The Fool in the Fox
|Pig and Whistle story universe|
A cool breeze wafted through the entrance of my den. The crisp morning air tickled my muzzle and my nose twitched at the scents of fresh fruit and flowers being brought in from the nearby garden, waking me from my sleep. I yawned, got to my feet, and stretched to get some kinks out of my legs and tail. Yes, that's right. Tail.
Perhaps an explanation is in order… My name is Jonas Balfour and I’m a teefer, one of the thirty-percent or so of people who experienced the side effect known as Transformative Failure of… drat. I can never remember the full name of the acronym but I think the word “octoplasmic” fits in somewhere. Anyway, my case of TFOR was a bit high degree compared to most; I’m what’s known as a fullmorph, someone who has been changed almost completely into an animal. In my case I’m now a member of vulpes vulpes, or red fox for the layman. Sure I’ve got some lingering pieces of human in me—mostly in my throat, letting me talk (albeit with a much higher voice) — but for the most part I’m a fox, complete with fur, tail, muzzle… you get the idea.
Once I finished stretching I opened the trunk I kept in a sort of “side pocket” and picked out what I was going to wear for the day. While my fur covered me enough to make modesty a moot issue, I still didn’t like the idea of going uncovered in public. While most fullmorphs who could wore a pair of pants or shorts in public, I preferred to go for a complete outfit. I decided on a pair of light shorts and a vest with a paw print design on it, my favored clothing motif. I also put on my collar— but not for appearances, it was a legitimate necessity. While the front of the bone-shaped tag attached to the nylon collar just had my name, on the back was my emergency contact information in case something ever happened. This was the only way to ensure I had the info on me at all times since I didn’t always have access to pockets and, when I did, wallets and ID cards tended to fall out. It took me a minute to put the thing on though, while TFOR had left me with forepaws just dexterous enough to be used as hands, it didn’t leave me any thumbs. Fortunately, I didn’t have any problems with my glasses; I just slipped the custom frames over my peaked ears and climbed out of the den.
The yard was empty when I exited my home—this was admittedly expected since Flynn, the person who owned the actual house, only tended to it in the afternoon. My arrangement with Flynn was a sensible—if unusual—one: he lets me live in the backyard and in exchange I help out from time to time with bills and whatnot, plus my presence keeps rabbits and other such creatures away from his garden. I shook some dirt off my paws before I entered the house through the back door.
Flynn wasn’t in the kitchen when I entered, but there was a plate on the table at my normal spot. I hopped up and took a look; there was a sandwich on the plate and next to it a note which read:
Took you long enough to wake up, I could swear TFOR left some cat in you.
I rolled my eyes at the familiar joke before continuing to read.
I’ve left you a turkey sandwich since I doubt you’ll have time to get your own breakfast. You’re late for work by the way. ~Flynn
Late for work? I glanced over at the clock and gave an alarmed yelp when I saw the time; it was almost 9:30! I scooped up the sandwich in my muzzle before hopping off the table and dashing out the front door.
My race to work reminded me once again of a benefit to being a fox—a 30mp/h land speed that made traffic a moot issue. I grinned inwardly to myself as I dashed past a gridlocked traffic light; suckers! A hacking cough put a stop to my gloating—the commuters’ revenge for my smugness. Even with the hybrids that everyone was driving, exhaust still stank as much as it ever did, and with my senses letting me smell every individual bit of refuse that meant a choking miasma so strong I could literally taste it.
I managed to arrive at work only thirty minutes late, bursting through the pet door at the front of the Twin Bells Bakery and practically skidding to a halt in front of Melanie Dia, my boss. Still panting from the run, I tried to apologize for being late but all that came out was a series of low barks and growls.
Ms. Dia looked down at me and raised an eyebrow. “I take it that means ‘I’m sorry and it won’t happen again’?”
I nodded eagerly, trying to calm myself down. It was one of the more unusual quirks of my change, but because of the way my vocal chords are set up it becomes impossible for me to talk whenever I’m in a heightened emotional state, including raised/lowered heartbeats or an adrenaline rush.
It was at this point a customer entered the store and so Ms. Dia went behind the counter to tend to him as I moved to the side and finished regaining my voice. Once that had been accomplished, I quickly fell into my normal work routine.
Most of the time I simply sat in a corner by the counter with my hind foot positioned over a silent alarm trigger in case someone attempted to rob the store—something Ms. Dia was quite strict about even though in the three years I’d worked at the Twin Bells I hadn’t even come close to having to press it. If children came in, I would play the part of a friendly pet while their parents made their purchases free of distraction, and in the event that someone had to wait while their order was made I would strike up a conversation to keep their minds off the time. Occasionally a customer would leave behind their wallet or a credit card, and it would be my job to run after them, and at lunch I dropped by the deli down the street and brought back sandwiches for Ms. Dia and the bakers. In other words, the work was repetitive enough to be routine, but varied enough so that I didn’t go stir crazy.
When 5PM rolled around I was about to head home when Ms. Dia stepped between me and the door.
“Hold on a sec, Jonas. Can I get you to do something for me?”
“Of course.” I replied, looking up at her.
Ms. Dia smiled and tapped the box she was holding. “Fortunately it is. I need you to deliver this to the Pig and Whistle on your way home?”
“That name sounds familiar.”
“It should. It’s a teefer bar attached to that old hotel near the downtown area. Someone ordered this cake for a” – she checked the label on the box – “Mr. Allan Wilson. The bar should be near your apartment building, do you mind?”
"Yes, though that’s never stopped me before now has it?" I joked amicably.
Ms. Dia leaned down so that I could take the box’s handle in my muzzle. After doing so I gave a quick “b’ai” before leaving.
The sidewalks were more crowded in the afternoon than they had been in the morning, so I had to navigate a forest of legs on my way to the bar. I also had to keep my tail ducked as much as possible to prevent anyone from trodding on it carelessly—a consequence of my size that had led to unpleasant incidents in the past involving stiletto heels. While I did know about the Pig and Whistle—it’s impossible to be a teefer living in Polyton without hearing about it—I had never been there. Bars were an effective hazard for me—smoke-filled air that coated my fur, loudmouth patrons that strained my ears, smartass bartenders who’d spike my drink when I tried to order something benign, and drunken louts who though it hi-larious to have fun with the fox that got hammered on half a beer since he has zero tolerance for alcohol. I shuddered at the memory and almost hightailed it back home—until the thought of Melanie’s, “displeasure” as she put it, made me change my mind.
The good thing about looking for a building that’s attached to a hotel is that hotels tend to be highly visible, so finding the Pig and Whistle wasn’t a problem. Neither was finding an entrance either, there was a pet door like the one at the Twin Bells out front—which shouldn’t have come as a surprise; hard to be a successful teefer bar if you can’t even have the appropriate entrances.
There wasn’t any smoke when I entered the Whistle—just a haze of fur, feathers, and alcohol that filled my senses and replaced the odors of the street. It was also quiet, the only sounds being the clinking of a glass and the crunch of sawdust beneath my paws. I stood in front of the door taking in my surroundings. It was unmistakably a bar, but had a sort of cowboy-medieval style to it. I had to hand it to the designer actually, the place was littered with furniture designed to accommodate every imaginable body type but none of it interfered with the Old West-theme that was going on.
Counting the bartender and myself, there were only seven people in the Whistle, which I suppose made sense since at this time most people, like myself, were only just getting off work. No way to tell which one was Allan Wilson though. I growled indignantly to no one in particular; I mean, what kind of person uses a bar as their address?
The answer came to me almost immediately after I had asked, and I would have smacked myself had I been able: a regular, obviously! Which meant that the bartender should know who I was looking for. I made a beeline for the bar and hopped on to a stool, ignoring the tiny steps meant for smaller teefers, and set the cake box down on the counter.
"Heya!" I said warmly as the bull-headed bartender came over to me, “I’m looking for an ‘Allan Wilson’; do you know if he’s here or will be sometime this afternoon?”
The minotaur nodded towards someone over my shoulder. I turned around as followed his gaze and saw a rather spindly-looking human sitting at a booth finishing a drink.
“Ah, thanks.” I said before scooping the box handle back up and dropping down from the stool. I proceeded over to the booth and climbed onto the seat opposite the human, who looked up at me as I once again set the cake box down.
”Allan Wilson?” I asked. The human nodded. “I have a delivery for you from the Twin Bells bakery.”
“Oh?” He said as he pulled the box towards him. Allan looked it over curiously and began trying to pick off the tape holding it together, but wasn’t having much success.
“Here,” I offered, “let me.”
He slid the box back towards me and I extended my claws before ripping through the tape.
The box exploded, and I had barely time to shut my eyes before getting splattered with cake. Raising a forepaw to wipe off my face, I opened my eyes to see the flattened remains of the box as well as the remnants of whatever cake had been inside it—judging from the smell I wagered it involved strawberries. Looking myself over I found that most of my fur was now matted with icing, whipped cream, and cake filling, and that my clothes were almost completely covered.
My ears twitched at a light beeping sound and I looked up at Allan. The human was a different story entirely; he had somehow managed to avoid getting hit at all, even though there was frosting to both sides of him now dripping down the back of the seat. He also appeared to have lost a few inches of height. Upon closer inspection, I realized that he had somehow passed through the seat itself, and was now partially sunk inside. Unfortunately, when I attempted to ask how he did it I realized that the explosion had shocked my voice away, as what I ended up saying came out as a blunt “Gerf?”
Allan raised an eyebrow as he extricated himself from the seat and I looked away sheepishly—suddenly very grateful that I could no longer blush. After taking a few deep breathes to calm myself I asked, “How did you do that?”
”Oh, just one of TFOR’s little quirks.” Allan replied as he picked one of the cake fragments off the table and tasted it. “Good cake by the way, though next time I’d prefer it in one piece.”
My ears sank. “I had no idea it would do that. If I had known I would never-“
Allan held up a hand to stop me. “It’s all right; no harm, no foul you know? Of course, Gordy might have a different opinion about it.”
He nodded towards the bartender, who was approaching us with a very unhappy look on his face.
“Don’t worry.” Allan said, smiling, “I’ll explain it to him. You go wash up.” He pointed towards a door at the far end of the bar.
I didn’t need telling twice; I left the booth and headed for the washroom, trying my best not to drip icing on the floor as I passed the other patrons, each of whom was trying to hold in their laughter with varying degrees of success.
The washroom was varied, to say the least. Roughly a third the size of the bar itself, it had at least a dozen different types of facilities to accommodate various sitting methods—among other things (and without getting unpleasantly specific). I navigated my way towards a series of sinks in the back and climbed inside a large one situated at ground level that doubled as a bathtub—if the shower head and plug were any indicators. After taking off my clothes and putting them aside, I tapped a button with my cream-covered paw and was soon being rinsed by a shower of warm water.
As the icing hadn’t had time to dry, it didn’t take longer than two minutes to wash it all out of my fur. I stepped out of the sink/tub and moved under an adjacent dryer, again button operated. This was the part I always hated; as the hot air dried my fur it also puffed it up, which made me look like a mutant stuffed animal. Putting my vest, shorts, and glasses back on, I made a futile attempt to press my fur down before heading back to the bar.
I arrived back at the booth in time to catch the back end of a conversation between Allan and Gordy, who were both standing next to, and facing, the seats.
“…I think I’ve gotten all of it out, will probably have to run it through the wash after hours to be on the safe side. Just what kind of bakery sends someone an exploding cake anyway?”
“The kind that likes money.” I said. The two of them turned around and looked down at me, so I expanded.
“Melanie, the Twin Bells’ owner, she’s willing to fill almost any order if it means the person is likely to return. Plus she can tack on extra fees.” I jerked my head towards the table. “Whoever ordered that one was likely charged for whatever made it blow up, whatever stopped it from going off until it was opened, a ‘modified labour fee’ and anything else Melanie could think of.” I looked up at Allan. “You have some very interesting friends by the way. Not many people would buy such a nice cake just to use it in a prank like this.”
The human looked surprised. “That’s a rather odd compliment coming from someone who just had said cake blow up in their face.”
I shrugged. “I wasn’t the intended target, not the sender’s fault I tried to help you. Besides, don’t sweat the small stuff, right?”
I looked up at Gordy. “I’m real sorry about the mess. If there’s anything I can do-“
Once again I was cut off as the minotaur interrupted me. “Don’t concern yourself, this is mild compared to what happens during peak hours.”
“I’ll say,” said Allan chuckling, “the first time I came here I was so nervous the drinks went right through me; now that was a mess! Besides,” he added, grinning at my fur, “I think your appearance is repayment enough as it is.”
Someone called for Gordy from the bar, and so he left, while Allan sat back down to finish what remained of his drink. I decided it was time to go home, I was tired and my clothes had to be washed; but I knew I’d probably be back soon. Maybe bars weren’t so bad after all.