After so many weeks that had stretched on forever, February seemed to flash by in an instant. I'd settled into what my life now was. I'd started to actually feel bored again sometimes, and it felt fantastic. There was however, a lot more going on in my life. I was doing stuff with my friends more, and especially with Jackie. The Applegate High School Canis Club was starting to feel more like a real club - and I still had to pinch myself that me and my friends had pulled this together.
There was however, the very difficult experience in those weeks, of watching my parents change. My dad had fought so hard to cure the disease. My mom had tried so hard to support Ashley and I when we transformed. But they'd still found it so hard to accept who we were now - and then they'd succumbed to the uncaring virus.
I saw a distinct somber shift as the virus advanced in them. They looked like they thought they were going to die in a few days - and I couldn't blame them. It had felt the same way to me. After a time, I'd wake up, see them eating breakfast and watching the news - and I couldn't see much of their old selves left. All of us, after a month of harsh resistance, were now changed forever.
Nausea and discomfort were constantly on their faces. They were not willing to put on a mask of cheerfulness like I'd been at first, neither did they let themselves spiral into depression. They simply tried to keep living, all while encountering one annoyance about their change after another.
But soon the tide began to turn. Revulsion from looking behind them and seeing a tail, turned into annoyed chuckling from it getting in the way again. Sickness turned to just frustration, and eventually even that faded. Their mood improved to the point that they were able to joke about it - Dad remarking that the virus had even infected the house, with dog hair finding its way everywhere.
They'd now been canis for two weeks or so, and they still were largely in the same mood - that of tiredness. They were no longer disgusted. They were just exhausted with having to deal with it. Part of me had hoped they'd fully embrace it like I had. I was starting to realize that Jackie and I were outliers - and that it was unfair to look down on canis people who did not find comfort in it like we did.
With their changes though... was a sense of less distance. Mom and Dad were having to get used to a lot of new things - but Ashley and I had already experienced them. We knew how they felt - and they now understood how we felt. They were still obviously uncomfortable - but there was no longer a sense of hesitation when they looked at us, or confusion when they saw me wag my tail. They smiled at me. They asked me how my day had gone, without changing the subject when I talked about something like the club. I felt... I felt like they were my parents again.
Ashley, by this time, was by no means cheerful - not that she had been a cheery kind of person before the transformation - but she didn't seem to be in such a dark place anymore. She wasn't super positive, but she also wasn't making dramatic statements about how the world was going to end. I felt like Mom and Dad had been right to take her tablet away for a while, and get her more focused on real life. It seemed like she'd even made a few friends at school that were interested in some nerdy stuff like she was.
This I felt, was the most encouraging development with her. I couldn't understand how anyone with canis could go it alone - Wendy sadly, seemed to be one of those people, and I had talked with my other friends about how we could help her feel welcomed into our group again.
On the first day of March, that was the biggest worry on my mind - my continued mission to help other canis people. I had finished another day of school, and we had the club again. Our numbers had ebbed and flowed a bit - often swelling a lot when we had refreshments - but I'd started to feel like the people who were at every meeting had really changed. The small group of shy kids still played their games in the other room, but had started inviting other shy canis people to join them. Aidan had finally gotten at least a few people who seemed to like playing his overly complicated board games. It seemed at times that the person socializing there the least was me, tired out from making sure everything was working right.
Today we'd decided to have a change in pace, bringing in some TVs to play several competitive games - but still having plenty of traditional board games for those uninterested. Aidan had very much wanted to organize a tournament, but I decided to put my foot down on that. We wanted the club to be a place to relax, and the conflict a formal competition might cause was something I wanted to diminish if possible.
But conflict found me anyway.
As I was walking through the main hallway towards the art classroom, I saw that a bunch of the usual hallway crowd was concentrated around the school's central common area. As I looked over the crowd, wondering what was going on, I picked out Jackie as one of the few canis people in the crowd. As I walked over to her, I noticed a guy speaking in the center of the common area. He was standing on some sort of improvised platform, and spoke into a microphone through a mask.
"We have been dealing with this for too long!" the boy said.
"Jackie," I asked her, "what's going on?"
She put an arm around me, pulling close against me. "They... they're protesting us."
She nodded with worried eyes.
There had been a recent flare up of canis cases in the area, but I'd largely thought that the cases were decreasing on average, and with it, decreasing hostility from non-canis people.
"We've been in this nightmare for more than a month," the boy said into the microphone. "And they keep forcing us to come here! They force us into the same space as them, not caring if we have a risk of infection!"
I shivered in stunned silence, as I noticed the people near us in the crowd began to look at us nervously, and drift away.
"So far the schools in the state have not listened to us," the boy went on, "and I want them to listen to us now. We don't want to fall to this disease. Either close the school until the disease stops spreading, or send the canis people somewhere else."
"What?" I said, "is he being serious?"
"H-he is," Jackie said. "He... he said some things... earlier..."
"C'mon," I took her hand, "we don't need this. Let's go to our friends."
As we wound our way through the growing crowd, we came to where the hall forked, the art classes on one side, and some engineering classrooms on the other. Down that left engineering hallway, I was confronted with a distressing sight. It was him. Horace.
Horace, the obnoxious labrador boy, had formed his own club, taking in the people that didn't feel "welcome" in our club. In reality, these people had been negative. They'd complained. They had adopted an idea that we were not humans, and that humans were the people who hated us. Their club existing hadn't bugged me at first - but then I'd heard more about how they were talking down about "the humans." They'd started calling themselves "the pack."
Now the pack was coming straight for us - and for the non-canis people telling them to go away. I knew this could only end badly.
"Horace," I got in front of him, "what do you think you're doing?"
"We're not going to stay silent like you and your self help club," he said, his group nodding in approval. "Are you really going to let them slander you, and just sit there and take it?"
"Getting angry at them isn't going to make them agree with you," I insisted.
"I don't care if they agree with us Hewitt," Horace said with the hint of a growl. "I don't want them to mess with us, and we need to - "
"You're acting rashly. You need to sit down for a moment, and think about - "
Horace pushed me out of the way, and I was taken aback for a moment, enough time for him and the rest of the pack to push past me. Visions flashed in my mind. Images of what Ashley had done when provoked.
I turned back to run up to them, but Jackie grabbed my arm.
"No Matt, don't get involved."
"If I don't stop them," I said, "who will?"
Our eyes locked for a moment, and then she let go. I ran to catch up with them just as they entered the common area, and members of the pack pushed me back as I tried to get to Horace.
"Horace!" I cried out, "don't make this worse!"
"Human!" Horace ignored me, shouting loudly to the protester who'd been giving his speech.
The boy turned to face the interruption.
"You have slandered us, mocked us for something that was no fault of our own - you have all acted as if you care about people, but you only care about your own kind."
"Everyone is afraid to admit it," the boy said into the microphone, "but we can't deny our natural reaction. We don't like you. You're intruding our normal lives. We felt sorry for you - a month ago. But now you all just want to pull us down into the miserable state you're in."
"I look like a beast," Horace said, "but you're one inside. No amount of - "
Horace was cut off. Someone had struck him.
And then all hell broke loose.
I watched, powerless, as the members of Horace's pack descended on the crowd, desperate for a fight. It quickly devolved into an all out riot, and in the crowd, I could see no sign of any actual adults trying to stop this. It was horrible to watch, with the members of the pack biting their attackers. I didn't know how many of them still were able to spread the infection, but I knew there were going to be many more canis people soon - and this would only lead to more hatred.
I was thrown around in the crowd as some people were rushing towards members of Horace's gang, and other people just wanted to get away from the fighting. There was nothing more I could do, and I joined them in running.
I escaped the crowd, and reunited with Jackie, grabbing her, and pulling her into a run down the engineering hallway. I became very thankful as I ran that the hallway was carpeted, and my padded paw-feet got good traction on it.
"We need to go around," I said quickly, "get to the art room. Warn anyone in the club there to get away."
"Oh gosh Matt," she cried out, "it's over, they'll never - "
"Run now," I said, "talk later."
We got to the classroom, and found the doors closed. I knocked against the door urgently, and we were let in. Twenty or so canis people were there, many crowded up to the front window with worried expressions. I took a moment to pant, and then surveyed who was there. Aidan, Sadie... Wendy was there surprisingly -
"Where's Douglas?" I asked
"He's out in that mess," Aidan said with a long exhale.
"Oh please don't tell me - "
"He's trying to break it up," Aidan said, "get canis people out and stuff, but I don't know what good it will do."
"We need to get out of here," I said, "now."
"I mean," Sadie shrugged, "It's bad, but if we just stay in here..."
"Have you seen what's going out there?" I pointed to the door, "they outnumber us at least five to one. As soon as they're done with the pack, do you want to risk the chance of them coming here? I'm not going to let anyone get hurt. All of you, call every canis person you know, and tell them to meet you in the parking lot. We need to get off school property, and fast. Once you're all out there, anyone with a car try to get as many people with you as you can."
They all stared back at me.
"Now!" I ordered.
They grabbed up their backpacks, and ran to the classroom's exterior door. I turned to Jackie.
"Get out there with them," I said to her, "and wait for me. If I'm not out in ten minutes, leave without me."
"Matt - "
"I love you," I said, kissing her. "But I need to find people out there, and - "
My ears perked up, and I realized that the riot was now flowing closer. And then I realized that there was still the group in the other classroom.
"Go!" I said to her, and then ran towards the door connecting to the other room.
When I got in, some of them were peering through the classroom's front window. The others were in various states of crying, or shock. It filled me with deep pain, and anger. Some of these people were neurodivergent I knew, and this kind of situation was incredibly cruel to them.
"You all need to get out of here, now!" I said, "get out to the parking lot, other people in the club have cars ready to take you to safety."
"No," a beagle girl cried. "I... I can't... it's so... loud...."
"Get outside," I said softly, struggling to pull her up from her chair, "get outside where it's quiet, and safe."
I saw that one German shepherd boy I'd seen that first day of the club. He stood up from his chair, and ran over to someone else, getting them to their feet. He turned to me with a look of affirmation. He would get everyone out. He started directing them towards the pottery room's own exterior door.
I ran back into the other classroom, finding it thankfully empty. I went up to the front door, and peeked out to risk seeing what was going on. It had really turned into a full on riot, and across the crowd, I finally saw some faculty and staff blowing whistles, trying to tame the mess - but for now at least, it wouldn't be pacified. People were attacking each other, not just canis versus human, but some humans versus each other.
As I looked through the door, someone caught my gaze.
"Get out of our school freaks!" the guy shouted.
Several people followed the boy as he came down the hall to where I was. I struggled to hold the door shut as they pushed up against it, and just as I was fighting to keep them out, I saw through the large window a sight that infuriated me. They tore down Jackie and Sadie's replacement poster for our club - and this time they'd worked even harder on it. They ripped it in half, and then stomped on it as another stupid kid filmed it with his tablet.
Something in me snapped. I threw open the door, and punched one of them in the chest, causing them to stagger backward against some lockers.
"Do you know how long my girlfriend worked on that?! You animals are the ones that belong in a zoo, not us!"
I was met with a strong punch to my gut, and I only just barely managed to orient my fall backwards so that I didn't land right on my tail. I grunted in pain, and held up my hands as one of them struck me. Another punched me in the arm, and painfully hard. I tried to throw my own punch when I was down, and missed.
As my pulse quickened, several non-canis people surprisingly stepped in and fought back against my attackers. I had a moment of clarity while they were distracted, and scrambled to my feet again, running down the hall and out the doors to the parking lot. Jackie ran to meet me.
"No!" I said, "get in the car, get in the car!"
I ran to where Aidan was in the parking lot, talking to several other people in the club.
"What's the situation?" I asked.
"It's awful," that one Border Collie boy said - William. "I was on the second floor, on my way to the club when it broke out. I could see some canis people just... gosh they were being beaten in that crowd - "
"But have you guys been able to get anyone out?"
"Yes," Aidan said, "When I ran back to the fighting, I saw Douglas, he got some people out, and I told him we were sending people out to the parking lot, and he's still trying to find people."
"Okay," I said, trying to steady my breathing. I had to resist my desire to run in and save my friend. I knew it was a terrible idea. "What about the group from the other classroom, are they out here?"
"Yes," Aidan said with a swallow, "but one of them didn't get out of the room fast enough, and got attacked. They got out, but with bruises.
I clenched my fists in rage. "Do what you can, then get out of here. I don't know if the school is getting any control over this mess, but I don't want anyone staying around here to find out."
"Where do we go?"
I thought for a moment. "To that park nearby. You know, the soccer complex?"
"Text people the location, and we'll regroup there."
My tablet started vibrating in the rhythm that meant one of my parents was calling me. I ran to my car and got in with Jackie, pulling out my tablet and answering the call.
"Matt, I heard - "
"I'm safe Mom," I said as I put the car into gear and pulled out of the parking lot. "I'm trying my best to get as many people to safety as I can."
"Oh gosh Matt it's horrible," she said, "all these videos are appearing online, and I know that in mere hours its going to be all over the news... "
"I'm just going to do what I can," I said, "if you know any way you can help, anyone you can call, do it."
I heard her let out a small cry. "Okay."
"We're going to be all meeting up at the Mallard park soccer complex, okay?"
"Alright. Please... please stay safe. I'm going to go get Ashley from school in case this spreads."
I gripped the steering wheel harder, my fingers trembling.
"I'll talk to you soon Mom."
I ended the call, and drove in haunting silence as I made my way to the park. All I could do was try my best to breathe slowly, and calm down. I pulled up to the curb, seeing people from the club gathered beneath a picnic pavillion. More canis people were arriving - and one of them was being supported by another, and looked to have been really beaten up.
I ran up to them, Jackie beside me. There was more than had just been in the club, now around thirty or more canis people, some of whom I did not recognize.
"Where's Douglas?" I asked. "Is he here or on his way?"
"I... I saw him," a voice said in the group. I turned, and saw Wendy.
"They were... they were kicking him on the ground," she cried, her pointed ears flattening to the sides. "They were - "
"Okay don't focus on that," I said with gritted teeth. "Was anyone left in the parking lot who was unable to get away?"
"Not that I know of," Sadie took a deep breath. "Aidan's gone back to the school to see if there's anyone left."
I breathed deeply and deliberately, trying to organize my scattered thoughts. The harder I tried to think, the more my mind blanked. I couldn't think of anything I could do in that moment, and I dropped down to sit on one of the picnic benches. WIth slow, ragged breaths, I panted, running my fingers through my hair.
They'd attacked my best friend, literally beating him. Gosh... Horace would pay for this. He had potentially injured dozens of people, if not worse.
Jackie sat down next to me and let out a long wheeze. "We're alone," she sobbed.
"No," I said firmly, looking around at the other canis people, "we're not."
"Humanity has cast us out," she said. "What do we do now?"
Shaking overcame me, as an icy feeling flowed through my frame. So much had crumbled. I'd thought they were getting used to us. I thought we'd be able to find normalcy again.
What would happen now... what would happen now...
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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