The secret door. Over the mountain, across the wood, behind the waterfall. They had found it. Finally. Now they just needed to open it. But how?
And why? Because some cross-eyed, old man told them they must. Because something in his appearance – skin like crinkled parchment paper wrapped against sharp bone and a nose that nearly snaked its way to his neck – spoke of urgent truth. You see, truth to any child is much easier of a thing to detect, for the young mind always appears in its most unbiased state, unhindered by years of disbelief or disappointment.
So, when the man gave directions to the secret door, Gertie and Samuel believed he knew the way.
“Over the mountain, across the wood, behind the waterfall …”
The journey sounded grander and happier than it should, filled with curls of mountains in the sky and trickling threads of water that certainly would never be found in the darkness of their mother’s death or the spiced fury of their father’s rum.
They trudged for more than two hours in pearl-white snow, weaving their way up then down the mountain and across a stringy forest of evergreens. Inside a clearing large enough to see a whole patch of yellow winter sky, they saw the small waterfall, still glistening in afternoon light.
Here, over the mountain, across the wood, behind the waterfall, the secret was sweeter than either of them could have guessed. Mounds of pink and green taffy were stacked high on long tables next to plates of melty chocolate chip cookies and rainbow-sprinkled vanilla donuts. The room was larger than expected, and smelled of sugar and pine.
And then they took one step more and everything disappeared into a swirling nothingness made from innocence and imagination. No cookies. No sprinkles. Just a windowless room with too-high ceilings and a missing floorboard by the door.
“It doesn’t make sense!” Gertie said.
“It doesn’t need to,” Samuel replied.
Right then they both knew the truth about why the old man with the lanky nose sent them here. In this room below the mountain, beyond the wood and through the waterfall, they could start life anew, and that was the greatest secret of all.