Isaac unfolded his map and told the tall, thin man about his visit with the queen of everything. The man nodded and made notes on his own battered copy of the map. When Isaac finished, the man put his pencil and map away with a smile.
The smile transformed his face, and suddenly he looked much younger. “Thank you. This may change everything. Maybe we can finally go home!”
“I hope so,” Isaac said. “It’s nice here, but I don’t think I’d like to stay forever.”
“There’s no place like home, right?” the man said. “We’ll drop you off at the next island. I can see that you’ve not checked it yet. We’re almost there.”
Isaac followed his gaze. What had seemed to be a wispy cloud on the horizon was now more clearly a mound of dark fog closer to the water. “That’s an island?” It didn’t look at all inviting.
“You’ll see soon enough. No sense putting it off, right?”
“Right.” Isaac suddenly wasn’t so sure about this. What if he became the king of the dung beetles? Maybe he wasn’t in so much of a hurry to find the party. “I could come with you and make sure you find the right place,” he offered.
“You gave us great directions,” the man said. “We’ll find it. Here, Johnny!” The man waved at nothing. “Take the boy to shore.”
Isaac watched as invisible crewmen lowered a rowboat to the water followed by a rope ladder. He climbed down the ladder and sat in the boat. The ladder slid up the side of the ship, and the little rowboat seemed to row itself to shore.
The closer they got, the thicker the fog grew. By the time they reached shore, he could only see the ship waiting in the harbor when a breeze blew softly and parted the fog for a moment..
Feeling quite nervous now, he stepped onto the sand. He turned and looked at the empty seat between the moving oars. “Thank you,” he said. And the boat rowed back to the ship.
A booming, crackling sound echoed across the water, followed by a splash. “I think that was the cannon. Did he fire it to say goodbye?” Isaac asked himself. The next time the breeze parted the fog, the ship was gone.
Isaac turned back towards the island. He could see the outline of some large rocks just ahead. Everything else was lost in the dense fog. Cautiously, Isaac started walking towards the rocks.
“Ahoy! Ahoy there!” yelled a voice from the fog. “Have you got my package?”
“It’s my package! Check the name on the label,” said another voice. “It should say Professor Grey.”
“But I’m Professor Gray,” said the first voice.
“No you’re not, I am,” said the second.
And then, next to the rocks, Isaac could see the outline of two figures. It looked a bit like a goat and a bear. But not quite. “I don’t have any packages,” Isaac said.
“Of course you do. Why else would you be here?”
“He may want to sign up as a test subject. Were you planning on doing any medical trials?”
“Not until I fix the moon gate. Every time I power it up, I see water instead of the moon.”
“Well, that would be handy if you were a fish. Now stop trying to steal my packages.”
A breeze blew the fog away for a moment, and the bear and goat outlines turned into people dressed in white lab coats. The tall, bearlike man huffed and left. The old, bearded man turned and smiled at Isaac. And then the fog was back.
“Would you like to see my moon gate?” the old man asked.
Isaac nodded, and then remembered the man couldn’t see him. “Sure.”
“Then follow me.”
The outline of the man disappeared into the fog. “Wait! I can’t see you,” Isaac said.
“Then follow my voice. I’ll sing you a song I wrote.”
This sounded familiar. “Is it a long song?” Isaac asked.
“Yes. Make sure to clap when I get to the end.”
Isaac followed the voice.
Following a voice through the mist was difficult. Isaac wasn’t always sure which direction it was coming from. Plus, he had to keep ducking to avoid tree branches that came out of nowhere.
Luckily, just as the odd song about insects made from food ended, he arrived at doorway where the old man was waiting. Isaac remembered to applaud, and the old man bowed.
“So, where are we?” Isaac asked.
“This is my laboratory. I designed it myself. It’s so much more practical than Teddy’s lab.” the old man grinned.
“The other scientist on the beach. He designed a dungeon laboratory. So impractical. It is damp and moldy and of course that messes with the experiments. Mine is so much better. I’m Billy, by the way.” The old man pointed to himself.
Isaac held out a hand. “I’m Isaac.”
The old man leaned back and folded his arms. “I don’t shake hands. Germs.”
Isaac let his hand drop. “Oh. Of course. So, how is your laboratory different?”
“It’s a tower. You have to come and see.” Billy put a hand on the door and the entire door glowed neon blue before disappearing. “Come on in. Just don’t touch anything. Germs.”
Isaac followed him inside. The entryway was brightly lit. Glass cases lined the walls. He put his hands behind his back and leaned forward to peer inside the closest case.
“Is that a toaster?” he asked.
Billy looked over his shoulder. “Yes it is. I designed it to work upside-down, to save on counter space.”
“But doesn’t that mean the bread just falls onto the counter?” Isaac asked.
“When it’s done toasting. You just have to position your plate just right. I suggest gluing your plate to the counter so you don’t have to worry about it.”
“But then it doesn’t really save counter space at all,” Isaac pointed out.
“Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not really my concern. I just invented it.” Billy pointed to another glass case. “Look over there, that’s one I’m really proud of.”
Isaac looked into the case. “It looks like goggles. Like the ones Teddy was wearing.”
“That’s right. I invented them to see through fog. He stole my idea for them to make his own. We haven’t talked unless we absolutely have to ever since.”
Isaac frowned. “Well, living here, he’d need something to see through the fog. He might have just come up with something similar at the same time.”
Billy thumped his walking stick on the ground. “Of course not. It took me years to develop them. It was after that when I turned on the fog machine to test them out. How would he know in advance that I would create a fog machine or that I wouldn’t be able to turn it off? And yet he was wearing the goggles a month later. He stole my idea. It’s the only explanation.”
Isaac nodded. “Maybe you’re right. Can I borrow the goggles and look out the window of the tower? I’d love to see the island, but the fog gets in the way.”
“You have to give them back when we get to the moon gate,” Billy said. “I won’t have anyone else run off with any of my ideas or my inventions. And you’ll have to sign a non-disclosure agreement.”
“Of course.” Isaac crossed his heart and signed the papers that the scientist pulled out of his lab coat pocket.
Billy took them back, making sure not to touch the parts of the paper that Isaac touched. “Leave the pen on the case right there. I’ll disinfect it later. Germs.”
Then he took a ring of keys out of a different pocket and unlocked the glass case. He took out the goggles and handed them to Isaac, and locked up the case one more time. “The stairs are this way. We’ll go straight up to the moon gate. Feel free to look out the windows on our way up.”
The spiral staircase was in the middle of the tower. It alternated between narrow and wide spirals. The windows were on the wide spirals. Looking out with the goggles on, it was like there was no mist at all. There was also no one else on the island.
He could see a little shack on the opposite side of the small hill at the center of the island, which he assumed was the entrance to Teddy’s lab. Otherwise, it was all trees and rocks. No party.
Isaac took off the goggles with a small smile. There was only one island left. He was almost done.
“All done,” Billy said just then. “Behind this door is the moon gate.”
Billy threw the door open. In the middle of the otherwise empty room, there was a tall, white door frame attached by wires and pipes to a semicircle of machines behind it. The door frame was filled with water, like a vertical pool. Isaac had no idea what was keeping the water in place.
“Go on, you can look a little closer, just don’t touch. I’d hate to have you transported to the bottom of the sea.” Billy waved his arms grandly towards the door frame.
Isaac didn’t need a second invitation. He walked in a circle around the door frame and then inspected the machines. It was all so strange. He walked back to the door frame and looked closer. He could almost see something on the other side of the water that wasn’t the other side of the room.
He pulled the mist goggles on. The image slid into focus. “It’s an island on the other side of the water,” Isaac said. “I think the water is just a doorway.” He squinted. It looked like there were banners and balloons marking a path into the forest. It must be the island with the party!
“Let me see.” Billy held out his hand for the goggles. Isaac handed them over. Billy put them on and squinted. “They must be for all kinds of water, not just mist. I’ll have to test them on ice later,” he mumbled. “But why isn’t that the moon? I designed it to reach to the edge of the world. That should land me on the moon. It makes no sense. I’ll have to recalculate.”
Isaac took out his map and unfolded it. One island left. It was on the edge of the map. Was that the edge of the world, too? How did this world work?
Isaac cleared his throat. Billy ignored him and kept talking to himself. He tried again. When that didn’t work, he tapped Billy’s shoulder. “Can I test your moon gate? I’d like to go to the island.”
Billy looked at him intently as though he was trying to look through him. Finally he nodded and pulled some paperwork out of his pocket. “You’d have to sign a waiver, of course. And I’d need your medical history.”
Isaac took the forms and a pen and went to work filling out the paperwork. Billy took the papers and had Isaac leave the pen outside the door to the room. When he came back in, Billy was standing behind the circle of machines.
Billy waved. “When you’re ready, step through the gate. You might want to hold your breath.”
Isaac nodded. He was too nervous to say anything. Instead, he took a deep breath and then stepped through the gate.