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  • How to Build a Fortress
  • Molly Tranberg (bio)

Begin with a fort.

You’ve wanted to build a fort in the woods behind your house ever since your older brother regaled you with stories of his adventures with neighborhood boys. Like the story about the time a forest fire licked the heels of his shoes, or the one about the hobo who lived inside a tent covered in dew.

There’s one problem with your plan. You’ve never been in the woods. It’s uncharted territory, and forbidden. You’ve only gone as far as the tree line, where your mother would take you with buckets tightly clutched to pick wild blackberries. You would wear jeans to avoid poison ivy and pluck the berries gingerly to avoid the thorns and the bees nestling deep in the plump fruit.

On these trips, you would hover near the edge of the woods barricaded by the brambles and bushes, trying vainly to see in. The deciduous canopy loomed, thick and dark. Mosquitoes flitted just inside the tree line, guarding the entrance, ready to attack. But they won’t stop you now that you are 11. You have a carefully crafted plan.

Choose a building partner

Think of your brother first. He’s 14, and you want to do everything with him. He used to employ you in fort building, but now that he is a teenager, he’s more interested in sports and girls and boys his own age than playing make believe with you.

Consider instead the girl next door. Maybe she would be a better building partner. She just moved in, arriving with her boxes and truck the same week the cicadas emerged from their below-ground slumber to inch up the trees and drone well into each hot and sticky night. [End Page 57]

You’ve known the girl next door since kindergarten. You’ve had play dates before, but now that she lives next door, she might have what it takes to be your best friend. On paper, it all lines up. You’re going to be in the same sixth-grade class in the fall. Even your lockers will be side by side. You’re alphabetically fated to be friends. Imagine exchanging locker combinations and leaving secret messages to each other during class breaks.

She isn’t much to look at, the girl next door. At five feet seven inches, she towers over everyone else in your grade, especially you at barely five feet. She moves awkwardly like she doesn’t know what to do with her overstretched legs and arms. Her mousy brown hair hangs limply at her shoulders and she constantly pushes up on her circular glasses. She’s a mouth breather too, the fault of a deviated septum. Each breath is audible, the air passing through her dry mouth as if caught in a wind tunnel.

Your friendship with her has been rocky at best. In fourth grade, she began a club for animal lovers. She didn’t invite you to join, even though everyone knew you could list every breed in The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds by heart.

Your family wonders why you want to hang out with her. Your father doesn’t bother to learn her name, calling her “the girl next door.” Your brother teases, bringing a forefinger to the tip of his nose, pushing it upward into a scrunched snout, and inhaling with a sharp snort each time you mention her.

But she fascinates you. Like you, she adores piano, soccer, and running faster than all of the boys in your grade. Like you, she prefers *NSYNC to Backstreet Boys and knows all the lyrics to their first album. She could be just what you need in a building partner. You’re a year older—you could be the contractor, she the layman.

Pursue the girl next door

Bring her homemade cookies, but don’t mention your plan to build a fort in the woods. You’re not yet sure if she’s the one. Though she lives next door, she technically lives in a different subdivision—you’re in Keystone and she’s in Banyon Trail. Even your ZIP...


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pp. 57-68
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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