Cael was having so much! He loved fairs! All the fun rides, tasty sugary treats, and bright lights. It was awesome! It was also overstimulating his cheetah Therian senses, and he was having trouble not running around like a little kid drunk on too much soda. He was sure he’d already eaten his weight in funnel cake fries. They were so freaking good. Sloane had given up trying to curb Dex’s sugar intake after Dex’s third fried ice cream.
The whole team had come out for opening night like they did every year. The THIRDS was hosting its annual Halloween Charity Fun Fair, and this year Destructive Delta got to play since they’d volunteered to work the fair last year. Those who weren’t scheduled to work were invited to come along and show their support.
There were all kinds of rides for both kids and adults, plenty of food, and entertainment. Everyone dressed up, though this year Ash vetoed using the hat method used last year where they’d thrown their names in. Ash had gotten Dex’s name and was forced to wear a costume picked by Dex. Dex and Sloane conspired against them, since Sloane had drawn Cael’s name. Cael ended up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and Ash as the Cowardly Lion. Ash was not impressed, especially when Dex laughed so hard Sloane thought he might need to call over the EMTs.
This year, Ash wasn’t going to dress up—he never did, given the choice—but Cael pleaded with him. Cael wanted to be Captain America, but only if Ash would be his Bucky Barnes, or rather the Winter Soldier. Cael’s first choice had been Spider-Man, but he had a feeling no amount of pouting would convince Ash to be his Mary Jane. It had taken a lot of coaxing, and promises of a little roleplay fun afterward to get him into the black wig. He begrudgingly admitted the imitation Vibranium alloy arm was cool, before calling Cael an adorable nerd. This year it was Ash’s turn to laugh his ass off. At Sloane.
“I can’t believe you let Dex dress you up like Kermit the frog,” Ash said wiping away a tear form his eye. He’d been laughing for what seemed like hours.
“He’s not Kermit the frog, you uncouth swine. He’s Gamora. But a dude,” Dex said with a sniff. He was strutting in his Peter Quill costume, complete with his Awesome Mix Tape Volume 1 inside the cassette tape player attached to his belt.
Sloane flipped Ash off. “Don’t care what you say. My ass looks amazing in these pants.”
“That it does, babe,” Dex husked, leering at his boyfriend’s butt. Cael rolled his eyes. He did not need to see his brother perving on Sloane.
Calvin and Hobbs looked awesome in their steampunk outfits. Letty was rocking as Rosie the Riveter, and Rosa was super adorable as Mary Poppins. No one dared say it. Ash had opened his mouth and she threatened to stab him with the end of her pointy umbrella. Who'd have thought Mary Poppins was a favorite of Rosa's?
“So what are we doing next?” Dex said excitedly.
“Anything that keeps you from eating another batch of cotton candy,” Sloane grumbled, grabbing Dex’s hand when Dex stopped to look around, most likely for a cotton candy booth. “No. Let’s pretend you’re actually going to get some sleep tonight.”
Dex let out a snort. “Sleep? Please. With you wearing pants like that, I’m gonna—”
“How about that? You guys haven’t gone in there yet,” Calvin said, pointing up ahead. Thank God Cael wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to hear about Dex’s sexy times.
“Ooh, that looks like fun!” Letty grabbed Rosa’s arm and they ran ahead.
Uh oh, if Letty said it was fun, it was going to terrify Cael. He stopped in front of the massive old school looking mansion painted to look like it was abandoned and decaying.
“Haunted house!” Dex plastered himself against Sloane. “Will you keep the big scary Bogeyman away?”
Sloane blinked at him. “But Ash is right here.”
Everyone broke off into laughter, and Ash told them all where they could stick it. When the laughter ebbed, Hobbs kissed Calvin’s cheek, murmured something in his ear, and walked off. Hobbs did not do enclosed places, much less dark enclosed places filled with people waiting to jump out at him. He left Calvin too it, insisting his boyfriend have fun, and Hobbs took himself off to play games, usually coming back with a prize he’d won for Calvin. Cael had managed to find excuses in previous years, but this year he had none.
Everyone else headed for the haunted house, and Cael laughed. “Oh my God, you guys are too funny.”
“What?” Dex asked.
“The fact that you think I’m going in there.” Cael sobered up. “No, seriously. You’re out of your minds.”
“Dude, it’s a THIRDS haunted house put together by agents from our unit,” Calvin said. “How scary can it be?”
Ash seemed to think about it, his eyes narrowing. “That depends. If I go in there and find they’ve cloned dweebus over here.” He jutted his thumb at Dex. “Then I’d say pretty fucking scary.”
“You’re a riot, Keeler,” Dex drawled. “Said no one ever.”
Same could be said about you and maturity,” Ash countered before turning to Cael, calling out over his shoulder. “You guys get in line, I’ll be right there.” He took Cael’s arm, and gently pulled him to one side. “Sweetheart, you know you don’t have to go in there. Hobbs never does. Besides, you hate horror stuff. No one will care of you decide to skip it.”
“I know.” Cael frowned. Ash was right on all accounts. His friends wouldn’t care if he decided not to go, but he kind of hated the idea of letting his fears get the better of him. It was stupid. It was just a fake haunted house with fellow agents dressed up, and good special effects. “It’s okay.” Cael smiled brightly at Ash to ease his worry. “You’ll be there with me, right?”
“Every step of the way, sweetheart.” He winked at Cael and held out his hand. As they waited in line, Cael tried not to let his nerves get the better of him. “I don’t get it? Why do people pay money to have someone scare the shit out of them? Isn’t the world a scary enough place?”
“Yeah, but the danger in here isn’t real. You get that adrenaline rush without the real danger,” Rosa said. “Unless you have heart issues, but that’s why they have the warnings and advise people get checked out before coming in.”
“It’s not like the zombies are real,” Calvin teased.
Dex groaned. “Don’t get him started on the zombies.”
Cael moved up with the rest of the line, his eyes widening. “But zombies can totally be real. I mean, it’s just a matter of the right mutation, and bam! Zombie apocalypse. I mean, Therians are here because of a virus and mutation, so zombies can totally happen.”
Calvin shook his head. “No such thing as the undead.”
“Yeah,” Sloane agreed. “And Dex before coffee doesn’t count.”
“Fine,” Cael grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “But when the zombies take over, don’t expect me to give you any of my toilet paper and bottled water.”
Dex laughed softly and threw an arm around Cael’s shoulder. “You’d totally give us some of your toilet paper and bottled water.”
“Okay, I would. But I wouldn’t like it,” Cael countered. Damn it. He’d been so preoccupied with arguing about zombies, he hadn’t realized it was their turn to go in. Ash gave his hand a squeeze, and Cael smiled up at him. Okay, he could do this.
Inside it wasn’t as scary as Cael thought it would be. At least not yet. It was dark and cold. The dark wasn’t a problem seeing as how he was a Therian, but he knew it wasn’t so much the dark that was meant to scare as what could be hiding. Every time someone popped out at him, Cael gave a start and clung to Ash. Ash held Cael tight against him, asking him every so often if he was all right. Despite the frights, Cael was okay because as he walked he felt Ash beside him, big, strong, and safe. No matter what happened, Ash would take care of him. Also, he could hear Dex cracking jokes somewhere behind him. A good number of them were usually comparing the ghouls in some way to Ash or Ash’s attitude, and of course Ash would retaliate.
They reached the end of a long corridor where several bloodied haystacks were arranged into something throne-like with barbed wire, rusted metal rods, and so much fake blood Cael was glad he wasn’t the one having to clean all this up afterward. One of his fellow Recon agents sat in a creepy chair made of antlers or something, dressed like she’d been caught in the barbwire. It was super creepy, gross, and very well done. She had a leash, and at the end of it the freakiest looking goat he’d ever seen. It was like those crazy eyed demon goats that people posted pictures of on the internet.
“Shit. That is the ugliest looking fucker I’ve ever seen.” Ash grinned up at agent Brooks. “Reminds me of your brother.”
“Bite me, Keeler,” Brooks said, glaring at Ash as she flipped him off.
Wait. Brother. Cael gasped. “Oh my God!” He grabbed Ash’s arm. “We have to turn back.”
“You want to leave?”
“No, we have to go back and warn Dex before he sees—”
“Holy shit fuck! Satan has risen!”
Before Cael could assure his brother that the prince of darkness had not, in fact, risen, the hideous goat creature thing let out a low guttural sound that—given their current surroundings—could easily be mistaken for the devil’s tongue. Dex screamed, and suddenly the haunted house turned into a pinball machine with Dex as the ball.
“Dex, wait!” Cael took off after his brother through the crowd, excusing himself as he followed the trail of chaos Dex left behind. Dex bounced off Human and Therian alike screaming something about the dark lord coming to claim their souls. Some people looked genuinely alarmed, though it was likely they thought Dex was some kind of crazy person, which as his brother took a wrong turn and plowed through one of the haunted house’s fake walls, Cael was beginning to think maybe they were right.
“Dex, stop!” Cael’s pleas went unheeded as Dex decided walls were for suckers, especially since his panicked brain had grabbed onto the fact they were fake.
“Cael?” Sloane called out before he caught up to Cael. He was out of breath. “Where is he? I lost him when he flailed past agent Swartz and knocked him into that vat of fake blood.
“Follow me. He just broke through the cemetery wall. I hope agent Danvers is okay. Dex tripped and fell into him, and the dude went flying.”
“I’m okay!” Danvers called out from somewhere to their right.
Sloane followed Cael through the many rooms, most of them containing a Dex-sized hole in each wall. “We need to find him before he tears this place apart looking for the damn exit.”
“If you haven’t noticed,” Cael said with a snort. “Dex isn’t looking for any exits. He’s making his own.”
“You’re right. Shit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him move this fast.”
There was another scream from Dex, then an “oomph” followed by a string of curses. They rushed into the next room, and Cael groaned. He pulled agent Herrera to his feet. The guy was bleeding from his nose.
“Dude, please tell me you didn’t just jump out at Dex wearing that.” He snatched the goat mask from Herrera, holding it up. It was horrible. Covered in fake blood with red eyes and sharp fangs, the numbers 666 painted on its wrinkly forehead.
“I knew he hated goats, man, but I didn’t think he was going to fucking punch me,” Herrera whined. “Ouch, my nose.”
“Just, get that seen to,” Cael said, taking off, but not before ordering Herrera to put that stupid mask away in case Dex doubled back. They went room to room, and Cael marveled at Dex’s tenacity. His brother was not one to give up easy. Satan was in the house, which meant he was getting out of it no matter what.
Finally, Dex had gone through the last wall, and Cael jumped through the hole landing in the grass outside. Sloane joined him. Where the hell was Dex?
“Don’t… let it… eat… your soul.”
Cael followed the panting around the corner and found his brother sprawled in the grass on his back. With a chuckle, Sloane dropped down on his butt next to Dex. He took hold of Dex’s hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss.
“Aw, are you all right, babe?”
Dex pouted. “I’m sorry I left you to get your soul harvested. I panicked.”
“I think the copious amount of sugar you’ve consumed tonight might have fueled your panic. Just a tad.”
“No. Definitely.” Sloane chuckled. He bent down to kiss Dex’s lips when Cael heard Ash laughing behind him.
“This is the funniest shit I have ever seen! Oh my God, I can’t breathe.” Ash dropped down onto the grass, his phone in front of him. Cael sat next to him, and cringed at the video of Dex punching Herrera in the face.
Dex sat up with a scowl. “You dick. You recorded it?”
Ash shook his head, his grin wicked. “Nope. There’s security cameras in the haunted house. Intel was nice enough to upload your descent into dorkness onto the employee intranet. It’s been viewed a thousand times already and it just went up like five minutes ago.” Ash kissed Cael’s cheek. “Best Halloween ever.”
Dex groaned and hung his head. “I’m never going to hear the end of it.”
Cael patted his brother’s back. Knowing Dex, he’d find a way to turn it around and come out looking like he’d planned it or something. The rest of the team joined them on the grass, Hobbs with a candy apple the size of Cael’s head. His grin was wide as he patted Dex’s knee in sympathy.
Dex pouted at Hobbs. “You too? Seriously?”
Hobbs shrugged. He nodded, and held the shiny candy coated apple to Dex. Dex’s eyes sparkled, and he put a hand to his chest.
Hobbs nodded, and Dex took the candy apple. He wiped an imaginary tear from his eye.
“I love you, man. You’re a real friend.” He narrowed his eyes at the rest of them. “Not like these jerkfaces.” Everyone was laughing, and Dex flipped them all off before taking a big bite out of his apple.
Calvin shook his head in amusement. “I love how after the sugar induced havoc you just wreaked, you’re eating more sugar.”
“It calms me down,” Dex said through a mouthful of candy apple.”
Rosa peered at him. “That makes no sense.”
Dex swallowed before waving his apple. “It doesn’t have to. I have a candy apple and you don’t.”
Rosa let out a snort, and Letty giggled beside her. Ash put his arm around Cael’s shoulder, and Cael leaned into him, watching his brother bantering with their friends. Cael turned his head up, smiling at Ash, a tingle going through him when Ash kissed his lips before another round of teasing Dex. Maybe haunted houses weren’t so scary after all. As long as he had Ash, his brother, and his Destructive Delta family. Oh, and no freaky devil goats.
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.