The Squeak Around the Corner by Radioactive Toast

Virmir grumbled as his paws squished in the wet late-winter mud of his lawn while trying to keep his flamethrower balanced. It was a minor nuisance, however, merely necessitating a quick wiping of his footpaws with his towel when he climbed back into his treehouse. Mud was an inconsequential thing in comparison to the hellish white material covering his lawn by several inches. Mother nature was finally getting its act together and delivering its blessed sun and terribly paltry excuse for heat to start melting the horrid frigid snow from his property, but the gray fox toon deemed this far too slow a process and was determined to expedite it. Pulling his paw on the trigger once again sent a spewing torrent of glorious flaming liquid spraying across the lawn, purifying the unholy cold evil from his premises and at least revealing non-white *grass *that had hidden itself away for several months.

Triumphant "Ha!"s bellowed out of the fox’s mouth, crowing at his victory against the dreaded cold element, so caught up in his glory that he almost failed to notice the burnt and scorched blades of glass that had been liberated from their icy captivity only to be ingloriously roasted the moment they were free. The triumphant noises coming from his muzzle were immediately replaced with scowls, and for a moment, the fox considered tossing the flamethrower aside so as to spare his lawn from further wasteful burning that would result not in luscious green grass come spring but charred ash. But... maaaaaybe he could just be a bit more careful. After all, the magnificent bursts of flaming liquid this marvelous device shot out were just a little too cool to ignore. With a shrug and a grin the flamethrower was lifted again and fired, rending the snow piles, annihilating them with waves of blistering flame.

Alas, the gray fox’s glee was not to last; in no less than five seconds his grand device rocked and bucked like a panicking bronco, sputtering and filling the air with puffs of gray smoke. Scowling and wrenching open the top, Virmir was greeted by a dismal sight; the fuel gauge arrow dropped to the giant "E" for empty symbol... and fell below it, coughing and wheeeeeeezing. "Whhhhhhhhhhe... at little pick me up buddy?" the arrow pleaded as it panted toonishly.

"BLAAAAAAAAAST!" Of COURSE, right when he was really having fun and getting into the hang of things it would all come screeching to a halt because of something so lame as running out of blasted gas!!

Pounding his way back to his treehouse garage, the toon stuffed his magnificent machine away for another time, or at least for when he returned with more fuel. It was downright insufferable that he had to interrupt his precise and orderly schedule for something some infuriatingly stupid as running out of gas! Grumbling and grabbing another identical cape from his closet to replace the one he had sullied a bit from the yard work, the gray fox stamped his paws out his garage and through his small wood to the City.

Those around him often commented that the fox should simply up and buy himself a vehicle so that he didn’t have to hoof it all the way back to civilization on foot every time the need to obtain goods arose. Virmir scoffed at this notion, reasoning that 1: cars were evil loud monstrosities prone to careening around aimlessly (especially when dealing with ridiculous uncivilized city drivers) and ought to be all sent to the scrapyard the world over, and 2: he didn’t live THAT far into the woods, more a quick walk’s worth. Virmir may have been a solitary hermit who liked his trees, but he was by no means whatsoever what could be considered a "country fox." Nature was nice and pretty and all, but it just couldn’t give you internet connections and space heaters on a whim!

Strolling down into the city on his bare paws, Virmir’s claws clicked on the sidewalk as he followed it casually into town, though always, always keeping a close eye out for cars. Today was a fortunate day in that there were few deranged impatient five year olds behind the wheel, but there still were a few that were driving a little too quickly and recklessly as Virmir traversed the crosswalks. Fortunately these were sent to a screeching panicked halt with a few well aimed warning shots. Oh, they were uninjured and mostly undamaged; the fireballs were aimed to fly past or to graze, not to obliterate, but one or two headlights or sideview mirrors were crispified this day. No matter, just a few small blemishes, and the walk was actually turning out to be not so terrible today. It was of course nowhere NEAR what the toon fox would call warm, but it was at least not life threatening or near freezing anymore.

In fact, for a late winter day things seemed relatively well, with fewer homicidal automobiles on the road than normal and hardly any noisy pedestrians to pester him and push their faces into his muzzle. Things seemed... ok oddly.

Speaking of oddly, there was a more unusual sight that he came across. Down the side walk waddled a raccoon. While this was not a terribly unusual sight, the fact that its pants were bloated and swollen, causing him to wobble with a tremendous bobbing gait. What was he doing, walking with pillows stuffed into his pant legs? The procyon waddled about, like he was suddenly slipping on his footpaws and unable to keep traction. Flailing ensued as he fell right into the fox.

fwumph Ok what in blazes was that weird noise? Virmir thought to himself.

"Meep. Sorry about that," the coon said, his voice oddly chipmunk like. What was he doing, swallowing helium? Weird people...

Shrugging at the hapless raccoon, Virmir turned a few more corners to reach the gas station. Snatching out a gas container from his toon hammerspace, he promptly filled it, ignoring the bumbling passerbys, and worse still, their automobiles. One or two came up far too close for his comfort as they filed into get their own gas; one even got within 10 feet of him! Glowering, the toon fox did his best not to make a scene and finished his business; paying with his credit card... great. Great. The card reader for the Pay at the Pump didn’t seem to be working. More social contact; great.

Walking inside, his arrival was proclaimed the gregarious and over the top bell ringing over the door. Yes, like he needed everyone’s attention when he walked in anywhere he went so people could look at him, notice him, and proceed to initiate droll meaningless conversation. He got a few looks, some raising of eyebrows and of course there was always some small child or another that pointed and exclaimed at the top of their lungs "Mommie look at the cute gray foxie!" Uuuugh, he liked being a toon fox and all, even being fluffy and stuff, but the screaming children was just too much.

Moving to stand behind a chubby, haggard, and frumpy lady who alternated between wheezily inhaling a cigarette and coughing up small splatterings of green phlegm, Virmir tapped his paws on the grungy dirt caked floor and waited. He tried very hard not to think about how poor the upkeep of this place was; before the Pay at the Pump had been installed he had deliberately not visited this gas station at all. Now he was forced to venture into this unkempt Temple of Uncleanliness and trudge its unwashed domain.

"Moooommie, can I pet him? Can I can I?"

Clicking his teeth together impatiently, Virmir tapped his paws more as the towering hulk of discolored flabby skin in front of him tugged at her ill fitting dress and coughed to the acne ridden youth behind the register in a wheezing diatribe that sounded so distorted it might as well have been another language. "I ‘an’t get my gaaaas to work," she managed to say before being cut off by a earth shaking cough and hacking in the back of her throat. "The ‘as," she said, streams of discolored spittle flying out between her teeth and splattering onto the counter and floor in front of her.

Virmir’s trancelike state of jaw dropping speechless revulsion was only broken when the girl behind him began emanating a high pitched screeching. "Mooooommieee, pleeeeeaase?" she begged as she waged a campaign to gain her mother’s attention by tugging at her shirt ceaselessly.

Gulping, the fox tapped his footpaws even more impatiently waiting for the frumpy lady in front of him to hurry up!

"Maam?" the weedy young man behind the register began, "the gas won’t work? Did you raising the tray when you pulled out the nozzle?"

"UcEEuuuhhhhc! Ack, dumb ‘ough," the old lady rasped as she stuffed her cigarette back in her mouth and took a deep wheezing breath. "I ‘an’t get the gas to run, what tray?"

"Maam, the tray that the gas nozzle was sitting in," the clerk explained.

"Tray? Tray?" the hag repeated like she had just been delivered a dissertation on the finer incomprehensible points of quantum physics, "There’s no, no, AAAACHHHK." Out came a colossal wave of coughing that blasted the room, ringing in Virmir’s ears like a sonic weapon. Attempts to fold his ears on the thought that merely hearing the hacking would contaminate him had the benefit of making his eardrums hurt less from the shattering decibel level, but this didn’t save him when he opened his eyes to see the whole counter in front of him utterly covered in discolored green/yellow phlegm and mucus, dripping off in massive globs of puss that made audible sclorch noises as it dribbled down the side. Virmir stared in horror at the toxic compounds splattered onto the already grungy tiled floor, splashing and sending mucus projectiles flying in all directions.

The toon fox yipped in almighty horror, unable to scurry backwards on his paws fast enough to escape. Double disadvantage grabbed hold of him as not only was he unable to avoid having his fur splashed and saturated with mucus, he also found himself backing into the miniature human behind him.

There was barely enough time to fold his ears flat against his head at her delighted screeching squeal before he was suddenly enveloped in squeezing arms that YOINKED him backward. He found himself squished like a plush toy, momentarily emptying him of breath. Nevertheless his whole body began fiercely kicking and flailing in a feeble attempt to grasp freedom from the iron clutches of this little girl who now deafened him with a very loud "Squeeeee!!"

Muffled "Gah!"s and demands to be let go that very instant were suffocated from his muzzle as she constricted him, snuggling him like an oversized plushie and neglecting to show the slightest inclination of letting him go.

So caught up was Virmir in this predicament that he failed to notice the putrid tub of lard in front of the counter enter into another round of hacking. "Aaaah! Ferget this! I’ll go ‘et mah ‘as somewhere else!" she thundered out and accompanied with a tremendous wheezing. Spinning her bulk around with such force she could have spun her tubbiness like potter’s clay, her face scrunched like it was being stretched by a vacuum cleaner, as her nose twitched...

"AAAAAACHHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!"

With that a tidal wave of discolored, quivering mucus was excreted explosively out the ancient hag’s sagging face, tumbling over through the air in heaps of wobbling opaque blobs. Virmir’s eyes widened in horror as he was held rigidly in place by the pre-pubescent human, as the mass of phlegm tumbled straight at him. His legs kicked fiercely, trying to escape before-

SPLAT-SQUIRK

Virmir’s world froze as time itself seemed to get itself caught in the hurling mucus, freezing mid air... before splattering into the gray fox, drenching him muzzle to footpaw with congealing, squishy puke-green pus.

"EWWWW!" the little girl cried, having been spared from the onslaught by the fox shield aside from a small splattering on her shoulder, which she took as seriously as contamination with the Ebola virus and promptly shrieked, cried, and fussed so loud one could have lived on Mars and still have had to cover one’s ears. Seeing that the cute toon foxie was now a soaked mucus sponge, she shrieked even louder and brutally thrust him onto the grungy tile floor.

Virmir twitched, feeling the oozing, gooie, slimy, contaminated, filthy, unhealthy, grungy mucus soak his fur... and he creeeeaked his neck around to look up at the stunned customers surrounding him.

Slowly but surely a fierce snarl cross his muzzle, his hackles raised like static electricity coursed through him, and he raised his right paw and summoned the first flicker of flaming fireballs to incinerate the putrid, wretched occupants of this blasted GAS STATION-


The fire trucks blared their horns in the background as the traumatized occupants huddled around, collectively gasping and staring in disbelief at the burning and roaring conflagration that stood before them, a near constant ball of flame that billowed upward like a gigantic out of control smoke signal. They stood mutely, occasionally hugging each other at the close call... then someone whipped out their phone to twitter about the event, and soon all of the escapees were busy on their phones, wiping soot from their fingers so they could text clearer.

Out of the smoking burning ruins stumbled a blackened form, as a completely soot covered gray fox wobbled, coughing a couple times and blinking widely, before tremoring a long while and having to steady himself against a wall. Summoning the energy and effort required to pull himself together, the fox toon sighed. "I haaaate gas stations..." he raspily declared, before falling inward into a blinking pile of soot.


Ah, excellent! Celery for lunch! Virmir eagerly chomped down on his crunchy veggies, enjoying his quickly prepared meal; all he had to do was grab it and munch! No need for time consuming pots or pans, or any need for wasting time with a microwave! The toon fox grumbled and wished everything could be this fast. Transportation, taxes, phone calls...

He stared out the window and GLOWERED at the last small pile of snow piled in his yard. Winter. Winter was most definitely the most deserving thing in the history of the world to be instantly cut short. Blasted snow... blasted cold! Wasn’t fit for life, not for any sort of habitation.

It was only after munching and swallowing two sticks of celery that the gray fox realized something was amiss. The first sign was when he knocked into his kitchen counter three times in a row. Concerned first and foremost with consuming his daily fiber allocation, Virmir only noticed this in passing, thinking perhaps he was just ambling about clumsily. This was an assessment that was promptly challenged by his subsequent inability to fit through the doorframe. There followed several seconds of incredulous staring before a chorus of groans and muttered "blast it!"s resounded through the house.

Arrrrgh! Blasted fattening celery! The bane of healthy eaters everywhere, fattening celery was the most toonish of aberrations, something so twisted it went out of its way by its mere existence to make the world a more confusing (but arguably more interesting) place. Instead of being the slimmingest of foods, celery could instead become a diabolical agent of obesity.

Squeeeezing forward, Virmir pushed his bulge through the door at last, his balloonish belly wobbling like a mound of jello. Perfect. Now to spend the rest of the day wobbling around ungainly squeezing through doors and unable to trust the rest of his recently purchased celery. Blasted wretched celery that didn’t behave itself like proper vegetables should! Noooo, it had to act like a tub of lard!

Fumbling out of his tree house, Virmir set off to the city to pick up replacement groceries. His weight, however, was greater than he was guessing, a fact he belatedly realized as he was attempting to climb down the ladder to his tree house...

One fox shaped hole in the ground later, the gray fox grooowled and pulled himself out, cursing once again the foul misbehaving vegetables that had landed him in this hole. This would necessitate an UNSCHEDULED groceries trip, ruining his plans for the afternoon. He had planned to go tomorrow, as was his custom to go that day every other week to accumulate a sufficient quantity of foodstuffs, but with an uncertain amount of his absolutely essential celery tainted, quite possibly the whole lot, then in order to maintain good diet and proper health he was forced to break routine and embark on a journey to obtain replacements.

Embarking yet again into the morass of humanity that called itself the city, Virmir set off huffing and puffing! Hopefully by the time he reached the city it would qualify as a cartoonish scene change and he would have burned off all that fat...


Gasping for air, Virmir stumbled down the sidewalk as the old balance returned to him. Still, he was more or less back to normal, with the possible exception of a bit of flab hanging off his gut. Steadily regaining his composure he hurried to the grocery store, eager to be done with all this nonsense so he could get back home!

There was one thing to be joyous about despite everything: it was HOT outside! Glorious, wonderful, baking heat that roasted and warmed his fur and small frame. It made him almost forget his troubles and brought a nice wide smile to his muzzle.

One thing struck the toon as odd as he ventured deeper into town; there were remarkably less pedestrians, or even drivers, about today than there should have been. At first he was relieved at the lack company and near death experiences, but soon his new relative safety became less interesting than his relative solitude. It didn't quite make sense; this was the middle of a day on a Tuesday; where were the workers on lunchbreak and random city dwellers?

Bah, what use was it to dwell on such things? Probably just random chance, or something going on that he wouldn't give a tree about. Waving a paw, he declared to himself that the whole matter was nothing of consequence; if there were less people to deal with all the better! He could purchase his replacement vegetables with greater ease and less fuss!

The path the toon chose to travel that day took him past a new building in town, a large steel monstrosity that loomed over the street like some ominous cloud. Weird, part of it almost looked inflatable... a large part of it in fact. A large sign hung over the front saying "Oceanside Laboratories" in a technology styled font, boldly proclaiming its existence to the city. Funny, they had put up that building rather quick... The construction crews had only been busy for a few weeks, yet now the thing looked pretty much finished; how had they gotten that up so fast?

Whatever. Such was no matter! Virmir wasn't here to sight see or care about new businesses after all! He was here to get groceries! Right turn, left turn, straight down and...

CLOSED FOR EXTENDED LUNCH

WHAT

It was the middle of the day! The middle of business hours! How was it possible, feasible, financially viable that a major grocery store up and close on a whim's notice!? Aaaaargh!!

Scowling at the sign and the darkened interior, Virmir briefly considered flame-blasting a window open and taking the groceries he needed, maybe leaving extra payment to pay for having the window replaced. It would have been perfectly equitable from his point of view! He would get his groceries now, they would have the funds to repair their window! But that would mean cash practically wasted that could be spent on more useful things instead, not to mention it would make further trips to the grocery store a biiiit more uncomfortable in the future if they got a good shot of him with the cameras... BAH! This wasn't worth his time! Maybe if he just checked another grocery store several blocks away.

Seeeeething and fuming at his precious wasted time that he had to spend ambling about hoping to another grocery store for blasted celery, Virmir tried to nod politely whenever someone got too close for comfort in the hopes they would just walk on and he would be spared the expenditure of effort necessary to lob a fireball spell at them.

Gazing downward as his thoughts furiously tossed and turned in his noggin, Virmir didn't even notice his crashing into another pedestrian! "Gah!" the fox toon shouted, "Why don't you look where you'r- Medik?" he blinked in surprise.

"Hiya, Vir!" the bouncy 7 year old jackal pup exclaimed, "I'm out grabbing snacks for everyone!

Virmir blinked, dusting himself off and scowling a bit, imagining what unhealthy sugar bombs the jackal imagined as snacks. Letting out a shudder, the fox brushed himself off as he stood up. "Er, everyone? Everyone being?..."

The cartoon stripped jackal wagged his fluffy tail and practically wiggled with excitement, his eyes darting around like a pair of energetic yoyos. "Y'know! Everyone cool!"

"Uh huh" Virmir responded, losing interest in what was by default a social happening. His eyes even started to drift off, when realization slapped him silly. "Wait, you're getting snacks? You know a grocery store that's actually open??"

Medik beamed. "Oh yeah! It's just around the corner! You gonna come to the beach?" he added in immediately.

Virmir looked in relief down the corner, thanking the trees that he didn’t have to amble about any longer. "Ah, thanks," he began, catching himself just a second later. "-and no thank you very much. I remember what happened last time you took me to a large, crowded, packed, public amusement area..." the fox twitched as the memory uncomfortably assaulted him.

"Whaaaaat," the jackal leered mischievously, "cuz you turned into an AWESOME coaster?"

"Gaaaaahh" cringed the overwhelmed fox as he held his ears in an ineffectual attempt to keep the reminders out. "Don't remind me. That was horrible!"

Medik pouted. "Was not! It was cooooool!"

The shudders made Virmir curl his tail around himself. "Noooooo thank you anyway. I think I'm perfectly fine with avoiding things that are terrifying, and that most certainly qualified as such."

"Aw, fine..." the jackal said as his ears drooped, finally dropping the subject.

Virmir sighed and ignored the jackal trying to guilt him in with puppy eyes. "Anyway, thank you for telling me about that other grocery store. It'll keep me from wasting another hour looking around for another one. Blasted stores going closed in the clear middle of the day..."

The side-stripped jackal giggled in response. "You don't have to worry about that silly stuff! Cuz everyone's at the beach, Vir! Come on! You gotta join in!"

It couldn't be said that Medik wasn't persistent about something he really wanted. Unfortunately, Virmir joining in with "everyone" was about as likely as a cat gleefully jumping into a tub to get bathed. He grumbled, sighed and moved on past, "Bah," he said dismissively, "swimming entails people in large numbers! I don't do the whole swimming thing anyway."

Details, as far as the pup was concerned. "You don't gotta swim at a beach! You can just play in the sand if you wanna!"

Blast, he was being persistent. "Yeeeeeeah, well, thanks. I'll just buy my celery and go back to being productive and happy," the fox said with a note of finality.

"Ewww, celery!" Medik bleh'd, gagging and trying to shake his tongue of the imagined taste that contaminated it. "Well, bye! Maybe you'll change your mind later!" he said giggling, before scurrying back off in the direction of the beach.

It was just something Virmir couldn't comprehend. Why would one choose to spend such a nice, hot day at the beach swimming and being in close proximity to other people? It was just absurd! Much better to sit back and relax in solitude and draw cartoon foxes all day long!

Heading off, a strong wind came off from the direction of the beach, brushing Virmir's nostrils with the scent of seaweed and... something else. A faint whiff of something that he couldn't quite put his paw on even though he knew he should be able to. That, and his ears swiveled around to hear large amounts of joyful exclamations and screams.

Uuuurgh. He shuddered deeply, hurrying his legs up so he could get out of range of those dreadful noises of social activity.


Whoooowie! Nothing pleased Virmir quite as much as a heatwave, to soak and soothe the body and push the nightmare of winter far, far away. It was delightfully above room temperature, enough for the toon fox to yank all his windows open and let the delightful torrent of warm, pleasing air flow all over the house.

Munching on a carrot, Virmir sat and tailwagged as he ate his lunch. Nice, solitary day, just by himself in the woods, just relaxing and chilling. Finishing his meal, he stood up and stretched.

ART time! Now he just had to fetch a ref he saw from earlier, wanted to draw... waaait a minute.

Of course, it would be just a wonderful time as now when everything else was going right that his internet connection would decide that working was an optional choice. Blast it all!

Scowling, Virmir reached over and snatched his scarcely used phone. Such a desperate measure as conducting vocal conversation in the privacy of his own home was a contingency reserved only for the most extreme of emergencies, but blast it his internet was important! The ISP had to be called about the problem right away and badgered into fixing it!

Phone tone. Phone tone. Phone tone. Phone tone.

Virmir looked up at his clock impatiently.

Phone tone. Phone tone. Phone tone. Phone tone.

"Hello."

Finally! An answer!

"Your call is important to us. Please leave your name, number and problem after the tone.

Beep.

Silence pervaded the room as the toon fox stared blankly at the wall for several seconds, before a scowl began twiiiisting upwards and took to dominating the whole of his face in a seething snarl.

Ok, that was IT. He stood up, summoning a flame into his paw and incinerating the contemptible phone for good measure. Answer machine HIM when his internet went out, huh? Well, he knew where their offices were! How were they gonna like it when he marched down there and gave them a piece of his flaming mind?

Snatching his cape, Virmir cursed the numerous antics that his household appliances, food stores, and necessities had been playing on him. Virmir wasn't the superstitious sort, but he couldn't help look over his shoulder, a tinge of paranoid coloring his thoughts and forcing upon his uneasy mind the possibility that someone was out to get him...

Bah, there was exceedingly trivial point to pondering on such things, especially when there was WORK to be done! Virmir lept out of his treehouse dramatically, deftly landing on his footpaws and launching himself upright, quickly storming off back into the city.

The one saving grace was that heat wave was still around; if anything, it had become even more pronounced. Virmir wallowed and stretched in the soothing baking heat. Muuuuuch better than the bone snapping flesh freezing coldness that had lingered around lately. It had been as intolerably frigid as 60 degrees Fahrenheit! But now, now it was summer, perfect baking summer heat.

Even as the sun began to disappear and dusk settled into place firmly, the heat was still omnipresent and comfortable like a warm blanket. Humidity stuck in the air, making the fox smile and tailwag his wonderfully fluffy tail. By the trees, this would be such a wonderful day if it weren't for this intolerable internet outage.

Scowling, Virmir made his way to leave his forested glen to the city looming before him. The glistening of the city lights bathed the area as he approached, making Virmir tense as he expected to have to deal with those nefarious contraptions called automobiles. His ears, however, went undisturbed and unmolested by the roaring of engines and the honking of horns. Things were strangely quiet... quite a bit bit too quiet. He certainly didn't wish to complain about an absence of traffic, but something about all this made him ill at ease.

Pedestrians failed to materialize, just empty streets awaited, animated only by passing wind that tossed newspaper pages to and fro with no one to notice. Virmir shivered, darting his head around. Eventually he caught the sound of a care passing a few blocks over, the hustle of a quickly moving passerby further down the street, but it seemed that the disquiet he felt was felt just as strongly by others. That, or something was going on.

Virmir's eyes narrowed, suspiciously combing his surroundings as he made his way to his ISP's office building. Dark shadows loomed around the illumination of the street lamps, futily trying to light the dark city which bathed itself in black with so few car headlights shining out. He scurried along faster, picking up his footpaws at a pace that more resembled a jog than any sort of walk. Quickly he made his way to the office building... to find it closed. Not just merely closed, but dark, locked, boarded up even.

The fox's tail twitched unevenly as he began grumbling. Ok, WHAT was going on?? Did the whole city suddenly take NyQuil and conk out collectively? SOME people surely were supposed to be up in the early evening!

Since a review of the premises yielded no answers, Virmir decided upon the drastic, unprecedented action of approaching a passerby and engaging in social conversation. His tail twitched and his fur stood on end in protest of the mere thought of it, but it was the only way he could find out what the Trees was going on.

"Uh, hey, you!" Virmir shouted down the street, gritting his teeth. "Hey, could you tell me... hey, hey!"

Despite his efforts to communicate, Virmir stared dumbfounded as the pedestrian barely gave him a second glance, scurrying down the street quickly and disappearing behind a corner.

O...kay... Maybe it was someone else like him who didn't appreciate small talk? He padded along, spinning in circles looking around for another shape on the streets.

"Excuse me, uh, mister? Hello?" He declared, spotting someone hunkering down low. At his pronouncement the individual, instead of stopping to respond, lowered his head and scurried along faster. "Hey, I need to ask you a question!"

No such luck, as the reluctant individual practically ran down the sidewalk, bursting behind a corner and disappearing from Virmir's sight.

"Graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah." Ok, this was just getting irritating now.

Marching along, Virmir stayed silent till he spotted someone close, carrying an overstuffed bag and cramming it into an already filled to capacity trunk. "Excuse me, might I-" Virmir began.

The passerby, a younger man, lit his eyes in annoyance. "Don't bug me, I gotta pack, right now," he said abruptly.

The fox rolled his eyes. "I just want to know-"

Answers proved elusive as the young man slammed his trunk down, running back inside. Virmir stood flabbergasted as the human quickly jumped out again, one smaller bag with him that he leapt into the car with and without preamble turned the ignition and spun off, the tires squealing and leaving black marks on the pavement in their wake.

The fox stared for a moment before snarling and stomping off. URRG!!! What was going on!? What was so pressing that he couldn't get just a simple straight answer out of people? Bad enough he had to try and talk to them face to face, but then it turned out to be for naught!

Furious thoughts pumped through Virmir's mind as he stormed down the sidewalk, eyes darting about looking for someone. He noticed now that the din of occasional cars in the distance had disappeared, and as night settled in he was hard pressed to hear anything except the hum of the street lamps lighting up totally empty streets. Every time a breeze blew his fur started to stand increasingly on end. But.. BAH. Silly nonsense, it was just the unease of the city being deserted! Which... was more than a mite creepy in and of itself.

Finally, after over 10 minutes of searching, the fox located someone hiding behind a dumpster, nibbling on a breakfast bar. "You there," the fox pronounced. "What the blazes is going on here?"

A gasp of horror lit up the woman's face as Virmir spoke. She darted her finger to her lips and went "Shhhh!!" She darted her gaze around quickly, as if afraid of being pounced from any direction. "Keep your voice down, you moron!" she hissed in a harsh whisper.

Mounting irritation made Virmir just consider giving up and heading back home, but curiosity burned far too brightly. Not to mention concern... "Fine," he whispered back, annoyed. "Is that better? Now tell me what's going on her, blast it. The city's deserted, I can't get ahold of anyone, and my net is out in the woods because of it!" he whispered exasperated.

"It's just been getting worse, just over the past few days," the woman said softly, almost more to herself than him as her eyes stared ahead blankly at seemingly nothing at all. "It's been going crazy. Everyone's been going crazy, getting all obsessed over-"

A loud bang could be heard, a trash lid falling over nearby. The woman froze and gripped the alley wall tightly, stopping so forcefully she seemed not to breathe for several seconds. Virmir looked around alertly, scanning for any movement till he saw the shape of a small feral cat moving about nearby. He sighed, lowering his tail and shaking his head. "Just a streetcat, nothing to be concerned about."

Anxiety still broadcasted from the woman's eyes, but she allowed herself the luxury of breathing. "I thought for a moment... Glad that was just a cat. I thought it was worse. The past day it's been going absolutely nuts, people rushing off their jobs, absconding from work like mad. No one was around to run the fast food or gas stations or anything. It all just started falling apart, and that creepy Oceanside Lab place was just going crazy with everybody coming out-"

A loud screeching MEOW burst out through the streets, then suddenly silenced itself. The only thing that could be heard was a loud series of squeaks, squeaks that vaguely sounded of laughter.

"Oh-" the woman began to curse.

A car alarm went off.

Before Virmir could react or ask further questions the woman bolted, bursting down the alley at a breakneck pace. He snapped around to look in her direction, the looked back. Something was moving, looming and casting a large shadow. It looked like a huge puffed up car, floating and wiggling around.

His eyes wide and gaping in horror, Virmir followed in the woman's general direction to promptly bolt the scene, intent on putting as much distance between himself and whatever demonic car shadow this was. He didn't have a blasted clue what was going on, but he certainly wasn't going to stick around and find out if it involved an automobile!

Careening down the alley and bursting into the next street, the toon fox lost sight of the woman, but could easily hear the deep groans and low squirks of whatever it was behind him. His immediate proximity behind him was bathed in the sudden unmistakable glow of car headlights. Sheer blind terror made Virmir's face turn ashen white as he BOLTED faster, several times coming perilously to tripping over his own paws as he attempted to escape from the looming monstrosity groaning and squirking heavily behind him.

His tongue hung out at an odd angle as he looked like a dog hanging his head out the window, but far more terrified, zooming down to the next alley to try and escape his pursuer. A trash dump showed up in his vision, presenting a clear choice despite its unsanitary lack of appeal. Diving in Virmir quickly but quietly pulled the lid down over himself, gagging silently at the stench as he quivered in place.

Waiting. Waiting. Slowly a flood of light cast overhead, glistening through the cracks in the trash bin's lid, the slow squirking and hum of some kind of engine could be heard. Virmir's curiosity was rampant, but he just huddled down, not daring to risk taking a peak. As it was he was terrified of the prospect that the headlights were already feasting their gaze on his location, ready to pounce. Long, agonizing THUMP THUMP 's echoed in his skull, as with baited breath he waited, fighting the irresistible urge to gag at the horrid rotten stench that he shared the trash bin with. Clearly someone had tossed out some food in here, which was now well on its way to rotting a most unpleasant odor.

Trembling as silently as possible, more than several times the fox feared he rustled the papers too much, creating a just perceptible enough ruckus that would doom himself. With baited breath he tried to slow his breathing... He completely lost track of any sense of time; he wasn't able to say if it was seconds or minutes, heck even hours. All he knew was that he was near frozen stiff, hardly breathing at all till the bright lights swerved around, that low squeaking and rumbling leaving him behind in the dark.

It was several minutes before Virmir summoned the nerve to peek his muzzle out of the bin, very cautiously scanning his surroundings. No sign of any lights, any movement. Just the black of night and dim light of street lamps around the corner. Gingerly the fox climbed out, one paw at a time, and once he was sure he was in the clear, he scurried to escape this blasted nightmare. Huddling against the walls, he hurried and skirted till he was out of range of all of it.

Panting as he returned to the woods, Virmir looked back, unable to answer what in blazes was going on...


Fortunately, Virmir had been well stocked on food and supplies. His cabinets stood nice and stocked with a large quantity of non-perishable goods. As much as he would have preferred fresher fruits and veggies, he was taking no chances and was determined to hole up in his treehouse for as long as physically possible.

He grumbled about whatever incompetents who had unleashed whatever madness had fell upon the city and tried to ignore it for the most part, instead just throwing himself into making more cartoon fox art. Yes, what was happening was pressing and annoying at all, but for now he really didn't have to concern himself with it. It'd probably fix itself anyway.

The nearest he could tell, something... squeaky was going on. He had obviously been chased by an automobile, but floating and squirking. Perhaps all the cars had risen up into some kind of... inflated sentience and were seeking to destroy their former masters in an automobile apocalypse? Virmir shuddered at the thought, cringing as he tried to focus on his drawings. That might explain why everyone was absent. Though to be frank, something had been going on for a lot earlier. People hadn't been around when he had gone out to get replacement celery, and Medik had talked about the beach...

Wait. Medik. Beach.

Squeaky things like rafts, innertubes and pooltoys were what you had on beaches. And there was that giant Oceanside Laboratories whose building looked half inflatable...

Bah, this was all just unimportant. The important thing was that he was stocked for a while and didn't have to concern himself with whatever came his way. All the horrid snow was gone by now easily, and his lawn mower had plenty of surplus gas. His kitchen was crammed to the brim with food that would last a while, and he had stuck a satellite dish up on his roof and nabbed internet with it. No more need to worry about the city's shoddy ISP there.

If some big bully was up there somewhere, pushing him along to the tune of a script, Virmir would show him. He was ready for anything.

Dwunk went the lights and all electricity in his house blinking off at once.

"Graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

That was IT! He'd had it! This had gone too far!

Marching over to his closet Virmir whipped out his most durable cape. He held it out as he opened a special cabinet to the side, gazing inside at the olive shaded jade armor that he had locked away, courtesy of a certain rabbit with artistic flair. He didn't wear it often at all, reserving it for special circumstances. Well, Oceanside Laboratories was one of these circumstances. Whatever it was, it was responsible for all of this, he was sure of it. And he wasn't going to tolerate more interruptions to his blasted routine!

He began strapping the armor pieces on, fastening them till they were snug against his fur. He didn't much prefer articles of clothing on him since they rubbed his fur the wrong way, but this armor didn't completely cover him; knee and leg pads, elbows, on his chest and back and around his paws with bracers. He snatched his battle cape and fastened it up around his neck tightly.

Whipping around he snapped another closet open, revealing his assortment of tools, including his giant cartoon hammers. Selecting the biggest one he could find, he grasped it his paw and held it aloft, swinging it around to regain a feel for it.

Satisfied, he pawed over to his refrigerator and pulled out a special can. He sniffed it a bit, noting that the date on it was still mostly fresh. He preferred the freshest vegetables possible, but somethings, well, this stuff had to come in a can, at least for these purposes.

Equipment wasn't the only thing he was bringing either. He wasn't called a fire mage for nothing, he thought as he clenched and unclenched his paws, summoning wisps of flame at will. Just as long as he didn't unleash them in the vicinity of any gas stations again, it would be more than adequate to deal with anything that came his way.

Virmir marched out to his front porch, dramatically posing in the dusk as the last beams of sunlight hit him, his armor glistening and reflecting brilliantly before he lept down, slamming into the ground holding his hammer out behind him with the other paw absorbing the impact with his footpaws. Standing slowly, he grinned, ready to smash and incinerate anything that got in his way.

This time as he returned to the city for 4th incidence in a week, the lights of the skyscrapers shone not at all, absorbing the darkness and becoming instead one with it. No street lamps illuminated his path, no cityscape punctuated the growing the darkening sky as tainted blue faded to black. It was just the asphalt and the empty sidewalks and bleak concrete. The fox strode on regardless, his paws scraping against the ground quickly, marching forward on a mission.

No resistance, or even movement for that matter greeted him as he wandered the dark streets, having to check his directions several times to make sure that he was on the right track. Finally, down to his right loomed an imposing edifice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it loomed larger than it had before, its walls literally inflated, as if it was jealous of the height of its surrounding skyscrapers and had decided to make up the difference. Virmir approached cautiously, but not a peep, not an engine met his swiveling ears. Standing firm, the fox gripped his hammer and strode up the steps inside.

The glass over the front reflected darkly, a faint glimmer of light inside. The building must have been running on its own generators. But more than that, Virmir noticed the front counter. It seemed bulkier than normal, more round. Much of the interior also seemed geometrically distorted, like someone had suddenly gone on a Euclidean hating spree and messed up all the flat surfaces.

Entry didn't seem to be barred, as the doors opened smoothly at his touch. No one to even lock the place up... though, he supposed that normally there was a guard somewhere on duty. Normally being the keyword, as Virmir didn't think it unlikely that there would be no one here. He stepped in, finding that with only a few steps forward the floor began to feel uneven. No, more than uneven; it was more like it was malleable. It wasn't particularly difficult to keep his balance, but the sensation was certainly jarring. It bent down as he stepped on it, a slight polymer-esque squirk creaking on contact.

Squeaks, malleable stretchiness, general inflation... considering the weirdness that had been going on, Virmir was definitely on the right track; this lab was the center of everything.

Attempting to tiptoe forward, the fox grimaced as his footpaws squirked against the floor, a thick vinyl it felt like that bent and flopped as he compressed it under him. Its spread was uneven, with some spots remaining bare, unmolested tile, indicating that this phenomena had been unevenly applied... or was growing slowly and somewhat erratically.

Virmir gulped, pressing on the hallway behind the desk. He squinted his eyes down at the far end; the hall seemed mostly like the lobby, if a tad more puffy, though the windows into some of the offices... they looked massively distorted. Not sure of what he was seeing, Virmir ambled that way, gripping his hammer tightly. Sure enough, when he came to the end of the hall he was greeted with transparent vinyl or plastic of some sort in place of a window, all blown out and with a strange hard plastic knob near the bottom.

Well... all things considered, he had in fact reasoned that something was responsible for spreading something inflationary around, considering the car that had tried to eat him (he shivered again), but now he was seeing far more than that. Floors, counters, windows, it was all downright bizarre!

Pushing the door that stood in front of him open, he noticed the loud squiiiirk it gave off as its inflated bottom slide across the still tiled floor. Whatever, it made it lighter, though it was rather loud. Who was around to hear it though? He hadn't seen anyone at all since walking in here, it seemed abandoned aside from the fact the building still had power.

He took a moment to gather his thoughts. What he needed now was answers, explanations as to what had happened. Seeing as how this was a laboratory, and problems originating in labs generally were the result of experiments gone wrong, then obviously he had to find the lab rooms themselves, and the research records. Then just find out whatever they were last researching before people starting going insane, got eaten, whatever; that would put him on the right track!

That meant looking around past all these administrative offices. Though maybe it would be best to just head upstairs, finding out what the head huncho was up to up to the last minutes. These sorts of stories usually played through with the head of the science facility being surprised suddenly by the creations downstairs, or somehow they had been the Big Bad corrupt source of unethical research all along and it had the opportunity to blow up in their face in a supposedly dramatic reversal of fate.

Right then, that's where he'd head. Just needed to find the elevator upstairs... oooh of course. Locked. And in true dungeon crawler mode he'd have to scrounge around for a key to unlock it. Virmir grumbled; who designed this adventure?

Fruitlessly spinning about looking for the correct place to search, Virmir settled on a simple clockwise formation to search the floor.

Squiiiirk

Virmir snapped around, hammer up and ready, but his gaze was caught only by a security camera, routinely swerving back and forth, only part of it was now squeakified, making it rub against itself loudly each time it swerved. Nothing much to worry about.

The fox relaxed and opened what doors he could, till he found one that definitely caught his attention. Apparently it was a locker room where the scientists put on clean suits and lab coats, with the afore mentioned garments strewn all over the place chaotically.

A search revealed nothing but a phone in the corner, apparently dropped there. Pawing it up, he fumbled around with it, taking a bit to get used to it. He wasn't the type to use cellphones except in emergencies; he didn't keep up with smart phones that had new models come out every few months, blast it! That was for gullible social people! Eventually he was rewarded with the voice mail, and lo and behold his video game enhanced intuition to search for clues hit the jackpot!

"Harry," the voice mail played back, "Did you make sure that the locks were secure? The doors to labs 5 and 8 were left hanging open this morning, and you're the one in charge of making sure everything's locked up nice and tight, not leaving it wide open for anyone to walk into. I know that you keep protesting about this, saying you check every night, but it's not like these doors are going to be opened from the insides. We're not running those kinds of experiments, kid."

Yeeeaaah, Virmir thought, rolling his eyes. Someone wasn't genre savvy.

Virmir scanned down, and then searched the emails, searching for any references to rooms or mentionings of keys. A few messages made him raise an eyebrow, including one that was apparently a pic of the phone's owner dressed up as Shirley Temple whacking himself with a hockey stick. But fiiinally, near the bottom was an email from way back to the man's job orientation, saying something about key access at the security room in the south wing.

With that information, Virmir spun around and quickly tried to find this wing in question. He barely noticed the squirking security camera anymore, and didn't notice that instead of routinely swerving left and right it was now following him as he strode down the hall.

The floor seemed mildly intent on tripping the fox as he marched down the hall, feeling that since he could neither see, hear, nor smell anyone, there was nothing to worry about in the slightest. Quickly he found the security office in question, though oddly it wasn't locked shut. Assuming that the guards must have rushed out with everyone else when whatever sciency thing went wrong, he paid this no mind and barged into the room, squeaking the slightly inflated floor beneath him and heading right for the computers, looking up first and foremost anything out of the ordinary.

Error windows and various program alarms were still persistently flashing on the screens in a gaudy, bloated fashion that made Virmir cringe. Computer layout should be smooth, minimalistic, and clean, not horrible 200 different color animated flashing icons that looked like some bad Hollywood art designer mashed them together! He started swiping away some of the error messages, trying to dig under to get to the buried windows to find out actual useful information besides "EVACUATE" and "THE FACILITY IS IN DANGER" and "MICROWAVE LEFT RUNNING PLEASE TURN OFF"

It took longer than should have been necessary but Virmir soon got to where he was wanting; record logs and actual data about what emergency had befallen the facility.

"Experiment breaching safety protocols."

Such was the oldest message that he was able to discern. Figured. Next was some audio logs...

A woman's low voice spoke, "Blast it. Richardson and his team were supposed to be out of that lab 40 minutes ago! Other people have to use it you know, we have schedule allotments for a reason!

"I know, I know," came a man's voice, "I was getting weird messages out of there the last few minutes, and now Richardson isn't responding on the intercom at all."

"Aaaarrrgh!!!" the woman obviously wasn't the patient type. "What are they doing in there, having a frat party and passing out drunk!? I'll see what this is... Oh... what the heck... Beyers! Do you see this? The camera footage!"

Well then, guess it was necessary to look up the video records too. Fortunately this WAS a security office, so the files should be right here. He pawed over the mouse and keyboard for a bit before finding the correct directory, and brought it up to screen. He dismissed the soft squeaking noise behind him as merely the door running past the partly inflated floor or whatever.

The image showed several scientists in white lab coats huddled around a central gas chamber it seemed, occasionally spinning around behind to the desk to look at readings or take notes. Then something started happening; Virmir couldn't see straight through the grainy camera feed. Blasted cheap company...

The fox squinted, staaaring at the screen as he attempted to zoom in, the giant screen *zwoomp*ing and making all sorts of unnecessary noises and visual effects as it did so. Geeeeeeez did Hollywood design this blasted interface? He stared, as someone moved offscreen in the background. Looked almost like a janitor, some feline sweeping the floors. What was he doing in a lab in the middle of an experiment? He looked awfully intent at something... then a movement started wobbling inside the chamber, a sort of gas filling it up and raising what looked like air pressure sensors up a digit or two.

So intent was Virmir's gaze on the spectacle he almost ignored the increased squeaking behind him until it was too late, as he snapped his eyes back in annoyance to be greeted by a chair.

Not just any chair mind, one that was lifting itself up taller off the floor and stretching its legs out, looming up till it was taller than the three and a half foot fox. Its mattress squirked as it bulged up, inflated with a slant that could quite possibly be interpreted as a smile, before lunging at him.

Virmir let out a surprised "GAH!" He thrust himself to the side to try and avoid the incoming furniture, but only just got his head out of the way as it bounced into him and sent him sprawling onto the desktop, knocking over several computer monitors and other peripherals in the process. Falling off and bouncing on the inflated floor, Virmir grunted with an "Urf!" as he fumbled with his hammer to try and balance himself. Already the squeaky-possessed chair squirk-groaned around the desk, trying to get at him.

Pressing off from the wall with his footpaws the fox lurched upwards and stared down his opponent, swirling his hammer about and letting a swinging uppercut THWACK the chair and sent it flying backward. The malleable furniture deformed, bending inward along the middle before bouncing against the wall, fwormping loudly back into place and seeming to glare at the fleshy intruder and squeaking, as if to ask aloud where the urocyon gathered the gall to march in here and strike back when he pleased.

Never was it a good idea to let an enemy, no matter how bizarre or unconventional, take advantage of a moment to gather strength and recompose itself after a blow, and Virmir certainly wasn't going to be bossed around by an excessively squeaky chair. "You squeak too much; sounds like you could you an oiling!" he bellowed as he swung down with his hammer to try and smash it to pieces.

Again, however, this blow just bounced his nemesis, boinging it against the floor where it quickly sprang up on its inflated legs. Right then... turned out blows with a large blunt object weren't all that particularly effective against an opponent that had an interior entirely made of air. As if to drive home the point that it had not even been scratched, the chair let out a colossal squeak and launched itself at Virmir.

Scowling, Virmir defended himself with a sudden kick aimed right at the chair's mattress, hoping to knock it back and perhaps puncture it with his rarely used claws. Surprise lurched over his face as the chair's legs SQUIRKED suddenly and bent upward, grabbing the fox by his leg and yanking him down to the floor. This elicited a snarl that saw Virmir kick again, this time straight towards the wall. The chair gripped him tighter, slinking all around, but the fox was content to let this occur while he was able to push his opponent into position...

He suddenly grabbed his hammer tight and WHAMED the chair by the inflated cushion just as he pressed it against the wall, pinning it and giving it nowhere to bounce. Virmir grinned triumphantly as a seam burst, spewing air out with a sharp hiss.

The deflating groan of the chair flooded his ears as he got to his feet again, waiting until another loud pop let out and a sort of strange slightly discolored gas spewed out signaling that his opponent was defeated. Suddenly a keycard sprang into view and bounced against the floor, mysteriously and steadily rotating along until Virmir reached down and scooped it up into his grasp.

Da-Da-Da-DUUUH! came the rising intonation indicating that he had gotten a special item. Virmir shifted his eyes.

Stuffing the keycard away, the fox gave the deflated chair one last kick juuuust to be sure; after all it was an inanimate object that shouldn't have been moving at all, but then again it had gone through its death sequence... Yeah, it was pretty dead. Virmir hoped that was the end of this nonsense though.

Skulking down the hall, he took a little bit more care and effort into sneaking his way along, avoided puffed up areas of the floor where he could and tiptoeing lightly where it was squeaky. It would be all too easy to be heard by another possessed chair.

Thinking about it, Virmir wondered how this all fit together. Everyone was abandoning work and essential services at first. Perhaps everyone being at the beach a few days before that Medik had been jabbering on about was people rushing to forget their troubles? And now they had fled the downtown area in the face of the apparent inflation of cars and other everyday objects into squeaky horrors. Still, something about this didn't add up, he was sure of it.

In the absence of concrete knowledge, there was only one thing to do; find more evidence. Now that he had the shiny keycard, all he had to do was take the main elevator up and find whatever had happened in the lab. And... well, he didn't know what he'd do at that point. Hopefully find whatever was the cause of this mess and stop it dead in its tracks.

The elevator stood waiting for him in the silent halls, the card reader to the side glaring with a larger than necessary interface that would have enabled the most feeble visioned old foggie to see what it was displaying. In giant letters it commanded that a keycard be inserted for authorization, a prompt the gray fox was ready for as he whipped his prize through.

"DING" went the elevator as it swung open to a large green light. Annoyed and slightly worried that the noise would attract attention, he lept inside and punched in the top floor, tapping his footpaw impatiently waiting for the door to sliiiiiide closed.

A sigh of relief escaped his muzzle, the elevator beginning its ascent... then SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!!! Virmir was knocked against the wall as the metal sang with enough dissonance to make a music critic's ears bleed, the cabin shaking violently. Gripping the side rails for balance, the toon suddenly felt lifted off his feet; it took his wildly flailing stomach a moment to realize he was buoyant in the air suddenly because he was undergoing the exciting experience of freefall.

"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!" he screamed, not even all that audible over the shaking falling cabin. Dings went berserk from the floor indicator near the doors as it showed the elevator falling into the basement levels. Gulping, he noticed that the bottom was rapidly approaching! Instinctively he tried to jump, so as not to be touching the floor when impact came. This was a gut reaction, and only a fraction of a second later as he was already jumping off the floor did he remember basic physics: it's not the fall that hurts, it's the stopping-

Thunk-WHAM! Virmir felt the air and cabin shake as the elevator hit bottom, while he was still falling midair. The result was that he CRUNCHED and KERSPLATTED against the floor and nearly flattened himself. His eyes swiiiiiiiiiiirled as the lights flickered and the whole cabin groaned around him...

Right... next time, remember basic physics...

It took several moments for the toon fox to pull himself together, shaaking several times before he was confidant of his ability to stand. Right then, time to move on. He "hrrrrrmmmmm!"ed heavily as he tried to force the doors open, jumping occasionally as the elevator's loose wires zapped at him and made his fur stand on end. Grumbling he gave the door a few heavy whacks with his hammer. Still no budge.

A quick glancing around at the arcing wires popped an idea into existence. Maybe the door lacked power? If that was so, all he had to do was restore power! The grip was a little awkward with the cabin's floorboards all torn up and disjointed, but he was able to gain enough of it to snatch a large dangling live cable and inch it to the doors...

Ding! Success! He had it-WHOOSH came the resulting wave of water up to his waist, juuuuust high enough that it brushed against the exposed electrical cable he had used to Frankenstein the door back to life.

"AAAEIEYEHYEHYEHYEHYEHYEHYEHYEH!!" came Virmir's predictable sizzling and frying. Several minutes passed before he weakly coughed his way back into consciousness, half pasted against the back wall and half floating in the water that had flooded in. Grungily peeling himself up the fox shook half heartedly, more than anything just wanting to get out of this blasted elevator, which apparently had fallen about two feet below the bottom basement level.

How it happened on this scale was baffling; there hadn't been much flooding, did a water main break or something? Climbing out Virmir slogged in the (for him) waist deep water, grumbling the whole way. Movement was rather difficult and slow going, which meant this was going to go at even more of a snail's pace than this whole investigation had already been! Now he had to take the long way up. And of course, the stairwell wasn't anywhere near the elevator; who had designed this place, Shigeru Miyamoto?

First order of business was to find... hey, was that a voice? It had come from down the hallway to the left. Spinning about and wagging his tail in the flooded corridor, Virmir waddled as fast as he could to the source of the noise.

A veritable warehouse of goods stood before him, shelves packed to the brim with all sorts of untold scientific supplies and chemicals. And right near the entrance was an enormous quantity of helium tanks, all spilled out off the shelf and sticking out of the water, like they had been grabbed and yanked at in a mad flurry. A console flashed nearby, indicating a conveniently placed audio log for Virmir to find more clues from.

"Butterworth you brainless dope!" a high pitched, mousy voice called. "I don't know what stupid game you think you're playing but if you don't stop messing around with the gas orders for the big experiments upstairs you're going to find your tailless butt booted onto the street! We are only using normal air mixtures and noble gasses like helium, not blasted hydrogen! You [b]do[/b] know what the Hindenburg was you idiot? Now when the automated gas canister requisition system is pulling gas upstairs for the experiments, KINDLY don't place hydrogen in with the helium tanks! We have a filing system for a reason!!!"

Preservation of eardrums took precedence and Virmir snapped the recording off, as a volume control seemed annoyingly unavailable. Helium, and normal air. Certainly fit with what was seeming to be an otherwise arbitrary inflation outbreak. The fox quickly looked up to see if he could raise himself upward via the airtank lift that ascended through the ceiling. Squints and headtilts and searching for better angles didn't much convince him that this was a feasible idea, not unless he wanted to flatten himself for a 15 story assent through a dark conveyer lift scrunched between tanks.

That's when he noticed the small markings on little canisters next to the gas tanks. Something like "P-T Mix." A hunch started forming, one that that prompted Virmir to check the apocalyptic logs again, this time searching for references. As luck would have it, he didn't even have to search for a minute before finding something.

"-That creepy dragon again," the recording began with a man's voice, "always with that 'Gehehehe' laughter. That [b]always[/b] creeps me out, especially when he grins like that. His shipment of P-T came in, still won't tell us the proprietary secrets of making it. Only good thing is, he can make gobs of the stuff; he sent a whole semi-truck full of the it this morning. Isn't even asking to get paid, says it's all for the benefit of science. Though he always shouts the word 'science' dramatically for some reason around us. Just when I think I could be grateful he just goes out of his way to stare at us with those really tiny pupils for minutes at a time. I'm glad for the experiments, but I just wish that long overgrown berry would stop coming in person."

Virmir blinked. Gehehehe? Dragon? Berry? Now that sounded familiar... he snatched a closer look at these P-T canisters, taking a good guess that they were the cause behind all this runaway inflation. Maybe it had gotten lose, started inflating the walls and the chairs and cars all over the city and scared people away. Though the timetables he saw were a little off... the P-T started getting shipped in only in mass quantities two days ago. People were acting funny before then...

Bah, that probably didn't matter. The mass shipments probably only ensured that the experiments got wildly out of control; it didn't mean that they hadn't already gotten out of control beforehand by overzealous, genre-blind scientists. And whoever that feline in the recording had been.

Anyway, the immediate solution was clear; wipe out this P-T chemical. That would stop all these problems in this laboratory at the source. Shouldn't be too difficult, just-

Squeak

Virmir dove at the wall, splashing much more noisily than he would have liked. Blast this flooded basement; it made it impossible to move quietly! Hackles raised and his paws tight, Virmir gripped his hammer, ready to smash an inflatable whatever against the wall should it come to that. Sure enough, he found a large gray filecabinet floating in through the door, squeaking softly on the waving water.

The fox whammed his hammer in a sidestroke, pummeling in the inflatable's middle and pinning it against the wall. "Got you now," he said, barring his teeth triumphantly, and perhaps a bit too soon as he was suddenly poked on the shoulder twice. Turning around Virmir confronted a large computer monitor, puffed out and absolutely loaded with wires, all squeaking and wiggling through the air.

"Oh blast," Virmir said eardrooping, before trying to take another swing at the infernal contraption in front of him.

An inflated wire SQUIRKED upward and wound around his arm, snatching him and dragging him into an enormous squeezing hug! The toon squirmed mightily but the air filled wires wound around him simultaneously, pinning him in its grip and loosening his grasp of his hammer which fell away with a great big splash onto the flooded floor.

Wonderful! Caught by an inflated computer and its filing cabinet friend and hoisted helplessly into the air! How swell! Virmir squirmed relentlessly as with loud squeaks and groans the computer spun about and floated down the hallway quite rapidly, faster than the fox could have trudged through at any rate. Valiantly he tried to figure out which way he was going, left, right, straight, but his repeated squirmings to try and escape were met with a couple airfilled wires strangling his neck, making his eyes bulge out ridiculously, and he was hefted up and now held in an upside down position to make it harder for him to move.

Cursing loudly in a series of "Blast it!"s and "aaargh!"s and "Frazz!"s, Virmir took to try and insult the computer and try and goad it into trying to beat him, maybe loosening its grip for a second and giving him an opening. Neither this nor Virmir's cartoonish potty mouthing was apparently sufficient to arouse moral outrage in the inflatable computer, though it did seem to be displeased by this level of noise gargling from the fox's throat and responded by choking him briefly.

Suddenly they arrived at a shabby looking door at the far end of the basement, Virmir struuuggled to read it upside down, but it seemed to be the janitor's office.

The computer's inflatable wire knocked at the door, but just squeaked softly, hardly making any sound otherwise. Dutifully the computer kept at it, squirking against the door and failing to make any sound remotely resembling a knock. After this had continued for about two minutes Virmir rolled his eyes and lost patience. "Helloooo, the stupid computer out here is trying to knock but is too dull to realize that inflated wires don't knock against doors very well!"

Someone or something obviously heard, as a squeak ushered out and wiggled behind the door, pushing it open from the inside. Out came a tabby cat, fat and inflated with air, wearing an ill fitting janitor's outfit along with a clashing purple cape and what looked like a Burger King cardboard crown. The upside down cartoon fox raised an eyebrow. Or... lowered, whatever.

"Who is this that intrudes upon my dominion?" the cat squeakily demanded, a mop held awkwardly in his puffy paws and being brandished about as if it were a royal scepter.

The floating computer and filing cabinet squeaked unhelpfully in response. To Virmir's bemusement the feline seemed to nod. "Yes, thank you my subjects, you have done well indeed! Now, who are you interloper?" he decried in an attempted booming voice.

Stifling back a sarcastic remark, the fox tried to keep himself from shifting his eyes... too much. "Virmir. Now, since you're the first actual person I've met here, what in blazes is going on?"

A grandiose glint took hold in the janitor's eyes. "Ascension! Ascension into a higher plane of existence! With helium!" The feline snatched an air tank nearby and stuffed its hose into his maw, suuucking up some of the air. "Heeelium"

"Umm... right..." the fox responded a bit warily. "Look, where is everybody?"

"They were in the way! The PT, this wonderful boon, was within their grasp and what did they want to do? They just sat their prodding it and measuring numbers! They denied its true potential! I had to take charge, only I could unleash its potential!"

Ok that at least got him somewhere. "Uhh.. huh... and this PT chemical is?"

The feline grabbed at his face and shook him vigorously. "The stuff of the gods! It came down like mana from heaven! Right into our storage units! Before what you see was a lowly janitor, but no more!! Now I am on my way to ascension!" he proclaimed, still half dressed in a grungy janitorial outfit.

Right then, this PT people not only made things inflate, it did it to people too. And made them delirious... then Virmir noticed the magazine clippings and website printouts shouting about Elvis sightings and alien abductions and secret government weather control devices (Oh Virmir wished that was true so that winter could be ended forever). Ok, there was the slight possibility that this guy was already crazy before the gas then.

"Right, right," Virmir said, waving his paw even as he hung upside down. "First of all... what's your name?"

The cat puffed himself up (literally, sucking up some more helium). "My mortal name was Herman, but that is no longer! No I am Squeak Lord! And I will- hey, stop laughing!"

It was nearly impossible to keep from bursting out in laughter, much less snerking and snickering till he had a bit of a tough time breathing. "Squeak Lord" hrumphed indignantly and gripped the fox with his inflated paws and tried to vigorously shake him, an action that squeaked loudly and seemed more ticklish than anything else.

"How dare you laugh at my grandiose title you fleshy worm! You will pay for your insolence!" said the cat squeaking with rage. Virmir stifled another laugh involuntarily as he felt one of those wires of the inflatable computer that was holding him grip around his throat again. "Now if you'll excuse me, pitiful fleshy creature, I am off to spread ascension beyond the confines of this tower! Soon I will have more minions than I know what to do with!" he proclaimed, stroking the inflated file cabinet.

However delusional this "lord" was, that last line definitely sounded... ominous. Probably involving spread of that PT chemical. More rampaging cars, Virmir thought. Right, that settled it! His hammer was out of reach, but the cartoon fox wasn't out of options; not by a long shot. He balled his fist, paw shaking. "Squeak Lord" laughed maniacally, presuming his captive was shaking in impotent rage. Therefore he was rather unprepared when the air around the fox's paw lit with flame.

No time at all was wasting in slamming his fist into the abomination of an inflated computer that was holding him tight. Instantly its vinyl seared, bubbled and popped loudly, air gushing out of an enormous hole in the side of its "monitor" where Virmir had flame-punched it. It squeeeeaked loudly and flailed about, tossing Virmir around and smashing him a little into the wall. The toon stars rotating around his head only took a couple seconds to dispel though, and by that time the computer had lost enough air that its grip around him was totally deprived, leaving the diabolical former machine to deflate softly onto the flooded floor, floating gently in the lapping water.

Unfortunately, during that time the previously gloating inflatable feline had let out a deafening SQUEAK of terror and burst out of the janitor's closet. Snarling, Virmir lept off in a chase, spinning around the corner of the door-WHAM!!!!

More starts floated around Virmir as he flopped over backward, his hammer having smashed into his face by that dastardly janitor, who now wielded the absconded weapon and fled with it down the hall. Oh now he was going to get it! Virmir stood up tall and whipped around both his paws, summonning a huuuge burst to flame!...

The janitor may have been crazy, but he wasn't stupid. Spotting Virmir behind him in the hall summoning a ginormous fireball, he reached a squeaky paw over and yanked the fire alarm down.

The building's alarm blared and shook Virmir's ears, shortly before the overhead sprinklers burst to life and sprayed the whole floor. The fire in his paws sputtered repeatedly and snuffed out in seconds beneath the overhead drenching. "Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!" Oh now Virmir was going to enjoy popping this crazy janitor; he was going to enjoy it a lot.

The corridor echoed with splashes as Virmir plowed through as fast as his short body would take him, while the feline took advantage of his inflated state and simply floated and swam onward, infuriating the toon by just keeping ahead of him. Several times Virmir attempted summoning more fireballs, but the sprinklers constantly inundated his efforts with soaking water.

Reaching a comfortable lead, the janitor shouted back. "You can't stop me down, flesh creature! I shall deliver my ascension and my followers will spread over the world!"

"Oh yeah, well how are you going to escape this basement, huh?" Virmir shouted back at him, wadding forward at a furious pace.

"Why the stairs of course!"

Of course. There were stairs. Something that would have saved him a lot of trouble earlier. But of course, this building was laid out by a video game designer or something, so the stairwell was apparently nowhere near the elevator. Virmir scowled indignantly at such poor design, but kept chasing. It didn't matter anyway; there was absolutely no way this puffed up airhead was going to escape him in a stairwell; he'd squeak and waddle up at a tenth of the fox's speed, if even! He was as good as captured now, no matter how well he could float and swim.

Rounding another corner in pursuit of his prey, Virmir caught sight of the stairs. A wide stairwell, with a large open center shaft that the stairs curved and bent around, it was definitely a sure trap for the hapless deluded janitor. It wasn't even worth running anymore; the fox slowed to a calm slog through the foot deep water to catch his breath, content to let the crazed feline waddle his way ineffectually up the stairs and make himself the perfect target. Oooh Virmir was going to enjoy this now, after dealing with this insufferable little cat. "Going somewhere?" he called ahead of him as he waded up to the stairwell entrance.

Worry didn't seem to be a pressing concern to the janitor though, as he squeaked back and smiled at the toon fox. "Oh ye of little ears!" the feline proclaimed to the excessively large earred fox, causing the latter to smirk. "You didn't even listen to what I was saying, were you? I spoke of ASCENSION!" he squeaky voiced boomed. Or at least it tried to boom, really all it did was just ring the stairwell with echoes of toyish squeaks. Yeeah, that's REALLY how you go about making a terrifying impression, Virmir thought, rolling his eyes. Too late did the realization come that the feline looked fatter than before suddenly. And what was that blasted hissing sound? Sounded like something inflating.

Too late did the fox notice the helium tank that the crazed custodian had dragged along with him that he was now engorging himself on, groooaning his stretchy body and causing his clothes to rip, tear and rend from the inside as he inflated outward, and upward!

Blaaaaast it! How did I not see this coming!? Virmir snarled and lept at the airheadded janitor, too late to snag him as the gobs of helium lifted him up the stairwell's center shaft. The sprinklers were at work here too, rendering the next few angry lobs of fireballs sputtering embers that failed to even reach their escaping target, who cackled and fwooormphed up out of reach.

There wasn't any time to waste. With haste Virmir burst up the stairs, racing step after step, of course managing to trip several times on the wet floor. Blaaast it who in the blazes designed this building!?

With no choice other than to slug it out, the fox hustled up the stairwell, keeping a very firm grip on the railing to steady himself from slipping, and sure enough he lost his footing no less than 5 times on the race up. Glances upward showed the puffed up pest had inflated all the way to the top; great, that meant that Virmir had to climb the whole blasted staircase. Briefly the thought of taking an elevator danced around his mind. Very briefly, as the toon suppressed a shudder.

Several minutes later, a panting Virmir dragged himself up to the top of the staircase, tongue hanging out as he gasped profusely for air. Signs showed this as the roof of the building, giving him quite the idea of what this crazed janitor had in mind.

Ascension. Tanks of helium rising a vertical conveyer belt. All that talk of followers.

This guy was going to somehow spread PT all over the city and infect everything with it, leading to a horde of crazed, squeaky and animate cabinets, tables, computers...

Cars...

Virmir's scowl became deep as fire flashed in his eyes, his paws tightening into fists and his tail twitching intently. All this craziness, this disorder, his messed up days, all these people not doing their jobs, all the pain and suffering he had endured from his schedule deviations, this would not stand. He breathed in tight, letting all the collective frustration inside him build till his fur practically stood on end all over his body.

This ended now.

What lay on the other side of the roof exit in front of him was anybody's guess, but Virmir could hazard a guess it wasn't going to be a picnic. However, there was one thing he was absolutely sure of.

There was no rain tonight.

He raised his paws and flicked around some embers from them with a deep toothy grin.

With both handpaws Virmir pressed the doors wide open, bathed in the light of the city skyline and the rooftop lights. Ahead of him was assembled a veritable horde of inflated appliances and formerly inanimate office objects. There assembled on the rooftop was an army of file cabinets, desks, chairs, whiteboards, computers, books, manila folders, and even small pens. Looming on all sides like a horde of bar bouncers were cars. Some flat on their bottoms, others perched upward like prairie dogs on their rear bumpers.

And there, in the middle with his voice raised at them, stood the crazed custodian. "I have given you life, my followers! With this wonderful substance," he cradled a canister of PT, "we will drop mana from heaven and raise more followers to our ranks!" The assorted inflated items seemed to look at each other for a bit, confused. Then the cradled his paw next to his muzzle and went "Yeah, whoo!" throwing his voice like a trained ventriloquist. Soon this was joined by squeaks of acclamation that spread throughout the ranks, enthusiasm suddenly building. Virmir shifted his eyes.

And there, discarded right behind the airheaded janitor, was his hammer. Virmir shook a little bit, ruffling his wet fur and letting it dry out. Now he just had to get it

There could be no doubt that he had been spotted by the assembled squeaky horde, but none of them seemed to summon the will to move forward. Not until with a consternated squeak the feline turned and caught sight of the intruder. "You again?? Impossible!"

Virmir rolled his eyes. "Uh, you're supposed to only use that line after you've trapped the hero in a diabolical scheme or outrageous execution."

The feline blinked, not quite understanding. "But... the stairs!"

"...I walked up the stairs..." Virmir responded incredulously.

"...Oh. I didn't think of that," the janitor responded as Virmir facepawed. "Hey, don't you facepaw at me you fleshy worm!"

"Whatever," Virmir sighed, looking around for his hammer. And sure enough, he spotted it; smack dab in the middle of the squeaky hoard. It wasn't a clear shot to get to it by any chance, not without a distraction. Suddenly he pointed to the right, "Hey look! It's the Marty's Thanksgiving Day Snoopy parade balloon!" and promptly darted into the throng to retrieve his hammer.

BWOMP he went as he bounced off an inflated desk that moved in his way.

"Marty's?... There's no such things you silly fox? Everyone knows the Thanksgiving parade is by Macy's! There's no parade balloon nearby! You're lying to us!" he said, outraged (and maybe even a little disappointed).

Blaaast it popular culture! Why did it have to be so confusing?

Vinyl groans wiggled everywhere as Virmir whipped his paws up and begin tossing fireballs left and right, hurling them almost randomly, since he was pretty much guaranteed to hit something. Inflated office equipment popped and spwaaaped and hissed violently as the smell of burning polymer assaulted Virmir's nostrils. Valiantly he swung his arms, jumped to the side, and tried to evade the lumbering wires and chair legs.

Already, though, the toon fox was panting with heavy excretion from the ordeal. There were too many of them! And lobbing fireballs left and right was very quickly draining him and rendering his movements sluggish and ungainly, leading to his quickly being swamped from all sides. He struggled and kicked to no avail, as vinyl pressed on him from all sides.

"Mwahahahahaha!" the janitor cackled. "You are helpless before my minions! Soon I will spread ascension to the whole city and then the world! Observe!" He whip[ed out a remote and pressed a large red button, causing the roof beneath them to quake.

More than the roof, actually; it felt as though the entire building was beginning to wobble uncontrollably! The fox would have fallen over flat on his face or butt were it not for the fact that he was held tight between the atrocious office inflatables, pressing him against and into their squishy sides. The whole lab complex groooooaned heavily underneath, wobbling back and forth as the buildings nearby started to recede slowly from view, their darkened windows disappearing floor by floor. Underneath he felt the telltale signs of vinyl and inflation as his paws felt the floor turn a bit cushy. That blasted custodian was turning the whole building into a giant blimp!

Grasping at his adversaries, Virmir tried to squirm free but was rewarded with his efforts by being faceplanted into the floor. His eyes swirled a bit as they held his paws tight, keeping him captive and unable to do more than wiggle!

Desperately Virmir did just that, though all he did was shake his cape... and jostle a certain can from his cartoon hammerspace. Blinking, the fox saw the can of spinach plop right in front of his maw.

Immediately he dove at it with his teeth, puncturing holes as fast as he could and craaaaned his neck so he had the can above him, letting the green vegetable matter flow into his maw (just as long as this didn't contribute to further kidney stones!)

The effects took hold immediately, as a particular old time trumpet fanfare sounded out in the background. The spinach bounced into Virmir's belly and with a mighty roaring swell the mass pumped into his arms, temporarily pulsing them into giant jackhammers. This was regarded as odd by the fox for only half a second before a triumphant grin took hold and he swung his arms out, swiping at his attackers.

Their grip on him quickly proved untenable as they were pummeled and ripped to shreds, spinning into the air and landing seconds later as recycling bins labeled "plastic only." Mindlessly they came at him, but Virmir merely swung them aside before leaping at his hammer off the floor, arms conveniently shaping back to normal.

Light blinded the inflating rooftop as Virmir positively lit aflame, swinging his hammer in his right paw so fast it started to humm and whir like a helicopter blade. Finally the assorted squeaky office items looked at each other and started sweatdropping, the sheer direness of their predicament forcing them to acknowledge fear before the mighty onslaught of ticked off toon urocyon.

Ferocity lit the fox's face as he whipped his hammer out, leaping at his adversaries in a lightning fast sweep, the background fading to a blue almost from the motions as whammed an inflatable computer, slammed an encroaching desk, kersplatted a leaping filing cabinet, leapt over a swarm of printers, swung back and pounded an intruding table, and if that wasn't enough, he clenched his fist and tapped his hammer with it, lighting the whole thing ablaze. Deftly he swung it before him, sending a tsunami of fire lashing at his foes till a brilliant blaze enveloped them. The air filled with the scent of burning plastic and the screeches of popping bursting vinyl, as dozens of office products met their just demise. Another wave had been approaching on his right, now they suddenly stopped in apprehension. Good; that made them an easier target. He swept his hammer and pelted a maelstrom of ignited air at his foes, incinerating them from the face of the Earth.

Four cars advanced on him from the sides, apparently hoping to swarm him with too many targets. Virmir whipped his hammer around in full 360 arc one time, grinning. In a single moment he leapt at the nearest car, a blue... something! He wasn't up on the different types of cars? A Datsun maybe? He leapt so high he didn't come up against its front so much as he did against its top, sending an almighty hammer blow down that slammed into the vehicle's squeaky grill. The motion was so fast the inflatable didn't even have time to compress and absorb the impact; its vinyl form simply broke apart on impact and burst, rending into pieces in all directions. Virmir in one instant felt some of that air bursting straight into the direction of the car on his right, making him grin; quickly he added his own swing to that momentum and let his hammer fly like a boomerang

The vehicle didn't even have time to register what was about to occur as the brilliantly flaming hammer flew at it, while Virmir flipped and ran straight at a tan pickup truck, opening both his paws and letting raging torrents of fire burst from his fingers. The truck tried to evade, twisting to the side, but Virmir suddenly spun his legs against the inflating floor, building up a mass of bunched up vinyl behind him he used as a springboard to launch himself forward, swinging his right paw back and his left forward. The truck tried to dive at him with its own momentum, hoping to knock the fox from his path, but Virmir put his spinach boosted reflexes to good use. His tail began spinning like a propeller and redirected his path, letting his flaming left paw strike him, blasting in a hole into the truck's front. Even then it found no respite, as Virmir followed with his right paw for a one-two punch that left the vehicle deflated in seconds.

Behind him the car formerly on his right was rent apart by his hammer, struck multiple times by its spinning blows and leaving it to crumple in a rapidly deflating mass.

The final car, a green minivan, regarded this situation rather tensely and apparently decided its once chance was to pounce Virmir just as he was recovering. It charged at him like a bull, honking its horn and gunning to smash into the fox. The toon just stood up and smiled, as a buzzing whirring sound sped up behind him. Virmir jumped forward with surprising speed, tossing fireballs behind him to achieve raw thrust so that he ended up literally rocketing at the minivan, smashing it with his right paw and cleaving a clear gash through it. The hum behind him grew louder, as Virmir grabbed hold of his hammer which he had thrown like a boomerang, now having returned to him with most of its momentum. Throwing in his own strength and momentum he swung the hammer home, lighting it aflame and causing his whole body to become a raging fireball.

This time his foe exploded on the spot, rent apart by searing temperatures and blasting force. Its vinyl practically liquified under the sudden shock and pressure leaving no scrap larger than a post it note fluttering in the air.

Sweeping back with his tatter cape, his armor scuffed in places as the fiery embers lashed behind him, Virmir turned to face the pathetic architect of this debacle, who was now scurrying downstairs yelping in cowardly fear, into his inflating lair as it rose into the sky. Virmir could have hunted him down... but a devious smirk crossed his face as he eyed the vertical conveyer belt that carried the helium up to the rooftop.

A nice, resounding fireball was the perfect way to end all this, but best be sure it was an evenly dispersed fireball. He waltzed over to the console controlling it and quickly found the button labeled crudely with a ripped off paper in crayon "HIDROGEN TANKS DON'T USE U NUMBSKUL" That idiot in the recordings earlier had in the end given Virmir a gift, and the fox wasn't about to waste it. He smacked the button on as the hissing of the building took on a different tone, as the imperceptibly lighter but infinitely more flammable hydrogen started pumping in with the helium, eventually overtaking it and swelling the building up.

Somehow the change must have been noticeable, for suddenly the door to the stairwell swung open revealing a wobbly and panicked feline squeaky janitor, his eyes bulging wide. "W-what are you doing you fool!?" he shrieked.

"Creating a dramatic conclusion. You may want to jump pretty quickly," came the fox's curt reply.

Incredulously the janitor stared before the building wobbled under the strain, and Virmir started summoning flickers of fire from his paw. The stare turned to agape horror and a shriek as the feline waddled to the edge of the building, jumping off. Well, maybe more like tripping off; he couldn't exactly move well. Ah well, he was inflatable; it's not like he'd die from the impact. Unless he hit something sharp anyway.

Virmir strode to the stairwell, smashing the door aside and leaving the entryway open, giving him a clear shot right down into the inflating building's bowels. That done, he waltzed to the edge of the building and summoned a fireball in his paws, letting it hover in the air as it slowly descended. Virmir held his tongue out in concentration and held his hammer out like a golf club, liiifting it.... "FOOORE!"

Mightily he swung, sending the incandescent ball of flame right down into the stairwell like a perfect shot into a pinball machine. It smashed and banged into metal, concrete and vinyl, violently popping and searing the latter. Virmir triumphantly grinned... then blinked... as the building started rocking and heaving, as huge quantities of hydrogen beneath began igniting.

"...Oh Blast." Virmir said with a sweatdrop. Quickly he spun around and lept to escape... only to realize he was some 2000 feet up from the ground. Taking in this situation logically and rationally Virmir proceeded to scream and flail madly. Flapping his arms like wings for some reason seemed like a good idea as mad, panicked desperation became the order of the day.

If only... there had to be some left! Virmir reached back into his cartoon hammerspace and felt for the can of spinach... yes! There was some in here left! He just had to nibble some, then super flap his arms or spin his hammer till he created some lift like a helicopter! That would do it-

WHOOOSH came a gust of wind as he plummeted, sending his can of salvation spinning and spiraling from his grasp. Virmir blinked, then frowned, then folded his arms grumpily. A deep scowl crossed his face before he promptly crashed through the sidewalk and created a fox shaped hole in the ground.


A mighty yawn escaped the fox's muzzle as he streeetched and prepared himself for bed. He brushed his teeth, made sure everything was closed and turned off. A nice comfortable WARM ending to a wonderfully productive day, with absolutely *no interruptions! *

Things were back to normal, for him at least. Power was back up, and there were no more fiendish inflatable cars haunting the roads! His landline connections were working, and he had food enough in his stores.

For everyone else, it was a somewhat different matter yet. People had filtered back, and they weren't watching their shoulders for pouncing killer vehicles, but the streets were still a bit empty. Virmir guess it would just take time for everyone to gather the nerve to return from their fear-induced exodus. After all, that had been the reason they had all left of course.

Though... Virmir found himself wondering idly at moments. People had started disappearing well before the cars and other possessed appliances showed up. All been busy or something. His thoughts turned to "Lord Squeak," who he had not heard the slightest peep from in the days since. Not that that could be expected of course. Not that Virmir could be expected to know what anyone on the street would be thinking; he was a blasted hermit! It wasn't his job in life to be, bluuugh, social with people and ask what's going on.

Shaking his head at such idle nonsense, Virmir still found his thoughts troubled. That crazy janitor, his deluded schemes... obviously he had devoted some effort in the inane task of convincing newly animate office appliances and automobiles. But a lot of this didn't add up. He was forgetting something. He had just thrown himself into drawing and getting back into his routine once he had gotten back home, and since his necessities of life were back in working order, he hadn't paid much attention afterward.

Bah, whatever. He could just go to bed now; if it was a pressing problem he could figure it out in the morning.

He streeetched and yawns, curling up into his nice comfy tree bed on a branch...

CRASH!

Gah! What in the blazes had that been? It sounded like something had fallen over in the lower levels of his treehouse. Dagnabit, he made sure to make sure things were neat and orderly precisely so they wouldn't fall over in chaotic fashions! Uuuurgh!

Stomping to his feet Virmir reflexively snatched a cape from his closet on his way downstairs. It couldn't have been anything he did... which meant that something had to be in his home. He tensed, flexing his paws and swishing his tail uncertainly. Gingerly he tiptoed down the steps, watching his way carefully... The wood creaked gently underneath him, until suddenly his footpaw slipped! The fox "Gah!"d, grasping for balance and failing to do so, making him tumble head over heals down to the bottom of his stairs.

This lovely trip downstairs involved smashing his head against the floor, but oddly it felt far too soft, too malleable. There was no way he shouldn't have little foxes or stars swirling around his head, but he had no such affliction. Nor was he noticeably dizzy from his tumble.

All of this was impossible; he had built this house in the tree, it wasn't that soft to fall down on! As he stepped up he felt his foot slink into the floor... squeakily.

Hackles rose and his tail froze. Experimentally he pushed his footpaw into the floor, feeling it depress around his pushing and squirkgroan. Blast it, he was supposed to be done with all this!

Another squiiirking sound came out, this from into his house into the living room. He took deep breaths to calm himself; it probably wasn't much, just more antics of that stupid janitor and his inflatable office appliances ilk. He growled at the thought; oooooh he was going to make that feline pay.

He stepped forward into his living room boldly, gasping as his walls were now inflated too, along with his chair which was now bloated almost beyond recognition; everything seemed to belong like in a toy version of his home!

"Hi Virmir!"

The fox JUMPED, and with the floor so puffy and springy his motion bounced him into the ceiling, which (ironically) unfortunately was not inflated like the floor and walls. His head whammed against the ceiling, knocking into him and leaving him to crash down to his bouncy floor dizzy. This time his head was very much surrounded by floating foxes as his eyes swiiiirled dizzily.

"Wake up silly fox! Wake up!"

It took time for Virmir's senses to come around again, but upon a return to some semblance of reality he was confronted by the wide smiling face of a beaming striped jackal; though he looked rather odd, maybe a little shiny in the dim light.

"Medik?... what are you doing here? And why is my house inflating??" Suddenly a sinking feeling struck the fox, like he really had missed something extremely important.

The jackal giggled in response, as a familiar squeaky sound came out. "Viiiirmuuuuur," Medik said, purposefully mispronouncing the fox's name like he always deliberately did, "we're spreading fun times! You didn't want to come to the beach the other day and hang out! Now we're going to bring the fun to you!"

That's when he realized what was wrong. Medik's proportions were off, his arms and legs were rounder, his paws looking almost uselessly nubby. All in all he looked remarkably... toyish. Inflatable toyish, that was.

"Uh, Medik, what happened? You look like you were pooltoyed??"

Squeaky laughter was the response as the jackal's body bent around malleably. "Silly fox! Of course I am! And we're spreading the favor!" he pronounced, jumping on Virmir's now inflatable and bouncy living room floor. "Me and Toast decided that if you're going to be a curmudgeon you can at least be a fun curmudgeon!"

In response, a certain "Gehehehe" laugh came from behind.

Realization struck like a two by four. The lab, that PT chemical, a strange laugh and talk of a creepy dragon. That stupid janitor was never the cause of this at all. Virmir grimaced, and turned around to see a large shape scrunched near the far wall, squiiirking and groaning loudly. It looked red-ish in the dim light, a huge thick tail rubbing along the floor, bending in vinyl-y creases all around it seemed to be focused on something in front of it. Confound it all this was his nicely ordered house!

It took Virmir a few moments to recognize the hiss of air that was prevalent, and the swelling of one of his TV into something bloated and distended. A large inflatable dragon was huffpuffing somehow right into it, bloating it with air until it swelled and stretched into squeaky vinyl.

Fur stood on end as Virmir's tail swished behind him nervously. "Tooooast, what are you doing?"

The dragon huffed into the television one last time and rendered it quite a bloated vinyl toy, complete with an air valve where he blew into that coalesced into shape in the last few seconds. He just stood there, wagging his inflated tail and giggling to himself in a soft cackle. He turned around, groaning his body and eyed the fox with impossibly tiny pupils, narrowed and gushing a deranged fervor. He sized the fox up, and then suddenly looked at Medik, exchanging a wordless conversation as his tail swayed, he giggled again, and seemed to point at something?

Childish laughter gushed behind him as Virmir suddenly found himself pushed toward a recliner; or at least a very inflatable and swollen recliner that now squirkgrooooaned as he bumped into it. "Medik, what was that for??" he demanded. "And what have you two been doing to my-GAH!"

Virmir was very quickly caught off guard when an overwhelming mass of berry and yellow colored vinyl bounced into him, reaching around with huge tube-like arms. "It was YOU two who were handing out that chemical!" he exclaimed as he attempted to kick his way free, staring at a canister behind Medik labeled PT. "You're the ones that were spreading it around!"

"Of course we were!" Medik exclaimed back. "We couldn't pass up the chance to spread it to everyone!"

"Then why were you making cars and everything inflatable and setting them loose and scaring everyone away from the city!? It made it impossible to carry one with my day."

Toast blinked behind him, then started squeaky laughing insidiously. Medik cocked his head to the side curiously. "Cars? Scaring people? That was just because the chemical got loose and that weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeird janitor at the lab got ahold of stuff after everyone started leaving for the beach with us!"

Virmir paused, totally confused. "I... don't understand. Why do you keep bringing up the beach??"

Toast laughed and whacked Virmir softly with his puffy squeaky talon. "Silly little fox. We've been spreading the squeakiness, obviously," he said in a low gravely voice.

"Yeah Virmir! We've been making people squeaky toys! And they came down and even the ones who didn't take it played with everyone who did! It's been a blast! But you keep miiiissing it!"

"But... you're telling me everyone abandoned town to play on the beach???" the fox demanded.

"Fox is siiiiiiiiiiiiiiilly" Toast snicked behind him. "I think he needs to be in a position to understand playtime with toys a little bit more up close, don't you thiiiink~?" he giggled to his jackal friend.

"Yeeees!" Medik bounced up and down on his squeaky legs. "Now stay still Virmir! This'll be fun!"

Such words were virtually guaranteed to induce copious amounts of cartoony sweatdropping and that's exactly what Virmir busily set about doing. "No thaaanks~" he tried to say as he futily attempted to squirm. Such moves were rewarded by being slammed and pinned into the grossly inflated recliner, depressing into its malleable surface. "Ok seriously you two let go!"

"Noooot until you have some FUN, Virmir!" the jackal insisted as the dragon pinned him, and yoinked a canister of PT and stuffed its hose into his maw. Virmir gulped excessively, the dragon's yellow vinyl chest sweeelling slowly, starting to bend against Virmir's front and pinning him between the draconic inflatable and the squirking chair.

"MMMPHHH!" the fox flailed madly, trying to sliiide down and wiggle underneath the dragon, an action that proved to be easier than he feared it would be. With heavy grrrkgroansquirks he slide down Toast's belly, sliding down and flomping onto the floor, free! Unfortunately said floor was partially inflated and made for poor gripping; the predictable result was a fox that quickly fell to on his butt.

"Virmiiiir quit squirming so much! You're only putting off the fun!" Medik complained.

Toast merely giggled squeakily. "The fun is inevitable, Virmir," he said, craning his long neck down to face the fox nose to nose. "Embrace the fun."

A further chance to escape was not given; the dragon merely lowered his head to Virmir's belly and forcefully huffed out a mighty gush of air.

Instantly tightness and swelling roiled into Virmir's body, sending his arms and legs out straight and rigid, like the sudden mass of air gushing into him was holding his joints firmly in place. But the joints didn't stay there; very little of him just stayed as it was. He felt quite tight, bloated, but the air tingled insidiously at his insides, as if contagiously trying to infect his mass with the same tingling, making him feel all the tighter as the quantities of air multiplied. Soon as air came in, there was no resistance given by his body. His body just swirled away into more air and betrayed him, adding to the pressure.

All over his skin stretched taut, swelling till it seem to absorb every last bit of fur on his body. Inside it felt tenser and tenser, until his skin started *ploink*ing in places, popping into shape ans squeaky groaning vinyl. His eyes light in horror amid his contorted bulging face, his eyes streetching and feeling flatter and flatter on the inside till they *pop*ed into place, letting out a heavy FWORMPH as they wiggled into their new shape, as flat painted on eyes. The rest of his face followed suit, as the dragon huffed and puffed and turned the fox literally into an airhead.

His paws gushed with the air rushing to inflate them, swelling up all nubby and nauseatingly cute till it felt like he could barely grab anything at all. A hard feeling rose and firmed in two places on his back, as Medik started squealing in joy "Virmir's getting handles! They're so cute!" Virmir groaned, not just with his vinyl, as he peeked around and felt at his back; sure enough under his cape he felt two large plastic handles poking out. "Now you can be played with like a real pooltoy, Virmir!"

Virmir squeaked indignantly at Medik, as Toast finally let up the inflation and pulled his snout back, sealing up the fox's belly with his new air valve right over his belly button. The toon fox tried to gulp, but in reality his neck just squiiiirked at great deal much to the delight of the mischievous duo. He held up his paws, gaping nervously at his hands that were now practically swollen mittens more than they were anything else.

"Geehehehehehe," Toast snickered, nosing the back of Virmir's head and making it bend inward malleably.

"Gah! Hey, watch out!"

"Virmuuuur don't be silly!" Medik laughed at him. "You just have air in there, you don't have anything to worry about! Pooltoys are really stretchy! It's great for hugs!" On cue Virmir suddenly was grabbed by the dragon and yoinked upward into the air, squeeeeezed and producing an almighty deafening din of vinyl upon vinyl squeakiness.

Virmir squeak-sighed and shifted his eyes. "Ok, ok, now we've gone and done that, can we just go back to normal?"

Somehow it seemed like that was the last thing that was going to happen, as both the squeaky intruders laughed. "Nu uh!" exclaimed Medik, "Now we need to make you have some real splashy fun!"


The sun shone down beat against the concrete and the pool area brightly, and Virmir, much to his chagrin, found that he rather liked this part about being inflatable. His vinyl surface sooooaked in the warmth, stretching out malleabley and making that stupid grin that so naturally wanted to assert itself on his face a little wider.

Squiiiiirk! he went suddenly as hundreds of little water droplets ploinked across his body as he was splashed, much to the giggling delight of Medik as he bobbed next to the floating fox. "See Virmir, isn't this fun?"

A squirk came off of Virmir's body that was meant to approximate a grumble, but it came across far more cutely than he intended, eliciting dual squeals from a jackal and a dragon, the latter of whom was now in a more "feral" form, plopping his belly with nubby arms sticking out to the side that were little more than flotation stabilizers. He wiggled about blissfully and swam about, wiggling the handles on his back occasionally bouncing into his fellow toys.

"Well, it's warm at least," Virmir conceded. Despite it all, how could he ignore the relaxing blissful warmth he was feeling? He squeeeaksighed, smiling at long last and floating in the pool that Toast and Medik had dragged him to. He still wasn't entirely sure why they had had to drag him so far to this particular pool, but it was fortunately quite empty and unoccupied by anyone else, letting them float about in peace and quiet. Well, the occasional noise and splashing excluded.

Vrrrrrrrrrmmm-hisss! The noise shook Virmir from his near trance as he twisted his vinyl ears. "What was that?" he asked.

"Oh that's just the kids getting out for their field trip" Toast explained briskly.

Oh, that was noth-Virmir did a double take, "Waaait a minute, what??"

Bus doors screeched open and sudden screeches of screaming children pierced the pool's previous tranquility, their banshee like squeals of hyper energy making Virmir's ears cringe and crumple as they tried to fold. His eyes widened with horror as he saw them flood into the public pool area, ripping through a line of chairs and surging to cannonball.

Toast and Medik beamed, wiggling in the pool to swim to the edge suicidally so the horrible monstrous children could leap at them all the easier. Virmir squeaked in horror, wiggling and trying to escape as he saw a kid splash next to Medik and grab him, trying to climb on. The dragon pooltoy was swarmed by the juvenile horde, buried under grabbing arms and splashing bodies as they viciously fought to rest atop the berry colored toy's back.

Terror made Virmir wiggle back and forth looking for an escape, as children flooded everywhere from all sides. Soon, with the two toys that insanely offered themselves up with glee for this twisted form of playtime, the gray fox pooltoy was feasted upon with envious eyes which savagely set their attached bodies in motion springing at. The pooltoy fox recoiled, wiggling helplessly with his nubby arms as a gaggle of children swam toward him like hungry piranhas.

No escape was possible from any direction, as the fox squeaked adorably in terror. As he floated backward, one child stepped back from the pool's edge, but only to get a running start. He lept into the air, rising and lowering in a long arc that blotted out Virmir's view of the sun. A long shadow of a pouncing child descended upon the fox toy's horrified face.

Blaaaaast it...

The Squeak Around the Corner

Radioactive Toast

30 January 2014 at 16:38:00 MST

Story for virmir of a sort of squeaky epidemic

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