The Law of Oz and Other Stories

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The Law of Oz and Other Stories

Chapter 1: The Ring of Time

 

“Getting lost is hard work,” said Ojo the Munchkin boy.  “Let’s rest here.”

               He and Button-Bright panted as they climbed up through the southwestern fringes of Gugu Forest.  The dense woods behind them lay in the Gillikin Country of Oz, where purple, lavender and lilac ran riot as far as the eye could see, from humble mosses and molds right up to the topmost leaves of the trees.  But this one small sliver of woodland had grown out into the Winkie Country.  Here the colors shifted to yellow, gold and ocher, and even the air took on a hazy, sunshiny tint.

It was with some relief that the boys flung themselves down under an ancient yellow oak tree.  Button-Bright, cradled between two yellow oak roots that curled right round him in a perfect circle, plucked a blade of yellow grass and put it in his mouth.

               “I’m not sure we’re lost at all,” he said thoughtfully.

               “Not lost?” echoed Ojo.  “We’ve been lost for days!”

               Button-Bright shook his head.  “It doesn’t seem right somehow.”

               “I don’t see why not.  We’re miles away from anyplace we know, aren’t we?”

               Button-Bright shrugged.  “That’s not what I mean,” he said.

               “What is it, then?” Ojo persisted.  “You’re supposed to be teaching me how to get lost.”

               This was so.  Responsible, clear-thinking Ojo had traveled the length and breadth of Oz without ever once straying from his path.   Button-Bright, on the other hand, had an immense talent for wandering off and losing himself in all sorts of strange places.  It didn’t seem quite fair that he should keep this exotic and adventuresome skill all to himself.  Wishing to taste the forbidden fruits of lost-ness, Ojo had suggested this jaunt as a sort of tutorial.  Who better than the undisputed master to show him how it was done?  And where better than the Gillikin Country, that northern wilderness where civilization seemed to vanish amid the purple glades and thickets?  They’d spent the last three days there, clambering in and out of ravines, splashing across leaf-choked pools, shunning anything that looked remotely like a trail, and stumbling out at last only by accident.  Surely that qualified them as lost.

               Button-Bright shook his head again.

               “I’ve been thinking about it,” he said.  “And this isn’t the way I got lost before.  I never planned it, or hopped off the path and said, ‘Now I’m lost.’  In fact, I never got lost from somewhere.  I got lost from someone.”

               “How’s that?” asked Ojo.

Button-Bright tried to explain.  “Suppose I’m with Dorothy, Trot, and Betsy, and we’re traveling in a place we’ve never seen before.  Suddenly I realize I’ve wandered off by myself.  Now, every one of us is in the middle of nowhere, but Dorothy, Trot and Betsy are all still together.  Therefore they’re found.  And I’m lost because now I’m by myself.  See?”

“I think so,” said Ojo.  “You and I are together, therefore we’re found.  But if we got separated we’d both be lost.”

“Seems like it,” said Button-Bright.  He was still wrapping his brain around this difficult conundrum.

“Do you want to be lost right now?” Ojo asked quietly.

This question stuck in his throat.  He liked company, and he liked Button-Bright’s company best of all.  His royal parents, far away in their Munchkin castle, had parted with their beloved son several years ago because he wanted so much to live with Button-Bright in the Emerald City.

“Just be sure to visit us as often as you can,” they’d said as they hugged him goodbye.  “And bring your friend with you!”  For they loved Button-Bright too and had embraced him as a second son.

In view of all this, it was not surprising that Ojo kept a sharp eye on his highly distractable friend.  At the same time, however, he found himself thinking that a person who likes getting lost should feel free to do so.  Should Ojo discreetly turn his back while the famous lost boy of Oz made himself scarce?  It was a puzzle.

To Button-Bright, however, it was no puzzle at all.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” he laughed.  “Why should I get lost when I can be with my best friend?”

Ojo smiled.  “Maybe we’ve invented a new kind of lost-ness,” he suggested.

“That’s it!” said Button-Bright.  “A new kind of lost-ness.”

“The together kind.”

“The best kind.”

And since that appeared to settle the matter, both boys lay back with a sigh of mutual contentment.

They made a curious pair.  It wasn’t just the contrast between Ojo’s blue Munchkin attire and Button-Bright’s emerald green, though that was certainly startling.  No, the difference went deeper; for while Ojo had been born and bred in the fairyland of Oz, Button-Bright had journeyed here all the way from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Now they shared a little suite in the Emerald City, under the protection of Princess Ozma, and despite their varying backgrounds they had become fast friends.

“Lost or not,” said Ojo, “we still don’t know where we’re going next.”

“True,” Button-Bright replied.  “Let’s see.  We’re in the Winkie Country now, where the emperor is our friend the Tin Woodman.  Why don’t we pay him a visit?”

Ojo agreed.  “We just need to find the right road,” he said.

“Perhaps I could be of assistance,” suggested a gentle, cooing voice from over their heads.

They looked up.  Above them, on the lowest of the oak tree’s gnarled branches, sat a gray dove.

“Please excuse my butting in,” the dove continued politely.  “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and I wondered if I might help.  You see, this neighborhood is where I live.”

“That’s awfully kind of you,” said Ojo.  “Can you tell us how to find the Tin Castle?”

“Indeed I can,” their feathered benefactor informed him.  “Do you see a ridge up yonder where the Forest ends?”  Ojo nodded.  “If you follow that ridge to your right, you’ll find an excellent road.  Take that road south and you’ll reach the Tin Castle in two or three hours.”

“Thank you very much, Mr. Dove,” grinned Button-Bright, who had been eyeing the creature with frank interest.  “You see, Ojo?  We’re not lost at all.  Wherever you go in the Land of Oz, there’s an old friend to show you the way.”

Ojo threw him a questioning look.  “Old friend?”

“I believe so,” said Button-Bright.  “If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Dove, you once captured Princess Ozma, along with most of the really top-notch magic in Oz.  Wasn’t your name Ugu the Shoemaker?”

The dove bowed its sleek, gray head.  “Thank you for calling me ‘old friend,’” it said humbly.  “When I was a man, you had no cause to love me.  As a dove, I am pleased to know the forgiveness of my former enemies.”

“Pshaw!  Bearing grudges is no fun,” laughed Button-Bright.  “I just hope you’re happy in this lonely little corner of Oz.”

The dove Ugu shook its head.  “I would like to be happy,” it told them sorrowfully.  “But the past seems to haunt me wherever I go.”

“You don’t miss your magic powers, do you?” frowned Ojo.  While he had never met the old villain, he knew how much havoc Ugu had wreaked.

“Not at all!” exclaimed the dove, plainly horrified.  “I can’t practice magic anymore and I don’t want to.  It’s remorse that haunts me, remorse for the wickedness which I alone, of all who knew it, can never forgive.  That’s why I live in this desolate spot.”

“To avoid people?” said Ojo, more sympathetically.

“Partly,” admitted the dove.  “But the main reason is quite different.  It is here, close to the Gillikin border, that I am looking for the Ring of Time.”

“The Ring of Time?” said Button-Bright, sitting up in his nest of yellow oak roots.  “What’s that?”

“No one really knows,” the dove replied.  “I learned about it long ago when I studied every kind of magic in Oz, yet I can’t tell you what it looks like or even what it’s made of.  It’s very old, of course.  It’s shaped like a circle and it’s said to be located somewhere in this neighborhood.  Some say that it has a puzzling habit of moving from spot to spot, now here, now there.  That’s all I’ve been able to discover after an entire year of seeking.”

“Why do you seek it?” Ojo pressed him.  The dove’s terrible remorse had touched him deeply and he wished he could find some way to comfort the unhappy creature.

“Ah,” cooed the dove.  “The Ring of Time is a doorway to the past.  When I stand within it and make a wish, I will cast myself back to the long-ago moment when I turned toward evil.  Then, perhaps, I can undo the dreadful things I did to Princess Ozma and her friends.”

“But how?”

“Can’t you guess?  I must go to my former self, poor discontented Ugu living in the City of Herku, and I must tell him the lessons I’ve learned through long and bitter experience.  Somehow I must find a way to turn him from his fearsome path and teach him to find peace in a simple life.  Only then will my conscience be clear.”

 Button-Bright considered this.  “Isn’t it an awful lot of trouble to go to when nobody remembers what you did anyway?”

“They do remember!” burst out Ojo.  “Even you remember, Button-Bright.  When you recognized Ugu, that was the first thing you thought of.  I know how he feels.  I’m the only person in Oz who ever spent a night in prison, or walked through the Emerald City wearing a prisoner’s robe.”

The gray dove had not heard this story.  Ojo’s face darkened as he told it.  “It was when my dear Unc Nunkie got turned into a marble statue, along with Dr. Pipt’s wife.  The Liquid of Petrefaction had spilled on them accidentally, and the only antidote called for a magic six-leafed clover.  Ozma had made a law forbidding anyone to pick a six-leafed clover, but I didn’t know why.  So I picked one in spite of Ozma’s law.  She had me arrested and I went to prison for a little while.  Now, when she looks at me, I sometimes wonder if she still remembers my crime.”

“She remembers how much you love Unc Nunkie,” said Button-Bright.  “There’s no harm in trying to help the people you love.”

“Everyone has reasons for the wrong things they do,” Ojo reminded him.  “Our own Wizard had reasons for giving Ozma to a witch back in the old days.  That didn’t make it right.”

“Now, Ojo,” the dove said kindly.  “You’re as fine a lad as any in Oz, or Ozma wouldn’t have brought you to the Emerald City.  The Wizard paid for his own crimes in his own way, and I mean to do the same.  That is, if I ever find the Ring of Time.”

“Oh yes,” said Ojo.  “The Ring of Time.”  They pondered Ugu’s quest.

“It’s wonderful when you think about it,” Button-Bright said.  “A doorway through time.  Could we really go back into Oz history just by wishing?”  The dove assured him that they could.  Button-Bright marveled.  “Imagine!  We could see the Wicked Witch of the East getting squashed by Dorothy’s farmhouse.  Or even before that, we could see the Wizard’s balloon floating into the Emerald City for the first time.”

“We couldn’t,” said Ojo.  “There was no Emerald City before the Wizard.  He had it built later.”

“All right, all right,” Button-Bright laughed good-naturedly.  “But suppose we found this Ring of Time, just think of all the things we could see.  We could go back to the very beginning, couldn’t we?”

“I suppose we could,” said the dove.

“You just want to get really lost,” Ojo accused.

“Maybe so,” said Button-Bright, stretching out dreamily between his oak roots.  “Just for a little while.  And the further back the better!  Why, we could meet Queen Lurline if we wanted to.  Remember her?  Glinda says she’s the fairy who turned Oz into a fairyland.  It’s funny we don’t hear more about her, considering what an important thing she did.  But then, that’s what makes her so interesting.  Where did she come from?  Where was she going?  And what made her do what she did?  Now that I think of it, that’s what I’d most like to see.”

“You’ll have to find the Ring of Time first,” Ugu reminded him.

Button-Bright chuckled.  “I know.  I’m just daydreaming.  But it would be fun, wouldn’t it?  Queen Lurline!  On the very morning that she cast her spell!  I wish I could see it for myself.  I wish I could go there right now!”

It happened without a bang or a flash.  One moment Button-Bright was lying comfortably among his yellow oak roots, gazing up at a canopy of dusty yellow leaves.  Next moment he vanished as surely as if he’d never been there at all.  In the hush that he left behind, a whisper of wind could be heard among the leafy branches.

               The gray dove recovered its wits before Ojo did.  Indeed, it promptly took to hopping up and down and shouting, “This is it!  Oh, you blind stupid bird, this is it!”

               Ojo stared.  “Where’s Button-Bright?” he asked blankly.

               “Don’t you know?” screamed the dove, beating its wings with a clatter like flags in a high wind.  “He’s gone back!  This is it and he’s gone back; and now I can go back too!  It’s the end of all my searching!”  The dove dropped down into the circle of oak roots where Button-Bright had been sitting.  “Goodbye and good luck!” it shrilled.  “I wish—“

               “Wait!”  Ojo’s eyes grew wide and he fell to his knees.  “Wait, Ugu, please!  Do you mean to tell me this is the Ring of Time?  This—this root thing?”

               “It must be!”  Ugu was quivering with impatience.  “The boy made his wish and he disappeared.  What could be clearer?  Now it’s my turn, so if you don’t mind—“

               “But I do mind!” cried Ojo, very put out.  “We have to go together, you and I.  We have to find Button-Bright.  All that talk about lost or not lost, and now he’s lost in the past.”  He drew a disbelieving hand over his eyes.  “Back at the beginning of everything!”

               Ugu puffed up his feathers petulantly.  “I don’t see why you need me.  You boys are experienced travelers, well used to larking about on your own.  You’ll be fine.”

               “This isn’t just larking about!” objected Ojo.  “It’s going back in time.  We don’t know what we’ll find or who we’ll meet.  Why, almost anything could happen!”

               “Almost anything does happen in the Land of Oz,” Ugu pointed out.  “Why worry?”

               Ojo was at a loss.  Then a new thought struck him.  “Look at it this way,” he said.  “You want to track down your former self, don’t you?  Well, wouldn’t the very beginning be a good place to start?  If Oz people really can live forever, then lots of folks who are alive now should have been alive then, including you.  What could be better?”

               Ugu considered this.  “That may be true,” he acknowledged.  “I expected to catch the poor fellow a bit later in his life, but perhaps this would do just as well.”

               “Of course it would,” Ojo agreed fervently.  “And Button-Bright and I could help you.”

               “Maybe so, maybe so.”  Ugu was bobbing his head in a thoughtful manner.  “All the same, it’s a queer business.  You’re quite correct that my former self should have been alive then.  But if that’s so, shouldn’t I remember?”

               “What do you mean?” asked Ojo.  “Remember what?”

               “Queen Lurline.  Or the transformation, at least.  It must have been a memorable event, but I can’t recall a single detail about it. In fact, I can’t recall ever being much younger than I am now.  Isn’t that odd?   Oh well.  Old age, I suppose.”  The dove shook its tail feathers.  “Shall we be off, then?”

               “You’ll come?”

               “I will,” declared the dove.  “And now that I’ve calmed down, it occurs to me that I’ve behaved rather selfishly.  I very nearly rushed off and left you to face this unusual problem by yourself.  Please accept my sincere apologies.”

               “Don’t mention it,” said Ojo, blushing.

               “Oh, but I insist,” said Ugu.  “As a dove I’ve grown kinder and more generous than I ever was as a man.  Still, my old self flares up sometimes and makes me say things I regret.”

               “It was the heat of the moment,” Ojo said comfortingly.  “You were excited about finding the Ring of Time.”

               The gray dove nodded.  “Very true.  Thank you.  Now, just step over that root, please, and stand inside the circle.”  Ojo did so rather cautiously, as if he expected a small shock.  “Perhaps I should perch on your shoulder,” the dove suggested.  At a nod from Ojo it fluttered up and dug its claws into his sturdy blue jacket.  “Very well,” it went on.  “I’ll do the honors.  Attention, O Ring of Time!  We wish to go back to the morning of Queen Lurline’s arrival in Oz.”

               “Same as Button-Bright,” added Ojo, just to be on the safe side.  And he braced himself for the pounding gale or thunderous crash that would hurl them headlong into the past.

               It wasn’t like that at all.  Indeed, there was only a sudden, silent shift of color.  The yellow vegetation turned green, brown—all the usual colors of the natural world.  It was a small thing in its way.  Yet this, oddly, unsettled Ojo more than any cataclysm could have done.  Brown tree trunks!  What an odd and lonely spectacle for a boy who had grown up in the Land of Oz, where each country has its own characteristic color.  It made him feel, momentarily, that he'd lost his home forever.

               “No more yellow.  That’s one thing I never expected.  Did you, Ugu?”  The dove on his shoulder made no response.  It appeared to be preening its feathers.  “Oh well,” said Ojo.  “If that’s our biggest worry we’ll probably be all right.” 

Getting down to business, he stepped out of the magic ring and cupped his hands to his lips.

               “Button-Bright!” he shouted.  “Can you hear me?  Button-Bright!”  His voice carried thinly up toward the ridge, startling the gray dove.  He shouted a few more times, pausing every so often to wait for an answer.  None came.  The outlook seemed singularly unhopeful.  “If it were anyone else,” said the boy, “I’d guess he followed your directions up toward the road.  With Button-Bright, though, there’s no telling.  What do you think?”

               The dove held its tongue.  Ojo gave it a sidelong glance.

               “I hope you’re not moping,” he said sternly.  “I really am sorry, but when Button-Bright gets lost I have to go after him.  And you did say it would be all right.”  He stroked the dove’s feathery flank and heard it coo wordlessly in response.  “Oh, now,” he scolded.  “What kind of noise is that for a fairy bird?  You haven’t forgotten how to speak, have you?”

               Still no answer.  And now Ojo recollected something.  They might not be in fairyland at all!  They had wished for the morning of Lurline’s arrival, and it was just possible that she had not yet appeared.  Her spell had not been cast.  This, then, was an altogether different Oz, an Oz that knew no fairy magic—an Oz, perhaps, where animals could not speak.

               But surely, Ojo thought, this particular dove would remain a creature of fairyland wherever it went.  Wouldn’t it?

               Dreading the answer, Ojo coaxed the reluctant bird onto his finger and brought it round to face him.  “Ugu,” he pleaded.  “Tell me you can still talk.  Tell me you remember what we’re doing and why we’re here.  Tell me anything you want.  Please!”

               It was no use.  The dove had nothing whatever to say, and its small eyes glittered like heartless black beads.  Ojo could have wept. He thought of Ozma, whose fairy magic could easily restore the bird’s speech.  He thought of the sorceress Glinda, far off in the Quadling Country.  He even thought of his Munchkin parents.  He could not go to them for help, not if he walked for days.  This was the past.  Doubtless Ozma would come here with the fairy Lurline; and as for Glinda, he couldn't imagine where she might be or what power she might have.  His parents probably hadn’t been born yet.  In the end, there was nothing to do but strike out for the road and hope that Button-Bright had done the same.  Ojo returned the dove to his shoulder and started walking.

“One thing is certain,” he told the dove.  “For the first time ever, I’m well and truly lost.

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Excerpt from... The Magic Umbrella of Oz

Chapter 1: The Piper Unleashed

The Piper jolted awake in a panic, like a sleeper falling out of bed and into the nightmare of empty space.  Yet it was not the world around him that had suddenly lost its substance.  It was he himself.

Bodiless, untethered, he spun through the night.  Beneath him he glimpsed the shimmer of a pond, its mirrorlike surface ablaze with stars—stars and only stars, despite the fact that the Piper hovered for an instant between the sky overhead and its reflection below.  No sign of his presence could be discerned upon the waters. 

 What had happened to him?  How had he been cast out of his old, hated host?  He knew the answer but he couldn’t quite remember it, not while he careened here and there in this formless state.  He must anchor himself, and quickly.  To what?  Or to whom?  He struggled to perceive what might lie nearby.

Water.  Grass.  Trees.  And people, a knot of people fizzing with wakefulness.  If only they’d been asleep!  Their dreams would have given the Piper just the refuge his nothingness wanted most.  Awake and alert, their minds batted him away without even realizing he was there.  Panic sent him spinning again.  For a moment he shouted the panic within.  Do it at once! 

But no.  That would be disastrous, especially in the midst of strangers.  Nothing must be allowed to harm his precious pan pipes.  Only this queasy bodilessness, horrifying though it was, could keep them safe.

Yet the Piper must anchor himself somewhere.  Would the grass accommodate him?  Streaking across the lawn he sensed a drowsy half-life that might serve his purpose.  But this grass had been trimmed too close and it gave him no purchase.  He bounced off it, flailing.

The trees?  Yes, the trees!  Here were branches that all but exploded with leaves, their veins sap-filled and quick with growth.  He felt his mad rush slowing, his tenuous self-awareness pulling together amid the buds and the bark.  The spasms of panic began to fade.  He quivered for a moment, allowing himself to be ensnared.  Then, gratefully, he subsided.  For a few moments he hung there, catching his metaphorical breath.  The situation was far from ideal, he knew.  But it would have to do till he felt strong enough to move across the countryside and seek out the dreamers he needed.  For now it was enough to rest quietly and take stock.

His attention roved over the humans close at hand.  Why, one of them was his erstwhile host!  Of course—Jandilay, that wretched, ridiculous excuse for a Phanfasm.  And what was this?  Jandilay had the nerve, the unmitigated gall, to be happy—outlandishly happy—at finding himself whole again, free of the spirit that had lived within him.  Free of the Piper.

Ingratitude!  The Piper seethed as best he could in his disembodied condition.  The fiasco of the last, lost centuries rose up in his mind, the wasted years that could only be called an endless and unstoppable descent into utter failure.  The Phanfasms.  What had gone wrong?

The Phanfasms had been his great project.  When Tititi-Hoochoo had exiled him to the outside world, that world where magic had somehow never taken root, the Piper had nevertheless found fertile ground for his particular gifts.  Why this might be he neither knew nor cared.  His own world, the world of An and its neighbors, had proved too tough a nut to crack.  With one pathetic exception, folks there had been deaf to his piping, blind to his visions of power.  But in the outside world, where countries had strange names such as England, Prussia, the Ottoman Empire, he had found himself welcomed into the dreams of countless children in countless towns and villages.  These children had seemed perfect.  Their flexible young minds, their unfettered imaginations, had readily dispensed with moral scruples—the price of the Piper’s gift—and had seized his offer of unlimited power, unbounded magic.  The only surprise was that anyone turned him down at all.

Many children did turn him down.  Most did, truth be told, or the world’s nurseries would have been emptied.

Yet over the centuries, from every corner of the globe, he found thousands who did not turn him down.  They accepted his gift, surrendered their young hearts, and swelled the power of the Phanfasms.

This power, in turn, swelled the Piper’s own power.  Soon he gained strength enough to open a way back into his old world, the world that had cast him out, the world of An and Oz, Ix and Ev, Noland and Mo.  There he established the stronghold of the Phanfasms, the Mountain Phantastico.  From that place of dread, the Piper had vowed, he would conjure a storm to sweep his old enemies before him.  Who could withstand a power whose only limits were the limits of imagination?

But the limits of imagination turned out to be narrower than he had imagined.  His Phanfasms would always remain children, whatever forms they might take within the confines of their realm.  And childish minds dream childish dreams—dreams of grasping and hoarding, of squabbling and infighting.  Their most opulent palaces were glorified doll’s houses, their mightiest ramparts no more than play forts filled with snowballs.  They clung to their Mountain like barnacles, unwilling to stray far from home.  Not for them the Piper’s dreams of conquest and revenge.  He piped and plotted to no avail.

And so the Phanfasms held themselves prisoner on their Mountain, decade after decade, century after century, victims of their own deplorable short-sightedness.  They devastated many of the lands surrounding the Mountain Phantastico, but the world at large they left untouched.  Even the smug and self-satisfied rulers of An, who had long ago driven the Piper out, could not be harmed.

For a long time the Piper raged at the sheer waste of it all.  It did him no good.  At last, like a frustrated child who can’t get anyone to listen, he retreated deep down into forgotten corners of the Phanfasms’ minds and surrendered himself to a kind of sleep or trance. 

 In this way he managed to shut out whole eras of willful ineptitude.  Occasionally he woke in hope that matters might have improved.  But they never did.  All too seldom did the Phanfasms venture forth to conquer the innocent and good beyond their borders; one such foray had ended in utter catastrophe.  A tunnel built by the Nomes had brought the Phanfasms and their evil allies to the gardens of the Emerald City, a royal prize that should have fallen easily to their power.  But in the moment of their triumph they had foolishly drunk the Waters of Oblivion and lost even the childish rudiments of their minds.  From that time on their demise became inevitable.

They were sent back to their Mountain.  In confusion and despair, the Piper slept, woke, and slept again.  When the Phanfasms of Phantastico seemed to have destroyed themselves, his accumulated power perished with them.  He was forced to lurk, crippled, in the mind of the sole surviving Phanfasm he had known—craven, conscience-infested Jandilay.  It was a bitter irony, and one that the Piper could not bear for long.  Exiled to the outer reaches of Jandilay’s tormented psyche, he had given up all hope.  He had gone to sleep for the last time.

Now he awakened to—what?  Panic.  Formlessness.  Terror.

Freedom.

Freedom?  The Piper’s mind reeled.  Freedom?  Yes, he thought, hugging himself with incorporeal arms.  His long and fruitless enslavement to the Phanfasms had ended.  Jandilay had driven him out.  The Piper was free, free at last!  Free to start again, free to roam the countryside as he had done long ago, free to play songs of seduction on his precious pan pipes, free to slip in and out of the dreams of men and women.  For men and women it would be this time, he swore.  Children had failed him.  He would not turn to them again.  He would find a way, he must find a way, to tempt men and women into his cataclysmic visions.

He probed the unsuspecting humans one more time.  If he had possessed such a thing as an eye, it would have lit up with a predatory gleam.

Ha!  Here were three children, two boys and a girl, younger than Jandilay.  Indeed, they appeared to be exactly the age that he’d always found most susceptible to his blandishments.  True, he had only just sworn off children of any kind.  But these…

No.  Digging a little deeper, he soon changed his mind.  These seeming children were in fact many decades old, equipped with stout, sturdy, well-developed consciences that they deferred to on every conceivable occasion.  Idiots.  Moreover, the Piper realized, they had no need of his gifts at all.  They had powers of their own, powers that they inexplicably preferred not to use for the purpose of world domination.  Such a waste, the Piper thought.  Moving on, then.

The adults proved just as useless.  The youngest was over sixty years old, and all of them wielded precisely as much power as they wanted.  Pathologically contented, the lot of them.  What was wrong with these people?  The Piper hoped devoutly that he would meet a healthy dose of bitterness and misery out in the hinterlands.

Two figures remained, standing a little beyond their fellows.  The Piper held out no hope for them, not after the utter unsuitability of the others.  But just in case . . .

               Terror hurled him right out of his cozy nest.  Like a puff of smoke caught in a gale, he was borne pell mell over the unruffled tops of the trees.  At any moment he seemed likely to disintegrate, to make a true nothing out of his fragile non-being.

Tititi-Hoochoo!  And his sister Lurline!  His banishers.  Could it really be they?  This was not their homeland of An.  How had they come here?

He could not gather his thoughts, could not even frame the desire for thought.  He hurtled through the darkness, alone and lost, his only comfort the dim awareness that every second took him further and further from those who might recognize him and do him harm.  It seemed that terror was his friend after all.  He gave himself to the terror and allowed it to take him where it would.  Was this his freedom, then?  Panic and exhilaration, dread and delight?  Was he soaring or fleeing?  Was he reaching for a new destiny or simply putting as much distance as he could between himself and danger?  As he devoured the miles, these questions answered themselves.  Terror gradually gave way to glee.  A new chance had come his way.  He would leave this inhospitable place.  With his precious pan pipes in hand, he would find a way back to the sleepy, susceptible outside world.  He would begin anew.

Far behind, at the Truth Pond, Tititi-Hoochoo and his sister Lurline quietly vanished.  Ozma of Oz had sent them back to their own country, along with their friend Onna Val.  And with them went Jandilay, a Phanfasm no longer.

 

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Queen Ann in Oz

A

 

nn signed the letter with a flourish of her quill pen, sealed it with her royal seal, and with a tweet from a tiny silver whistle summoned one of the Royal Mailbirds.  In recent times, these mailbirds had been trained to carry letters between distant points of Oz.

 

These birds have the advantage of knowing by sight almost every important person in Oz, and by keeping informed of their whereabouts, are able to deliver mail directly to the individual without having to refer to an address.  Thus, when Ann asked, “Do you know the Shaggy Man?” the bird who had answered her whistle squawked insultedly, “Of course I do, and what’s more I know exactly where he is!  Your letter will be delivered within the hour!”  It snatched the envelope from Ann’s fingers and flew away, its green uniform and gold epaulets and insignia, all of which grew as a natural part of its plumage, gleaming in the sun.

Ann sighed and pulled a list from a pile of papers on her desk.  She checked off item number four: “Notify Shaggy Man.”  Number one: “Assemble wardrobe”; Number two: “Command Salye to make me a new traveling uniform” (“Command” had been crossed out and “Request” substituted in Salye’s handwriting); and Number three: “Assemble personal travel gear,” had already been checked off.

The young queen regarded the fifth and final item with a slightly worried frown.  It read “Muster army.”  At the time she assumed the throne, Ann’s queendom, Oogaboo, was sparsely populated by eighteen men, twenty-seven women, and forty-four children, and although their numbers had increased since then, most of those men had accompanied her on her previous adventure beyond the borders of the country, when she attempted to conquer the world.  Ann did not do very well at conquering, partly—she always told herself—because she had a rather ineffective army, top heavy in officers and rather lean in experience.  Still, she reflected, this time they will not need to do any conquering, just looking.  Surely they couldn’t object to that.

So Ann set out to visit the various farms of Oogaboo.  The first house she came to was that of Jo Apple, and she found him in the orchard weeding.  “Jo,” Ann said, “I am going to look for my parents, and I want you to rejoin my army to help me.”

“Don’t ask me to do such a fool thing, for I must politely refuse Your Majesty,” said Jo Apple.

“I have no mention of asking you.  I shall command you, as Queen of Oogaboo, to join,” said Ann.

“And I, as a citizen of Oogaboo, must still politely refuse, for it is a foolish venture.  I have not forgotten the last time you made me join the army, and all the hardships I had to endure.  I have decided never to leave Oogaboo again.”

“Is there anything I can do that would change your mind?” asked Ann.

“No, there isn’t.”

“Very well,” Ann said confidently.  “But I shall be back after all the others have agreed.  Maybe you’ll change your mind then.”

“Harumph,” harumphed Jo Apple, and he continued his weeding as Ann walked off.

The next farm she came to was that of Jo Cone, so called because he grew ice cream cones of every imaginable flavor on low round bushes.  Ann decided to have a strawberry cone before talking to Jo, so she picked one off the bush and removed the thick, insulating husk that kept the ice cream cold until eaten.  When she was half finished, Jo came out of the house to water the pistachio bushes.

“Jo,” said Ann, hastily wiping strawberry ice cream from her chin, “I am going to look for my parents, and you must join my army.”

“Excuse me, please,” said Jo Cone, “my wife threatened to box my ears if I ever left Oogaboo again.  Did you know that the last time I left Oogaboo I nearly lost the rocky road harvest?”

“Well,” said Ann, “if you leave again she couldn’t box your ears, could she?”

“No, but I would have to come back again, wouldn’t I?  I love my wife dearly, especially when she isn’t boxing my ears, and so there is nothing you can do or say that would make me leave my farm and Oogaboo.” 

Jo went to water the walnut fudge ripple bushes, and Ann went on her way.

“This may not be as easy as I thought,” the queen murmured to herself, “but I will try once more.”  She knocked on the door of Jo Bunn.  “Jo,” said Ann, “I am going to look for my parents, and I command you to join my army.”

All Jo Bunn could do was laugh, and after a little bit he closed the door on his queen, still laughing.

By this time Ann was feeling quite dejected, so she decided to get some advice from Jo Files.  Files was one of the most adventuresome and sensible men in Oogaboo, for besides growing sharp, gleaming metal files on twelve trees, he also owned nine book trees.  From these he read often, and as a result, knew much about the world outside of Oogaboo.  He was the only member of Ann’s previous army who went gladly and willingly, and was therefore well respected by the queen.  They had also become close friends, and Ann trusted his counsel.

“Jo,” she said, after he poured her a cup of lemon tea, “I want to go and search for my parents, and I have tried to get the army together again, but so far nobody wants to join.  Everybody is so settled on their boring farms they don’t want to leave.”

Files and his wife, Ozga, stirred their tea slowly.  “I don’t blame them,” said Jo.  “They went through a lot of grief for nothing.  They missed their homes and families, they were imprisoned by the Nome King, they fell through a tube to the other side of the earth, they were bounced around in a rubber land, and, in the end, they didn’t gain anything.  The only man who got anything was me,” he added, looking meaningfully at Ann, while squeezing his wife’s hand.

“So what you’re saying,” said Ann, “is that none of them would join again, no matter what I did or promised.”

“That’s right,” Files said.

“But,” Ozga added, “there are more people in Oogaboo then just the seventeen men who were once in your army.”

             Ann asked, “What do you mean?”

“You don’t need an army,” said Ozga, “you need a search party.  People who would help you look, rather than fight for you.  And anybody can do that.”

Ann was taken aback.  Why hadn’t she thought of that?  She thanked the Files for their hospitality and counsel, and marched back to her castle with a bit more spring in her step.  She then crossed “army” off her list and wrote in “search party.”

But then her forehead puckered again.  Who should be in it?  Surely none of the farmers would come because of their previous adventures—and certainly not Files, who now had family obligations.  The women might be a little easier to persuade, but not much.  That then left only the children.

Actually, Ann reflected, many of the young people of Oogaboo weren’t really children.  Many had chosen to stay at an age of around ten or eleven.  Of those, some helped out their parents on the farms, but not all of them.  A few were considerably more independent, raising crops of their own or pursuing other interests.  Ann thought a little more, snapped her fingers, and said to herself, “I know what to do!  I’ll recruit a party of boys.  They’re strong and brave and sure to be a lot of fun!”

Glancing through the window, Ann smiled at the sight of a very small orange dragon frolicking on the palace lawn with a young boy.  “Now Moretomore and Jo Dragon would be fun companions,” she mused, “even if they’re not very fierce.”

The dragon, Moretomore, had come to Oogaboo as a result of Ann’s earlier adventure, during which she had been aided by a large dragon named Quox, who had intimidated the Nomes by releasing a number of eggs from a locket at his neck.  One of these eggs had been retrieved by Jo Files, who placed it in his pocket and carried it back to Oogaboo as a souvenir, a fact unknown by the historian of that trip.

Years later, Files gave it to his nephew, the son of Jo Egg.  Jo borrowed it one spring for a nest egg to encourage his chickens to lay. Unexpectedly, a small orange dragon hatched, startling the farmer and the chicken!  The chicken would undoubtedly have eaten it, thinking it some sort of large insect, if she had not hatched it herself.

But Jo Egg’s son rescued the little creature, which called itself Moretomore, and set about making a pet of it.  He was so successful in this enterprise that he had come to be called Jo Dragon, it being the custom in Oogaboo to name a person for the commodity he or she raised.

Queen Ann opened the window and called to the pair, asking them to have a conference with her.  After they were seated in her office, she announced, “I have decided to that it is high time to set out upon another adventure.  I am organizing a search party to look for my parents, and I would like the two of you to join.”

“Gee, Your Highness, that sounds like fun,” exclaimed Moretomore.  “A real life adventure just like the Emerald City people are always having.”

“Who else is coming?” asked Jo Dragon.

“No one else yet.  You two are the first I’ve talked to, although I’ve written to the Shaggy Man and Tik-Tok asking for their services.  Will you come?”

“Are you kidding?” cried Jo Dragon excitedly.  “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” 

“I wouldn’t miss it for the universe!” added Moretomore.

“Good,” replied Queen Ann.  “I’m going to be quite busy conferring with Salye about my wardrobe for the trip, so you will have to help me recruit the search party.  Would you fetch Jo Fountainpen and that feisty young son of Jo and Joan Padlocks to the palace this evening at seven?  And if you can think of a few more young people who would be willing to come along, bring them also.”

“Sure, Your Majesty,” said Jo Dragon, and with that the boy and his dragon left the palace and ran off to find the others.

Ann leaned back in her chair and smiled.  “This is going to be easier and more fun than I thought.”

 

 

 

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The Ozmapolitan 2014

 

 

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Read more in Adolf Hitler in Oz

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