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It seemed that Andy's neighbourhood just wasn't one that lent itself to part time work. Winter was out in force, a rather austere Christmas had just passed, and the young ex-college student was really feeling out of sorts. He'd been laid off recently from his last job, and time was running out before the beginning of the next semester. Andy really didn't want to have to give up and go home, but that's what would happen if his luck didn't turn around soon. His local newspaper's classifieds section had crosses and pen-marks all over, and was now quite hard to read. Stressful times.
Today, the 28 year old was out again. He looked pretty fine, if he said so himself; sharp suit, low-key tie, worked well against grey eyes and dark skin. He also had curly brown hair that always proved hard to tame, but sat neatly to attention. The interview was half an hour from now, both to give him time to unwind and to offset any bad luck that might mock him. Andy had a good feeling about today's interview, and he wasn't going to let a useless bus service get in the way of that.
'Cassandra's Curatorium,' said the sign above the door. He didn't know what that last word meant, but suspected it wasn't what the owner had thought. The decor of the little shop was pulled straight out of the 1800s. Perhaps getting here a few hundred years too early was overdoing it, he thought. Grimacing at himself. Ha ha, lame jokes to calm his nerves. Being as early as he was, Andy thought it would be good to have a browse first. The sign was written in a heavy font he could barely read, but after some deciphering he worked out that it said 'Open'. So in he went.
A bell jingled above, and the smell of rose petals was thick on the air, like a garden was in full bloom inside the crowded store. There weren't many flowers on view though - mostly it looked like a room full of antiques. Large rows of candles sat to one side, while the back was full of various things; mirrors, bracelets, necklaces, books. Small fuzzy sheep figurines with clockwork keys spun around one another, their feet attached to rotating discs. A tall, wall-hanging plate of coloured crystal glinted a thousand different ways as Andy walked past it, looking at his bizarrely complex reflection. Spinning machines took beads and wove them with string, creating random necklaces which fell with a clatter onto a clockwork display rack. It was a place with charm, where old things lived, whether sedate or active. Together with the flower scent Andy felt like he was visiting his grandma rather than applying for a job. At least if he needed to whittle the hours away, there'd be no better place he could work than this. Was that the wrong way to approach this, he thought? Well, it was certainly too late to put the idea out of his mind.
Nobody had come to answer the jingle, which he found strange. It was only while looking around behind the counter that Andy noticed a pair of eyes blink at him. A cat stood tall, walking along the unit. It tiptoed around some velvet cloth draped over items on the counter, and moved to the front, peeking over at him, her fur white with her eyes a shade of blue. Of course, he thought, there simply had to be a cat somewhere in here. It felt entirely stereotypical, and he approached the animal and fearlessly rubbed behind its ears. A collar told that her name was 'Esme', and as cats went she was very cute. Andy might have thought she was pleased to see him, although he always saw cats with a smile on their face when he looked closely.
"Watching the store, eh?" wondered he, since it really did seem they were alone in here. Esme shuffled, like something had rubbed her the wrong way, and she suddenly hopped off the counter. The velvet from before was caught on her paw, and she rolled and scampered off into the back somewhere with it. Andy looked after her, and then back to the table, where he noticed a fresh smell from what was on it.
White chocolate. Dozens of different snacks, and all shaped like different animals.. that one was a little bird, wings outstretched and eyes piercing. That one was a ferret, long and wiggly and cleaning itself. Yet another must have been Esme, only in solid candy form, and they all smelled warm. Usually it was cookies that would be set out at his grandma's, wasn't it? But of course, the treats had to be something special from the lady who owned this place.
He found himself reaching over them, trying to pick one. Oh, she couldn't miss one, could she? Andy found himself peeking around, making sure nobody was watching this, not even Esme the cat. This was no way to prepare for an interview, with some petty theft, but... ah, he wouldn't hide it. It could be a complement! Maybe the cover was off and he thought they were snacks for waiting. Plenty of ideas, plenty of explanations, plenty of choice; carefully, the man picked one up and looked it over.
It was a rat, and it held something in its paws but it chose not to reveal this to him. White chocolate was dripped over it everywhere, except for the tips of her hind paws, which looked more like shaped cake. It was almost a shame to eat, but the eager Andy found his way around that, nibbling away the paws holding the mystery object. Mine now, he thought, before biting the small confection clean in half.
The inside was quite soft and fluid, and ran down his chin; he mopped it up with both hands. It seemed these treats were deliberately messy and indulgent, and they tasted quite warm, too. Licking inside at the soft centre he noticed a slightly spicy aftertaste, which developed into a burning sensation down his throat. Surprised, he peered inside and saw what he had been consuming. Small flamelets of purple fire were alight inside the half-rat, tickling his fingers, and he dropped it on the front desk in alarm. Coloured smoke was beginning to pour into the air, drifting from his nostrils and mouth as the heat raged on inside his body, causing his chest to tighten. Andy's heart was beating loudly in his ears now, as he quivered and fell to his knees, doubling over. What was this, anyway?! Frightened, nervous, he loosened his tie and his shirt and tried to breathe normally. Ohh, his thoughts raced, the smart and the daring from earlier was gone, he felt so foolish now...
Little dots of light appeared in his vision. He could feel his eyes being wrenched open, and then wider still, whites and greys filming over with a dark red that covered the whole of them both, and briefly tinted his sight a different colour. Then, it was like his ears were being ripped upwards, strong forces yanking them out longer and tighter, puffing them up in tones of fleshy pink. A similar hook gripped sharply around his rear and pulled. Whatever feeling was there slipped down his leg, feeling slimy and moist, and somewhat delicate...
Andy caught sight of the chocolate he had dropped, the rat's tail peeking out from behind it, and he began to guess at what this was. Any other situation, it would have been an insane idea, but right now?
Coloured smoke continued to fill his nose and mouth, and eventually it made him cough, hands close to his face. The back of his arms began to tingle, hair follicles working in overdrive; his skin changed as he watched it, many little purple hairs coming up here and there, as little whispers of purple smoke danced it along his skin, changing it, warping it, making it itch. He scratched all over, desperate and frantic, and then winced as he cut himself, drawing blood. Andy's fingers were getting sharper, needle-claws shaping themselves from his fingernails, which began to narrow down, looking dainty and petite.
Sure, he tried to tell himself it was a hallucination, and maybe he even believed it for a while. His shoes fell off, much too big for his feet now. He was shrinking, his clothing becoming looser as he watched his arms recede into the sleeves of his shirt, felt his body dwindle within the suit, a funny crawling sensation moving up his spine. His skin seemed to shed a few of the marks of age, a deeper colour to his eyes and much tighter skin formed in place on face and hands. The tail he now had turned and whipped about in the air, before draping over his shoulder, clearly rodentine, snaking out of his rear. Andy felt every inch of it with his soft, changed fingers. It was too much for him, and he let out a cry - which turned into a shrill squeak.
A certain tinny pitch to his voice made Andy shudder, and his face ached, stretching forwards, pulling his nose and mouth with it. Longer front teeth gave him a cute smile, which he saw in facets in the long crystal wall-plate. Purple fur ran down his cheeks, and his hair grew longer and lighter. But there was no mistaking it even in the imperfect reflection, no way of explaining the rat face in the reflection other than to admit that's exactly what it was. But why purple? Hey, it was magic, why not purple?
His suit was now several sizes too large, and he wriggled his way out of the jacket and trousers and stood up - only for his briefs to fall down around his legs. Andy felt embarrassed, pulling his oversized shirt down to cover himself, feeling the blood run to his cheeks. Whiskers popped out of them too, shaking sensitively in the air, and only making him more self-conscious. He was so small, strange new scents were entering the air, and now his whole body was on fire as smoke continued to flow out around him.
"I'm sorry!" he said, running out of things he could say, nothing really seemed to be helping him any. It was easier not to listen to himself squeak, tail hanging down between legs. And never mind what would happen if he kept shrinking and the cat decided to come back...
Long hair bunched up around his shoulders and down his back. Unusually, it felt silky soft, and he leaned his head back and clung to the relaxing feeling, eyes shut. It was something good, at least. Andy's chest began to swell then, pushing out the front of the large shirt, and a soft tugging and poking between his legs made his eyes open again, shocked. Automatically, his hands went down, and found nothing - well, nothing to indicate being male, anyway. Claws brushed against something different entirely and made her shudder, clapping hands to her chest, feeling the growing of breasts - quite small, suited to her size. Now, it all seemed to make sense, in a crazy sort of way, and she laughed, because she didn't know what else to do. Andy sat down and disentangled the fallen briefs from her feet, taking her socks off too, to compare the ratty hands and feet, both in soft pink and tipped with sharpness. Nimble and light, like a little girl's ought to be.
Waves of purple fur felt silky and moist, and some areas poked out of tears and holes in the shirt she had made while scratching. It was a rich colour that came over her head too, although her hair remained the same curly brown it had always been, just longer. She blew a few rings of colourful smoke, but her large snouted nose and mouth were now free to breath again, deep and shaky breaths.Tongue licking around flattened teeth, especially the top and bottom front two. She had whiskers. That was totally strange.
"I'm a girl," she mumbled, looking at herself in the colourful mirror, using her hands to feign having pigtails. Just to see how it looked.
"I'm... I'm really young."
The shakiness entered her voice now. Andy's mind felt slippy and unfocused, making her unsure and insecure, whispering worries at her and making her shiver. Usually she was quite independent, but the young ratgirl's mind was coming in, compelling her to act her age, and she pulled her arms around herself, eyes beginning to water.
"C'mon, Andy, don't cry..." she mumbled, shaking a bit. "Big girls don't do that."
"You must be Andy," said a voice from behind her, and the suddenness shattered the purple ratgirl's composure in one blow, and she squeaked and cried, and then dived behind the counter to safety, peeking out. Tail and whiskers twitching, metabolism firing up.
"Oh, I'm sorry I scared you," said the voice - a woman, adult, red hair, green eyes, and a curious smile on her face. "You're the new hire, aren't you? I see you've moved things along a bit fast than I thought... hmmm. I smell a cat," she says, looking at the uncovered candies on the counter.
"I- um... y-you're the owner?" questioned Andy, peeking out and up at her. This Cassandra wasn't very tall, but still had a foot on her at least. "Yeah, I came here for the.. for the shop assistant thing you hired for..."
The woman smiled knowingly, and leaned over to pat the girl on the head. Her tail bobbed unexpectedly, and she tried to feel patronised, but... it just wasn't in her any more. This was her. Every movement and thought and feeling screamed her new identity, and although her past memories were intact, it didn't seem to matter.
"Relaxing, mmm. Good for you. If you're wondering what the magic was about, it's just business," she said. "I find people stay longer for cute shop assistants. So when you are due at work, you'll be a nice helpful little girl. And when not, you can be you again."
Andy looked briefly like she might protest, but Cassandra put a finger against her lips.
"Shhh. You wouldn't have been asked here if I didn't think you'd enjoy it. Plus, you're desperate... or you wouldn't have been able to see my ad at all. And I pay well."
After what she'd been through, the ratgirl wasn't entirely sure, but she looked and sounded truthful. And she had been right. This place would definitely not be the average job. It was bizarre, but could she honestly believe that this wasn't going to be fun?
"Can I start today?" she wondered, putting out a toothy smile.
"I think first, you need some clothes," said Cassandra, offering Andy a hand, which she took as they walked towards the back room.
Esme made sure she had a good, high point to keep watching over the shop floor. She had plenty to do even without having to do this as well. After all, mischief wasn't going to plot itself, now was it? Not to mention, what to do with all those leftover candies...