The twigs and leaves on the forest trail crackled under the two pairs of heavy boots. Hobbs noticed that the further into the forest they walked, the darker it got. He held his breath.
"Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two…" Jasper counted.
Hobbs looked up. There was barely any sky visible deep in Pineapple Cove's forest. Just a canopy of leaves at the top of the twisty trees. Usually, Hobbs could spot birds darting in and out of the treetops, but not today.
"Twenty-six, twenty-seven…" Jasper continued.
Hobbs' cheeks puffed out as he tried to keep holding his breath. But it was no use. With one big whoosh, the breath escaped. Hobbs coughed as he inhaled the rotten smell that he was trying to avoid. The forest air stunk like spoiled milk.
"Wow, that was thirty seconds!" Jasper exclaimed. He swept his black bangs out of his eyes.
While Hobbs didn't understand his new friend's long bangs or leather bracelet, he was a lot of fun to be around. He and Hobbs became instant friends during Poseidon's Protectors training. They both loved sailing, cookies, and adventure.
"This stinks!" Hobbs complained. He plunked down on a smooth rock and groaned.
"Of course this stinks," Jasper said. "Poseidon sent us on a mission to find what the horrible smell is. If we don't, soon no one will want to live in Pineapple Cove. I saw a whole boatful of people leave yesterday."
Hobbs sighed. "I know, but I hear other protectors get to do cool things like fight sea monsters. Why can't our mission be like that?"
Jasper shrugged. "Maybe it will someday. This is just our first mission! Ooo, maybe we will get to fight bad guys with swords on later missions!" Jasper picked up two sticks and threw one to Hobbs. "Like this!" Jasper swung his stick as Hobbs hopped to his feet.
Clunk! Tap! Tap!
The boys laughed as they dueled with their pretend swords. Their duel took them deeper into the forest near a river.
Hobbs stopped and sniffed the air like a dog. "Yuck! It smells like we are getting closer."
They followed the smell further up the river to a crooked tree with banana-shaped leaves. Hobbs stroked the trunk that looked like it was covered in green carpet. The moss was soft, wet, and squishy.
Jasper sniffed the tree and gagged. "This smells gross!" he exclaimed. "Kind of like rotten vegetables. Blah!" His black bangs fell over his eyes as he shook his head in disgust.
"So we found the smell!?" Hobbs asked excitedly.
"I don't think so. It's bad, but not as bad as the rotten milk smell."
Hobbs bent down to sniff a cluster of pink polka dot mushrooms. They smelled sweet and citrusy, like oranges.
"These aren't it either," Hobbs said. He stroked his smooth chin as he stood back up. A chilly breeze whipped through the forest, sending shivers down his spine.
TAP! TAP! TAP!
Hobbs looked up the mossy tree toward the sound. A plank from a rope bridge tapped against the trunk in the wind. The bridge went across the river to a treehouse with blue smoke streaming from the chimney. It had round windows and a blue flag planted right in the middle of the straw roof.
The wind blew some of the blue smoke down and across the river to the Protectors. They both pinched their nose.
"I think we found where the bad smell is coming from!" Jasper said in a nasally voice. Hobbs nodded in agreement.
Hobbs tried to climb the mossy tree to reach the bridge, but his feet and hands kept sliding on the moss. He turned to the river of rushing water that snaked along the forest floor.
"How are we going to get across the river to get there?" Hobbs asked.
"Don't worry, I've got this!" exclaimed Jasper. He bent his knees. "I'll just hop in and walk across."
"Wait!" Hobbs cried. But it was too late.
Jasper disappeared beneath the rushing water.
"Jasper? Jasper!?" shouted Hobbs. He snapped a branch from a tree and prodded the angry water, looking for any sign of his friend. The river ripped the branch right out of his hands.
Next, he dropped to his knees to try to see under the water. But it was too fast and muddy to see underneath.
Jasper's head with his black hair plastered to his face popped up downstream.
"Help!" he hollered. "Help!" He gripped a jagged rock for a few seconds, but soon lost his hold. The rushing water continued to sweep him further away.
Hobbs raced down the river and caught up to Jasper. He reached out his hand as he ran alongside him, but his arm was too short. He needed something longer to reach him.
"Help!" cried Jasper once more.
"Hold on!" Hobbs shouted over the sound of the rushing water. He ran down the river as fast as his legs could take him. Maybe a little too fast. His feet slid to a stop at the edge of a cliff. “Woah!" Hobbs cried as he flapped his arms like a bird to regain his balance.
At the end of the river was a cliff with a waterfall. And at the bottom was a pool of water with jagged rocks.
Jasper sputtered water from his mouth like a fountain as he gasped for air. In a few seconds he would be launched over the waterfall if Hobbs didn't hurry.
Hobbs frantically looked for a stick, but all the trees were now too far. All around him there were only brown rocks. Hobbs dropped to his knees and reached out an arm—it still wouldn't reach far enough. He spotted a long and wide wood plank in the grass across the river.
If only I were on the other side, he thought. As he scrambled to his feet, he heard something clang against the rock—by his foot was a brown fishing net. Hobbs clutched the net's pole in his hand. It might just be long enough.
"You need to grab the end of the net!" Hobbs commanded. He stuck out the bamboo net over the river.
Jasper's hands reached up to the net. His left hand gripped it, and then his right. But they were too wet. His hands slipped and his body barreled toward the waterfall. He clenched his eyes shut. Then, just before he was hurled over the edge, Hobbs pulled him to the river bank.
Jasper laid on the rocks as he took heavy breaths. His clothing clung to his body and one of his heavy boots was missing.
Hobbs sat next to him, his heart thumping like a drum in his chest.
"How— how did you pull me in?" Jasper finally managed as his breathing slowed. "My hands slipped."
Hobbs pulled up the fishing net and Jasper's hand went up with it. The thick leather bracelet around his wrist was tangled in the net.
"I knew this was a lucky bracelet!" Jasper said.
Hobbs laughed. "Must be! Where did you get it anyway? It sure is…umm, different."
Jasper sat up. "It’s a funny story. A blackbird brought it to me one day—”
The sound of a clearing throat interrupted the story.
Hobbs looked across the river toward the sound. A man with a round face and a stained apron stood on the bank.
“Looks like you went for a swim,” the man said.
Before they could say anything, the man’s eyes narrowed on the fishing net. “I was wondering where that went!” He started sniffing the air. “Oh my, I think my pie is burning! Will you bring my net to my treehouse up the river?”
The man bridged the river with the wood plank Hobbs spotted earlier. Then he ran off at a full sprint.
“Thanks for saving me,” Jasper said.
Hobbs helped Jasper to his feet. “That’s what friends are for.”
The horrible smell got worse as they got closer to the cabin. The stinky blue smoke continued to puff out the chimney like fluffy clouds.
“What do you think could possibly smell that bad?” Jasper whispered.
Hobbs stood at the bottom of a wooden ladder. “I don’t know, but we are about to find out.”
They climbed up the ladder and entered the treehouse. Instantly, a wave of hot air gushed over their faces. There was a wood fire with a black cauldron bubbling on the back wall. Blue goop bubbled and popped inside of it.
Hobbs coughed. They had definitely found what was making the whole island stink.
The man plunked a pie on the table in the middle of the treehouse. The pie’s edges were black and its crust was brown and crispy. Hobbs noticed the name ‘Giorgios’ sewn on his apron.
“Ah nuts,” Giorgios said. “Should have kept a closer eye on this one. You boys distracted me. What are you doing out here in the forest anyway?” His eyes trailed to Hobbs’ trident pendant. “Oh, are you one of em’ new protectors out on a mission?” His eyes began to bulge. “Wait, is there some sort of danger out here!?”
Jasper’s gaze fell to the floor and he kicked the wood with his one boot. “Not quite…”
“We’ve actually come to talk to you about your pies,” Hobbs said.
A huge grin spread across Giorgios’ face showing off a missing front tooth. “Ah, so people have smelled my delicious pies and are wondering where they could get a taste? I knew this would happen! I make the best barbloo pies.”
“Not exactly...” Hobbs said.
Jasper finally lifted his attention from the floor. “What’s barbloo?”
“Barbloo is a rare fruit that grows on trees,” Giorgios answered. He plucked a blue barbloo from a basket. It curved around in an S shape. “They’re very hard to find, so I plant my own. This year my trees finally made fruit, so now I can fulfill my dream of being a barbloo baker.”
“Have you ever thought about maybe baking cookies or muffins instead?” Hobbs asked.
“Hmm, barbloo cookies and muffins? Very interesting.”
“Or, you know, without barbloo. Maybe normal flavors that people really like, like chocolate chip and peanut butter,” Hobbs said.
Giorgios planted his hands on his hips. “Hey! People like my barbloo pies.”
With a whoosh, Jasper let out his breath. “Your baking stinks!” he exclaimed. “The whole island smells like that stinky fruit and it is driving people away.”
“Oh,” Giorgios said with a frown. “I knew barbloo was smelly, but if they could just taste my pies, they would understand.” He slumped down on a short wooden stool by the table.
“You don’t have to be so mean!” Hobbs scolded Jasper.
Jasper rolled his eyes. “Well, you couldn’t find the words.” Hobbs couldn’t argue that point.
“So no one likes my baking?” Giorgios asked sadly.
A sniffing sound came from outside. A man with a turtle shell and orange hair poked his head in the treehouse window.
“I don’t mean to bother you,” the turtle man said. “My name is Bion and I was here studying some of your forest creatures. But I can’t seem to concentrate.”
Giorgios sighed. “I know, my baking stinks. Sorry to bother you.”
The turtle man shook his head. “No, your baking smells amazing! Do you have any to spare?” He looked at the burnt pie on the table. “I’ll even take that burnt pie over there! Barbloo is my favorite!”
“Really?! You know about barbloo? And you like it?” asked Giorgios.
“Love it!” said Bion. “Most Turtle People do. We used to have a baker on Turtle Mountain that made the best barbloo pies, but she retired.” He took a deep inhale. “Mmm, and I think yours smell even better than hers.”
Hobbs and Jasper looked at each other.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Hobbs asked. He noticed Jasper’s face was turning a bit green.
“That you might be sick?” Jasper answered.
Hobbs shook his head. “Not quite.” He turned to Giorgios. “Maybe you should open your bakery on Turtle Mountain. Sounds like you could do really well up there!” Hobbs also knew Turtle Mountain was far enough away that the island would no longer smell.
Bion climbed into the window. “Oh yes, I agree!”
Giorgios’ eyes lit up. “Oh, I can see it now: Giorgios’ Barbloo Bakery.”
Giorgios served everyone a slice of non-burnt pie. Bion slurped his slice up in one bite and Jasper refused to touch his. Hobbs decided to be somewhere in the middle. He bravely took a nibble of the stinky pie. A burst of sweet and tangy flavor erupted in his mouth. It was like a combination of strawberry and pineapple.
“Mmm, are you sure you don’t want to try to make chocolate chip cookies too?” Hobbs asked. “If they are anything as good as this pie, they would be amazing!”
Giorgios shook his head. “It isn’t just Giorgios’ Bakery, it’s Giorgios’ BARBLOO Bakery.
Hobbs laughed. “Giorgios’ Barbloo Bakery it is.”