I stepped out of the locker room into the gym, and immediately felt very exposed. All that covered my canis body were my shorts and t-shirt. The other boys walked past me, many of them glancing my way, catching sight of my tail, and the myriad strangeness of my face.
As I walked, I very quickly noticed that the polished wood felt a bit more... unsteady than it normally did with shoes, and I'd imagine even with normal feet. The nails on my feet-paws clacked against it, only further emphasizing how out of place I felt.
Even though I did feel pretty uncomfortable, I felt a lot better than yesterday. I was still stared at, but it felt a lot less... threatening. Most people had now been exposed to the sight of a canis person, and so now I could relax a bit more.
What I still had to get used to however, was seeing other canis people. I looked over to where Douglas was shooting a basket on the other side of the gym - it didn't go in, but he swiftly caught it as it came out, before another person - non-canis - was able to catch it.
"So," Douglas smiled, dribbling the basketball as I walked over, "feeling a bit better since the last time you were in gym?"
"I guess so," I chuckled nervously. "It just... feels... surreal."
The guy standing near Douglas was silent. I could tell he was staring at my tail.
"I get ya," Douglas said. "Growing this wasn't very fun" - he looked to his own tail - "but at least it didn't happen in the middle of playing basketball."
The guy next to him went a bit wide eyed. "So that's what that... um, whole thing was."
I breathed deep. "Yeah."
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some people walking toward us - canis people, a girl and a boy. The girl had fur varying brown, white, and dark brown fur - a breed I didn't quite recognize, while the boy was a golden retriever, his normal human blonde hair blending into his fur.
"I had no idea what to make of it," the canis boy said as he walked up. "Douglas wouldn't really say anything about what had happened to you. Had no idea I'd be facing the same fate."
Realization came. "Oh... oh no," I swallowed. "I... I didn't..."
"My best theory," the boy huffed, "is that someone got a bit slobbery on the drinking fountain. So yeah... thanks for that."
"Oh gosh," I put my hand to my head... "please don't tell me... please don't tell me that I infected a bunch of people..."
"No," Douglas shook his head. "Aidan was the first to drink out of the fountain after you. He's the only one."
Aidan stared blankly at me while Douglas dribbled the basketball in the background.
"It's just... so weird," Aidan said...," seeing someone who looks so much like me."
"I... I'm really, really sorry," I finally said.
Aidan let out a long sigh. "I was really, really pissed at first - once I heard about what had happened with you, and realized you infected me. My parents wanted to call your family to err their grievances - which I put a stop to. I don't know. After gritting my teeth through all this, I just have to accept it wasn't your fault. You had no idea what was going on."
"But still," I said, "I'm sorry I've put you through this."
Aidan shrugged. "I'll live. I honestly can deal with being a dog person or whatever, it's just... dealing with normal people, my parents especially."
"I know," I said, "my parents... they haven't been very... comfortable around me and my sister."
Aidan chuckled. "I don't think most canis people feel more comfortable at school than at home."
"My mom always really loved Australian shepherds," the canis girl chimed in. "So I'm guessing most people have had it a bit different than me."
Aidan leaned behind the girl, staring at something.
"Pardon me for asking..."
"Pardon me for bringing it up Sadie," Aidan said, "but... your tail..."
Sadie giggled. "My little tuft? She turned around and wiggled it. It was a very small brown tail poking out the seat of her pants.
"I was honestly a bit sad that I got canis," she said, "but that I didn't get a cool long tail - but I've grown to like my little one."
Aidan looked confused. "Well what I was meaning was, I'm surprised that you, well, if it's small like that, that you wanted to show it, when you could just keep it hidden."
"I don't know," Sadie shrugged. "Is it weird to say I'd feel I was missing out? Everyone can see I'm a dog girl, and everyone else has the little holes for their tails. I thought I'd do it too."
To my surprise, she smiled, beginning to pant, and wagged her little tail too.
"You guys," the normal guy spoke up, "are really weird."
The remark didn't have a bit of laughter tied to it. It was his honest perception of us.
Aidan's ears perked up. "W-well most of us are not that enthusiastic about it."
Sadie waved her arm dismissively. "I decided early on that I didn't wanna care about being embarrassed with this... I honestly kinda like being a dog. Why hide it if you enjoy it?"
Me, Aidan, and Douglas shared a knowing look with each other. It was pretty hard to deny that some things didn't feel all that bad - but we weren't going to announce it in public.
"You... like it?" The guy who's name I still could not remember said. "I seriously can't think of what would be good about this."
"Well," Sadie smiled, "wagging my tail for one. It just... feels so good for some reason! And then everything smells really good - well, not around boys of course."
"Oof," Douglas said.
"Yeah," I added, "we wash our fur."
"Oh I'm joking," Sadie waved her hand. "But there's also that I can hear really well - and it feels nice and warm in the winter... I don't know. I just... kind of like being a dog for some reason."
This was the kind of thing I hadn't expected to see. I knew in some part of my mind that there would be people who weren't afraid to show they liked this - but it just felt so... odd...
Sadie surveyed our expressions, and laughed. "I take it you boys aren't as keen on what happened?"
"It's... a big adjustment," Aidan said.
"Whatever," Douglas said, "enough fixating on this, let's just play some ball."
We were able to get a few more non-canis people to play with us - the one guy from before just seemed dazed, with no idea how to even process what Sadie had been talking about.
Thankfully, as we got playing I was able to let go of some stress. I was back to what I'd been doing weeks ago when this had all started. All I had to concentrate on was being crazy on the defense. I realized as we played that I'd gotten very little exercise since I'd changed - and it felt good. I was not in extremely good shape, but I still felt refreshed and reinvigorated.
And I was wagging my tail. It felt completely natural. I was in a good mood, it was something I wanted to do.
Before I could question if I should stop, the others saw it. The normal, non-canis people just stared. Douglas offered a slight smile. Sadie however had a very big smirk on her face as she passed me, panting without restraint.
So I let it happen. I liked it, they had all seen it - and so there was little point in trying to retreat from it. When we stopped playing for a bit to take a breather, Douglas looked to me, and cautiously began wagging his tail, and panting. Aidan stared at us in disbelief.
My life had become so weird, and that constant feeling of oddness had not left it for weeks. Maybe it would never leave. Perhaps I could live with that. To all the normal people out in the world, the thought of someone enjoying this was bizarre - but I knew that I enjoyed it. I didn't always fully grasp why, but I did.
I wished then that Jackie could've been there - with people who understood her. Perhaps I could try to see if Sadie would want to do something with us sometime.
As we started playing again, I felt my previous calm fading away. I was embracing this weird new world I was in. Enjoying it even. Was that what I really wanted? Was that... right?
It felt kind of silly. It was weird, and other people didn't seem very comfortable about it, but it wasn't hurting anything. This though, was something so radically different from normal reality. I'd read and watched criticisms of escapism in the past - moral panics about things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games, and how even in the present, there was still the repeated advice to not let yourself get too lost in fantasy. You needed to focus on what was real.
But now the fantastic was reality. I was half animal. I had laughed in the past at some people, people who were really into a book, game, movie, and this included people like furries, who got way into something to the point where it blurred their view of what was real and what was not. Their real life suffered as they grew obsessed with wanting to live an unobtainable, fictional life.
Scenarios like that were not very common, obviously - or at least they used to be. It was, again, now my reality.
That thought repeated in my mind. I was acting very silly over something so small. All I wanted to do was feel free to wag my tail, but I was making it into a whole philosophical dilemma.
When we finished our game, gym was almost over. As soon as we finished, the few normal humans playing alongside us left, and went to talk to other normal people. A hollowness followed their departure.
Me, Douglas, Sadie, and Aidan were left standing alone together. The feeling felt was immediately obvious, and even Sadie seemed affected by the cloud hanging over us.
We'd been left alone. We were different. Even if people were not filled with enough discomfort and hate to bully us, they did not want to be around us. In that moment I realized why I was agonizing so much about whether to embrace this or not.
I had known it would be difficult, dealing with the reactions of everyone. But actually experiencing it... it felt awful. So swiftly had they abandoned us. I imagined that these people who chose to play alongside us had felt guilty. They didn't want to leave us alone. As soon as their moral duty was fulfilled, however, the box ticked, they left us for more normal companions.
There was no friendly banter afterward, no trash talk and teasing. No friendliness. All they left with was "good game," and left as soon as they could.
I was reading too much into this. I knew I was. But I couldn't shake the feeling; the feeling that we really were outcasts. If I fully displayed that I was happy with who I was, I would only be driven further from normal humans.
As I went into the locker room, brushing shoulders with normal guys, all of them staring at the three canis dog people, I felt an awful ultimatum hanging in my head.
If I continued letting myself grow accustomed to this, embracing it, then I was going to face greater and greater resistance from normal people. They would recoil in disgust. They would be wary around us, and I would contribute to a negative perception of canis people - we would be the people who acted like animals, as well as looking like them.
If I pushed my desires aside though, and held back, it would make me feel... what? Would I really feel all that miserable if I didn't give into every urge to pant and wag my tail on a whim? Would it really feel that horrible? Surely it couldn't be good for me to just act on every impulse. Many situations I would need to be more composed - but could I really hold it back all the time?
Even if I never let my enjoyment of it show, how much would people really accept me? I could resist any desire to act like a dog, and spare them the discomfort - but I still had a big black snout on my face. I still had big floppy ears - and even if I wasn't wagging it, people would still stare at my tail.
I didn't know what I was going to do. It was still only my second day being a canis person out in public. Maybe things would improve. Maybe they would only get worse. With all the constant questioning in my mind, at least one firm thing surfaced - I felt better around other people like me. I didn't want to be alone, and I knew other canis people didn't either.
So in leaving gym, I struck up a conversation with Aidan and asked him what games he was into - strategy games like X-Com seemed to be his favorite. Being able to talk about something that he liked, and something that wasn't canis, seemed to enliven him a bit. By the time Aidan had to split off to his next class, me and Douglas offered to share our contact info with him if he ever wanted to hang out. He accepted, and seemed to be in a better mood as he walked away.
I stood there silently in the hallway, stoic. Not much thought went on in my mind, even as people passed around me.
"Y'know," Douglas said, casually licking his nose, "it might be nice to have a club, or support group, or something for canis people."
"Maybe," I said. "I'm not sure. I feel like a lot of canis people I'm seeing don't seem super interested in interacting with people."
Douglas shrugged. "You never know. It does feel good though to meet other canis people, and know they've gone through what you have."
I smiled at him. "Yeah."
"Even if all it is is some sort of study group, or playing games or something after school," Douglas said, "I think it could help a lot of people."
"You really think we could organize something like that?"
"I don't see why not."
My feelings of anxiety began to fade throughout the rest of the day. I started thinking more and more about this hypothetical canis club. How would I best help people? Show them that they were welcomed?
In math, when I probably should've been working on that day's assignment, I started looking up stuff on the school website, trying to figure out how one would start a club. I made the jump, and wrote up an email to the school, asking them if I could do this.
When I met my friends at lunch, I was happy to see that Jackie seemed in a decent mood. Wendy however, still seemed a bit reserved, and surly about things. Despite this, they both expressed support of our idea for a club. Ted and Greg didn't offer much input however.
By the time school ended, I got a response back from the school. If we could make plans for this, they would help us get the word out. I met with the others as school ended. Sadie started to immediately scout out what classrooms might be available for us to meet. At the same time, Aidan began making plans to bring his board game collection, while Douglas volunteered to figure out food, starting to talk with the school about potentially getting some money.
It felt awesome. Something was going into motion. I didn't know how the world would adjust to this new normal, but maybe all of us who'd gone through this... maybe we could all figure things out together.
By the time I got home, I felt... relief. I dared to even allow myself some excitement. In the midst of so much confusion, I might be able to help others - and myself.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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