Going to the town hall was always an awkward experience, much as I had to admit that I kind of enjoyed the job. I don't know. There was just something always so weird about my secretary's devotion to her work.
That morning it was the same as always. I clicked open the door and there she was at the front desk, grinning away at me with that tired little smile of hers. For all knew, she never slept, never ate, never even sat down, and as far as I could tell she didn't even have a house anywhere in town.
Her brother, Digby, he was the same way, always standing at the plaza gates with that determined little smirk on his furry cheeks. The only time he ever showed any self-indulgence was when it was raining, and even then he'd only put a little yellow raincoat.
Maybe it was a Shih Tzu thing.
As soon as I walked through the door, she gave me a knowing smile and glanced at the empty desk behind her.
That was another weird thing, that fact that she didn't even acknowledge me or anything unless I was sitting in the damn mayor chair.
Holding back a groan, I walked past the front reception counter and sat down. At my desk was a pile of useless papers that were there since I moved in, an empty coffee cup, and a four-inch computer screen that didn't even have a good wi-fi connection. Really, the whole set-up was just for show.
As soon as I sat down, Isabelle came rushing towards me. Her paws clicked against the tiles as she ran.
"Hi, Mayor!" she chirped. "Is there something I can help you with?"
I thought for a moment. "Public works projects, I guess."
As soon as I so much as even mentioned them, Isabelle's face lit up and she clapped her paws together. "You want to work on a public works project? I'm happy to help!" The bags under her eyes seemed to crinkle as her toothy grin widened all the more. "What would you like to work on?"
"Start a new one, finally…" It had taken one whole week for me to fund the prior project, a cobblestone bridge that cost so much money that I was forced to sell the clothes off my back to Nook's demon spawn nephews. "Thanks to absolutely none of the other villagers 'donations', if you can count a half-eaten sandwich shoved in the gyroid's mouth a 'donation'."
Really, I shouldn't have been surprised that the other townspeople were as utterly useless as they were, at least in an economic sense. Just on my way to the hall I had Kid Cat stop me and demand that he pay 1,045 bells for a flea that I had caught earlier. I almost refused just out of guilt, but the money had been too good to let go.
Isabelle ignored my comment and pulled out a thick file from a back drawer. "Here are the current requests from the townspeople," she said and handed the file to me.
"Alright, let's see." I flipped it open and leafed through the pages of requests. Some of them were practical things, benches and instrument shelters. Fair enough, but then there were some…
"I'm sorry, a parabolic antenna?" I pulled out the sheet and handed it to Isabelle. "Who in the hell requested that?" It was probably either someone being cheeky or someone being stupid, and considering the nature of these people, it had to be the latter.
Isabelle glanced at the paper and looked up. "Would you like to start work on the parabolic antenna project?" she asked softly.
I could tell that she was confused, and it was my fault. My Animalese had always been rusty. To calm her down, I shook my head. "No, not now," I said.
"Oh, nothing for now then? OK, that is totally fine." Isabelle breathed a sigh and relaxed. "Is there anything else I can help you with, Mayor?"
"Maybe later," I said. I felt sorry for her, and wondered if she held a secret grudge towards me for being so wishy-washy all the time. I know I would have had one.
But no, instead she kept up that frozen smile and nodded. The bundled up fur atop her head bounced up and down. "All right then. If there is anything I can assist you with in the future, please don't hesitate to ask."
Maybe if it had been two months earlier, I would have begged her to just take the day off or something, but I knew that she would have never listened to me. Isabelle had some pretty severe selective hearing. Maybe that was also a Shih Tzu thing.
Before she could even jog back to the reception desk to wave goodbye, I had run back outside. It was sunny out, a perfect summer's day with just a slight breeze and a couple of clouds dotting the sky to neuter the temperature.
I took a deep breath and started back for my house. It was a still a little early, and of course that meant that most of the other townspeople were still asleep. Lazy assholes.
Up ahead I saw a little white cat in a flowery parka sauntering around in a circle with a watering can in her paws. It was Olivia, and while I didn't know her that well, I already knew that she was a little 'out there' in the social department.
Despite all of that, I walked up to her and she turned towards me. "Ello, Mayor! What would you like to talk about?" she asked.
She was a pretty cat, at least, well made-up with a weird mole on the side of her mouth that I couldn't help but stare at.
I shrugged. "Wanna chat?"
Immediately she smiled. "It's not as convenient as using a computer or phone, but sending an old-fashioned letter is really fun! Especially here, because people will actually write you back."
I didn't say anything, just because I knew what would happen if I did. To the townspeople, letters were like trading cards. I quickly learned that there was no sense of privacy, as the quickest way to dig up dirt on someone was through their letters, and everyone was guilty of it.
Olivia took my silence as an invitation to keep going, and she kept growing more and more excited as she rambled on. "Just write down a quick hello, or a love note, or whatever, and trusty Pete will make sure it's delivered." She paused, and her smile faded. "In a weird way, he's like the town matchmaker…"
The hell was she getting at? Before I could even begin to ask, she just walked away, leaving me hanging.
I thought right then that I might start hitting her with my net more often.
Shaking off that weird little exchange, I kept on to get back home, maneuvering in-between cherry trees and taking great care to not step in any of the muddy puddles that had started to bubble up. I had to ask Isabelle about that later. Either the grass in this town was made of tissue paper, or I needed to deport the two horses that had moved in two weeks back.
As I spotted my house along the riverbank, I saw that my mailbox had a little alert notice ringing. I quickened my jog to a run to see what I had.
But as I got closer, I noticed a large blue bear standing next to it, holding a shovel and staring at me with a blank expression. The mustache hanging from his nose wiggled at the sight of me.
I often caught Beardo pulling shit like this, standing next to my house with some kind of weird instrument in his hands looking like he was about to snap. Considering that the guy was a giant, blue bear with curly-Q sideburns and a dapper suit, I couldn't think of being anything but cautious.
I approached him and he greeted me with a polite nod. "Hey, Mayor. I feel like we need more dancing happening right now." He did a sissy little twirl and jazz hands. "Shoom! OK, that's a little better."
God, he was weird. Still, he was at least interesting in a creepy sort of way.
"Talk to me," I said. Really, there was no better way for me to respond to that.
Beardo sighed. "I've got a problem, Mayor," he said, "I can't get my dance on. I blame fruit. That is, the lack of it. I'm sure I'm just behind on my vitamin intake."
I would have slapped him into next Tuesday. Right next to my house was an enormous orchard of oranges and peaches, and he expected me to do all that for him? No, unacceptable. I shook my head no and walked away without even bothering to hear his response.
The mailbox's alarm rang and rang until I finally opened up the hatch and looked inside. There was only one letter with a nicely wrapped present attached. I took it out and read the address label.
It was from my mother, oddly enough. I always felt weird whenever I got letters from her, considering that she was the one who encouraged me to move here in the first place. Not only that, but she never left a return address, and I know that she had moved at the same time I did. 'To a smaller cottage', she had said.
Grimacing, I broke the wax seal and slipped out the parchment. Skimming over the introduction, I read on.
My dear, when I think of fall, I think of how you used to try to steal the pies I was baking before they'd had a chance to bake. Now I can bake pies without fear! Love, Mom
I crumpled up the letter into a ball and sighed. I don't know, something about her tone in her letters just seemed 'off' to me. Maybe my negative vibes were rubbing off onto the paper, but I honestly thought that she was just happy to get rid of me.
Tossing the letter to the side, I had the sudden urge to keep walking. I didn't want to go home anymore.
As kept along the worn path that I had trampled down over the weeks, I saw Kid Cat wave at me. I waved back, but only to be polite. Thankfully, he seemed more engrossed in walking around the orchard than talking to me.
I crossed the newly built cobblestone bridge, with the stream gurgling underneath. As frustrating as it was to single-handedly fund, I did get a sort of thrill in walking over it.
There wasn't much on the other side, just a small strip of bare land, a few cottages, and the wall.
I tried to avoid the wall as much as I could. It was a creepy phenomenon, a long, square cliff that circled the entire pocket of land that was my town. While that might have just been deemed as some peculiar feature in any other area, here it just felt… off. I always got a weird tingly feeling whenever I had to walk next to it.
Biting at my lip, I walked up to it. I don't know why I did, just morbid curiosity. Lifting a hand I rapped my knuckles against it. Yup, it was solid rock.
I often got a really claustrophobic feeling while I lived here, just with the overall feeling of being 'imprisoned' in this little box of rolling vegetation. Sometimes when it got really bad, I would go to the train station and beg for that monkey porter guy to let me on the next train, but he never did. Asshole.
I backed away from the wall and started south, towards the ocean. Again, I don't know why I did. I just felt pulled along.
When I walked down the cobble ledge to the shoreline, I spotted a red, soaking wet otter standing on the pier. He back was facing me as he looked out to the sea.
I had never seen him before, so I approached him slowly. "Hello?" I asked.
"Hanging out on land, man, it's not so bad," the otter said. He looked back at me. His pointed whiskers were flecked with crusted sea salt and his beady black eyes never once blinked.
"I guess not," I said. Really, I didn't even know what to say.
The otter nodded. "Can I, uh, can I give you some wisdom, man?" he asked.
It wasn't like I had anything to lose. I shrugged. "Go for it, dude."
"Hm…" The otter scratched his waterlogged chin. "Man's true nature being lost, everything becomes his nature; as, his true good being lost, everything becomes his good."
He took on a dizzied trance as he recited this to me, with his eyes glazed over and his arms dangling limply at his sides. I put a hand out to steady him, if only to keep him from falling right into the ocean.
As soon as I touched his shoulder, his eyes snapped up at me and he shook me off. He gave me one last, lingering look. "Contemplate that, man," he said, right before jumping backwards into the sea.
The water he splashed and sloshed up against my pant legs, but I didn't care. I was too busy thinking.
The otter was right. I was lost. I had been lost for months now, indulging in silly fishing and bug-catching hobbies while I tried to cope with my obnoxious neighbors and frazzled secretary.
I looked at the ocean. It invitingly stared back at me, with the frothy waves licking up the pier's wooden poles.
Indeed, the ocean really was the only way back home. The train wasn't an option, as Porter seemed hell-bent on keeping me in my little town box. Maybe he was in cahoots with my mom.
It suddenly occurred to me then that I wasn't really even needed in this town. Isabelle pretty much did all of my work, no matter how much I pushed her to let up. The villagers only saw me as something to pan-handle for goods. Even my mom just seemed grateful for me to move out.
My chest felt heavy. I scratched at my skin, coated in mosquito bites from those long nights out catching cicadas and fireflies.
The ocean waves sputtered and rose to the pier's floor. I was getting soaked to my ankles in water. It was time to go home.
I turned, took a step, and I slipped.
I slipped and fell off of the pier and into the waves.
I wasn't wearing my wet suit, and I couldn't swim.
I gasped, felt the water rushing in my mouth and choked and tried to flail up to the surface but the brine was getting in my eyes and I had to close them.
I sank. I let my mouth gape open. At that point, I didn't care.
I let the world turn black.
"Hello there, Mayor!"
Out of the darkness, a spotlight clicked on. I was floating in god-knows-what, but I could see a wooden floor surrounded by wisps of smoke.
Standing in the middle was Isabelle, smiling at me.
I tried to call out for help, but she didn't seem to listen. She told me the date, the time, and asked "shall we get started?"
"I need help first…" I choked, feebly reaching out towards her.
Isabelle nodded. "At present, I can assist you with the following tasks…" She went on to list a number of things, useless things, all save for one.
"Okay, so the town will be…" Isabelle paused, then her eyes widened. "Wait, no! You… you can't be serious!" she cried. "I mean, rebuild the town? That means our town will be TOTALLY gone. Is that what you really want?" she cupped her paws together and looked down, shivering. "All the bells you've earned… All your furniture… It will all be lost."
"Good." Deep down, I knew that it was for the best.
But Isabelle didn't think so. I could see the tears dotting her eyes and seeping into her fur. "And those who live in this town? ALL GONE!" She sniffled and wiped at her little black nose. "Are you sure about this? This is absolutely, positively what you really, really want?"
There was no going back. I had to start over, right from scratch.
"This is what I want," I said.
And then the spotlight crashed down and took us both into nothing.