Billy’s breath came in ragged gasps as he ran through the park. Moonlight only barely lit the way before him, settling over everything to give it all an eerie silvery glow.
Leaves crunched underfoot as Billy zig-zagged between trees; from behind him came heavier, angrier footsteps. Panic shone in Billy’s eyes as he frantically glanced around for an escape.
“Cmon, kid, we just wanna have some fun ,” came a gruff, dangerous voice from behind him.
“Yeah,” came a second voice. “Don’t you wanna play with some knives?”
Howling laughter echoed through the park, not unlike that of hyenas. Billy’s gaze landed on the shimmering, glimmering, moonlit lake.
Stories from when he was a kid flashed through his mind; tales of kelpies, monsters who drowned their victims. Billy hesitated, for just a second.
It was a second he couldn’t afford. The older boys who had been chasing him burst from the foliage, eyes gleaming with hunger.
Billy turned, intending to sprint to the water and into the lake, but a rough, meaty hand closed around his arm. Terrified, Billy found himself staring into the gazes of the two boys.
With a dangerous, vicious smile that showed off far too many of his perfect teeth, the one with his hand wrapped around Billy’s arm pulled out a knife.
Billy tried not to flinch or cry as the boy used the tip of the knife to trace down from his eyebrow to the corner of his mouth. It wasn’t enough to break his skin, but it spoke of a promise of pain.
Billy squeezed his eyes shut as the boy adjusted his grip on the knife, waiting for pain that never came. Instead, he felt the boy’s hand get ripped away from his arm.
Screams filled the park; heart-thumping, Billy’s eyes snapped open, and as his gaze fell upon the lake, he backed up, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood.
He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the lake. It was run red with blood, the limp, lifeless bodies of the two older boys just floating there.
In the centre of it all was the blondest, bluest-eyed boy Billy had ever laid eyes on, with weeds tangled in his hair. He regarded Billy with some curiosity, and Billy stared back, just for a moment.
Then he turned and fled, feeling the kelpie’s gaze following him the entire way.
Billy couldn’t focus. Not on the memorial for his almost-tormentors that morning, and definitely not in class.
The day seemed sluggish and slow. Every person Billy laid eyes on seemed in the moment, their minds present.
He was the only one who wasn’t. He couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened.
Why hadn’t the kelpie killed him? What would have happened if the kelpie hadn’t have been there?
Of course, one question seemed more important than most; Why did he feel so drawn to go see the kelpie again?
“Kelpie?” Billy’s voice echoed softly through the park. Leaf litter crunched under his feet, reminding him of his flight from the older boys just a day before.
The shimmering, sunlit surface of the lake before him laid still. Billy almost wondered if he’d imagined the kelpie until he remembered the memorial service for the boys that had been killed by it.
Billy took a deep breath, then the few steps to the lakeshore. He sat down, stones crunching beneath him as he did so.
“Kelpie?” Billy called again. “I know you’re there…”
The water laid flat and calm for a few moments, before a wave surged upwards, breaking the surface. From it came a horse, seemingly made of the water itself.
Its mane was a shimmering golden colour, like sunlight reflecting harshly off of the water, and its eyes were the brightest of blues. The kelpie studied Billy for a moment before beginning to trot in a circle, stirring up the water into a whirlpool.
As it did this, it began to change. The magic of it was gracefully, and Billy found himself entranced as he watched the horse become the boy he’d seen the day before.
“Woah,” Billy breathed, and the kelpie gave him a shy smile, showing off some very sharp teeth. Billy shook himself out of his awestruck stupor, meeting the kelpie’s gaze.
“You didn’t kill me the other day,” was what Billy managed to say. The boy-kelpie simply tilted his head, looking slightly confused. “You killed those boys who wanted to hurt me… and you let me go.”
The kelpie’s eyes stayed trained on Billy’s own for a moment before he simply shrugged. It was an odd gesture, one that looked like it physically hurt him.
“You don’t speak, do you?” Billy asked, and immediately felt stupid for doing so. If the kelpie couldn’t talk, he couldn’t exactly reply , now could he?
Billy let out a soft laugh, amused with himself. “You can’t reply, obviously. At least I know you understand me, though.”
The kelpie laughed in response, an odd laugh, and nodded. Billy noted that many things about the boy were odd; his laugh, which seemed bubbly yet suppressed, as if it was coming from underwater; his teeth, sharp as daggers and clearly designed to tear through flesh as easily as paper; his startlingly blue eyes that seemed to stare right through Billy, and, of course, the fact that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, talk.
Billy picked up a pebble from the lakeshore, idly rolling it between his fingers. The kelpie’s eyes tracked his movement, gaze sharp with intelligence.
“You must get lonely here. In this lake… by yourself,” Billy mused aloud. The boy’s eyes widened at this, and his gaze dropped away from Billy’s. He instantly felt bad, knowing he’d struck some kind of nerve in the kelpie.
Billy pushed himself to his feet. “I’d better go.”
The kelpie made a strangled sound, the water stirring up a little around him. Billy’s expression softened.
“I’ll come back.”
“You seem… distant.” Tomika sounded vaguely worried, and Billy snapped back to attention.
“Sorry, what were you saying?”
Tomika let out an exaggerated sigh. “I was saying the school production is coming up, and I’m auditioning for one of the leads. Are you?”
“What’s the production again?”
Tomika rolled her eyes. “Mean Girls.”
“Oh!” Billy’s eyes widened. “I have to go for Damian!!!”
Tomika smiled at this. “That works out well since I’m going to go for Janis.”
Billy smiled, flinging his arm around her shoulder. “Yes!”
As Tomika began to talk more enthusiastically about the production, Billy tried to force any other thoughts from his mind, to focus on what she said. No matter how hard he tried, however, a pair of bright, bright blue eyes would not leave his mind, and the questions just kept arising.
Why didn’t he kill me? What’s his name? When can I see him again? Can he talk? Will he talk?
The water surged almost immediately this time, and instead of a horse, Billy was greeted by the kelpie in his human form. Smiling, Billy sat down by the lakeshore.
“Having fun without me?” he asked, and the kelpie just snorted in response. Billy let out a soft laugh.
“I wanted to, like, bring you some food? But I didn’t know what you’d like so I, um, I brought a bunch of stuff.”
Billy unzipped his school backpack before turning it upside down and shaking it violently so that several snacks fell out, along with his homework and several pens. He grimaced before scooping the items back up, leaving only the various snacks lying on the pebbles.
“Oops,” Billy said with an apologetic shrug. The kelpie let out what Billy assumed was a noise of amusement.
Glancing at the packaged snacks, Billy eventually decided upon some roasted, seasoned seaweed. He held it out to the kelpie, who leaned down to sniff at it suspiciously in a very animalistic gesture.
“Something close to home, right? It’s seaweed.”
The kelpie looked up at him, then gave the seaweed a second sniff before reaching out a water-coated hand to take it from Billy. Their fingers brushed briefly as the kelpie did so, and Billy found he was surprised the kelpie’s skin felt solid and real; he’d expected it to feel more scaly, or mushy, or something.
The kelpie tore a small piece of the seaweed off with his teeth. After a moment, the creature made a pleased sound and took another bite. Billy smiled at this.
“Glad you like it, Fish Boy.”
The snort the kelpie let out at the nickname made Billy smile wider as he picked up a packet of original chips. He tore them open and offered them to the kelpie.
Tomika threw her phone down onto her bed with a sigh, the distinct tune of Rather Be Me still blaring from it. Billy glanced over, tilting his head slightly.
“I’m never going to get the role of Janis at this rate,” Tomika said with a loud sigh. “I can’t get the notes or the timing right.”
“We’ve got time,” Billy replied. “Besides, I think you sound great.”
Tomika visibly softened a little at this. “Thanks, Billy, but I’m not getting it right.”
“We’ll just keep practising,” Billy said insistently. “You’ll get there.”
Tomika gave Billy a small, shy smile. “Okay.”
“Fish Boy?” Billy’s shoes crunched over the pebbles of the lakeshore. “You there?”
The kelpie rose up from the waves, intense blue stare locking on Billy almost immediately, a small smile making its way across the creature’s face. Billy smiled back, sitting down on the pebbled shoreline as always.
“I know that you’re not going to give me a response,” Billy said slowly, “But… one of my friends… I think she likes me. And by that I mean like-like.”
The kelpie’s mood seemed to drop a little, but Billy didn’t take proper notice of it.
“The problem is…” Billy took a deep breath. “I don’t feel the same. At all.”
Lifting his gaze to meet the icy blue stare of the kelpie, Billy said, “How do I tell her I’m gay?”
“You did it!” Billy’s eyes shone with genuine happiness as he threw his arms around Tomika in a hug.
“We both did it!”
“Production is going to be so-” Billy didn’t get to finish his sentence; Tomika had surged forwards, pressed her lips to his. For a moment he stood, frozen.
Finally, after a few moments, Billy came to his senses and gently but forcefully pushed her off. Her entire expression seemed to fall, at that moment, and Billy felt a little guilty, a little bad, for not feeling the same way about her.
“I…” Billy felt himself choke on his words. It was like he’d lost his tongue; like his vocal cords had been cut. He couldn’t speak.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-” Tomika began, but Billy cut her off, regaining his voice.
Tomika didn’t look shocked, or surprised- just resigned. Billy really hadn’t wanted things to go this way before he could come out to her, but now they had, and he just had to tackle it as best he could.
The girl lifted her head, offering him a shaky smile. “Friends forever, right?”
Billy offered a weak smile of his own. Knowing that this hadn’t destroyed their friendship made him feel weak with relief.
“So,” Tomika said after a moment, sounding more confident than she had mere seconds ago, “Who’s the guy?”
“Who said anything about a guy?”
Tomika let out a small laugh. “You can’t convince me there’s not a guy.”
Billy let out a small sigh. “I’m gonna sound crazy.”
Tomika gave him a pointed look. “Tell. Me.”
“I met… a kelpie. In the park lake. A while back.”
“Assuming you’re not lying, what’s he like?”
“He doesn’t talk but… he’s beautiful. Blonde hair, with water weeds, like, twisted through it. He’s got these super-sharp teeth that are kind of hot? Oh, and his eyes are so blue .” Billy ran a hand through his hair. “Oh god I’ve got it bad, don’t I?”
Tomika laughed. “Oh, definitely.”
“There’s been a kelpie in that lake for 15 years, give or take a little,” Tomika said suddenly at lunch one day. “He’s probably lonely.”
“Tomika!” Billy yelped. “I told you not to go researching him!”
“You deserve to know at least one thing about him.”
“I know he likes seaweed,” Billy mumbled defensively, and Tomika laughed.
“He’s not any younger than us,” she pointed out, a mischievous glint in her eye. Billy pushed her away.
“Tomika… my best friend? I’ve mentioned her to you, right? Well she, uh… she knows.”
The kelpie stiffened, and Billy rubbed the back of his neck nervously. For once, the water of the lake was completely, eerily calm.
“She’s trustworthy, I swear,” Billy said after a moment. “No one’s going to… come looking for you or anything.”
The water stayed still; then, it surged, pushing the kelpie forwards, and suddenly a hand was around Billy’s throat in a very strong chokehold. He felt a hot breath on his ear, and Billy felt his heart speed up in fear.
“ Anyone is a threat.” The kelpie’s voice was deeper than Billy had thought it would be, and it shocked him to hear the creature speak.
“You talk,” Billy managed to gasp out. The kelpie loosened his grip a little, drawing back, those startling blue eyes of his meeting Billy’s own dull brown ones.
“I trusted you,” the kelpie snarled, his sharp teeth shining in the light. Billy swallowed harshly.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you, I swear,” he said quietly, praying to whatever god was out there the creature would believe him.
“I…” The kelpie’s gaze searched Billy’s own for a moment. “I’m trusting you on that.”
The kelpie melted back down into the lake, and Billy gasped, gulping in air. He lifted his head after a few moments to look at the kelpie again.
“What’s… what’s your name?”
“You never told me yours,” the kelpie countered, looking suspicious.
“Oh, right! Sorry. I’m Billy. Billy Sandford.”
The kelpie seemed to consider this for a moment. “Freddie,” he offered finally.
“No last name?” At Freddie’s bewildered expression, Billy added, “Ok. Must be a human thing.”
“You know, me?” Billy gestured wildly at himself. “My species?”
Freddie laughed. “Oh, you mean mortals !”
Billy just gave Freddie a bewildered look, and the kelpie laughed.
“Mortals… you are an interesting species.”
Billy shook his head slightly to clear it. “You’re the weird one, with no last name.”
Silence fell between the two for a moment. Then, Billy spoke again.
“What if I gave you a last name?”
Freddie folded his arms, giving Billy his best withering look. Billy, however, refused to back down.
“How about… Hamilton? Freddie Hamilton.”
The kelpie sighed. “I’ll allow it.”
“Hamilton? You gay theatre nerd,” Tomika said. Billy smiled sheepishly.
“Well, he liked it,” he said defensively. Tomika laughed.
“Calm down, Sandford, I’m not poking fun at you.”
“It was pretty genius, right?”
“Very,” Tomika agreed, and the two descended into laughter.
“My dad sucks,” Billy said as he fiddled with a handful of pebbles from the lakeshore. “He’s convinced that one day I’ll be something I’m not.”
Freddie didn’t comment on this. When Billy looked up, the kelpie wasn’t even looking at him.
“You know,” Billy said, standing up. “You’re lucky you don’t have parents.”
Freddie stiffened, and Billy immediately knew he’d made a mistake.
“I mean- I didn’t mean it like that- I-”
“My parents died.” Freddie’s voice was flat, and Billy felt like more of an asshole than ever.
“I’m sorry. I-I didn’t-”
“Know?” Freddie laughed bitterly. “Of course you didn’t. No one ever does. No one even considers it a possibility.”
Billy didn’t know what stung more; the fact that Freddie had obviously encountered other humans, humans who hadn’t been kind to him, or the fact that the kelpie was indirectly telling Billy he wasn’t at all as careful or thoughtful as he believed he was.
“It’s fine.” The kelpie’s voice was harsh. “You didn’t think, that’s all.”
“I-” Billy was cut off by water splashing over him. Blinking water from his eyes, Billy could only stare in dismay at the disrupted lake surface, now void of the kelpie he’d grown to care for.
“I fucked up,” Billy said, collapsing into the booth seat of the cafe with a heavy sigh.
“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“Would you like to order?” The waitress smiled at Billy and Tomika, unaware of the conversation she’d walked into.
“Tea and a brownie, please,” Tomika responded with a smile.
“Double chocolate milkshake and fries,” Billy said miserably. The waitress noted down their orders, assured them it wouldn’t be too long, and hurried off to relay their order to the people in the kitchen.
“ That bad?” Tomika said once the waitress was gone, with a whistle for emphasis. Billy just nodded, keeping his eyes down.
There was silence between them for a moment. A waitress came over and chirpily placed down cutlery for the two, then scurried off.
“Well, what did you do?”
“I-” Billy cut himself off as Tomika’s brownie was placed in front of her. “I uh…”
Tomika took a bite of her brownie, leaning forward expectantly. Billy stared down at his lap.
“I said he… was lucky to not have parents.”
Tomika leaned back on her chair, letting out a loud sigh. “Idiot.”
Their drinks were brought over, along with Billy’s fries; he immediately stuffed a ridiculous amount of them into his mouth, chewing at breakneck speed.
“You could have said literally anything else,” Tomika hissed at him as he took a big, sad sip of his drink.
“I know,” Billy said miserably. “I fucked up.”
“You fucked up,” Tomika agreed, nodding. “And you’ve gotta fix it.”
“Freddie?” Billy’s voice echoed out over the water. The lake laid still, a clear message from the kelpie; go away.
Billy wasn’t wanted here, he realised that, but he couldn’t leave without making things right. He sat down on the lakeshore, running his hands lightly over the familiar pebbles.
He exhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a moment. Hopefully, he hadn’t fucked up as badly as he first thought.
“Freddie?” he tried again. “Fish Boy?”
No response came. Billy let out a sigh and settled himself more comfortably on the lakeshore. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Billy startled awake, cold, frigid air hitting his face. His cheeks were red from the chill, and he looked around him, just able to make out the trees and bushes of the park around him.
He sat up properly, then stood, hearing the pebbles crunch beneath him. He winced, pain spiking up his neck and back.
He turned his gaze briefly to the moonlit lake before him, praying for a glimpse of his kelpie. Seeing nothing, Billy sighed and turned, leaving the lake behind him.
“Billy, you look terrible.”
“You’re no sunshine either,” Billy retorted sleepily. Tomika gave him a pointed look.
“Fine. I fell asleep by the lake last night,” Billy admitted.
“And your kelpie?”
“No luck,” Billy said. “He wouldn’t show.”
“I’m having some friends over tonight. Want to come along?”
“I can’t, Tomika. I have to try again.” Billy dropped his gaze, staring at his feet.
“It’s been a week, Billy. He isn’t going to show.”
“I have to try. I… I have an idea. It’s a last-ditch effort but… It’s my only chance.” Billy lifted his head, meeting Tomika’s stare. “I can’t give up on him.”
“Shit! Fuck! This was a terrible idea! Fuck!”
Billy sprinted for the lake, the rottweiler behind him hot on his heels. He cursed himself again and again. It really was a last-ditch effort to get Freddie to show.
The dog’s breath was hot on the back of his legs, and he heard a clack as the rottweiler tried to bite him. Panicked, Billy sped up.
The pebbles of the lakeshore crunched under his feet as he drew near the water’s edge; letting out a sound of fear, Billy swerved aside to avoid running into the water. The dog let out a growl and its teeth sunk into Billy’s calf.
Billy cried out in pain just as the lake water surged. Emerging from the depths came a very beautiful but very enraged Freddie Hamilton.
The kelpie’s eyes were glowing ethereal blue, and the water was choppy around him. Billy found himself staring at the kelpie, forgetting the pain in his leg, and the dog.
Freddie was practically alight with anger, and the rottweiler released Billy’s leg, looking like it was about to piss itself with fear. Freddie had snatched up the dog in an instant, dragging it to the depths of the lake.
Though Billy knew it was coming, the blood slowly blooming the water still made him feel sick, but he was not about to throw up on Freddie’s doorstep. The pebbled lakeshore was nice, goddamnit.
The kelpie soon resurfaced, a little bit of blood staining his teeth. Freddie’s gaze immediately fell on Billy, full of fiery anger.
“What were you thinking? You could have been seriously hurt! You could have bled out and died ! For fuck’s sake, Billy!”
Billy took a step closer to the kelpie. “It’s the only way I could get you to listen, you sorry lump of seaweed! I’ve been trying to apologise for over a week!”
Silence hung in the air between the two for longer than Billy would have liked. Then, Freddie breathlessly said, “You should have just said so.”
“I did ! Every day! You never even acknowledged that I was there, you useless fish!”
“I… oh.” Freddie was turning red now, and looking embarrassed.
“So I just wanted to say I’m sorry, you piece of kelp. I was insensitive, and an asshole, and I didn’t use any of my braincells, and I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone now.” Billy turned on his heel and began to leave, pebbles crunching under his feet as he walked.
“You’ll be back, though?”
Billy stopped at Freddie’s words. “What?”
“Tomorrow. Will you be back?”
A grin found its way onto Billy’s face, and before he knew what he was doing, he’d turned around and sprinted down the lakeshore, and into the shallow water of the lake, wrapping his arms tight around Freddie in a hug.
The kelpie froze under his touch for a moment before swiftly returning the hug, making Billy let out a contented hum.
“I’ll be back,” Billy promised softly. Freddie didn’t give him a chance to say anything more, pulling back just enough to lean in and connect their lips.
The kiss made Billy’s head spin and the world tilt. It set off sparks inside his heart, forced its way in and made itself a home. When they finally broke apart, he was breathless.
“Tomorrow,” was all he managed to say, giddy with happiness. “Tomorrow.”