Chapter 8: Up the Ladder
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.
When Isaac was finally small enough to go inside the little door, he opened it and peeked inside. A carpet of clover led from the door to the edge of a meadow. Green grass covered gently rolling hills. He stepped through the doorway.
It was warm outside, but a brisk breeze blew through, making it a little chilly. The grass rippled as the wind passed by, looking like water. If he squinted a bit, he could imagine he was standing at the edge of a bright green lake. Was this another dimension?
He turned to look back through the doorway, but it was gone. The green grass rolled and rippled away in that direction too, leaving him standing on an island of clover in the middle of the meadow.
Now what? Isaac had no idea which way to go. Every direction looked exactly the same. He looked up. The sky was a solid bank of fluffy white clouds, but in one direction there were darker clouds on the horizon.
Isaac decided to walk away from the storm. He walked through the green grass, and it made a shushing noise. Somewhere in the distance, a bird sang. It sounded a little like it was singing “Twinkle, Twinkle,” or maybe the ABCs.
Isaac tried singing along to figure out which one it was, but they both sounded the same. He was just about to sing another round, when he heard voices up ahead. It sounded like they were yelling.
Isaac tried to walk quietly, so that he could see what was wrong and run away if it looked at all dangerous. He climbed to the top of the hill, and in the valley below, there were two ants wrestling with a giant blanket.
It was decorated with a cheerful red and white checked pattern, and it was big enough to cover the entire valley floor. The ants each held a corner and tried to spread out the blanket, and then the wind came blowing through and flipped the blanket over their heads.
That didn’t look too dangerous. Maybe they needed some help? Isaac climbed down the hill. “What do you need the blanket for?” he asked.
One of the ants turned and let go of the blanket. The wind wrapped the blanket around the other ant. “What’s going on?” the ant asked from inside the blanket.
“We’re supposed to set up for the royal picnic, but the blanket won’t stay still,” the first ant said.
“I know that,” the ant in the blanket said.
“The queen will be angry if we don’t get done in time,” the first ant said.
“I know that too,” the other ant said. “Help me out.”
Isaac helped untangle the ant. “I’ll take a corner too,” he said. They spread out the blanket. When the wind blew, only one corner flapped around.
“We can’t let go,” one of the ants said.
“Can’t we just hold down the corners with rocks?” Isaac asked. He looked around. He couldn’t see any rocks big enough to hold down a blanket this large. “Surely there’s something we can use to hold down the blanket?”
The two ants looked at him and looked around. Then, they sat down on their corners of the blanket and looked up at him. Isaac looked around again. It was green grass and hills in every direction.
Isaac wasn’t sure what to do. If he let go of the blanket, it would flop all over and the ants would be in trouble. But, he needed to go find a way home.
Then he remembered hearing that the queen might know the way out. If he stayed and helped the ants, maybe he could meet the queen and ask her for help. Isaac sat down on the edge of the blanket.
“How long until the queen comes?” he asked.
“She will come when she is ready,” one ant said.
“And no earlier or later,” the other added.
“But it will be soon, right?” Isaac asked. “We’re not going to be sitting here all day?”
“We will sit here all day if we need to,” one ant said.
“And all night,” the other said.
“And all week.”
“And all month.”
“And all year.”
“But I don’t want to sit that long,” Isaac said. “Besides, I think you’d starve before a month was up.”
“It would be an honor to starve for the queen,” one the ants said. The other nodded.
“But…” Isaac began.
Both ants shot to their feet, standing at attention on the corners of the blanket. “She is coming!”
And, faintly, Isaac heard the sound of many footsteps approaching.