Mr. and Mrs. Dallas squeezed their way through the small wood opening leading to floor four of their dear son Jamie and his best friend Scotty’s treehouse. To get to this point, the Dallases had to guess the first two guards’ super-secret passwords and shove the last guard into a pile of discarded wood and things the children had collected.
1. Password? Open sesame.
2. Password? No girls allowed. Except Dana Transue because she’s into the cool anime and shit.
3. “Just shove the kid,” shouted Mr. Dallas.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Dallas were pleased about having to shove their son’s fifth or sixth best friend—little Oliver Deak—into a pile of discarded wood . They knew he scraped his elbow, but they told themselves they could smooth that over with the Deaks when they saw them next week.
Tonight, they were tired after working all day. Tonight, Jamie needed to come down and sleep in his own bed after watching some TV with his parents.
“How many floors does this place have?” Mrs. Dallas asked as her and her husband climbed yet another ladder that would lead to another spiral staircase. A pleasant aroma of fruit snacks and sap weaved through her nostrils.
Mr. Dallas didn’t want to answer her. He knew she would not like the answer because he didn’t like it much at all either. He pretended to choke on a speck of something that floated down the wrong pipe to stall. Buying the deluxe version of the treehouse for Jamie and his best bud Scotty was his idea and his alone. Despite his pleadings, his own father never built him a treehouse and he resented him fully for it.
He mumbled a multiple of five to his wife.
The two entered a sizable wooden ballroom, where a masked boy danced to silence with a phantom partner.
“Whispers say,” the masked boy hummed, “the house grows with the wood of the world tree.”
“Greggy Schuler,” Mrs. Dallas said in a curt tone. “Knock that off and let us through.” She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, smearing dirt across her slick brow.
“Password?” Greggy Schuler said. “Can’t let you through without one, Mrs. Dallas. Jamie wouldn’t like that at all. He wouldn’t be my friend anymore.”
Mr. and Mrs. Dallas huddled together, quickly deciding not to shove this kid out of the way. Mr. and Mrs. Schuler were lawyers. The cries of Oliver Deak still lingered in their ears, the little shit. No matter that this was Greggy Schuler, who wet their sofa during a sleepover two years ago.
“What did he call us when we confronted him about that?” Mr. Dallas said.
“Fuck-faces,” Mrs. Dallas nodded. It was a bold, daring moment for the kid—well worth the punishments his own mother would have for him at home.
Greggy Schuler removed his mask and bowed to his phantom partner. He moved from the door. “Proceed.”
As Mr. and Mrs. Dallas stepped past the boy, he grabbed their arms. His eyes pooled with tears, and he whispered to them.
“Do you think I can go home now? Do you think my mom will be mad?”
“Furious,” Mr. Dallas said. “It’s a damn school night, Greg.”
Snot dripped from the boy’s nose, now. “School,” he said moving towards the descending stairs. “I remember it.” His voice faded. “Jamie and Scotty are not the children you built this treehouse for, Mr. Dallas. None of us are.”
The air changed from there. How long had it been since they lost Jamie to his treehouse? Mr. Dallas said it had only been a few hours since dinner, but Mrs. Dallas felt the seconds linger as they moved beyond the reasonable floors. They met more of Jamie’s friends. At the very least, they could see he was popular at school and in the neighborhood. The two of them worried about that.
5. Password? Fraggles
6. Password? The New Deal
7. Password? 1906
29. Password? Ecclesiastes
On the 49th floor, Mr. and Mrs. Dallas expressed some regret to each other about resorting to shoving as many children out of the way as they did on their journey here. But the passwords grew more complex with the rising floors, and the two of them only grew even more tired. So, they shoved. Knocked these kids down and left some of them there crying into the seams of the treehouse’s bones.
Dana Transue—eating peanut butter, despite her fatal allergy—greeted them on the 49th floor. She wore a ‘cool’ anime t-shirt over a long crimson ball gown. She knew what Mr. and Mrs. Dallas wanted to say to her, so she interrupted them with a biting tone. “Don’t be so dumb,” she said. “We are above allergies in this tree. Beyond their reach. Beyond yours.”
Even so, she had a fresh epi pen just an arm’s length away from her on the table.
Mr. and Mrs. Dallas stood ankle deep in peanut shells, having to wade through them to get to Dana.
“Password?” Dana asked, opening a box of crispety, crunchety, peanut buttery Reese’s Puffs. Family size. “Jamie and I are going out, you know.”
“Oh, we’re thrilled,” Mrs. Dallas said, smiling. “You’ll have to come over for dinner.”
“We’ll see,” Dana shook her head. “Jamie, Scotty and I are thinking of moving up here for good. Just get away from it all, you know?”
“Sure,” Mr. Dallas said.
Mrs. Dallas grabbed the epi pen and pressed it to Dana’s thigh. “Go home,” she said. “Come for dinner tomorrow.”
Dana laughed and threw Reese’s Puffs at the Dallases until they left. Mr. Dallas caught one in his mouth, and it was better than the egg whites he had for breakfast this morning despite how much he knew he needed the egg whites to survive his impending heart attack.
Jamie Dallas ladled water from a shallow bowl over the back of his neck. He sat hunched over in the middle of the floor and breathed out when he sensed his parents in the doorway.
A dense heat washed over Mr. and Mrs. Dallas. The moon shone bright through cracks in the treehouse’s roof.
“We’re close to the moon,” Jamie wheezed, “but the sun isn’t far either.”
Scotty Agnew—Jamie’s best friend since tee-ball—lay in the corner of this darkened wood room. Violence lived here until recently. The boy breathed despite bruised ribs. He chewed on the strings of his hoodie to calm himself. His brother recently broke into a neighbor’s home, so Mr. Dallas forbade Jamie from seeing Scotty again. Just like that. Ripping the potential bad seed from the heart of his healthy son.
“I’ll admit I’m scared,” Mr. Dallas said to Mrs. Dallas after they conferred about the Scotty situation in bed yesterday morning. “About how much damage I’m about to do.”
Jamie ran from them when they told him. Scotty was—as ever—waiting outside by the Dallas’s basketball net. Jamie grabbed his hand and pulled him towards their tree house in the deeper grove of trees. They climbed it. They climbed beyond it and shouted to the neighborhood as they did.
“We can revisit the Scotty situation,” Mrs. Dallas said to her son. “We reacted too quickly.”
“We’ve moved past it,” Scotty said, a gleam of nasty in his moonlit eyes. “I told him, I said, I told him you were right about the deviant in me.”
Mr. Dallas knew it. He put his hands on the hips over his khaki legs. This damn kid.
Jamie ladled another scoop of water over his head. He ran his hands over his skull, next. Drops streamed softly from his fingers to the bowl.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’re thinking of the next password.”
A door in the shadows beside Scotty only then became apparent to Mr. and Mrs. Dallas.
“This used to be the top,” Scotty said, humming to himself. “We could go farther.”
Mr. and Mrs. Dallas went to the window together and looked out over their neighborhood. The houses stood dark, underneath the shadow of the tree. Clouds seeped in through the window and the cracks in the treehouse’s wood.
“We can go farther,” Mrs. Dallas said. She moved away from the view, towards her son.
Mr. Dallas sat against the wall under the window. A splinter had found its way into his thumb; he plucked it, and oozed one drop of red from his finger.
He had work in a few hours. All of them moved together beyond the morning.