Authors: Kyell Gold
by Kyell Gold
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed within are fictitious.
Copyright 2005–2008 by Kyell Gold
Published by Sofawolf Press St. Paul, Minnesota
First trade paperback edition: January 2007
It started with a challenge, a story I wrote in three weeks that was long, sprawling, and incomplete, but contained a few interesting things, one of which was a self-assured black fox character. A good friend of mine who happens to be an otter told me I should write more with that character. Like a story where he falls in love with an otter. The result, “Aquifers,” in which Kory the otter realizes that he is gay, became (and remains) my most popular online story to date. I have been touched and deeply flattered by the many e-mails I’ve received from people about it.
My idea for the series was to show the different stages of a young man coming to grips with his sexuality in a potentially hostile world. An aquifer is an underground stream, and in “Aquifers,” Kory wrestles mostly with himself. In the second part, “Streams,” his hidden, underground secret has been exposed, leading to repercussions from his family and friends. And as all streams flow to the ocean, so do all of us live in part of a larger society, and as we explore and shape our own identity, we push out against those who share the world we live in. “Oceans,” the last part, chronicles the effect Kory’s decisions have on his world.
Thankfully, it is becoming more common for children to be able to grow up gay without the realization being a cataclysmic event. There are hints in this book that Kory’s world is undergoing a similar transition, that his fears about the world are worse than it actually is. I hope that “Waterways” serves to reassure gay tweens and teens that there
a happy ending possible, that while there may be people who hate you, God never does, and that those close to you can be your greatest strength. I hope it may eventually also serve as a reminder of what we once were like, a relic for us to smile and shake our heads sadly at.
“Aquifers” and “Streams” have been edited and tightened since their postings online, improved not only by my editors, but by the lovely illustrations of John Nunnemacher, to whom (in addition to a certain otter friend) I am deeply indebted. If you are new to the stories, I hope you grow as fond of them as I have, and my thanks for trying them out.
Under the water, everything else disappeared. The heavy, dry world dragged him down, but the water was his element. Kory wished he could go to school in the water; in the northwest, he’d heard, there were aquatic schools for otters, beavers, mink, and water rats. But he didn’t live in the northwest, and there were no aquatic schools in Hilltown.
Only two public pools, even, and they were always crowded with non-aquatic kids, splashing around and screaming in the shallow water. He cut from one side of the deep end to the other, holding his breath as long as he could so that he could knife through the water, eyes open but unfocused, reveling in its rush through his fur, the low rumble that was all the outside world filtered through its insulating layers. In the water, he could go anywhere, do anything.
He angled to the surface for only the space of a breath. The other swimmers in the deep end were laboring near the surface, struggling to do their laps. He slid under them with ease, swimming in circles, touching one wall after another.
A shadow lurched towards him. He changed direction fast, and stars exploded around his head as he hit something much harder than water. He pressed both his webbed paws to his head, bobbing to the surface. Kicking to keep himself afloat, he leaned against the edge of the pool. The shock wore off quickly, letting in sharp, searing pain. “Ow. Ow ow ow.”
“Man, I’m really sorry,” said a low tenor voice behind him. He smelled wet fur and musk. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” He found the spot on his head that had hit the wall, probed with his fingers, and winced. Experimentally, he ducked under the water, but the coolness only soothed a little, and his head started to throb from the pressure. Time to get out, definitely.
He broke the surface again, hung there, and sighed. Behind him, the same tenor said, “It doesn’t look too bad.”
Kory’d figured the guy would’ve taken off once he said he was okay. He turned and looked up.
Crouched on the side of the pool, a young fox about his age smiled back at him. His fur was the color of night, glossy with water, except just under his throat, where a shock of white dripped. His long tail lay curled behind him, plastered to the tile around his long legs. “I mean, there’s no blood in the water,” he went on. He had deep, dark eyes, but his smile was warm and genuine.
Reflexively, Kory sniffed his paw. “No, I’ll be fine. Just need some rest.”
“If there was blood,” the fox went on, “you’d have to watch out for the sharks.”
Kory blinked at him. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “Those pool sharks are bad news.”
The fox laughed. “A sense of humor is a good sign. You probably don’t have a concussion.”
“My mom’s a nurse,” the fox said. “Concussions can be pretty bad. And the victim might not know he’s got one.” He stroked his chin with a paw. “You probably shouldn’t swim any more. I know it’s not my business.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Kory said. He rested his elbows on the edge of the pool, looking up at the fox.
“Then, uh,” the fox looked away, “can I buy you a coffee or something? I feel really bad about that still. Besides, if you’ve got a concussion, you might lose consciousness in the next hour.”
Kory was about to say no, but the clock on the wall behind the fox caught his eye. It wasn’t even three yet, and he’d hoped to stay out until at least four, which would get him home just in time for dinner. And then he looked at the fox again, at the deep black fur and the patch of white fur on his chest, and the smile under the dark eyes, and something made him say, “Sure.”
“Great.” The fox stuck out a paw. “I’m Samaki.”
“Kory.” The otter lifted a paw and grasped the fox’s. Samaki had a strong grip, confident, but not too hard.
“I’m gonna hit the shower,” the fox said, releasing Kory’s paw and standing in a fluid motion. “Takes me longer to dry than it does you, I bet.”
Kory just nodded. Now that the fox was standing, he could see two other patches of white on the nearly-nude obsidian form. Dangling just above the floor, the tip of the long black tail was white, though grimy from resting on the dirty tile. And beneath the trim stomach on the left hip, a small patch of white fur poked out above the dark blue Speedos the boy wore, matched by two triangles below, one pointing down the inside of each thigh. Kory blinked, abruptly aware that he was staring at another boy’s groin, and looked up. “Yeah, I’ll, uh, I’m done too.”
Clambering onto the side of the pool, he cursed the clumsiness he always felt when getting out of water. He still had to look up at the fox, he found; Samaki was a good foot taller than his five feet one inch, which left Kory’s eye level right at the bottom of the white patch on the fox’s chest. He must be an athlete, Kory thought to himself. Good chest, good shoulders, good arms, good heavens, am I really thinking this? But it was natural, he told himself. Rivulets of water drew his eye to the curves of the chest, and the shoulders that flowed gracefully into well-toned arms. Kory wondered which sport the fox played. All of the foxes he knew were in track, but Samaki was tall enough to play basketball, if he wanted.
“Haven’t seen you at this pool before,” Samaki said as they walked to the locker room. “New to town?”
“Nah,” Kory’s short legs had to hurry to keep up with the fox’s long strides. “I usually go to the Caspian.”
“Oh,” Samaki said. “I hear that’s nicer.”
“It’s okay,” Kory said. “Pool’s bigger, and there’s a section just for aquatics there.”
“Not many ’quatics in this ’hood,” Samaki said.
Too late, Kory realized that Samaki must live around here. “This is a nice pool,” he said. “Water’s clean, and there aren’t too many guppies.”
They’d reached the locker room. “Non-aquatic cubs. Their parents bring them to the pool hoping they’ll learn to swim, or just to get rid of them, and they splash and run around and shriek and get in everyone’s way.”
“Guppies.” The fox laughed. “I was one once. I think I’ll start using that.”
“Be my guest.” Kory was oddly pleased by the approval.
He hesitated outside the large group shower. Normally he’d take his suit off, but having met Samaki, he felt, ironically, shyer than he would if they were strangers walking into the shower together. He walked in with his suit, and was relieved to see Samaki do the same. They didn’t talk in the shower; Samaki rubbed shampoo all over himself, while Kory just rinsed. This pool didn’t carry the right shampoo for his fur, whose natural oils kept most of the chemicals off anyway, so a good rinse would have to do until he got home.
The dryers were individual booths. Kory selected one of the two that was not occupied nor marked out of order, stepped in, and closed the door. Now he took his suit off, stood in front of the blowers at the back of the stall, and hit the switch. Warm air poured over him in waves. The throbbing in his head even eased somewhat as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth.
He peeked out of the door when he was done before emerging. Samaki was nowhere in sight, but over the scented dryer air, Kory could smell the fox’s musk. He padded around a beaver who was cleaning his long, flat tail, and opened his locker.
Just as he was getting his shirt on, movement caught his eye. He looked up to see the black fox emerging from the dryers, naked and holding his blue bathing suit in one paw. With dry (or mostly dry) fur, he looked puffed-out and comical, and he must have known it, as he smoothed down his fur with his paws. Still, he was as striking as he’d been by the pool, especially his long, fluffy tail with a newly-clean bright white tip. Kory could also see the full patch of white between his legs now, but didn’t allow his eyes to linger there long.
Samaki waved cheerfully to him and walked over his way. “I’m right here,” he said, indicating a locker on the other side of the beaver, who was just finishing up. Kory turned back to his own locker, getting the last few things out of it, and when he looked back, the black fox was just pulling a pair of black briefs up his legs, hiding the white patch again.
He wasn’t looking at Kory, but the otter didn’t want to just walk out without saying anything. On the other paw, he didn’t want to call attention to the fact that he was watching the fox put his underwear on. So he waited until Samaki had tugged on a pair of shorts that ended just above the knees, and then coughed and said, “I’ll just hang out outside.”
“Hold up, I’m almost done.” The fox pulled out a white tank top and forced himself into it, then threw a light jacket over his shoulders. “Okay, let’s go.”
“Getting too warm for this already,” he remarked, sliding the jacket off and swinging it over his shoulder as they stepped out into the street.
The light breeze felt good against Kory’s damp fur, but the day was still surprisingly warm for late March. “It’s been warmer lately,” he said inanely.
“So, where do you want to go?” Samaki asked, turning to him.
Kory looked around the street. The half block between the bus stop and the pool entrance, which he’d seen for the first time that morning, was all he knew around here. He glimpsed a familiar green sign a block in the other direction. “Starbucks?”
Samaki’s ear flicked. “Sure,” he said. “But that one’s kinda crappy. There’s a better one a block and a half that way.” He jabbed a finger towards the bus stop. “You mind?”
“Nah, go ahead. I don’t really know the area,” Kory said.
“It’s not quite Caspian around here,” the fox said as they started walking.