As he let out a yawn, Rick sluggishly climbed onto the bed. He already felt better once he was in that warm, snug room.
He pulled the cushions closer and closer to the center of the bed before fluffing them with his fist. He then grabbed his soft blanket and wrapped himself in it snuggly as he curled into a ball. After a second, he reached out and grasped the squirrel doll and hugged it in his arms.
When he snuggled against the doll’s cheeks, he found that it felt nice. Rick moved his tail from between his thighs and shifted it in front of him. The fluffy, familiar sensation made Rick sleepy.
He squeezed both the squirrel plushie’s tail and his own tail as he burrowed under a cushion. There was no better feeling than being warm and cozy.
I’m sleepy…but my mind is racing…
Rick couldn’t seem to stop yawning. He shook his head to drive away his drowsiness.
He wanted to spend a little more time thinking about the fire and the house afterward. During hibernation season, it was virtually impossible to wake up once you fell asleep in an optimal environment until the season was over.
Of course, no matter how deeply you were hibernating, you’d wake up if you got hungry. You’d also need to take a bath from time to time and tend to your personal hygiene. However, you’d essentially do it all while you were asleep, and unlike when you were awake during non-hibernation season, you’d be absent-minded and confused. Basically, you were sleepwalking. However, it was natural; for beastmen like Rick, that was just the way it worked.
That’s why…before then…before…then…
Rick mumbled as he tried to open his eyes. However, for some reason, everything was pitch-black.
That was because Rick had already closed his eyes.
Hu…ah…Speaking of which, Mr. Davis…
Suddenly, his mind was filled with thoughts of the scary (but kind) bear beastman.
He was handsome, big, strong, and lived in a large house. He was the exact opposite of Rick.
He was also strange: he had called Rick “cute.”
He’s a weird guy…but he’s a good person.
That was not the first time that Rick had been called “cute” by a man. It was because Rick was a small-type beastman. All small-type beastmen were relatively tiny, whether they were men or women. This meant that they were popular with certain groups of medium- and large-type beastmen. No, not quite “popular.” It was more like they were ridiculed.
Because they were small and delicate, these beastmen could not put up much of a fight. Therefore, it was said that they made the perfect “playmates.” In other words, they made easy prey.
Sometimes when he was working at the shop or when he was out walking, medium- or even large-type beastmen would call out to him with a leer: “Hey, you, cutie with the big tail. Why don’t we have some fun tonight, huh?”
Of course, he never once accepted any of those invitations. But when those sorts of things happened, he was always startled. People like that saw Rick as someone that they could use as they pleased.
But Mr. Davis is…
Rick remembered how Davis had held the nuts Rick had given him and called them “special.” 1
Davis had said it with a sincere look in his eyes.
Gradually, Rick started to curl further into a ball. He was floating on a wave of cushions, as though he were bobbing up and down, buoyed by a warm sea.
Before he knew it, Rick was sound asleep.
The sound of his own stomach rumbling woke him up.
Rick pawed at his face as he yawned. He squirmed from underneath the cushion and moved on top of it.
He picked up a single nut from the bowl, cracked open its shell with a hammer, and then removed the contents. He repeated this with a second and third nut, splitting them open and then eating them.
Still half-asleep and with his eyes closed, he reached out to grab the next nut. His fingertips tapped against a flat surface.
Cracking open one eye, Rick found that the silver tray–which had been piled with nuts before–was now completely bare.
After repeatedly waking up and eating, it seemed that he had run out of nuts.
Since he didn’t have any more nuts on his tray, he’d have to go to grab some from the pantry.
Rick stood up, a drowsy expression on his face. Then, he noticed that he was still hugging the squirrel plush in one hand. Rick laughed as he thought that, somehow, he had come to really like the doll. He tucked a blanket over it; the squirrel plushie could sleep in the bed while he was gone.
Having forgotten to put on his slippers, Rick’s bare feet smacked against the floor as he walked down the corridor.
I feel rejuvenated…but I’m still sleepy…
While he was out to get nuts, he decided that he might as well take a bath since he was up, so he went to the bathroom. While he ran the bathwater, he almost fell asleep. While he was soaking in the warm water, he almost fell asleep. While he was changing his clothes, he almost fell asleep. He felt relaxed enough to fall asleep on the bathroom floor. Somehow, he was able to resist the urge to nap on the floor and made his way to the pantry.
With a yawn, Rick finally arrived at the pantry, and he grabbed as many nuts as he could carry. However, because he was sleepy-sleepy, his mind wandered and his eyelids dropped. He tried his best to hang on to his pile of nuts so they wouldn’t fall.
“Um…is it this way?”
Through half-closed eyes, Rick searched for his destination as he continued down the corridor. He meandered around as he walked, snaking from side to side. As a result, Rick didn’t have a good grasp of his current location.
“Huh? This way…?”
Rick continued to walk down the hall. He felt that the corridor was rather long.
During hibernation season, one’s judgement temporarily became clouded. No matter what happened, it was practically impossible to wake up fully until hibernation season ended.
He was hibernating in an unfamiliar (and spacious) home, so it was no surprise that he had gotten lost… However, Rick wasn’t even aware that he was lost.
“Ah, it must be this way…”
As Rick said those uncertain words, he opened the door to a room.
Feeling a blast of warm air, Rick chuckled to himself and continued walking to the middle of the room. As Rick placed his nuts on the bedside table, he found that there was already a pile of nuts there, and he cocked his head. There were various other items also piled up next to the nuts. He sensed that there were foods that he couldn’t eat, like smoked fish and meat, lined up on the table, but Rick was so sleepy that he didn’t think much of it.
He flopped on the bed and clung to one of the cushions. It felt like, somehow, the cushion was stiffer than it was before. He kneaded it with his hands and feet, but it remained hard. Well, it was hard, but it was also…
It was strangely warm, and Rick figured it must have been a heated cushion. Davis had gone so far as to prepare that kind of thing for him. As Rick shut his eyes, he was filled with a strong sense of gratitude toward the silent, handsome bear beastman.
He was going to thank Davis, but the only sound his mouth would make was an unintelligible mumble.
The instant he called Davis’ name, Rick felt that somehow his cushion had started to move a little, but he decided that he must have been mistaken.
Clinging to the warm cushion, Rick departed for the land of dreams.
Right before he fell asleep, he remembered that he put his squirrel plushie on the bed. His hands groped around in search of it, until they finally landed on something that felt like his plushie, and he gave it a tight squeeze. Somehow, the doll felt stiffer than it was before. However, Rick was too drowsy to examine it further.
Before long, the warm room echoed with the sounds of synchronized snores. “Honk-honk, shoo-shoo.” That’s right: not one but two.
They were not the snores of a single person but instead of two people.
In the end, Rick dragged his slippers along as he was led into the living room.
Rick was then seated on a large, single-seat sofa. It was an armchair, but it seemed like Rick could share it with one or two more people. Moreover, Rick’s feet weren’t even touching the ground. His slippers swayed, dangling above the floor. Although three people could fit on it, such a hopelessly big chair wasn’t suitable anywhere else but here. Rick thought so, at any rate.
“Here you go.”
“Ah, yes. Thank you very much.”
Davis placed a steaming cup on top of a low table. Naturally, both the cup and the saucer it was on were very large, and they appeared giant even when Rick held them in both hands.
Rick had gotten Davis to stop speaking to him formally, since Davis was older than him in the first place. Additionally, Rick would be living in his home from now on. He didn’t want Davis to be overly-considerate of him, so Rick had nervously suggested that Davis speak to him informally. Davis had easily approved with a nod.
The tea was very warm. Conversely, Rick was cold down to his core after having traveled through the cold winter weather on his way to Davis’ house. The delightful-smelling tea pleasantly warmed up Rick’s body, and after draining the cup, he shifted his gaze to look down at it. It was a simple white cup. It did not appear to have any tea stains, and it was very beautiful. The cup wasn’t the only thing that was beautiful; the entire room was clean and orderly. Generally speaking, it seemed too tidy to be a bachelor pad.
After putting the cup back on the table, Rick tried to look around the room without ogling it.
“…How about a tour of the house?”
“Ah, um, no–”
Davis noticed Rick looking around and mistakenly assumed that he was curious about the layout of the house. Davis had stood up and was pointing toward the door at the back of the room.
“You don’t want a tour?”
“Ah, no, that’s not it! Um, please excuse me. I would like a tour, please.”
With a blank expression, David urged Rick to take a tour. Making an embarrassed and apologetic face, Rick started to stand up. Suddenly, he remembered that he had put the paper bag with his gift next to him. He offered it to Davis.
“Ah! Um, Mr. Davis…this is…”
He had brought some high-quality nuts as an offering.
He thought that since bears were omnivorous, they probably ate nuts. Therefore, Davis would probably like his gift.
“They’re nuts. There aren’t that many, but if you like…”
Rick’s voice quietly trailed off. He had bought the nuts because he thought his hibernation partner would be happy to receive them, but what he’d bought probably wasn’t enough to satisfy a bear’s appetite. They were too small, and there weren’t enough, but they were still high-quality nuts that most people could not afford… Rick fretted, hanging his head. Then, he let go of the paper bag.
A kind, warm voice hit his ears. When he looked up, he saw that Davis was smiling slightly.
He did not seem like the type of person who was very expressive, but that didn’t mean that he was incapable of smiling at all. One side of Davis’ mouth quirked into a grin, and it seemed like he was truly happy. With a sigh of relief, Rick began to calm down.
“Ah, no. I should…be the one thanking you.”
Caught up in the mood, Rick also smiled, which caused Davis’ eyes to crinkle with happiness in response. Then, he said, “Well, let’s start over here.” and turned toward a door and started walking. Rick hurried after him.
“That’s the bathroom. The toilet’s right there.”
Davis opened the doors to the rooms one by one and let Rick view them thoroughly. Like the living room, each room was neat and tidy. On top of that…
“It’s big, huh?”
“Haa~” The bathroom was so large that Rick couldn’t help but let out an appreciative sigh. Rick guessed that ten people could comfortably fit inside of it. He didn’t really want to think about it, but this bathroom was probably a little larger than Rick’s bedroom back at his scorched house.
With his mouth agape in awe, Rick turned his head to look around the room.
The hall that they were walking down was also fairly wide. The house was probably designed for the use of bear beastmen; the ceiling was high and open, too.
“Even though this house is really big, it’s really warm, huh? It’s nice.”
When Rick inadvertently blurted out his thoughts, Davis glanced back at him.
“It’s ‘cause I’ll be hibernating.”
“I see. Right, of course.”
Because he was also a hibernating species, Rick nodded to show that he understood.
The warmer it was, the more comfortable one’s hibernation would be. Rick’s (now burned-down) apartment had also been warm.
(Of course. But it was a small, one-room apartment…)
With his first paycheck, he’d bought a much-needed sleeping cushion to cover his fairly large bed. Then, he’d heaped two soft blankets on top. It had taken up just about the whole room, but it had suited Rick just fine. When he was on his bed, he liked to curl himself in a ball and hug his tail while he slept.
Speaking of which, last week he’d bought some fresh nuts for his hibernation. He had planned to put them right next to his bed so when he woke up from hibernation, with his stomach practically empty, he’d be able to reach out and grab them.
He had just bought them, and they were still in the box. He had wanted to open them that very night. He was starting his hibernation vacation the next day, so it would have been perfect.
He had been really excited and had looked forward to opening the box of nuts and starting his hibernation. But everything had been burned up. Everything. Every single thing.
Rick’s favorite bed, the new pouch he had bought for his nuts, and even his memories. Everything had been completely turned to ash.
“…Warm houses are nice, aren’t they?”
Rick was a bit saddened by the thought that he could not return to his room.
Because of his dejected mood, the tip of Rick’s tail drooped.
“Starting today, please think of this as your own home.”
At Davis’ quiet but reassuring words, Rick looked up. At that moment, Davis opened the door to the next room.
“This is my first time meeting a squirrel beastman, so I’m not sure if I got everything right…Well, if there’s anything wrong, don’t hesitate to speak up.”
Without really understanding what Davis meant, Rick looked through the door that Davis had opened. Then, his eyes grew wide.
It was a spacious room.
A large bed had been placed in the center of the room, and on top of it were fluffy cushions and a soft-looking blanket–both of which were essential to a squirrel’s hibernation.
Furthermore, there was a silver tray on top of the bedside table piled with nuts. Next to that was a bowl to place the shells in.
As a bonus, between the piles of cushions was a squirrel plushie. It stared straight at Rick with its big, round eyes.
It seemed like this room was probably…
“Is this room, perhaps…?”
“Use it as you like.”
Davis said, urging Rick through the open door. Rick nervously stepped into the room.
Though he was still wearing slippers, he could sense that the carpet was really soft. There were lights next to the entrance, in the center of the room, next to the bed, and beside the windowsill. Each of the lights softly illuminated the room.
There was a table and a sofa next to the window, as well as loungewear. It was like a hotel.
(He went through the trouble of preparing this room all for me?)
As soon as he understood that, Rick’s heart swelled with warmth.
He thought that he’d cried himself out during the fire, but once again, tears began to slowly well up in the corners of his eyes. It seemed like Rick would never run out of tears.
“Is there something wrong with it?”
“That’s…not it….without knowing anything about me, you did all this…I apologize.”
The second half of his speech was unintelligible.
He gestured with his arm in an attempt to convey his sentiments, but it was no use. Rick looked down and shook his head.
Davis had never met him. He didn’t know him. Nevertheless, Davis had spent hours organizing a room for Rick, who had suddenly been dumped on him. He had done it all in the hopes that Rick would be able to hibernate comfortably.
He couldn’t hold back his tears, which began to drip onto the carpet.
“It was…a coincidence.”
“I just happened to be starting my hibernation vacation tomorrow.”
Wondering what he was talking about, Rick looked up at Davis through teary eyes.
“One of the firefighters who was dispatched to put out the fire at your apartment just happened to be a close colleague of mine.”
In his head, the gentle face of the firefighter came to mind.
Rick blinked a couple of times, a few more tears rolling down his face. But that was all. Before he knew it, his tears had stopped.
“I just happened to have a house suitable for hibernation, and I had an extra room.”
“When I received the phone call from my co-worker, I just happened to be out buying some hibernation supplies. I think…I managed to buy everything that a squirrel would need for their hibernation.”
He didn’t sound totally confident. After saying such vague words, Davis scratched his cheek awkwardly.
“It was all just one big, inevitable coincidence…I’m sure that’s what it is..”
It was probably Davis’ way of telling Rick that he did not need to worry. Rick already had a hundred apologies on his tongue, but he knew that Davis wasn’t interested in more apologies now. So Rick just bowed his head again and thanked him.
“T-thank you very much, but, um…I can’t use a room this nice.”
Obviously, this room was too good for Rick. Rick was tiny, so he would have been satisfied with a smaller room.
As Rick shook his head, Davis also started to shake his head for some reason.
“This is the guest room. It’ll be a problem if you don’t like this room.”
“Yeah. The only other room with a bed is my bedroom.”
Surprised by Davis’ words, Rick looked up at him. Davis shrugged his shoulders and grinned.
“Should we sleep together?”
Rick took a deep breath. Trembling, he shook his head.
“Th-th-that’s okay! That’s okay! Thank you for letting me use this room. Really, thank you so much!”
“Really? That’s a shame.”
Davis said flatly, walking out of the room and going back into the hallway. Rick clutched his chest, forcing himself to smile politely.
That had surprised him. No, he’d known from the moment they’d met that he didn’t understand Davis, as much as he’d wanted to understand him. Well, generally speaking, Davis was probably a really nice man by societal standards.
No, not “really nice.” He was super nice.
“Should we sleep together?” he had asked with a seemingly composed grin. Though they had only just met, that grin had pierced Rick’s heart head-on.
Even though Davis hadn’t meant it in a romantic way, and even though they were both men, to be told such suggestive words by a smiling, good-looking man…It had made Rick’s heart throb. That was the first time he had ever felt that way.
(The aura of a handsome bear beastman is too strong!)
Though Rick was not particularly sweaty, he exhaled–”Fhew”–and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Let me show you around the next room.”
Davis suddenly popped his head back into the room. Rick’s tail puffed up in surprise. He stood ramrod-straight and nodded, “O-okay!”
According to the directions written on the paper, he was almost at his destination. Rick glanced around at his surroundings with a sigh. He trudged along pitifully, his gait unsure.
“Hah. I wonder if this is really a good idea…”
But it was natural to be worried. After all, he was going to be living with a stranger who he had never met–had never even seen his face–for a few months.
Yep. Right now, Rick was on his way to the house of the “nice firefighter’s nice co-worker.” He was also preparing to enter hibernation. Surprisingly, he had agreed to accept the now-homeless Rick into his house.
At first, Rick had been against the idea. The firefighter’s colleague was a complete stranger to him. No matter how much Rick apologized to him, he would still be inconveniencing him. But when he had asked himself, “Well, what should I do now?”, he had not been able to come up with another answer.
After asking that question, Rick had finally decided to go to the man’s house.
There’s no one else that I can rely on…
Rick had no relatives. If he’d had relatives, he wouldn’t be forced to rely on a stranger like this.
Rick’s parents had passed away when he was still a child. The orphaned Rick was not left in the care of his relatives. He was put into an orphanage.
Rick had learned for the first time that the warmth he had taken for granted could easily vanish in an instant.
“I hope he likes this…”
Rick carried a paper bag under his arm.
With his meager leftover pocketmoney, he had bought some high-quality nuts.
Rick did not make much money. He’d come from an orphanage, and he had not been able to go to a good school because they were all expensive. Inevitably, he had not been able to get a job at a good company. At the moment, he was working in the kitchen of a restaurant.
He may have been poor, but he did not hate working at the restaurant. It was nice that he could take a hibernation vacation, and there weren’t any people that looked down on small beastmen species like Rick and tried to make a fool of him. Rather, working at that shop felt like it was his life’s purpose. However, it was not possible to save money by fulfilling his life’s purpose alone. As such, there was no way for him to set anything aside for an emergency fund that covered events like today’s.
Nevertheless, Rick being the man he was, had bought a thank-you gift. The gift was probably too cheap to be an adequate repayment for troubling someone to take care of him, but Rick had done the best that he could.
“This is the first time I’ve bought such high-quality nuts.”
Rick shook the paper bag, and it made a rustling noise. He nodded his head in approval. Surely the nice man was a small beastman species, like him. He wouldn’t dislike his hibernation partner’s nuts.
I wonder if he’s a squirrel? Or maybe he’s a ferret? A dormouse?
“…Ah, is this the place?”
As Rick walked, lost in his thoughts, he finally arrived at the address that the firefighter had written on the note he’d given to him.
Rick reflexively craned his neck, looking straight up. The streetlights shone upon the building, but it was not an apartment, as Rick had expected. Rather, it was a single, large house.
Rick lingered in front of his destination (at least, he thought it was his destination), hesitating. “Is it really okay to be here?” he asked, checking the actual address on the memo over and over again. No matter how many times he checked, this was the address that was written on the memo. This was surely the place.
Rick didn’t have anywhere else to go, and he couldn’t imagine that the kind firefighter had lied about the address. After hesitating, Rick gathered his courage and rang the doorbell.
After the quiet ring of the doorbell, a light flickered on at the front door. It had probably been turned on from inside the house.
There was the click of the door being unlocked, and then it opened to reveal a large entryway.
“Ah! Good evening, n-nice to meet–wah!?”
As Rick bowed his head, a pair of large feet came into view. There were two feet lined up across from his, and he was surprised by how much larger they were than his own. Confused, Rick raised his head. What he saw literally made him jump.
The hairs on Rick’s round tail instinctively stood on end. *Fwumph*
No matter how he looked at it, the person before him was neither a squirrel nor a ferret. He wasn’t a dormouse either.
“Ah, um, eh…?”
Rick gazed up at the large man who had opened the door.
Rick stood there with a dumbstruck, squirrel-like look on his face. 1 His mind was blank except for the distant hum of elevator music.
His height, the width of his shoulders, his chest–every single thing about the man was huge. He had neat black hair, sharp eyes, and a rugged physique. At a glance, he looked strong. If he were to swing his sturdy arms, he could easily knock aside someone like Rick.
Instinctively, Rick began to tremble.
“…Are you Mr. Rick Edwards?”
After making a face as though he were pondering something, the large person tilted his head as he asked the question to confirm.
“Eek, y-yes, I am.”
Rick raised a quivering hand in reply.
There was no mistake; he had called Rick’s name. No two ways about it.
In other words, this man was the person that lived here. The person Rick would be living with. The man who Rick had heard would be starting his hibernation vacation tomorrow. No doubt about it.
“I’m Davis Geller, Bear Beastman.”
“Just call me ‘Davis’”
For some reason, he repeated his name. It must have meant that he wanted to be called by his first name. With an internal shudder, Rick called his name in a soft voice.
“What is it?”
He’s a man of few words–too few words!
It suited his large appearance (though it might be strange to say so). He seemed to have a taciturn personality. Rick had been terrified of Davis from the beginning, but the fact that Davis only opened his mouth to say the bare minimum paralyzed Rick with horror.
Was he unaware of Rick’s fear, or was he just disinterested in it? The gargantuan pers…Davis turned away, a nonchalant expression on his face. “Welcome,” he said, prompting Rick to enter the house.
Rick, flinching with each of the man’s movements, hunched over. “A-ah, yes, excuse me,” he said as he stepped into the house.
More importantly–that man…He said he was a b-bear beastman. Bear? Bear….Whoa, he’s a bear.
At the shop where he worked, the items on the menu were aimed toward medium and small beastmen species, so large beastmen species seldom came to the restaurant. Sometimes he saw large beastmen around town from time to time, but he had never really seen a *bear* beastman before.
There are a large variety of beastmen. Naturally, there exist both common species and rare species. Bears are fairly rare types.
“T-thank you so much. P-p-please pardon me for disturbing you…”
Clutching the paper bag against his chest with both hands, he slowly passed through the doorway. He looked around the large foyer.
To his right was what he supposed was a shoe cabinet. Its doors took up an entire wall. He could not see inside the cabinet, but it was so large that it made him want to see how many pairs of shoes it could hold. There was a small corridor with stylish indirect lights and houseplants. The back wall was decorated with large abstract paintings.
The ceiling was high, and tasteful lamps hung from the ceiling.
Fluffy white slippers had been arranged at the entrance. They had probably been placed there for Rick to use.
He glanced at Davis, who pointed at the slippers and nodded. This was the first time that Rick had been offered slippers, and Davis had done so without saying a word. Rather, this was the first time that he visited a home where slippers were worn. Everyone else that he knew lived in an apartment, and they had never given him slippers.
He took off his shoes, bowing his head as he stepped into the slippers. They were fluffy and warm. Actually, he felt really warm just being inside.
It wasn’t just the foyer; the whole house was filled with warmth. Rick hated the cold, so the warmth was like heaven to him.
This house is pretty cozy.
Rick hadn’t noticed it before, but his body had been cold and his fingers were starting to go numb. After letting out a sigh of relief, Rick turned back to look at Davis.
When he looked back, he found that Davis was closer to him than he’d expected, and Rick jumped again. A moment ago, he’d thought that Davis was next to the door to the foyer. How had he gotten so close to him that fast?
Rick replied in a shrill voice, the paper bag clutched against his pounding chest.
Scaaarry! Like I thought–he’s scary!
It was no wonder that Rick was scared of him; how was it possible for him to move that huge body without making a sound?
Davis lazily raised his hand and pointed at the floor, then told the pale-faced Rick, “They’re big, huh? The slippers?”
Rick followed the line of Davis’ finger and looked down. Certainly the fluffy, white slippers looked disproportionately large on his feet. They made him look like Bigfoot or a clown. He couldn’t say for sure because he hadn’t started walking yet, but from the looks of things, he wouldn’t be able to take a couple of steps without stumbling.
“That’s pretty cute, but it looks like they’re bothering you, so I’ll go buy another pair.”
“Hm? B-b-uu–? No, no! I-It’s okay! It’s not a bother!!”
For a moment, Rick felt as though he had heard Davis say something strange, and he had said something odd in response. But Davis’ sentence had been long, and Rick had been distracted by the latter half of it. Rick completely forgot about the first part.
Rick looked in surprise at Davis, who stood straight-faced with his arms crossed, and just shook his head.
Overwhelmed, he didn’t know how to describe what he was experiencing exactly, but these were the things that stuck out to him.
At that moment, Rick came to a halt in front of his residence and stared at the building, which was covered in dancing flames.
“You must be…kidding…”
The blazing fire emitted scorching hot air that heated the skin of Rick’s face and burned so brightly that the sky was illuminated. The light made the onlookers and Rick clearly visible.
It was chaos, and the noises were colliding in Rick’s ears. It was hard to separate the sounds of sirens, screaming, and shouts of firefighters telling people to stand back.
However, Rick was not focused on the noises that assaulted his ears. The situation did not feel real; it felt like he was watching a program on his TV or something.
Rick’s legs were shaking, making it impossible to stand any longer. He dropped down on his knees. The onlookers were unsympathetic as they either flat out ignored him or considered him a nuisance.
The plastic bag of items for his long vacation–magazines and snacks–were strewn upon the ground, where they were ruined by onlookers stepping on them, kicking them around, or tearing them apart with their feet. Rick suffered from the same fate as the items. However, he was glued to his spot as he watched the flames consuming all in their path.
He was in such a trance that when he finally came back to reality, he wondered how long it had been since he heard the words “The fire is out!”
The onlookers had left after the excitement died down and boredom set in, leaving only a few firefighters. Rick was still on the ground struggling to come to terms with the fact that his home and all its contents no longer existed.
“Um, hello? Are you okay?” a voice called out from behind Rick.
Rick slowly turned his head to see who had called out to him. There he saw the sweaty face of a firefighter in his characteristic bright orange and yellow uniform looking down at him.
His face was streaked with soot where he attempted to wipe off the sweat. It was obvious that he had been one of the firefighters who had worked hard to extinguish the fire. Rick knew that he should say thank you first. However, he was so distraught that he could only open and close his mouth before a sob escaped from him. He trembled while the sobs racked through his body uncontrollably. “Uuh!”
Rick inhaled in hiccuping breaths and let out an anguished cry saying, “Oh, my… my house!” It sounded pitiful, even to his ears, but he was unable to stop the tears that were overflowing from his face to the ground.
The fireman scratched his head and looked down in pity at the teardrops that disappeared as they were absorbed into the dark ground.
“You’re Mr. Edwards from Room 101, right?”
“Uh, hic, uuh, yes…”
Before Rick could ask how he knew his name, he remembered that another fireman had also come to confirm his identity earlier. However,Rick had been so stunned and distraught that he hadn’t even been able to answer.
“I’m sorry for your loss. The building was made of wood, so the fire spread quickly…”
“Ah , uh, ahh.”
That’s right. Rick’s apartment was made of wood. It was an old, old apartment building. Its only selling point had been that it was made of natural wood, which is preferred by wood-dwelling beasts.His friends made fun of him for his “ramshackle apartment,” but Rick had found it very comfortable. It was a small apartment building, with only six rooms in total, which he believed were all occupied.
Suddenly, he wondered if the others were okay. Rick pointed at the apartment and was only able to say, “Ah, ah, ah,” in an inarticulate way.
The fireman seemed to understand him and gave him a bright smile and nodded firmly and resolutely.
“The residents are all fine. Many of them were not in their rooms when the fire broke out, and they went straight to hotels or to their relatives…”
“Uh, well, except for Mr. …Edwards.”
The fireman spoke in an awkward way, as he saw Rick’s tears were welling up anew.
Apparently, everyone else had evacuated safely and had secured a place to sleep for the night.
“I, I …don’t even have a house, but I have to hibernate soon….” Rick pressed his hands against the ground as tears streamed down his face.
“”Oh, uh, …Mr. Edwards, you’re the hibernating type, aren’t you?” The fireman frowned as if to say, “Oh no!”
Rick, while his chest heaved with sobs, nodded.
Hibernation was the act of sleeping during the cold winter months. Originally, hibernation was a method for animals to reduce their activity as much as possible and lower their body temperature to conserve energy during the winter, when food was scarce. The natural order of things was for them to be much less active in the winter.
When your thoughts and movements become sluggish, you can’t carry on with your normal life. Of course, work also can’t be done as usual. Therefore, those who have a habit of hibernation are socially guaranteed to take a proper vacation during that period. This was commonly known as ‘hibernation leave’ and was such a common practice among beasts that no one would think to complain about it.
Rick, a squirrel beastman, was the type of squirrel that required hibernation.
Because he had begun to prepare for hibernation in the fall, Rick’s room had been filled with nuts.
He would never have imagined that it all would be gone when he got home.
“Hic, hic, I can’t go to… to find a room now and prepare for hibernation all over again.”
It took time and money to prepare for hibernation. It was not something that could be done overnight because of the careful consideration and planning required. This was time and money that he didn’t have.
It was the brink of winter. If he began preparing now, he would freeze to death and die. Rick didn’t have the money to stay at a hotel or time to find somewhere else to stay. In fact, his bank book and all his valuables were burnt.
Having seen Rick’s tear-stained face, the firefighter glanced at the burnt-out apartment. No, it was no longer an apartment. It was just burnt black wood and ashes.
After looking at the apartment for a while, the firefighter clapped his hands together.
“That’s right …. Uhm, Mr. Edwards?”
Rick looked up, his face a mess of tears and snot, while the firefighter fiddled with his cell phone, which he had taken out of the inside of his firefighting uniform.
In the darkness, the phone’s dim light illuminated the good-looking face of the firefighter.
“I came up with a good idea. I have a colleague who will be going into hibernation tomorrow … Oh, hello? Yeah, glad to hear from you.”
The firefighter laughed brightly as he talked to Rick in the first half and then shifted his attention to someone over the phone in the second half.
Rick sniffled and then tilted his head.
“Yeah, yeah. Ah, uh, you’re going on a hibernation vacation from tomorrow? … Yeah. So, can you let someone hibernate with you there? Surely your house … oh yeah. Today’s fire … Yeah. Squirrel Beastman, Rick Edwards.”
Rick shook his little squirrel ears at the unexpected flow of the conversation.
“Oh, really? Okay, yeah, yeah, thank you.”
A beep sounded, and the small light went out. The firefighter smiled at Rick, whose tears still streamed down his face.
“It seems he’s okay with it!”
“………huh?” Rick stopped crying and tilted his head when he was met with a surprisingly cheerful voice and smile.
What the hell is okay? No, actually, he understood a little. Because the firefighter was talking on the phone in a way that was easy to understand.
The man was going on hibernation leave tomorrow, and Rick was going to go to …… his house.
“He said he has a vacant room, so please use it for hibernation.”
“Huh, eh, uh … yeah?”
Rick sat dumbly on the ground, his jaw hanging open, and looked up at the fireman who smiled happily at him.
Say Hello to our new series! It’s a short, cute and fluffy one~