‘Poppy’s Extraordinary Glasses’ by Emily Nordvang

Poppy was an ordinary girl who lived in an ordinary house with her ordinary family on an ordinary street. Poppy’s brother, Sam, could play the piano. His teacher said he was ‘gifted’ and had ‘perfect pitch’. Poppy didn’t even know what perfect pitch was, and she didn’t have any special gifts. She was just ordinary, or so she thought.

One quite ordinary day, Poppy was exploring the woods behind her house. As she trudged through the undergrowth in her bright red wellies, suddenly, Poppy tripped. She caught herself just in time and glanced down at the mossy tree trunk she had fallen over, cursing herself for not paying more attention to where she was going. Then something caught Poppy’s eye. The tree trunk had a hollow at the base that, at first glance, was full of dead leaves. But when Poppy looked more closely, something metallic glinted through the dirt and debris.

Poppy frowned and leant down the investigate. Pushing aside the brown leaves, she revealed a metal box. It looked like it had been in there a long time and the tree had almost grown around it. Poppy pulled the box, but it didn’t move, she pushed her welly against the tree trunk, levering her weight against the box. This time the box shifted and suddenly flew free, with Poppy toppling backwards onto her bottom. Poppy examined the box. It was painted silver, but in places the paint had flaked away, revealing rusted metal underneath. Poppy wiped the dust and dirt from the box and found an inscription. ‘I’m full of keys but I can’t open any door. What am I?’ What an odd thing to write on a box, thought Poppy.

The box was locked with a grubby padlock, which didn’t have a key hole but instead had a combination dial. Poppy held the padlock in her hand, feeling the cold metal on her skin. She rubbed the dirt from the dial and discovered that the lock did not require a number combination, it needed letters instead. Ah, now the riddle made sense. The answer must open the box, thought Poppy.

Poppy sighed and leaned back against the tree stump to think. She closed her eyes and pondered. ‘What has keys?’ she thought, rummaging through her brain for the answer. Suddenly, she thought of her brother sitting at the piano this morning, his fingers travelling skilfully across the keys. KEYS. Of course, piano was the answer! Poppy grabbed the box. The letter dials were stiff but eventually Poppy managed to enter ‘P-I-A-N-O’. She hesitated for a moment and took a deep breath.

She hadn’t even considered what might be in the box yet. Poppy pulled the lock, which clicked open obediently.

Poppy opened the box with a creak. Inside was a pair of glasses. Poppy’s brow wrinkled. What an odd thing to hide in a box in a tree trunk. The glasses looked old. They were brass, with round lenses and yellowed glass. There was a black leather strap to hold them on, like a pair of swimming goggles. On one side of the glasses, there was a dial with markings. ‘Milli, micro, nano, pico’. Poppy wondered what the words meant. They sounded vaguely familiar. ‘Milli’ from millipede, ‘micro’ from microwave. The dial pointed to ‘micro’.

Poppy rubbed the lenses clean, shrugged her shoulders and put the glasses on, pulling the band around the back of her head. Putting the glasses on was like entering another world. Poppy gasped and held up her hand in front of her face.

Horrified, Poppy’s wide eyes saw what appeared to be hundreds of thousands of tiny creatures, covering every square centimetre of her skin. Some were round, some long and thin. Some had hairs, while others had a tail that whipped back and forth.

Poppy ripped the glasses off with a loud ‘EURGH’ and threw them back into the box. Stuffing the box back into the tree trunk, Poppy jumped to her feet and dashed out of the wood. She wanted to get as far away from those glasses as possible. As she ran from the woods, she saw a grey bird sitting on a branch. It appeared to be watching her. She paused for a moment before hurrying back home.

Later that day, Poppy lay on her bed, looking at her hands. What had those glasses shown her? Was it real? Suddenly, she heard a strange tapping noise. She sat up abruptly on her bed and looked around the room. Poppy gasped. There, sitting outside on the windowsill was the grey bird she had seen earlier. It looked at her for a moment and then tapped on the window with its beak.

Poppy was perplexed. What on earth was the bird doing on her windowsill?

The bird tapped again, this time impatiently. Poppy, in a bit of a daze, went over and opened the window. ‘It was real, you know’ said a croaky voice. Poppy looked out of the window, but she couldn’t see anyone. Just the bird. ‘Down here.’ Poppy looked at the bird in disbelief. ‘Yes, it’s me’ said the bird. Poppy’s eyes widened. She slammed the window shut and ran to her bed, diving under the covers.

A few seconds later, Poppy heard a fluttering of feathers and then the tapping once more. She peaked her head out from under the covers to see the bird. ‘There’s nothing to be sacred of’ said a muffled voice from outside ‘I’m just a bird, and I just want to talk to you’. ‘Why?!’ exclaimed Poppy. ‘You opened the box,’ explained the bird. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was your box!’ breathed Poppy. ‘It’s not my box’, said the bird ‘it’s yours now, and so are the glasses’.

Poppy frowned, confused ‘What do you mean, mine?’ ‘They are yours now’, repeated the bird. ‘Let’s call it your new superpower.’ The bird’s eyes glinted with mischief. ‘I can’t have a superpower’, said Poppy matter-of-factly, ‘I am not super at all. In fact, I am perfectly ordinary.’ The bird appeared to chuckle, correcting her ‘you WERE perfectly ordinary’. He spread his wings to fly away ‘come on, we have things to do!’ Poppy ran to the window and leaned out. ‘What do you mean, things to do?’ she yelled after the bird.

‘Just going to the woods, Mum’ said Poppy breathlessly, as she ran out of the back door, punching her feet into her wellies. A voice followed her as she clicked the garden gate shut. ‘Be back for dinner time!’ Poppy hurried into the wood and back to the tree where she found the box. There it was, still sitting there. Poppy sat on a mossy tree stump with the box in her lap. As she opened it, she heard a flutter of wings and felt the bird land on her shoulder. ‘My name is Hubert, by the way’ croaked the bird. ‘Poppy’ said Poppy, gazing into the box at the glasses.

Poppy gulped. ‘Go on, put them on’ urged Hubert. ‘What were those things I saw?’ asked Poppy, half to herself, and half to Hubert. ‘They are called bacteria’ said Hubert patiently ‘They are small creatures made up of single cells. They are 100 times smaller than the width of a strand of your hair, and they are always there, you just can’t see them without the glasses. The glasses magnify what you see by 10,000 times. My former owner was a very clever man. He made the glasses and hid them here for someone very special to find’.

Poppy nodded, overwhelmed. She had heard of bacteria at school, but she had never imagined all this. ‘Why were they all over me?’ questioned Poppy, almost gagging at the memory. ‘Everyone and everything is covered in bacteria’, explained Hubert ‘they live on practically every surface you can think of on plants, on your skin, in your mouth, up your nose, in your gut’. Poppy looked horrified. ‘There is nothing to be scared of’ said Hubert ‘for the most part, they help you more than hurt you’.

‘How can those little things possibly help me?!’ exclaimed Poppy. Hubert’s eyes glinted. ‘Put on your glasses, and you can see for yourself!’ he croaked. Poppy closed her eyes and pulled the glasses back on. When she opened her eyes again, she saw the same wonderous world she had seen before, only this time it was a little less scary. She held her hand up in front of her face and examined the creatures.

Many of the bacteria on Poppy’s skin looked like small blobs, clustered together in groups. ‘That is Staphylococcus epidermidis’, explained Hubert. ‘They help to keep your skin healthy. They stop you from getting eczema and can even protect you against skin cancer.’ ‘Wow’ murmured Poppy. Suddenly, these tiny creatures seemed more wonderous than terrifying. ‘It is almost magical’ agreed Hubert ‘there is a whole world that is too small for us to normally see’.

Poppy spent the next couple of hours exploring the woods in microscopic detail.

Hubert named all the bacteria for her and explained what they did. He was one clever bird! Just as Poppy’s watch beeped to remind her to go home for dinner, she noticed some new bacteria on her hand. It looked almost like a tennis racket. ‘That is Clostridium tetani’ chirped Hubert ‘it causes a pretty nasty disease called tetanus’.

Poppy squealed and flapped her hand, trying to get the bacterium off. She tried wiping her hand on the moss, she even tried spitting on her fingers and rubbing the critter away, like her mother did when she had eaten ice cream. But nothing worked, and the bacterium sat defiantly on her fingers. Just as she was about to lift her fingers to her mouth to attempt to suck the creature off, Hubert shouted ‘STOP!’

Poppy froze. ‘You should never put dirty hands in your mouth!’ exclaimed Hubert.

Poppy blushed. Of course, she knew not to put her dirty hands in her mouth.

‘There is nothing to panic about’ said Hubert ‘your skin is a great barrier against bacteria, and this bacterium could only hurt you if it got in through an open cut. In any case, you have probably been vaccinated against tetanus, most children have, these days.’ Poppy felt a wave of relief. ‘How do I get rid of it then?’ whined Poppy.

‘Just go home and wash your hands’ said Hubert calmly. With that, Poppy pulled off the glasses, put them safely back in their box and set off home.

She arrived back just as her mother was putting the dinner plates on the table.

‘Ah, there you are!’ smiled her mum ‘I was just wondering if we’d lost you!’. Poppy laughed nervously. ‘Just going to wash my hands, mum!’ said Poppy. As she left the room, she heard her brother mutter ‘since when is Poppy the model of good food hygiene?’ Poppy smiled, her brother had no idea about her new appreciation for the microscopic world. Later that night, Poppy lay in her bed thinking about what a wonderful adventure the day had been. She couldn’t wait to keep exploring the world with her extraordinary glasses. After all, the glasses had three more settings that she hadn’t even investigated yet! Perhaps from now on, her life wouldn’t be so ordinary after all!