Sunday, November 7, 2010

A selection from "not in Kansas Anymore" by Lori T. Strongin

Not in Kansas Anymore
by Lori T. Strongin

he girl raised a cigarette to her bright red painted lips and took a
long drag, then slowly allowed the smoke to escape into the light rain
soaking Oz. She imagined dragons dancing upon the thick, fragrant fog, their voices whispering of another time, another world.  In the distance, a yellow glow shone in the near-darkness, rising from the earth. Twining like a snake.  A cold breeze rustled her black robe, and sent chills along her twisted spine.
The other woman sat huddled on a broken patio chair, fingers trembling around her half-empty glass of Oz-Berry wine. Her faded pink kimono did little to protect her from the rain. 
“We should’ve smoked inside.  Why’d you want to come out here?”
Damp brown hair fell over her shoulders.  The red-lipped girl took a final drag and flicked her cigarette off the balcony into the seemingly endless darkness.
“I like to get out of there once it calms down.” Her gaze dropped. “You know I can’t stand the silence…”
The words didn’t need to be said.  After all, Glinda had been there, all those years ago; had watched what that green-faced thing did to her.
And didn’t muss a single golden curl to help, the bitch.
The sky had looked the same back then—heavy with rain and faded memories.  She hadn’t known then that Oz was the place where youthful innocence went to die; where broken glass met broken hearts, and blood was just graffiti on emerald green walls.
The screen door slammed open.  Heavy footsteps splintered the wooden planks beneath metallic feet. 
“Damn it, I’ve been looking all over for you, Do—”
“Don’t say that name!” 
The Tin Man nodded and adjusted his funnel hat. 
“Almost forgot.”
She regretted extinguishing her cigarette. 
“You were looking for me?”
“Oh, yeah.”  He shifted, rusted hinges creaking.  “Boss Man says you’ve got another set tonight.”
“Screw that!  I’ve done three already.”
“You don’t like it, take it up with the Wiz.”
Tin slammed the screen door behind him. 
Silence.  Not even the pervy Munchkin peepers inside the club made a sound.
Glinda took a shaky sip from her wine glass. 
“Four sets ain’t so bad.”
The red-lipped girl had a vision of ripping those big blue eyes right out of the blonde’s skull. 
She walked back into the ramshackle club, ignoring the leers and catcalls of Winkies and Quadlings, and kicked one overeager Gilikin in the crotch.  The pounding throb of drums hurt her ears.  A spotlight followed her every movement.  But then again, hadn’t it always, ever since she first came here?
What she wouldn’t give for a chance to go back and make things right.  Tell the wizard to screw himself and find her own way home.
Oz had the power to make people forget.  Already she’d lost the faces of the woman who beat her and of the man that had initiated her into womanhood at the ripe old age of thirteen on a pile of filthy straw in the hay loft.
How sad was it that she’d rather go back to her auntie and uncle than live in this magical place?
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer’s voice echoed over the gramophone. “Flatheads and Cuttenclips of all ages. She defeated the Wicked Witch of the West with her bare hands. She crossed the Impassable Desert just to be here tonight. Give it up for Oz’s first and last royal, the Lost Princess herself, Kansas!”
A new song spilled out of the music box, this time slow and sensual. She stepped onto the rickety makeshift catwalk, running her calloused hands across her stomach and thighs. The black silk felt cool under her fingers and more real than anything else she owned.
The tempo sped up. Kansas let the robe slide off her shoulders. The blue checkered teddy barely covered her tits, and hardly anything further south. Damp pigtails slapped her face and her prop wicker basket was so old it sagged every time she swung it.
Her shoes, though. Those still shone silver, tinted like the harvest moon rising above her aunt and uncle’s farmhouse, back when her life made sense.  Back when she gave a damn if she ever made it home again or not.
Come on! Dance!” someone shouted from the crowd.
Shake it, baby! Yeah!
Take it off!
She obeyed. What else could a lost farm girl from Wichita do?

Rain spattered against the covered the patio, the awning just wide enough to keep her cigarette dry. Dawn rose over the horizon. Another day, another dollar down her g-string, and another man thinking he had the right to take her to bed.
She may have bruises in the morning, but that Pumpkinhead would never get it up again.
“Dorothy?  Dorothy Gale from Kansas?”
She growled, fingers bent, ready to claw the bastard that dared say that name.
Kansas spun around, ready to lunge.
A scrawny figure stood in the rain, jaunty hat cocked to the side and painted smile wide as the day they’d met.
“In the flesh! Well, straw, at least.”
His voice had so many echoes—of friendship, of happiness, of comfort, and all the things Kansas had left behind long ago.
She felt like her fourteen-year-old self as she ran into his arms. Kansas didn’t care who might be watching, or if his straws poked her skin. It didn’t matter. He was here.
“Sweet crow in the morning, I’ve missed you.” He released her and took a step back. His black-button eyes raked her up and down. “What’s happened to you, girl? You look like something the barn cat coughed up.”
Still clad in her costume, she was inclined to agree.
“Where have you been, Scarecrow? I haven’t seen you in an Oz Age.”
The painted smile slipped.
“I’ve seen you.”
“You have? When? Why didn’t you come and say hi? I thought the Witch—”
His gloved hand covered her mouth. He smelled like damp grass and singed leaves.
“When’s the last time you left Shiz?
She couldn’t remember.
“What’s the point in leaving? Here I get food, a bed, and smokes.”
Scarecrow shook his head.
“There’re posters of you all over Bunbury City. Everyone knows your name and rumours are flyin’ about this place.”
Was it bad if Kansas didn’t care if someone found her?
“If they find you, they’ll kill you.”
Kansas looked away.
Don’t call me that!
He backed away, hands raised.
“You’ll always be Dorothy to me.”
It was too much. His kindness was more than she could bear. She had to get out of there. Away from old wounds.
A straw-filled hand grabbed her shoulder.
“Let me go!”
“Not ‘til you’ve heard me out.”
Slapping him wouldn’t work—he couldn’t feel pain.
“I swear if you don’t let me go right now, I’ll set your hay-covered carcass on fire!”
His hand didn’t slip.
“You can’t be happy here. I know you’re not. And you deserve better than this.”
The fight flooded out of her.
“What does it matter?”
He cupped her face. Great Oz, how long had it been since someone touched her with tenderness?
You matter. I think you’ve forgotten that.”
She swallowed.  “Oz makes people forget.”
“Good thing I’m not a people then.” Scarecrow reached into a tattered pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment. “Here.”
Kansas reached for it, hand shaking. Why did she feel that something bad was about to happen?
Oh, right. It’s Oz. Bad things always happen here.
She unfolded the thick paper. Curved shapes scored the cream-colored sheet, swirling like cigarette smoke. If she squinted, she could almost make out a rocking chair and striped sock from the jumbled nonsense.
“You an artist now?”
“Looks like doodling to me.”
Scarecrow looked confused.
“I don’t get it. How come I can read this and you can’t?”
Kansas couldn’t care less.
“Well? Don’t you want to know what it says?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “It’s a map. A treasure map.”
“Well, have fun with that. I’ve gotta get some sleep. The Wiz has me working a double tonight.”
She turned to leave, knowing she’d probably never see Scarecrow again. Hay-headed idiot’ll probably get himself picked apart by flying horses or something.
“It leads to a time portal!”
Kansas stopped, silver shoes glued to the porch. Did he just say…
He spun her around, childlike enthusiasm in his every glance, every word.
“It’s where I’ve been all this time, looking for a way to get you back home after the slippers turned out to be a hoax. I remembered what you told me once about wadges.”
It took her a minute to translate his words. “Do you mean ‘watches?’”
“Yeah, those timey-whymy things you said people used to change the time.”
Just like that, her hopes crashed and burned. Served her right for letting herself get carried away, even for a second.
“You can’t change time with a watch, Scarecrow. It doesn’t affect anything.”
“Maybe not where you’re from,” he said, grin ridiculously wide. “But they do in Oz.”
Kansas didn’t know whether to believe him or get him a good stiff drink.
“Tell me more.”
“The map leads to the Time Dragon. It’s a ma-chine that makes time. All we gotta do is find him and ask to turn back the Great Clock to before you came to Oz. It’s as simple as a cornfield!”
“You’ve forgotten one thing, Straw-for-Brains.” She crossed her arms. “We do that, the Witch comes back to life. Remember what Oz was like before I doused her?”
“Yeah, I do. Animals were free to speak, the Emerald City had jobs, and you didn’t have to wear things like that just to earn a couple o’buckeroos.”
Kansas’ breath caught in her throat.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Scarecrow took her hands in his and gave them a little squeeze.
“Yup. I’m sayin’ we ask the Time Dragon to send you home and bring back the Wicked Witch of the West.”