The Back Forty

Had he the power, Pen would bury the house. Profile it as low as possible, like the other tasks, all the good he and Iscen were able to do with the blood money.

Pen has considered it from an engineering standpoint; has considered simply cutting the ground out from under its feet, doing the opposite of what everyone else in the swamp has been doing. But it’s no good, not even Pen’s brand of cleverness is going to bury the old house. It’s grand, slightly absurd, canted on its stone foundation, not going anywhere.

“We can fall back,” Iscen said, once. “Abandon.”

Pen, who was staking creepers up and over the front facade, concealing the tessellated stone of the terrace, stopped to stare at the little Cupid fountain, almost completely overgrown.

“I will never abandon,” he said.

He can’t bury the house. He’s done his best to disconcert the eye, though: sleight-of-hand, on a very large scale. Black mangroves, vast ropy vines, and far above, scaled onto the roof, scattered across the property, light-bafflers, little bespoke Waldorf-Dopplers, powered by tiny intrinsic solar cells. It’s not that the roof is not there, from the air. It’s just devilish hard to look at. The eye is disinclined to rest on the slope, moves elsewhere, drawn by the slip of light on the branches and the activities of birds.

The Back Forty, though: that’s his best work, and he knows it. Not to be found, the Back Forty, and all its folk. Turf houses: from the road you might see a pair of hillocks back behind the trees. From the air you don’t see anything at all. ┬áThe earth hides much of its heat signature, he’s paid to check on that. Most of the good stuff is underground, and the overground work smacks of Art Nouveau: wondrous leaf-shaped solar collectors, water filtration capillaries interlaced, silicon Old Man’s Beard hanging from the old trees, artful.

blue owl knob on yellow door
Mark the Doors

Include the animal pens and shelters and the Back Forty is home to nine hundred human and animal souls, all routed by Iscen’s railroad, rehabilitated ones emerging from the precincts at Fozzie’s, all protected by Singing Security.

Yes, he is a little proud. And more than a little afraid.

Never had it been thought through, he thinks, not by himself. Families grow: his family grew even as it was shattered. People became his people, in the way a brambleberry takes over the lawn. And then he met Estelle, and somehow the net grew larger, the heart, he supposes, grew larger. His heart.

Poor, panicked thing, an early casualty of Singing Security, caught in the net of his heart.

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