Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chapter Four

The third little pig was the wisest. He built his house of brick.

That’s the only reason he is alive right now. He sits at his coarse wooden table, hands flecked with drying mortar, thinking of what to do next.

Outside, it’s a beautiful night, the kind you can only find in a land such as this, where the moon always shines brilliantly and beautifully, and the stars glitter in anticipation of answering wishes.

Not that he’s the kind of pig who wastes his time wishing upon a star. His younger brothers, possibly, but not him. He’s much too practical for that.

But even if he wanted to, the night sky is hidden from his beady eyes. All his windows, already protected by stout and sturdy shutters, have been bricked up.

He thinks about bricking up the fireplace as well, but decides against it. Should his brother somehow climb onto the roof (unlikely), he probably couldn’t fit down the chimney. And if he did, he wouldn’t get past the iron grate.

His middle brother, the pig of sticks, sleeps fitfully in the corner... if you can call it sleep. He’d collapsed earlier, his tiny body finally giving in to the unexpected outburst of adrenaline. It wasn’t the first time he’d run for his life and sought refuge at his elder brother’s house of brick, but this was a different type of fear than the kind brought about by the Big Bad Wolf.

At least the Wolf was a familiar enemy. They knew him, respected him, feared him, certainly, but they knew the way the tale was told. And as long as the eldest of the three Little Pigs kept his head, the Wolf would always be outsmarted.

But the one who chased the pig of sticks wasn’t the stinking, lean, hungry Wolf they’d fought for ages on end. It was their youngest brother, the pig of straw.

He doesn’t like to think about his youngest brother.

The pig of brick considers filling his pipe to keep his mind off what’s happening outside, but then decides against it. Best to conserve his tobacco for now. With the way things are going, he doesn’t know when he’s going to be able to purchase more. In fact, it’s probably wisest to just stop smoking the thing anyway, so he won’t have that desire hanging over his head.

His dwindling tobacco pouch makes him think of other supplies. He's always kept his larder well-stocked, especially since his gluttonous and irresponsible brothers frequently make surprise visits at mealtime.

One good thing, at least: his sleeping brother seems to have lost his appetite.

Outside, the pig of straw continues to scratch and flail against the front door. He’s been doing so for a good four hours - he’s never shown such dedication - and he shows no sign of tiring. He never will again.

It’d probably be best to stop thinking of him as his brother. It’s just easier that way.

The pig of brick isn’t the most imaginative of his family, so he doesn’t think much about what might have happened to his youngest brother. A house of straw, though comfortable during the mild summers and winters, was still a terrible, lazy idea. And its owner usually spent his days napping outside in a hammock. If something came for him... well, his usual method would be to escape in the swirling mass of hay and make haste to the stream, near his brother’s house of sticks.

Only this time, obviously, that plan had failed.

Oh, to be sure, the youngest had made it to the house of sticks, but not in the way he normally did. Not in the way the tale’s always been told.

(A house of sticks. Another awful idea. Is gathering sticks that much easier than chopping wood? A good, stout log cabin would be some means of defense… maybe not against the Wolf’s decaying breath, but against most of the other villains that preyed throughout the forest.)

His middle brother had been fishing – an excuse to laze about beside the stream - and he never would’ve heard his younger brother’s approach, had he not set up a net for darning (a chore that had been ignored for months).

Anyone with half a mind would walk around the net, but the pig that was no longer his brother stumbled into it and fell, thrashing and groaning.

The pig of sticks had laughed to see such a sight, and sang a teasing song as his younger brother struggled to escape from the net. But he then tried to help, so they could laugh and sing together, and maybe use the net to play a prank on their ever-so-serious brother.

The pig of brick reflects on his brother’s sleeping, snuffling form. To put it plainly, the pig of sticks was never very bright. He could never tell if the Wolf was wearing sheep’s clothing, after all. Was it any surprise that he didn’t notice his brother’s uncharacteristic silence? Or realize that he didn’t laugh and sing, only thrash and moan?

He’d asked his entangled brother if he was all right, if he’d like a cup of tea, if he was all right, if he should summon the doctor, and it wasn’t until the pig of straw lashed out and bit him, actually bit him, that his brother finally noticed anything was amiss.

It was the eyes that he noticed first. They were different, no longer lively and sparkling with laughter. What’s more, they were flecked with dirt that he didn't bother to blink away.

And that’s when his middle brother ran, as he always did when the house of sticks came clattering down, down that well-worn path to the house of brick. Something was wrong, and his eldest brother would know what to do. He always knew what to do.

In times before, the foolish brothers had always fled together, but today the pig of sticks ran alone, his younger brother slowly shambling behind him, net dragging and catching on the many jutting roots and bushes along the way.

The eldest brother didn’t know what to do, other than bandage up the pig of sticks' hand. He calmly stood in the doorway, hands on his hips, waiting to see his youngest brother. He’d heard stories of a similar sickness – the village was dark with rumors – and treated the possibility of plague or pestilence very seriously.

When the pig of straw finally arrived, he found the heavy brick door closed and locked. He didn’t try to turn the knob. And because he couldn’t answer any questions, he and his tangled net remained outside.

After a quick look through the peephole (a marvelous invention – simply being able to peek through a locked door allowed him to see through roughly half of the Wolf’s plans), the pig of brick quickly closed the shutters. And after a few moments of his youngest brother slamming against them, he decided to brick up the windows entirely.

Now, the pig of sticks whimpers in his sleep. The pig of straw hits and knocks and groans. And the pig of brick waits.

This isn’t the way the tale should go, he thinks. Not at all.