Isaac trudged down the dirt path. It felt like he’d been walking for hours. But, the scenery hadn’t changed. Tall grass everywhere. And then, finally, he walked into a clearing.
A giant shoe towered over him, as tall as a house. There was a hole in the heel with uneven edges, as though something had been chewing on it. But what would chew a hole in a shoe, and why?
As he walked a little closer, he could hear tiny, high-pitched voices. “I’m hungry,” one said. “Me too.” “And me.” “Me three.” Other voices joined in.
And then, a mouse looked out of the hole in the heel of the shoe. It was a large mouse, as big as Isaac. It climbed out of the shoe and looked at him with dark eyes that didn’t seem to blink at all.
Little baby mice scurried out of the shoe and pulled on the mouse. “Mommy, I’m hungry,” one shrieked, and then the other little mice started crying that they were hungry too.
The little mice were as big as dogs. Isaac had always wanted a dog, but couldn’t have one. Was he allergic to mice, too? Would his parents notice if he brought home a giant mouse? He could hide it under his bed.
He looked again at the hole in the shoe. Maybe his house couldn’t handle a giant mouse. His parents would notice if giant holes started appearing everywhere. Mice must have very sharp teeth.
Suddenly, Isaac felt a little nervous. He looked at the mice. The mother mouse looked at him. “Children,” the mouse said. “I think he has food.”
“Who?” “Where?” The children asked.
“Over there,” the mouse said. She pointed at Isaac. “I can smell it.”
Isaac’s mind nearly went blank with fear. The little mice began to run towards him. And then he remembered the sour berries in his pockets. He pulled one out. “Here,” he said. “Food. Go catch it.”
He threw the berry far away into the grass beyond the shoe. Several mice ran after it. He threw another and another until he was out of both berries and mice. Then he ran down the path, as quickly as he could.
It was too bad he couldn’t keep one of the little mice. They could play catch, just like a dog. But they had those sharp, sharp teeth. And of course eventually, they’d get bigger. As big as the mother mouse.
Isaac remembered the dark eyes and shivered. No, he didn’t want to take home a little mouse. Even if they could play catch. Right now, he’d just be happy to get home at all.
If he grew back to his normal size, maybe he’d pop right out of this potted plant world, wherever it was, and back into the lobby. Stairs and elevators had worked before. What else could work like that to make him grow?
A ladder? A witch’s broom? Maybe he could find a nice rope with a hook at the end and he could carry it around with him. Or a flying carpet.
Isaac looked around. Tall grass everywhere. At least there weren’t any hungry mice or ants. He sighed and kept walking.
As he walked, he started to hear a tapping sound. It sounded like someone was knocking on a door somewhere nearby. Perhaps they could give him directions? Isaac hurried down the path towards the noise.
Finally there was another break in the grass, and the ground to the left of the path sloped downwards into a round, shallow hollow. Four large speckled eggs were nestled together in the center of the hollow. Isaac looked up and around, but didn’t see the mother bird anywhere.
He was about to hurry on, when he realized that the tapping sound was coming from the eggs. And then there was a sharp cracking sound, and a small hole appeared in the closest egg. The tapping stopped, and an eye peeked through the hole and looked at Isaac.
“Thirty-one, you’re in my seat again,” Two said, folding his arms and scowling. “Get out and wait your turn.”
“It’s not your seat,” Thirty-one said. He leaned back and smiled. “It belongs to whoever is keeping the journal. You were late. I’m just here helping you out.”
Two growled and pointed at the door. “I’m here now. Just go. You need to stop trying to take someone else’s turn.”
Thirty-one sighed. “Fine, fine. It’s not fair though. I get fewer turns than anyone else. Even thirty gets eleven turns a year. I just get seven.” He slowly got out of the chair. He paused. “Are you sure you don’t want a break?”
“I get a break the rest of the month. You’re wasting my time,” Two said.
“Wouldn’t this work better if there were more of us watching? There are a lot of children in the world, after all. We could each take an area, andTwo frowned. “Is your elf magic insufficient to do the job? It shouldn’t be too hard for someone else to cover for you. It’s not like you work that many days, after all.”
Thirty-one held up his hands. “No, no, I don’t have any problems with doing the job. I just thought it might be nice to all work together sometimes.”
Two turned away. “Fine then, just go away. You’re breaking my concentration.”
“Well, call me if you need help with anything,” Thirty-one said.
“Yeah, yeah. Go find something else to do,” Two said.
Thirty-one trudged out of the room. He looked back once and sighed. Two was already busy writing in the journal. Oh well, he could try the toy room. Maybe they weren’t busy and would like some company.
The elves in the toy room looked up as he entered. “Oh, look guys,” one of the elves said. “It’s one of the calendar elves. Shouldn’t you be off somewhere meditating and preparing your mind for the one day a month you need to work?”
“It’s not like you work all year, either. You don’t know what the kids want until they send out their lists,” Thirty-one said.
“We can make some things in advance. There are classic toys, you know. Or maybe you don’t. You are a calendar elf after all,” the elf said. “Why don’t you move along and let the real elves work.”
Thirty-one made his most fearsome face at the elf, but he’d already turned away and started laughing with his friends. So, Thirty-one sighed and trudged away, feeling useless. Even the toy elves had more to do.
But wait! If they had work to do, maybe they’d need help. He was an elf. Surely making toys was instinct or something. He could get up early and make a bunch of toys, and when they came in to work, they’d all be impressed and grateful. They’d ask him to come in and help whenever he wasn’t busy, which was almost always.
It seemed like the perfect plan. Unfortunately, making toys wasn’t something that even elves could figure out by instinct. So, when the toy making elves arrived, they found him still trying to assemble his first tricycle, and it wasn’t going well.
“What are you doing?” one of the elves asked, folding his arms over his chest and glaring at Thirty-one. “Those aren’t the right tires, and you’re stripping all the screws. And that seat is for the bicycles. It’s much too big. In fact, the whole thing is wrong. Is this sabotage?”
“I just wanted to help,” Thirty-one said. “You said you were busy, and I wanted to help.”
“We don’t need your help. You’re just making a mess of things. Go away, calendar elf,” the elf said.
“But I could learn,” Thirty-one said. “I’d be happy to sit and watch while you showed me what to do. I’m a fast learner.”
“Are you trying to steal our jobs?” the elf said. “You have your own job. Go away.” And the other elves started yelling at him to go away, and so Thirty-one left.
He went home, because he had nothing else to do. He tried helping out elsewhere, but the stable elves and house elves insisted that they didn’t need any help either.
But surely, somewhere, someone needed help. Thirty-one thought of all the children he checked on during the year. Lots of them needed help. He wasn’t really sure what he could do to help out all of those children, but surely he could find something.
And so, for three hundred and fifty-eight days of the year, the world’s smallest super hero started helping the children of the world from the shadows. And he was happy.