no place like oz Page 11

It didn’t take long for us to spot the Munchkin town in the distance, and as we got closer, I remembered that it was hardly a village at all—it was just a circle of squat, domed houses ringed around a cobblestone plaza with a statue in the center of it.

A statue. I didn’t remember that part. And when I stepped onto the cobblestone plaza I suddenly understood why.

Towering over the square, looking every bit the hero, was a girl in a familiar checked gingham dress, her hair pulled into two long braids. She had her hands on her hips and was staring triumphantly into the distance. The statue had been cast in marble and was entirely colorless except for one important feature: the shoes on its feet were silver, and they were sparkling in the afternoon sun.

This was Oz, where the unexpected wasn’t unexpected at all. A hippopotamus in a tutu, a fat man walking on his hands, a pack of wild polar bears dancing the cha-cha—you could have put almost anything in the center of that square and I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The statue, though, surprised me.

It was me. They had built a statue of me. I would have loved to see the look on Mitzi Blair’s face if only she were here. I would have loved to see the look on my own face for that matter.

“Is that . . . ,” Aunt Em asked.

“It can’t be,” Uncle Henry said. “Can it?”

I stepped over to the base and gazed up at myself, awestruck.

“‘HERE STANDS DOROTHY GALE,’” I read aloud from the placard at the base, my voice wavering a little as I spoke the words. “‘SHE WHO ARRIVED ON THE WIND, SLAYED THE WICKED, AND FREED THE MUNCHKINS.’” I turned around to face my aunt and uncle.

They just stared at me, dumbfounded. A wave of triumph washed over me.

“Can’t you see now? Everything I told you was true. It’s written right here. Written in stone.”

Uncle Henry was rubbing his head. “Maybe I’m the one who’s not in his right mind,” he muttered to himself. “I did take quite a tumble.”

Aunt Em, though, was still staring at the statue. Her face rippling with emotions. It was all sinking in for her. She turned to me.

“I never—well, I suppose I just didn’t want to believe it,” Aunt Em said, her voice still unsteady but decisive now, too. “I still don’t want to believe it. It’s all too strange, you understand. Your uncle and I—we’re not like you. We’ve always been ordinary people. Something like magic . . .” She paused, marveling at the very word. “Magic! Well, that doesn’t come easily to people like us. But this is all too real. It doesn’t matter whether I want to believe it. I can feel it.”

Uncle Henry was still rubbing his head, but he was listening. And Uncle Henry never, ever doubts my aunt when she sets her mind to something. He swiveled his head toward her, then to the statue, and finally back over to me.

“In all the generations of Gales, there’s never been a liar,” he mused, trying the idea out.

“Or a crazy person,” I pointed out.

“Never had one of those either,” he agreed.

Now Aunt Em was getting excited. “Oh, Dorothy,” she said. “I’m so sorry we didn’t believe you. I’ve always known you were something special, ever since the day you came to live with us. And now!” She gestured at the statue. “To think you did something so brave and important that they put up a monument to you! I just wish your poor father and mother were here to see it. They’d be so proud of you.”

With that, she wrapped her thin, strong arms around me and hugged me tight. I hugged her back, too overwhelmed to say anything at all.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said.

“Yes, we’re very proud,” Uncle Henry said gruffly. “Of course,” he added, “that doesn’t mean we don’t need to get home . . .”

For a tiny woman, Aunt Em has a strong grip, and I was trying to peel myself out of her embrace when I began to hear excited chatter and whispering coming from all around us. “Hello?” I called. “Munchkins?”

They began to reveal themselves, a few at a time, their little faces slowly popping out of bushes and shadows and doorways and everywhere else you could imagine, like frogs after a rainstorm. Soon, we were surrounded by at least two dozen of the little people, none of whom were more than three feet high and all of whom were wearing little blue breeches and gold-embroidered bolero jackets, and funny pointy hats with bells around the brim.

“Declare yourself!” a voice shouted out from the crowd.

“It’s me!” I replied, not sure who I was supposed to be addressing. “I’ve returned. I’m so happy to be back—I’ve missed you all so much.”

A Munchkin man stepped forward, looking up at me quizzically. He glanced at my outstretched hand, but made no move to return my shake. “Excuse me, young lady,” he said. “I am Cos, the alderman of this Munchkin village. And who are you?”

I cocked my head in surprise, and looked around.

“Well it’s me of course. Dorothy Gale.” I gestured up at the statue. “See?”

Cos looked up, back and forth between the figure and me, comparing the resemblance.

For a second there was silence. Next, a murmur spread through the crowd. Then, as one, they began to roar, “Dorothy!”

Cos took off his hat, twisting the brim in his hand like he was embarrassed to have forgotten me. There still seemed to be some uncertainty in his eyes, though, as he examined me intently. “Dorothy? The Witchslayer? Is it really you?”