The pot on the stove boiled over with a hiss. Isaac calmly moved it to a different burner and cleaned up the mess. Charlie was at the table chopping a carrot for the soup. “Dad, do you ever get scared?” he asked.
“Why do you ask? Did something scare you?”
Charlie shrugged. “Not really. It’s just that you always know what to do. Even when weird or scary things happen, you seem so calm.”
“When I was your age, something really strange happened. After that, nothing seemed as weird or scary, I guess.” Isaac wiped the edges of the pot clean and turned on the heat.
“Tell me about it,” Charlie said.
“It’s a long story,” Isaac said.
Charlie smiled. “I like long stories.”
Isaac and his friend Jimmy wanted to play baseball in the empty lot by Jimmy’s house. It was right next to the woods, and Jimmy and Isaac weren’t allowed in the woods. They stood at the edge of the woods and looked inside. It was full of rocks and bushes and trees, and they couldn’t see very far.
“When is everyone coming?” Isaac asked.
Jimmy checked his watch. “They were supposed to be here half an hour ago.”
“Maybe we could play catch while we wait,” Isaac said.
“Did you see my ball? My dad caught it at a baseball game for me,” Jimmy said again. He’d told Isaac the story twenty times already, or maybe more.
“I saw it,” Isaac said. “How far away should I stand?”
“How far can you throw?” Jimmy asked. “I’ve been practicing, and I can throw super far.”
Isaac backed up. “I think this is good for me,” he said.
Jimmy stepped and threw the ball. Isaac caught it. “Strike one!” Jimmy said.
Isaac shook his hand. “Ouch! You threw that pretty hard. Maybe I should get my glove on.”
“You’re fine,” Jimmy said. “We’re just playing catch. Throw it back.”
Isaac threw the ball back. Jimmy had to step forward to catch it. “Can’t you throw any farther?” he asked. “Back up and watch this.”
Isaac backed up a couple more steps. Jimmy stepped forward as he threw again. His arm whipped forward and the ball flew over Isaac’s fingertips. It crashed through the bushes and disappeared into the forest.
“My ball! You lost it!” Jimmy said, and then he started to cry.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get it,” Isaac said. He pushed the bushes aside and hurried into the forest, scanning the forest floor for something small and white. Movement caught his eye, and he turned just in time to see the ball slowly rolling down a slope behind some trees.
Isaac raced after it. It was rolling faster and faster. The path was narrowing and growing rockier. Near the bottom of the hill, the ball bounced off some rocks and launched into a small gap between two large boulders leaning against each other at the base of another hill.
There was just enough space between them for Isaac to crawl through. It was the entrance to a hidden cave. The floor sloped down, so the ball must have continued rolling. The small cave entrance behind him was the only source of light. As he crawled forward the light grew dimmer and dimmer.
Isaac decided to crawl forward a few more feet, and if he didn’t find the ball, he was going to go back for a flashlight. He crawled forward, and suddenly the cave floor was gone and he fell.
It was black and silent. He’d never been anywhere this dark. And then, all around him, he could see tiny points of light. Fireflies? Cave moss? He didn’t know, but they looked like stars. He was falling through the night sky, and it felt like he could fall forever. But the stars grew dimmer, then vanished. Light was shining somewhere below him.
And then bright light surrounded and blinded him, and he fell into a pile of leaves and pine needles and dirt in the middle of what looked like an enormous hotel lobby. He looked up. He’d fallen out of what looked like a large, open air duct, high up in the vaulted ceiling. Blinking, he looked around at the fancy furniture and fake trees. “This is really strange,” he said.
Isaac looked around the empty lobby. There were the usual chairs and little tables and fake trees planted in baskets. There wasn’t a front desk or windows or glass doors. Instead, there were sets of metal elevator doors along the walls.
“I guess I’ll just take one of the elevators out of here,” he said. “Which one goes up?” Isaac walked to the first elevator door. There was a button with an arrow pointing up and another one with an arrow pointing down. He pushed the up button and waited. Nothing happened.
He pushed the other button. “If the elevator comes, I can still push the button to go up once I’m inside,” he said to himself. After a moment, he heard a quiet ding! and then the world turned upside down. No, actually Isaac was upside down, standing on his hands.
He kicked the up arrow button. Ding! He was standing on his feet again. Well, that wasn’t helpful. Should he try the buttons beside the next elevator? He didn’t have any better ideas.
Isaac walked over to the next elevator and pushed the up arrow button. Ding! He started to float up into the air like a balloon. Panicked, he hit the down arrow button with his knee as he floated past. Ding! He collapsed back on the floor. Ouch.
Floating up out of the cave seemed like a good idea. However, if he didn’t stop floating, he could drift up to outer space where there wasn’t any air to breathe and it was always cold. Obviously, he’d need to test and see if it wore off while he was close to the button, just in case.
Isaac dragged a big, heavy looking chair over to the elevator. He held on to the chair with one hand, and then pushed the up button. By the time he heard ding!, he was holding onto the chair with his arms and legs. He held on tightly and waited. It felt like being pushed upwards by a strong, persistent wind. Eventually, his grip started to give out. He hit the down button. Ding!
He sighed. He might as well check the other elevators. If they didn’t work, he’d have to find some rope and tie himself to the chair for a longer test. It would give him a bit of perspective on how a balloon feels. “Maybe I’ll never ask for balloons at parties anymore. It seems mean to tie them to chairs and banisters and leave them there.”
Isaac hurried to the next elevator and pushed the up button. Ding! Nothing happened. “Nope,” he said in a high squeaky voice. How funny! He pushed the down button. Ding! “Hello,” he said. His voice was normal. He pushed the down button again. “Hello?” His voice sounded deep. He pushed the down button again. Ding! “Hello.” His voice was now very deep. He laughed, but it sounded strange. He laughed harder.
Finally, he pushed the up button twice. Ding! Ding! “Hello,” he said. Normal voice. Time to go to the next elevator. This time the elevator doors moved up and down the wall, but didn’t open. Isaac walked over to the next elevator.
He pushed the up button. He started to grow. He grew taller and taller and taller. The hanging metal lamp above him hit him in the head. It hurt. He quickly leaned over and pushed the button. Unfortunately, he held the button down a bit too long. Ding! Ding! Ding!
Isaac shrunk rapidly. The room seemed to blur for a moment. When it stopped he looked up. He was probably mouse-sized at this point, far too small to reach the up button by the elevator. He needed to mark this elevator so that he could find it again, and then go hunt for something to use as a ladder.
Looking around, he saw something white under a nearby couch. The baseball! He rolled it over and looked up again. Even if he stood on it, he’d be to short. It was a start though. Maybe he could find something to pile on top of it. Did the couches have any small cushions?
He left the baseball by the elevator and started to explore the room. The couch cushions were all far too big. The tables and chairs were too heavy. But behind one of the plants he found a little door about half the size of the cupboard doors in the kitchen at home. It had a little metal sign on it that said Come In. Isaac tried to twist the doorknob, but the door was locked.