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The Battle of the Hill

“Hurry up, we have to get to the Hill,” I told my brother, Jacob, who still sat at the table
eating breakfast. I had my shoes on my feet and was pacing in front of the garage door, ready to
go.
Jacob gulped down the rest of his cereal and ran upstairs. He came back down with socks
and shoes on, and he went out to the garage. He grabbed the big shovel, and I grabbed the garden
trowel. We left the garage and headed up the street towards the front of our neighborhood where,
behind some houses were older and disabled people lived, there was a walking path and some
undeveloped land.
“Do you think Cooper and Mason will already be there?” Jacob asked. We turned left and
walked past their house. “The garage door is closed,” I observed, “so probably not. Maybe we
can go down to the stream today and get water to make the ground softer where we’re digging.”
“But our bucket has a hole in it.”
“We can tilt it so the water doesn’t go out the hole.”
We turned right and walked in silence until we reached the path that led behind the
houses. We followed the asphalt trail past some trees, in which there was a small gurgle of
smelly water that we called a creek. On our left, we passed SP1, or Sam’s Place 1. Jacob and I
stared at it longingly.
“I can’t believe they dug that in one day,” Jacob said, referring to the 20-by-5-foot trench
that marked SP1.
“I don’t believe it. It took at least—”
“But Cooper and Mason said—”
“I know what they said. I just don’t believe it.”
“But they were there.”
“So they said.”
“I wish we had that wood,” Jacob said. I looked back at the handmade, scrap-wood
bridges that spanned the gap over the trench, not only creating a way to get over, but providing
shade to hang out in underneath. “We have to get our hole that deep,” I sighed.
“And make a bridge.”
We trudged up the incline, away from SP1, to our place, H1. The Hill. It was, to most,
just a pile of dirt left behind from construction, but we made it ours. Jacob and I scuffed across
the heat-cracked dirt and climbed up the steps in the Hill we dug ourselves just last week. At the
top, I stared out at our kingdom. Our hole, in the middle of the Hill, maybe three feet deep. The
small slope down to our storage area, where there were piles of slate we had dug up waiting to be
used for… something. Behind our hill spanned more hard-packed dirt with the occasional weed
yellowing under the July sun. In the distance, against the trees that hid a small gravel road,
towered a pile of junk that we scavenged for supplies on occasion. Closer, to the right, was
another dirt mound filled with weeds. To the left was a small body of water between marsh grass
and skimpy trees, when it we had had rain. Now it was just a puddle surrounded by dead plants.
It wasn’t much, but it was ours.
Jacob and I went to work on our hole, trading the shovel and trowel back and forth.
“Cooper and Mason should be here soon,” I said, looking up at the sun that rose steadily
above us.
“Help me get this rock out.”
After we freed the rock, we looked up from our work to see three figures coming up the
path towards us. One was noticeably smaller than the others and walked in a bouncing, bubbling
manor. Cooper.
“Who’s the third one?” Jacob asked.
We both squinted, trying to answer the question. “I think it’s Zack Stoppa.” I said. Jacob
cocked his head. “He lives at the end of Cooper and Mason’s street.”
“Ohhh…”
Sure enough, Cooper and Mason climbed the steps up to the top of the Hill just minutes
later, Zack’s pear-shaped body waddling after them.
“I brought Zack to help,” Mason explained. I nodded. He and Zack both had shovels,
leaving Cooper the only one without a tool. But not having one never stopped anyone. Cooper
found himself a sharp rock and helped us dig.
The hot air floated around us, occasionally vibrating with our short communications.
“I’ll take over here.”
“Wanna trade?”
“Someone should go get water.”
I set down my shovel, wanting a break from digging, and grabbed our bucket. I was a
plastic, square flower pot of good size. Full of water and tilted to avoid the hole, carrying it was a
two-man job.
“Mason?”
“Let’s go,” he said, setting down the trowel. Jacob, who had been using the rock, claimed
it quickly.
Mason and I headed down to the creek in silence, feet falling heavily on the asphalt. At
the bottom, we stepped into the grass and stopped before the passage of rocks and dead leaves.
“We’re not gonna be able to get through here with the bucket full of water.” I said.
Mason whistled. “Shoot, you’re right.” He stepped forward, bracing himself against one
rock and placing his feet on the one directly across. “I hate this part.”
I watched as he made his way across over the dry sticks and dead leaves. Slipping off the
rocks wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but no one ever did it on purpose. You never
knew what was hiding under those leaves. When Mason was safely on the other side, I threw the
bucket to him. He barely snagged it out of the air.
I took my turn climbing across the rocks, thinking about how scraped up my arms and
legs would get if I fell. I let out a breath as my feet touched down on the long, swampy grass.
The trees here provided enough shade to keep water from drying up, which left the ground
squishy and unpredictable.
Mason and I picked our way towards the creek. “Don’t step there,” he advised, pointing
as he pulled his foot out of a hole the long grass covered. I avoided it, and we stopped and stared
at the scummy water.
“I’m ninety-nine percent sure this stuff comes from the sewer.” Mason said, squishing his
face in disgust.
“‘Sewage Creek.’ Appetizing.”
“‘Sewage Trickle,’” Mason corrected, dipping the bucket into the water. When it was
about halfway full, I helped him pull it out, careful to tilt the water away from the hole. Keeping
the water from spilling required extremely slow going. Mason looked over his shoulder. “I think
we can get out that way.”
I shook my head, jutting my chin in the opposite direction. “This way is better. Too big of
a slant and too many weeds your way.”
“But your way is the long way,” Mason protested.
“Okay, then we can go over the rocks.”
“Fine, we’ll go your way.”
We turned so that neither of us had to walk backwards, instead crabbing sideways. Water
sloshed out as we went over bumps and around skimpy saplings.
“These bugs are eating me alive,” Mason grunted.
“Stop tipping it,” I growled.
The creek led to a pungent pool surrounded by concrete rocks on one side. We exited the
trees, squinting in the sunlight. The bucket pulled down on my arms like and anvil, but we
couldn’t stop to rest without losing water through the hole.
“My arms are dying,” Mason said. I grunted in agreement.
We shuffled along up the path, panting. The ground beneath us inclined, requiring us to
shift the balance of the bucket. We overcompensated, and water sizzled on the pavement.
“Daggum,” Mason cursed.
The Hill came into sight, and Mason yelled, “A little help here!”
Zack put down the trowel and came as fast as he could. He grabbed onto the front of the
bucket, the prime splash zone, considerably lessening me and Mason’s burden. We spilled more
going up the steps to the top of the Hill than we had on the rest of the laborious journey from the
sewage creek, but it was all worth it as we poured the remaining water on the dirt in our hole and
digging became easier for a few minutes.
“Anybody bring food?” Cooper asked. We all shook our heads and sat down on the edges
of the hole. Our stomachs growled, but we were used to it, because we skipped lunch most days
in the summer. Mason passed his water bottle around. When it got back to him, it was empty.
“You could refill it in the creek,” Jacob joked. We all chuckled.
“Hey!”
We all whipped around, spotting the person who had yelled.
“Sam?” Mason asked.
Three boys, all bigger than any of us, strutted up to the base of the Hill. “We claimed this
place, Mason.” The tallest of them said.
“You have your place, Sam.” Cooper said.
“But we claimed this one, too,” their smallest boy said.
“We were here first,” I insisted.
“Do I know you?” Sam asked. His friends snickered.
“You can’t just come in and take over,” Mason said. “Leave us alone.”
“Hey,” Sam said, spreading his arms. “You and Cooper can stay. You helped us dig our
trench.”
Mason thought for a second. “You said me and Cooper couldn’t go to SP1 unless you
were with us. This place is ours. We can come whenever we want.”
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Sam’s big friend said, cracking his
knuckles.
I looked around at my friends. We were all little elementary schoolers. Sam and his
friends were bigger and older. But there were three of them and five of us. “We’ll fight you for
it,” I said.
“Yeah,” Jacob, Mason, Cooper, and Zack agreed.
Sam and his friends laughed. “Sure, you can try.” Sam pointed at the path between the
Hill and the dirt expanse where SP1 was. “Meet us there in ten minutes for war council.”
We nodded, not speaking until Sam and his friends were on their side of the path.
“Who were those guys?” Zack asked.
“Sam, his brother Ryan, and some random guy,” Mason said.
“We can whoop ‘em,” Cooper said confidently.
“Not with our fists, we can’t.” I said.
“We can’t hit them with shovels,” Jacob said. “So how are we supposed to beat them?”
“We have to outsmart them.”
“How?” Zack asked.
“We make them come to us. We just stay up here, where we’re on our home turf, and
they’ll have to come up and get us. If we get their back to the edge—”
“They could die if we pushed them,” Cooper said, his eyes wide.
“It’s not that high,” Mason said.
“Besides,” I said, “they’d probably just stumble and slide down on their butts.”
“There are some pretty big rocks down that side,” Jacob said, pointing to the side to the
left of the stairs.
“Then you guys can move them while I’m at war council,” Zack said. We all looked at
him.
“What makes you think you’re going? You’re new here.”
“I’m the oldest.”
We all nodded reluctantly.
“You should bring a second. In case a fight breaks out,” Mason said hopefully.
Zack looked at each of us. “Katelyn.”
“What?” Mason whined.
“She’s second oldest. And she’s taller than you.”
“But she’s a girl.”
“She can beat you up,” Jacob said proudly. I smiled at him.
“What’ll we do if they don’t come up here?” Zack asked.
“Go beat ‘em up,” Cooper said, bending his knees and punching an imaginary enemy.
“We could throw something at them,” I suggested, cringing at the thought of someone
getting their head cracked open.
“Rocks? No way,” Mason said.
We all agreed. “What about those nut-shell things down by the creek?”
“Walnuts,” Cooper said.
“That’s a good idea,” Zack said.
“We can fill up the bucket with them,” I said. “So that’s plan B.”
“And if they aren’t scared of walnuts?” Mason asked.
“We threaten them with rocks. Maybe even throw some, just not right at them.”
“It might work,” Jacob said.
“It will. It has to.”
Jacob, Mason, and Cooper slid down the left side of the Hill to clear away the rocks, and
Zack and I headed to the meeting spot. Sam and Ryan, the smaller of Sam’s friends, showed up
minutes later, arms crossed. “You sure you want to do this?”
Zack looked at me, and I nodded. “We’re sure.”
“Shake on it.”
Zack shook Sam’s hand, Sam’s face contorting with the effort of crushing Zack’s hand.
“Rules?” Ryan asked when Zack managed to get out of the handshake, massaging his
smashed fingers.
“We get twenty minutes to prepare,” Sam said.
“And no destroying our bridges,” Ryan added.
“Deal.” Zack said.
“Deal.”
Sam and Zack shook hands again, less violently, and Ryan and I shook hands.
“Anything else?” Sam asked, grinning down at us as if he had already won.
“Winner gets both places,” I said.
“Well duh.”
Ryan looked down at his watch. “See you suckers in twenty minutes.”
Zack and I turned and ran back to our friends, who were back on top of the Hill. As Zack
caught his breath, I filled them in.
“We better hurry and collect those walnuts,” Mason said.
“Zack and Cooper, you guys stay here and make a pile of rocks right in front of the steps
so it’s harder for them to come up here.”
Zack and Cooper ran off to do their job. Jacob grabbed the bucket, and he, Mason, and I
ran down to the creek. We passed SP1, where Sam, Ryan, and the other guy stood leaning on
their shovels and talking.
“They’re not doing anything,” Jacob said between breaths.
“They’re not taking us seriously,” Mason panted.
“That just means we have the elements of surprise.” I said. We slowed, scrabbled over
the rocks, and filled our bucket frantically. Jacob stuffed some grass and bigger walnuts over the
hole so that the other ones wouldn’t fall out.
“I’m not seeing many more,” Mason said when our bucket was over halfway full.
“I think this is enough,” I decided. We each grabbed a side of the bucket and made our
way out of the trees. Jacob plugged his nose as we passed the scummy pool.
“Our twenty minutes has to be up,” Mason said as we passed SP1. But Sam, Ryan, and
their friend were still just standing there.
“We better hurry anyway.” Jacob said, and we put on a new burst of speed.
At the Hill, Cooper and Zack had an impressive pile of rocks and slate mounded in front
of the steps. We passed the bucket up to them and climbed around the rocks.
“We’re gonna win,” Cooper said, looking at our preparations.
I grinned, “We sure are, Coop.”
We stood at the front of the Hill, awaiting Sam and his goons with walnuts in our hands
and in our pockets.
“There they are,” Mason said. They came towards us slowly, shovels in hand.
“Give up before we have to hurt you,” Sam’s tall friend said.
“No!” we yelled.
“Throw on three,” I whispered. “One… two…”
“You think some little walnuts are gonna scare us off?”
“Three.”
We threw the nuts right at our enemies, but most of them missed, and others were
deflected with shovels.
Sam moved closer to the Hill. “Mason, Coop, if you give us this thing, we’ll let you guys
come whenever you want.”
“You’re not kicking us out,” Jacob said, chucking a walnut at him. It missed.
“Three,” I said, and this time we caught them by surprise.
“Shit,” Ryan said, rubbing his head where one hit him.
“Grab rocks,” I whispered. We leaned down to grab some from our pile, keeping our eyes
on Sam and company.
“We’re not leaving,” Mason said. Sam looked back at his friends. We stood, our arms
back, ready to let the rocks fly.
“Wait,” Ryan said. “You could really hurt us!”
“Don’t be a sissy,” Sam hissed. “They won’t really throw them.”
“Three,” I said, and we launched our weapons. They hit the ground with menacing thuds.
“Whoa,” Sam said, backing up.
We picked up more rocks. “Three.”
“If you hit up, my dad’ll sue you!” Ryan said, his voice higher than normal.
Mason grinned at me, and we grabbed more rocks.
“You guys are too scared to even fight us for real,” Sam said. “A bunch of babies.”
“Three.”
“This is dumb. You guys are retards.”
We threw rocks until they retreated to their side of the path, shovels dragging behind
them. We watched in awe as they disappeared from sight.
“We beat ‘em!” Cooper cried gleefully. We joined him in cheering and high-fived each
other. “We beat the big kids.”

After we stole their wood, we never used SP1. But the day that we won stayed in our
memories, outlined in gold.

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