Hi! I'm Kerisa Whitelock. That's said 'kih-REE-sah'. I'm a vixen foxtaur in my twenties. (You honestly think I'm going to tell you how old I am?) I have brick red fur that covers me all over, except for my four paws, which have the usual black 'socks'. I have one lock of white fur above my right eye, like my father; I think it makes me look sophisticated. My eyes are a dark gold, though I think they'd look better if they were green.
Anyway, the other day I was asked about my relationship with Sandwalker, who just happens to be my best friend. Why? I don't know. Maybe reading this account will answer any questions people may have about us. I certainly don't want to explain it a hundred times to different people.
Let's start back when I was nine years old. It was about halfway through the school year -- July, I think it was -- at one of the many primary schools in the Auckland region The sky was really cloudy, threatening rain....
I sat at the table, quietly working on a crayon drawing of myself. To an adult, the picture might not have looked too much like me, but in my eyes it was a perfect duplicate. "What do you think?" I asked the tod next to me.
He paused in his work to look at mine. "I think you're a better drawer than me," he said, glancing back to his own. I looked over to see for myself. The face was all right; the rest of the body was, unfortunately, rather out of proportion. The arms were longer than the legs, and the feet were tiny.
"Umm..." I said, not sure if I should say anything. I've always been a critical person, but most of the time I know when to keep my mouth shut.
Before I could give a more in-depth answer I noticed the classroom door open to admit an elderly foxtaur -- the principal. He went over to speak with Miss MarshWater, our reasonably young wolftaur teacher, then went out again to bring in...what appeared to be a 'taur like us, but based on a tabby cat. Then he left.
"Class, quiet please." Miss MarshWater waited a few seconds for all of us to stop our talking, then began speaking herself. "Class, we have a new student. This is Chakat Sandwalker. Shi's just moved here from the South Island, so I want you to be as friendly as you can toward hir." She gestured to one of the vacant spots at another table, and watched as the new pupil padded over to sit down. "You may now go back to drawing your self-portraits."
Almost immediately the quiet talking among us started up again; this time the topic of conversation was this new feline 'taur.
When recess rolled around I followed her out onto the playground, doing what I like to call 'covert observation'. She seemed happy enough, though I did notice that not many people, if at all, were engaging her in their activities. "This is my chance," I murmured to myself.
I mustered up all my bravado -- which didn't really amount to much; after all, I was only nine years old -- and padded up to her while she was waiting for a turn on the slide. "Hi, I'm Kerisa," I said, disgusted at the slight croak of nervousness in my voice.
She smiled at me, looking me up and down. "I'm Chakat Sandwalker, child of Skywatcher and Trailblazer." Her voice was quiet, yet held a hint of an outgoing personality in it.
I blinked at the odd greeting, then grinned. "Nice to meet you, Chakat. Tell me...what are you? I've seen a couple of your species, but I've never had the chance to find out." I had the guts to look suitably embarrassed at that admission.
"My personal name is Sandwalker; 'Chakat' is our species. When we introduce ourselves, we say 'I am Chakat Whatever, child of 'Mother' and 'Father'." She smiled at my minor misunderstanding. "You're not the only one to be confused."
"Hmm...." I thought about that for a moment, then grinned. "Well, it's nice to meet you anyway, Sandwalker." I was about to say something else when it was her turn on the slide. I watched as she ascended the steps, my eyes roving idly over her body. Petite, yet rather nice, breasts; shapely body, a small sheath....
My subconscious mind started ringing alarm bells as my gaze roamed over that part of her anatomy. I stood there in a state of intense confusion, suddenly not paying much attention to anything around me as I tried to make sense of what I'd seen. She was quite obviously female -- anyone could figure that out just by looking at her breasts -- and yet she had....
"Kerisa?" Sandwalker had gone down the slide and come back for another turn. She peered at my face, noticing my odd expression. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong?" I squeaked. I took another try at sounding more normal. "Wrong? Nothing, I think. Just that...I thought I saw when you went up the steps...." I shot a quick glance down to her nether region.
Sandwalker noticed the glance, and she sighed; whether in regret or not, I wasn't sure. "I guess I'd better explain that, huh?" She wandered over to stand underneath an evergreen tree, away from everyone else, expecting me to follow her. As I did so, I felt the first few drops of rain begin to fall. "Lovely," I muttered darkly. I hated getting wet fur.
"You know nothing about chakats at all?" When I nodded she continued. "I guess the only thing I can tell you that makes us different is that, although we look female, we are not completely female. We're all herms -- hermaphrodites -- which means that we have both male and female parts." She abruptly dropped to the ground and rolled over, spreading her belly fur so that I could see plainly the male sheath, as well as her femininity. "See?"
"Oh, yeah...I see, all right," I murmured, a little shocked by her open display.
"Um, sorry about that," she apologised as she got to her feet again. "I find it's much easier to show myself off as proof."
I just stared at her for a few seconds before replying. "Uh-huh. So...if you're female, and you're male, then...what do we call you? She and he don't really seem to fit."
"'Shi' and 'hir' are what we use instead." Sandwalker momentarily turned her -- no, hir -- gaze on the playground that, now that the rain had started falling in earnest, had been vacated, then onto me again. "For example, 'Shi played with hir ball outside' or 'I love hir'."
I nodded. This was indeed an interesting person I was befriending. I looked at my watch, and saw there were still a few minutes left until the end of recess, so I lay down on the soft ground below the tree, inviting Sandwalker to do the same. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" I asked, realising after I'd said it that the term 'brother' seemed a bit redundant.
Shi grinned and nodded. "I have a sister -- obviously. Chakats don't have brothers; only sisters, because of our double sexuality and feminine looks. Hir name is Greytail." Shi paused to think for a short period before shi went on. "I'd better tell you something else that's odd to our species. My mum is Grey's dad, and hir mum is my dad. You know what I mean?"
"I think I'm getting a headache," I muttered after struggling with that alien concept for about a minute. "You have the same parents, but not the same parents as each other.... Oh, dear."
Sandwalker shrugged. "Um...that's sort of what it comes to, yeah." Shi stopped talking then, looking out at the rather depressing rain, tail flicking to and fro idly. I followed hir example until the bell rang, signalling the end of recess.
When I got home from school that afternoon I found Mum in the kitchen making a start on dinner. After I'd raided the pantry for the usual after-school snack I just hovered in the background for a few minutes, watching what Mum was doing.
"How was your day?" she asked, opening the fridge to take out some cheese and a pepper, which I despised.
"It was...interesting," I said, just a bit evasively. I went and fetched my schoolbag from where I had unceremoniously dumped it by the front door, and took out a textbook and workbook. Taking a pen from the bright yellow desk caddy that stood on a corner table I began to do some math homework. A few minutes later I finally said, "We have a new person in the class."
Mum opened the fridge again, replaced the cheese, then took out some other vegetables. "Oh? What are they like?"
"Well...it's a chakat, with fur like a tabby cat. Shi's about the same age as me, and hir name is Sandwalker. Shi has a sister named Greytail."
"Oh?" Mum paused briefly to look at me. "I wasn't aware that there had been a chakat family moving into town. Hmm...." She shrugged and went back to chopping vegetables. "I'll probably hear through the grapevine eventually."
"You know what chakats are?" I asked, wondering why I hadn't been told about them earlier. "I got a shock today when I found out that shi was both boy and girl."
There was a clatter of crockery as Mum pulled a large casserole dish out from a cupboard. "Well, we didn't think it was really necessary, considering how infrequently we saw them in the area."
Oh. In a way that made sense; 'Out of sight, out of mind'. I worked on another problem, then paused again. "May I bring hir around to play sometime?"
"Sure, honey. Just make sure you both do your homework before you do any playing, okay?" Mum dropped all the vegetables into the dish and started adding some thawed mince to it.
"Of course. Now...what's 7 times 12?"
A couple of days later I walked out the door of my house feeling much more enthusiastic than normal. There could be only one reason for that. As I walked to school I started wondering about Sandwalker's and my friendship. It was rather tenuous at the moment -- after all, we had met only two days ago -- but I felt that it would develop into something more lasting. Some of the attraction was probably due to hir species' gender -- or should that be genders? -- as well.
I entered the front gate of the school behind some other pupils, and looked around to see if Sandwalker was anywhere in sight. After a few seconds of searching I found hir standing outside our classroom, the strap of hir schoolbag slung over one shoulder. I noticed that shi was by hirself, almost at the centre of a large area of almost palpable apathy.
Frowning in disgust at the way people seemed to be treating hir already, I made up my mind to be hir best, if only, friend. "Morning, Sandwalker," I said in a tone with brightness slightly forced into it.
Sandwalker, who had been standing with a rather distant look in hir eyes, blinked and turned hir head toward me. "Morning...Kerisa, is it?" I nodded, and shi smiled, pleased that shi'd remembered my name. "I don't seem to be very popular," shi observed, gazing around at the emptiness surrounding us.
"So I noticed," I said, with a hint of hardness. "When I was new here last year everyone couldn't get enough of being around me, but with you.... Maybe it's because you're so different. You've seen that most of us here are foxtaurs? Of course, we have a few humans and wolftaurs as well, but until now we've never had any chakats. I think people are afraid of that which they don't know."
Shi looked at me, understanding in hir eyes. "I see," shi said, shuffling one of hir handpaws. Handpaws...hmm.... I focused my gaze upon them a little more, examining them. To a casual observer they would appear as normal forepaws, but close up, it could be seen that they were actually a pair of modified hands. We have, I guess, what we could call handpaws, though their manual dexterity is less developed than it is in a chakat.
"I don't care what anyone here thinks of you; I think you're a great person...that is, from what I know of you." Against my normal practice of not hugging, I moved forward and embraced Sandwalker in a tight, friendly hug.
The surprised chakat just stood there, my arms wrapped around hir upper torso, for a few seconds before reciprocating, leaning hir head on my shoulder.
We stayed like that for a little while, probably no more than twenty seconds, but after we pulled apart, I felt as if a small part of me had been taken, and replaced with a small piece of Sandwalker. I wondered if shi felt the same way.
"You know," shi began when we'd parted, "Hugging, among us chakats, is the one of the greatest forms of affection. We don't even tip in restaurants -- we just hug the waiter." Sandwalker grinned at my slightly shocked expression. "We keep in mind the fact that hugging is not always acceptable in some circles, but if we're in a place where chakats have a majority, then it's okay."
"Right," I murmured, still rather amazed. I had a lot to learn about chakats, obviously. Just then I saw Miss MarshWater drive into the school parking lot. She got out of her car, locked it, and came toward us, mumbling to herself.
Together Sandy and I -- I figured I could start calling hir Sandy for short, now -- waved to the teacher, who smiled and waved back at us. "Good morning, you two. Friends already? That's good. Settling in okay, Sandwalker?"
"Well...it's mostly fine, but everyone seems to think I'm some sort of...freak to keep away from. Kerisa's my only friend." Shi sighed heavily, belying hir feelings.
As all teachers seem to do, Miss MarshWater merely nodded and spoke the usual formulaic reply: "It'll pass, dear. New people always take a little while to fit in." I rolled my eyes at this pathetic answer. A lot of help that was! We followed the teacher into the classroom, then a few minutes later the bell signalling the start of school rang.
The morning was relatively trouble-free; everyone except myself and Miss MarshWater kept away from hir. It wasn't until after lunch that the situation started deteriorating into ridiculous examples of childishness which, now that I think about it, wasn't unusual for people about nine years old, but still....
First came the 'talk about hir as if shi wasn't there' treatment. I could hear people talking loudly -- quite obviously projecting for the 'benefit' of Sandy -- about hir, saying that the school shouldn't have allowed such a gender misfit to enrol, and generally going on about hir uncertain background.
Next it was the 'step on hir tail' trick. Several people deliberately walked behind Sandy and trod 'accidentally' on hir tail, causing the poor chakat to yowl in surprise and pain. All through this my expression was darkening, like a miniature thunderstorm gathering force, which was almost exactly what was happening within me. If felt that if I heard or saw one more insult I'd attack the person with all claws bared. How dare they speak to anyone like that! Especially a good friend who was trying hir best to fit in.
When school finally ended I was just about ready to explode from the pent-up emotions. Most of the time I'm a rationally-minded vixetaur, but at that moment I just wanted to jump into a fight with somebody, no matter that my chances of winning were rather remote.
I stomped out of the classroom with Sandwalker in tow. Shi was on the verge of tears, or so it seemed to me, so I walked beside hir, putting an arm around hir shoulders to guide hir. "You're coming home with me," I said gently, but with a dash of hotness. "Mum said I could bring you around anytime, and right now I think you need a friend more than anything else."
By the time we'd reached my house Sandwalker was sobbing miserably, thanks to some jerks who'd tried to pull hir tail as we passed by. "Come on, in you go," I murmured, opening the door for hir to precede me.
I closed the door behind me, and went into the kitchen, where Mum was making some chocolate biscuits. "Um...Mum, this is Sandwalker. Shi's rather upset at the moment."
Mum stopped her mixing to regard my friend with a look of concern and sympathy. "Come here, dear," she said, pulling a tissue from the box kept on the bench for just such an occasion -- or onion-peeling. "Let me dry those tears." She guided Sandy to the kitchen table, and sat down, taking hir schoolbag off hir shoulders. "Now tell me, Sandwalker, what has you so miserable."
In between sobs and blowing hir nose, Sandy told Mum the whole sorry story. Hir tears abated somewhat by the end of hir recitation, and shi just sniffed quietly. "I can't tell the teacher, because she thinks that it's just a 'new kid' phase, and that I'll get over it."
"Oh, you poor dear," murmured Mum, bending down to embrace Sandy in a large hug. "What about your parents? Have you told them?" She frowned slightly when shi shook hir head. "Hmm...I'd better call and tell them that you're here, too. What's your number?"
Sandy told her, and Mum went off to the hallway to use the vidphone. We listened attentively, like most kids do, to what she said.
"Hi, I'm Sera Whitelock, the mother of your Sandwalker's friend. I just called to say that Sandy is here. *pause* Yes, shi does have a friend, though I have to stress that shi has only one friend. Everyone else is...how can I put this...taking the 'new kid' thing too far. *pause* I don't know if Greytail is having the same difficulties. *pause* I think I'll let your daughter tell you hirself when shi gets home. *pause* I'll bring hir over soon. *pause* Okay, bye."
Mum ended the call, and turned to look at us, raising an eyebrow at our perked ears. "Eavesdropping again, were you?" She came over to ruffle our head fur, then went back into the kitchen. "Perhaps you could tell us something about yourself, Sandy. Where you came from and such." She went to a cupboard and took out a plastic container. Opening it she pulled out a couple of large chocolate chip biscuits. Mum handed us one each, then put the container away.
Sandwalker and I sat at the table while Mum returned to her baking. "Well," began Sandy, taking a small bite of hir biscuit, "I was born to Skywatcher and Trailblazer, about a year after Greytail, in Christchurch. We lived in Riccarton, which is pretty much a 'chakat only' suburb. Other suburbs are mostly human, foxtaur, et cetera, or mixed." We both nodded in acceptance of this. Mum had been to Christchurch, so I knew that she knew what Sandy meant.
"Dad works in a software company, helping to write architectural programs. The company transferred its operations up here to Auckland about a week ago, so here I am...getting picked on." Shi went silent, concentrating on eating hir biscuit.
"Um..." I said noncommittally, "I see." At that point I was at a bit of a loss about what to do or say next, so I was glad when Mum then stepped in. "I'm sure that you'll overcome this problem of bullying eventually. When I was your age I was picked on, because I was the smallest in the school."
I looked up at Mum in surprise. I hadn't known that until now. She continued, saying, "I put up with it for a little while, but in the end I just got sick of it all, so I started giving back as good as they got. If someone pulled my tail, I pulled theirs, making sure that I was never around when they looked for the culprit. If they swapped my lunch for something unappetising, I did the same. It took two or three weeks to have any sort of positive effect, but the end result was that they left me alone after that."
Looking at Sandy, I could have sworn that I saw one of those evil glints in hir eyes, a sure sign of impending havoc. "Really? Well, then...." Shi trailed off, thinking hard. I had a feeling that, whatever shi was planning, it was going to involve me. "I've got a bad feeling about this," I muttered under my breath. Shi didn't deign to elaborate, and we soon fell to the task of doing our homework.
The next day Sandy starting putting hir plan into motion. During the first hour or so of class, one foxtaur, looking very superior, came over to ask Sandy if he could borrow a pencil. Once shi had given one to him, he went back to his place and, while I watched, he picked up a pencil sharpener and began to sharpen the pencil down to a bare stub. When he'd finished he came back and thanked hir for the 'use' of hir pencil.
I looked at Sandy, wondering what shi was going to do. Nothing, it appeared...not immediately, anyway. Shi did, however, have a rather smug expression on hir face. "All right, Sandy," I muttered, leaning closer to hir. "What are you up to?"
"Nothing much...but I can guarantee that the next time he needs to use a pencil, he's going to be rather annoyed." Shi raised an eyebrow at me, then went back to working on hir transactional writing.
When the bell rang for recess, shi hung back, waiting for everyone to leave the class. Against my better judgement, so did I. "Now," shi said, making hir way over to where the impudent foxtaur had been sitting. Shi picked up his schoolbag, and rummaged around in it until shi found a pencil case. "Ah, here we are." Shi unzipped it, and emptied out the contents, which consisted of two dozen coloured pencils, a couple of ordinary ones, plus a blue pen. "Watch, and learn," shi murmured quietly as shi picked up the sharpener he had left on the desk, and commenced sharpening each one down to the last five centimetres. Sighing heavily I did the same, taking another sharpener to help hir along.
Once all the pencils had been treated shi put them all back, and tidied up to make it look as if nothing had been touched. "Right...let's go do some playing, shall we?"
We came back into the classroom just as the stragglers were getting in. Being careful not to look in the direction of our victim, we padded back to our table, and faced the front.
The fun started not long after. We took out our maths books to copy down some exercises off the board, all the while surreptitiously watching the tod open his bag. There was a startled yelp, then a very bad word said, widening eyes all around his table. He turned to gaze at us, knowing exactly who the culprit was; I could almost see 'You're dead meat' flashing in his eyes.
"Uh-oh," I muttered darkly, turning away from the hostile gaze. "Are you sure you know what you're getting into?" I asked Sandy with just a hint of concern in my voice.
"Oh, I think I can handle it," shi replied, purring quietly to hirself. "I'll see if Greytail can help me. Shi's having a hard time too. Shi's more practical than I am, but shi does know how to do things properly."
I still wasn't too enthused about the idea of petty revenge, but if it gave hir satisfaction, what could it hurt?
After the bell rang for lunch, Sandy and I went out to a secluded area of the school, a small copse of pine trees overshadowing one corner of the sports field. "Wait here," shi said, "while I go and find my sister."
While I waited I began to eat my lunch, which was made up of several Marmite sandwiches, two apples and some Shrewsbury biscuits. I'd worked through an apple and three sandwiches when Sandy returned, a slightly larger, cream-coloured chakat in tow. "Kerisa," shi said, gesturing to the newcomer, "this is my older sister, Greytail. Grey, this is Kerisa, my best -- and only -- friend."
"Hi," said Grey. "Pleased to meet you." Shi stepped forward and gave me a hug, before settling hirself down on the thin carpet of pine needles. "So, what's the order of business here?"
"Well, I guess you could say that this is a council of war," I began, glancing at Sandy. "Have you been having problems with people going out of their way to make you feel unwelcome?"
Greytail nodded solemnly before replying. "Of course. My way of thinking is that it's better to ignore the people who are being mean; eventually they're going to realise that their teasing and provoking are having no effect, so they'll move onto another person." Shi then looked at us intently. "What are you doing about it?"
"Um...we're actually fighting back," I muttered darkly. "Fire with fire, so to speak. So far all we've done is sharpen a tod's pencils to stubs, because he did the same to Sandy's."
Sandy stayed silent. Looking at hir I figured shi might be thinking, so I let hir be. "Should we be doing it your way?" I asked, thinking that the idea didn't seem that feasible. "As I see it, if the bullies weren't getting any reactions, they'd just try harder, wouldn't they? Until it got to the point where it might be harmful to the person?"
"You have a point," Grey murmured, tapping a finger against hir chin as shi mulled over what I had said. "The people in my class tend to just make life difficult; hiding my stuff, pulling my tail, talking behind my back...that sort of thing. If they got to the stage where I was in danger of getting injured, I'd think very strongly about telling someone in authority, like our parents or the principal."
"Okay," Sandy broke in, having come to a conclusion of sorts. "Here's an idea. What about using reverse...reverse.... Oh, help me out here. You know, when you do the exact opposite of what's expected?"
"Reverse psychology?" suggested Grey, peering at hir younger sister. "Actually...that could work. If someone pulled your tail, Kerisa, what would your first reaction be?"
I blinked at the sudden change of tack. "I'd probably pull their tail in return, assuming I didn't get beaten up for it. Why?"
"If, instead of retaliating, you responded with a hug, what do you think their reaction might be?"
"Well...I guess they'd be rather surprised and confused that their victim didn't fight back." I began to think the idea through a bit more. There was definite merit to it.
"Exactly," said Grey, smiling. "It couldn't hurt to try it out, to see what happens." Shi opened hir mouth to say more, but was interrupted by the 'end of lunch' bell. "Oops...time to go. We'll talk later. Bye, sis." Shi gave Sandy a strong hug, then one to me, before disappearing. Sandy and I weren't too far behind hir.
The rest of the day went as normal, with the exception of one more incident. We were having an afternoon of painting, and Sandy was working on what appeared to be a space scene. I wasn't watching at the time, and the first inkling I had that someone had perpetrated another misdemeanour was when I heard a loud gasp from beside me. I looked across to see what was wrong, and found a large red blob in the middle of Sandy's 'canvas'.
"Oops, how clumsy of me," said the vixen who had done the deed. She was smirking in a very superior manner. I was about to go over and rearrange the smirk until Sandy took action. "Why, thank you, Taina! What a stroke of genius!" Shi stepped forward and enveloped the vixen in a strong chakat hug. "Now if I add a dash of green here --" Shi dipped hir brush into the pot of green and flicked it at hir painting. "-- and a bit of yellow there --" Sandy threw a blob of yellow on as shi spoke. "-- and there we have an abstract masterpiece! Let's see...what to call it.... Ah! 'Cosmic Clutter'!"
Taina just stood, her mouth agape. I could almost see her thinking 'This is not what is supposed to happen!' Fuming silently she went back to her own efforts at artistry.
"Nicely handled, Sandy," I murmured when the vixen was out of earshot. "I couldn't have done better myself." I studied hir painting, then grinned. "You know, it does look pretty cool with those blobs of colour on it. Think it'll sell?"
"Nah...it might if I were dead," shi said, appraising it critically. "Paintings always seem to sell better if their creator is dead first."
I winced at hir choice of words. 'Dead' was not a state I fancied either of us being in. "If you're going to use that word, make sure nobody hears you!" I whispered in Sandy's ear. It might have been my imagination, but I was sure that I'd seen several pairs of ears perk up at the word 'dead'. "Call me paranoid, but I've heard of cases where someone who 'didn't belong' was done away with, often in mysterious circumstances, or else they simply disappeared. How many chakats have you seen in this town? Other than your family, I mean."
"None, now that I think about it. Our neighbours seem nice enough towards us.... You think it could be a front? The adults seem all nice, but they may be planning an hidden attack?"
"Well...it's not impossible," I said, not entirely sure if I had a legitimate reason to be concerned or not. "Adults have age and experience to guide them, but sometimes even that may be overridden by sheer prejudice." The more I thought about the possibilities of something harmful, or even fatal, happening to Sandy, the more my stomach seemed to knot up around a cold hunk of ice. I took a moment to look around, noting a few who were in deep discussion, occasionally looking up at us before continuing.
Sandy nodded, silent for a few moments. "Well, I guess all I can do is just be on the lookout for suspicious activity," shi said, shrugging.
I nodded, a bland expression on my face. Inwardly I was cringing. I just knew something was going to happen that would involve Sandy and/or hir sister...and possibly me, if I was unlucky enough. Having a chakat for a friend was all well and good, but in a town where the majority of people were against any sort of non-foxtaur, it could very well be a ticket to Hell.
An attempt on hir life came just over a week later. Sandy and I were walking home after school as usual, chatting idly. Greytail was normally with us, but on this occasion shi was still at school, getting some help with hir homework. On our way we passed the corner dairy. "I'll just some snacks to eat while we do our homework," I said as I entered the shop. "You go on ahead."
I was in the dairy for about five minutes, picking up some potato chips and two bottles of drinks. I paid for them with a few coins from the belt pouch I sometimes wore, and went back outside.
To get to my house it was a twenty minute walk down the street from the dairy. It's straight, so even after five minutes I should still have been able to see Sandy; after all, shi would have been fairly easy to spot, being virtually the only chakat in town.
I was slightly puzzled, but I didn't think much of it. I thought that shi might have decided to run -- we often had races -- but then I dismissed that idea, as running by oneself was much less enjoyable, and shi was the type of person who delighted in having fun.
I was crossing one of the several streets than ran across my street when I saw several tods and vixens gathered around a large wheelie bin. I stopped for a moment, staring at the group. "What on earth are they doing?" I muttered to myself. "What could be so interesting about a trash bin?" As I watched, two of them helped to push it over so that its wheels could be used, then another began to tow it along the street towards me.
They passed by on the other side of the street with barely a glance at me. One of the vixens waved at me, and with a puzzled smile I returned the gesture. I dropped my gaze to the bin, and for a brief second I could have sworn I saw the tip of a tail peeking out of the top. I blinked, and it was gone. "Gods," I said under my breath as I turned toward home again. "That has got to be one of the strangest things I've seen yet."
When I got home, I went to my room, and found it empty. Sandy obviously wasn't here yet. "Mum," I said when I found her in the lounge, reading. "Has Sandy come in at all?"
"No, dear," Mum replied, looking up from her book. "Why, was shi supposed to?"
"Yeah...she was coming home with me so we could help each other with our homework." I went quiet for a few seconds while I thought. "That's strange. I wonder where shi could --" I suddenly broke off, eyes widening. "Oh, gods! Surely they wouldn't have...!" Leaving Mum extremely perplexed, I bolted from the room, dashing out of the house as fast as my legs could carry me.
Within minutes I had reached the intersection where the group of my peers had passed me. Looking down the street to my right, where they had been going, I could think of only one place where they might have business to conduct.
At the end of the street I could see the dark blue expanse that was the lake. Another street ran around the edge of it. I ran, a bit slower this time, because I wasn't used to such physical exertion, down the street until I got to the end, where I looked up and down the lakeshore.
About four hundred metres up the shore was a wooden jetty extending some forty metres into the lake, screened from sight of houses by a number of tall oak trees. A number of boats were moored, swinging empty on the gentle waves. I took a few seconds to catch my breath, then gasped sharply when I saw the group walking out onto the jetty, bin in tow.
I watched in horror as the bin was wheeled right to the end, then pushed over with an audible, even at this distance, splash. The group watched for a few seconds before moving off, leaving the bin to sink behind them.
With barely a thought I ran onto the beach that ringed most of the lake, jumping down off the two-metre cliff, before sprinting up the beach toward the jetty. Down here I knew I wouldn't be seen, to be possibly subject to an equably unpleasant treatment from the would-be murderers walking above me.
It took me a bit over a minute to reach the jetty. Looking around I saw some steps cut into the rock face, and I quickly clambered up to the wooden planking above me before running down to the end. The bin had disappeared below the water's surface, and a faltering stream of bubbles was rising from somewhere down below.
I was in the water before it occurred to me that I really wasn't all that good a swimmer. I guess in a panic, things like that don't matter too much. Taking a deep breath, I dove under the water, searching with my arms and paws for the smooth surface of the plastic bin, as I couldn't open my eyes underwater.
I found it pretty quickly, and as I felt around a bit more I realised that the bin's lid had fallen open. I was starting to run out of air, so I went to the surface again to grab another breath.
On my second dive I managed to get an arm into the bin, and grabbed hold of a hunk of fur. Reaching in as far as I could I hauled with as much of my failing strength as I could spare, gradually pulling some of the heavy body out from the bin.
It took one more breath of air to get the body out of the bin and up to the surface. By now I was nearly exhausted, the adrenaline that had spurred me on originally now depleted. A mixture of feelings ran through me when I realised that it was indeed Sandwalker I had rescued, ranging from relief, to anger, to extreme weariness. I still had to get hir to shore, though!
Grabbing hir in a careful hold around hir upper torso, I began to very wearily paddle back to shore. As I swam, I found myself wondering why there hadn't been any people to see this happen. Normally the lake was such a busy place. Part of my mind came up with a vague memory of some news article about it, something about a contaminant in the water, but for the moment it evaded me.
After what seemed like an eternity, though it was probably only two or three minutes, I reached the beach, dragging Sandy's inert body up onto the sand. I collapsed beside hir, panting and wheezing in exhaustion. A few seconds later it hit me that I hadn't even checked to see if Sandy still had vital signs. With a tired groan I lifted up one arm and felt for a pulse. "Damn," I swore softly to myself. I'd learned that chakats had two hearts, but I had no idea what a two-heart pulse would feel like. Well, so long as I got at least one heartbeat, I knew shi'd live. Shi was breathing, but very raggedly, probably from all the water shi had inhaled.
I was so tempted to just lie down and rest -- and mostly likely sleep - but I knew I had to get help for hir. I clambered slowly up the steps onto the jetty, then walked up through the trees to the street. Eventually I staggered up to the front door of the house just across from me, and knocked on it. A few seconds later it opened to reveal the face of an elderly vixen. "Yes? Can I help you?"
"Please...an ambulance. Near drowning on beach," I murmured weakly, suddenly feeling my legs buckle beneath me as a wave of dizziness swept over me. I was only peripherally aware of the vixen calling to someone who I assumed was her husband as I closed my eyes and tried to regain some of my energy. Then the vixen was back, helping me to my feet and guiding me into the house. "Oh, you poor dear. Come inside and get dry." Never mind the fact that I was dripping water everywhere and partly covered in sand.
After a hot shower and a good blow-drying I was feeling much more energetic, though I was still terribly worried about Sandy. As a cup of hot chocolate was pressed into my hands I asked about hir. "My friend, on the beach. Is shi okay?"
"The chakat? I'm sure shi is. My husband went with hir in the ambulance to keep an eye on hir." The vixen lay down beside me and stroked my head fur, which I found was rather comforting. Mum did the same thing when I was worried. "Oh! My Mum! I have to call her!"
I was led to the vidphone in the hallway and, cup still in hand, I made the call, fidgeting anxiously while I waited for the connection to go through. "Hello? Kerisa! Where are you?"
I quickly filled Mum in on the details, and she said she'd notify Sandy's parents immediately. "Thanks, Mum. I guess the police should be told, too. It was an attempted murder, wasn't it?"
Mum frowned, then nodded. "As much as I hate to go through all the rough-and-tumble, I think so." Half to herself, she muttered, "What on earth possessed them to do such a thing?" She sighed then spoke to me again. "Well, you stay there until I come round to pick you up. What's the address?"
I looked at the vixen standing next to me, out of sight of the camera, and she told me. I relayed the information, and Mum nodded. "Okay. I'll be there soon. Bye, love." The screen went dark when the call terminated, and I sagged back onto my haunches, taking a warming sip of the hot chocolate. "Gods," I muttered, shaking my head in a gesture of disbelief. "Why me? Why hir?"
"Come on, dear. Finish that drink and we can go outside to sit on the porch. The sunset will be beginning shortly." The vixen smiled at me, and I returned the smile. "Thanks...that would be nice to see."
Mum arrived about fifteen minutes later in our PTV. She parked it by the curb, then got out and walked up the path to the porch. "Hello, I'm Sera Whitelock, Kerisa's mother," she introduced herself.
"Dorotea," the vixen said, nodding acknowledgement. "She's been very good company. Reminds me of the days when I had young children. Now they're all grown up...." She trailed off with a sigh. "Anyway, she was a brave little vixen to go to the rescue of her friend. I can't imagine why anyone would go to such lengths...." She shook her head in a regretful manner.
"Yes, I know. I know kids can be cruel, but that is taking it way too far," Mum said, a hint of heat in her voice. "It's almost as bad as the Nazis back in the twentieth century. Of course, back then their leader was spurred on by his ambitions to rid the world of non-Aryan people, leaving behind only the 'master race', but I think a similar principal applies here. Then, it was one man against millions. Now, it's millions against a few."
Mum and Dorotea talked for a few minutes longer, while I watched the sun setting over the hills in the distance, before we left. "Thanks, Dorotea," I said as I stepped down off the porch.
"A pleasure, dear. Feel free to visit again. I don't get many visitors." The elderly vixen sighed then smiled. "Come by and tell me how your friend is doing sometime." She waved as I followed Mum down the path to the car.
"Gods," I said as I climbed in. "As much as I like to be active, I think this afternoon was just too active for my liking." I belted myself in, then leaned against the seat as Mum started the car and put it into drive.
"I'm very proud of you," she said, then her voice became slightly harder. "But you gave me quite a turn when you dashed off like that. If you're going to go off and rescue someone, could you at least tell me first?" She said it with a smile, so I knew Mum wasn't too serious about it. "Anyway, I'm taking you down to the police station so we can file a statement."
I was silent until we got to the station, then, as I got out of the PTV, I asked, "Can we go visit hir tonight?"
"Sure, hon, but after we've had a chat with the sergeant. I'd imagine they won't take this lightly." She preceded me up the steps to the door, then opened it to let me go first.
The hour or so we spent in the station would have to be one of the longest hours I have ever experienced in my life. I was asked for the details of what had occurred, and I gave them as accurately as I could, including the names of those I knew in the guilty group. I was told that I might have to be present for the formal inquiry as well, which was fine by me.
Finally we were allowed to leave; I couldn't get out of the station fast enough. "That was awful," I commented when Mum arrived to unlock the doors. "Let's just get out of here."
"I'll second that notion," Mum replied, getting in and starting the motor. "Now...to the hospital." After making sure I was buckled in safely she entered the traffic stream, heading toward the other end of town, where the hospital was situated.
We had to make a few enquiries to find the right room, but when we did, it was with incredible relief that I entered the room where shi was being kept in overnight. Mum waited outside for me, wanting to let me have some private time with Sandy.
"Kerisa!" exclaimed Sandy when shi turned hir head at the sound of footsteps and saw us. I rushed over to hir side and gave hir a careful hug. To all outward appearances shi was fine, but I didn't want to take any chances.
"Are you all right?" I asked anxiously. "You were in a pretty bad state when I left you." I lay down on the mattress next to hir, putting an arm around hir shoulders. "If I hadn't seen the tip of your tail peeking out of the wheelie bin I probably might not have rescued you in time."
"I know, I know," shi murmured, hir face carrying a slight haggard look. "The mongrels ambushed me as I was crossing the street, whacked me over the head with something heavy, then stuffed me head down in the bin. At that point I was still conscious, but my head got a blood rush from being upside-down and I fainted. Then next thing I remember is waking up here about --" Shi looked up at the wall clock. "-- an hour ago. Anyway," shi went on, "I'm okay now, thanks to you. I think that such an experience can only make a friendship stronger, don't you think? All through these troubled times you've been there for me, and I really appreciate that."
I blushed a bit, my ears turning a brighter pink. "Um...you're welcome, Sandy. I'm sure you would have done the same for me." Shi began to purr, the vibrations running through into my body as well, and I hugged hir closer to me, enjoying the contact with hir. I sighed happily, remembering a line from an old song from way back in the twentieth century: "That's what friends are for...."
Well, that's the end of the story. To bring it forward to the present day, Sandy's family moved to Auckland itself, where there was a reasonable population of chakats. We kept in constant contact, calling each other on the vidphone and writing letters. A few years later I moved out of home to study at University, and found that shi and hir sister had inherited a house close to where I was flatting.
There we have it. If you have any other questions, direct them to Sandwalker. I'm sure shi'd be more than happy to field them. In the meantime, adios, muchachos. I'm off to have my fur professionally groomed.