“You have to sssstop upsetting the treessss.” Worm emerged from his hiding place and climbed onto my bare foot. He lay alongside my toes, limp and gasping.
“The trees don’t seem to mind upsetting me.” I scooped him off my foot, brushed away two wet leaves, and set him on my shoulder. “And I think I know where The Root is.”
I rolled the coconuts out of the way and limped to the clump of pink flowering bushes. The Trail of Knowing stopped at the edge of the bushes, then curved left in a shadowy, wavery line, doubling back in the direction we had come. A dense tangle of leaves and branches blocked the way ahead.
The way to the place The Root was hiding.
I said in my normal voice, “I’m finished following the Trail.”
The bushes were silent.
“I know you can hear me.” I took the leaf-shield out of my pocket and waved it at them. “So listen up. You can let us through or I’ll use my warrior princess voice again. Close as I am, I’ll flatten you.”
The pink flowering bushes bristled. They stood straight, lifting their branches to tower above me. A second, smaller cloud of blossoms fluttered to the ground. The roaring noise was faint but clear through the nearly naked branches.
I sucked in a big breath, opened my mouth, and tipped my head back.
The bushes quivered, shook—and parted. The roaring noise increased. The Trail of Knowing unfurled from the curve that would have led us back the way we came, and snapped into a straight line, right down the center of the two rows of bushes. The edges of the Trail were sharp and clear, like a double line of arrows pointing to where we wanted to be.
Were the Trail and the bushes setting a trap?
“Will you close around us when we step inside?” I asked.
The bushes snapped whippy branches in a menacing click-click but gave no answer.
“Only one way to find out,” Worm said.
That was not encouraging. But I had two choices. I could take a risk and follow the Trail of Knowing, or I could keep wandering around the Isle of Right, with my blister growing and Worm getting more dried out by the minute.
“Hang on!” I clutched the leaf-shield and took off toward the roaring noise.
The bushes did not close around us. They let us pass and cringed aside as I ran, rippling away from me the same way the waves on the lake had parted when the boat passed.
As if they were afraid of me.
“They are sssscared of you.” Worm clung to my shirt. “You threatened to hurt them.”
“I wanted to get past and they were blocking the way.” My heel throbbed, but I was afraid too—afraid to stop. If I had frightened the bushes, who knew what they might do when I slowed down? “I wouldn’t really have flattened them.”
“You lied?” Worm asked.
“I didn’t really lie. I just sort of didn’t tell the truth.”
“She lied?” The bushes around us rustled and whispered to each other. “A warrior princess lied?”
“I’m sorry!” I ran faster.
“Stop!” The bushes in front of me righted themselves. “Stop!”
I kept running.
The roaring grew louder.
“Stop!” the bushes shouted, over the roar. Thorns sprouted on the whippy branches from between the remaining pink flowers.
Stopping seemed like a really bad idea. I took one final running step, pushed off from my back foot, and rocketed over the top of the last clump of bushes.
Instead of landing on solid ground on the other side, I kept falling—right into the hole where my warrior princess voice had disappeared. I tumbled through water and landed hard on my back on a bumpy rock floor, my sneakers bashing my face and the laces wrapping around my neck. The leaf-shield flew from my hand, and the breath was knocked out of me. I opened my mouth and gasped. Even with my mouth open as wide as the guard fish on the lake, I couldn’t get enough air. Swirls of blackness danced before my eyes. After what felt like hours of short little breaths that did not fill my lungs, I gulped down a huge puff of air. My head cleared.
No wonder the plants had shouted at me to stop. They had known the hole was here and tried to save me from falling in.
I sat up and unwrapped my sneakers from my neck. I was in a cave, and a misty cascade of water billowed like a curtain in front of me. A noisy curtain.
Not quite steady enough to stand, I crawled to the noisy water curtain on my hands and knees. Far below, the shimmering fall of water splashed into a pond of sparkling blue. Trees, entwined with multi-colored orchids, lined the banks. Birds feathered in brilliant shades of red and green flitted between low hanging branches.
“Where are we?” I asked.
Worm didn’t answer. He was no longer on my shoulder.