The burning smell grew stronger and a strong suffocating smell of brimstone seemed to joining it. They felt themselves being pushed by what seemed like arms. It was still pitch dark and they could not see anything nor hear anything except their own breathing. But whatever was pushing them did not seem entirely solid. The children felt an eerie feeling of making physical contact with a ghost. They found themselves lead in a particular direction. Though the arms pushing them were not solid, they were firm like a thick column of gas and they could not push past them. Then, suddenly without a warning, the pressure ceased and they found the smell also slowly receding away. Ramya summoned courage and flicked on her flashlight. She looked around. They were in what seemed like a small room. Her three friends were standing close to her. The gnomes were not far off. Bashful was huddled close to Bracken, who was also sharing their prison.
“I was always telling you. These children are nothing but trouble. See where they have landed us.” Grumpy who had been uncharacteristically quiet all this while was suddenly becoming vociferous. Ramya fumed at the unfairness of the accusation. What did they have to do with these weird beings of the land of odors? Why was Grumpy blaming them? But she did not have to ponder long for soon she had her answer.“Don’t the parents of human children teach them to control their farts when part of a social gathering? What ill-mannered kids! Because of one of them's lack of sphincter control, we have give grave offence to our hosts.” Then it dawned on her. That is what had triggered all their trouble! Her flash light involuntarily flashed on Ajay’s face. It was contorted with guilt.
“Why does it have to be me? It could have been you. Is our Miss Goody Two shoe so conscientious that she is even above breaking wind? Anything goes wrong, put the blame on Ajay. Why else do you people drag me along for?”
He was clearly fighting a losing battle. The loudness of his voice was not matched by conviction. Naveneeta spoke up gently. “Please do not fight. I am feeling scared. I want to go home.”
“We are gnomes, not genies. We can’t grant you your wishes just because you want them. Whether you want to go home or stay here, you are stuck here. And so are we, thanks to you! “
Grumpy’s tirade was interrupted by a scraping sound. Braken seemed to be putting his paws into the ground and making some strange gestures as if he was digging. Bashful was looking at him intently. It seemed as if Bracken was communicating with Bashful. After sometime Bashful turned towards the others and spoke up. “Bracken says he can help us get out of here.”
“And how may that be, my friend? I know he has a strong sense of smell. But that does not break the bars of our cell. So how does he propose to get us out?”
“Ah! Don’t you get it, Grumpy? Observe the ground below us.” Happy’s face was glowing with excitement.They all looked down at the earth below their feet. It was regular mud. The children wondered what was so special about this mud that Happy was getting so excited. Seeing their puzzled faces, Happy spoke up again. “Well, out friend Mole is a master digger. He cannot break bars. But he can dig us out of here. He is an expert in making tunnels. He can lead us right back to our home."
“But won’t these odor creatures hear us digging and get alerted?” Vinod was always the one to anticipate situations.“Well, my dear friend, you forget the people of this land are not gifted with a sense of hearing.”
“But they will definitely catch the smell of fresh earth.” For once Grumpy’s inherent pessimism was serving a productive purpose. How could they shield the smell of fresh earth?“I have an idea,” said Ramya and turned towards Ajay and looked at him intently, a mischevious glint in her eyes.
“No. No. You can't mean..... I can’t possibly do it. Come on! You can’t seriously mean it!” His face was all red and flushed.Vinod spoke up calmly. “This is not the time to act coy, Ajay. Our lives depend on you.“
Ajay shrugged his shoulders in resignation. There was a small sound and the room was filled with foul odor. Once he overcame his self-consciousness, Ajay was in his elements and the sounds got louder - everyone had to cover their noses with their handkerchief.The children watched fascinated as Bracken began to dig. Soon a tunnel was formed and they began to make their way following in a single file one after the other with Bracken leading the way. They had walked for twenty minutes when they felt a strange wind blowing.
“Oh, no! The land is moving away.” Navneeta’s voice was almost a hysterical shriek.And before they could react to that, suddenly they caught a strong smell of decay as if some small rodent had died in the vicinity.