opened the door to Patches room a little after noon to find him sleeping
on his fleece bed in nothing but a sunbeam. She shook her head and said
in a loud tone "I thought that sunlight woke you up."
He had his tail curled up around his nose and slept in a ball until she came in. The cat opened one eye lazily and saw Circe standing there. "That's a morning sunbeam." he said, waking up a little more. "Afternoon sunbeams are more relaxing, and an evening sunbeam is just pleasant until it goes under the tree line." Circe crossed her arms and gave him a disbelieving look. "It's a feline thing, M'Lady."
"Can you possibly take your feline thing outside?" Circe said. Patches got onto all fours and stretched each limb deliberately as she spoke. "We've got a problem over at the wharf area with the lights. I'd like you to take a look at it, if you can squeeze it into your schedule." she left that off with a sarcastic tone.
Patches sat up on the fleece bed, and reached over to his "work suit" he had thrown off before taking his afternoon nap. He took out the PDA, tapped the screen with a claw, and looked at it with faked interest. "Well, let me see. Sleep, eat, mouse, sleep, move bed to match sunbeam, sleep, eat, say hello to Mr. Airwick, eat, sleep--" He looked up to Circe with a big grin. "I'll pencil it in for tomorrow, tonight is pretty full." Circe took in a sharp breath. "I'm kidding! I'll get on it now!"
"You better." Circe said. "Don't think that just because I let you sleep here means you can goof around!" Circe picked up Patches jumpsuit, and looked at the material. She traced her fingers over his name badge, then through the "Circe's Funhouse" embroidered logo. "Besides, I'm thinking of making you head of electrical and electronics as well as the computer expert. Starting with the more complicated electrical systems."
"But I don't know to fix electronics or--" Patches started to say, but his thought was interrupted as something popped into his mind. "I know how to fix that, M'Lady." he said, his eyes wide. "How'd I-- I mean what--"
Circe smiled. "I have high friends, remember. Now go on." She handed Patches his work suit as he sat amazed at his new-found knowledge. "I have a lot to get to today." Circe left as Patches put on the suit in his state of bewilderment, rolling his tail carefully through it's opening.
He walked along the wharf area of the park, looking at the lights as he did. He liked the theme of the area, because he could smell the salty sea air and that wonderful smell of fresh fish. He stopped into a few of the shops, talking to the "volunteers" working there. He figured out what the problem was, a faulty fuse back in the main shed. He was walking back to one of the maintenance sheds when his paw hit an uneven slab in the concrete. His balance thrown off, he fell forward, reflexively tucking his shoulder and jumping, making a diving roll to prevent injury. As he rolled back to all four paws, he looked around to see if anyone was watching. More than a few people in the park had taken notice.
So Patches did what came naturally. He held his paw up to his muzzle, making a "Shh" motion. He lowered his mirrored goggles over his eyes, and stalked on all fours to a fence. Carefully, he dug in his hindlclaws, rocking back and forth on his feet. Dramatically, he leaped over the fence, and made a few loud growling sounds behind a shrub. And as he came back up, a small audience laughed and applauded that he had successfully stalked, pounced, and killed a deadly pine cone which was now in his muzzle to display to the world.
Patches spit out the pinecone into his paws. "Thank you ladies and gentlemen!" he said "If you liked that I can recommend the seal and porpoise show going on in--" he looked at his wrist, no watch on it. "--ten minutes over in the Wharf Amphitheater! Front row seats for the drenched, back row seats for the gato's like me." The crowd got a good laugh at the joke, and dispersed to wherever they were going. Patches jumped back over the fence, still holding the pinecone.
"Like you meant to do that." a man said to him. Patches turned to his right to see a man taller than him by almost a foot, not hard because of Patches height. The man wore blue jeans, a leather bomber jacket, and a tan t-shirt under it. He had light brown hair and brown eyes, had an athletic build. Patches cocked his head, trying to look confused. "I've seen cats do that before. Bungle up, and make it look intentional."
Patches raised his goggles up on his head. "Well, it was." The man tapped his foot. "Really." Patches said, looking at the pine cone. The man gave him a sly look. "Well kinda." Patches threw the now thoroughly dead pinecone back over the fence.
"You folks really get into the role, don't you?" he asked.
"Role?" Patches thought quick, and put two and two together. "Oh, well, yeah. It's why I got the position."
"Say, do you know if they're hiring here?" The man asked. "I like the atmosphere here, really magical how everyone is so happy here. I could really get into that."
Patches smiled to himself. "I know we're always taking on new faces." he said. "If you want, I can-- well, hang on a sec." Patches took out his PDA and tapped it with his claw again. "Hey, what's your name?"
"Dan. Dan Smith." he said, offering a hand. Patches took it. "And you're-- Patches?" Dan asked, reading the name plate on the cat's chest and collar.
"Yep!" Patches said, using his claw to send a fast message to Circe. "Possible recruit. No powers to TF. Need guidance here. P" he scrawled, and hit send. "It may take a few minutes to get a reply. So where would you like to work?"
"Oh, I'm not really picky." Dan said. "I like to entertain people, like you."
"Really? Now I know we have some openings with the new things opening up!" Patches said. "Come on, walk with me a minute, I gotta go fix something, but you can come along."
"Sounds like a plan." Dan said. He followed Patches to the shed. "So does everyone get to wear a suit like that?"
Patches smiled to himself. "I'm the only calico, if that's what you mean. But, yeah, everyone that's here get matched up to where they need to be."
"That' cool. Is there an interview or something?" Dan asked.
"Yeah. Hang on a sec, ok?" Patches went into the maintenance shed and swapped out the correct fuses and switches. With a flick of a switch, normality was restored. He smiled to himself when his PDA made a tone for incoming e-mail. He fished it out and tapped the screen.
"Take him to the big cat pavilion. He'll fall into place there. Circe PS : Check your pocket."
Patches nodded to himself, and reached into his pocket. He felt a key that he knew wasn't in there when he put it on. He took it out, and saw that it had a tiger's head on the top and a large old-fashioned shank, appearing to be an ornate old key. Patches put it back in his pocket, and left he shack, locking the door behind him.
"Well, you're in luck Dan!" Patches said as he was locking up. "Just got a reply, and we are taking on new help, would you be interested?"
"Sure!" Dan said, "I thought you worked in entertainment with a suit like that. You're maintenance?" Patches nodded. "Wow! That's a great costume for someone in maintenance!"
"You like it?" Dan nodded now. "You're into cats?" Patches asked.
"Always have been." Dan said. "The wild ones more than housecats. Ever looked into the eyes of a tiger or a cougar? There's this intensity there that housecats don't have."
"Sure, but housecats don't rip your throat open when they're hungry." Patches said with a grin.
"That's why tigers and cougars are WILD animals!" Dan said. "I wouldn't mind working with them in a keeper position or concessions or like the gift shop even, they all seem so cool."
"Hey, I've got the key to the new big cat pavilion. The message I got said that I could take you there, if you'd be interested in seeing it? It's not open yet, but I know they need several positions filled." Patches said
"You don't have to ask me twice! Lead on!" Dan followed as Patches led, and the two talked about cats the whole way. The sun was getting lower as they reached the building. Outside were two statues in bronze. One was a lion on all fours, at the right height for children to climb up on and sit. The other was a lioness, in the same height. Both were beautiful representations, almost looking alive. As Patches fumbled for the key in his pocket, Dan leaned into him. "So, umm, do you think that I could get a suit like the one you've got?"
"I think we can arrange for a nice coat." Patches said, working the key into the lock. "Ahh! There we are!" He flipped the master switch, and the lights clicked on with a loud clunk.
Dan looked around in awe, the room he was in had a large marble statue of a tiger, you could see it's stripes in the sculpture, looking like it would leap from the pedestal and scamper off. The room was large with many doors, each leading into a different area. One marked "African", another marked "Asian", another marked "South American", and so on. There was a food court, the concession stand, and backlit glass with information all about the big cats of the world. The hall was huge, much larger than it looked from the outside. The floor was also marbled, the outlines of the continents in front of each door in stone. Dan walked in, and drank in the place with his eyes. Patches took in a deep breath, and decided to play it by ear.
"This is so AWESOME!" Dan said with excitement. "I could stay here forever!" Patches grinned to himself, but said nothing. "So what do the exhibits look like?"
"I'm not sure!" Patches said. "But what would you like to look at? I can open any of these you want." he let it drift off.
Dan looked around, and looked at the North American door. "There." he pointed. "I want to see that."
Patched nodded, and took out the master key. "Okay! Let's go look!" He opened the door, and held it for Dan. Dan walked in like a child going into a toy store, mouth open and heart pounding with excitement. Once inside the main door, he was presented with choice of directions, and he chose to go left, directly into the "Rockies" area. He was presented with a Plexiglas cave that easily ran a few hundred feet into an exhibit space. The space was incredible, almost a perfect representation of the American West. It looked to be late summer, early fall. White birch trees dotted a landscape filled with rocks and a field. As he looked to his left and right, he saw that the exhibit was on both sides of him. Dan had to remind himself to breathe.
"We built this to be an interactive environment for the cats." Patches said, reading his PDA screen. "Visitors can take a moving walkway to look at the cats in their natural environment or sit on one of the benches to sit and admire. There's a lot of space so the cats can roam free and not feel trapped, giving a more realistic view of the natural animal." Patches lowered his PDA, and put it in his pocket. "Or at least that's what the park info says."
Dan put his hand on the Plexiglas and stared into the space. The surface felt cool to the touch, even though the tunnel he was in was warm. He looked, and the painted illusion on the walls made it look like it went on forever. He looked up, and could not see and seams in the ceiling. "This is incredible! It's just like when I went there a few years ago."
Patches grinned. "You like this, you should see the veldt over in Africa. The wind along the tall grasslandâ€¦"
"Can I get inside there?" Dan asked quickly. "I mean, I want to see how you did this. I know I'm asking a lot, and I won't damage anything. I just want to see it."
Patches thought about mailing Circe again, but he had an idea what she'd say. "Sure. Umm, we gotta go backstage to get in there."
"Yeah! Sure!" Dan said, eagerly following the calico.
They walked back into the main lobby, and through a door marked "Employees only". They walked past a lot of doors and eventually found the door marked "USA W" Patches opened the door, and Dan walked into the exhibit.
Dan shivered a little, the cold wind whipping past him. Patches followed him in, and they both took in the scent of the forest on the close side of the exhibit. The earth was soft under their feet, and smelled rich and full. Dan put his hand on a birch tree, and felt the bark flake in his hands.
"Are these real?" he asked
"I think so." Patches said. "We strive for realism here. And I know we'll go to lengths to do it."
Dan walked into the exhibit, and climbed up on a large rock with ease. He stood on it and surveyed the area. He felt a connection to the land, like it was something he could really enjoy. As he stood there, he took in a deep breath, and stretched. "This is incredible!" he said. "I mean, how did you guys do the wind? The dirt is one thing, the trees another, but this wind is incredible! Kinda cold tho, but it's that time of year, huh?" he said with a chuckle.
Patches joined him on the rock, and sat down. "Yeah, guess it is. You like it?"
"It's just like when we went on vacation." Dan said, running his hand along the rock under him. "So what do you think the animals will think of it?"
Patches shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I think they'll find it like home. I mean, its just like the Rockies, and I think that grassy area there will have snow first, and eventually this whole exhibit will be covered whenâ€¦"
"SNOW?" Dan exclaimed aloud. "You're going to ship in snow?" He let out a full laugh now. "This is too much!"
"So when you went, did you see any Mountain Lions?" Patches asked.
"No, I wasn't that lucky. They're really solitary and defensive of their home territory. So we didn't go looking, and I didn't see any at all. But they're beautiful animals." Dan sat back on his hands and let the whole place soak over him. "I would love to work here! I'd love to work rightâ€¦" He stopped his sentence, feeling something in his heart change. "Patches? Leave."
"What?" Patches said, not looking.
"Get out. Get to that door and get out." Dan said very sternly.
"Why?" Patches turned to see Dan holding his chest with a hand covered with a fine tawny coat of fur.
"I can't hold it back much longer, just get out!" Dan ordered. Patches scrambled off the rock, and backed away slow. "NOW!" Dan yelled. Patches backpedaled out to the door, hidden in a rock. Dan looked at his hands, which were getting broader. He craned his neck back and let out a blood curdling cry, claiming his territory.
Patches closed the door behind him, and almost ran into Circe standing there. He stood upright, an looked up to her. "M'Lady!"
"Don't worry Patches." Circe said. "You did well, little one." She stroked him behind the ears. "Dan will be fine once he's done in there, but he was right, he needed to be alone for this. You know how mountain lions are protective of their territory." Patches blinked twice, and shivered as he heard Dan's wail from inside the enclosure. Circe waived her hands gently, and opened a spell to look in on her newest resident..
Dan realized what was going on, and tried to throw his jacket off before it constricted him too much. He couldn't fit his wider paws through the sleeves, and used his claws to shred the sleeves instead. Dan looked at his feet as they began to reform, and he pulled them out of his shoes before they split. He suddenly felt his center of gravity shift, and he fell to his hands. His paw pads cushioned the fall onto the rock.
In his new position, he felt his jeans loosen up. It felt extremely uncomfortable and he tried to shove them off with his legs. It wasn't until his tail began to form and deform the jeans that he could put his hind paw on the leg cuff and shake them off. Free of his pants, he raised his head to the sky, HIS sky, HIS land, HIS. As he surveyed the area again, he felt his neck shift, sliding seamlessly into his shoulder blades and arcing gracefully into his chest. His chest folded into itself, and fell deeper, narrower. His golden eyes recessed enough to give him the predator's stare, and his pink nose upturned and formed into it's muzzle shape. His jaw line and face slanted out as his teeth changed shape into their feline orientation.
His body mass stabilizing, a luxurious coat of light-tan fur formed. He could feel his ears form a point, and shift to the back end of his skull, tendons and muscles stretching to make the change. As the white underbelly fur formed, he opened his mouth to truly taste the air for the first time. He felt the connection to this area, his area, become deeper. His cheeks filled in as his body finalized the transformation with the black tip of his tail whipping around.
With one final cry, Dan claimed this area as his own. Outside the doorway, Patches watched in amazement as Circe closed the spell. "Wow." Patches said.
"Not a bad change, I would say." Circe said. "Don't go anywhere my pet. I think he'll need a friend to talk to when he realizes what just happened." She smiled, and walked out the employees door and away, leaving Patches to ponder things.
Dan shook his head, and tried to clear his mind as to what just happened.. After several minutes of panting hard, he shook his head to clear his thoughts. As he looked down at hisâ€¦ pawsâ€¦ he looked at his leather jacket, and his pants, and felt an incredible constriction around his chest. It wasn't life threatening, but it was annoying him. "Patches?" he yelled out in a gruff voice. "Are you still there?"
Patches unlocked the door and looked in. "I'm here!" he shouted.
"You can come back in now." Dan said, still dazed. Patches walked cautiously over to Dan. His form was that of a beautiful Mountain Lion, except he was still wearing a T-shirt. "I just felt this rush there, like you were invading or something. If you didn't leave I knew I was going to attack you and I couldn't stop that feeling, ya know? I'm good tho. I'm in control again."
"I kinda figured that." Patches said, pulling out a cutter from his pocket. "Hold still a sec. Let me get this." Patches cut the shirt away from the mountain lion, and Dan took in a deep breath to fill his lungs with crisp, clean air for the first time. It felt invigorating, and he felt more alive than ever before.
Dan looked at his paws again, and at Patches. "You're not wearing a costume, are you?"
"And I'm really a cougar?"
"And where am I?"
Dan took in the moment, and looked around at what he knew was his domain.. "I guess I have the job, huh?"
Patches grinned, and stroked Dan on the shoulder. "Circe thinks you'd make a good performer." Dan shivered, feeling his fur rubbed for the first time. "So I guess yeah, you're hired."
Dan sat on his haunches, and looked around, like he was studying the whole environment. "So I can assume it comes with room, board, and some other bennies?"
"Free fur coat." Patches said, very as-a-matter-of-factly. "And all the tourists you can look at."
"Will I have to share with a roomate?" Dan asked with a grin. "Hopefully a nice female or something?"
"We'll see." Patches said. "Mountain Lions are usually solitary you know."
"I know, but it could get lonely here." Dan said. "But I think I like it." Dan shook his body, fluffing his fur in the cool breeze.
"So you're not mad or angry or anything like that?" Patches asked.
"Now that you mention it, I am kinda hungry." Dan said. "I have this overwhelming urge for rabbit. Hey, when you became a cat did you have these hunting urges? Like you need to go hunt something? I've never hunted in my life and I'm thinking that I could go over there and find a rabbit to eat. Did you get that?"
"Yeah! I mouse tho. I'm just a housecat." Patches said excitedly.
"I'm getting this urge to stalk a rabbit, but I don't smell any here." Dan blinked. "Hang on, how do I know what rabbit smells like?"
Patches sat down next to the Mountain Lion, putting his old clothing in a pile. "Let me tell you a little more about Circe and the park here."
A week later Patches knocked on the door for the "USA W" attraction. "Come on in Patches!" Dan yelled. Patches did, and shivered a little as the wind whipped around his fur. Patches closed his jumpsuit to deal with the wind as it died down a little. "Winter's coming!" Dan said, sauntering to their meeting place they called "Transformation Rock". Dan's fur was getting a little thicker then he started with, and he was putting on some much needed winter weight. As Patches sat down on the rock, he saw that Dan had a blood stain on his muzzle.
"Get some lunch on the run, huh?" Patches said. He groomed his friend's muzzle to clean it. Dan sighed inwardly, and closed his golden eyes half way and relaxing his ears. Patches got a taste, thought for a moment, and asked "So you found the rabbits we let out in here?"
"Yeah. Thanks. That was driving me crazy and I don't think you can get cougar chow, huh?" They shared a laugh, the Dan got a little quieter. "They're not like me, I mean they're rabbits, not like people made into rabbits, right?" Dan asked, looking worried.
Patches nodded. "They're just rabbits. Circe reassured me they are. Hey, just wanted to tell you that the exhibit will be opening in a few days. We'll let you know when, but I also have to tell you that for most guests you can't talk to them."
"No problem." Dan said, then thought about it. "What do you mean MOST guests?"
"You'll get a roommate or two." Patches said. "You'll know who they are by sight, that's all I can tell you." Dan nodded, and Patches continued. "Other than that, be yourself, enjoy it, and have fun. Oh, and if you want to work the front area or concessions, just for a change of pace, let me know and I'll arrange it with Circe. She can bring you up to two paws and get you a front job for a while."
Dan nodded. "Oh, I can do that. But you know, this is mine. I don't think I'll get bored of it. It doesn't seem to end, and your manual thing is right, there's plenty enough room for me to roam here. I'll be ok. Oh, and can you do me one other favor?" Patches nodded. "Whoever this Circe is, can you thank her for me? I haven't seen her yet. If she wants to stop by, I'd like to thank her myself."
"Next time I see her, I'll tell her." Patches said, standing up. "I gotta go, we got a lot to do before we can open up. We still don't have a tiger, and the jaguar is not too happy about his position. And the lion thinks he's in a circus, so we're doing a new area for him."
Dan nuzzled against Patches. "Stop by anytime! Me casa su casa!"
Patches patted Dan on the flank, and left out the hidden access door. Dan turned to look at his domain again with an intense stare. It would be nice to have another mountain lion to pal around with, even if he would have to share his domain. That would be ok, Dan figured, as long as she was cute and had nice whiskers.
Patches locked the door and went back to the main lobby of the big cat area. Circe was looking at the tiger statue. "Patches? Can you tell me something."
"Anything, M'Lady!" Patches said, padding next to her.
"Why is it that most of the cats I've done for this pavilion enjoy the new change of position?" Circe asked, with a little curiosity in her voice. "First Leo, then you, then Dan in there, the only one so far that hasn't liked it is the jaguar. Even the cheetah loved it and is in his area doing wind sprints! Why is that?"
Patches smiled. "It's
a feline thing, M'Lady." he said. Circe shook her head, and
kissed her cat on the head gently. Patches blushed, his ears turning red
hot. He's a weird cat, Circe considered, but then again they all probably
were going to be. At least they didn't complain about their new positions
for the most part.