He looked around the grassy meadow. He needed to find Miss Muffet to find the spider to find the key to find the way home, but he still had no idea where to look. Maybe he should retrace his steps and go back and ask for directions at the brick house. As long as he was careful, it shouldn’t take long. He turned around and started to look for the path.
The first landmark Isaac found was the shoe. Looking closely, he saw the small brown thread-like path he’d followed. A few steps later, he saw two lines of small bushes with a little brick house behind them. “I’d better shrink again,” he said.
He took the feathers out of his pocket and held them pinched in-between his thumb and pointer finger. They seemed so small now. It felt a little silly, but he held his arms out to his side and pushed up against the air.
He shrunk quickly. Once again, he found himself on a dirt path, this time right outside the garden. Now he could ask for directions. He started down the path towards the front of the brick house.
“Make way, make way,” a voice called out behind him. Isaac looked back. An ant carrying a tall stick was hurrying down the road. There was plenty of room, but Isaac stepped off to the side and clutched his feathers. If the ants were still looking for him, he’d just grow too tall to be carried away.
“Make way,” the ant said again. “I carry an important message from the queen for Miss Muffet.”
Maybe he didn’t need to ask for directions after all. When the ant hurried past, Isaac tucked the feathers into his back pocket and followed her. When the ant passed the brick house, she followed the path as it turned right. It circled around the meadow until it was next to the forest.
A little wooden house was waiting at the end of the path, almost hidden by the tall trees around it. They were smaller than most of the trees in the forest, probably saplings, but next to the little house they looked enormous.
Perched on the lower limbs and trunks of the trees were white fluffy flocks of bugs. It was like someone had mixed up beetles and sheep. An ant stood at attention outside the house. She was watching the house, but turned when the messenger ant approached.
“I have an important message from the queen for Miss Muffet,” the ant said.
The guard ant shook her head. “Miss Muffet had a terrible scare this afternoon. She said I couldn’t accept any visitors or messages. I need to stay here and watch the aphids.”
“I cannot leave until my message is delivered,” the messenger ant said.
“You can wait here with me until tomorrow then,” the guard ant said.
“Can’t the messenger ant deliver the message herself?” Isaac asked without thinking.
Both ants turned to look at him. It was a little scary. “It would be rude to enter uninvited,” the messenger ant said.
“I cannot announce her,” the guard ant said.
The ants seemed friendly. Isaac told himself to be brave. “If the guard ant opens the door, then she invited you in,” he said.
“Perhaps,” the messenger ant said. “I don’t know.”
“She said no visitors,” the guard ant said.
“It wouldn’t really be a visit, though,” Isaac said.
“Perhaps,” the guard said.
“I can go deliver the message,” Isaac said.
The ants thought for a moment. “I can’t let someone else deliver the message,” the messenger ant finally said.
“I could tell Miss Muffet you are waiting and ask if you can come in,” Isaac said.
“That is acceptable,” the messenger ant said. The guard nodded.
And so, the guard ant opened the door and Isaac went inside. The floor was green with moss. He followed the hallway until it opened into a larger room.
The furniture was well built but looked like it was made to be useful rather than pretty. Open windows let in sunlight and breezes but could be closed with wooden shutters. On one of the windowsills, a brown and tan patterned butterfly opened and closed its wings. Around the room, there were wooden barrels filled with something clear that smelled sweet.
In the middle of the room, an ant sat on a bench rocking one of the wooly bugs. She looked up when he came in. “Who are you?” she asked. “I said no visitors.”
“This isn’t really a visit,” Isaac said. “If you’re Miss Muffet, I’m just letting you know that there’s a messenger from the queen outside,” Isaac said.
“I am Miss Muffet.” The ant sighed. “Very well. Let the messenger in. The queen will be angry if I make her wait.”
Isaac turned to go.
“Wait,” Miss Muffet said. When he turned back, she held out the fluffy bug in her arms. “Take this aphid with you and put him on the tree with the others. He fell when that awful spider appeared out of nowhere and frightened us.”
“Where did the spider go?” Isaac asked.
“The guard chased him to the forest path,” Miss Muffet said. “He won’t be coming back.”
Isaac cradled the aphid in his arms and turned to go. The butterfly followed him out the door.
“She’s expecting you,” Isaac told the waiting messenger ant. The messenger ant nodded and left.
Isaac turned to the guard. “Do you know the way out of the forest? Or the potted plant? Or the lobby?”
The guard shook her head. “Ants only know the ways they are told. Except maybe the explorers or the queen. If you have a question you can ask her.”
“All right. Thank you,” Isaac said. “Which way is the forest path?”
“Over there, in the forest,” the guard said. She waved an arm towards the forest, and then turned to watch the aphids.
Isaac thanked her again, and then he left the fluffy aphid with the others on the tree. The butterfly followed. Isaac turned to look at him. “Do you know where the forest path is?”
“It’s nearby. Follow me,” the butterfly said. It flapped its brown and tan wings and flew in and out of the tree trunks.
“Not so fast,” Isaac said. “I’m walking and that takes longer.”
“Then why don’t you fly?” the butterfly asked.
“I can’t,” Isaac said. “I don’t have wings.”
“You do have those narrow little wings,” the butterfly said.
“Those are arms,” Isaac said.
“The name hardly matters,” the butterfly said.
“They aren’t wide enough to be real wings,” Isaac said. “I’m too big, and they’re too little.”
“I suppose you’re right,” the butterfly said. “Here’s the path.”
In front of them, a narrow, leaf-strewn path led into the forest. “Where does it lead?” Isaac asked.
“I don’t know,” the butterfly said. “It branches not that far from here, and I never could decide which road to take.”
“Do you know which path the spider took?” Isaac asked.
“No, I didn’t follow him in,” the butterfly said. “It’s dark in there.” The butterfly landed on a tree and opened its wings. It seemed to disappear into the bark. Spots on its wings suddenly looked uncomfortably like eyes.
“Your wings look like they have eyes on them,” Isaac said. “When you disappear like that, it’s creepy.”
“Why?” the butterfly asked.
“I don’t know. I guess because I’m used to seeing eyes as part of faces,” Isaac said.
“Then you’ll just have to imagine the face,” the butterfly said. “Do you know which road you’ll take?”
“I guess I’ll go see what they look like, and then I’ll decide,” Isaac said.
“How will that make a difference?” the butterfly asked.
“I don’t know, but it might,” Isaac said. He turned to go and then paused. “Do you know the way out?”
The butterfly flapped her wings and reappeared. “The way out of where?”
“The forest. The potted plant. The lobby. The cave,” Isaac said.
“I don’t know about the rest, but you’re already out of the forest now,” the butterfly said. “Why go in if you don’t want to be there?”
“I want to be on the other side,” Isaac said. “The side with the big basket wall.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the butterfly said. “So, I suppose you’ll be much more likely to know where it is than I do. Perhaps you should ask yourself. Or look at the path and then decide if it’s right. You said that might help.”
“All right,” Isaac said. “Thanks for your help.”