Strange in a Stranger Land
Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, witnessed the Wizard’s arrival.
She sat beneath a tree watching the most spectacular show ever performed by a summer sky. White clouds swirled above an emerald-colored sky, like whipped marshmallow topping on a glass bowl full of lime jello, spinning round and round and round on a potter’s wheel.
She didn’t think it could get any more amazing when the clouds cracked open and sunlight burst through, so blinding that she lifted one patchwork arm to shade her button eyes.
That’s when she saw the balloon.
It was a big bubble made of brightly colored fabric, with a basket hanging underneath and a man inside the basket, clinging to its rim. And it was coming toward her tree.
She jumped up and shouted. “Turn away!”
“I am rudderless in the maelstrom!” yelled the man in the basket. His small voice was getting louder and closer. “Reinless in my carriage!”
The man was making no sense. Scraps waved her hands to shoo the odd vessel aside. “All right, but steer your picnic basket that way!”
“I can’t steer it because—”
The balloon crashed into the branches of the venerable tree, which shook and shook and shook, like a dog shaking off a bath. The balloon deflated, becoming hopelessly entangled, but all the tree’s effort did manage one thing, which was to spill the passenger out of the basket.
He hit the ground with a loud thump, and Scraps ran toward him. She reached down to help, but he jumped to his feet like a cat—not all lithe and athletic like a cat making a spectacular leap but rather all arrogant and full of himself like a cat too embarrassed to admit that he’d taken a bad tumble.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
He stared at her uncomprehendingly, so she spoke in a way that he might understand.
“ARE. YOU. ALL. RIGHT?”
“I must have knocked my noggin,” he said, feeling his head for lumps. “I’ve shaken the coin purse, rattled the old dice cup.”
“I don’t know about that,” Scraps said. “But I think you bumped your head—you’re not making a lick of sense.”
He startled when she spoke again, as if hearing her for the first time. “Merciful blessings,” he said. “You’re a talking ragdoll! And a filthy one at that.”
Scraps, who was very proud of her shiny button eyes, orange yarn hair, and striped knickers, opened her mouth to say something likely to land her in a tussle with the strange man, even though she stood no higher than his knee. But the tree spoke first.
“And you’re a blithering idiot,” boomed the good-natured old oak.
He was bending over as he said it, and the man from the balloon jumped so high that he hit his head on a branch and accomplished what falling from the sky could not: he knocked himself out cold.
“What a strange man,” the tree said, his knotholes frowning. “What do we do with him now?”
“I’ll run to the Emerald City and get the Guardian of the Gates,” Scraps replied. “He’ll know what to do.”