“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.