Kelpies are said to be giant water beasts that live in rivers, streams, occasionally the ocean. They’re most often horrid creatures who lure innocent victims to sit on their backs, then drag them down into the water, drown them, and eat them. Charming creatures!
Never again would I trust that red-headed scoundrel. It was his fault I was here, gasping for breath, gagging at the edge of the Kelpie pen.
“Hold this,” he’d said. “I’ll be right back,” he’d said. Were I not so new at this school, were I not desperate to fit in after being kicked out of the last three schools I attended, were I not so distracted, I would have realized that the thing he handed me wasn’t a wet suit, it was a Selkie skin. And said Selkie had come marching down the hallway in all her nakedness shooting sparks from her eyes not one minute later.
Guess who was left holding the bag. Literally.
My first week at Magik Prep Academy, and I was already serving detention. My punishment was to clean this stinking Kelpie pen. While taking care not to touch the beasts. Because they’d happily drag me down and eat me for dinner. Wonderful.
I snapped on the long rubber gloves to protect my skin from the ick in the water and any accidental Kelpie grazing.
“My, aren’t you a tasty looking morsel,” a watery voice said.
I brandished my long cleaning pole.
“Unless you want to swim around in your own muck, leave off, and let me do my job,” I growled. I was in no mood for teasing. Or to become a snack.
“She’s a feisty one,” another voice joined the first.
“Mm. I think the feisty ones have a nice spicy flavor,” a third voice whinnied.
Three squelchy horse heads bobbed in the water, transparent, but fully corporeal. They weren’t quite opaque, and I could see the tiled floor below them at the bottom of the pen. I poked at them with the bristled end of my long scrubber.
The first one snapped its teeth at the bristles then reached out and clamped its watery teeth on the handle, nearly jerking me into the water with them. I let go and stumbled back, glaring at them.
“Fine. But I’m the only one scheduled to clean in here this week. Your choice. Algae or fresh water.”
“Leave the poor girl alone,” a new voice said.
I looked up in surprise at the deep male voice. A regale horse head rose from the water, taller and larger than the others.
The three made loud whinnying noises that bordered on shrieking.
The male lunged up, spraying water everywhere as his front hooves churned the pool into frothy waves. The noise that echoed from his mouth sent the hairs on the back of my neck racing to attention and sent the other three Kelpies splashing into the dark water at the far side of the pool.
I sat cowered and damp against the wall. The big Kelpie sunk back into the water up to his chest.
“Sorry about them. Brood mares.” He seemed to roll his liquid eyes. I didn’t move. I was thoroughly freaked out.
He gently swished to the abandoned long-handled broom. He clipped it with his teeth and with a powerful fling of his head, tossed it back to land beside me.
“I certainly won’t stand in your way.” With a bob of his majestic head he turned to submerge.
His ears pricked forward as he turned back to me.
The Kelpie inclined his head.
“You’re welcome.” He swam closer to the edge. “I’m Kai.”
I swallowed, unsure if he was being nice to lure me to dinner, or because he wasn’t as nasty as his female counterparts.
“Lara.” I slowly got to my feet and retrieved the scrubber.
“Lara. I’ve not seen you here before. Toss me that short brush and I’ll help. You can talk. We don’t get many visitors in here.”
I threw him the brush and set to work with my own pole, still wary and keeping the big Kelpie within sight at all times.
“Tell me how your classes are going,” Kai encouraged.
“Well, I only started three days ago.”
“And you’ve already landed yourself with Kelpie clean up?” He snorted. I glared.
“It wasn’t exactly my fault.”
“I’m all ears,” he said as he scrubbed the tiles at the waterline.
Without meaning to say anything, the story just came tumbling out. I was lonely.
“And that’s why I was kicked out of the last school. I can’t control it. It just bursts out whenever it feels like it. These giant fireballs. At my last school I accidentally lit the library on fire. That was the last straw. The headmaster said I had to go. So, here I am. At yet another school, hoping they can teach me how to control this energy inside me.”
Kai looked at me. “I know it doesn’t smell as nice in here to humanoids like you as it does to us, but there’s nothing in here that you can burn up. If you suddenly start to spark, it’s no trouble for me to send a little wave and put it out. You’re welcome anytime.”
I glanced up at him. This giant water beast somehow recognized the pain and loneliness echoing in my chest and homed in on it.
“You’re not just inviting me…to be dinner?”
Kai snorted and slapped the surface of the pool with his soggy hoof. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m a vegetarian. The three harridans you met earlier would be happy to have you on a seaweed sandwich, but I won’t. And I’ll make certain you’re safe while you’re here.”
A spark flared to life in my chest and cinders formed at my fingertips.
A gentle mist appeared over my fingers, quieting the burn and sending the scorching fire back to sleep inside me.
Kai’s eyes, though still see-through, held kindness. Something I never expected from a Kelpie.
“Why would you do this for me?”
“You are not the only one lonely on this campus, Lara.”
I smiled. Maybe Magik Prep would be a good fit after all.