Isaac trudged across the bridge without looking down and picked his way through the swamp. Then he walked around the beach until he found the swan waiting for him, preening her wings.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“I can’t fly.”
The swan fluffed up its wings. “Well, that’s no excuse. Hurry up then. The rowboat is waiting, just over there.”
Isaac walked over to the rowboat, and then turned to look at the swan. “Aren’t you coming?”
“No, I don’t want to leave my island. I want to watch the closet doors and be there when they open. But, once you’re rowing away, I’ll send some lucky feathers along to guide you. Just catch them before they hit the water, or they’re not lucky any more.”
Isaac looked at the little rowboat. “I don’t know how to row.”
“You can do it, I believe in you,” the swan said. “Did that help?”
“Not really, no.”
The swan sighed and turned into a sheep. “Hop in and I’ll give you a push to start.”
Isaac climbed into the rowboat and held tightly to the oars and the sheep shoved the rowboat into the waves. The sheep changed into a large white whale that gave the boat one large final push, and Isaac and the rowboat were out to sea.
Overhead, a dove flapped its wings and several feathers blew off to the left. Isaac tried to push the oars back through the water to pull the boat forward. It didn’t work very well. The water seemed heavy, like he was pushing through cement. The feathers floated down, just out of reach.
Isaac remembered what the lady said, and reached out, trying to catch the feathers before he hit the water. A small breeze caught the largest, prettiest feathers and flung them far away. But nearby, a little fluffy bit of down was tumbling through the air.
Reaching out as far as he dared, Isaac’s fingers just barely managed to close around the bit of fluff. It dissolved like a snowflake when it hit his palm. The other feathers disappeared into the water. Now what?
A dolphin popped its head out of the water. “Have we met before?” she asked. “You seem familiar somehow.”
“I think you escorted me to land once,” Isaac said. “Thank you for that.”
“I do try to help where I can,” the dolphin said. “Say, did you happen to need help again?”
“Yes please.” Isaac held up the oars. “I don’t know how to row.”
“Well, show me what you’ve done so far.”
Isaac tried scooping the water again. “It’s too heavy,” he said.
“Then scoop less water,” the dolphin suggested.
Isaac tried again. The boat inched forward. The dolphin followed, giving encouragement and advice, until an island appeared on the horizon. The dolphin whistled. “I need to go now. Good luck, friend.”
“Thank you, friend,” Isaac said. And he rested a moment, and then rowed his way to shore. Rowing was hard work, much harder than he’d thought.
Isaac waded to shore, dragging the rowboat behind him. Now that he knew how to row, he hoped that he could use it to travel to the other islands if this wasn’t the island he was looking for. It would be nice to have one less thing to worry about.
Unfortunately, as soon as it touched the shore, the rowboat turned into a little round white pebble that rolled into the underbrush. Isaac chased after it, hoping that once it touched water again, it would change back into a rowboat. He followed the crackling, crashing sounds, hoping that it was the little white stone.
The sounds led him through clumps of bushes and vines, until he hit his shin on a low wall, hidden in the bushes. He clutched his shin and looked down. The little white pebble was lying next to the wall right in front of him. Isaac picked it up and put it in his pocket.
“Whatever you just took, it’s mine,” a voice said.
Isaac turned. A large round white egg was balanced on the wall. Luckily the wall was wide, and had little scoops built into it regularly that were just the right size for the egg. Even so, Isaac wasn’t sure why the egg wasn’t rolling off the wall.
There was a face scrawled on the egg in black crayon. It was scowling at Isaac. Isaac looked around. Other than the egg and the wall, all he could see were bushes and vines. “Hello?” he said.
“Don’t bother greeting me after stealing from me,” the voice said. It was coming from the egg.
Isaac frowned. “I didn’t steal anything. The lady gave me the pebble at the last island.”
The egg lifted one of its scribbled eyebrows. “A likely story.” Its mouth moved when it talked, but it was only the outline of a mouth drawn in crayon. Isaac wasn’t sure how it was talking at all.
“It’s true. She turned it into a boat, and I’ll need it to leave again.” Isaac took the pebble out of his pocket and held it up to show the egg. As he opened his hand, the pebble vanished.
“Where is it?” the egg asked, glaring at Isaac.
Isaac looked around and put his hands in his pockets again. It was gone. “I don’t know. Now what will I do?”
“I don’t care. You lost my thing.”
Isaac looked over at the egg. “You don’t even know what it was.”
“I don’t care. It was mine.”
“But I brought it here,” Isaac said.
The egg scowled fiercer than ever. “If it was here, it was mine. Everything here is mine.”
Isaac crossed his arms across his chest. “I’m here, and I don’t belong to you. I only belong to myself.”
The egg laughed. “Everyone belongs to lots of people. No one is really all alone, you know, whatever you might think. Just think of all the people who would miss you if you were gone.”
Isaac shrugged. “That still doesn’t mean I belong to you.”
“You’re here aren’t you? You’re listening to me aren’t you? That means you’re my audience. Mine.”
“I guess so,” Isaac said. “Unless I plug my ears.”
“Well that would just make you a terrible audience.” The egg smiled. “And, since you’re here, I will recite some poetry that I’ve written while sitting on this wall.”
“Is it a long poem?” Isaac asked.
“Of course it is. I’ve been sitting here a long time.”
Isaac sighed and sat down in the dirt. “If I listen to your poem, will you answer some questions?”
“That depends on how well you listen,” the egg said. “And on the question. But probably.”
“And I suppose you want me to clap when you finish?”
The egg’s poem about a wasp with a dreadful wig was very long. And it repeated a lot. And the egg spoke in a sing-song voice that made even normal sentences sound like nonsense. So, it was probably not surprising that Isaac dozed off at some point. The egg, however, found it inexcusable.
“You didn’t even clap at the end,” the egg shouted. “You just snored.”
“I’m sorry. It was just such a long poem.” Isaac smiled apologetically.
The egg frowned. “You promised to clap.”
“Would it help if I clapped now?” Isaac asked.
“You already tried that,” the egg said sulkily. “It doesn’t count if it’s not right at the end. If you clap late, you might be clapping about anything after all.”
“But isn’t late better than not at all? And twice better than once?”
“If the first slice of cake isn’t any good, is the second going to be welcome?” the egg’s crayon face looked angry.
Isaac shrugged. “Perhaps I should just leave. I can look around for a bit on my own.”
The egg looked angrier. “This is my island. I say whether or not you can look around. And I say you are too rude to stay here a minute longer. Leave now and don’t touch or look at anything at all.”
Isaac laughed nervously. “But that’s impossible. I have to touch the ground to walk, and I’ll get lost if I can’t look around, and then I’ll stay here even longer.”
“Well, stop touching the ground right this moment. I mean it.” The egg was shaking with anger.
“I can’t,” Isaac said. “I don’t know how. I’m sorry.” The egg shook even harder. Isaac was alarmed. “Please stop shaking like that! You’re going to fall off the wall.”
“You can’t tell me what to do on my island!” The egg was swaying dangerously now.
Isaac, alarmed, tried to speak in a calm, soothing voice. “You’re right. My mistake. It’s just that…”
“Your mistake? I told you everything on thing on this island is mine!” The egg bounced once, twice, and then fell from the wall. It landed with a loud crunching sound that echoed strangely.
Isaac rushed to the egg, which was cracked right through its crayon-drawn face. He wasn’t sure what to do, and his hands fluttered uselessly over the large egg that, up close, was almost as tall as he was.
His mind raced. Was there anyway to fix the egg? If only he’d managed to find the party sooner, then maybe he’d be the king of doctors. But can doctors repair eggs? And there were no guarantees he become a doctor. He might end up as the king of horses, and horses didn’t even have hands. There was no way they could fix broken eggs.
The egg was still making small cracking sounds. Isaac leaned forward, worried that it was about to collapse in on itself. He still had no idea what he could do to help. “Are you okay?” He asked.
There was no answer. The egg continued to make little cracking sounds. The crack across the face grew wider, and suddenly a scaly green face popped through, right in the middle of the egg’s old face.
Isaac jumped back in surprise. “Who are you? What just happened?”
“I’m the same person I always was,” the green thing said. “And you’re still on my island.”
“But I thought that it was the egg’s island… Oh.” Of course. It had hatched.
The green thing snorted and smoke trickled out of its nostrils. It climbed out of the remains of the egg shell, crunching it under its large taloned feet. A long tail whipped back and forth behind it.
It climbed up on the low wall and stretched out its massive wings. It was a dragon.
The dragon flapped its wings a few times. Then it jumped up into the air and flew in wide circles, spiraling higher and higher. Isaac held up a hand to shade his eyes so he could watch the dragon fly.
The dragon paused, just for a moment, and then he tucked his wings into his sides and dove almost straight down. He opened his wings at the bottom of his dive and careened towards Isaac.
His talons locked around Isaac’s shoulders and upper arms, and the dragon beat his wings against the air as they climbed higher and higher. Isaac looked down. The island seemed empty, except for the low wall that was now a thin line, dividing the island in half.
Isaac reached up and clutched the dragon’s ankles. “Please don’t drop me!” He shouted.
“Let go!” the dragon shrieked and tightened its grip on Isaac’s shoulders.
“Only if you put me down somewhere safe.”
“Not on my island!”
“Somewhere else then.” Isaac winced as he looked down. The island looked so far away. If he fell from here, he’d never get back home.
“Fine.” The dragon dove once more, and Isaac held on tight, closing his eyes against the biting wind.
And then his feet were touching something just as the dragon released his shoulders. Isaac let go and opened his eyes. It looked like he was standing in a wooden basket with sky all around him. His knees felt weak and he sat down suddenly.
The dragon was already spiraling higher. “Never come back,” he shouted as he flew away.
Isaac watched him go, and then crawled to the edge of the basket and looked down. He was in the crows nest of a ship. He stepped onto the rope ladder hanging nearby and climbed down to the deck of the ship.
A tall thin man with big bushy eyebrows was waiting on the deck, arms folded. “A stowaway? I’d send you the way of the bat and the owl I found hiding aboard my ship, but I can see that it’s already too late for you.”
“What do you mean?” Isaac asked.
“You can stand on the deck of my ship, and you’re squinting in the sunlight. You don’t see mist or a ghost ship or a skeleton crew, do you?”
Isaac looked around. The sun was shining, and the ship looked solid and deserted. “No, I don’t see any of that.”
“Then you’re one of us, those cursed to play the terrible game. I’d tell you to quit and go home, but it’s too late for you.” He shook his head. “Too late!” He yelled and shook his fist at the sky.
“Do you know the way home?” Isaac asked. “I thought we could go home once we found the party.”
“Not every one can, and few like what they find when they get there. Spending time between worlds like we do changes us. There’s no preventing that.”
The man lifted a busy eyebrow. “Did you see more than a handful of people or animals on any of the islands?
Isaac shook his head.
“Of course not. You could only see the one between worlds like you are. People that didn’t quite belong in one place or another. And they were the only ones who could see you.”
The man held up a little pencil that was missing its eraser. “I found the party, a long, long time ago. They made me the king of wishes. I was so pleased. So foolish. They didn’t say that any of my wishes would come true in the way I expected them to.”
“What happened?” Isaac asked.
“I wrote all my wishes into a little book.” The man pulled a notebook out of his pocket.
“And then I watched them all go wrong. I wished for a ship and crew. My crew fought constantly and couldn’t work together to sail the ship anywhere. I wished for my favorite meal. I now have an unlimited supply of roasted chicken that I’ve somehow become allergic to.”
“Did you wish to go home?” Isaac asked.
“I did, and now I’m half here and half there, on a ghost ship that is only real to those just as cursed as I am, forever between worlds.” The man put the notebook and pencil into his pockets.
“Can’t you wish you hadn’t come here?” Isaac asked.
“I can’t change the past. The words just vanish from the page.” The man looked sad. “The only thing that worked was to erase the wishes. But I lost the eraser somewhere, and I’ve spent so many years trying to retrace my steps.”
“But can’t you wish for the eraser?” Isaac asked.
“And risk destroying my only chance to fix this half-life?” The man glared at Isaac.
Isaac thought for a moment. “Have you met the queen of everything?” he asked.