“How long have you been hiding out here?”
“I’m not hiding! This is my fortress. It’s the only place that’s safe.”
“It’s rather small for a fort.”
“How big it is doesn’t matter. It’s strong. I helped my dad build it, and he’s a mechanic.”
Lila stomped her foot on the floor as hard as she could. Sure enough, it didn’t shake at all. She looked over the rail to try to gauge just how high above the ground they were. If her dad were to walk by, he wouldn’t be able to reach them, even if he jumped.
“You’re safe up here, Lila. I can’t say the same for out there though.”
“Why is that?”
“Don’t you see them? Monsters! They’re everywhere!”
Lila looked over the rail again, and Manjeet was right. Monsters had infested the entire yard. Short, worted gnomes stuck their faces out from under bushes. Scaled lions walked along the tall wooden fence that enclosed the area. Huge, furry snakes slithered at the base of the tree, occasionally looking up to flash their sharp teeth.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Manjeet said. “But our tower is made of stone, so the fire lizards won’t be able to burn it down.”
Lila stomped her foot again. That’s why the floor was so stable. There were large slabs of stone there to provide it with substance. Thick battlements rose up along the rail she had looked over before.
“What’s in there?” Lila asked, pointing towards the interior of the tower.
“Supplies,” Manjeet said. “That’s where I keep food and weapons.”
“Food? Good. I’m ravaged.” Lila patted her stomach to emphasize just how ravished she felt.
“What are you in the mood for?” Manjeet asked as he led her into the adjacent room. Two chests sat against opposing walls roughly six feet apart from each other. Manjeet opened the one to his left.
“This one holds the food,” he said.
Lila peered in to see two bags of chips, a box of cereal, graham crackers, lemon candy, and several juice pouches.
“We can last a few days,” Manjeet said. “But we’ll have to fight our way out if the monsters don’t provide us with an opening before then.”
“We should ration then. I’ll take a few crackers.”
Manjeet pulled the package out and gave his friend a couple. Then he portioned himself the same amount. Then he closed the chest and they sat down side by side atop it.
“Do you come here every day after school?” Lila asked.
“I try to. Dad even lets me do homework out here when it’s not too cold.”
“What about the monsters?”
“I’ve formed an alliance with some of them. There are these gnomes that sometimes act as decoys whenever I come outside. They try to distract the other monsters for me.”
“I saw them!”
“Yeah, they were hiding in the bushes.”
“They’re probably scared this time because I have a girl with me.”
“Why would they be afraid of girls?”
“I don’t know. They just are.”
The two quietly nibbled away at their crackles for a while, lost in their own thoughts.
“You’re not afraid of girls.”
“Why is that?”
“I guess girls are just nicer to me. My best friend has always been a girl.”
“Yeah, she lives across the street.”
“Have you ever brought her up here.”
“Nah, we usually play in the front yard or in her house or something. Her parents are stricter.”
“She’s missing out.”
“Don’t rub it in her face or anything.”
“I want to keep this place a secret.”
“You told me.”
“I know. I can trust you, but I can’t trust most people.”
Lila looked away for a moment. It’s true. People are mean. People their age especially.
“So, what weapons do you have?” She had finished her crackers first.
“I have everything,” Manjeet said, scarfing down the last of his snack. He made his way over to the other chest and opened it proudly. “What’s your dragon slaying tool of choice? We have your swords. We have axes. We have crossbows. There’s a slingshot, a couple daggers, and even a mallet.”
“Okay, not everything. Dad’s strict about that. Besides, monsters are resistant to bullets.”
“They are? In that case, I’ll take a crossbow and a dagger.”
“Good choice. Here are some bolts to go with it.”
“What about you?”
“I’m better with the slingshot, but I’ll also take the ax. I also have this cool belt that holds it against my hip.”
“Do you have a second one?”
“Belt? Yeah, here.”
“Thanks. How does this clasp work – Nevermind, I got it. You ready?”
“I am,” Manjeet said. “Be careful. It’s Friday. Monsters are their strongest at the end of the week.”
“They don’t scare me. If we can handle school, we can handle anything, right?”
Manjeet smiled. Then he dropped a pellet into his slingshot, ran to edge of his treehouse, and fired it into the empty yard below.