Marianne and Charlie were gone for the week. They were visiting Great-Aunt Bethyl, Marianne’s great aunt. Marianne worked freelance, but Isaac couldn’t take the week off. He was sad to miss the trip. Great-Aunt Bethyl was a little odd, and Isaac liked to hear her latest conspiracy theories.
Luckily, he had a new project to keep him busy while they were gone. Charlie had spilled ink on his carpet a month ago, and nothing they’d tried could get the stain out. So, Isaac was going to install some new carpet.
He’d read all about it online and picked out the perfect sand-colored carpet over the weekend. After work today, he’d moved everything out of the room and stored it in the living room. Now it was time to rip out the old carpet.
It was harder than he’d thought to peel it away. It was oddly satisfying though, like picking at an old scab. Underneath the carpet, he found a beautiful wood floor. Mentally, he changed plans. He would refinish the floor and buy rugs. He hadn’t bought the carpet yet, so he could still change his mind.
After he’d finished pulling out the carpet and rolling it up, he noticed a square-shaped door in the middle of the floor. A crawlspace? That shouldn’t have been covered up. Stepping over the tack strips, he knelt down beside the door.
He pried up the edges and eased it open. It was really dark inside. He returned with a flashlight. There was a ladder that looked like it descended pretty far. How strange. Was it some sort of smuggler’s hiding spot?
He cautiously climbed down, holding the flashlight between his teeth. Finally feeling ground beneath his feet, he turned and transferred the flashlight to his hand in the same quick movement. He felt like he was in an action movie. There was nothing there but a long, dark tunnel.
“Hello?” he said. Nothing answered. He walked down the tunnel, pointing his flashlight from side to side as he went. It began to look more like a natural tunnel, with an earthen floor below and a few stalactites hanging down from above.
His flashlight seemed dimmer. He worried about the batteries and considered going back. He switched it off, planning to switch it on again and see if that fixed things. Instead, he realized that the flashlight seemed dimmer because there was an eerie blue glow coming from the tunnel ahead. As he hurried forward, the light grew brighter.
The tunnel opened into a wide room, twice the size of his little house. The ceiling was high above a glowing underground lake. Isaac stepped forward to peer into the water. A few steps away, something erupted from the lake.
Isaac threw himself backwards with a yell, slashing the air in front of him with the flashlight. The water settled, revealing a lady floating in the air over the middle of the lake, holding a giant glowing sword. She didn’t look very impressed.
“Mortal, you do not belong here,” she said. “You must answer a riddle in order to leave.”
That didn’t sound right. “Don’t you mean in order to have the sword?” He’d read fairy tales. He knew how this was supposed to go.
“Of course not. This is not your sword.” She frowned. The blue light made her look carved out of stone. Creepy.
Isaac shone his flashlight in her eyes and ran towards the tunnel. It was gone, and the wall of the cave was smooth with no trace of any opening. He turned and returned to the lake with a sigh. “Alright. What’s the riddle?” he asked.
“Foolish mortal. Don’t think I’ll make this easy for you. What travels on wings in the evening, feet in the morning, and nothing at midday?”
That seemed fairly easy. “A butterfly,” Isaac said.
“Wrong,” the lake lady said.
“I don’t think so,” Isaac said. “It may not be the answer you are looking for, but technically my answer is correct. In the morning of its life, a caterpillar walks on feet. In the middle it doesn’t travel, stuck in a cocoon. In the evening of its life, it travels on butterfly wings.”
“That was not the answer I was looking for,” the lake lady said. She tightened her hands around her sword.
“You didn’t ask me to read your mind, you asked me to solve a riddle,” Isaac said. “Let me go home, and I’ll let you go back to swimming around your lake or whatever you were doing before I came.”
“Fine.” The lady said. She pointed and Isaac turned to look. The tunnel was back. “Don’t come back,” she said.
“Thank you, I don’t plan to,” Isaac said. He left. He stacked some heavy boxes on the trap door and went to bed.
In the morning, he moved the boxes and opened the door. It looked like a shallow crawl space. He sealed it with silver duct tape and called to order the carpet.