Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Seventeen

“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.

The Girl in the Mirror

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.

Charlie’s Room: The Washing Machine

Isaac was vacuuming Charlie’s room when Marianne leaned in through the doorway, a basket of clothes balanced on her hip. Isaac turned off the vacuum. “What’s up?” he asked.

“The washing machine is leaking,” she said. “Can you fix it?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

She nodded. “It still smells bad, too.”

Isaac sighed. “I’ll look into that too. I couldn’t find anything last time.”

“Thanks.” She smiled and left.

Isaac finished vacuuming the room and put the vacuum away. Then he walked through the kitchen and opened the door to the large closet across from his desk. Oh, that did smell bad. Much worse than when he checked it last week.

The shallow puddle on the closet floor sparkled in the light. Isaac smiled. It was pretty, anyway. Even if it meant more work. He shifted the washing machine out of the way, unplugged the machines, and turned off the water. The smell was a little stronger. He left to get his toolbox.

He changed into boots and grabbed some towels too. When he returned, he put down some towels to sop up the water and turned on his flashlight. Time to check the hoses. Near the end of the drain hose, he found a hole. The edges were smooth, as though the hose had melted a bit. That wasn’t good.

He stepped a little closer and his foot came down on something mushy. The smell grew a little worse. He slipped a little and caught himself. He turned the flashlight downward. Was that a rotten apple core? It looked moldy and disgusting. Had it come from under the washing machine? How did it get there?

Perhaps Charlie was using the laundry closet as a hideout. Isaac smiled at the idea of Charlie hiding in here, eating apples, and maybe reading a book with a flashlight. That sounded fun. He’d have to talk to him about throwing away his apple cores. Dropping them behind the washing machine was not okay.

He needed to get some paper towels and clean up the mess. He turned off his flashlight and stepped back. Just then, there was a tiny sound, atchshh.   A tiny flame erupted from the shadows by the drain hose.

That wasn’t normal, at all. He shone his flashlight into the corner. There was a crack in the wall, behind the pipes. It had looked like a shadow. He crouched closer and shone his flashlight at the crack. Something hissed. He could see two eyes shining from the darkness where the crack was just a little wider

Isaac leaned forward just a little and shone his flashlight into the hole.   There was a little sky blue lizard inside, nestled into a hole lined with mismatched socks. It hissed again and raised the edges of its wings a little.   A winged lizard?

Isaac stepped back. He was pretty sure that lizards weren’t normally blue. And the wings were a little odd too. It could be a dragon, maybe. It was awfully small, though. Was it a baby dragon?

He needed an expert opinion. He went to his bedroom and got his wallet off his nightstand and pulled out a business card for Wendell, Wizard Extraordinaire. He picked up his phone and called the number and explained the situation.

“How small did you say it was?” Wendell asked.

“Less than six inches from nose to tail,” Isaac said.

“That’s really small. It shouldn’t have been away from its mother. Do you know what it’s been eating?”

I think apples from the fruit bowl. I’m not sure if it got them itself or if Charlie has been leaving apple cores around,” Isaac said.

“I’ll be right there,” Wendell said.

Isaac went to the entryway and met Wendell as he unzipped the air and stepped through. “Lead the way,” Wendell said.

So Isaac led him through the kitchen to the large closet. Wendell looked around. “That door leads to the garage, right? And the one across leads outside?”

“That’s right.”

Wendell nodded. “It must have come inside to get out of the cold.”

Isaac shone his flashlight into the corner and pointed out the crack in the wall.   Wendell held out a hand for the flashlight. Isaac handed it to him.   Wendell shone the flashlight at the wide part of the crack and leaned closer. The dragon hissed.

Wendell murmured a few words and let go of the flashlight. It hovered in the air. He pulled a large pair of gloves from his flat shirt pocket.   Isaac wanted pockets like that.

Wendell put on the gloves and reached into the crack. The dragon hissed and roared and breathed fire.   Wendell murmured in a soothing voiced.   “I won’t hurt you. You’re just a little one, aren’t you? You’re so scared, but it’s going to be okay…”

He cradled the little dragon in a big glove and handed Isaac the flashlight. “I’m going to find her a new home. Can I take the socks, too? It might help with the transition.”

“That’s fine,” Isaac said. “She’s a girl, then?”

“Yes,” Wendell said. “You found her. Did you want to name her?”

“That’s okay,” Isaac said. “I don’t know a lot about dragon names. I’ll let you do that.”

Wendell smiled. “I’ll have to think about it, then. I’ll let you know.” He unzipped the air, strode through, and it zipped closed.

Now that he knew how the hose melted, he could buy a new one without worrying it would happen again. He’d buy something to fix the crack in the wall too. Who knows what would nest in there next? But first, he’d clean up the moldy apple cores. They smelled terrible.