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Kyle hated graveyard shift. Discovery Zone didn't seem nearly as magical without all the kids screaming and plowing through its play tube mazes and ball pens. On those wonderful day shifts he could watch the kids play around here and there and almost imagine his childhood playland days, when everything was big and explorable and fun. Sometimes management would even let him get in the ball pen with some of the less outgoing kids, just to make sure they had a good time.
But cleaning up after kids' messes was no picnic, especially when you had to scrub the tubes on Sunday night. His body was about two sizes to large to be really comfortable in those things, anyway.
Hours worked were hours paid, though. And when he needed those extra dollars' rent for the month he could always rely on picking up late night cleaning duties from an all-too-willing volunteer.
Sighing, he unlocked the front door and disabled the alarm system. The main breaker switch snapped and the lights overhead came to life. Laid out before him was a multicolor wonderland laid in shambles, waiting for him to do his magic. And to the kids it was a sort of magic; they left the place in shambles and when they returned it was like new, ready to be romped through all over again.
He smiled. At least there was something positive he could pull from these boring hours.
The cleaning supplies waited for him just behind the counter: sponges, cleaner, disinfectant, Lysol foggers, kneepads. He pulled them all out to the playland's foam-covered entrance arch, took a deep breath, and went to work straightening up the activity tables lining the outside of the tangle of tubes and air-bounce playplaces.
The main ball pen shifted.
It made a horrible racket in the dead silence, all those plastic balls moving. It always seemed to move to and fro on its own, it seemed; there really wasn't a good explanation for it. Maybe it was heat from the lights or the ventilation system changing pressure within the pen that made some of the balls shift. Kyle had learned to ignore it on graveyard shift.
He caught balls flying through the air in the other pen.
That wasn't terribly uncommon, either. The pen had a little machine that zinged balls up to the ceiling so they could rain down on the kids. They loved it. Sometimes a ball would stay up there for days at a time only to come down when the air conditioning blasted it in just the right way. The sound was a little shocking when you were alone in there, but it wasn't terribly uncommon.
It happened again.
Now that was terribly uncommon. With a sigh he dropped the Legos he had been arranging and walked over to investigate. Some kid probably buried himself in the balls hoping to be the system and get some extra playtime; the staff tried to keep it from happening but some kids still manage to slip through the cracks.
He had to duck down to get under the mess of tubes and cargo nets, and ended up crawling into the ball pen's main entrance. He sifted around for a while, called out for anyone in the pen, but found nothing. For a moment he thought about what he could have been doing -- should have been doing, for that matter. He considered going back for the Lysol fogger and taking care of disinfection while he was hunting.
But when he heard a voice in the tunnel above the cleaning items were quickly forgotten. Out of the ball pen he climbed, and with a little shiver of glee he started climbing a cargo net into the nearest tube maze entrance.
Inside the tubes he could hear the voice echoing from every corner; it sounded like laughter. He grunted and started to move about in a sort of army crawl, for there was no other way to really get his body through the tubes.
It took a few minutes of searching before he realized he was enjoying the tube crawl. He was going really fast, too. It felt good to shoot through the tubes like a kid again. After a few turns he was even convinced that the tubes were getting bigger as he gave chase. And it was paying off, too; as the chase went from tube ladder to cargo net bridge he started to see the flicker of a shadow at the next turn. He could have sworn it was a tail.
His clothes felt really baggy. As the chase went on he was having trouble keeping his shirt on his shoulders. His pants came off in one quick turn, but he didn't pay much notice. The shadow was getting closer with each passing turn!
It seemed like the cargo nets were getting easier, too. His fingers and toes gripped the things better than they used to. His shoes had fallen off at about the same time as the pants but he didn't really feel any different; there was something protecting his feet without the need for those icky things.
There was something he was supposed to be doing. He couldn't remember exactly what that was, and he didn't care. There was a really important game of chase going on!
The shadow disappeared around one final corner, and Kyle heard the zipline zing on its way to the bottom. A small body hit the padding below with a soft whuff. That was how it was going to be, then! Kyle laughed and redoubled his speed -- he was able to crawl around with plenty of room to spare, by then -- until he came out of the tubes and onto the zipline's starting platform.
"Whee!" he cried out as the platform fell out from under him. The line whirred and Kyle imagined he was flying for the few seconds it took to get to the bottom. Then the line caught and he was sent flying to the crash pads below, which he hit rolling. Laughing, he stood up and pounded through a line of weighted pendulums hanging from above. And out into the playland.
Laying in wait for him was a small pile of clothes just his size. He knew he couldn't be out there naked, of course; mommy had taught him better than that. From the pile he picked a pair of raccoon undies and a pair of overalls. The undies went on, then he took off his shirt...
Only to find fur!
His big kid mind tried scream out a protest, but the words died in his mouth. The fur was cool -- it made him look nice. And, almost as if on cue, he felt his tail swishing under the overalls. Chuckling, Kyle guided the striped tail through it's respective hole on the overalls before he snapped the clasps at the top.
Dressed, Kyle dove back into the playland to hunt down his mystery person. He didn't have to look farther than the waterbed moonwalk, though. "Hi!" The kid called to him. "My name is Sandfur. Who are you?"
"I'm Kyle." The smallish boy bouncing to and fro on that waterbed wasn't much of a boy at all; he looked more like a cartoon character off one of those old 80s cartoons. All his features waxed raccoon -- masked fur on the muzzle, black paws, long, swishing tail... the works. And Kyle's subconscious was completely comfortable with it. He knew this wasn't right. He shouldn't be seeing _any_ kid as an equal, especially in a kid's playland that suddenly seemed all-too-large. This boy shouldn't be here after hours. This boy shouldn't be a raccoon. He shouldn't be a raccoon.
He didn't care what he should be doing.
The raccoon kid looked around the playland and back to Kyle. With a wide-eyed, pleading face he asked, "Want to play with me?"
Kyle looked down at his new, overall-clothed, furred body. The tail attached to his rear swished this way and that and brought sensations new and unknown. He crossed his eyes on the black button of a nose on the front of his raccoon muzzle and giggled at how his new friend split into two. Everything around looked new and exciting and just his size. This was a cool playland!
"Sure!" with that Kyle dove into the waterbed moonwalk to play astronaut with his bestest buddy in the whole wide world and thought of nothing more. This was heaven.