Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Ten

Isaac looked the baby bird in the eye that he could see through the hole in its eggshell. “I’m not your mother,” he said.

“I know that,” the baby bird said. Its voice was muffled. “You’re much too small. You look more like food. Besides, mother’s voice sounds different.”

“I’m not food,” Isaac said. “I’m really much bigger than this.”

“No you’re not,” the baby bird said. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Even if it doesn’t make sense, it’s true,” Isaac said. “I got shrunk by an elevator. Normally, I’m much bigger than your mother.”

“I don’t think anything is bigger than mother,” the baby bird said.

“Why?” Isaac asked.

“Mother talks to us all the time. She tells us about the tops of the trees and the mountains and the clouds.   She can look down on everything,” the little bird said.

“That’s because she can fly,” Isaac said.

“What’s flying?”

“Well, that’s when you move your body up in the air. You’re not taller, your feet are just further off the ground,” Isaac said.

“Show me,” the bird said.

“I can’t fly,” Isaac said.

“Why not?”

Isaac almost said that he was much too big to fly, but then he remembered that he wasn’t very big any more. “Well, I don’t have feathers or wings,” he said.

“What’s that?” the baby bird asked.

“You ask a lot of questions,” Isaac said.

“I have a lot to learn,” the baby bird said. “What are feathers or wings?”

Isaac looked around and picked up a long feather half-hidden in the grass.   “This is a feather. Birds like your mother have lots of them. Wings are the flappy arms that they use to fly.”

“If the wings are for flying, what are the feathers for?” the baby bird asked.

“To help catch the air, I guess. See, watch.” Isaac found another feather, and holding one in each hand, he pushed down on the air several times, as though he were a bird about to take off.

“You’re flying!” the baby bird said.

For a moment, Isaac believed it was true. He could look down at the grass below, and the eggs seemed much smaller.   Then he realized that his feet were still on the ground. “I’m not flying, I’m taller,” Isaac said. “My feet haven’t moved.”

“Well, come back,” the baby bird said. “I have more questions, and it’s harder to understand you way up there.”

“I don’t know how,” Isaac said.

“You were showing me how to fly,” the baby bird said. “So just do the opposite.”

“You mean landing?” Isaac tried pushing the air up with the feathers. They were smaller now and he had to adjust his grip. He flapped his arms and shrunk.

“This is great! Now I can leave,” Isaac said.

“Why do you want to leave?” the baby bird asked.

“Because I want to go home,” Isaac said.

“This is home,” the baby bird said.

Isaac sighed. “It’s not my home.”

“You could stay here and answer my questions,” the baby bird said. “Then it would be your home.”

“But I can’t fly. Not even with feathers. And I don’t have wings,” Isaac said. “Besides, I would miss my family too much.”

“What’s family?” the baby bird asked.

“It’s the people you love who love you too. Like your mom and dad and the other baby birds in the other eggs in your nest,” Isaac said.

“Is family part of home?”

“It’s what makes it home,” Isaac said. “My family could change houses, and then the new house would be home.   Home is where they are.”

“Then why are you here?” the baby bird asked.

“Because I don’t know how to get back,” Isaac said.

“I don’t understand,” the baby bird said.

“I hope you never do,” Isaac said. “Don’t leave your home until you’re old enough to find the way back.”

Suddenly, everything was a lot dimmer. Isaac looked up to see a large bird circling overhead. “It’s your mother!”

“Yay! Isn’t it wonderful? Now I’ll know what home looks like,” the baby bird said.

Isaac did not think this was wonderful. He was terrified she’d swoop in and eat him.  He needed to be too big to eat. Clutching the feathers a little tighter, he began to flap his arms, pushing down on the air around him.

Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Nine

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.

Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Eight

Isaac slid down one step, and then another. The ceiling seemed a little further away. He still wasn’t sure whether it was him or the house that was growing or shrinking, but the stairs seemed to cause it. He looked up the stairs. Would he be able to get up the stairs before he was too big to fit up the hallway?

Probably not. He tried jumping down and skipping a step. He didn’t shrink as much as he had walking down two steps. Perhaps skipping steps was the answer? And when he was bigger he could skip more steps at a time. Would it be possible, skipping steps, to get to the top of the stairs before he was too big?

Was there a way to skip the steps all together? Perhaps the spider could climb along the wall and check for keys upstairs. That would be a lot easier.   Just then, Isaac heard the front door slam closed. Perfect timing.

Isaac hurried to the bottom of the stairs, growing smaller (or the house growing bigger) as he went. And then he heard the tromping sound of heavy boots, and voices that he didn’t recognize were speaking somewhere nearby.

The people who really owned the house must have returned. How could he explain standing in the middle of someone else’s house where he didn’t belong? They’d call for the ants, and this time they’d make sure he couldn’t escape again.

Isaac looked around the hallway. He ducked into the room opposite the parlor and hid behind the door.   The voices and footsteps grew louder, and now he could understand what they were saying.

“I still say it looks like someone was here. You should have seen the bears’ house. They had broken furniture and someone ate their food and slept in their beds. We need to start locking the doors when we’re out,” a voice said.

“No one was here, and they caught the intruder at the bears’ house,” a second voice said.

“What about the gingerbread house? Someone ate it, and they never did find out who,” the first voice said.

“I still say you worry too much,” the second voice said. “Wait. What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“There, in the parlor,” the second voice said. “Is that a web?”

“Are there giant spiders in our house? Let’s burn it down. Now.”

“Not with me inside, you won’t,” the second voice said.

“Then you’d better get out now.”

Isaac looked around feeling panicked. He did not want to be stuck inside a burning house. He was hiding in a small, dark laundry room. Luckily, in a back corner of the room, there was another door. He tiptoed across the room and eased the door open.

On the other side of the door, there was a small garden. How was this in the potted plant? He was beginning to think he was somewhere else altogether.   He eased the door shut behind him and started to walk through the garden. He stayed near the edges of the orchard and tried to stay under the branches of the tall berry bushes.

He picked up some of the large berries and put several in his pockets.   He ate one of them, grimacing at the sour taste. He was hungry though, and ate around the bruises on the fruit.

At the end of the garden there was a dirt path. Well, it would be easier to find his way back if he followed the path.   Should he just turn around now?   If he wasn’t in the potted plant any more, was he just going further and further away from home? But he didn’t know how to get back through the woods.

The spider might know. He needed to find the spider. The spider would know the way back to the lobby. But then what?

He’d figure that out once he got there. First he had to find the spider. He’d said he was going to visit Miss Muffet. Maybe someone along this path would be able to give him directions.   He took a deep breath and started walking down the path.

Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Seven

Isaac started walking. He kept walking, and eventually there were wider spaces between the trees and the light was brighter. The forest thinned out until he was standing at the edge of a meadow.   It was bright green and looked soft and mossy. A narrow path crossed through it. That had to lead somewhere.

He followed the path until it lead to a small brick house with black shutters next to the windows and tall clover blossoms around the edges like bushes.   He knocked on the green-painted door.

The door opened and the spider peeked out. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. He opened the door wider. “Come into my parlor.”

Isaac stepped inside and the spider closed the door behind him. “How did you build a house this fast?” he asked.

“I didn’t build it,” the spider said. “I found it. Finders keepers, you know?”

“I don’t think you can do that with houses,” Isaac said.

“Nonsense. It’s a rule, and rules are meant to be kept. Otherwise everything would be crazy, and we’d all drown in the sunlight and blow away in the breeze.”

Isaac wasn’t sure what to say to that. He followed the spider into a cozy looking parlor. The furniture was pushed out of the way to make way for a large, intricate web.

“Would you like to look at it up close?” the spider asked.

“No, I think it’s better to look at it from a distance,” Isaac said.

“Perhaps,” the spider said. “Did you ever find your way?”

“No, I keep trying to ask about the key to the door or how to get out of the cave, but no one will answer,” Isaac said.

“This isn’t a cave,” the spider said.

“No, but we’re in a potted plant that’s inside a cave,” Isaac said.

“I prefer to believe the world is balanced on the back of giant turtles, but the cave idea seems nice too,” the spider said. “Kind of cozy, really.”

“Never mind about that,” Isaac said. “Do you know where the key is?”

“A key to a door?” the spider asked. “Which door?”

“The one next to the potted plant,” Isaac said.

“I’m not sure,” the spider said. “But it could be upstairs.”

“Are there keys upstairs?” Isaac asked.

The spider shrugged some of its shoulders. “There could be. I’ve not been upstairs so I don’t know. Anything could be upstairs. The door, the keys, the forest, your way. Until you go up and look, there could be anything.”

“There are some things that couldn’t be up there,” Isaac said. “I know that without looking. The door isn’t up there, it’s where I left it.”

“But are you sure? Until you see for certain, how can you know?” the spider said.

“I saw it somewhere else before I came here,” Isaac said. “So it can’t be here.”

“But what if it moved?”

“Doors don’t move,” Isaac said.

“Maybe they do here,” the spider said.

“Fine,” Isaac said. “I’ll go look and tell you, and then you’ll know I’m right.”

“That won’t work,” the spider said. “What if what’s up there depends on the person looking? Maybe the door would be there if I went up there, but not if you did. And maybe something else would be there if we went up together.”

“I don’t think things work that way,” Isaac said, but he was starting to feel a little uncertain.

“Well, why don’t you go check? I was just about to go visit Miss Muffet. I’ve heard she lives near here, and I’d like to go say hello. I’ve heard that she has her own whey. I can ask her if she’s seen your way,” the spider said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Isaac said. “What if she’s scared of spiders?”

“Don’t be silly.” The spider laughed. “Who’s scared of spiders?”

“Lots of people,” Isaac said.

The spider laughed again and waved several hands as he left. Isaac looked at the web. It really was pretty. And huge.   He turned and left the room.   He’d seen the stairs on their way inside.

He looked up the staircase. It was dark upstairs. Maybe anything really could be waiting up there. Maybe he’d climb up the stairs and be home. Or he could climb up and fall into the ocean.

Isaac took one cautious step, and then another. The stairs didn’t collapse, anyway. That was good. Another step and then another. Were the stairs getting smaller? Another step and he hit his head on the ceiling. Ouch. When did the ceiling get lower?

He ducked down and took a few more steps. The staircase closed in around him. He crouched over, balancing on a skinny wooden step and turned around.   Either the whole staircase had shrunk, or he was getting bigger. Was the house shrinking or was he growing?


Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Six

“Listen, children,” the grasshopper said. “I will tell you the story of the musician and the evil critics.”

“Oooooooh,” the caterpillars said together, as though they’d just seen a particularly amazing firework. There weren’t any fireworks, though. Isaac looked up, just to check.

“Once, there was a remarkably brilliant musician. He spent all his time practicing and performing, so you know he had to be quite good. He was also handsome and intelligent, but that goes without saying.” The grasshopper paused. “You’re supposed to ask if the story is about me,” he said.

“Is the story about you?” a caterpillar asked.

“Maybe,” the grasshopper said. He paused again.

“Is the story about you?” another caterpillar asked.

“Well, all right, it is. I shouldn’t have included the handsome and intelligent part. I knew that would give it away,” the grasshopper said. He smoothed back an antenna and winked.

“Tell us more!” a caterpillar said. “I want to hear the story,” another said.

“Very well, very well,” the grasshopper said. “It is a tragic story, but don’t worry, the hero will be just fine. The good guys always win, you know.”

The caterpillars cheered.

“Thank you, thank you. So, where was I? Oh yes. The musician had finally selected a venue for a series of concerts. It was large and flat and filled with free vegetables, sure to draw a crowd. The musician settled in for a sound check. Acoustics are important, and he needed to be certain that everything was just right.”

“And was it?” a caterpillar asked.

“It was. Unfortunately, this is when our hero first met the evil critics. They came crawling out of a hole in the ground, and started at once with the complaining. They blabbered away about unimportant things like playing loudly in the middle of the night and trespassing in their gardens, and it was all so tiresome.”   The grasshopper sighed sadly.

“Awwwww,” the caterpillars said.

The grasshopper shook his head. “I know. So, the musician reminded them that he was bigger and they were smaller and really they were lucky to have such good seats for the concerts. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see their good fortune. They insisted on chasing the musician away and telling him he’d do better spending his time growing and storing food for winter. As though he had time for that!”

“What did you do?” a small caterpillar asked.

“I, er, he found somewhere else to play,” the grasshopper said. “My summer concerts were quite a success, of course.   Even the birds swooped down close to listen in.”

“Birds?” a caterpillar asked nervously. Everyone looked up.

“Yes, well, it was just the once, and I’m sure the audience member died happy.   The musician dedicated the next concert to him,” the grasshopper said. “Things were great until the weather turned a little nippy. It was time to find a new venue. Somewhere warmer, with more food. He remembered those critics and their hole in the ground and vegetable garden.”

“That sounds perfect,” a caterpillar squealed.

“I thought so, too. I mean, the musician thought so. So, he offered to play for them for room and board, and those critics said they had their own musicians and didn’t really want to hear the musician play at all hours.”

The caterpillars gasped.

The grasshopper nodded. “They only let the musician stay with them when he promised to help with their garden in the spring to pay them back for his room and board.”

“Was working in the garden terrible?” a caterpillar asked.

“I didn’t do it, of course. The barbarians! I need the time to practice and perform. Besides, I put up with them all winter telling me to not play at night and stop trying to drown out the other musicians at their parties. They just went on and on. The first chance I got, I was out of there. I mean, the musician was. And he lived happily ever after. The end.”

The caterpillars cheered. Just then, the bushes rustled and a mob of ants rushed into the clearing. Isaac stayed curled up and hoped they wouldn’t recognize him. They didn’t even look in his direction.

They surrounded the grasshopper and dragged him away. “Unhand me, you ruffians, you ants, you music critics,” he yelled. His voice grew fainter as he got further away, until Isaac couldn’t understand the words any more.

“Let’s go home,” one of the caterpillars said. And they all wandered away, until Isaac was the only one left in the clearing.

“Now where do I go?” he asked. “He didn’t give me any directions at all.”