BY LILLIAN HEWITT-SCHOLTES
“I bet two days of laundry chores that it’s a marsh,” the woman says.
The boy beside her scrunches up his face at her guess and shakes his head. “Nah, marsh was last week. My bet’s that it’s gonna be a beach in the Bahamas. It’s close enough in the cycle for it.”
The two of them stand before the great steel door that keeps the two worlds separate. They stare at its rust spots and corroding latches.
Was that patch of rust there last night? the boy wonders, eyes squinting at the top right corner. Peeking left towards the lady, he takes a step forward and splays his hand on the door. The metal has grown thinner over the years, and his fingers encounter a shock of coldness. His hopes for the beach slip quickly through his bony fingers. When he pulls his hand away, flakes of coppery metal follow, sticking to his skin.
“It’s cold. Colder than the beach would be.” The boy’s thick brow furrows as he looks back to the woman.
She smiles at his slight pout, laugh lines deepening as she ruffles his hair. “Well, that rules out most of the hot spots. You think it might be the mountains again? Last time was rather enjoyable,” she teases. Their last encounter with that precipitous terrain left her young companion in stitches and not the good kind. Turns out wild goats have quite the temper when pushed too far.
“I thought we’d moved past that!” he whines. “That was ages ago anyway. Completely irrelevant now.” Turning his back to the woman, he hears a bark of laughter from behind him and fights to stifle his giggles. His laughter begins to fade.
“What if it’s… the tree?”
The mountains aren’t the only place they have faced peril. The boy’s shoulders tighten with tension, and he buries his hands deep in his pants pockets, clenching and unclenching his fists as he remembers. His fingernails find their home in the crescent-shaped scars on his palm, deepening the already existing dents.
His scars don’t stop there either. Thorn-shaped marks crisscross his left arm from when the vines of the tree had coiled around him. A few thin scars trail up towards his shoulder.
On days like today, when his fears are at the forefront of his thoughts, memories of grappling with slithering vines flicker through his mind until he shakes them away.
“There’s been enough cycles for it to appear again,” he whispers. “What if it’s exactly like last time? What if nothing’s changed?”
“Then we open the door, and hope that everything has changed.” Silence stills the air between them.
The woman’s attention is fixed on the door. She is remembering, too. She remembers the markings a much younger boy left on a much more intact door—ten tiny fingers printed in green paint, slapped right in the middle of the steel.
She’s surprised the door and its locks have held together for this long with the number of times it’s been unlatched and slammed shut.
But the locks are wearing down now. She can see it each time they leave their home. It scares her to think about what might happen should the door refuse to lock or the hinges give out, the rust spreading like a virus to destroy their safety.
For now, however, the door still stands. Its frame is littered with rough notches that have grown higher and higher as the years have worn on, the latest being only centimetres shorter than herself. Her son is growing, and as much as she misses her chubby-cheeked child, she marvels at the young man he is becoming.
“Now, let’s get a move on. The quicker we open that door, the quicker we can get out of this stuffy room.” She said softly.
Nodding, the boy releases a shuttered breath as he walks towards the door, hands shaking slightly. The methodical sound of locks clicking echoes around the quiet room as the boy makes quick work of each latch. At the last lock, a large industrial cabin hook, the boy rests his hand on the door and hesitates.
“I swear to the gods that if it’s anything but a beach, I’m going to scream,” He clenches his jaw until a dull ache sets into his back teeth. Then he unhitches the pin and lets in the light.
A soft gust of arctic wind gently pushes the door open and small speckles of snow drift into the room. Beyond the doorframe of their safe haven, frozen trees and shrubs blend in with their white surroundings, blanketed in thick layers of pure white snow. The boy’s shoulders relax, but as he shivers in the wintry air, the beginnings of a frown furrow his forehead—he supposes anything is better than stale air and a lone tree. Beside him, the woman traces her eyes along the scenery. The corner of her mouth upturns when she sees a white rabbit dart from one ice-covered shrub to the next.
Turning to the young boy, the woman grins and nods to the chest in the corner of the room. “Think it’s cold enough for coats?”
“I think it’s cold enough for pneumonia. The snow was only a couple of days ago, why is it back so soon?” He heaves open a worn chest to reveal an array of heavy coats and scratchy blankets. “I thought this rubbish was supposed to be random,” he mutters to himself. He has been looking forward to the Bahamas, to heat.