The bird who had spotted Worm first jumped off a tree branch and flew directly toward us. I knelt and put out my hand. Worm climbed into my palm. His body was soft, not slimy or sticky at all. I curled my fingers to protect him, being careful not to squeeze.
The yellow bird landed in my hair and squawked, “You stole my breakfast!” She dug sharp talons into my scalp.
“Ouch!” I swatted at the bird with my free hand. “Get off!”
The bird let go of my scalp and rose into the air. A wet icky mass of bird poop plopped onto the top of my head and the bird flew back to the apple trees. All the other yellow birds gathered around, hopping up and down on the tree branches, shrieking and squawking. The racket was so loud I wanted to put my hands over my ears. I couldn’t because I was still holding Worm.
“Be quiet!” I yelled. “Leave us alone!”
My voice rolled out of my throat like thunder. The apple trees shook. Branches, leaves, and shiny gold apples that had been hidden beneath the leaves thudded to the ground. My shout smashed into the tree trunks in a visible cloud and bounced off.
The bird chatter stopped. The birds leaped into the air as if the entire flock was a single giant creature. They flew away in a mass, undulating like a bright yellow flag on a windy day.
“Good riddance,” I said.
“Great princesssss warrior voice!” Worm’s words were muffled. “Did you use your sssshield?”
“No.” I opened my fingers. “I should have. Then maybe that bird wouldn’t have pooped on me.”
“Bird poop bringssss good luck.”
“Bird poop is disgusting.” The bird dropping slid down my hair and leaked into my left ear.
Worm tilted his front section. “With that amount of luck, we’ll find the Root of All Good in no time.”
“I hope so. The less time we spend here, the better.” I cleaned out my ear. “Why did Early Bird call you ‘breakfast’? I thought this garden was a nice place.”
“Thissss issss The Garden of All.” Worm raised his front half in a semi-shrug. “All the Allssss live here.”
I wiped bird poop off my finger and onto my shirt. “All the Alls? You mean others besides the Root of All Good? You didn’t mention other Alls.”
“No one talkssss about them,” Worm said.
“Remember how we got to The Garden of All?”
“The ssssame kind of thinking can make other Allssss appear, in the same way The Garden appeared. You don’t want to meet some of those other Allssss.” Worm shuddered. “Better to concentrate on our reason for coming to The Garden.”
“Think only of your quest.” Worm wiggled around in my hand until his body was once again facing the apple trees. “Let’ssss go ask that crowd if they’ve sssseen The Root. If they’re not too angry with you for sssshaking them up, maybe they’ll help.”
Irate apple trees were one more thought I didn’t want to dwell on.
I walked toward the copse of trees, carrying Worm in my open palm. The morning sun had risen higher in the sky in the minutes since the Early Bird attack, and the air had warmed, but The Garden of All seemed darker and colder than it had when Worm and I first arrived.
Up close, the apple trees were not very scary. They had thin trunks, and they tilted in all directions, in long twisty lines that stretched out of sight. The ground beneath them was crowded with weeds, grass, and small bushes. Some of the weeds were as high as the branches where the Early Birds had been sitting.
“Hello.” I whispered the word so my voice wouldn’t boom.
“Speak up!” the nearest tree said. “What do you want?”
“She wants our apples.” A breeze sighed through the leaves of the tree to my right. “All humans want our apples.”
“Not thissss one,” Worm said. “Sssshe’s a warrior princesssss.”
“Eeek! A worm!” The tree wrapped scrawny limbs around the few apples left on its branches. “Stay away from me, you…you…you worm!”