no place like oz Page 17

I pointed. “That’s where we’re headed. That’s where my friend the Scarecrow lives.”

Uncle Henry whistled. “I’ve heard about the Corn Palace in South Dakota, but I don’t think it’s anything compared to that.”

We followed the road down the hill, into the valley. The evening was cool and the breeze felt good against my skin and everything was so pleasant that our frightful experience in the woods was almost forgotten. Almost.

What had I done back there? I wondered. Had the trees’ bark simply been worse than their bite? Or had my shoes had something to do with it?

I was still considering the question when a certain feeling of familiarness came over me, and then I saw it: at the edge of the field, a wooden post was sticking up out of the ground at a lopsided angle.

Something about seeing it there, like nothing had changed, made me almost want to cry. I knew that post. It was where I had first found the Scarecrow. Without him, I would never have made it to the Emerald City, would never have been able to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West. I would never have learned how brave I could really be.

Seeing it there, for the first time I knew that I was back. I was really, really back. He had been my friend, and I had missed him so much. Now I was going to see him again.

“What is it, Dorothy?” Aunt Em asked, seeing a small smile on my face.

“Nothing,” I said. “I’m just happy.”

Nine

Uncle Henry and Aunt Em were still huffing and puffing from the climb up the hill when we finally approached the entrance to the corncob mansion. It was even bigger up close than it had looked from far away, and I felt almost nervous as I reached for the corncob knocker on the door.

What if he was different? What if he didn’t remember me? What if he was old and gray? (Could Scarecrows get old? There was still so much about Oz that I didn’t know.)

There wasn’t much time to wonder anything. The door opened before I could knock, and there he was, right before my eyes, just exactly the very same as I’d left him; just the same as I’d remembered him every day since Glinda had sent me home.

“Dorothy!” the Scarecrow exclaimed. I threw myself into his straw arms and he swept me up and spun me around, whooping with elation. “The Munchkins sent a bluebird to tell me you were on your way, but I was afraid to believe it!”

“You know I’d never leave you for good,” I said, laughing.

I was still grinning from ear to ear when he set me back down again, but the Scarecrow’s face looked more serious. “We missed you, Dorothy,” he said, and his kind, smiling, drawn-on eyes—the ones I’d never forgotten—began to fill with tears. “Oz hasn’t been the same without you. I didn’t think you were ever coming back.”

“I didn’t either,” I said, reaching out to touch his arm. “But I’m back because of Glinda. I know she’s in trouble, and I have to rescue her. Do you know where she is?”

The Scarecrow cocked his stuffed head to the side.

“Glinda?” he asked. “What have you heard about her?”

“I saw her,” I said. He looked even more surprised at that. “She was at my old house by the Munchkin village. Well—it wasn’t her exactly. It was more like some kind of vision. Like she was trying to send me a message. She told me she needed my help.”

The Scarecrow looked concerned. He was stroking his chin in thought. I knew that if anyone would know what to do, it was him—he was the wisest creature in all of Oz, and probably anywhere else, too.

“We have much to talk about,” he said after a spell. “But first, introduce me to your friends.”

I laughed. I’d been so excited to see him that I’d forgotten all about my aunt and uncle. They were still standing in the doorway looking like they had absolutely no idea what they’d gotten themselves into.

“They’re not my friends, silly. They’re my family—my aunt Em and uncle Henry.” As I said their names, Uncle Henry gave a funny little half wave and Aunt Em bowed awkwardly.

The Scarecrow lit up—it’s amazing how expressive a painted-on face can be. He clapped his gloved hands together and he bounded for them, practically tackling them as he wrapped his flimsy arms around their waists. “Of course! I’ve heard so much about both of you! How have your travels in Oz been so far?”

Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and I all exchanged a glance.

“Oh, it was all just grand until we came to the screaming monster trees that tried to murder us,” Uncle Henry said.

“Oh dear,” the Scarecrow said. “The Forest of Fear? Don’t tell me the Munchkins didn’t warn you.”

“How could we not pass through the forest?” I asked. “There’s no way around it, at least as far as I could tell.”

“Of course you have to pass through it but—the Munchkins really didn’t tell you to stuff your ears with Pixie thread?”

I shook my head. “I don’t even know what a Pixie thread is.”

“It keeps you from hearing that infernal racket the trees love to make. If you can’t hear them, you won’t be afraid. And if you’re not afraid, they won’t even know you’re there. Won’t bother you a bit. They’ll just look like exceedingly ugly trees. Which, in the end, is really all they are.”

They sensed fear. Was that how I had managed to get rid of them? Just by showing them that I wasn’t scared?