"This is it?" The daughter pouted.
"It looks so small, pa!" The son cheerfully shared his sister's sentiment.
The family stood in front of three holes carved into the hard snow. A far cry from the promotional material they were perusing before arrival. The pamphlet promised a 'wintery wonderland, filled with your heart's desires*. The parents' vacation time was almost up; the kids were getting antsy - the choice for holiday seemed evident.
"Well..." The father, still hopeful yet obviously disappointed, saw little choice. "We're already here, eh? Let's make the most of it!"
"Your father's right kids." The mom nodded before giving her husband her casual skeptic stare. "We've already paid for all the expenses, might as well enjoy ourselves."
"Don't look at me like that." The father said.
The mother said nothing as she shepherded her children toward the middle room of the snowy 'hotel'. She cherished her husband's free spirit, but at times like these, she saw its drawbacks.
Somewhat. She didn't want to admit the change of scenery was still fun. He would never let her live that down.
Once inside, a young boy in a red woolen shirt saluted them as if they were the royal family returned from a long journey. "My sirs and madams, I bid you welcome to Winter's Heart! I trust you have a reservation?"
"Y-yes, we do!" The faTheR handed over their slit. The boy looked at it, nodded, then bowed dramatically for them to pass. The kids at least seemed amused by the gallant greeter.
The room they entered was wide, white, but most importantly - warm. It was also empty save for a railed platform at its center. No windows, no doors. The lights were neon blue, planted on every corner. In the aforementioned platform, there was one blue button near the rightmost railing. The course of action was clear.
"Well," The wife gave her husband her I'm surprised stare. "this is something different, I'll give you that."
"Can we push it?" The brother prompted.
"Can we leave?" The siStEr turned.
The father was trying to analyze the situation - trying and failing. His inner child was too curious about the whole situation. "Let's try that button."
"Of course." The mOtHer chuckled.
"It will be alright." The brothEr said, grabbing his sister's hand. "You'll see. It will be fun!"
"Ok." The sIster smiled. She trusted her brother.
The siblings grabbed the railing in one hand and their mother in the other. The husband looked at them, shrugged, then pressed the button.
A small rumble, a quake, a squish, a screee, and the platform started to descend. The sister screamed but stopped at her brother's reassuring grip. The white walls surrounding them soon gave way to glass which soon gave way to an expansive, wintery wonderland.
The [F]a[M]ily descended into a cave so well-lit it could be mistaken for the outside. An enormous castle dominated a landscape littered with colorful lights. Hundreds of small structures were scattered all over, figures could be seen running around the space, skiing and boarding. Tall slopes in the background were populated to the brim and frozen pools in the center shone like the moon.
"T-this is impossible." The moth - Patricia said. "You were right, Hank."
Hank nodded. "I knew it all along. Those pamphlets couldn't be wrong!"
The entire family gave a nervous chuckle.
"This is amazing, Hank!" Little bobby, said.
Little Sasha merely nodded, her eyes as big as jawbreakers and her smile bigger still.
As they landed another child dressed as the one above made the same elaborate bow. "Welcome to Winter's Heart!" Little bobby imitated his bow to a t. "If you would follow me."
The child led them to a trolly leading to the castle. As they rode, smiling faces could be seen dancing and playing all around them. The many lights gave the place such an ephemeral feel that they felt at complete ease.
"I just...." Patricia started. "I don't understand the infrastructure of the place. How could they build something this expansive and expensive... under the ground? Let alone in this climate..."
"You worry too much!" [H]an[k] rubbed her back.
"Yes, mommy! This place is great." Little Sasha started hopping with joy.
Patricia looked at her little Sasha confused, her daughter was never this excited about anything. She supposed being in such an outlandish place would do that to the child.
"And," p[A]tricia couldn't stop the thoughts from flowing. "How isn't this the most famous vacation spot in the world?" Ha[N]k shrugged, "And how in God's name did we afford it?"
The castle inside was ripped straight out of a children's movie. People skating on the frozen river and children sliding down snowy slides. The temperature was also pleasant, the perfect warmth in fact.
rici[a]'s eyes narrowed. "And this temperature, love. Can you feel how perfect it is?"
"Honeeeyyy, relax."  said. "We're here, can't you just enjoy it?"
"Yes, ." The  said. " worked hard to give us this rest."
"Mhm, mhm."   bobbed her head. "Come on  let's go sledding!"
"I'll join you, kids! Come on  -"
"Alright, cut it."
The family froze, the curtain fell, and the simulation stopped.
"No, no, no. It can be done. This was extreme and yet we still had some semblance of believability."
"I disagree. The experience barely started."
"Well, we can experiment with the tone and grandeur for sure. But! I believe the problem lies with the characters themselves."
"They aren't a good mix, yes."
"This is life, though! Our programs should be able to run with any parameters!"
"Yes... but we must first make it work, right? Then expand the complexity."
"Yes. Alright, different character profiles and go again. Should at least tell us if the setting should be changed."
"I think this will be another swift end."
"We shall see."
And the curtain arose above the seems of infinity.
"This is it?" The daughter narrowed her eyes.
"It looks so small, pa!" The son shared his sister's sentiment.
The family stood in front of three holes carved into the hard snow. A far cry from the promotional material they were perusing before arrival.
This was A Picture is worth a Thousand Words contest entry.
The contest image:
Obligatory shout-out to the 🍕PIZZA🍕 gang, 🤙 gang. 🤙
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Cover image source.
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