"Hey, Dad wants us outside!"
I looked up from the cork gun that I was busily modifying, much to Mom's regret. It was just a simple pop gun; a quick tug on the barrel would send the cork flying to the end of its attached string. Unfortunately for Mom, it didn't take a genius to figure out that removing the string would allow the cork to fly considerably further. It might have taken at least a little mechanical aptitude to figure out the internal seal was rather crappy, which is where my attention was currently focused. At least, it was until Nemesis came to get me.
"What's up?" I asked, beginning to reassemble the barrel with its new piston head installed.
Nemesis shrugged. "I think he wants us to help him unload hay."
I wrinkled my nose. "How are we gonna help? They're a bit big for us, aren't they?" Admittedly, Nemesis and I were rather strong--as Nemesis found out moments later, as I shot him with an energetic motion of my arm--but at 9 and 13 years old, respectively, we were nowhere near strong enough to deal with the massive rolls of hay that had, to date, been only interacted with in the form of jumping. On top. Or falling off, I suppose.
"OW!" Nemesis yelled. "Stoppit!"
I loaded another cork and cocked the gun, grinning. "You are not a Jedi yet!"
"One moment," Nemesis requested before bolting off in the direction of our room. He returned a moment later with one of his rubber band guns, promptly shooting me in the face with it.
"OW!" I yelled and fired back.
"BOYS!" Dad hollered at us, about ten minutes later. "GET UP HERE!"
"Oh, right, he wanted us outside," Nemesis remembered.
I shot him again as he quit his bunker (I wisely elected to remain in mine). "You forgot?"
"OW! So did you!" Nemesis screeched. "Should we put the couch cushions back?"
"BOYS!" Dad yelled again, tonal pattern sliding rapidly from "annoyed" to "angry."
"Nope," I decided, slinging my gun across my back and snatching my corks up on the way to the stairs. "COMING!"
We raced up the stairs, sprawling at the feet of Dad as we both wiped out on the last step. He glared down at us. "You were supposed to come outside ten minutes ago!"
"He shot me!" Nemesis and I chorused, immediately throwing each other under the proverbial bus.
Dad rolled his eyes. "Get your boots on and come on," he ordered. "We're going to unload hay bales."
"Aren't they too big for us?" I asked before brightening suddenly. "Unless you're letting me drive the ATV!"
"The four-wheeler stays where it is," Dad informed me. "These are square bales. You can handle it."
"Oh," Nemesis'c face fell at the prospect of actual manual labor looming in front of him. I decided to make the best of it by privately deciding to shoot the old, cranky rooster with my cork gun, as long as I was going down to the barn anyway.
The bales were almost as big as Nemesis was; however, true to Dad's prediction, both Nemesis and I could lift and carry them with a minimum of awkwardness and a maximum of argument.
"No, I'm taking this one!"
"That one's smaller!"
"No it's not!"
"Cheater! It's my turn for the small bales!"
"You're older! You take the big ones!"
"You're younger! You need the practice!"
"Why? Are you a wuss?"
"No, you are!"
"You're Johnny Cash!" (Growing up, it was common to insult each other with singers we didn't like.)
"You're the Beatles!"
I dropped my bale and dove for my cork gun. "Shut up!"
"Hey, we don't talk like that!" Dad informed me sternly. "Put that away and help stack these!"
"He called me the Beatles!" I protested.
The corner of his mouth twitched, but he managed to keep himself from laughing. "Nemesis, don't insult your brother."
"He started it!" Nemesis complained.
"No, you did!" I snapped back, heaving a bale towards Dad.
Dad ignored our squabbling, having heard some version of this argument about four thousand times a day. He took the bale and stacked it expertly with the others. My eyes followed the bale...
It was a good thing we didn't live in a cartoon world, because a light bulb would have flashed into existence above my head...and since my parents weren't even remotely close to ignorant, that probably would have been grounds for an immediate house arrest (the Noodle Incident and the Cannon Incident coming promptly to mind). Unfortunately, I also had a terrible poker face; fortunately, Dad wasn't paying attention to me at the time.
"Hey Nemesis, want to help me collect eggs?" I asked casually (or what I imagined casually to be like).
"No," Nemesis shot back grumpily.
"Please?" I begged. "We can mug the rooster!"
"Mugging" the rooster involved placing a seven-gallon bucket over the enraged bird and sitting on it while collecting eggs. I have no idea why we called it mugging; probably because we thought it sounded funny. It was certainly funny listening to the rooster peck the inside of the bucket--on the other hand, if the stupid bird hadn't made it a habit to try to claw us up every time we stepped foot in the coop, we probably wouldn't have come up with the concept or necessity of mugging him in the first place.
That won the day. Nemesis snickered. "Sure!"
We fell to work with a will. Before too long, we'd handed the last bale to Dad, who stacked it and thanked us for our help. I immediately volunteered to collect the eggs; Dad promptly accepted, as he wasn't a huge fan of the rooster either and fending the bird off with a shovel one-handed while trying to juggle eggs and dodge pecking hens in the other was mildly annoying. He quickly left the barn before I could change my mind.
Being the expert, it fell to me to grab the bucket and perform the honors. Actually, since I had invented the idea, I would have chosen to face the bird regardless. The rooster was quickly mugged, and Nemesis sat on the bucket, both of us roaring with laughter as the bucket bucked and pranced, enraged clucking emerging from underneath.
"Get the eggs!" Nemesis finally exclaimed when he caught his breath.
I'd invented a sort of chicken headlock that prevented the nesting birds from pecking innocent hands; however, it required a certain dexterity and quickness of fingers that none of my siblings possessed. I quickly and efficiently headlocked each roosting chicken, removed the eggs, and retreated almost before the chicken realized it had been had. They contented themselves with a beady-eyed glare before settling back down comfortably to smooth slightly ruffled feathers.
I deposited the eggs outside the coop and joined Nemesis on the bucket. "Ready?"
I braced myself. "Go!"
Nemesis tore out the door. I snatched the bucket and ran after him. He slammed the screen door as I screeched through; there was a comical-sounding boing as the rooster--in hot pursuit--neglected to realize that the door of opportunity was now closed to him and bounced off. Nemesis latched the door before joined me on the ground rolling with laughter. The rooster gave us the evil eye before deciding that he hadn't really wanted to catch us anyway and strolling casually off.
"Okay, let's build a fort now," I suggested when we had recovered.
Nemesis gave me a look. "How? The thicket's gone and it hasn't snowed yet."
I gestured triumphantly. "Hay bales!"
"Ohh, no," Nemesis backed up quickly. "Dad wanted those stacked!"
"They'll still be stacked," I pointed out. "They'll just be stacked in a different formation!"
My logic was unassailable (growing up, Mom often remarked that I would have made an excellent lawyer). Nemesis caved. We quickly disassembled the pile and built a fort, complete with a lean-to on the west wall and a keep in the northeast corner. The hay bales stacked nicely, the brick-like shape adding to the illusion of a castle. A brief battle was had that proved the ramparts held up against missiles and full-on assault from corks and rubber bands. Content, we provisioned it with wooden swords and ammunition for our respective guns and vowed to keep this our secret.
"Suppose I'll have to get up earlier for chores," I sighed. "Otherwise Dad might beat me down here and see this."
"What should we call it?" Nemesis asked.
"Fort Homework," I told him.
Nemesis frowned. "Homework?"
"Yeah. That way, when we want to sneak off, we can tell Mom we're going to do Homework and she won't think we're sneaking off to work on the fort," I explained. "See? Then we're not lying."
Nemesis's frown cleared. "Ohh. Hey, that's a great name."
"Thanks," I smirked, and shot him.
"OW!" Nemesis yelled and smacked me.
I was about to tackle him when I heard the bell at the house ringing; Mom, probably, summoning us to dinner. "Come on, let's go!" I called as I leapt over the wall and raced him to the house.
Surprisingly, it took Dad almost five days to discover the demolishing of his haystack. When he did, though, he quickly ordered us to strip it down and restack everything. Naturally, Nemesis and I stacked it in the shape of a Sherman tank (I was going through a World War II phase at the time), complete with turret, gunner and driver viewports, straw treads, and a spacious interior. It took Dad two days to check up on his haystack; unfortunately, he did not admire the artistry and ordered us to do it again, and do it right this time. (He was obviously struggling not to laugh, however.) Nemesis and I obeyed this time.
Well, sort of. We left cracks and a small cave that we used for meetings and a base for our games of Adventurers versus Aliens for the rest of the winter, eventually desisting when Dad used up enough of the hay to render the cave useless. We made a smaller one, which was used exactly twice and then ceded to a pregnant cat, who promptly had kittens.
Gotta love farm life.