THE CALL TO SHAKABAZ
“I think Compost travels somewhere on this road, otherwise we would see people on it,” Jasper called to the others with concern. “Look sharp.”
Only moments after Jasper’s warning, a tiny puff of dust appeared ahead of them on the road and a terrible smell like rotting vegetables wafted to them on the breeze. “Into the field, quickly,” Jasper called to them. “That’s Compost up ahead! I can smell him.”
The travelers tumbled off their tigers and rolled down into the tall grass by the side of the road. The tigers took off at a fast clip to crouch behind some nearby boulders. Jasper led the Goodacres, who crept behind him on their bellies, further into the grass and away from the road. They found a ditch and eased down into it. The smell of rot had become quite strong and a group of armed soldiers appeared, led by the filthiest person the Goodacres had ever seen. They peered up at the road through the blades of tall grass as Compost and his soldiers came to a halt. Compost sniffed the air suspiciously. He had the nappiest uncombed hair and a film of dirt and dust covered his yellowish brown skin. He jumped down off his tiger and his fat stomach wiggled like Jell-O over his belt. He held his nose high as he sniffed noisily.
“I smell something foul,” he told his followers.
“Probably smells his own breath,” Sonjay whispered, and Denzel clapped a hand over Sonjay’s mouth.
Compost started to walk out into the field right toward the hidden travelers, sniffing as he went. Doshmisi realized any moment he might smell them out there hiding. She slowly reached down to the bag at her side and pulled out the wrapped herbs given to her by Crystal. She unwrapped the lavender and laid it in the open. The pungent, clean scent of the purple flowers filled the air. Compost reared back and covered his nose with his hand. “No, no, not here,” he muttered, “that’s not them.” He walked in a different direction, looking confused. Doshmisi had thrown him off with the strong scent of the lavender. He banged around in the tall grass for a little longer. Then he returned to the soldiers on the road. He ordered them off their tigers and had them fan out to search the grass. Meanwhile Compost returned to his tiger and lifted a birdcage off the tiger’s back.
“Skeeter,” Jasper breathed almost noiselessly. “It will see us for sure.”
Denzel looked around in panic, thinking fast, searching for a better hiding place.
Just then, Maia pointed to her arm. The others soon saw that her butterfly friends had come back and they sat perched all over Maia. Then, as they watched, more and more butterflies filled the air and came to rest on the travelers. Up on the road, Compost released the skeeter from its cage, but by the time the skeeter took to the air, the butterflies had completely covered the travelers, so thick that not a hair of them remained visible. The butterflies covered the field in all directions from the spot where the travelers lay. Thousands of millions of butterflies had instantly appeared and made the entire landscape disappear under the bright festivity of their red-orange-turquoise wings.
The travelers could hear the skeeter squawking overhead in frustration and the soldiers returning to the road. “Never mind,” Compost told them. “This field is altogether too cheerful for me.” His soldiers laughed at that comment. Compost called the skeeter back to him. Then the search party mounted their tigers and proceeded down the road, while those they sought remained hidden behind them in the field, covered by butterflies and shielded from Compost’s sensitive nose by the scent of lavender.
The travelers lay in the field for a long time to make sure that Compost had truly gone. After awhile, the butterflies began to fly away. Maia thanked them in a soft, quiet voice. In the end, when the butterflies had taken to the air, one particularly large butterfly, three times as large as the others, settled on Maia’s hand.
“Look at this one,” she told the others. “Look how big it is, and I think it’s nodding its head at me.”
“Butterflies can’t nod,” Denzel said.
“This one can,” Maia told him, and when he looked it certainly seemed like the butterfly nodded its head.
“I think you have Percival himself,” Jasper said with a note of awe in his voice.
“Who would think that a creature so small would save our lives?” Maia wondered. Then Percival took to flight with the rest of his tribe, which drifted away. The tigers bounded joyfully across the field from their hiding place behind the boulders, where the butterflies had concealed them too.
“Let’s go,” Jasper said. “I think we can make Akinowe Lake by sunset, which would be great because I want you to see the view from the top before we go down to the shore.”