I had thought old age would bring me the finer things in life, like a small staircase at the foot of Mother and Father’s bed to help me climb up without having to jump; or chicken broth in my kibble to soften it; or more frequented walks; or heck, maybe some freaking pain meds that would make the world feel like it had when I was a puppy. Those were all the things my older friends at the park had bragged about when they told him what to expect in my elderly years, and it was the only thing that made reaching my tenth birthday something to look forward to.
But when my tenth birthday arrived, there was no staircase to Mother and Father’s plush California King; no stewed kibble; and certainly, no pill-stuffed hot dog with promises of arthritic-pain relief.
I did get a cake, the same one Mother always made for me every year: peanut butter and sweet potato. Dear Mother, bless her heart still couldn’t figure out how to make the thing any less dry after ten years, but I still scarfed the entire thing in one bite, because, well, peanut butter. I got my regular walk around the forest fire road, though we turned around at the first gate instead of the second this time, something my mind cursed but my hips were grateful for.
No, my birthday party did not come how I had expected. And really, I should have known what was coming.
There had been a strange scent on Mother and Father’s clothes a few days before. A few thin, white-colored hairs were stuck between the threads of Mother’s pants and Father’s jacket. It had smelt like they had been…
No, I thought to myself. They would not go there without me.
But it appeared I knew nothing. Apparently, I did not know a single thing about Mother and Father. And I suppose it should have been expected after they’d surprised me all those years ago with bringing the Youngling home. It was their first betrayal, one I had no other choice but to accept since the small creature shared Mother and Father’s scent (and because anytime I got too close to it – at least in those early years – Mother and Father would immediately become heightened, wearing their raised heartrates on their faces and their stress hormones like perfume). But this betrayal. I was not sure I could forgive this.
“Beowulf,” Father said, beckoning me. I came running, tail alight and wagging, as it always was at the sound of my leader’s voice. “We have someone we want you to meet.”
Immediately, the scent from their laundry, that foreign smell I’d detected earlier, filled my nose when Mother walked in behind Father, her arms wrapped around something furry. With the visual confirmation, my tail was no longer playfully loose, but now tight and tense. I growled at the sight of the small fluff ball. Get away from my Mother!
“Oh, Wolfie, no, this is your new little brother,” Mother said, the pitch of her voice as high as it’d been when I met the Youngling. But this was not a Youngling like Gabby. No, this was…
“A puppy!” squeaked Gabby, who ran over to Mother, her little hand outstretched to stroke the small creature’s head.
I unleashed another growl. How dare this animal come near my Youngling.
“Beowulf, no!” Father’s voice was commanding, and all of the tension in my tail recoiled at its authority.
Mother’s face distorted as she looked from the animal in her arms to Father while bending down low so Gabby could pet it. There was fear wafting from Mother, and that’s when I noticed the pup in her arms trembling. I felt a bit proud that I’d affected it in this way.
Good, you should be afraid, I narrowed my eyes threateningly.
“Beowulf, stop!” Father grabbed me by my collar and yanked. I sat like a dutiful soldier, though I was a bit upset with him for his complicity in this betrayal. “Honey, go ahead and put Kronos down. I think it’s freaking Beo out that you’re holding him. Put him down so he can smell him. I’ll hold him so he can’t lunge. Gabby, you sit with Mama. Give the puppies some space.”
Mother and the Youngling did as Father said, and as soon as the animal touched the floor, I couldn’t help it: I lunged. Father was just as quick as I and pulled me back. The animal whimpered and whined: Where am I?
In my house. My house! My house!
“Beooo,” Father warned.
I silenced, but I pulled against his grip, stretching my neck as far as it would go to inspect the pup closer. It was frozen in fear, barely able to retract away from my curious snout.
Get over here so I can inspect you, child!
And at that, the little thing peed everywhere.
That first day Kronos and I spent in the same house was more work for me than it was for Mother and Father. As much as I despised the thing, I was a dutiful guardian of our home, and that meant protecting it from the little four-legged twig that peed practically any time a pen dropped. Not only was he peeing on everything – trying to demark all I had earned my claim to – he was biting and chewing on everything. It seemed like every time I turned my head, Kronos had one of my toys in his mouth.
Hey! That is mine! Drop it!
At least the hairball had enough sense in him to listen. He dropped it immediately, cowering to the floor, which wasn’t but three inches from his belly.
“Woofie, no barking at Kronos,” Gabby said. “This is your brother. Be nice.” She’d really been taking on Mother and Father’s role in the last few years. I relented, taking a step away from the pup, holding a careful gaze on him to make sure he didn’t try to run off with my bone.
Brother? Kronos tilted his head at us.
I growled at the word. Not even close.
Gabby flicked her small finger across my nose. I’m not sure what stung more: that, or her betrayal. For so many years, it was just me and her. Her and me. How could she so easily welcome a new companion?
As the day went on, Kronos became not only more comfortable in the home – probably had to do with how much the place was starting to smell like him with all the pee everywhere – but he became more comfortable with me. I’d received enough scolding from Mother and Father (and the Youngling) to understand that I shouldn’t even waste my energy growling at him. He was obviously here to stay, whether I liked it or not. And once Mother and Father realized I probably wasn’t going to rip his throat out, they gave us more distance, which only opened the door for Kronos to follow me around, berating me with questions.
When is dinner?
What are we having?
How many times a day do we get to eat?
Can I pee on this?
Is this mine?
Where do we sleep? Oh, I hope we sleep inside.
Are you my mother?
Can I pee on this?
When is dinner?
For the sake of my parents and the Youngling, I stopped Kronos from peeing on Gabby’s bed about eight times, on their bed about twelve times, and on the couch about a hundred times. I finally decided it would be easier to just show him where it was OK for him to relieve himself instead of wasting all my energy stopping him at every corner.
This is how we get outside, I told him, nudging my nose against the clear flap. Kronos just stared at me like I’d spoken a different language. I pushed through the door and stepped outside. When I turned around, Kronos was staring at me from inside as if he’d just seen a ghost.
Well, are you coming?
Slowly, Kronos stepped forward, barely touching his nose to the screen.
Push! I was growing frustrated. Was this thing stupid?
Once Kronos finally made the (painfully slow) passage through the door, he practically leaped with joy. Woah! I’m outside! We’re outside! Woah, look at that! What’s this? What’s that? Instantly, he was nose to the floor, inspecting every inch of the patio, following every scent he picked up. This thing was a loose cannon, and it was so annoying. I was too old for this.
Come on. Follow me.
To my surprise, the pup did follow me. He followed me as I took the wide berth around the yard, securing the perimeters as I always did. I only had to redirect him three times, as he was constantly stopping to smell flowers or inspect a blade of grass, but we finally made it to the far end of the yard where the large oak tree stood.
Pee here. Not in the house.
Kronos immediately relieved himself, lowering his bottom to the ground and scooting across the lawn.
You pee like a girl. I showed him the proper way, lifting my leg a little higher than usual. I hadn’t even realized how much I needed to go. He just stared at me in amazement.
And then there was a shuffle in the tree above our heads, and I was quickly back on all fours, alert and ready. When I looked up, I was eye-to-eye with the blue bird.
Intruder! Intruder! Intruder! I howled, jumping up the side of the tree. The bird was gone by my second bark, but I added the third for safe measure.
What was that? Kronos asked, his eyes lit up like the sun.
I was already strolling back towards the house when I answered him. That was a tree-dweller. It’s our job to protect the house from creatures like that. But they don’t all look the same. Some are furry. Some are – It was then that I realized what I had said. Our, not my.
Kronos’ little legs were hurrying to catch up to me. That was so cool! Can you teach me how to do that?
I stopped in my tracks, feeling the hairs on my back rising despite the beaming warmth from the midday sky. I spun around, pressing my snout into his button-sized nose. Listen, kid. This is my house. Mine. Not yours. Mine! Those humans over there, I tossed my head towards the house, are mine. I will show you where to pee, where to eat, where to sleep, but if you think for one second that you can replace me, you’ve got a bone for a head.
The little pup melted into the grass, his tail shaking with fear. For a moment, I hovered over him, relishing in my power, savoring the scent of his submission. My shadow loomed over him, and then suddenly, a shadow loomed over me.
“Beowulf!” Father was pulling me back by my collar again. He thrusted me backwards, and then bent down and cradled Kronos in his arms. “It’s OK, bud. He won’t hurt you.”
Shame shrunk my tail and all my power shriveled out of me when Father walked back towards the house, taking Kronos with him and leaving me behind.
Father? I whined.
But all I got in return was a stern, “Stay, Beowulf.”
I was sunbathing in the last sun patch when Mother called me. I sprinted at the sound of her voice and greeted her with the full force of my wiggling tail. She welcomed me briefly by brushing her hand over my head and squeezing my ear before rushing off in another direction. She was scrambling for her shoes.
“We’re going to be late!” Mother called.
That’s when I heard Father pacing upstairs and the shuffling of the Youngling’s feet coming down the hallway. I looked from Mother to Father to Youngling, who were now adorning their freshly washed outside clothes. I felt the shiver overcome my body.
They were leaving. And none of them had my leash in their hands. My heart sunk lower than my tail.
The bliss of ignorance was the pip in Kronos’ step as he trotted over towards the front door where we had all gathered. I remembered that feeling, the feeling that your parents could never do anything to hurt you. For a brief moment, I pitied him. Here Mother and Father were, preparing to leave us and the poor little guy had no idea. They were putting on coats, checking pockets, tying shoes, and I was staring at them as I always did, willing them to stay with my not-so-puppy puppy eyes.
What’re we all doing? Kronos squeaked, excitedly. When he saw me, he froze, remembering our last interaction, no doubt.
They’re leaving, I groaned, miserably.
“Do you think they’ll be OK?” Mother said.
“Yeah, they’ll be fine. Don’t worry about them.” Father said, then squatted down to face me. He cupped my head in his hands. “Be a good boy, Beowulf. And be good to your brother, Kronos.”
Just like that, his command solidified through my body. I could not hurt the thing if I wanted to now.
“Bye Kronos!” Gabby squealed, rubbing her hands across the furball’s belly. “Aw, he’s so cute I don’t want to leave him.”
A growled rumbled in my throat, but I concealed it. Kronos looked like he was going to pee on everything again.
After I heard their car leave the driveway, I huffed an exhalation and did what I always did when they were away: I laid on the couch and waited. Many years of enduring these long absences had given me time to appreciate the silences they offered. No Youngling to tackle me and try to ride me like horse while shrieking in my ears. That was always nice. It also made me appreciate the opportunity to prove myself as a dutiful guardian of the property. My parents trusted me so much to keep the home safe that they needed me to stay behind to protect it. And that I did: whenever I heard a rustling in the yard, I was out there in two seconds, ready to defeat it. But for now, I was enjoying the quiet calm.
I blinked one eye open and saw a blurry Kronos shaking at the edge of the couch. I closed my eyes and sighed, spraying him with spittle.
His fear was filling the room with an unpleasant, stinging aroma and his nails tattled against the hard floor from all his trembling. He started pacing and whimpering: Where are our parents? Are we going to be alone forever? Why did they leave us?
Hush! I commanded, annoyed by his innocence. They’ll be back. Just lie down. Leave me alone.
Silence resumed, and the sun began to set across the room. As it grew darker, I started to drift off into sleep, welcoming the blurred edges of a forest that started to morph the living room. I could hear the tree-dwellers scratching in their branches, tantalizing me. They were hungry for a rematch, and I was determined for this to end in a heap of detached feathers and fur. My nails gripped into the couch cushions, and I was preparing to sprint…
…and then there was crying. Sorrowful, pleading, and terrified yelping. It was so sudden and so loud that it pulled me from my dream, ears perked, eyes wide. I scanned the dark room and found Kronos curled up in a ball smaller than my Kong ball, howling a pathetic howl. I was instantly irritated that I had woken up, sprung to attention, for him. I was planning to ignore him and carry on with my pre-bedtime nap, when I heard him cry out:
The sound was so high-pitched and so full of fear, it actually made me cringe. Instantly, I was a puppy again, and it was my first night in Mother and Father’s house. I remembered the terror of being separated from my brothers and sisters and my mother and brought to a brand new place where the smells were unfamiliar and the people were new. I remembered crying out for my mom the first time Mother and Father left me alone in the house. I’d had no idea if they ever planned on coming back. I’d had no idea what I would do or where I would go if they never returned.
I jumped off the couch and approached the terrified pup.
Hey, kid. You like stories?
Kronos looked up at me, surprise, fear, and tears all glistening in his eyes, and nodded.
I nudged him with my nose, directing him to my bed which lie at the foot of Mother and Father’s bed. I gestured for him to lay in it, and then I curled up against him.
Let me tell you about the time I slayed my first dragon…