“Can we keep ’em, Pa?”
Hank had known the question was coming the moment he saw the two mongrels galloping across the prairie, tongues hanging to the side, flapping in the wind created by their own running.
“We don’t need a dog, Pete, let alone a pair of them.”
The two mutts were circling the boy now, licking at his hands and arms. They sure weren’t shy around people.
“Besides,” Hank went on, “they probably belong to someone.”
Sally stood behind her son, glancing from the dogs to her husband. Hank could see in her eyes that she wanted to keep the pups, too.
“I’ll put ’em up for the night, keep ’em in the barn so they stay safe,” Hank said. “But tomorrow, they have to go.”
Pete giggled, and Sally smiled. Keeping the dogs overnight got them one step closer to wearing down Hank’s resolve.
If Hank harbored any doubts about finding new homes for the strays, they came crashing down in the cacophony of barks and wails that tore into his slumber while the moon was still high.
“Dagnabbit!” he exclaimed as he swung his legs out of bed. “I knew I never should have boarded those mutts!”
He stomped across the floor of the cabin and threw open the front door. Sally scrambled to keep up with him, and she could hear Pete stirring in the loft above.
“Don’t do anything rash, Hank!” she called after her husband in a hoarse whisper.
He waved a dismissive hand behind him and then stopped cold just a few feet from the house. He stood there in the pale moonlight for a few seconds, then turned and ran toward his wife.
“What is it?” Sally asked.
“Get upstairs with Pete,” Hank said. He grabbed his rifle from the corner by the hearth and stormed back into the night.
A shot cracked, and a fire plume lit the yard just beyond the door facing before Sally could even move, and then heavy footsteps retreated into the darkness.
Hank staggered back into the house, pale and shaky. Outside, in the barn, the dogs were louder than ever.
“Bear,” he said, meeting Sally’s worried gaze. “Right up here, looking in the window.” He pointed to the front of the house.
“What’s going on?” Pete asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Hank managed a weak smile. “Well, son, looks like those pups of yours just earned a new home.”