| Treeo Serial |

Up North: Chapter 7

“It’s just so cold,” says Mrs. Teichman, Nachi’s mother. “I didn’t realize how quickly the welcome house would cool off”

Eli: The custodian sneaked out, and of course we followed him.
Nellie: But he got away before we could see where he was going! And when we came back in, more strange things started happening.
Squizzle: You two always skip over the most important parts of the story, like how I’m the one who saw him come back, and I’m the one being hunted by a polar bear. This is my story!


t’s Nellie’s worst nightmare. If you looked up horror in the Official Nellie Dictionary, you’d see this Sunday afternoon, with a picture of Nellie right now, huddled at the fireplace.

They’re trapped at the North Pole, and the heat isn’t working in the welcome house. It’s been five minutes, and Nellie already wants to cry. It’s so cold. The vents are blowing chilly air instead of hot, and no one is sure why it happened. Mrs. Markowitz had brought out the portable space heaters, but they feel like ice when Nellie comes close to them.

“Our generator must be broken,” Nachi says grimly. “It happened out of nowhere.” One second, the room had been warm — not warm enough for Nellie, but at least it had been a little warm. The next, all the heating had switched to air conditioning.

Nellie is miserable. She shivers in her coat and wraps the two blankets that she’d grabbed from the cupboard around herself more tightly. Today, she isn’t the only one with a coat and a blanket. Ariella has curled onto her lap for extra warmth and has a blanket of her own, and everyone else is sitting close to the fireplace, too, enjoying the bits of heat they can feel.

“It’s just so cold,” says Mrs. Teichman, Nachi’s mother. “I didn’t realize how quickly the welcome house would cool off.”

Mr. Teichman’s teeth chatter. “It’d help if the heat weren’t blowing cold air,” he points out. “But I’m afraid to shut it off in case it starts working again. It’s at the lowest setting now.”

Mrs. Markowitz shakes her head. “I’m beginning to think that this whole endeavor was a mistake,” she says gloomily. “If the generator and the backup generator are both malfunctioning like this, we’re going to have to call for help. It’s only been a few days since we arrived! If we can’t make it a week here, how could we maintain a welcome house long-term?”

Mrs. Teichman disagrees. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” she says. “With Hashem’s help, we’ll get through this rough beginning and find our way.”

Mrs. Markowitz scoffs. “Or Hashem is telling us to go home,” she shoots back. “I know that I’m ready to get out of here. I signed up for hachnassas orchim and kiruv, not to freeze to death!” She grabs her blanket and stalks off.

Nellie shivers. If the custodian is really trying to chase them off, he’s doing a good job. Many of the families have been talking about leaving, about catching the next boat to the mainland. The cold is bitter and sharp, biting deep into Nellie’s bones, and she can’t imagine staying here much longer.

Eli comes and sits beside her. He’s holding one of the portable heaters, and Nellie flinches away from it. “No way! Those things are freezing!”

“Not this one.” Eli places it down in front of Nellie. Carefully, she places her hand over it. It’s warm, like hot cocoa on a winter’s day, and Nellie moves in closer, guiding Ariella’s hands over the heater, too.

“How’d you fix it?”

“I didn’t.” Eli shows her the controls. “I just put it on the cool setting and it started to blow warm air instead. I bet that if we did the same to the heat, it would work.” He sighs. “I tried to suggest it to Pinny, but he just rolled his eyes and told me to leave the thinking to the adults.”

“You’re smarter than plenty of adults,” Nellie says loyally. She’s made some friends here, but many of the girls are younger than the boys, and the boys all seem pretty tough. “And I bet you could warm up the welcome house if they’d just listen.”

“Eli the best,” Ariella adds, beaming at him and holding her hands next to the heater.

Now that she’s a little warmer, Nellie can think again. It’s like her brain has finally started to thaw out. “It feels like a lot of what’s going on isn’t random. Like, the lock codes were the same numbers in the opposite direction. You said the boys were singing backward on Friday night. And now the heat is working in reverse.”

“The day turned to night. And those candles were burning up instead of melting down. Something, or someone is flipping things around,” Eli agrees. “It doesn’t seem like there’s any particular reason or order to it. Things go in reverse and then correct themselves, over and over again. It’s like the weirdest Purim shtick ever.”

“I’m definitely going to try something like this with my class when we get home.” Nellie grins, then her smile falters. “If we ever get home. What if we’re stuck here forever?”

“Oh, I’ve already thought that through,” Eli says confidently. “We just wait until the day that we left home, and then call for help. Obviously, it won’t make any sense to our family that we’ve somehow traveled from Lionstone to the North Pole, but it doesn’t make that much sense to me, either. Then we close the time loop and live happily ever after, until the treehouse takes us somewhere else. Somewhere warmer,” he promises, and Nellie smiles. “I mean, that’s assuming that we’re in the right year. But I think we are. The calendar matches up.”

“We just have to make it through a couple more months in the snow.”

Nellie groans. “If I have to go another week…” her voice trails off. The custodian is in the room again, wearing gloves and scrubbing the wall where Ariella had thrown her spaghetti and meatballs at lunchtime. There’s a bright red stain on the wall, and the custodian is probably going to be there for a while.

That’s plenty of time for Nellie to speak to him. “Oh, we’re going to have a conversation,” she says, rising to her feet.

Her blankets fall beneath her, and she’s hit by a wave of cold, but she ignores it. She’s angry now, freezing cold and furious, and she is ready to demand answers from the only person who seems to have them. She marches over to the custodian, Eli and Ariella trailing behind her. She puts her hands on her hips and stares him down. “Did you do this?”

The custodian’s dark eyes focus on her. “Excuse me?”

“You don’t need to answer that. We know you did,” Nellie says. “We know what you’re up to. And we’re going to figure out how to stop it!”

The custodian blinks at her. “I’m sorry, little lady,” he says. “I’m very busy right now. And this is difficult work.” His eyes are shifty, and he says ominously, “It’s very cold inside right now.”

He turns to the wall, his shoulders stiff, and Nellie glares hard at his back. Oh, he definitely knows something. And if he keeps at it, he might do something even worse than reversing the heat.

She steps away, but she keeps her eyes on him. That custodian isn’t doing another thing without Nellie there, even if she has to follow him through the welcome house and out into the snow. She isn’t giving up.

But she’s cold.

Reluctantly, Nellie hurries back to the heater. But by the time she makes it to her old spot, the stain on the wall has been scrubbed off, and the custodian is gone again. “We’re gonna get him!” Ariella says confidently. “We’re gonna stop him!”

“Right, Ariella,” Nellie says, huddling deeper into her blanket. “We’re going to have to stop him.” If they can find him. That custodian is slipperier than a gefilte fish when it comes out of the pot.

And a moment later, all of the vents begin to blow warm air again.


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 1000)

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