We walked along peeking into rooms. They were furnished identically, laid out identically, wallpapered identically: each had a bed, a night table, and a wardrobe, just like the room I’d recuperated in. A pattern of red poppy vines curled across the wallpaper and continued through the carpeting in hypnotic waves, making the whole place seem like it was being slowly reclaimed by nature. In fact, the rooms would’ve been entirely indistinguishable had it not been for the small brass plaques nailed to the doors, which gave each a unique name. All were exotic sounding: The Alps Room, The Gobi Room, The Amazon Room.
Perhaps fifty rooms lined the hallway, and we were halfway down its length—hurrying now, certain there was nothing of use to be discovered here—when a blast of air rolled over us that was so cold it prickled my skin.
“Whoo!” I said, hugging myself. “Where’d that come from?”
“Could be someone left a window open?” Emma said.
“But it’s not cold outside,” I said, and she shrugged.
We continued down the hall, the air chilling more the farther we went. Finally, we turned a corner and came to a section of hall where icicles had formed on the ceiling and frost glistened on the carpet. The cold seemed to be emanating from one room in particular, and we stood before it watching flakes of snow waft, one by one, from the crack beneath its door.
“That is very strange,” I said, shivering.
“Definitely unusual,” Emma agreed, “even by my standards.”
I stepped forward, my feet crunching on the snowy carpet, to examine the plaque on the door. It read: The Siberia Room.
I looked at Emma. She looked at me.
“It’s probably just a hyperactive air conditioner,” she said.
“Let’s open it and find out,” I said. I reached for the knob and tried it, but it wouldn’t turn. “It’s locked.”
Emma put her hand on the knob and kept it there for several seconds. It began to drip water as ice melted from inside it.
“Not locked,” she said. “Frozen.”
She twisted the knob and pushed the door, but it opened only an inch; snow was piled up on the other side. We put our shoulders to its surface and, on the count of three, shoved. The door flung open and a gust of arctic air slapped us. Snow flurried everywhere, into our eyes, into the hall behind us.
Shielding our faces, we peered inside. It was furnished like the other rooms—bed, wardrobe, night table—but here were indistinct humps of white buried under deep-piled snow.
“What is this?” I said, shouting to be heard above the wind’s howl. “Another loop?”
“It can’t be!” Emma shouted back. “We’re already in one!”
Leaning into the wind, we stepped inside for a closer look. I’d thought that the snow and ice were coming through an open window, but then the flurry abated and I saw there was no window at all, not even a wall at the far end of the room. Ice-coated walls stood on either side of us, a ceiling above us, and probably a carpet was somewhere below our feet, but where a fourth wall should’ve been the room gave way to an ice cave, and beyond that to open air, open ground, and an endless vista of white snow and black rocks.
This was, as near as I could tell, Siberia.
A single track of shoveled snow led through the room and into the whiteness beyond. We shuffled down the path, out of the room and into the cave, marveling at everything around us. Giant spikes of ice rose from the floor and hung from the ceiling like a forest of white trees.
Emma was hard to impress—she was nearly a hundred years old and had seen a lifetime’s worth of peculiar things—but this place seemed to fill her with genuine wonder.
“This is astonishing!” she said, bending to scoop up a handful of snow. She tossed it at me, laughing. “Isn’t it astonishing?”
“It is,” I said through chattering teeth, “but what’s it doing here?”
We threaded between the giant icicles and emerged into the open. Looking back, I could no longer see the room at all; it was perfectly camouflaged inside the cave.
Emma hurried ahead, then turned back and said, “Over here!” in an urgent voice.
I shuffled through deepening snow to her side. The landscape was bizarre. Before us was a white, flat field, past which the ground fell away in deep, undulating folds, like crevasses.
“We’re not alone,” said Emma, and pointed to a detail I’d missed. A man was standing at the edge of a crevasse, peering down into it.
“What’s he doing?” I said, more or less rhetorically.
“Looking for something, it would seem.”
We watched him walk slowly along the crevasse, always staring down. After about a minute, I realized I was so cold that I could no longer feel my face. A gust of snowy wind blew up and blanked the scene.
When it died down a moment later, the man was staring right at us.
Emma stiffened. “Uh-oh.”
“Do you think he sees us?”
Emma looked down at her bright yellow dress. “Yes.”
We stood there for a moment, our eyes locked on the man as he stared at us across the white wasteland—and then he took off running in our direction. He was hundreds of yards away through deep snow and a landscape of undulating fissures. It was unclear whether he meant us harm, but we were in a place we weren’t supposed to be and it seemed like the best thing to do was leave—a decision that was soundly reinforced by a howl, the likes of which I’d heard only once before, in the Gypsies’ camp.