Isaac looked around. It looked like there was a sign next to a path leading up the sand dunes at the edge of the beach. Isaac walked over. There were two signs. The top one said “Anna’s House” and pointed to the right. The next sign said “Hannah’s house” and pointed the same way.
Isaac unfolded his map. There was a red x on the island with two houses. Well, that made sense. He wasn’t sure who to visit first, but he didn’t need to decide yet. There was only one path for now. He followed the path off the beach.
He continued following the path as rocks and ferns and palm trees were replaced with rose bushes and bunches of bright orange lilies and magenta hibiscus flowers. There were sign posts every so often along the path, but they kept pointing the same way.
He reached a white rock path that led to a white house with a red tile roof. Both signs pointed to the house. Did Hannah and Anna live in the same house? Then why were there two houses on the map?
Two little girls in pigtails were out in the garden. One was arranging a puffy little footstools in a ring on the uneven ground. The other was setting up a table with a pitcher and glasses and plates and a bowl of something.
Isaac walked closer and looked in the bowl. “Cheese curds?” He loved cheese curds! His dad called them squeaky cheese, because when they were fresh, they sort of squeaked when you chewed them.
The little girl looked up. She was wearing a necklace with an H as a pendant. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Isaac. Are you Hannah? Is this a party?”
The other little girl came storming over. “Cheese curds? Why didn’t you tell me we had cheese curds?” An A pendant dangled from her necklace.
“You must be Anna,” Isaac said. Both girls turned to look at him.
“It’s not polite to walk into someone’s yard without permission,” Hannah said.
“And if you didn’t have permission, you shouldn’t have done it,” Anna added.
Oops. Isaac knew better than that. Even if they lived someplace strange, these were real people who deserved respect. “I’m sorry.”
The girls looked at each other. “As punishment, you have to play musical chairs,” Hannah said.
“And listen to us sing,” Anna said. “And applaud at the end. That’s very important.”
“I can do that,” Isaac said.
“Great!” the girls said in unison. The sound of trumpets playing a peppy tune blared from the patch of orange lilies next to the table. The girls ran to the circle of footstools and began to circle them. Isaac followed them.
When the music stopped, they each sat on a wobbly footstool. There were plenty of seats. Isaac wasn’t sure the girls really knew how to play the game. “Were you expecting more people?” he asked.
“I hope not,” Hannah said. “They’d eat all the cheese curds. There are barely enough for me.”
“And me,” Anna said.
“Right,” Hannah said.
And then both girls turned to glare at Isaac. He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m not even a little bit hungry,” he said. “So does that mean this isn’t a party?”
Just then the music started again and they were off. After four rounds of musical chairs, Anna looked at Hannah. “That seems like enough, don’t you think?”
Hannah nodded. “I’m done. So who won?”
Anna shrugged. “I think the better question is who lost?”
Both girls looked at Isaac. “But we’re all on chairs. Doesn’t that mean we all won?” he asked. The girls narrowed their eyes in unison. It was a little scary. “All right. I lost. By the way, do you know anything about a party?”
The girls ignored him. “Time to sing,” Hannah said.
“About the baronet who married the butterfly,” Anna said.
“And how they danced on the rainbow until it broke into pieces that they put into prisms and sold them to pay for their honeymoon…”
“Is this going to be a long song?” Isaac asked nervously. “I really do need to go find that party, so if you know a shorter one…”
The girls began singing. It was a long song. Isaac made sure to applaud loudly at the end.
“Do you both live in this house?” Isaac asked, once the song was over.
“Of course we do, it’s our house,” Hannah said.
Anna nodded. “It’s our house, so we live here.”
“So who lives in the other house?”
Hannah and Anna looked confused. “What house?” they asked in unison.
Isaac unfolded the map and showed the picture of the two houses. “I could only find your house, though. I didn’t see any signs leading anywhere else.”
“Oh, that house.” Hannah jumped up and grabbed Isaac’s arm.
Anna jumped up and grabbed the other arm. “We’ll take you there.”
Isaac stood up and allowed the two girls to lead him through the bushes and down a steep hill. They stopped in front of a wall of overgrown rose bushes.
“She doesn’t do much yard work,” Hannah said.
Anna nodded. “She mostly just sleeps. She’s the queen of dreams, you know.”
Isaac, who had been contemplating the sharp thorns on the nearest rosebush, turned to look at the little girls in horror. “You mean she can’t go home?”
Hannah shrugged. “She is home.”
Isaac shook his head. “No, I mean the home she had before she came here, where her family is. She can’t go back?”
“She is home.” Anna put her hands on her hips. “Hannah told you that. They’re all in her dreams now.”
“What do you mean? What happened?”
Hannah stepped closer to Anna and put her hands on her hips too. “She became the queen of dreams and took a nice nap and then went back.” She looked at Anna.
Anna continued the story. “But too much time had passed. Her parents and her sister and brother had all grown old and died. Her baby cousin was a great-grandpa. So, she couldn’t go back, not really.”
Hannah smiled. “So she came back here and she dreams about them, and in her dreams they’re real. So she doesn’t want anyone to wake her up.”
Anna smiled. “She has a great big sword and would probably kill anyone who tried. She’s really scary.”
The girls continued smiling, but Isaac frowned. It was an awful story. He hoped it wasn’t really true. Isaac looked at the wall of rose bushes. “So, no one would throw a party anywhere near her house if people are scared to wake her up, right?”
“We could check, but we’d probably hear them screaming from here if they did,” Hannah said.
“She wakes up if people are too noisy?”
“Doesn’t everybody? I do,” Anna said. “Especially when Hannah snores.”
“I don’t snore, you do.” Hannah glared at Anna.
“Yes, you do. I wish I had a giant sword too.”
“Can we see over the rose bushes from the top of the hill?” Isaac interrupted. He didn’t like where this argument was going.
The girls turned to glare at Isaac, then looked back up the hill. “Maybe,” they said in unison.
Isaac hurried back up the hill. He walked along the top of the hill until he found a spot where he could look across the rest of the island. There was an empty overgrown garden, the red roof of a far away house, and a deserted beach beyond it. The party wasn’t on this island.
Hannah and Anna trudged back up the hill. “Time for cheese curds,” Hannah said happily.
“Yay!” Anna said.
“Wait, can you tell me the best way off this island?” Isaac asked. The girls were already pushing their way through the bushes back to their yard. Isaac chased after them and tried not to worry about the story they told. He would get home and see his family again. He got home last time, after all.
Anna and Hannah each sat on a little footstool, with a footstool between them like a table. The bowl of cheese curds was resting in the exact center of this footstool. The sisters faced each other, forks in hand.
“Isaac, watch and tell me if she eats more than I do,” Anna said.
“If she eats more, let me know,” Hannah said.
They glared at each other. The lilies behind Isaac made a crackling sound, and then trumpets blared again, and the girls started eating. More accurately, they shoveled the curds into their mouths until their cheeks bulged.
“Time out,” Isaac said. “You need to chew and swallow your food or you’ll choke.”
Watching each other warily, the girls put down their forks. They chewed and glared. Suddenly, Anna snatched up her fork. Her hand darted out and she took one of the cheese curds from the bowl and popped it into her still full mouth.
Hannah jumped up and grabbed a handful of cheese curds, completely ignoring her fork. Anna grabbed the bowl and twisted away from Hannah, keeping the rest of the cheese curds out of her reach.
“This means war,” Hannah said, waving around her handful of cheese curds as she yelled.
“I accept. Water balloons at dawn?”
Hannah narrowed her eyes. She glanced over her sister’s shoulder, towards the cheese curds. Then she looked up and her eyes widened.
Isaac turned to look. There was something large and oddly-shaped hurrying across the lawn on eight bright green legs. What could it be? He’d never seen anything like it.
“Spider! It’s a giant spider!” Hannah dropped her handful of cheese curds and started running towards the house.
Anna froze and looked over her shoulder. She tossed the bowl into the air in fright and chased after her sister. The bowl landed upside-down on one of the footrests with a thump.
Isaac was pretty sure that whatever it was, it wasn’t a giant spider. The legs looped and curled like ribbons or noodles. Spiders had legs like walking sticks, straight and sturdy.
It didn’t have a body like a spider, either. It looked more like a giant snow globe. Were snow globes alive here? It was possible.
The probably-not-a-spider approached and waved one of its noodle legs. “Hello, human. I am a mollusk of the order Octopoda. I come in peace.”
Isaac peered into the snow globe. “You’re an octopus,” he said in surprise.
“That’s what I said, a mollusk of the order Octopoda.”
“Why are you in a snow globe?”
The octopus tapped the globe with one of its legs. Or arms. “It’s a surfacing helmet. I can’t breathe without water.”
That made sense. Isaac looked around. “Why are you here? It’s pretty far from the ocean.”
“I was exploring, but I believe I am lost. Could you direct me to the nearest beach. I can find my way from there.”
“I think it might be easiest to go back the way you came. It’s all downhill and there aren’t any bushes to climb through that way.” Isaac pointed across the lawn to the signpost.
The octopus sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that. My eyesight isn’t great outside the ocean, and I keep missing the signs. I think I’ve been going in circles for hours.”
Isaac smiled. “I’ll come with you. I was planning on leaving soon anyway. Do you know the easiest way to the next island? On my map it has a lake in the middle.” Isaac pulled the map out of his pocket and unfolded it.
The octopus squinted at the map. “I think I can help you arrive there. I can call some of my friends once we reach the ocean. My communication devices work best underwater.”
“What are we waiting for?” Isaac asked. “Let’s go!”