Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Twelve

The first landmark Isaac found was the shoe. Looking closely, he saw the small brown thread-like path he’d followed.   A few steps later, he saw two lines of small bushes with a little brick house behind them. “I’d better shrink again,” he said.

He took the feathers out of his pocket and held them pinched in-between his thumb and pointer finger. They seemed so small now. It felt a little silly, but he held his arms out to his side and pushed up against the air.

He shrunk quickly. Once again, he found himself on a dirt path, this time right outside the garden. Now he could ask for directions. He started down the path towards the front of the brick house.

“Make way, make way,” a voice called out behind him. Isaac looked back. An ant carrying a tall stick was hurrying down the road. There was plenty of room, but Isaac stepped off to the side and clutched his feathers. If the ants were still looking for him, he’d just grow too tall to be carried away.

“Make way,” the ant said again. “I carry an important message from the queen for Miss Muffet.”

Maybe he didn’t need to ask for directions after all. When the ant hurried past, Isaac tucked the feathers into his back pocket and followed her. When the ant passed the brick house, she followed the path as it turned right. It circled around the meadow until it was next to the forest.

A little wooden house was waiting at the end of the path, almost hidden by the tall trees around it. They were smaller than most of the trees in the forest, probably saplings, but next to the little house they looked enormous.

Perched on the lower limbs and trunks of the trees were white fluffy flocks of bugs. It was like someone had mixed up beetles and sheep. An ant stood at attention outside the house. She was watching the house, but turned when the messenger ant approached.

“I have an important message from the queen for Miss Muffet,” the ant said.

The guard ant shook her head. “Miss Muffet had a terrible scare this afternoon. She said I couldn’t accept any visitors or messages. I need to stay here and watch the aphids.”

“I cannot leave until my message is delivered,” the messenger ant said.

“You can wait here with me until tomorrow then,” the guard ant said.

“Can’t the messenger ant deliver the message herself?” Isaac asked without thinking.

Both ants turned to look at him. It was a little scary. “It would be rude to enter uninvited,” the messenger ant said.

“I cannot announce her,” the guard ant said.

The ants seemed friendly. Isaac told himself to be brave. “If the guard ant opens the door, then she invited you in,” he said.

“Perhaps,” the messenger ant said. “I don’t know.”

“She said no visitors,” the guard ant said.

“It wouldn’t really be a visit, though,” Isaac said.

“Perhaps,” the guard said.

“I can go deliver the message,” Isaac said.

The ants thought for a moment. “I can’t let someone else deliver the message,” the messenger ant finally said.

“I could tell Miss Muffet you are waiting and ask if you can come in,” Isaac said.

“That is acceptable,” the messenger ant said. The guard nodded.

And so, the guard ant opened the door and Isaac went inside. The floor was green with moss. He followed the hallway until it opened into a larger room.

The furniture was well built but looked like it was made to be useful rather than pretty. Open windows let in sunlight and breezes but could be closed with wooden shutters. On one of the windowsills, a brown and tan patterned butterfly opened and closed its wings. Around the room, there were wooden barrels filled with something clear that smelled sweet.

In the middle of the room, an ant sat on a bench rocking one of the wooly bugs. She looked up when he came in.   “Who are you?” she asked. “I said no visitors.”

“This isn’t really a visit,” Isaac said. “If you’re Miss Muffet, I’m just letting you know that there’s a messenger from the queen outside,” Isaac said.

“I am Miss Muffet.” The ant sighed. “Very well. Let the messenger in. The queen will be angry if I make her wait.”

Isaac turned to go.

“Wait,” Miss Muffet said. When he turned back, she held out the fluffy bug in her arms. “Take this aphid with you and put him on the tree with the others. He fell when that awful spider appeared out of nowhere and frightened us.”

“Where did the spider go?” Isaac asked.

“The guard chased him to the forest path,” Miss Muffet said. “He won’t be coming back.”

Isaac cradled the aphid in his arms and turned to go. The butterfly followed him out the door.

The Carrot Catastrophe

Brandon hated carrots. They tasted wrong, and they couldn’t make up their minds. They were almost sweet but a little bit not sweet, and they were either too crunchy or too mushy. They were orange, and that was Brandon’s least favorite color. He couldn’t think of anything he liked that was orange.

His mom knew he didn’t like carrots, and she didn’t serve them often.   His dad liked to pretend that carrots were inside everything. “Don’t eat that ice cream,” he said once. “I’m sure it’s full of carrots. Just give it to me, and I’ll take care of it.”

Another time he said, “Did you know that hot dogs are really seventy percent carrots? You might as well put a cooked carrot on your hot dog bun. Would you like me to get you one?” He was always saying stuff like that. Brandon ignored it.

His sister was always asking for carrots. She insisted that she loved carrots. She’d eat them slowly and loudly say things like, “These are so yummy.   It’s too bad that Brandon is missing out. Yummm.”

Which was annoying, but not as bad as the year she’d asked for carrot cake for her birthday. Brandon was stuck with a bowl of vanilla ice cream while everyone else ate cake. It was carrot cake, so of course he didn’t want any, but he would have liked to have some other kind of cake and not miss out all together.

When his sister won an award at school for kindness, Mom said that she could choose what they had for dinner. “Carrots, of course,” she said. “And meatloaf. Maybe you could grate some carrots into the meatloaf for flavor. I bet it would make it extra tasty.”

“Are you sure they awarded the kindness award to the right person?” Brandon asked. “Right now that seems a little suspicious.”

“Brandon,” Mom said. “That’s enough. And I won’t add carrots to the meatloaf.”

“Fine, fine,” his sister said. She smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Mom. I’ll go do my homework now.”

“Great idea,” Mom said. “Do you have any homework, Brandon?”

“Nope. I can stay here and help you in the kitchen,” he said. That way he would be able to watch and make sure that no carrots were added to the meatloaf, but he didn’t say that.

No carrots were added to the meatloaf. Brandon set the table and filled the water glasses. When dinner was done cooking, Mom called everyone to the table. She carried over the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes at the same time. It was rather impressive.

“Brandon, can you get the carrots?” she asked.

Brandon looked at the dish of evil, toxic orange carrots. Inside, it felt like his good side and bad side were wrestling. For a moment, the good side won.   He reached out to pick up the dish and set it on the table far, far away from his chair. But then his bad side leapt out of nowhere once again, and he had to pull his hands back before he could knock the dish of carrots to the floor.

“Brandon, are you coming?” Mom asked.

Brandon picked up the dish of carrots. He walked slowly to the table, holding the dish of carrots tightly to his chest so that he didn’t give in to the impulse to drop the dish and call it an accident. This was all his sister’s fault.

She probably didn’t even really like carrots. Who really liked carrots? She probably only pretended to eat them, just so that they were on the table to torture Brandon with their awful carrotness.

Brandon looked up. His sister was smiling. She looked happy, but a nice sort of happy, not the sort where you know someone is happy because someone else is sad. Maybe she really did like carrots. It was unlikely, but in that moment, it seemed possible.

He loosened his grip on the carrots. Somehow, he didn’t really feel like dropping them anymore. They were gross, but were they really evil? They were just an unappetizing vegetable, that was all.

And then, he tripped. There wasn’t even anything on the floor. He just tripped over nothing, and the dish of carrots flew out of his hands and fell to the floor with a crash as the dish broke.

Brandon didn’t fall down. He just stumbled another step, looked down at the mess, and then looked up. His sister was already crying noisily, and his parents looked upset. “It was an accident,” he said. “I had just decided not to drop it on purpose after all.”

Perhaps that wasn’t quite the right thing to say. He was sent to his room while everyone else cleaned up the mess.   Later, he came down and his mom gave him a meatloaf sandwich.   “Brandon, if you hate carrots this much, you may run into trouble later. Carrots are added to a lot of different things.   Maybe I should grate carrot into things sometimes so that you can get used to the taste.”

And that’s when Brandon realized that carrots were evil after all. He was certain they’d orchestrated the entire event just to torture him. He vowed that someday, he would take over the world and wipe out all carrots everywhere for the good of mankind. Had his good side or bad side just won? He wasn’t sure.

Charlie’s Room: The Electric Can Opener

There was a new store open down the street from Isaac’s work. It was a discount store, with bright green and yellow signs telling the world about the sales to be found inside. It hadn’t been there the week before, but somehow it sprang up over the weekend in the spot where the dog groomer closed up shop six months ago.

Isaac walked over on his lunch break to explore it.   The aisles were wide and brightly lit, and filled with a strange variety of items. Nearly everything had a sign posted below it on the shelf, saying that it was only available for a limited time. Isaac felt like he was on a strange sort of treasure hunt.

He looked through socks that looked like sharks and boxes of fruit flavored crackers and sandalwood scented toothpaste. There was a large candle that looked like an angry clown that scared him a little. There didn’t seem to be anything useful at all.

And then, at the end of one aisle, there was a jumble of small electric things.   There was a pencil sharpener and a can opener and a razor and a sock heater and a mint dispenser and a stapler. Their cords were all knotted together, and the metal prongs on a few of the cords were bent.

Patiently, he untangled the cords. He wound each cord in a little coil and knotted the end of the cord around the coil to keep it tidy. Then, he picked up the pencil sharpener and can opener and took them to the front of the store to buy them.

He left the pencil sharpener on his desk, and took the can opener home after work. Marianne met him at the door. “Great, you’re home,” she said. “I’ve got to get to my meeting. I’ll have dinner there. You and Charlie can heat up a can of soup.” Then she kissed him and rushed out the door.

Charlie peeked around the corner. “It’s a soup day?” he asked. Marianne hated canned soups, but Charlie and Isaac liked them.   So, it was their tradition to eat them if she wasn’t going to be home.

Isaac was pretty sure Marianne and Charlie had their own traditions for when he was gone, too. Maybe they ate boxed macaroni and cheese. Isaac refused to eat it, but he’d seen the boxes in the cupboard.

“It’s a soup day,” Isaac replied. “And guess what? I have something new for us to try out.” He held up the electric can opener.

“What is that?” Charlie asked. “Is it a little robot? I’ve always wanted a little robot.”

“It’s a can opener. Pick out a can of soup, and I’ll show you how it works,” Isaac said.

Charlie raced to the kitchen. “Here,” he said. “Chicken noodle.”

Isaac plugged in the can opener. He fitted the can in place and held down the handle. Bzzzzzzz. The can opened. Isaac let go of the handle and pulled the can free and looked inside. It didn’t look quite right.

“That’s tomato soup,” Charlie said. “The label is wrong.”

“How odd,” Isaac said. He grabbed a can of tomato soup and put it in place. Bzzzzzzz. It didn’t look like tomato soup.

“Let me see,” Charlie said. He took the can and looked inside. “Clam chowder,” he said.

Isaac grabbed another can of chicken noodle soup. Bzzzzzz. “I think it’s cream of celery,” he said.

He pulled out his manual can opener and opened the last can of chicken noodle soup. It was chicken noodle soup.   He opened a can of tomato soup.   It was tomato soup. He opened a can of clam chowder. It was clam chowder.

“Weird,” Charlie said. “Was it the can opener or was there a mix-up at the soup factory?”

“I don’t know,” Isaac said.

“What are we going to do with all the soup?” Charlie asked.

“I guess we can invite some people over for a soup party,” Isaac said.

“Let’s invite the dinosaur club,” Charlie said. “It’s about time for another meeting.”

Charlie called and invited his friends while Isaac rummaged through the cupboards and fridge for things that could go with soup. He ended up with saltine crackers, grapes, and a loaf of bread.

It was a fun party. After everyone went home, Charlie declared that soup night should turn into a party more often. “We’ll see,” Isaac said.   He unplugged the can opener and hid it in his closet.

The next day at work, he tried out his new pencil sharpener. It sharpened his pencil quite well, but every time it sharpened it, it changed the color of the lead. “I’ll have to take this home and color with Charlie,” he said.