Isaac led the octopus down to the beach. “Thank you for your assistance,” the octopus said. “Now let’s swim around to the other side of the island. It will be easier for you to get to the next island on your map from there.”
“I don’t swim very well in the ocean,” Isaac admitted. “The waves get me all mixed up. I’m not really a strong swimmer to begin with. That’s why I need help getting to the next island.”
The octopus tapped his glass helmet. “I understand. I have a hard time getting around on land.” He looked out at the waves. “As exciting as discovery is, I suppose it’s best to be practical when we have a task to complete.”
Isaac looked out at the ocean, and then back at the octopus. “What do you mean?”
The octopus looked back at Isaac. “Isn’t it obvious? I’ll take the sea route and you take the land route. I have no doubt that I’ll reach the other side of the island before you. But have no fear, that will only give me time to arrange a solution to your difficulty.”
That made sense. “Thank you. I’ll see you there.”
The octopus scurried into the waves and disappeared. Isaac turned around. Which way to go? Right or left? It didn’t really matter. Both ways would take him there eventually.
But which was the easier path? He’d like to get there quickly. The path to the right was rocky and steep, but it was also shady at this time of day, which would be nice.
Isaac looked to the left. The path was shallow and flat and very sunny. It would be a much easier path to follow. Did that mean it would take longer to get there? He didn’t really want to spend any longer in the sun than he had to.
Easy and sunny or difficult and shady? Which one was longer? On the map, they looked the same. Isaac looked right, and then he looked left. And then he chose the right. It looked more difficult and less traveled-by, but the shade made all the difference. Too much sun gave him a headache.
Isaac picked his way carefully through the rocks, humming a tune to himself. The shady path grew darker as he walked around the side of the hill that led up to the sisters’ house. Sunlight filtered through the bushes high overhead and left dappled patterns at the edge of the path.
The wind blew and the bushes made a whispering sound. The patches of sunlight on his right danced. “Twinkle, twinkle, little sunbeams. How I wish I had some ice cream,” he sang to himself. He almost expected someone to join in, but the path was quiet except for the whisper of the wind.
Soon enough, Isaac was rounding the far end of the path and stepping back into the sunlight. The octopus was waiting on the beach. “You are fortunate,” he said.
The octopus waved an arm towards the water. It looked like there was a trail of things floating out there. “I was able to communicate with both my fellow octopodes and a traveling bale of turtles. We’ve built you a bridge.”
Isaac looked back at the water. He couldn’t see a bridge. “Is it invisible?”
“Of course not. Maybe you don’t see well at a distance. My research on human sight is rather limited. Try walking a little closer.” He made shooing motions with his noodley arms.
Isaac walked closer to the water. Up close, he could see that the floating things were bits of driftwood and turtles, all lined up, making a sort of path out to sea. “That’s the bridge?” Isaac was pretty sure he was too heavy to walk on a turtle bridge.
“Oh good, you can see it now. Well, hop on!” The octopus waded into the waves.
Isaac followed him into the water and looked back. High above, he could see a wall of rosebushes. He turned back and swam towards the first bit of driftwood. Two octopuses were holding it in place, one on each end.
Isaac’s friend, still wearing his glass helmet, helped him climb up. Cautiously, Isaac stepped onto a large log. The octopuses behind him swam away with the driftwood. So far so good.
The turtle treading water ahead of him was waiting patiently. It was a big turtle, but it didn’t really look large enough to carry his weight. “Are you okay?” it asked.
“Just a little nervous,” Isaac said.
“No worries, then. Just a quick step and you’ll be onto the next. If you go quickly, you won’t even notice you’re not on land.”
“But won’t that make me more likely to fall?”
The turtle laughed. “I guess it depends on how good your balance is.”
“Just hurry up and go,” the octopus on Isaac’s right said. “We can’t hold you in place much longer like this.”
“Take it at a run,” the octopus on the left said. “On your mark, get set, go!”
Isaac started running.
Isaac waded to shore once he reached the next island. He turned to thank the turtles and octopuses, but they were gone, and they’d taken the pieces of driftwood with them. “Thank you,” he yelled to the empty waves anyway. A tentacle reached up out of the water, waved at him, and then disappeared again.
Isaac turned around, and immediately something flew at his face. He couldn’t see. He grabbed the soft, thin thing and pulled it away from him. It was a shawl, woven with intricate gray and white patterns.
He looked up when he heard the sound of a bicycle horn. Who could be riding their bicycle on the beach? But, it wasn’t a bicycle. A white swan was honking and running towards him, flapping its wings and looking rather large and terrifying.
Isaac held the shawl up like a shield and considered running back into the ocean. Could he swim around to another part of the island that swans didn’t like? And then he realized that nothing was happening.
He peeked over the edge of the shawl. The swan was watching him. “Hello?” Isaac said.
“What are you waiting for?” the swan asked. “Drape it around me. I am so tired of feathers. Do you know how much work it takes to keep them straightened and clean when all you have to work with is a beak?”
Cautiously, Isaac draped the shawl around the swan. It shivered like it was cold and somehow shook itself into a motherly looking lady in a long white dress who fussed with the shawl until she’d tied it and it hung just so.
“Are you a were-swan?” Isaac asked. He looked up. “I guess you change back when it’s noon?”
The lady laughed. “Of course not. I’m a shapeshifter. I change to whatever I want whenever I want to. Except that someone is going to curse me to only be able to change when I’m wearing this shawl.”
Wait a minute. “You mean it hasn’t happened yet?”
“Of course not. But I know it will happen someday, because I can’t change when I’m not wearing the shawl.” The lady smoothed the ends of the shawl that were dangling from where she’d knotted it.
“That doesn’t make sense. How do you know it hasn’t already happened?”
The lady smiled. “Because I can’t lift the curse yet. I can cancel it after it happens, of course, but not before.”
Isaac shook his head. “I don’t understand how it can work backwards like that.”
“You are happy about the holidays before they happen, right? Sometimes weeks and weeks ahead of time?” she asked.
“But that’s not the same thing at all,” Isaac said. “That just happens because I know they’re coming. If I didn’t know about them, I wouldn’t be looking forward to anything at all.”
“Well, I suppose this could happen because I believe it will,” the lady said. She looked uncertain.
“You could try believing that it won’t happen,” Isaac said. “But believing things is hard.”
“Nonsense,” the lady said. “Everyone believes unbelievable things all the time. It’s what makes the world round.”
“Don’t you mean ‘go ’round’?” Isaac asked.
“That too, dear,” the lady said. She handed him the shawl. “Hmmm. Now let’s see…” She wrinkled her brow and tapped her chin with a finger. A few moments later, she began to shiver, and then she shook herself into a sheep.
“It worked!” Isaac said.
“Or the person changed their mind and decided not to curse me after all. I’ll have to thank all the magic users I meet, just to be safe.” The fluffy white sheep turned and looked at Isaac. “Now who are you? I don’t think we’ve met before. Are you a magic user?”
“No, I’m just Isaac. I’m here looking for a party.”
“Ah.” the sheep nodded. “I understand. I once was in your shoes. And now, I’m the Queen of Everything.”
“But what does that mean?” Isaac asked. “How can you be the queen of everything?”
“It’s a long story,” the sheep said.
“So, how are you the queen of everything?” Isaac asked.
The sheep smiled. “Would you like to see my store?”
“I don’t have any money.” For some reason, Isaac felt a twinge of embarrassment, even though even if he’d brought money to this world with him, it probably wouldn’t be the right kind.
“Oh, I wouldn’t sell you anything,” the sheep said. “If I sold something, then I wouldn’t have it anymore, and then I wouldn’t be the Queen of Everything.”
“Then isn’t it more like a museum?”
The sheep shook her head. “Of course not. You have to pay admission to go into a museum, but I let anyone in to look. Plus you can’t pick anything up in a museum, and I think that’s all right, as long as you don’t try to keep anything.”
Isaac was puzzled. “You’re right, that doesn’t sound like a normal museum. But it’s not a store if you aren’t selling anything. Do you live there?”
“Of course, I do.”
Isaac nodded. “Then it’s not a store or a museum. It’s your house.” His feeling of triumph quickly collapsed into awkwardness. “Not that the name really matters.”
The sheep bleated in surprise. “Of course, it matters! Names are very important. If no one had any names, then we couldn’t remember more than a handful of people. How would we celebrate together or mourn together if we didn’t know who any one was?”
Isaac thought for a moment. Maybe she was right. “Okay. Then can I see your house-museum-shop?”
“Follow me,” the sheep said. She led the way across a stone path through a swampy area that went from wet sand to mud to mud filled with little puddles and ponds to the shore of a lake. A bridge made of logs and ropes led to a house on stilts in the center.
The sheep trotted quickly across the swaying bridge. Isaac hurried across, telling himself not to look down until he was safely at the other side on firmer ground. What if there were alligators in the lake? Didn’t they live in swamps? He’d prefer not to know just yet.
He looked down at the end of the bridge and squinted at some suspicious logs before he followed the sheep inside. The house was piled high with things like books and clothes and shoes and sports equipment. It was an odd assortment of stuff, as though a group of people had emptied out their closets into piles in a big empty room.
“Where did it all come from?” Isaac asked.
“Over there.” The sheep pointed a hoof at the back wall. A row of doors stretched across the wall.
“Where do they lead?” Isaac asked.
“The back of closets.” The sheep slumped down, and once again she became a lady. “I’m the queen of everything. I can be anything and I can have anything. I can change all this stuff into whatever I want. Watch.”
The lady pointed at a tennis shoe and it turned itself into a crown. Isaac gasped. “Wow.”
The lady sighed and waved her hand. The crown turned back into a shoe. “I know it seems neat. I thought so at first, too. But I can’t go anywhere, and I’m all alone. My family lives on the other side of those doors. I watch them throw things into their closets and never check the back wall. If they did, they’d see me. I even take the things out of their closet, but they never check the back.”
“It’s like the wardrobe,” Isaac said. “Do you call out to them?”
“They’re closets, not wardrobes, dear. Names are important.” She patted him on the head. “But yes, I call. They don’t hear me.”
“Then maybe they don’t see you either,” Isaac said. “You can’t go back?”
“Not unless they come here first. And everyone is so much older now. I think they’ve forgotten me.” A tear traced its way down her cheek.
“Isn’t there anyway for you to get home?” Isaac asked sadly.
“Not that I’ve found.” The lady picked up a book and dusted off the cover. With a wave of her hand, the dust gathered into a ring shape and turned into a doughnut. It floated over to Isaac.
Isaac plucked the doughnut out of the air. “Thank you.” He took a bite and pondered. “There has to be a way. I’ll ask everyone at the party. Surely someone is a queen or king of something that can help. I don’t think that you’re the only one who wants to go home.”
“That would be wonderful,” the lady said.
“I can give you a ride to the next island on my rowboat,” the lady said.
“You have a rowboat?” Isaac looked around.
The lady laughed. “Of course, I do. I’m the Queen of Everything, remember?” She pointed at a scrap of notebook paper and it turned itself into a rowboat. “See?” She pointed at the rowboat, and once again it was a scrap of paper.
Isaac looked at the paper with surprise. “Wait, didn’t we need that?”
The lady raised an eyebrow. “Why carry that heavy old thing to the beach when I can change something into a boat there?”
“Right.” Isaac felt foolish. He followed the lady out the door, where she changed into a swan and launched herself into the air.
“I’ll meet you at the beach,” she said, and then flew away.