Beelo shivered. The south wind whistled through the bare limbs of his tree and seeped through the seams of his ankle-length hooded coat. The chill was uncomfortable but it kept Beelo alert and focused. This would be the last year he could wear this coat. The one his mother made him. Kintu, Beelo’s wife, would take the reusable parts of the hide to make a smaller coat. The seams would be tight and the insulation thick and warm. It would be a perfect coat for one of their children, may they grow big enough to take their turn at the watch.
Beelo heard a noise behind him. He turned to see Kintu walking carefully along the damp tree limb on which Beelo stood. Kintu carried a ceramic mug and steam escaped through the lid. She wore a long, thick robe and her breath fogged the air as if she also was filled with hot liquid.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” Beelo said with concern in his voice. He turned his head to scan their surroundings to make sure it was safe.
“It is much too cold out here,” Kintu said. “Please, come inside.”
Kintu walked up to Beelo and held out the cup.
Beelo sighed and took one last look around. The sun had set for the second time more than an hour ago and it was definitely cold enough. It would be safe to go inside for the night.
Beelo took the cup and the couple walked single-file down the limb towards the massive trunk of their tree. The circumference of the limb grew as they walked and eventually they were able to walk side-by side. They held hands, fingers intertwined, while Beelo caressed Kintu’s finger with his thumb.
They both stopped when something moved above them. With a scratch and a rustle, a leaf fell between the limbs and branches. Like all the leaves from this tree, it was very big. Beelo could have lain outstretched on it’s surface and neither his toes or his fingers would reach either end of the leaf. It must have been one of the last leaves left on their tree. Beelo frowned as the leaf raced past them. Kintu sighed and squeezed her husband’s hand.
“It will be winter soon” she said.
“Yes,” agreed Beelo. “Soon.”
The limb on which the couple walked ended against the trunk of the massive tree. The rough bark of the trunk was laced with strands and curtains of stringy, green moss. Beelo took one last look around, then nodded. Kintu reached out and pulled one of these curtains of moss aside to reveal a wooden door.
The door was made from planks of wood joined with brass hardware and sealed with caulking. Light shined dimly through a window set with amber-colored glass. There was no handle on the outside of the door. Kintu rapped on the glass twice, then knocked three times on the wood. The amber window darkened as someone inside peered through it and a moment later, the door swung out.
Heat, light, and the smell of dinner welcomed the pair. Beelo placed his hand on the small of Kintu’s back as she passed through the door. After they were both inside, Beelo pulled the door shut against the cold, dark night. As the door seated into the jamb, two brass latches automatically fell into place in the floor. Beelo reached overhead and levered another latch into place on top. Between the latches and the heavy brass hinges on which the door swung, the entrance seemed secure enough to hold back anyone, or anything, that tried to force it open.
Beelo removed his long coat and hung it on a wooden peg next to the door. There was a second peg next to the one he used which was always empty. The sight of it made Beelo frown.
Beelo turned and looked at his home. Everything he held dear and everyone he cared for were safe and warm. He would spend every evening of this autumn watching the tree to make sure they stayed safe. For Beelo, winter could not come fast enough.