Every time Harry came here, the experience was the same. He’d climb his way up the wooden slats, paying careful attention to every grip and hand hold. Despite having done this countless times, the experience brought him immeasurable joy. How blessed he was, to have been born into this family. To have inherited such a undeniably amazing retreat. If people only knew.
The boys at school didn’t know. They wouldn’t care. Harry was just the odd one, and always would be. It didn’t matter that he was intelligent, thoughtful, caring and grateful. They knew not of his life thus far. They were not aware of his loss and grief. He was different yes, but for reasons they couldn’t possibly comprehend. He maintained an inner smile that kept him company when no-one else did. He didn't need their approval. He wasn’t jealous of their lives, he wanted for nothing.
His Dad and Grandad before him had clambered up this same rope ladder for many years previously. Artfully carved oak intertwined with the sturdiest of rope that was designed to last. They had taught and passed down through the generations, the wisdom in keeping secrets. Some things were best enjoyed alone. Not everything must be shared. Often sharing was akin to watering down, and that just wouldn’t do.
Harry followed this little ritual of his meticulously . He would imagine the conversations between his ancestors before him, as they’d clamber higher and higher, out of sight. The world they had lived in was unrecognisable to him. They’d survived wars, famines, endured rationed food and persecutions. They’d seen horrors he’d only heard described in history lessons. They were tough and made of something stronger than mere flesh and blood. Nothing had phased them. He would always honour their memory.
The faithful family dog remained firmly on the ground, her feeble pins now unable to bear the ascent . Gone were the days where she would bound up above them and await their arrival several minutes later. Lately, she was content to observe from below and snooze whilst the youthful excitement echoed from beyond the rustling leaves. She was the treehouse guardian, albeit unaware of the responsibility granted her. But she was keeping her integrity and would never utter anything to anyone, of that Harry was confident.
Somehow, despite years of appreciative visitors, the ancient treehouse had never aged. It had witnessed numerous liaisons. It had been the sole observer of a boy’s unrequited love for his neighbours daughter. The tears he’d wept, the poems he’d written and would read out loud in an emotional display worthy of a Shakespearean play. The treehouse knew many secrets. It held them all. It knew deepest and darkest fears and had whispered comfort to its lonely companions. It had welcomed the disbelievers, the tainted, the judged, the misfits. It had looked on as unbreakable friendships were forged, promises were made and broken, even revenge painstakingly planned...
Once, Harry had contemplated when he was younger, throwing himself off that top step, just to experience the temporary freedom that could only be gained from the fall. Such was his trust in the treehouse that he was convinced it would allow no harm to come to him. It’s branches would reach down and whisk him from his demise. What had prevented him, was the realisation that he would never get to come here again, and this thought saddened him deeply. The treehouse was his only friend. All he had left.
But now it was different. He wasn’t alone anymore. His trust in her had been cemented through hardships shared and mutual expectations shattered. After toiling and contemplating their twinned fate, he had finally decided to allow her to share his secret, his sanctuary, his release. It had taken many years to reach this point, such was his fear of her reaction. For this was no ordinary treehouse. He needed to be certain she would be loyal and tell no-one of what happened here. He had carefully concocted small tests along their journey together. Her integrity was un-matched and beyond doubt in his mind.
Her brown, curly locks bounced as he guided her up and up, her eyes widening in disbelief, not only at the height, but on the emotional reaction that was brewing behind her smile. A lightness filled the air around her. She felt almost euphoric. Was she awake or having a dream? Harry followed her cautiously, terrified that she would fall and plummet to the ground beneath them. Once at the top, they both sigh in relief at that last exertion and collapsed into the expectant space therein. She couldn’t believe her eyes. She sat, silent, bewildered.
Harry recalled fondly his first time in the treehouse. His father had waited until he was 12 years old to entrust him with the whereabouts and what lay beyond. This was a secret held by many generations before them. Every male in the family was privy to this mystery. No women had ever been honoured with the same privilege. The reasons for which he had dared not ask. Harry was the first to break this tradition. He was satisfied he hadn’t made a mistake.
His Grandad had named it The Tardis, and with good reason. Despite its position high into the clouds, once inside, you were sure you’d been taken to another dimension, another world.
Made entirely of wood, there were intricately carved doors in every direction, all closed, with padlocked bolts. The floor appeared to be also made of wood, but sanded and varnished to a shimmering mirror-like finish. A blinding light exploded from the back of the expanse, as if beyond reach, narrowing to a distant bright star. A mist was swirling around that engulfed you with a mystical breeze. The air was crisp, fresh, invigorating and yet somehow equally alluring, even unnerving. You felt, in that moment, that your life would never be the same again.
Harry allowed her to let it sink in. She had imagined something surprising and unexpected, but this? This was beyond anything she could even concoct in her wildest dreams. She leaned over the side tentatively, unsure of what exactly she was expecting to see.
Harry takes out a distinct key from his zipped pocket. He places a reassuring hand on her arm. Their eyes meet momentarily as he slowly turns the key and the mechanism releases. A nod exchanges between them, and the door opens wide. Her life will never be the same, Harry thinks to himself. He holds back the apology, sitting on the edge of his lips, so desperate to be spoken. But it’s too late for regrets now. The treehouse requires it. Who is he to refuse?