| Tales of Treeo |

Up North: Chapter 4

You think something’s wrong because… the pages of your book are turning?” Pinny says skeptically

Eli: We found a whole group of frum families here, building a welcome center for tourists!
Nellie: And Eli saved the day and kept the trailer from sliding into the water.
Squizzle: Not that the older boys gave him any credit for it…

Although there are extra bedrooms upstairs, Eli and Nellie are packed into rooms with other kids. “We’re having our first guests tomorrow,” Nachi explains. “You don’t mind sharing with Mordechai, right?” There’s no more space in his room, but there’s a bunkbed where little Mordechai is.

Nellie, meanwhile, has found a group of girls closer to her age, and she bunks with them. “You know the best part?” she tells Eli as they brush their teeth. The toothpaste here is all minty, which makes Eli smile and Nellie gag. “The room’s right over the boiler room. If I sleep on the floor, it’s like a heated blanket.” She shivers. “It’s even cold inside.” She wears her coat over her nightgown and some borrowed fuzzy socks.

Eli doesn’t dare tell Nellie that it isn’t that cold. “At least there’s no snow inside,” he offers.

Nellie just shudders.

There are blackout shades on every window so it feels like night inside, and Eli sleeps soundly through the nighttime hours. In the morning, he’s awakened by a loud banging downstairs.

He and Squizzle hurry down to find out what’s going on. Someone is rapping loudly on the door to the welcome center.

He peers out the window and sees Nachi and a bunch of the boys. Quickly, Eli hurries to pull the door open. “What happened?”

“We went out this morning to explore,” Nachi says breathlessly, his freckled face red from the cold. “And something happened. The locks were fine when we left — I even tested them! But they won’t open now.” He puts three numbers into the lock. 613. But when he tries to turn the doorknob, it doesn’t move. “Did someone change the locks?”

“We were all outside with you,” one of the boys says. “Maybe a little kid did it accidentally.” He peers at Eli. “Did you play with the lock?”

Eli glares at him. “I’m not a little — I wasn’t even downstairs. No one’s been down here except for them.” He points at the girls huddled around the dining room fireplace. “Ask them.”

The boys walk over, looking around suspiciously. Only Nachi is left fiddling with the lock. “I don’t know how we’ll reset the lock without the code.”

A boy bounds back to Nachi. “The girls say that there are other issues. They couldn’t get into the pantry either. The code didn’t work.”

Nachi groans. “Maybe they jammed in the cold. I wonder what other locks might not be working. The aron!” he says worriedly. “That has a lock, too!”

The boys hurry to the shul room. “If we can’t get the aron open, how are we going to have Krias HaTorah on Shabbos?” another boy wonders. “Do you think it’s stuck, too? What was the code again?”


The boy frowns. “Yeah? I thought it was 724.”

“No, it’s 427,” Nachi says confidently. “I remember it because it’s my birthday. April 27. See?” But when he turns the lock, nothing happens.

“Let’s try mine,” the boy says, and he turns the safe lock first to 7, then 2, then 4. The safe pops open. “That’s it!”

Nachi shakes his head. “That makes no sense. I definitely remembered it being 427.”

Eli studies the aron. “Look,” he says suddenly. There’s a Post-It note attached to the side of the safe, reading CODE 427.

The boy furrows his brow. “If that’s the code, then why didn’t it work?”

Eli has an idea. He hurries to the front door. It slams behind him, locking him out, but he isn’t too worried. If he’s wrong, someone will let him in.

Outside is colder than ever, especially since he hadn’t bothered to put on his coat. The wind is rough, and the ice is sticky and freezing beneath his feet. He sees a movement in the window closest to him — Squizzle, safely inside.

A rumbling noise sounds from the top of an ice mountain. Eli turns to squint through the sun. Is that…? Oh, boy. The polar bear rests there, black eyes fixed on Squizzle in the window.

Eli shudders and returns to the lock. Carefully, fingers pink and trembling in the cold, he punches in the numbers: 3, 1, 6.

The lock springs open. “They all still work,” he reports to Nachi once he’s back inside and warm. “The codes are just reversed.”

Nachi tries the pantry and gets it open. “That’s so strange. I guess these locks aren’t made for weather this cold.” He pulls out cereals. “Well, that’s settled now. I’ll let the custodian know when he comes by later. We’ve got to make sure everyone’s ready for our Shabbos guests!”

Everyone helps get ready for Shabbos. First, the boys cook while the girls set up the dining room. Then, the girls take over in the kitchen while the boys prepare upstairs. Eli slices carrots and sweeps floors and eats cookies that one group had baked, and by Thursday evening, the welcome center is all set for Shabbos.

Someone has made fresh potato kugel for dinner, and Eli and Nellie eat some at the fireplace. Squizzle nibbles at a bowl of sunflower seeds. “The polar bear’s still out there,” Eli says. “I think it’s waiting for Squizzle to come out.”

“At least it hasn’t attacked the welcome center,” Nellie says, absentmindedly turning a page. She snatches a spoonful of kugel from Eli’s bowl. “This is so good. It reminds me of Zaidy Zee’s kugel.”

“I wonder what date it’ll be when we get back,” Eli says thoughtfully. “If it’ll be right when we left or days later.”

“Could go either way.” Nellie turns the pages of her book again. “I’m just happy that Shira had the book that I was reading before we left. I won’t have to wait until we get home to finish it… if we figure out how to get home.”

“It must have something to do with that mailbox,” Eli reminds her. “Remember the weird indentation in it?”

“Right.” Nellie turns another page. “I don’t get it,” she complains. “I keep turning to the page I’m on, but whenever I look up, the pages flip back to page 100. Is there a wind blowing in here?” She puts her hand on top of the open book, then looks up at Eli.

Eli looks down. The book is on the 100th page. “Did you move your hand?”

“No! Something weird is going on.”

“The locks this morning were strange, too.” Eli climbs to his feet. “I wonder if there’s anything else.”

Nellie follows, leaving her book closed on the floor. When Eli glances back at it, it’s open to page 100.

But the other boys laugh when he tells them about it. “You think something’s wrong because… the pages of your book are turning?” Pinny says skeptically. “Maybe you should just stop turning them.”

“That’s not what I mean!” Eli says, frustrated. “What about the locks this morning?”

Pinny shrugs. “Someone wrote the numbers wrong. Who cares?”

“They don’t know anything,” Nellie mutters to Eli. “You’re right. I know what my book did.”

“Let me show you the lock.” Eli leads her outside. Squizzle chitters nervously at the sight of the polar bear, a shadow in the dark, and runs back inside. “Look. It’s obviously 613— I mean, that’s just a basic code, and now—” He peers through the darkness to punch in the numbers.

Nellie says, “Uh, Eli?” She huddles into her coat. “Quick question. Didn’t you say it was summer here?”

“Right. But the lock—”

“And it’s supposed to be light all day and night?”

Eli looks at Nellie, her face lit only by the moon. In the dark. “Something is very wrong.” He dashes back inside.

“Wait!” Nellie tears after him. “Don’t leave me in the cold!”

“Pinny! Nachi! Look! If nothing’s wrong, then explain this!” Eli says, gesturing them over to the door. “It’s summer, but the sun is—” He pushes the door open, bringing in the wind and a blast of sunlight. “…out again?” It makes no sense. He wants to scream.

Nachi looks kindly at Eli. “You have a great imagination,” he says. “But right now, I just want to eat my kugel. Maybe Mordechai and Ariella want to play with you.” The little ones bounce hopefully. Pinny snorts.

Eli rubs his head and stares hard at the doorway.

Something is very wrong here.


(Originally featured in Cozey, Issue 997)

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