Chapter 5: What Feathers Are For

Isaac trudged down the dirt path. It felt like he’d been walking for hours. But, the scenery hadn’t changed. Tall grass everywhere. And then, finally, he walked into a clearing.

A giant shoe towered over him, as tall as a house. There was a hole in the heel with uneven edges, as though something had been chewing on it. But what would chew a hole in a shoe, and why?

As he walked a little closer, he could hear tiny, high-pitched voices.   “I’m hungry,” one said. “Me too.” “And me.” “Me three.” Other voices joined in.

And then, a mouse looked out of the hole in the heel of the shoe. It was a large mouse, as big as Isaac. It climbed out of the shoe and looked at him with dark eyes that didn’t seem to blink at all.

Little baby mice scurried out of the shoe and pulled on the mouse.   “Mommy, I’m hungry,” one shrieked, and then the other little mice started crying that they were hungry too.

The little mice were as big as dogs. Isaac had always wanted a dog, but couldn’t have one. Was he allergic to mice, too? Would his parents notice if he brought home a giant mouse? He could hide it under his bed.

He looked again at the hole in the shoe. Maybe his house couldn’t handle a giant mouse. His parents would notice if giant holes started appearing everywhere.   Mice must have very sharp teeth.

“Who?” “Where?” The children asked.

Suddenly, Isaac felt a little nervous. He looked at the mice. The mother mouse looked at him. “Children,” the mouse said. “I think he has food.”

“Over there,” the mouse said. She pointed at Isaac. “I can smell it.”

Isaac’s mind nearly went blank with fear. The little mice began to run towards him. And then he remembered the sour berries in his pockets. He pulled one out. “Here,” he said. “Food.   Go catch it.”

He threw the berry far away into the grass beyond the shoe. Several mice ran after it. He threw another and another until he was out of both berries and mice. Then he ran down the path, as quickly as he could.

It was too bad he couldn’t keep one of the little mice. They could play catch, just like a dog. But they had those sharp, sharp teeth. And of course eventually, they’d get bigger. As big as the mother mouse.

Isaac remembered the dark eyes and shivered. No, he didn’t want to take home a little mouse. Even if they could play catch. Right now, he’d just be happy to get home at all.

If he grew back to his normal size, maybe he’d pop right out of this potted plant world, wherever it was, and back into the lobby. Stairs and elevators had worked before. What else could work like that to make him grow?

A ladder? A witch’s broom? Maybe he could find a nice rope with a hook at the end and he could carry it around with him. Or a flying carpet.

Isaac looked around. Tall grass everywhere. At least there weren’t any hungry mice or ants. He sighed and kept walking.

As he walked, he started to hear a tapping sound. It sounded like someone was knocking on a door somewhere nearby.   Perhaps they could give him directions?   Isaac hurried down the path towards the noise.

Finally there was another break in the grass, and the ground to the left of the path sloped downwards into a round, shallow hollow. Four large speckled eggs were nestled together in the center of the hollow. Isaac looked up and around, but didn’t see the mother bird anywhere.

He was about to hurry on, when he realized that the tapping sound was coming from the eggs. And then there was a sharp cracking sound, and a small hole appeared in the closest egg.   The tapping stopped, and an eye peeked through the hole and looked at Isaac.

Isaac looked the baby bird in the eye that he could see through the hole in its eggshell. “I’m not your mother,” he said.

“I know that,” the baby bird said. Its voice was muffled. “You’re much too small. You look more like food. Besides, mother’s voice sounds different.”

“I’m not food,” Isaac said. “I’m really much bigger than this.”

“No you’re not,” the baby bird said. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Even if it doesn’t make sense, it’s true,” Isaac said. “I got shrunk by an elevator. Normally, I’m much bigger than your mother.”

“I don’t think anything is bigger than mother,” the baby bird said.

“Why?” Isaac asked.

“Mother talks to us all the time. She tells us about the tops of the trees and the mountains and the clouds.   She can look down on everything,” the little bird said.

“That’s because she can fly,” Isaac said.

“What’s flying?”

“Well, that’s when you move your body up in the air. You’re not taller, your feet are just further off the ground,” Isaac said.

“Show me,” the bird said.

“I can’t fly,” Isaac said.

“Why not?”

Isaac almost said that he was much too big to fly, but then he remembered that he wasn’t very big any more. “Well, I don’t have feathers or wings,” he said.

“What’s that?” the baby bird asked.

“You ask a lot of questions,” Isaac said.

“I have a lot to learn,” the baby bird said. “What are feathers or wings?”

Isaac looked around and picked up a long feather half-hidden in the grass.   “This is a feather. Birds like your mother have lots of them. Wings are the flappy arms that they use to fly.”

“If the wings are for flying, what are the feathers for?” the baby bird asked.

“To help catch the air, I guess. See, watch.” Isaac found another feather, and holding one in each hand, he pushed down on the air several times, as though he were a bird about to take off.

“You’re flying!” the baby bird said.

For a moment, Isaac believed it was true. He could look down at the grass below, and the eggs seemed much smaller.   Then he realized that his feet were still on the ground. “I’m not flying, I’m taller,” Isaac said. “My feet haven’t moved.”

“Well, come back,” the baby bird said. “I have more questions, and it’s harder to understand you way up there.”

“I don’t know how,” Isaac said.

“You were showing me how to fly,” the baby bird said. “So just do the opposite.”

“You mean landing?” Isaac tried pushing the air up with the feathers. They were smaller now and he had to adjust his grip. He flapped his arms and shrunk.

“This is great! Now I can leave,” Isaac said.

“Why do you want to leave?” the baby bird asked.

“Because I want to go home,” Isaac said.

“This is home,” the baby bird said.

Isaac sighed. “It’s not my home.”

“You could stay here and answer my questions,” the baby bird said. “Then it would be your home.”

“But I can’t fly. Not even with feathers. And I don’t have wings,” Isaac said. “Besides, I would miss my family too much.”

“What’s family?” the baby bird asked.

“It’s the people you love who love you too. Like your mom and dad and the other baby birds in the other eggs in your nest,” Isaac said.

“Is family part of home?”

“It’s what makes it home,” Isaac said. “My family could change houses, and then the new house would be home.   Home is where they are.”

“Then why are you here?” the baby bird asked.

“Because I don’t know how to get back,” Isaac said.

“I don’t understand,” the baby bird said.

“I hope you never do,” Isaac said. “Don’t leave your home until you’re old enough to find the way back.”

Suddenly, everything was a lot dimmer. Isaac looked up to see a large bird circling overhead. “It’s your mother!”

“Yay! Isn’t it wonderful? Now I’ll know what home looks like,” the baby bird said.

Isaac did not think this was wonderful. He was terrified she’d swoop in and eat him.  He needed to be too big to eat. Clutching the feathers a little tighter, he began to flap his arms, pushing down on the air around him.

The ground was suddenly further away, and the bird seemed much smaller.   He’d grown again. He sighed in relief.

The bird squawked and seemed to fall out of the sky. “Ouch, ouch, ouch,” she said. “That really hurt.” She looked up at Isaac and began to hop away quickly.

“I won’t hurt you,” Isaac said. “I just didn’t want you to eat me. Are you all right?”

The bird flapped her wings. One of them seemed a little stiff. “I think I broke my wing,” she said. She hopped a little further away.

“Let me see,” Isaac said. He started to step forward, and then remembered the eggs.   He’d grown quickly while standing right next to the nest.   He was a little afraid to look.

Luckily, the eggs were fine. He’d bumped one out of place with his foot, and he could hear faint cheeping. He carefully took a big step away from the nest.

“Hey, hey, hey,” the mother bird said. Isaac looked back at the mother bird. She was running towards him, dragging her wings on the ground. Had she injured both of them? Running around like that would probably hurt them more, but she must be worried about her babies.

Isaac took a few more steps away from the nest, trying to watch where he stepped. The grass was probably full of little ladybugs and angry ants and creatures he hadn’t met yet.

“Don’t eat me, tall cat,” the mother bird said.   “I’m sure I look delicious and defenseless, but don’t eat me.” She was running away from Isaac, then circling closer, and then running again.   Her wings continued to drag on the ground.

“Stop, stop. I’m not a cat. I won’t eat you. You’re going to hurt yourself.   Please stop,” Isaac said. He crouched down, smiled, and reached out a hand towards the anxious bird. She danced out of reach.

“Of course you’re a cat. Who else appears out of nowhere? Who else smiles like that?” She asked.

Isaac stopped smiling. “Cats don’t smile. I’ve never seen a cat smile.”

“Who else but cats can lie convincingly like that?” the bird said. “Help, help, help!” She hopped closer, and then away, and then ran in a little circle, away from her nest.   As she ran, she fluttered and dragged her wings and continued to yell for help.

Isaac looked around nervously. Was he going to go to bird prison next? “I’ll just leave you alone, then,” he said. “Can I call a doctor for you? Do birds have doctors?”

The bird paused. “Are you asking me to tell you where more birds are, so that you can eat them after you’ve eaten me? Cats are always so terribly sneaky.”

“I’m not a cat,” Isaac said. “I’m just trying to help.”

“Stop lying,” the bird shrieked. “If you’re going to eat me, just get it over with.”

“I think I’m just going to leave now,” Isaac said.   “If I see a doctor, I’ll send them to see you.”

“Help, help, help,” the bird shrieked. Isaac walked away, watching where he stepped.   The bird finally stopped yelling.   And then, behind him, Isaac heard a faint whooshing sound.

He turned around. The mother bird was again flying in circles in the air above her nest. There was no stiffness in her wings any more. She was just fine.

“She tricked me,” he murmured. Then he smiled. She was just trying to protect her babies. But, it wasn’t him that was the liar, after all.

Chapter 4                    Chapter 6