Trip knew that sound all too well. Claws scratched against the hardwood floors and something in the living room fell over with a loudthunk. Preparing himself for what came next, Trip spun on his heels and braced himself. Seconds later, Robbie landed in his arms, paws scrambling to wrap around Trip, who struggled to keep hold of the large pup.
“Robbie, you’re getting far too heavy for this,” Trip groaned. As the next Alpha, Robbie was already larger than most pups his age when in his Husky form, and Trip’s human muscles pulled under the weight.
Dad!Robbie whined, his little voice clear as day in Trip’s head.There’s a spider in my bedroom and it’s ginormous!
Gods help him. “A spider? You’re about to snap my spine over a spider?”
Robbie’s ears flattened back and he lowered his head, his nose nuzzling Trip’s temple with a whine as his tail wagged hopefully.It’s real big, I swear. I’m not making it up.
“All right, I’ll go see, but how many times do I have to tell you not to change inside the house?” Carefully, he lowered Robbie to the floor, and waited for his son to shift back into his human― and much more manageable― form. Trip didn’t bother to look down at his clothes, which were probably now in the same state as the rest of the house. He was going to have to vacuum. Again. Not that he didn’t shed― his kind were notorious for that sort of thing― but his pup seemed to shed enough for half the clan. How the kid still had a coat left after all the shedding he did was beyond him. Any other canine would have been bald by now. Nope, not his little ball of fur.
When Trip turned his attention back to Robbie, the pup was still sitting at his feet, wagging his tail and gazing up at him with those big dark eyes.
“Absolutely not. What have I told you about staying in your Husky form?”
If I’m not careful, I’ll get stuck that way.
“Exactly. Spending too much time in our true forms is dangerous enough as it is for us grown-ups.”
But you and the Devil Dogs have stayed in your true forms for weeks and nothing’s ever happened to you.
“We’ve had a lot of practice, and even so, it’s not something that’s easy to master. It takes a lot of control. The Devil Dogs are different, they’re half wild, and it’s part of their nature, so for them, they have to work extra hard to hold onto their human side. That’s why they’re Enforcers. You’re an Alpha and still learning, so be patient. Now come on, or I’ll have to break out the hairbrush.”
Robbie leapt back, shaking his furry head with a bounce before his ears perked up and his form started shifting, his mass decreasing and his body changing to that of an average seven-year-old boy, one who had a talent for shedding as much in his human form as he did in his canine form. Trip was sure he hadn’t bought Robbie the number of socks he seemed to find everywhere on a daily basis. Finished with his transformation, Robbie ran up to him and grabbed hold of his hand, pulling at him.
“Come on, it’s in my room.”
“All right, let me just grab something from the kitchen to catch it with.” Making a quick stop in the kitchen, he rummaged around one of the bottom cabinets, and pulled out a medium-sized plastic food container and the cardboard backing of an old calendar he kept for just such an occasion. “Show me to this beast.”
The moment he stepped foot in Robbie’s room, he stifled a curse as his socked foot was all but impaled on a piece of LEGO architecture. To top it off, the place looked like a war zone. “Robbie, why is every toy you own scattered all over the floor? You’re not even playing with them.”
“I was,” Robbie protested from behind him.
“Yeah? Then why is your PS3 on ‘pause’?”
With a sigh, Robbie gave him an impatient nudge. “Because I haven’t gotten to a save spot yet, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Trip muttered. Because thatobviouslyanswered everything. “I’m surprised you even saw the spider in all this mess.”
“It was the only thing moving.” Robbie carefully tiptoed around him, looking for the demon spider.
His son, the next Alpha of the legendary Hagan Clan, was afraid of a spider. Where had he gone wrong? “So? Where is this hideous creature from another world?”
“It went under the bed,” Robbie murmured, pointing at the bed across the room― which had yet to be made at six in the evening. Leaving that gripe for after he corralled their unwanted arachnid guest, Trip weaved through the valley of toys and made it to the bed unscathed. He’d lost count of how many times he’d stepped on those angular little landmines that were supposed to be building blocks. It was as if they lay in wait beneath the surface of the carpet, knowing just where he was going step or kneel. Testing the fluffy rug for any impaling objects, he got down on his knees and lifted the comforter hanging off the side of the bed.
“For crying out loud, Robbie, there’s more stuff under your bed than out here. Did you leave anything in the closet? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a nest under here.” Robbie let out a whimper and Trip rolled his eyes, shaking his head at the pup and trying not to laugh at his little worried face. “Relax, there’s no nest.” He returned his attention back under the bed and saw something move. “Aha! I’ve got you now you little sucker. I don’t know what you’re so scared of. It’s not that big.”
“It is so! It’s like one of thosefacehuggersfromAliens. What if I’m asleep and it jumps on my face and tries to lay eggs in my tummy and then it bursts from my chest all argh!” Robbie dramatically threw himself back against his desk’s chair, his tongue poking out one side of his mouth as he made gurgling noises, his body twitching.
“That’s the last time I let you stay up to watch a sci-fi marathon.” The movement stopped. Taking the cardboard, Trip slowly slipped it under the bed toward the black lump, only to poke it and find it was a balled up sock. What the hell? Something scuttled beside it― something much bigger. It turned and darted right for him.
“Holy fudge!” Trip shot away from the bed, managing to curb the copious amounts of colorful swear words ready to roll off his tongue. Scrambling, he climbed onto the bed in a manner which could only be described as astoundingly undignified, losing one of his socks in the process. Getting to his feet, he wobbled on the bed a moment before finding his balance, his plastic container out in front of him like a shield and the piece of cardboard brandished in his right hand like a sword. He was ready for battle.
“There it is, Dad!” Robbie squealed and Trip gave a start.
Robbie frantically pointed at the huge hairy black spot in the middle of the blue carpet. “There!”
“Oh my Gods,” Trip gagged. “What is that? That is the most revolting thing I have ever seen.”
“What about when Grandpa Hagan lost his swim trunks at the lake?”
“You’re right. This is the second most revolting thing I have ever seen.”
Robbie swiped a book off his desk, ready to hurl it.
“Hey, don’t throw your math book.”
Dropping his math book on the desk, Robbie swapped it for Trip’s tablet.
“Throw the math book! Throw the math book!”
Robbie obliged, picking up the hefty hardback and chucking it across the room. It landed like a teepee over the spider. They held their breaths. Pages ruffled, and seconds later the spider leisurely crawled out. “It’s still alive, Dad! What do we do?”
“What is that thing made of? All right, that’s it. Ain’t no eight-legged creep gonna get the best of Tristan Hagan.”
“Go, Dad!’ Robbie cheered him on.
Trip inched closer to the foot of the bed when the beast turned toward him and leapt forward. “Holy shit, it jumps!” He scrambled back until his back hit the wall behind him.
“You said a curse word,” Robbie admonished, wagging a finger at him.
“Yeah, I know, I’m sorry. But, did you see that?” Trip’s smartphone rang in his pocket and he shuffled his weapons into his left hand to grab it, pressing it against his ear. “Brook?”
“Trip? What’s wrong?”
“Put her on speaker phone,” Robbie demanded. “Mom! Mom! There’s a huge spider in my room and it looks like one of thefacehuggersfromAliens!”
“What have we told you about watching those sci-fi marathons?”
“You sound like Dad. Why are you fighting with me when you should be fighting theAliens?”
“It’s a spider,” Trip clarified.
“A mutant spider that probably has mutant babies,” Robbie added.
Brook sighed. “He gets that from you, you know.”
“No, but seriously, Brook, the thing is fugly.”
“No one says fugly anymore.”
“I just did.”
“Yeah, well, you’re a nerd.”
“Aw, thanks, babe. I gotta go now. Got aliens to kill. Don’t worry, if I end up an incubator for mutant spider babies, I’ll remember the good times we had.” When Brook next spoke, he could hear the smile in her voice.
“Do you want me to send Deacon over? He’ll be home in about fifteen minutes.”
“Hm, do I want to emasculate myself further by having my ex-wife’s husband come kill a spider for me?”
“Dad, it’s moving again!”
“Fifteen minutes you say? That’ll work for me. He can let himself in. Tell him to bring his shovel. And a blowtorch.” By the sound of Brook’s laugh, it was clear she wasn’t taking this as seriously as he was. Didn’t she know they were in mortal peril?
“What are you, the mob? You’re gonna whack a spider?”
His gaze went to the eight-legged freak. “Oh, and a garbage bag and some bleach.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“Yeah, yeah. He’s going to end up in your bed tonight.”
“Who? Deacon? I didn’t know he swung that way.” Trip wriggled his eyebrows, making Robbie giggle.
“Our son, dummy.”
“I’m already plugging in the night-light.”
Brook said her goodbyes and Trip slipped his phone back into his pocket.
“Is Deacon coming to rescue us?” Robbie asked cheerfully.
“Deacon is coming toassist.” Trip scanned the room, trying to work out the best way to get around the spider. Living with a forest behind their house meant all sorts of creepy-crawly things managed to find their way inside, but this nasty piece of work was a first. He’d seen horseshoe crabs that were prettier, and if he didn’t know any better, he would say thefacehuggerhad it out for him.
“It’s okay, Dad. No one’s going to think any less of you for not being able to kill a spider.”
Trip arched an eyebrow at his son. “You’re the next Alpha, why don’t you kill it?”
“Because I’m seven.” The “duh” wasn’t said but it was certainly implied. “But you, you’re old.”
“I’m thirty-five! In human years, anyway.”
“That’s, like, still super old. Even in human years.”
“Why am I bothering? I have underwear older than you.”
“They’re clean. And if I’m old, what’s your great-grandpa?”
Robbie looked stumped. “What’s older than ancient?”
“Ha!” Trip couldn’t help but laugh as he climbed off the bed. “I’m making a run for it.”
“What about me?” Robbie shifted anxiously from one foot to the other.
“I don’t know.” Trip hunched over and put a hand to his back. “I’m too old to carry you. My feeble bones may crumble to dust.”
Maybe Robbie did get his overactive imagination from Trip, but the huffing and planting of fists on hips was definitely a trait his pup got from Brook.
“That’s not funny.”
“I beg to differ, and just to show you, I am now going to let out a hearty laugh.” Which Trip did.
“Daaaad,” Robbie whined.
“Yeah all right. As long as we agree Deacon is only coming over to assist.” Slowly― and as far away as physically possible from the spider, Trip edged toward Robbie.
“Fine. He’s not coming to rescue us, only assist.” Robbie’s dark eyes suddenly widened. “What if Deacon can’t kill it either! What if the spider babies come out from hiding and attack him?”
“Well then, I’ll make sure a statue is put up in his honor in Perin Park. Pre-burst chest obviously. Out of respect for your mother.” He managed to make it over to the chair without getting mauled.
“Again, I beg to differ.” He noticed the Spiderman T-shirt Robbie was wearing and grinned broadly, giving him a poke in his belly. “That right there, son, is called ‘irony’.”
“I can’t believe I’m related to you.”
“I know. How is it you inheritednoneof my amazing genes?”
Robbie shrugged. “Lucky I guess.”
“Oh, you impertinent pup. You’re gonna get it now.” He grabbed Robbie and threw him over his shoulder before descending with a one-handed tickle attack. Robbie squirmed and giggled while trying to bat his hand away.
“Stop! I’m not a baby,” Robbie said through his laughter as Trip dashed out of the room, stopping his assault long enough to close the door behind him. Not like the spider couldn’t crawl under it, but he’d rather not think about that, or the possible spider babies lurking around somewhere, undoubtedly waiting to strike at the most inappropriate moments― like when he was on the toilet or in the shower.
They made it to the living room safely. He dropped Robbie on the couch with a bounce when there was a heavy pounding on the door. For a moment, Trip thought whoever it was, was going to break it down.
“That doesn’t sound like Deacon. Stay here.” Trip made his way to the front door, sniffing the air on his way there. It was a familiar mix of scents and he quickly rushed over and threw the door open.
“Bo―” Trip had barely gotten the name out before Boone grabbed a hold of his upper arms and practically lifted him off his feet.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
Hunter came barreling in behind his brother, looking equally alarmed. “What happened? Where’s Robbie?”
Boone put Trip back on his feet and checked him over before seeming satisfied he was in one piece. With a curt nod to affirm his visual assessment, the brothers marched past Trip into the house, looking around and sniffing the air.
“Boone?” Trip closed the front door, following the destructive duo.
“I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary,” Hunter told his brother, going off into the living room where Trip heard Robbie’s cheerful shout as he greeted Hunter, followed by Hunter’s equally enthusiastic reply.
“That’s because it’s just me and Robbie. Do you two want to tell me what’s going on? You’re kinda freaking me out here.”
Boone stopped in his tracks and turned with a deep frown. He tilted his head to one side, looking endearingly puzzled. “I got a text from Robbie saying there was an emergency. We were down at Perin Park and got here as fast as we could.”
“Emergency?” What―oh. “Robbie! Get your little butt out here right now.”
Robbie poked his head out from the doorway. “Yes, Father?”
“Don’t you ‘Yes, Father’ me, and don’t you even think about pulling those puppy eyes. I taught you that trick. Come out here and face the music.”
With a pout and his head lowered, Robbie shuffled out into the hall, stopping in front of Trip.
“What did you think you were doing?”
“You always say if we need help or if there’s an emergency to call Boone. You said he’s the biggest, strongest, bravest, most honest, most reliable…”
Trip felt his face burning up as Robbie proceeded to list every one of Boone’s virtues off his little fingers. With a nervous laugh, Trip threw a hand over his pup’s mouth. Mortified didn’t begin to cover it. Boone, on the other hand, seemed thoroughly amused, and his lips quirked up on one side.
“Is that so?”
“Well, you know, you are an Enforcer.” Trip shrugged, doing his best to sound like it was no big deal. Boone gave him a nod, his somber expression betrayed by the playful gleam in his eyes.
“The house is clear,” Hunter declared, coming to stand beside Boone, his hands on his hips. “What’s going on?”
“False alarm.” Boone crouched down in front of Robbie, his six-and–a-half-foot, two-hundred-and-ten-pound frame eclipsing the pup. “All right, little man, what was that message about?”
Robbie moved Trip’s hand away from his face, his eyes going big. “Aliens!”
Boone’s eyebrows shot up and he exchanged glances with his brother before turning his gaze up to Trip’s. “I’m sorry, what?”
Wonderful, because he clearly hadn’t been humiliated enough. “He means spiders.”
“The size of aliens!” Robbie threw his small arms out to his sides, stretching them as wide as they could go to denote the newly mutated size of their recent arachnid invaders. Apparently they’d quadrupled in size.
“They’re not that big, but they’re definitely freakish,” Trip said, putting Robbie’s arms down.
“Spiders. That’s why you called.” Hunter shook his head in amusement.
“Technically, he called,” Trip pointed out, putting his finger in Robbie’s ear and wiggling it just to annoy him. Mission accomplished. He quickly moved his hand away before Robbie could swat it.
Boone chuckled at their antics and stood to look around. “So you didn’t get rid of them?”
“Did I mention they were freakish?”
“Are you saying you’re scared of spiders?” Boone narrowed his eyes at him, probably trying to deduce whether Trip was being serious or not. It wasn’t the first time. Trip got that a lot from folks, even folks who had known him since he was a pup.
“I’m not scared―”
“He screamed and jumped on the bed,” Robbie offered with a wide grin.
Unbelievable. His own son. “Traitor. And I didn’t scream. I expressed surprise.”
“Of course.” Hunter crossed his arms over his beefy chest, making Trip wonder yet again what the Devil Dogs ate that made them the size of Redwoods. Trip wasn’t even small. He was of Alpha bloodline, and at six foot two, and one hundred and ninety pounds, he was still considered small when standing next to these two.
“I was caught off guard.”
Hunter pointed behind Trip. “Is that it there?”
“Where!” Trip jumped and darted behind Boone, using him as a shield.
“Wow.” Hunter shook his head in disbelief. “You didn’t even hesitate. Just threw my brother right into the line of fire.”
“He’s trained for combat.”
“You saying the spiders are going to face off against us? Do they know jujitsu? Because I gotta tell you, I’m a little rusty. Hand to hand, we can probably take ’em, but… Would it be hand to hand? Hand to leg?”
“You know what, Hunter, bite me.”
Hunter wriggled his eyebrows. “Is that an invitation?”
“I don’t have to take this from you. I’m going to address the sensible one.”
“Sensible?” Hunter let out a bark of laughter. “Do you know what Mr. Sensible did this morning?”
Boone cast his brother a warning glare. “Shut up, Hunt.”
“What did you do?” Trip turned to face Boone and held back a smile. Boone might look like the sort of guy you didn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but Trip had never been afraid of him. He was like a big ole cuddly teddy bear. Well, unless someone did something stupid, like get on his bad side. Then he wasn’t so cuddly.
“Nothing.” Boone frowned, his gaze going to his boots in embarrassment, and his hands shoved in his back jean pockets.
“He chased a squirrel into Vucari Woods and got his head stuck in a tree.” Hunter broke into laughter and soon he was doubled over, laughing so hard he was in tears.
“Don’t laugh at your poor brother.”
“Are you kidding? It was the funniest sh―”
Trip cleared his throat loudly, motioning to Robbie who was listening intently, and Hunter caught himself. “Uh, I mean, that was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.”
“Don’t listen to him, Boone. Those little suckers are nasty.” Trip instinctively reached up and gave Boone’s ear a gentle tug, making him smile. In return, Boone gave him a playful bump with his hip.
“Aw, aren’t you two adorable,” Hunter teased, receiving a scowl from both of them. He quickly put his hands up in surrender. “Hey, I just call ’em like I see ’em.”
Self-conscious, Trip withdrew his hand. “Uh, you guys want a beer or something? Deacon’s going to be along soon.”
“No thanks.” Boone grabbed Hunter by the arm, giving him a tug. “We gotta go. Sorry to have bothered you.”
Trip wondered why the sudden rush to leave. “We were the ones who called.”
“What about the aliens?”
All three men stopped to gaze down at the wide-eyed pup and his quivering bottom lip. Hunter took a step behind his brother, whispering hoarsely.
“He’s doing that lip thing, Bo.”
Even Boone didn’t stand a chance. It was over and they all knew it. “All right. Point us to the aliens.”
“You sure you don’t want to wait for Deacon?” Trip asked, following them through the living room and down the hall toward Robbie’s bedroom.
“He’s bringing a shovel,” Robbie pitched in excitedly.
“A shovel? You sure that it’s a spider and not like, a Jersey cockroach, because I don’t do cockroaches,” Hunter stated adamantly. “Those things are indestructible. I hit one with a brick once, and I swear it put itself back together and just sat there facing me, like it was waiting for me to apologize or something.”
“You are so full of it,” Trip muttered.
Hunter smacked his brother in the arm. “Tell him.”
“It actually happened. Don’t think it was waiting for him to apologize though, more like sizing him up. Must have found him wanting because it scurried away after that.”
“Gee, thanks, big bro.”
Boone gave his brother a charming smile. “Anytime.”
“Ouch.” Trip laughed at Hunter’s pout and grabbed the two brothers by their collars before they could open the bedroom door. “Shoes off and watch out for the LEGOs.”
“Are you serious?” Hunter groaned, toeing off his biker boots.
“Hey, if you want to get impaled by tiny little bricks of plastic hurt, that’s your choice, but I don’t want you tracking dirt onto my carpet.” Trip followed Boone’s amused gaze down to his feet. “Crap.” This night just got better and better.
“What happened to your sock?” Boone asked, toeing off his own boots.
“It became a casualty of war.”
“He lost it when he was running away from the spider,” Robbie said, hiding behind Boone. He looked up at the mountainesque man with a bright smile, bringing out the dimple in his cheek. “Can you carry me, Uncle Boone?”
Oh, the kid was good. Trip wondered if he showed his dimple, Boone would carry him, too.
With a deep rumble of a chuckle, Boone lifted Robbie up with ease, depositing him on muscular shoulders. “Hold on then.” He opened the door and stared. “How’d you even see it in all this?”
“Thank you.” Trip cast his son a smug smile. “See, I’m not the only one.”
“That’s because he’s a grown-up. Hunter, you understand, right?”
Hunter frowned at him. “Hey, I’m a grown-up.”
Robbie studied him before coming to his conclusion. “I don’t think so.”
Trip burst into laughter, and donned his best gangster voice. “Oh, you just got owned by a seven-year-old, son.”
“Well excuse me, Snoop Dog. I don’t think I asked for your opinion.”
“Just go kill my spiders.” Trip shoved Hunter into the bedroom, smiling contently when he heard Hunter growl and curse under his breath. “I told you to watch out for the LEGOs.”
This was going to be fun.
Copyright © 2012 Charlie Cochet. All Rights Reserved.