He was small for his age -- one of the smallest in his class.
When other kids his age messed around and rough-housed and played tricks on people, grownups would laugh and say, "Boys will be boys." But when Mike did, Mom and Dad and his Aunt Maggie and his teacher Mrs. Cutter would all look at him like, "There you go again -- acting like a little kid."
His three-year-old brother Mark could do absolutely anything and the grownups would smile and clap and say, "What a big boy you are!" But when Mike acted the same, they'd frown at him and maybe punish him and tell him to "act his age."
He couldn't win. He was always the wrong
age for what he wanted to do. He hated being a small
nine-year-old. It wasn't
fair. Afterall, nobody ever asked him how old he wanted to be or how big he wanted to be -- it just happened to him.
At supper, his Mom and Dad would tell him, "Now eat up so you can grow big and strong." And he'd tell them, "Sure and look what eating for nine years has done for me."
Sometimes he wouldn't eat supper, and they'd send him off to bed for punishment.
So what if he was growing slowly, he thought. Big deal.
Sometimes he would stare at the doorpost with the marks that showed how he had grown and try to remember what it was like to be little, as little as baby Mark, so little he could get away with anything.
One day Aunt Maggie drove him into the city to
a high-rise apartment house and asked him to deliver a note to
Mike had never been in an apartment house that
was many stories high. He lived in the suburbs and was
just visiting Aunt
Maggie for a few days. Of course, he'd been in big buildings and on elevators, but never alone, never alone on an elevator.
He was shocked when Aunt Maggie asked, "Will
you do me a favor? Just run in and take this note up to
Mrs. Grant in
apartment 3602. I'm not feeling too well today, and I don't want to give her my cold -- she's so frail and gets sick so easily."
He looked up at the huge high-rise apartment
building, and he looked back at Aunt Maggie, standing tall in
shoes. He looked back at the building again, straining his neck out the car window, but he couldn't see the top, not matter how hard he tried. It went all the way up to the clouds.
Aunt Maggie just smiled, "It's very simple,
really. You just go inside those big doors over
there. You'll see rows of
mailboxes with buttons under them. Just push the one marked '3602.' That will make a buzzer sound up in her apartment, and
Mrs. Grant will speak to you over the intercom. She'll probably ask who you are. Just tell her your name, and say that you have a note for her from your Aunt Maggie. She'll push a button up in her apartment that unlocks the next set of doors. When you hear a buzz, just pull the door open. The elevator will be right in front of you. Push the 'up' button. The elevator doors will open. When you get inside, push the button marked '36.' Then the elevator will take you to the 36th floor, and the door will open again. Mrs. Grant lives in 3602. It's all very simple, really. All you have to remember is 3602, and that's written
right here on the envelope. You're such a big boy, it'll be no problem at all for you."
Mike was too shocked to protest. The next thing he knew, he was holding an envelope and standing on the sidewalk, staring up at the spot where the building got lost in the clouds.
He was scared to go into that big building all alone. But he was even more scared to turn around and admit to Aunt Maggie that he was scared. She would make him feel so ashamed and so small. "It's very simple, really," she would say. "Afterall, you're nine years old. It should be no problem at all for you."
So he took a deep breath and strode up to the big front doors. He went in, found the button marked '3602,' and pushed it.
He jumped back when he heard a loud noise like
static on a car radio. It sounded like somebody talking,
but he couldn't
tell who it was or what they were saying. Maybe it was Mrs. Grant.
So he answered, "Hello, Mrs. Grant. This
is Mike, I mean, Michael Kiley. I have a note here for you
from my Aunt Maggie.
May I come up, please, and give it to you?"
When he heard a loud buzz, he lunged forward
to grab the door. It opened easily, and he walked up to
the elevator and pushed 'up.' It was simple, just like
Aunt Maggie had said. He was rather proud of himself for
doing things so well. He could just imagine telling his
friends back at school about this little adventure. But,
of course, he'd act like it was no big deal,
like he did this kind of thing all the time.
It took a long while for the elevator to
come. He pushed the "up" button half a dozen times, but
still the doors didn't open.
"Stupid old elevator," he muttered.
He had done everything just right, but now the
elevator wasn't working or was slow. It would take him
forever to get to Mrs.
Grant's apartment. Aunt Maggie would think he had gotten lost. She would think that he couldn't follow simple directions, or
would think he had fooled around and played on the way.
Finally, the elevator doors opened. The elevator was empty.
Somehow he hadn't expected that. Every time he had been on elevators before, he had been with his Mom or Dad or Aunt Maggie, and there had always been other grownups there, too.
It looked so big and empty. He wondered
if the lights would go out when the door shut, like when you
shut a car door. He
wondered if it really would take him to the right floor after he pushed the button. Maybe it was broken. (It had been so slow in arriving). Maybe it wouldn't know what floor to take him to. Maybe it wouldn't open ever again.
This stupid note. His stupid aunt.
He started to turn to run back to the car, but
just then the elevator doors started to close; and, without
knowing why, he
lunged at the opening and fell inside the elevator. The doors slammed shut, just missing his feet.
He pushed 36 again, hard, and this time the
doors opened when the lights showed 29. He pushed again
and again, but it never
stopped at 36.
Finally, the elevator opened at 25, and a
little red-headed curly-haired boy in funny-looking shoes got
aboard. The shoes
had big thick soles that made him look about three inches taller than he was.
Mike was so mad at the elevator that he was in
no mood to be friendly to strangers. "Why are you wearing
shoes?" he asked. "Are you trying to look taller than you are?"
"Silly-looking shoes?" the kid asked back. You're a fine one to talk -- wearing street shoes on an elevator."
"And what should I wear on an elevator?" Mike challenged back.
"Elevator shoes, of course. Just like these."
"Who are you, anyway?" asked Mike.
"Leroy's the name, and fun's the game." The kid did a double backward somersault, which is awfully hard to do in the
closet-like space of an elevator.
Mike didn't know what to say to that. So he just turned toward the elevator controls.
"Don't push those buttons, kid," said
Leroy. "They won't do you any good. Frank here will
just take you where he wants to
"Some elevators have minds of their own. At least this one does. His name is Frank."
The elevator lights flashed off and on.
Mike turned around quickly. There was no one else in the
elevator with them. The
doors were shut.
"Look, kid," said Leroy. "Do you want to
be a button-pusher all your life? Me, I just let it take
me where it's going to
take me. No button pushing for me, right Frank?"
The elevator lights flashed off and on again,
and without either of them pushing any buttons, the elevator
Mike leaned against the back wall, breathing
heavily. Aunt Maggie was waiting in the car out
front. She would start to
worry. He couldn't let Leroy, this silly little kid in elevator shoes, get in his way. And Leroy was standing in front of the
buttons now, smiling like he knew everything there was to know in the world.
Mike lunged at him. Leroy ducked aside,
and Mike landed against the wall with the buttons. Half a
dozen buttons lit up.
He must have hit them all by mistake.
Quickly he hit 36. But it was too late. Already, the elevator was turning downward.
"Oh, no!' screamed Mike. "Now it will take forever to get to Mrs. Grant's apartment. And Aunt Maggie is waiting..."
Leroy laughed, rolling on the floor, kicking
the air with his big elevator shoes. "Look, kid.
Don't take it to heart. That
button pushing doesn't make any difference -- none at all."
"But don't you understand?" asked
Mike. "Now it will have to go to all those other floors
before it goes to my floor, Mrs.
Grant's floor -- number 36."
Leroy laughed some more. "Do you think
you're the first kid who has pushed a bunch of buttons?
Why this high rise is full of
kids, just like you and me. And they all want to go somewhere. Some are in a hurry. Some just want to mess around and push
buttons and see what happens. Why, those buttons have been pushed so many times already, it'll be years before Frank here
gets around to yours."
The elevator went up and down, up and down,
stopping at one floor or another for a few seconds before rising
again. Mike just stood there staring at the flashing lights of the floor indicator. He was puzzled. "You just said this
elevator is named Frank."
"And that this elevator has a mind of its own and can go anywhere."
"But which is right? Is it going to all the floors that all those kids pushed? Or is it just going where it wants to?"
"Beats me, kid," Leroy laughed. "Maybe
Frank's just broken. Maybe when you push 36, he thinks you mean
33. And maybe you have to push 39 for him to hear
36. All kinds of things are possible if you want to worry
about them. Me, I don't worry. I
just figure Frank's got a mind of his own, and I go along for the ride."
"Is this really the tenth floor?" asked Mike quickly, just before the doors closed.
"No, sonny. That's 23."
"Twenty-three? But the indicator says..."
"Don't pay that indicator any mind, sonny. That's been broken for years."
"But, but how do you know when you've reached the right floor?"
"Well, if you don't know, sonny, how do you expect a silly machine to know?"
The elevator lights flashed off and on.
Mike wondered if the elevator was angry at being called a "silly
machine" or if that
was just his way of saying that the lady was right.
"But I've never been to the 36th floor. How can I possibly know when I get there?"
"Well, you can hardly blame the elevator for
what you don't know. All things considered, it's a very
nice elevator." The
lights flashed again. "It's always gotten me where I wanted to go, even when I didn't know that was what I wanted. Like just
yesterday, I thought I wanted to see Mrs. O'Brien on 25, but the doors opened at 36; and I knew right away it was high time I
visited Mrs. Grant."
"Yes, sonny. Do you know her?"
"No. I mean, my Aunt Maggie knows her. That's why I'm here. My Aunt Maggie gave me a note to deliver to Mrs. Grant." The words rushed out of Mike's mouth. He desperately needed somebody to talk to, somebody who would understand. He needed a grownup who could tell him what he should do. You see, ma'am..."
"The name's Mrs. Murphy."
"How do you do, Mrs. Murphy. My name is Mike, Michael Kiley. I live in the suburbs and ... My, what big shoes you have, Mrs. Murphy. Those make you even taller than high heels."
"Goodness sakes. You are a stranger,
aren't you, sonny? Riding an elevator in street shoes.
Goodness sakes." She
laughed, and Leroy joined in, doing a handstand in the corner. "How's he ever going to get where he wants without elevator
Leroy laughed again just as the elevator door
opened. "See you later, elevator," said Leroy as he and
Mrs. Murphy stepped
The elevator door shut quickly behind them.
Mike shouted, "Help!" and pounded on the door. The lights flashed every time he shouted.
He kicked the door and screamed as loud as he could. Then the lights went out and stayed out.
He felt his way along the wall to a back
corner and sat down on the floor. The lights came back
on. Now the elevator looked
so much bigger and emptier, and he felt so much smaller than before. He fell asleep watching the indicator lights flash
number after number.
The moment he woke up, he saw the door slide open. He jumped up, dashed out and tripped over a shovel.
There were dozens of shovels leaning against the wall near the elevator door and a long row of wheelbarrows full for dirt.
Mrs. Murphy and Leroy were there, shovelling dirt from nearby wheelbarrows and spreading it over their feet and legs.
"Hello, sonny," said Mrs. Murphy. "Did you decide to join us?"
"The door just opened and... " he tried to explain.
"Oh," she said. "So it was Frank's idea. Even without elevator shoes he brought you here. Congratulations."
"For what?" he asked.
"You silly boy. This is your big chance to really grow."
"No time for buts. Pick up a shovel and get to work. The sprinkler turn on any minute now."
Mike just stood there, staring in disbelief.
Then along came a man with a long beard, wearing overalls, pushing another wheelbarrow full of dirt.
"Good morning, Jack," said Mrs. Murphy. "How's your beanstalk doing?"
"Fine, Mrs. Murphy, just fine," he answered. "It grew another thirty feet today. This new fertilizer is something else."
"Really?" she asked. "Could we try some please?"
"Certainly, ma'am, certainly." And he
threw some of his fertilizer on Mrs. Murphy's feet and some on
Leroy's feet. "What
about your friend here?" he asked, pointing to Mike. "What's wrong with him? Doesn't he want to grow?"
"Certainly not like that," Mike replied,
backing up against the wall, and trying to think of how he would
defend himself if
they started throwing dirt at him.
"He's a silly, silly boy," explained Mrs.
Murphy. "We met him on the elevator. Believe it or
not, Frank brought him here even
though he's wearing street shoes."
Just then the sprinkling system turned on and water started spraying everywhere from fixtures in the ceiling.
Suddenly, Mrs. Murphy and Leroy started to
grow and grow. They kept getting taller and taller, laughing
like they were
having the time of their lives. As they got taller the ceiling moved upward, like an elevator.
"Come back, Mrs. Murphy. Please come back!" shouted Mike. "Don't leave me down here. The elevator won't work for me. I'm just a little kid. I'm just nine years old."
"Did you hear that one?" asked Leroy in a
booming voice. He was already about twenty feet above
Mike, and still growing.
"That little runt says he's nine years old." Leroy and Mrs.Murphy laughed very loudly. They now sounded huge and far off,
"Please come back, Mrs. Murphy, please," Mike shouted. But he was afraid she couldn't hear him anymore. Her head was already thirty or forty feet up above him, and he was so small to her that she must think he looked like a mouse.
"Boy, can I help you?" asked Jack, who was the same size as before. "Wouldn't you like to grow, too?"
"No, please, no," pleaded Mike, leaning
against the wall. "I just want to go back down to the car,
to my Aunt Maggie. I just
want to go home. I wanted to deliver this note to Mrs. Grant, but now I just want to go home. Please. I don't want to grow
like that. If I grow like that, I'll never be able to get out of here. I'll never be able to fit in the elevator or out the door
or into Aunt Maggie's car."
Jack laughed. "Well, son, and how do you expect to get out of here if you don't grow?"
Mike looked up where Jack was pointing.
The walls were taller, and the elevator door was bigger than it
had been before.
Now the "up" and "down" buttons were way up, far beyond Mike's reach.
"Mrs. Murphy! Leroy! Help!" hollered Mike. "Help! Don't leave me behind!"
"Oh," said Jack. "So you do want to grow along with your friends?"
"Yes," begged Mike. "Yes, please. I don't want to be left down here all alone."
"Well," laughed Jack. "You're not
exactly alone. I'm here. I'm always here. I get a
lot of fun out of making things grow
and watching them grow. Maybe you'd like to stay here with me?"
"But I don't want to be small."
Jack laughed. "You're no smaller than
you were before."
"But they're so big now, and the elevator's so big. I have to be big too, just to get out of here, just to get home."
"Okay, boy, okay," said Jack, seriously.
"If it's all that important to you, grab a shovel fast while the
Use fertilizer, just fertilizer. That ought to do the trick."
So they shovelled hard. Then Jack dumped
the rest of the wheelbarrow full of fertilizer right on Mike's
feet and legs.
His knees hurt, his ankles hurt, he felt dizzy, and he started to grow and grow. Soon he was standing face to face with Leroy.
Then the sprinkler stopped, and the elevator door opened.
Mrs. Murphy laughed, "Takes a bit of getting
used to, doesn't it? All that new bone and muscle.
Takes a while to figure out
how to use it all, isn't that right, sonny?"
"I don't know, Mrs. Murphy," Mike answered
humbly. "All I know is that I feel very small. It's
like I'm a very small
person in a big body."
"Well, we know just the medicine for that,
right, Frank?" The elevator lights flashed off and
on. The door shut. And the
elevator went speeding upward.
"Where are we going?" asked Mike.
"To see the shrink," answered Leroy.
The elevator suddenly stopped and opened.
"Hurry up, now, Mike," ordered Mrs. Murphy. "Dr. Gulliver is waiting."
"Yeah," said Leroy. "He's the shrink."
Mrs. Murphy explained, "When you get out of
touch with yourself, when you feel like a little person in a big
feels good to shrink all together again. As for me, I like to shrink just for the fun of it."
"But what fun could that be?" asked Mike, wobbling along, trying to keep up with the others and not lose his balance.
"Growing's a trip, kid," answered Leroy. "And shrinking's a trip, too."
Suddenly, a sea gull landed on Leroy's
shoulders. Mike looked, then looked again. "A gull
with glasses?" he asked in
"A boy without elevator shoes?" asked the gull in disbelief.
"Yes, Dr. Gulliver," explained Mrs. Murphy, "Mike here doesn't seem to know where he's growing."
"He's not into the growth trip at all," offered Leroy.
"No elevator shoes?" repeated the gull. "And he's come to live in the high rise?"
"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. Yes, I
don't have elevator shoes. But, no sir, I didn't come to
live here. I just wanted
to deliver a note to Mrs. Grant on the 36th floor. But the elevator doesn't work."
"On the contrary, young man," replied the
gull, "the elevator works to perfection. There isn't
another elevator like him in
"But," protested Mike, "what good is an elevator if it doesn't take you where you want to go?"
"Go? Go?" asked the gull,
readjusting his glasses to take a closer look. "What do
you mean 'go'? You're here to 'grow' not
"No buts about it. The poor child's
confused," continued the gull. "No wonder he doesn't have
elevator shoes. He hasn't
earned them yet. I wonder why Frank let him in in the first place."
"Perhaps he saw some potential in the boy," offered Mrs. Murphy.
The gull flew over Mike, looked at him closely, then landed on Mike's right shoulder.
"What do I have to do to 'earn' elevator shoes?" Mike asked cautiously.
Leroy laughed and did a handstand, showing off his own shoes.
"Look here, young man," said the gull. "Do you want to shrink or don't you?"
"I'm the shrink. You came to see me. Now do you really want to shrink or do you just want to chatter?"
"I really don't care," said Mike. "I just want to go..."
Before he could finish his sentence, four
birds suddenly swooped toward Mrs. Murphy and Leroy -- a hawk,
two black birds,
and a thrush. They circled round and round them, then flew away. When the birds were out of sight, Mike noticed that Leroy and Mrs. Murphy were far smaller than him now -- they looked no more than three inches tall. He fell backward. He tried to scream, but he had no voice, like in a nightmare.
"What's wrong, young man? What's wrong?" asked the gull.
"Nothing seems to make any sense," answered Mike.
"Is it your size that bothers you?"
"I don't know. I just feel strange. They're so small down there."
"So it isn't your size that bothers you. It's everybody else's size."
"Oh, you silly bird," Mike lost his
temper. "I just want to be normal. But who can be
normal when everything changes so
"So you would like to shrink, wouldn't you?" asked the gull, settling on Mike's chest.
"I... I guess so."
The four birds appeared again, circled Mike,
and once again shot out of sight. Suddenly, Mike was once
again the same size
as Mrs. Murphy and Leroy -- whatever size that was.
"That really feels good, doesn't it?" asked Mrs. Murphy, smiling.
"What?" asked Mike.
"Shrinking, of course," answered Mrs. Murphy.
"That hawk really knows his stuff," said Leroy, doing back flips.
"How big am I? How big are you?" asked Mike, confused. "How big are Mom and Dad and Aunt Maggie? Am I a giant? Am I as small as a mouse? Am I some kind of a freak? What are you doing to me? What's going to happen to me when I get out of here?"
"What a silly, silly boy," squawked the gull, flying off.
"I want my Mommy! I want my Daddy!" screamed Mike, rolling on his back, shaking and kicking.
"Grow up, kid," said Leroy.
"I don't want to grow up!"
"Then grow down," suggested Mrs. Murphy. "You have to grow one way or the other. You can't stay still in a high rise."
He quickly picked himself up and started
running away, shouting, "Mommy! Daddy! Mommy!
She's throwing blocks at me!
Don't let her throw blocks at me."
He tripped over and ruined an elaborate
pattern of sticks. Leroy, who was playing with the sticks, broke
into tears and
pounded his head against the floor.
Mrs. Murphy just sat and watched, smiling and sucking her thumb.
Mike crawled up to Mrs. Murphy, buried his head in her lap, and sobbed, "She threw blocks at me."
"Yes, didn't she? Alice has a good arm."
"Yes, you know Alice. Alice Grant. Mrs. Grant. Apartment 3602. She has a good arm."
Mike turned and looked. Alice, the
little old lady who had been throwing blocks, was crawling
away. Mike started running
after her. Leroy tripped him. Mike kicked Leroy. Leroy kicked back. Mike tackled Leroy and untied his elevator shoes. Leroy fought frantically, but Mike pulled the elevator shoes off Leroy and put them on himself. He couldn't tie them. He couldn't remember how to tie shoes. But he started running, tripping, and crawling after Mrs. Grant.
"My shoes! My shoes!" screamed Leroy. "He stole my shoes!"
"Mrs. Grant!" hollered Mike. "Wait, Mrs. Grant! I have a note for you. Wait, please wait!"
Mrs. Grant got to the elevator before he could
and disappeared. Then the elevator returned and Mike got
board again -- this time alone.
When he got off the elevator, he knew it was the fifth floor.
"Hello, Mike. Did you forget something?"
"No, I just wanted to give it a grow again."
"Sure thing, Mike."
So they shovelled some dirt on his feet and
some fertilizer. The sprinkler turned on, and Mike grew
again. Only this time, it
felt good to grow.
He went up and up, and he felt so big and strong.
Then he hopped on the elevator and went to see Dr. Gulliver again.
"I'd like to shrink again, please," said Mike politely.
The birds swooped down and Mike shrunk down and hopped aboard the elevator again and grew again and shrunk again and grew again and shrunk again. Mike loved the feel of shrinking -- it was like sliding boards and sleds.
Then he met Mrs. Murphy in the elevator again.
"Where are you growing now?" asked Mike.
"I thought I might grow up now," she answered.
"That sounds like fun. Can I come, too?"
"Sure, sonny. You can grow wherever you please. You have elevator shoes now. You can grow up or down, big or small."
"What do you want to do when you grow up?" Mike asked Mrs. Murphy.
"Well, this time, I think I'll be a doctor. And next time I think I'll be a lawyer."
"You mean you can grow up again and again?"
"Certainly, sonny. You have elevator shoes, don't you?"
"Wow! I never knew what to answer when people asked me what I wanted to be. It was tough. If you can only be one thing, how can you ever decide? But if you can do it again and again, one thing after another ... Wow! Can I be President?"
"Of course; for however long you like. You do have elevator shoes, afterall.
"And Leroy. What's Leroy going to be?"
"Oh, he's a three-year old."
"You mean he isn't tired of that by now? I thought he'd be coming along with you. I thought he'd be there already."
"Oh, but he doesn't have elevator shoes anymore."
"Of course, sonny. We all can't be that fortunate."
The elevator doors opened. Mrs. Grant got out. Suddenly she was wearing a doctor's outfit, with a stethescope around her neck and a doctor's bag in her hand.
"What are you waiting for, sonny?" she asked.
But before he could answer, the elevator doors shut.
Mike sat in the corner.
The elevator opened at the fifth floor, but
Mike didn't get out It opened at the tenth floor, where
Dr. Gulliver was; but
Mike didn't get out. Then it opened at the twelfth floor, where everybody acted like little kids; and Mike did get out.
Off in a corner, in a mass of broken sticks, Leroy lay crying.
Mike did handstands and somersaults and landed
right next to Leroy. Then he took off the elevator shoes,
gave them to Leroy
and did back flips all the way back to the elevator.
He pushed 36, and the elevator went up.
When the door opened, the indicator light said 37, but Mike got
off anyway. Right in
front of him, across the hall, he saw 3602.
Mrs. Grant smiled when she saw him. "What a fine big boy you are coming up here all the way by yourself."
She offered him cookies and a glass of milk,
but he said he had to be going. He got right back on the
elevator, clutching a
handful of cookies.
Down went the elevator, right to the bottom,
without any stops. Mike went running out to the car.
Aunt Maggie was
standing on the sidewalk, waiting for him.
"Where are your shoes?" Aunt Maggie asked in surprise.
"Oh, I don't need shoes anymore," said Mike, proudly. "I used to need them. But now I don't."
"What nonsense," said Aunt Maggie. "What's you mother going to say when she hears of this?"
Mike just smiled. "Some people need
shoes more than others."