It had taken me a while to process what had happened. The hours after the riot had felt numb in my mind, feeling more vague and dreamlike than actual reality.
Once all there. we did a lot of talking about what needed to be done. It seemed that thankfully, while I'd felt in the moment like I was overreacting in getting everyone off school property, it had likely saved a lot of canis people from getting injured. Nearly everyone who was a club regular had gotten out alright - and while some of us had gotten into the thick of the riot, most weren't in the areas with active fighting going on, and had gotten out without more than a bruise.
Douglas however, wasn't so lucky. He had been beaten up badly. He was at the hospital, and his life wasn't in danger or anything, but when I called his family, they hadn't been entirely forthcoming about his condition. It seemed like they were too shaken by the experience to feel like discussing it anymore. I did learn however, that someone in the mob had engaged in the barbaric act of using an electric razor to try to shave the fur off of several canis people - and they'd gotten ahold of Douglas for a moment.
All of these feelings of grief and worry were mixed together with a guilty feeling of satisfaction. Horace and his gang had been fighting nonstop the whole time, and he and several of his friends were apparently in intensive care. I resisted the urge to smile at their circumstance - that would've been heartless - but it was hard not to feel like they got what they deserved.
I doubted that it would change them though. Both canis and normal people were going to grow more in conflict with each other from this, I was certain. It wasn't as if this was an isolated incident. There was friction at higher levels of society - the kind of thing that I avoided being up to date with. Debates in government about if businesses had the right to deny us service. Arguing over whether we could be allowed free movement in public when many it seemed, still were able to infect others.
That was something that I was not looking forward to. All those people Horace and the pack had bitten were at risk of transforming - and I had no idea how those people were going to react. Would we see a whole other faction of canis people form, filled with self hatred? I had seen such communities online. Maybe they would get bullied, and be lured in by Horace and his friends - that is, if Horace and his friends weren't expelled.
After those few minutes I gave myself after we got to the park, I immediately got back to work. I talked with my friends about how we could improve the club - and the most obvious solution was to take the club away from school. We decided that meeting at the soccer complex, with the weather getting warmer, was a decent option. We were also getting more types of people, ones who wanted athletic activities rather than just playing board games. This led us to talking about more types of activities we could do. It was a nice small distraction to take our minds off of everything that had happened.
But we still needed to address it - we talked about how when we went back to school, we would work on finding any of the people who'd contracted canis in the riot, and try to be friendly to them. In the past, we'd mostly just waited for people to come to us, but maybe it was time to be more proactive. It wasn't just about trying to keep those new canis people from exacerbating conflict, but I really wanted to legitimately help anyone who was going through the painful experience.
This highlighted a new problem however. When we had all fled to the park after the riot, we'd noticed very quickly that so many new people were here. We'd seen them before at school. Loners who didn't want to talk to anyone - and we wanted to keep them safe. We did our best to talk with them, ask them if they needed anything, and told them about our online group. It was nice being able to help more canis people - but the club was starting to get large.
We realized then, that we needed to get the club more organized, starting with making firm club leadership. I knew that it was coming, but it still left me slightly stunned when everyone suggested I be the club president. I'd basically been the de facto club leader before, but now it only highlighted in my mind the responsibility that I had. I pushed my slight anxiety aside though, and got right to work with the others about formal roles that needed to be filled.
As we decided everything, there was the unspoken fact running through our heads - that we needed to be more organized in general. Not just to better help people cope with the difficulties of being canis - but also to protect people in an emergency - like if this ever happened again.
I shuddered at the thought, but it was there nonetheless.
Having done all that we could do, making calls, and calming everyone's frenzied nerves, we finally began to send everyone home. When I finally saw that everyone had a ride home, I found myself standing alone one the spring grass, feeling the wind blow gently on my fur. I stood there a while, just trying to process all that had happened.
Saturday... was not a fun day for me. I doubted it was a good day for any of the canis people in the area. Even before I'd gone to bed Friday night, the Applegate High School riot was blowing up all over the news. To the anger of myself, my friends, and my family, the news simply reported that it had been a conflict between a canis club at the school and the human crowd.
Obviously we were very angry at this, making it sound like our club was the one that had instigated the riot, but there wasn't much we could do. Besides, I was more concerned still with checking our online group, and making sure that everyone was still okay.
When I'd woken up the next morning, I'd gotten some more news, that brought a bit of comfort. The school apparently was trying to get a bunch of people in the riot expelled. It did sound sadly, like Horace's family was calling in favors with people they knew, throwing that influence around to fight against that. At very least, the school district was cancelling classes on Monday and Tuesday - officially "teacher prep days" - but more likely the school district was just working on damage control.
It would though, give us all a bit of time to recover from the experience - though sadly a number of canis people I'd grown to be friends with had already said in the online group that they weren't coming back to school, at least for a while. In group, many quietly expressed that they felt they couldn't handle the trauma of going back. All that I could do was encourage everyone to be strong, and to not feel ashamed if they needed some time away.
As I was trying my best to recover, around noon, our family got a distressing phone call. The police wanted me to come down to the police station, and talk about the riot.
What followed was a very uncomfortable experience. When I got to the police station with my mom, I had the realization that I had never been to a place like this since going on field trips in elementary school. Beyond the uneasiness I still got from being canis out in public, I just felt like I did not belong in this place.
My mom gave me the best encouragement she could, telling me to just be calm, and work with them. I still felt a pang of nervousness when an officer showed up to talk with me. He was a bigger guy. He looked me up and down, then told me to follow him. I perceived that he probably hadn't been around a lot of canis people. I started to wonder as I walked behind him, my uncovered paws walking along the linoleum, if they thought I'd been involved with Horace. Worse, I started to wonder if they would ask me about my dad - if they knew he'd been doing some legally dubious things when he left his old company.
As I talked with the officer however, I relaxed a bit more. He seemed a bit tired, but just had questions. He asked me to explain who I was. Where I had been during the riot. I explained everything that had happened, trying to stop Horace, helping the other canis people get out - and what I'd been doing since.
When I talked about Horace, the officer didn't respond. He simply asked his questions, asking about my interaction with Horace before, what I thought of him, etc. Thankfully it seemed, they had caught the events that unfolded on security cameras, and they were able to corroborate my story. Finally, after filling out a report, I was free to go.
I discerned however, that things would not be nearly so lucky for Horace. I'd learned that the riot had only been broken up after he and a handful of other people, both canis and not, were arrested. They hadn't been in custody for long, but they faced the looming threat of going to court - and I perhaps faced being involved with that as well, as a witness.
I was grateful that I hadn't been misrepresented, but I was growing to find some frustration that my dad had expressed often since leaving his old job. I had tried to stop that riot, and when it had broken out, I'd done all I could to protect people. Now it was going to drag me into a lot of stuff in the future.
It was hard to do good. In the real world, it led to you pissing off people who wanted to do wrong. It led to you getting mired in the affairs of organizations and laws. My dad wanted so bad to just find a cure, work on this problem with no restraint - but he needed to do his major work at his new company first. Plus, he couldn't share his important data from Generation without revealing his questionable activities.
All I could hope was that I didn't get more tangled in this than I already was. I impulsively checked the news several times on Saturday, and though I thankfully saw no sign of my name anywhere, I did see Douglas mentioned - spotlighted as having never stopped in trying to rescue people from the fighting. I briefly felt a smile come to my face seeing that - but knew that it would make him a target for bullying, both in person and online - and I let myself look at it online.
People said the most awful things about us, and specifically about him, saying that he should have left "those dirty mutts" to die. It was too much for me, and I clapped my tablet closed, trying to relax my senses by playing some guitar.
I was getting better at playing with my paw pads now - especially since I'd discovered that Jackie was impressed by my guitar playing - which of course led me to practicing more.
In the aftermath of the riot, I was very concerned about Jackie - and Ashley as well. I had been starting to feel like they were going to be okay, but now both seemed to have become more sullen again. Seeing this, my parents made the suggestion that we invite Jackie and her mother over for dinner, which I felt was a good way to draw our minds away from everything.
I got a knock on my door.
"Come in," I said as I played a tricky chord change.
"Hey," Jackie said.
"Hi," I turned in my chair to smile at her.
She sat down on my bed, and huffed a sigh. As I strummed a song I'd been practicing, I questioned if I should stop and talk to her, or keep playing. She didn't seem in a super talking mood at the moment.
"Any requests?" I asked as I continued to pluck the strings.
"I don't know," she said. "Something... something contemplative."
"Hmm... let me see."
I continued to idly play as I thought through songs that I knew. I was guessing from her mood she wasn't really feeling like a super upbeat song... but maybe there was one song I could play for her.
I plucked a few strings on a G chord. Then did the same pattern on C. Then repeated the whole phrase again. Then a third time I repeated, playing a bit louder - then I went into the first verse.
"Why are there so many... songs about rainbows, and what's on... the other... side? Rainbows are visions, but only illusions. Rainbows have nothing to hide...
"So we've been told and some choose to believe it. I know they're wrong, wait and see. Someday, we'll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers, and me."
I continued playing, watching Jackie the whole time. She sat quietly, head down. I went onto the second verse, then went into the third verse with the cool key change I'd figured out. Finally I ended the song with the same pattern as the intro, letting the final chord ring, the notes hanging in the air. I looked up and smiled at her.
"What's that song called?"
"Rainbow connection," I said. "It's a really old one - like most of the songs I like to play."
"What... what does it mean?"
I shrugged. "Being honest, I don't know exactly what it's trying to say. But it's got a nice sound, and feels comforting to me."
Jackie raised her head and slightly smiled, her tail shifting a bit behind her. "I liked it. It is a nice song."
"Thanks," I said, feeling my finger pads. It was strange, but I kind of missed having guitar calluses.
"I've thought a lot about what you were talking about," Jackie said, "back when we were changing. When you were talking about positive stories."
I smiled, absentmindedly starting to strum the theme to Lord of the Rings. "We still need to get you to watch those movies."
"Maybe," she chuckled. "I just... I don't know. I was in a heated moment then... but I have had a hard time connecting with stories like that in my life. When I've had to endure canis... the way the world is treating us... when I had to get through my dad passing away... it's really hard."
I stopped playing my guitar, and rested it against my desk. I sat down with her on my bed, resting my hand on her knee.
"I know. It feels like happy moments flash by in an instant, while painful ones last forever."
Jackie didn't respond, but leaned in closer to me.
"I suppose that it's just part of life though," I said. "We have to learn that the difficult times won't last forever. Scary things will happen in the future... but there's also so many exciting things. So many happy experiences on the horizon."
"I sure hope so Matt." She ran her hand down the fur on my arm. "I just... I hope that those people... that they'll let us actually have a happy life."
"I said it then, and I'll say it again now. If anyone treats you like dirt, I'll punch them in the face. When those guys in the riot got to the club room, and they tore down you and Sadie's poster, I punched one of them in the chest. I can't say it was very effective, but..."
Jackie smiled, but with the caveat of a sigh. "I'm glad that you care about me Matt. I feel a bit more at peace knowing that you want to protect me... but please try not to punch people."
"Oh c'mon, it felt really good."
Jackie met that with a neutral look.
"Okay," I said, "sorry."
"Beyond that though," she said, "I just... I won't always have you with me. I'm just... I just feel... kind of angry honestly. Just as I'm getting over feeling embarrassed about who I am, I now am hit with feeling afraid of going out in public for a different reason."
I held her close. "There's always going to be more crap we have to deal with in real life, sadly. I'm really proud of you for being able to be honest about yourself. I know that over time, you'll get used to what we have to deal with, that you'll be able to stand brave and cheerful in the face of it."
"I'm... I'm afraid of getting used to it. That's when unexpected things happen."
"All I can say then is, when people are just being a bit rude, try to shrug it off. Show that it doesn't bother you. Try to extend kindness in response, and try to help people know that we're still humans inside. When people are being a lot rude, don't budge. Show to them that you don't care. Being honest, people who are freaking out about us, who are literally attacking us - they're pathetic. They're letting themselves give into their most impulse, base emotions, without stopping for a moment to think about if what they're doing is right."
"I agree with you Matt," Jackie said, "but it doesn't change the fact that they can hurt me... really hurt me. I've been so afraid of being emotionally hurt in the past... but... for the first time in my life yesterday... I saw how awful it could be to be hurt physically. I've never been bullied like that before. My parents were never abusive, or anything like that. I just... I..."
I hugged tightly. "There will always be violent people out there. But there's also so many good ones. After I stupidly got into that fight, they were ganging up on me - and I would've been in trouble, if it hadn't been for a bunch of normal people trying to stop them. I know there's a lot of people like that out there Jackie. They may still be uneasy around us - but they don't want to see innocent people be attacked."
Jackie breathed in and out slowly. "I hope that you're right."
"C'mon," I said, standing up with her. "Let's see if dinner's close to ready."
My dad made some really good grilled salmon, with potatoes, asparagus, and grilled stuffed mushrooms. We didn't have it very often, and it never seemed to last long enough when we did. It was nice getting to know Jackie's mom a bit more - and it seemed that my parents had needed someone like her to talk to. Since changing, they hadn't been out in public, and so only had their coworkers to talk to.
She seemed to have a good time as well - though she did remark on how cold our house was - we hadn't really realized how low we had our thermostat now with our fur keeping us warm.
It was a good day after a very bad one. Perhaps tomorrow would be as good, or maybe it would be not that great - or just somewhere in-between. We just had to take it a day at a time. I wasn't immune to the fears that Jackie had expressed - but I tried not to let them bother me. I couldn't control what other people did, only what I chose to do.
I was going to keep moving like little had happened. I would lead the canis club, work on finishing this year of school, graduate, and move onto the next phase of life. Living in fear was what all those people wanted. I was determined not to let them win.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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