Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fiction: Fortress

The little brick house was starting to feel a little stuffy towards late afternoon. Pieter woke from his traditional nap, stretched for a few minutes, and then decided that he would get an early start on the night's dinner.

He kicked his slippers out from underneath the bed, yawning as he slipped them on. All things considered, he was looking at a rather good lifestyle. The days were quiet and secluded, the lot provided almost everything that he and his brothers would have needed, and the security was top-notch.

He opened a dresser drawer, reached in among the tins of grease, and pulled out a clean white shirt. It was Hamnet's turn to make dinner tonight, he realized, and the thought left a sour expression on his face. His youngest brother was certainly the bright and inventive sort, especially in his pensive moments, but he couldn't boil water without leaving a burnt smell. Jolyon was probably the best cook of the three, and Pieter wasn't too far behind (if he could say so himself), but Hamnet... well, Hamnet was probably best left to his machines.

Pieter pulled on a pair of trousers and found a pair of suspenders after a good search; they were tangled among the telescopic sights he had cleaned the previous day. After a while, he decided that he looked presentable enough despite the fact that he was only half-dressed; what was he worrying about, really, when it was only him and his two brothers hanging around?

He made sure that the emergency handgun was still in its case, opened the door to his room, and began to descend the two flights of stairs that led to the ground floor. The fifth step down held a pressure-sensitive detonation trigger; he remembered to hop over that. Moreover, the second-floor landing concealed a trap door that opened to an acid vat in the basement; he disabled it with a hidden switch and re-armed it once he had safely crossed.

There was a bright green mat just in front of the first step; that meant that the external security system was on manual mode. Hamnet immediately came to mind -- Jolyon, after all, was not the sort who was given over to random perimeter checks. Given that his favorite rifle was sitting on top of the mantel at the moment, however, Hamnet was probably outside playing with bigger toys.

Pieter crossed into the kitchen and its checkerboard floor, carefully stepping on the black tiles so that he would not release the tranquilizer-tipped darts. He opened one oversized cabinet and felt among the items there -- crockery, wineglasses, flamethrower, cleaning solution -- before wondering exactly where he had left his gardening basket. After a long search, he eventually found it next to the gun rack -- apparently one of his brothers had seen fit to use it to hold a collection of shotgun shells. He sighed.

Despite how much he liked his current arrangements, there was something to be said about living in close quarters. Nevertheless, it was Hamnet's house -- his youngest brother had laid the foundations himself -- and Pieter figured that, the less ingredients that Hamnet would have to make dinner with, the lower the chances that he and Jolyon would end up with upset stomachs the next day.

He pushed back each of the five deadbolts on the front door, retracted the five-inch spikes, and made certain to avoid touching the doorknob, lest it burn his skin off. Instead, he pulled on a handle that Hamnet had screwed to the inside of the door for that very purpose, and emerged into the bright sunlight.

Jolyon waved at him from the rose bushes, and Pieter waved back. The flowers were coming in very nicely this year, and the blooms were so thick that Pieter could barely notice the machine-gun nests hidden behind them. He glanced around, noting the freshly-manicured lawn, the barbed-wire hedges, the vegetable garden, the double-layer titanium fencing, and his eldest brother's puzzled look, but didn't see what he was looking for.

Then the light bulb came on in Jolyon's head, and he pointed upwards. "He's on the roof," he said.

Pieter looked upwards, careful to screen his eyes, and nodded. "Hamnet!" he called.

His youngest brother leaned out from the cockpit of their anti-aircraft cannon. Hamnet almost never smiled; it was as though the gesture had never been built into his genes. Instead of saying anything, he grunted acknowledgment and returned to watching the horizon.

"It's your turn to make dinner," Pieter called.

Hamnet waved him away, almost irritably. This was to be expected, although Pieter did hope that he would be more conversational at the dinner table later.

"Got enough shells up there?" Jolyon asked, in jest.

Hamnet glared down at his eldest brother. "Got enough," he finally said.

Pieter took a few steps back, careful not to fall into any of the lawn's pit traps. "What are you doing up there, anyway? There's nothing around for miles!"

The weight of his youngest brother's gaze was suddenly upon him. "Had a hunch," Hamnet said. "You gotta feed hunches."

Pieter knew better than to argue. If he and Jolyon only had Hamnet's finely-tuned senses, their own homes would have still been intact. And yet, this was a fine arrangement regardless.

"What're you planning to make for dinner?" Pieter asked.

Hamnet merely grunted, which was not surprising. Hamnet barely cared about what he ate.

Beside him, Jolyon sighed. "Check if the tomatoes are ripe, will ya? I think that the potatoes should also be ready by now. And for goodness' sakes, don't bring in any cabbage -- you remember what happened the last time he decided to make a casserole."

Pieter agreed, and started walking down the little stone path in the direction of the backyard.

"And if the apples are ripe," Jolyon said, "let me know. We could do with a bit of pie this week."

Pieter nodded, skipping over the stone plug that would trigger the spring trap. Between his misappropriated basket and Jolyon's requests, he was finding it difficult to keep track of things. The tomato patch sat in the rear end of the garden, right next to the cache of automatic weapons, and it turned out that his eldest brother was right -- the tomatoes were good for the picking. There was only the question of how he was expected to trot them back to the house.

Above him, he could hear Hamnet announce that he was turning the automated system back on. Pieter selected a few ripe red specimens amidst the sound of whirring machinery, then proceeded to make his way back to Jolyon.

Between the living arrangements and the good-looking harvest, Pieter had to admit that life was better than he would have expected for himself. It was enough to get his tail wagging.

Hopefully, the big bad wolf would never come around. But until that happened, the three of them were going to make the best of things. Even with Hamnet's cooking.

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