Elisabet's hands were being kept warm by her parents, who were on either side of her. The rest of her body was tightly wrapped in warm clothes, with the exception of her face, which was terribly cold.
"Mom, how long do we still have to walk?"
"Not very far, honey," replied Lucy in the inaccurate but reassuring way of parents. In fact, Lucy didn't have a clue, and from the way Dan looked at her over their daughter's head, neither had he.
They had promised Elisabet something special for her seventh birthday, a trip to the new Fantasyland, but now that they were at the given address this didn't look at all like a good idea. The pedestrian’s exit from the parking lot had led to this long, straight road flanked by brown, frozen fields. The parking lot itself had been quite well filled - Elisabet had been very angry that they were so late to arrive - but nobody was visible on the road, nor was an end, like the entrance to the amusement park, in sight.
“Are you sure?” asked the little girl. “This looks all wrong!” A tear rolled down her cheek, almost freezing on her skin. Lucy was starting to worry; she hadn’t noticed just how cold it was when they had left home, and she hadn’t prepared for a long walk like this. Nevertheless, she smiled down at her daughter, wiping the tear away.
“Yes, I am sure that we are on the right track. Look, Elisabet, it’s like a pilgrimage, and we are the pilgrims on their way to a very special place.”
“Like in the book with the other Elisabet? The one Daddy is always reading to me?”
“Exactly. You are just like the other girl.”
“But she was running back through time, and it was always summer for her!”
“Poor darling, come here, I’ll warm you up,” said Dan and heaved her into his arms. Elisabet pressed her face into his cloak.
Exchanging a worried glance, her parents continued to walk towards the only visible landmark: a bare-branched, scrawny but high tree at the side of the road. It made the landscape look even more bleak.
After some time Elisabet lifted her head to watch where they were going.
“Look, there is a bird on that tree!” she said.
Dan and Lucy noticed it for the first time.
“You are right, honey, that’s a blackbird. They don’t migrate in winter, but this doesn’t look like a very cosy home for a bird...”
“I think it is watching us,” whispered the girl as they got closer to the tree.
“We are the only ones moving for miles around, that must be interesting even for a small bird,” smiled Lucy.
A few seconds later what Elisabet had thought was a bird took off and flew down in a spiral towards the pilgrims. It stopped sideways in front of her, hanging motionless in the air to look at her. The small, beady black eye opened and closed with a mechanism Elisabet connected with cameras.
“Hello, little birdie,” she said, not sensing the startled surprise of her parents. “Do you know where Fantasyland is? Today is my birthday and I really want to go there.”
She made a move to touch the strange bird, but Dan quickly took a step back so she wasn’t able to reach it.
“I don’t think you should touch a bird like that,” he replied, watching the thing cautiously.
Lucy approached it carefully. It winked at her in the same way it had winked at Elisabet.
“I don’t think this is a real bird,” she said. “It looks like a robot. Maybe some kind of remote-controlled surveillance camera.”
“Oh, damn, we really are lost, aren’t we? Who knows where we’ve ended up!”
“Dan! Don’t say that, we followed the instructions. We can’t be lost.”
Suddenly, the bird launched forward with a small whirring noise. It stopped next to Elisabet’s face again.
“Please help us?” she asked.
The bird shot away like an arrow, to land again on its tree. As its little mechanical feet touched the artificial branch, the world around the family exploded with noise, colour and movement.
All of a sudden - or maybe all along? - they were in a glass tunnel, separating them from a huge amusement park filled with happy people. Children were running around, dragging their parents behind them with one hand, candyfloss in the other. Merry-go-rounds, differently themed, and other fun rides now lined the road. The chaos was overwhelming.
To their left a door opened, letting warm air enter the tunnel.
“Welcome to Fantasyland,” said a smiling young man in a fairy costume. “Please, do come in, warm up and have some fun.”