“If you don’t remember the spider…” Isaac began.
“What spider?” the bat asked.
“I eat spiders,” the owl said.
“Right,” Isaac said.
“Left,” the bat said.
Isaac scowled. “Could you tell me the way out?” he asked.
“We could…” the owl said.
“…but we won’t.” The bat cackled.
“Yes we will,” the owl said.
“Why would we do that?” the bat asked.
“So he’ll go away,” the owl said.
“But which way out does he want?” the bat asked.
Suddenly Isaac’s heart felt lighter. “There’s more than one?”
“It all depends on where you want to go,” the bat said.
“Home,” Isaac said. “I want to go home.”
The bat looked at him. “Nope, too far,” he said at last.
“Out of the cave?”
“Nope,” the bat said. The owl hooted and it sounded like laughter.
Isaac’s heart was dropping. “Out of the lobby?”
“Nope.” The owl hooted louder.
“Out of the potted plant?” He was still hopeful, but beginning to be resigned to be directed out of the clearing or the conversation or something like that.
“That we can help you with,” the bat said.
The owl hooted a half-hoot and then sputtered. “We can?”
“Sure. Follow the direction the log is pointing. You’ll find some ladders leaning against some trees. Take the third one,” the bat said.
“I’ve never seen any ladders,” the owl said. “When did we get ladders?”
“They’re not ours,” the bat said. “And you always forget everything.”
“At least I remember exactly when to come in,” the owl said. “You start this time.”
“Gladly,” the bat said. “Row, row, row your boat…”
“Wait,” the owl said. “I wasn’t ready.”
Isaac looked at the log. The far end did look sort of pointy. He followed the direction it pointed, into the dark of the forest.
Once again, there was a path of small clumps of glowing green-gold moss to follow. He hurried along, hoping he was going in the right direction. And then he tripped over a ladder that was leaning against a tree.
The ladder swayed slightly, then settled again. Isaac stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves off. He walked slowly to the next tree. No ladder. Did he miss a ladder earlier? He looked at the tree with the ladder in the dim light and decided it would have been hard to miss.
He walked a little slower, straining his eyes as he looked back and forth. He saw the second ladder before he tripped over it. One more ladder. It wasn’t long before he found it. He started to climb.
Up and up and up he climbed. He’d never seen a ladder this tall. It started to get brighter. He must be getting close to the tops of the trees. He knew that it was still daytime. It was tempting to go back and tell the bat and owl, but he was pretty sure they wouldn’t believe him, even if he could somehow convince them to climb the ladder.
The leaves of the trees brushed against his face, and he ducked his head to avoid the scratchy branches. Closing his eyes, he continued to climb. And then there were no more rungs.
Isaac opened his eyes. He was back in the empty lobby, back to his normal size. He dropped his hands and smiled.
He looked down at the potted plant. It was in a basket, the soil buried under bark chips. He couldn’t see a shoe or a bird or little houses or a forest or…
Had any of that really happened? He looked down. There was dirt on his knees and a leaf stuck to his shirt. That could have happened in the forest outside the cave.
Isaac decided it must have happened because he remembered it happening. It just all happened in another dimension or something. He looked closer at the bark dust. Something was sparkling. It was a tiny key. Had that been there before?
Isaac picked it up and unlocked the door. Then he put the key back. He pulled the feathers out of his pocket and paused. If this was the way out, he couldn’t leave the baseball behind.
It was still waiting by the elevator where he’d left it. He picked it up and shoved it in a pocket. Then he took the feathers out again. He held out his arms and started to push the air up with the little feathers. He began to shrink.
Sadie woke up and squinted at the bright light shining through the window. How had she managed to sleep in so late? She was always the first one up. She sat up and frowned. Nothing looked familiar.
Where were her clothes and toys? Where was the dresser that she’d covered in stickers? This furniture was really…nice. It looked like real wood. Everything was so clean, too.
There weren’t any piles of clothes on the floor, and the dresser just had a bowl of fake flowers. The walls didn’t have any scribbles or posters, either. And the blanket was just stripes, without any cartoon mice.
There was a soft clicking sound and the doorknob turned. The door opened slowly, and then her sister Miranda peeked inside. Except that Miranda’s nose looked all wrong.
“What happened to your nose?” Sadie asked. Her voice sounded deep and hoarse. She must be coming down with a cold.
Miranda poked at her nose. “What do you mean?” she asked. Her voice sounded kind of funny too.
“It looks wrong,” Sadie said. She pointed at Miranda, but her arm looked wrong. She pulled her hand in closer to her face. “What happened to my hand?” she asked. She lifted up her other hand and compared it to the first.
“What are you talking about?” Miranda asked.
“My hands look old. What happened?” Sadie asked.
“You are old, grandma. Really, really old,” Miranda said.
“I’m not a grandma. If I’m old, then you are too, Miranda,” Sadie said. She stuck out her tongue. Miranda was always so unhelpful.
“I’m not Miranda, I’m Carol,” Miranda said. She opened the door wider and leaned out into the hall. “Mom, Grandma’s acting all weird again,” she yelled off to her left, down the hall.
“I’m coming,” someone yelled back.
Sadie folded her arms and glared at Miranda. This was a really unfunny joke. She was not old. She was going to ignore the old hands, because there had to be some explanation that made sense. If she’d somehow gotten old, surely she’d remember it.
She didn’t remember being even sort of old. She remembered going fishing with Dad and cooking with mom and hiding under the bed with Miranda during thunderstorms. She remembered playing hopscotch and jumping in puddles. She didn’t remember Miranda’s nose looking like that.
A woman came in that looked a little like Mom, but her hair and eyes weren’t the right colors and the clothes that she was wearing looked wrong. “Who are you?” Sadie asked.
The woman frowned. “It’s one of those days, then,” she said. She waved her arm at Miranda. “Come on out Carol,” she said. “Grandma needs some space today.”
“I’m not a grandma,” Sadie said.
“Of course not,” the woman said, in a voice that said she really didn’t mean it. “Would you like cornflakes for breakfast? You can eat them in bed today.”
Sadie didn’t want to want cornflakes, but she was hungry. “With sugar?” she asked.
“Sure,” the woman said.
“Two scoops?” Sadie asked.
“Okay. I’ll be right back,” the woman said. Well, that proved this wasn’t Mom. She never let Sadie have two scoops of sugar. The woman left, shooing away Miranda, who’d been peeking in the door.
As soon as the door closed, Sadie leaped out of bed, and then nearly fell over. Wow, why did her knees ache? And where did she get this awful nightgown? Ignoring that for the moment, she hobbled over to look at the mirror over the dresser.
An old woman looked back at her. Was this some sort of trick? She tapped at the mirror. The old woman tapped back. She tried to shake the mirror. So did the old woman. She scowled. The old woman scowled too.
Then she made her most ferocious funny face. The one where she pulled her eyes and mouth wide open and turned up her nose and stuck out her tongue and glared. The old woman in the mirror laughed.
“Got you!” Sadie said. The old woman in the mirror winked, and then her face looked serious and she pointed back at Sadie as Sadie pointed at her. And the door opened and the woman from before was back.
“Why don’t you get in bed, so I can put the tray on your lap?” the woman said.
Sadie sighed and sat on the bed and pulled the covers over her lap. “Where did the girl in the mirror go?” she asked.
“Maybe she’s on vacation,” the woman said absently as she fluffed the pillows.
“I hope she comes back soon. The old woman in the mirror is kind of creepy,” Sadie said.
“Mmmhmm,” the woman said, and then left, closing the door behind her.
Sadie ate a bite of her too sweet cornflakes and sighed. Maybe she’d take a nap after breakfast. It would be nice to wake up somewhere more normal.