| Tales of Treeo |

Up North: Chapter 8

The glass has disappeared so cleanly, it looks like it was never there

Eli: This time, the strange thing that happened was there was no heat! It was so cold.
Nellie: I’m st-st-still shivering. It w-w-was aw-f-f-ful!
Squizzle: And when we confronted the custodian, he denied everything!



hen Eli wakes up on Monday, his first thought is oh, no. The heat is broken again. It’s so cold that his teeth are chattering, and he can feel the wind whipping his face. But it’s much worse than that.

There are shouts from downstairs, families calling to each other. “Pin the blanket here! Block this one!” Eli puts on his glasses and looks around.

The blackout shade in his room is blowing inward. Had someone opened the window? Even little Mordechai wouldn’t do something that ridiculous, not at the North Pole. Eli lifts the shade and gasps.

The window glass is gone. There’s just a big rectangular opening in the middle of the wall. The plastic frame of the window is still intact, but that’s all there is. The glass has disappeared so cleanly, it looks like it was never there.

Nellie must be furious. Eli puts on his clothes and coat and hurries downstairs. Nellie is with a group of girls trying desperately to nail a blanket to the wall over what used to be a window. “We have to stop the wind first!” Nellie calls out. “Then we can deal with the cold.” She shivers uncontrollably. “And the snow.”

There’s a large pile of snow across the floor, blown in through the holes in the wall.

Eli joins a group of boys in the shul, where they’re trying to push a bookcase in front of one of the windows. “There must have been a bad wind last night,” Nachi pants, inching the bookcase closer to the window. “It broke all the windows.”

Eli’s eyes narrow. He doesn’t believe that for a second. The wind is strong, but no worse than it had been when he’d first gotten to here. No, this has to be the custodian at work. “If it broke all the windows, where’s the glass?”

Pinny makes a face. “Why do you care about the glass?” he asks. “What, you think you can glue the windows back together? Get real, Eli.” He heaves the bookcase forward with a few others. With a loud thump, they manage to stand it firmly in front of the window, protecting the shul from the wind.

The cold still seeps in, vicious and unrelenting. “I’m just saying,” he says, though he’s pretty much given up on getting the boys to listen to him. “Don’t you think it’s strange that the windows all blew out, in every direction, and there’s no glass on the floor of the shul?”

Nachi frowns. “Maybe it got pulled out onto the ice. It is strange.”

Eli pulls out one of his gloves. Something small and metallic clinks to the floor, and he bends down to retrieve it. It’s the compass the clubhouse left for them when they’d first gotten to the North Pole. He opens it absently.

The arrow is sitting on the “North.” Odd. Maybe they’d moved more south than Eli thought. Carefully, he rotates in a circle, his eyes on the compass. But no matter where he turns, the compass points north.

“Hey, Pinny,” Eli says, turning again. “We’re at the North Pole, right?”

Pinny squints at him. “Did you hit your head when the windows broke? Yeah, we’re at the North Pole. Where else would we be? Florida?” He laughs at his own joke.

Eli ignores him. Turns again. Still, the compass turns north.

He goes to find Nellie. “See, the Earth is a huge magnet,” he says. “The top part is called north and the bottom is called south. So a compass at the North Pole is only going to point south.”

Nellie takes the compass and twists it around on her palm. “You think that the compass is something else that was reversed?”

“I think what it shows on the compass might be the reason why things keep getting reversed,” Eli corrects her. “No one knows what would happen if the magnetic poles of the Earth are swapped. It could be nothing…”

“…or it could be a bunch of really weird, unexplainable mysteries,” Nellie finishes. “But who’s doing this?”

“We know who,” Eli says grimly. “What we don’t know, is how.” He glances around the room, but the custodian is nowhere to be found. “He must have done something to the welcome house this morning. And now we have no windows.”

“This can’t get any worse,” Nellie sighs.

But it does, just a few seconds later. Mrs. Teichman comes running down the stairs, her eyes wild. “Ariella?” she calls. “Has anyone seen Ariella?”

At first, people just shrug. A few girls split up to check the bedrooms. Nellie looks worried. “Ariella was here earlier. She kept talking about ‘stopping the bad man.’ I was busy trying to block off the windows, so I didn’t pay much attention to her, but I wonder if she tried to find the custodian.”

A girl emerges from the top of the stairs. “She’s not upstairs!” she says. “But her boots and coat are missing.”

Mrs. Teichman looks frantic. “Did she go out into the snow? She’s only three! Did anyone see her leave?”

Nachi hurries out of the shul and grabs his coat. “We’ll go out and search for her,” he says. “Everyone, get the radios! We have to split up.”

“I have an idea,” says Eli. Ariella had been there on Friday when they’d tried to follow the custodian. If she’s gone out to track him down, she would have walked that way, toward the mailbox.

Nachi pats him on the yarmulke. “Eli, you’re funny, and you have lots of interesting ideas,” he begins, and Eli’s heart sinks. “But you’re too young to be out in the snow with us. Why don’t you stay here in case Ariella comes back?” He holds out a radio. “You can use one of these cool radios,” he offers, wiggling his eyebrows.

Eli is getting very tired of being treated like a little kid. But he nods, his face carefully expressionless, and doesn’t say a word until all the search parties have left.

Beside him, Nellie scowls. “Why’d you let him go on without us?” she demands. “We could have found Ariella easily. We know where she’s going!”

Eli shakes his head. “There’s no point in asking them to take us with them. No matter what we say, they aren’t going to take us seriously.” He lowers his voice so none of the adults still in the dining room can hear him. “We’ll just go and find her ourselves.”

Nellie grins. “Now, that’s my Eli,” she says. She holds out an arm so Squizzle can jump on. The squirrel crawls up her shoulder — and then jumps onto Eli instead. He burrows under Eli’s coat, letting out a happy rumble. “Let’s get going.”

“Wait,” Eli says. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots the custodian, humming a tune as he wipes down a window. A window? The windows are back, and so is the custodian.

Ariella, however, is not. “I think he’ll lead us right to her,” Eli whispers.

Nellie and Eli stand together, silent except for Squizzle’s low chattering noise, and they wait, hands tucked into their pockets and their expressions in perfect agreement.

After a few minutes, the custodian finishes scrubbing the window and moves on to the next, right near the door. He glances around, as though he’s checking if anyone is watching him. Eli turns away and pretends to talk to Nellie.

Satisfied that he isn’t being observed, the custodian sets down his cleaning supplies and eases the door open just enough to slip outside. He goes so quietly and quickly that he’s gone in a blink.

But Eli and Nellie are prepared for him to disappear this time. Within seconds, they’re at the door. And with one last look around to make sure no one notices them leave, they follow right behind him.


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 1001)

Oops! We could not locate your form.