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“Milo! I swear that dog’s more trouble than he’s worth.” Henry looked at David without surprise, not shocked by his usually cross older brother’s statement. Milo was grating on David’s last nerve, and having to search for the dog underneath the rapidly darkening sky only furthered his agitation. Henry, however, was having the time of his life. Very seldom did he get the chance to explore the woods behind their house, and sharing air with his cranky sibling did little to damper his good mood. The only time that they were allowed to delve this deep into the woods was when Milo was loose, although it did seem to happen more often these days. Unlike his brother, Henry was happy living in “the sticks” as his brother liked to call the little house in the middle of nowhere. There were so many more adventures to be had here than there was where they used to live. Their family had moved away from their nice, protected suburban town when their father was laid off at the bank where he used to work.
The town where they used to live seemed to embody David and his personality. He liked the paved roads, the bustling downtown area, and the familiarity of his friends. What he didn’t like or appreciate was change. Henry thought that David was an old soul in a young, uptight body. Henry adjusted quite easily, being young and still fond of change. Exploring the vast woodlands where they now lived with their grandparents was a source of never-ending excitement for him. The suburban area where they came from, with its uniformity and strip malls, didn’t afford half of the excitement of a single tree in this forest, in his opinion.
David thought of the good old days with their previous dog, Lennie. Lennie had been a lazy soul whose favorite past time was sleeping in the family’s old sunroom. Now, Lennie and the sunroom were both gone. Milo, by contrast, loved to play. Too many times David had been spooked by the mischievous puppy. Yes, Milo was a puppy by nature but not by appearance. He was only about a year old yet he could knock Henry down easily.
The boys’ parents were often gone, trying to find work in places that were far away from their current place of residence. It wasn’t as if there was an active job market where they were now. Their grandparents were old and enjoyed telling stories like elderly people usually do. Henry was able to fill his days with excitement by living vicariously through his imagination and his grandpa’s stories. One of his favorite pastimes was spinning in his grandpa’s desk chair. He had figured out that if he shut his eyes and ears, he could walk away relatively unscathed. Despite his knowledge, he still preferred dizziness. David had lost that ability to entertain himself with age and he sulked around the house, cursing the poor service and lack of cable and internet. To him, there was nothing to do. Though, it hadn’t always been that way. Growing up, there was about a three-year period of time in which the boys had the same interests and enjoyed spending time with one another. For David, that period of his life was already over, the only adventures he had nowadays were on his xbox and even those had faded away when he moved here. Henry would look on sadly as his brother pulled farther and farther away from the family. This was ironic, considering the lack of space in the small house. The house itself was crammed with knick knacks and other things that people tend to accumulate with age. The pantry had a sad lack of David’s favorite junk foods and only added to his dramatics. He spent hours sitting in the worn and threadbare love seats rubbing his stomach, mourning his cheesy puffs and potato chips.
Quite a lot of time was spent wrangling Milo and chasing him around the forest. Henry thought that Milo’s behavior was amusing and a great excuse for him to explore the woods without their slow-footed grandfather. Also, Milo seemed to have an innate sense of direction built into him which saved the brothers many times over the period that they had spent with their grandparents. Every time they chased Milo, their outing seemed to suffer the same routine: Henry would wander around pretending to be an explorer as David hunted Milo down with a fierce determination that Henry hadn’t seen in his brother since the age of sidewalks and videogames. Every time that David caught Milo, his pent up anger and tension at his family’s situation dissipated and he was able to survive the boredom and monotony of living with his grandparents for another couple of days.
Their grandfather’s tales of his youth consisted mostly of his adventures in the forest. Now was Henry’s chance to reenact those adventures. He armed himself with an imaginary sword, which was really a fallen branch that he tucked into his belt loops.
“There he is. Milo!” David shouted, breaking the silence in the forest. The dog looked over his shoulder and gave him what looked like a wolfish grin before running away again. “I swear that dog’s riling me up on purpose, did you see how he looked at me? Lennie would never do that, he was a damn good dog.” David was becoming increasingly restless as he noticed how far they had traveled through the forest. Henry shrugged before an interesting bug captured his attention. He made sure to document its every detail, down to the number of spots on its back, for his friends back home who would surely be jealous of his findings. In his fist, he carried a salad of uniquely colored leaves and his “walking stick,” a long branch he had picked up at the beginning of their journey. His walking stick made him feel as if he was an explorer discovering new and rocky terrain. David thought it made him look like a cheesy, pint-size camp counselor.
“Got him!” David quickly leashed the twisting and thrashing dog before turning around with a triumphant expression. His good mood quickly depleted as he realized he had no idea where the house was. The sky was more black than red and David immediately regretted that he had forgotten his flashlight. “Aww sh-“he was cut off by a strange scuffling noise from behind.
“Henry?”
“Yeah?”
“Didja hear that?”
“Yup.”
“Okay, alright” David said weakly. The two boys began to run, uncaring about where they ended up. David ran out of sheer fear while Henry seemed to enjoy the moment of excitement. Maybe it was the dark that made them so very skittish, or maybe it was something that they needed. Perhaps the past few months had finally caught up with David and his brother was simply following along. Milo, miraculously enough, was following the two frantic runners. Perhaps he realized the magnitude of the situation. Perhaps he had learned his lesson about playing games. Perhaps not.
Once the burning sensation in their legs and their lungs threatened to topple them over, the brothers halted and they each gasped for breath whilst David’s eyes darted around, checking for any irregularities in the forest. Now, he thought, how were they going to get back home?
“Gimme that!” David ruthlessly took the walking stick out of Henry’s hand and threw it into the forest. The younger boy did nothing to stop him, but simply stared at the spot where it had gone, as if he could will it back to him. “Come on. We need to figure out a way home,” muttered David. He was already starting to regret taking away Henry’s walking stick, but he was too stubborn to apologize. Still, his feelings of remorse were a large improvement from his static apathy during the last few months. Suddenly, Milo jumped on David. Henry watched in awe as his brother fell down onto the dirty forest ground. Dreading the whines and expletives that were sure to occur, he pulled Milo off of his brother and quietly stood to the side, waiting with a pensive expression.
David was incredulous. He had reached his tipping point and knew that he was about to fall off the edge. But, he couldn’t find it in himself to complain, as much as he wanted to. He was exhausted, dirty, and that damn dog was smiling at him. Grumbling and being disagreeable took much more energy than he was willing to give. So instead, he let out a sound that was similar to a cough.
“David?” Henry cautiously asked. David’s answer was a whole-hearted laugh. Staring at his brother with a wide-eyed expression, Henry wondered if he had finally lost it. David’s uncontrollable laughs transformed into a wheeze and finally the older boy just laid down on the ground smiling. Realizing that he was on the ground and that there were probably hundreds of spiders underneath him, David jumped up and dusted himself off, acting much like the city boy that he was. The suddenness of the action spooked Milo and made Henry wince.
Grabbing his brother’s hand, David began to walk home, realizing that they had somehow been traveling in a circle. Staring accusingly at Milo, he wondered if the dog knew more than it was letting on. Pushing that thought out of his mind, he chastised himself for thinking that the dog could have plotted every single search and rescue mission. He contemplated the surrounding trees and couldn’t understand why he thought they were identical in the beginning, for they each seemed like individuals to him now.
Feeling regretful, David decided to make an effort to try to spend more time with his family, especially Henry. After all, brothers had to stick together. Even Grandpa’s stories began to lose their appeal after months of repetition.
Henry looked down at their joined hands and thought that he’d much rather have his brother than some random branch. Promising himself that the two would have to make more trips out into the woods, he hoped that with enough effort his brother would return to him in no time. Milo followed along the two brothers, utterly pleased with himself for creating such a successful day. In his little puppy mind, he plotted more ways to make the big, sad human smile.



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