back the tears, “—I’m happy. I’m happy with my life now, and I’m happy with who I am. I just hope that you can be happy for me too.”
Daniel’s voice choked as he closed the phone and gave it back to Gordy. “Thanks... I needed that, Gordy. I’m sorry about getting all emotional... just brought back a lot of memories, is all.”
The bartender patted him on the back. Daniel looked up and smiled. “So, how much longer do I have to go without my fur?”
Gordy smiled back. “Oh, not long.” He said, flicking Daniel’s peaked ear. The raccoon blinked and looked down. He was small and furry again, a teefer once more. Patting his vest, Daniel slid off the bar stool and padded over to the booth Jonas was sitting at.
“Everything ok?” Jonas asked as Daniel slid in across from him.
The raccoon nodded. “It is now.”