30 Degrees


Heidi lived with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She was a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby was worrying.

There’s nothing to worry about! Her mother would say. But Heidi knew she was wrong.

You need more courage! Her father would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to get it.

You’re such a chicken! The children at school would say. But Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

But enough about Heidi. This story is actually about her house. Specifically, the foundation of her house, and what she found there.

Heidi’s house was tilted at exactly 30 degrees to the north. Heidi and her parents spent their days on an incline. No one knew why this was. It simply was, and had been since as long as anyone in the town could remember.

They climbed a carpeted hill every evening so they could brush their teeth.

They nailed furniture to the floor so it wouldn’t move.

They made sure that all drawers were extra sticky so that they wouldn’t slide.

They always knew where to find things they dropped, because they all rolled, bounced, or slid to the southern side.

Heidi found walking on a level road to school to be quite easy. Opening drawers was a little too easy. But most of all she worried. She worried that her house was developing structural problems (which was not altogether unfounded), or that it would suddenly right itself in the middle of the night and they would all perish in the wreckage.

Oh, stop worrying about silly things. Her mother would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to stop worrying.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t happen. Her father would say. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

Bawk bawk bagawk! The children at school would say. But Heidi still didn’t see how this applied.

One day while watering the flowers by the lower end of the house, Heidi noticed a small rough-hewn door in the sod, no bigger than her, at the base of the porch. It seemed to lead under the porch. Normally, Heidi would worry about getting a splinter, or encountering a poisonous spider, or getting stuck, or getting poked in the head by a nail, or getting crushed beneath the house. However, she had most recently been considering the much larger worry of complete destruction to home and family, and knew she must act.

She opened the door cautiously and peered in. She saw several spiderwebs draping the beams, but couldn’t tell if they were from poisonous types or not. She thought it might be best to be safe. She stood up and was turning to her watering pot when she heard a tiny voice. She looked back.

Sitting upon a daisy nearby was Firefly.

Hello. Firefly said.

Hello. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find out why your house is like this. He said.

I’m worried about the spiders. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting splinters, and you still opened the door. Firefly said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach did three quick backflips, she followed Firefly under the porch.

The porch had slats on all sides, so the grey dim was shot through with rays of sun. The ground was covered with small pebbles. Heidi inspected the webs carefully, and determined that they were of the non-poisonous variety (she had a precise knowledge of spiders). At the back wall of the foundation there was a wide hole leading to a very dark tunnel. It looked to be too small for her. She took a step backward, but suddenly heard a squeaky voice. She turned.

Sitting upon a rock nearby was Rat.

Hey. Rat said.

Hey. Said Heidi.

Follow me. She said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find answers to your questions. She said.

I’m worried I’ll get stuck. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of spiders, and you still came under the porch. Rat said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight her logic, and though her stomach fluttered like a flock of hummingbirds, she followed Rat to the tunnel. By Firefly’s pale green light Heidi could see that the tunnel turned downward and north. Rat led the way forward. She followed them both.

The tunnel twisted and turned and dipped and dodged, darker then ever and tight in most spots. Rat guided them expertly, and Firefly lit the way. Soon the tunnel opened into a wider tunnel which began sloping upward, following the line of the house. Beams, skeletal, knocked against each other in all directions; bare nails gleamed dull in Firefly’s light.

Heidi eyed the low ceilings and exposed spikes nervously, brushing the the sod from her pants. She glanced back at the tiny tunnel she had just crawled through, but suddenly heard a gravelly voice. She turned around.

Sitting upon a flat boulder was Badger.

Greetings. Badger said.

Greetings. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To know the truth. He said.

I’m worried I’ll get poked by a nail. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting stuck, and you still came through the tunnel. Badger said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach dropped taut like a rock on a trampoline, she followed him toward the back of the house. Firefly followed stoutly, lighting the way for them all, while Rat followed.

The house and the ground around it sloped up and up and up, gradual but steady, step after step, until they came to the very back of the crawlspace. Badger pointed to the wall. It was covered in mushrooms and scaled by age, and it encroached into the crawl space like the hood of a car through a shop window. Heidi turned and looked at her three guides, quizzical.

Badger spoke.

She has been here for generation after generation.

Rat spoke.

No one knows where she came from.

Firefly spoke.

Or when she will leave.

Heidi turned and looked at the wall again. She didn’t understand. She walked forward and touched it gingerly, brushing some of the dust away.

It moved.

A low rumble built up, the wall vibrating and heaving, the ancient sod on all sides cracking free from the bulge. Heidi saw daylight through the cracks, glimpsed scaly underbelly, reptilian claws pushing out from indentations in the shell.

Turtle stood up ponderously, lifting the house to a 90-degree angle. She turned her head slow from side to side, stretching thousand-year-old kinks and dripping streams of bronze. Heidi was glad her parents weren’t home.

Turtle lifted her foot, intent.

At this point Heidi realized that her worst worries had come true. Sort of. She hadn’t factored in a giant turtle. Mostly, though, she didn’t want to die under her house when the improbable reptile let it drop.

Casting frantically about, she spotted two floorboards in the dust. She looked up, hoping beyond hope, and saw a tiny opening between two nail-festooned, splintered beams. She gathered Firefly, Rat, and Badger in her arms, aimed and closed her eyes tight just as the house slipped from Turtle’s broad back.

There was a whir of dust and color, an almighty crash, and Heidi fell backwards with her friends in her arms. When she opened her eyes she was staring at the ceiling of her home, nestled on the north wall, along with most of her family’s belongings. A tiny spider skittered across her leg and into the crawlspace.

Heidi lives with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She is a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby is trying to explain how her house ended up with a 30-degree incline to the south.

There’s no such thing as a giant turtle! Her father said. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

You know you can tell us what happened. Her mother said. But Heidi didn’t know how to explain any differently.

We don’t believe you! The children at school said.

Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

4 thoughts on “30 Degrees

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