EXCERPT: A Meeting in Oz — Jeffrey Ford

The last time Dorothy returned to Oz, the silver slippers barely fit, the gingham dress was a dust rag in her broom closet back home, and Toto had been in the ground for fifteen years. She carried a briefcase instead of a basket. Her long overcoat covered a rumpled business suit—midlength skirt, a mint-green dress shirt, and a blazer. Her hair was cut short, dyed the pale color of Winkie Country, and already in need of another cut. A puffy face, wrinkles where the freckles had been. Shadows beneath her eyes. She landed in the field of poppies, along the road of yellow brick on the way to the Emerald City. The flight from Kansas had made her dizzy. She breathed deeply, sighed, and walked toward the spires in the distance, cutting a trail through jade blossoms, their scent like a cloud of vanilla.

When she was younger the perfume of the flowers always drew her down into sleep, but over the years their hold on her had weakened, now bestowing only the desire to sleep, but also a fierce alertness in the dark hollows of the mind. She trudged across the field to the edge of the road, where she stopped and set down her briefcase. She removed her overcoat and threw it back into the field. She kicked off the silver shoes and threw them after the coat. From the open case, she took a pair of sea green pumps and slipped them on her stockinged feet. Also from the case, she drew a Colt .22 pistol and pocketed it inside her blazer.

Weeds poked up between the yellow bricks of the road, and its famous color was subdued beneath scuff marks and mold. Here and there, though, a brick was freshly shattered, revealing within the vibrant golden glow of her youth. Although she carried her years in Kansas City with a weary posture, one glimpse of that shining hue lifted the shadows and set her mind to memory. As she strode along, the faces of her old friends returned. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Lion, and dear Toto walked with her again. She thought about them till she smiled, and then she shook her head and breathed deeply, knowing her vision was a result of the poppies. Their scent stayed with you nearly a mile after leaving the field.

She was surprised to see no Munchkins on the road, no horse carts carrying corn and pumpkins from the fields. No children gleaning for grains of wheat left behind by the threshers. No scarecrow conversing with a fox. No soldiers on maneuvers outside the city walls. It was as if the land was sleeping. She scanned the skies out over the barren trees in the distance, but there was no sign of crows, no Winged Monkeys. A cold wind blew up the road from behind her. When she’d last left, the Emerald City had exactly 57,318 Munchkins. She thought it odd that no one would have come to greet her. What was forty years to the ageless? She wondered if they’d forgotten her so as not to wonder if she was alone in Oz.

At the main gate to the City, which was open and unguarded, she stopped and took a pair of glasses out of her shirt pocket. Their lenses were a deep emerald green. She slipped them on and continued forward amid the sparkling glass architecture and the warren of twisting streets that wound through it. She knew the way to the Palace and didn’t pass a soul. The stalls in the marketplace were empty. No laughter came from the open windows, no chatter from the cafe. At the village square, which had lost its grass and was now a plot of hardened dirt, she watched the wind whip up a dust devil and send it off toward Quadling Country.

She turned down Gollyawp Way, a narrow lane where the buildings on either side cast the street in perpetual shadow. When last she lived in the Land of Oz, it was on this street. In a second-story apartment, by herself, at the age of eleven. Dorothy came to her old building and stopped to look up at the second-floor window. She pictured the view from it, sitting at a small table in her parlor. She’d been content there for the first two years of her four-year stay. She’d intended to never go back to Kansas. Shopping at the stalls, mingling in Munchkin society, trips to Gillikin Country with Ozma, or tea at the Palace with the Wizard. It was during the time when all who lived in the Land of Oz ceased to age. Dorothy turned away from the old house and began walking again. Her knees hurt, and the street was colder than the others for lack of sun.

At the entrance to the Palace, she found the great wooden doors, as ornate as those of a cathedral, flung open. The guard with the long mustache sat there, leaning back in his chair, wide mouth gaping. His tall fuzzy hat and long coat were tattered. His rifle lay across his lap. She drew near and nearly gasped when she saw his desiccated face, empty eye sockets and leather flesh made green like everything else. She stared at him for a moment, recalling his self-important way, and thought about how much he would have suffered in Kansas.

[End Excerpt]