Isaac started walking. He kept walking, and eventually there were wider spaces between the trees and the light was brighter. The forest thinned out until he was standing at the edge of a meadow. It was bright green and looked soft and mossy. A narrow path crossed through it. That had to lead somewhere.
He followed the path until it lead to a small brick house with black shutters next to the windows and tall clover blossoms around the edges like bushes. He knocked on the green-painted door.
The door opened and the spider peeked out. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. He opened the door wider. “Come into my parlor.”
Isaac stepped inside and the spider closed the door behind him. “How did you build a house this fast?” he asked.
“I didn’t build it,” the spider said. “I found it. Finders keepers, you know?”
“I don’t think you can do that with houses,” Isaac said.
“Nonsense. It’s a rule, and rules are meant to be kept. Otherwise everything would be crazy, and we’d all drown in the sunlight and blow away in the breeze.”
Isaac wasn’t sure what to say to that. He followed the spider into a cozy looking parlor. The furniture was pushed out of the way to make way for a large, intricate web.
“Would you like to look at it up close?” the spider asked.
“No, I think it’s better to look at it from a distance,” Isaac said.
“Perhaps,” the spider said. “Did you ever find your way?”
“No, I keep trying to ask about the key to the door or how to get out of the cave, but no one will answer,” Isaac said.
“This isn’t a cave,” the spider said.
“No, but we’re in a potted plant that’s inside a cave,” Isaac said.
“I prefer to believe the world is balanced on the back of giant turtles, but the cave idea seems nice too,” the spider said. “Kind of cozy, really.”
“Never mind about that,” Isaac said. “Do you know where the key is?”
“A key to a door?” the spider asked. “Which door?”
“The one next to the potted plant,” Isaac said.
“I’m not sure,” the spider said. “But it could be upstairs.”
“Are there keys upstairs?” Isaac asked.
The spider shrugged some of its shoulders. “There could be. I’ve not been upstairs so I don’t know. Anything could be upstairs. The door, the keys, the forest, your way. Until you go up and look, there could be anything.”
“There are some things that couldn’t be up there,” Isaac said. “I know that without looking. The door isn’t up there, it’s where I left it.”
“But are you sure? Until you see for certain, how can you know?” the spider said.
“I saw it somewhere else before I came here,” Isaac said. “So it can’t be here.”
“But what if it moved?”
“Doors don’t move,” Isaac said.
“Maybe they do here,” the spider said.
“Fine,” Isaac said. “I’ll go look and tell you, and then you’ll know I’m right.”
“That won’t work,” the spider said. “What if what’s up there depends on the person looking? Maybe the door would be there if I went up there, but not if you did. And maybe something else would be there if we went up together.”
“I don’t think things work that way,” Isaac said, but he was starting to feel a little uncertain.
“Well, why don’t you go check? I was just about to go visit Miss Muffet. I’ve heard she lives near here, and I’d like to go say hello. I’ve heard that she has her own whey. I can ask her if she’s seen your way,” the spider said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Isaac said. “What if she’s scared of spiders?”
“Don’t be silly.” The spider laughed. “Who’s scared of spiders?”
“Lots of people,” Isaac said.
The spider laughed again and waved several hands as he left. Isaac looked at the web. It really was pretty. And huge. He turned and left the room. He’d seen the stairs on their way inside.
He looked up the staircase. It was dark upstairs. Maybe anything really could be waiting up there. Maybe he’d climb up the stairs and be home. Or he could climb up and fall into the ocean.
Isaac took one cautious step, and then another. The stairs didn’t collapse, anyway. That was good. Another step and then another. Were the stairs getting smaller? Another step and he hit his head on the ceiling. Ouch. When did the ceiling get lower?
He ducked down and took a few more steps. The staircase closed in around him. He crouched over, balancing on a skinny wooden step and turned around. Either the whole staircase had shrunk, or he was getting bigger. Was the house shrinking or was he growing?
Isaac slid down one step, and then another. The ceiling seemed a little further away. He still wasn’t sure whether it was him or the house that was growing or shrinking, but the stairs seemed to cause it. He looked up the stairs. Would he be able to get up the stairs before he was too big to fit up the hallway?
Probably not. He tried jumping down and skipping a step. He didn’t shrink as much as he had walking down two steps. Perhaps skipping steps was the answer? And when he was bigger he could skip more steps at a time. Would it be possible, skipping steps, to get to the top of the stairs before he was too big?
Was there a way to skip the steps all together? Perhaps the spider could climb along the wall and check for keys upstairs. That would be a lot easier. Just then, Isaac heard the front door slam closed. Perfect timing.
Isaac hurried to the bottom of the stairs, growing smaller (or the house growing bigger) as he went. And then he heard the tromping sound of heavy boots, and voices that he didn’t recognize were speaking somewhere nearby.
The people who really owned the house must have returned. How could he explain standing in the middle of someone else’s house where he didn’t belong? They’d call for the ants, and this time they’d make sure he couldn’t escape again.
Isaac looked around the hallway. He ducked into the room opposite the parlor and hid behind the door. The voices and footsteps grew louder, and now he could understand what they were saying.
“I still say it looks like someone was here. You should have seen the bears’ house. They had broken furniture and someone ate their food and slept in their beds. We need to start locking the doors when we’re out,” a voice said.
“No one was here, and they caught the intruder at the bears’ house,” a second voice said.
“What about the gingerbread house? Someone ate it, and they never did find out who,” the first voice said.
“I still say you worry too much,” the second voice said. “Wait. What’s that?”
“There, in the parlor,” the second voice said. “Is that a web?”
“Are there giant spiders in our house? Let’s burn it down. Now.”
“Not with me inside, you won’t,” the second voice said.
“Then you’d better get out now.”
Isaac looked around feeling panicked. He did not want to be stuck inside a burning house. He was hiding in a small, dark laundry room. Luckily, in a back corner of the room, there was another door. He tiptoed across the room and eased the door open.
On the other side of the door, there was a small garden. How was this in the potted plant? He was beginning to think he was somewhere else altogether. He eased the door shut behind him and started to walk through the garden. He stayed near the edges of the orchard and tried to stay under the branches of the tall berry bushes.
He picked up some of the large berries and put several in his pockets. He ate one of them, grimacing at the sour taste. He was hungry though, and ate around the bruises on the fruit.
At the end of the garden there was a dirt path. Well, it would be easier to find his way back if he followed the path. Should he just turn around now? If he wasn’t in the potted plant any more, was he just going further and further away from home? But he didn’t know how to get back through the woods.
The spider might know. He needed to find the spider. The spider would know the way back to the lobby. But then what?
He’d figure that out once he got there. First he had to find the spider. He’d said he was going to visit Miss Muffet. Maybe someone along this path would be able to give him directions. He took a deep breath and started walking down the path.