no place like oz Page 18

No. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and Toto had all been frightened. Somehow, I had made the trees afraid of me.

The problem was that it wasn’t just the trees who had been scared of me. I’d scared myself, too.

“I don’t think we’ll be traveling back that way anytime soon if we can avoid it,” I said. “With or without Pixie thread.”

The Scarecrow sighed. “A reasonable response. Those trees are such a nuisance. Bad for tourism, especially when the Munchkins can be so forgetful about reminding passers-through to protect themselves. I keep telling the princess that she should just set a match to the whole forest, but she won’t hear of it. She says they’re part of Oz—that destroying them would upset the whole magical balance.”

“If that’s balance,” Aunt Em said, shuddering at the memory of the afternoon, “I’d hate to think what it looks like when the scales start to tilt.”

The Scarecrow tipped his hat to her. “A very good question, Mrs. Gale,” he said. “Let’s hope you never find out the answer. Now, come, let’s eat. You must be starving after what you’ve been through.”

He turned to a doorway that led deeper into the castle and cupped his hands to his mouth. “Munchkins, prepare a feast for our special guests!”

As we entered a great dining room two Munchkins dressed in yellow and green—with tiny, pointy hats perched atop their bald heads—appeared out of nowhere.

We took our seats at the banquet table—even Toto had been given a place next to me—and before we knew it, our table settings flew in front of us only to land gently at our places: the napkins perfectly folded, the forks on the left, none of it even a smidgen askew.

Within seconds, our glasses were filled to the top with a delicious-looking beverage I didn’t recognize, and it was only five minutes before tray after heaping tray of piping hot food appeared on the table.

“I took the liberty of having food prepared that I thought you’d be familiar with, rather than some of Oz’s more . . . exotic native dishes,” the Scarecrow said, much to the relief of my aunt and uncle, who, despite their experience with the self-buttering corn, still seemed apprehensive at the idea of eating magical food.

“And very kind it was of you! There’s enough grub here to feed my old army platoon,” Uncle Henry said. He picked up a serving spoon and helped himself to a generous portion of mashed potatoes.

“It sure does look good. I think,” Aunt Em said, eyeing a heaping bowl of caviar, which, even though it wasn’t the least bit magical, was probably just as exotic as anything else Oz had to offer as far as she was concerned. At least Uncle Henry had gotten the chance to see a few scattered corners of the world, back in his army days. This was the first time Aunt Em had ever set foot outside of Kansas.

She was taking her maiden voyage in remarkable stride.

I’d never eaten so much in my life and I’m pretty sure Uncle Henry and Aunt Em hadn’t either. Yet somehow we managed to finish each course just as another even larger one came. I guess a day of traveling will make a girl hungry.

“Aren’t you going to have any food, Mr. Scarecrow?” Aunt Em asked around the time that they brought out the stuffed goose.

“Oh,” the Scarecrow said, waving her question aside. “I don’t eat. The Wizard may have given me an exceptional set of brains but I’m still shy a working stomach. Now, Dorothy, tell me what brought you here. I’ve been dying to know!”

I wasn’t sure how much to tell him just yet. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t want Em and Henry knowing about the shoes, though they had to have an inkling.

“Well,” I said, smiling brightly. “I made a wish, and before you know it, we were all here!”

“Is that so,” the Scarecrow said thoughtfully. I could tell he wasn’t buying it.

“We landed right in the same spot as last time—my old house was still there, if you can even imagine.”

“Of course it is,” he replied with a smile. “That little house is considered one of Oz’s most important landmarks.”

Uncle Henry looked up from his Waldorf salad. “Mr. Scarecrow,” he said. “Dorothy tells us you’re the smartest character in all the land.”

The Scarecrow nodded modestly, and Uncle Henry continued. “My wife, Emily, and I, we were hoping you’d have some idea of how the three of us might be able to get back—”

“Oh, drop it already!” I snapped. Aunt Em gasped, and I instantly clapped my hand to my mouth. I have to say that I was shocked at myself. Never in my life had I spoken so disrespectfully to my uncle. Or to anyone, really.

But it had been such a long day, and my aunt and uncle were being so troublesome. Here they were, eating the greatest meal they’d ever dared to dream of, and all they could think of was how to go back to our sad little farmhouse and our dusty pigpens.

I must try to control my temper, I chided myself. If I wanted my aunt and uncle to see things my way, it wouldn’t do to make them angry.

The Scarecrow shot me a curious sidelong glance but otherwise ignored my outburst. “It’s true that I’ve been blessed with an excess of the finest brains known to man or beast, Munchkin, witch, or wizard,” he said, tapping his head with a stuffed glove. “But I’m sad to say that traveling between Oz and the outside world is no simple feat.”

“I see,” Henry said.

“Dorothy thinks a lady by the name of Glinda might be able to help,” Aunt Em said. “Do you have any idea of where we might find her?”