Sunday, November 7, 2010

A selection from "Dorothy of Kansas" by JW Schnarr

Dorothy of Kansas
by JW Schnarr

t was a world of silt and ash, and snow. Burned things. Ruined things.
The air was thick with foul gas and smoke. The stench of death was on
the air like an afterthought. And it was. The sun was lost to permanent gloom; the trees were uprooted and black and dead. Cow corpses laid rotted and stiff in the fields beside the farmers who once tended them. No flies buzzed on the putrescent flesh. Their long cow faces withered and pulled back in hideous leers; they bared their teeth in death as much as their smiles had born them in life.
But joy had moved on from Oz. Life had moved on.
Tin Man walked endlessly. The snow that fell gave him a sickly warmth that he didn’t trust. He could feel it everywhere, from the top of his rusting head down to the stubs of feet where his toes had worn away. He was a deep red now, a flaking leper with holes in his limbs and torso.
Not tin, after all. Tin wouldn’t rust like this. But the the acidic snow that fell in Oz had stripped the galvanized plate off him years ago, and shortly after he’d noticed the first specs of red like tiny cancer dots on his chest. There was no trace of shiny tin on him now. All gone. With everything else. All he had left was his axe.
And the head of Scarecrow, which he kept in rusty old garden bucket.
“We should get out of the snow for a while,” Scarecrow said, watching as Tin Man fingered a particularly bad hole in his gut. His stumpy, worn down fingers only succeeded in making the hole bigger. When he pulled his hand away the metal flesh crumbled and fell into the snow at his feet. The sickly yellow bricks beneath the snow seemed to gobble it up.
“I need to keep walking,” Tin man said. He wiped snow from his shoulders, then shook the pail to get some snow off Scarecrow’s face.
“You’re not thinking with your head,” Scarecrow said. “If you rust away to nothing we’ll never get anywhere.”
“If I rust away to nothing you’ll be the last person left alive in all of Oz,” Tin Man said in a sad voice. “Wouldn’t that just break your heart.”
“Exactly why you should get out of the snow!” Scarecrow said.
“It hasn’t stopped snowing in months,” Tin Man said. “Besides, where do we go?”
“That’s not true,” Scarecrow mumbled, but his voice meant he was going to drop the issue. “Sometimes it’s ash.”
Where they would go was Kansas, of course. Their one chance of finding Dorothy was there. It was more of a hope than a chance. Ironic that the last bit of hope left in all of Oz was the hope that they could somehow find a way out of the ruined little world. Maybe Dorothy could fix things. On the other hand, maybe Dorothy was dead already. Maybe this was little more than something to keep their minds busy until Tin Man’s legs finally gave out and they’d lie in the acidic snow to sleep and melt away to nothing.
“We should get out of the snow for a while,” Scarecrow said again. Then he brightened. Hey, I think this is where we met Lion!”
“It’s just more ruined forest,” Tin Man said.
“Try to remember it from the old days,” Scarecrow said. “Back when everything was verdant and fresh, and there were Lions in the woods.”
Tin Man tried not to think about the old days. Colour made him sad. His world was devoid of it now, save for the rust on his body and the paint on Scarecrow’s face.
Even the straw in Scarecrow’s head was bleached out and full of mud. He was long overdo for a change. Problem was all the straw in Oz was gone. Now Scarecrow’s mind slipped; he broke into random bits of song or he repeated sentences over and over until Tin Man wanted to toss him into the snow and leave him there. When the last bit of straw finally rotted away to nothing it would take the final bits of the Scarecrow with it.
Other times, he felt bad for his last friend. Here was a mighty King of Oz, sitting in a busted up garden pail slowly losing his mind.
But mostly he felt bad that they had both lived to see their beautiful land become this charred, dead wasteland.
They hadn’t seen another living thing in weeks.
The last one had been an apple tree. It had wandered into the black and metallic sludge of a river and simply stood there staring while Tin Man and Scarecrow crossed a little cobblestone bridge nearby. Tin Man had made eye contact, briefly, but the look on the tree’s face told him all he needed to know. It was sucking pure poison into its roots, either out of a need to drink or a need to be dead. It didn’t matter. Woodsman and mighty tree, enemies once, but no more. Just three survivors, cursed to witness the end.
“Do you think she’ll be there?” Scarecrow asked. “Dorothy I mean.”
I know what you mean,” Tin Man snapped. “But I don’t know. I would like to say I hope she is, but my heart tells me it won’t matter. At this point what can be done?”
“She could get me some clean straw,” Scarecrow said. “From the mattress or something. I wouldn’t even care if it smelled like sweat and pee. I can feel myself getting dumber, Tin Man. I’m having a hard time remembering things.”
“And you repeat yourself,” Tin Man said. “Ad Nauseum.”
Tin Man sighed.
“It means to the point of sickness.” He saw the look on Scarecrow’s face change to hurt confusion, and he immediately felt bad that he’d said anything. “Sorry. I know it’s not your fault.”
“You know that not long ago I was regarded as the smartest man in Oz?” Scarecrow said. “To think I started out as straw and potato sacks. And paint.”
“Quite an amazing feat, especially for a Scarecrow,” Tin Man said.
“Espec...”Scarecrow said, then stopped, catching himself. “Err yes, it is quite an achievement for a man of my upbringing. To think I started out as straw and potato sacks.”
“And paint,” Tin Man added quickly.
“And paint, yes,” Scarecrow said brightly. “You are no dullard yourself, my good woodsman. Don’t ever let anyone say otherwise.”
If we ever see anyone again, Tin Man thought, but he didn’t say it.
They walked on through the gloom. The only sound to be heard was the wraith-like flutter of snow hitting the ground and the tireless crunch as the Tin Man’s stutter-step compressed it underfoot. The Yellow Brick Road was pitted and scarred after years of acid baths; here and there the edges had given way completely. It had been a gleaming symbol of the magic and wonder of Oz for millenia. Now it was a ruined old path that was slowing dissolving away to nothing.
Same could have been said of the Emerald City. Of course Tin Man had gone there first. From the stench of decay and the layering of bodies in the streets it appeared as if everyone had. Fled their homes for the first time in real fear for their lives, even though they could never die in Oz and they could never get more than a tummy ache from over indulging.
They also found graffiti as the Winkies and Munchkins first begged Dorothy for salvation; then, when they realized no help was coming, turned against her. One message, scrawled in emerald paint on the outside of  a large Greenfish fountain where he’d found Scarecrow’s head said simply I hope you live to see this Ditty.
Dorothy never came, and that is why they hated her. They’d waited for salvation at the end of their lives and in the end they were met with a soft falling ash mixed with dirty, acidic snow. That was bad. The snow fell on the crops and killed all the plants, and it fell in the water and poisoned it. And that was really bad.
When the creatures of Oz finally turned on one another out of feral starvation and insanity, that was much, much worse.
Eventually Tin Man and Scarecrow came to a fork in the road beside the ruins of a little cornfield. In the center of the cornfield stood a crooked cross leaning dangerously to one side. Like it was trying to lay down and die but couldn’t out of some misguided need to assure their faith. Tin Man wanted to tell the cross that it was alright, that Scarecrow was too smart for faith and he himself felt to betrayed by his life too ever feel anything again.
Scarecrow’s eyes widened when he saw it though.
“Hey!” he said. “This is it! This is where Dorothy found me!”
“Is it?” Tin Man said. “I wouldn’t know. I guess we passed the enchanted forest, but I didn’t notice. We walked right by my old home.”
“We would have seen it,” Scarecrow said. “If it were still standing.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Tin Man sighed.
“You know what that means?”
“It means were getting close. I don’t think Dorothy traveled many miles on her own before we met. She’d only just begun her walk. It means we’re in Munchkin country. My pole was just at the edge of it.”
“Well, we should keep walking then,” Tin Man said. He brushed the snow from his shoulders. Flakes of rust glittered in the gray air like bloody dandruff.
They walked on, passing burned farmsteads and ruined crops. There were more scarecrows too, but they were long dead and their straw was waxy and burnt. Some were little more than potato sacks hung from crosses with barbed wire. There was nothing for the Tin Man to salvage here. No fresh dressings for Scarecrow.
Eventually they came to a spot in the road where the burnt shell of a house blocked their way. The wood was frosted with ash and carbon, and scaly to the touch like a gigantic spider husk. Here and there the wood splintered on weak supports; the roof had collapsed some time ago under the weight of the snow.
“Here it is,” Scarecrow said. “This is where it all began.”
“Seems like a lifetime ago,” said Tin Man. Looking around at the death and ruin, he added, “Two lifetimes.”
“Eight years, four months, thirteen days,” Scarecrow counted. “twenty-six minutes. Of course, that’s from when I got my brain. Before that I listened as the winds of idiocy blew knowledge in one ear and out the other. I was even too stupid to realize how sad it should have made me.
“My life has always been like this,” Tin Man replied. “Misery with gaps of darkness. It makes me wonder why I ever wanted that damn heart back, all the pain it’s caused. now I can’t even feel it anymore. I think it’s ruined.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” Scarecrow said.
“Do you?” Tin Man turned and looked down into the bucket. “I feel like it isn’t just this metal body thats rusting away. I feel as though my very soul is melted, and putting one foot in front of the other is all I have to keep the beat of my heart now. Only I’m half lame from my feet rusting away, and my steps aren’t strong like a heart should be. They’re sick and dying. But I don’t care about that, because now I know that there are things worse than death. There’s this.”
He reached down and grabbed a handful of snow, and sprinkled it into the bucket over Scarecrow’s face.
Hey,” Scarecrow said, spitting his words. He wrinkled his nose to get the last of the snow off his face, because it burned and he didn’t trust it on his burlap flesh.
“I’m sorry,” Tin Man said. “That was mean. I shouldn’t be laying this on you, you don’t even have a shoulder to lean on.”
“It’s alright,” Scarecrow said. “I see what you are saying. Oz in ruins hurts my heart too. Especially when I think of everything we’ve lost.”
As they spoke, Tin Man walked through the house. It was a museum. Or had been, with little ropes tying everything off and signs that said:

No Touching! This means you Hurly Applebottom!

On the other side of the house Tin Man stepped through the back door and out onto the Yellow Brick Road again.
Eventually, Dorothy’s house was a memory on the horizon. Tin Man kept a beat with his shuffle step, and Scarecrow talked about theorums and hypotheses. They moved away from burned trees and ruined Munchkin huts and out into the grasslands. As they passed one last farmhouse, Scarecrow squinted his eyes and shook his bucket.
“Hey, what is that?”
On the side of the road was a little red wagon, filled with toys. There was a discomforting lump under the snow. Tin Man gave it a wide berth.
Oh,” Scarecrow said. “That has the dimensions of a Munchkin child. A girl, from the shape of the head. How tragic.”
“Just shut up for a little while,” Tin Man said. “I need some peace and quiet.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible,” Scarecrow said. “You whistle like a teapot now with those holes in your belly. It’s a wonder you get a moment’s rest at all.”
Tin Man looked down at the corroded holes in his body and sighed. His friend was right of course, the sound made him crazy. And the holes were getting bigger with every passing mile it seemed. The one he had fit a finger into just a few days before was now big enough for two fingers.
They walked on and Scarecrow tried to talk less, but his straw was giving out on him and he forgot to be quiet after a time.
Days later they came to the end of civilized Oz.They knew this because there was a sign in Munchkinese that said:

Your Mayor.

Scarecrow snorted a quick laugh.
Civil-Oz’d,” he said.
Tin Man said nothing. He walked ahead, following the Yellow Brick Road to its final destination.
“Come on,” Scarecrow said. “It’s kind of funny, right?”
“Shut up,” Tin Man said, but he looked away. Rust flaked off his face when his mouth twitched.
Around him, the snow and ash fell on dirt, here and there rough Pine trees snaked out of the grass like giant skeletal fingers. They bore trunks of charred wood and their pine needles were gray ash. The air was as greasy as everywhere else in Oz. If not for the sign, one might not even notice where the Uncivil-Oz’d lands started and the Civil-Oz’d lands began. One thing the badlands had going for them was that they were much less likely to encounter death out here.
And just as unlikely to encounter life.
They walked on. Always pushing on. Always moving toward their goal. Dorothy. If she could be reached, Tin Man would reach her. He began using the handle end of his axe as a cane. The bucket that he kept Scarecrow’s head in rusted and broke at the handle. He bent the sheared metal back so the straw man didn’t lose an eye and carried the bucket under his arm like a football.
Eventually the pine tree fingers were gone too, and the horizon was a dirty yellow smudge in front of them. The land ahead of them looked like foothills, but Tin Man knew of no mountains in this part of the world. He continued to tap the ground beneath the snow with the handle of his axe. When the axe sank into the snow a lot further than it should have, Tin Man pulled up in alarm.
“What is it?” Scarecrow said.
“The road gave way,” Tin Man said. He began kicking snow to the sides of the road.
“Careful,” said Scarecrow. “Could be a sink hole.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Tin Man. “If it is, be sure to tell me.”
As it turned out, it wasn’t a sinkhole. The Road simply ended with a smooth set of alternating bricks, perfectly flat like the corner of a brick wall. One step past the road, the hard packed earth gave way to dirty yellow sand.
“We’re finally here,” Scarecrow said.
“Oh yeah?” Tin Man said. “Where is that exactly?”
“Well, technically here is nowhere,” he replied. “But even nowhere is somewhere. That is to say, We can’t be nowhere, because the moment we arrive at nowhere we are somewhere.”
“Scarecrow!” Tin Man said, giving the bucket a shake. “Please snap out of it.”
“Huh? Oh yes. This is the End of Oz. The yellow Brick Road ends precisely where the Great Desert of Sand and Dunes begins. But since we’re in the middle of nowhere...”
“Spare me, please,” Tin Man said. “Are we still going the right direction?”
“Again,” Scarecrow said. “It depends on your perspective.”
Tin Man sighed wearily.
“Explain please,” he said. “And please make sense.”
“Well, according to folklore, there are many ways out of Oz. Too many, in fact, which is why Glinda made the realm invisible. Because at every spot people could get out, other people could get in. Bad People. The King of the Gnomes, for example.”
“Your point being...”
“My point is that once out of Oz, Any way we travel could theoretically take us away from Oz. Maybe to Kansas, maybe to Wonderland. Pretty much anywhere you want, nobody knows for sure.It was all very hush-hush stuff in the Emerald City, as we didn’t want the common folk to know how easy the defenses of Oz could be breached.”
“So we could end up a million miles away from Kansas?” Tin Man said. “Terrific.”
“Yes and No. As I said, once out of Oz, one could end up anywhere.”
Tin Man shook his head.
“Don’t worry my friend,” Scarecrow said, trying to be reassuring. “We’ll end up in Kansas, you’ll see.”
“But how do you know?” Tin Man said.
“Because we wish it,” Scarecrow said. “And thinking makes it so.”
“I can’t argue that logic,” Tin Man said.
“You are a wOz man to listen and understand,” Scarecrow said, and burst into a shower of giggles.
I wonder how long he’s been mad, Tin Man thought. And I wonder why I never noticed until just now.