I rowed faster, as if that would help. At the rate we were traveling, the boat would fill with rainwater and we’d sink, especially since I couldn’t row and bail water out of the boat at the same time. Even if I could have done both, we didn’t have a bucket. My imagination was sorely lacking when practicalities were needed.
More fat raindrops landed on my head, wetting the dried bird poop and making it slide down into my ear again. I let go of one oar to clean out my ear, and the boat spun in a circle on the roiling water.
“You’re making me sssseasick.” Worm squiggled from the boat seat up to the buckle on the shoulder of my life preserver.
“Sorry.” I grabbed the oar and shoved it into the water. The blade struck a dark swirling shape and bounced back into the boat.
“Uh oh.” Worm peered over the side of the boat. “Guard fish! Row, Zinnie! If they catch ussss, I’ll be fish food.”
A fish leaped over the boat and swatted me across the cheek with a wet tail as she tried to suck Worm out from under the buckle of my life vest. Another twirled over my head on a burst of air, making my hair stand straight up. One of the shadowy fish shapes circling below us grabbed the oars. I yanked back and the boat tipped to one side, the water line reaching the top of the boat’s side. Then the boat rebounded and tipped in the other direction.
“We’re going to capsize!” I dropped the oars and clung to the seat.
A fish with a gaping white mouth rose out of the water, long sharp teeth exposed. I let go of the seat, grabbed an oar, and smacked the fish. The fish splashed back into the water and the boat jolted as the bottom scraped against a hard surface.
The boat disappeared. I sank into the water and landed on my backside. For a moment, I sat in the water in the same position I’d been sitting on the boat seat.
Then a fish jumped out of the water and snapped at the bird poop in my hair. Or at Worm. I couldn’t tell.
“Ssssave me, Zinnie!” Worm screamed. “Sssswim!”
I didn’t have to swim. When I got my feet under me, the water was shallow enough for me to run to the sandy shore. I sank onto the beach and caught my breath as the lake water settled into a calm, flat surface. The dark swirling fish shapes disappeared. The sun dappled the sand and a gentle breeze stirred the tree fronds. Away from the shore, a colorful tumble of flowers bloomed, with no weeds in sight.
The Isle of Right seemed peaceful and safe. Then again, the Garden of All had seemed peaceful and safe too, in the beginning, and so had the lake we had crossed.
I set Worm on the sand beside me and took off the life preserver. My shorts and shoes were soaked and my hair was dripping.
“After we find The Root, I’m definitely going to try for a boat with a motor to get us home. That was too close—oh, no!” I jumped to my feet.
“What?” Worm hunched into the sand. “What’ssss wrong?”
“Nothing, I hope.” I tugged the leaf-shield from my pocket. It was dry, despite the dunking in the lake. Thankfully. If something had happened to the leaf-shield, we’d be stuck here forever.
“Let’ssss ask the flowerssss where The Root issss,” Worm said.
I put the leaf-shield back in my pocket and followed him to the cluster of flowers.
“Follow the Trail of Knowing.” The flowers spoke as one and fluttered their blossoms in unison toward a dirt path that led into a dark wood.
Worm wriggled off, moving at his usual speedy pace. I slogged after him. I was hungry, tired, and thirsty. Weeding the school garden wasn’t as much work as ending the plant war. If I went back and yanked all the weeds out from around the plants, would the war be over? I took the leaf-shield out of my pocket. I could picture us standing by Rose…
“Not now, Zinnie!” Worm said. “Remember why we’re here.”
Why were we here? Was saving rose bushes and apple trees enough reason to stay in this horrible place?
“Yessss,” Worm said. “You ssssaid you would help and the plants are depending on you.”
He was right. I put the leaf-shield back in my pocket.