no place like oz Page 23

I hoped she did. If I had all that, I would never let myself lose sight of how lucky I was. Not for a moment.

Eleven

We all breathed sighs of relief as the flying road began to make its descent back to the riverbank, and before we knew it, we were on land again. After that, it was only a matter of minutes before we were approaching the majestic emerald walls of the city.

Everyone was silent as we pulled up to the gates, which were intricately carved with twisting vines, gilded and studded with jewels. I noticed with some curiosity, though, that the gates were solid all the way through, and there was no obvious place for them to swing open, or even a mechanism for them to rise up. How were we going to get through?

The Saw-Horse answered my question by thumping his hoof, three times, loudly against the ground. As he did it, the entranceway rippled, and it began to melt away until it was just a smooth puddle on the ground, leaving an opening where it had just stood.

“What happened to the Guardian of the Gates?” I asked. “That funny little man who used to hand out the glasses?”

“Ozma reassigned him,” the Scarecrow explained. “That was just one of the Wizard’s many idiosyncrasies. Now that he’s gone, people are allowed to see clearly again. The city’s green enough without the glasses anyway. Ozma installed quite a bit more emerald once she took over, and anyway, she doesn’t believe in guarding the gates at all.” He sniffed at what he obviously considered to be a preposterous flight of girlish fancy. “‘It’s everyone’s city,’ she says. ‘Why would I want to keep anyone out of it?’ The former guardian works as an optometrist now, and I’m told he’s quite happy. Most people in Oz have perfect vision, so he leads a very relaxed lifestyle.”

I looked over my shoulder as the Saw-Horse trotted us into the city, and as soon as we had cleared the opening in the wall, the gate sprung right back up and re-formed itself, closing behind us.

As we made our way through the city streets, I took in the sights. Little round houses were arranged in clusters around open plazas with burbling fountains and vibrant gardens where townspeople chattered amongst themselves. The smell of baking pies and fresh flowers filled my nose.

It was strange to be back in this city that I had so many memories of. It was both the same and different. For one thing, it really was green now, just like the Scarecrow said. From the funny little domed buildings whose roofs were reinforced with giant, smooth-polished emeralds the size of dinner plates to the towering skyscrapers that somehow seemed to be formed entirely of huge, seamless jewels, every surface in sight managed to incorporate the city’s signature gemstone in one way or another. Even the yellow bricks of the road weren’t immune to the treatment: the road hadn’t ended at the gates, but instead continued on into the city, toward the palace, and each and every individual brick was inlaid with a single emerald at the center.

I think I liked them better when they were just plain yellow. Ironically, it was only now that the Guardian of the Gates was gone that I actually could have used some glasses—not to create the illusion of opulence but to shield my eyes from the glare.

At an open market, Munchkins and Winkies peddled produce and clothes and trinkets to laughing townspeople. There was a snake charmer, like in storybooks I’d read, and a sword swallower and a team of acrobats who flipped and twirled in the air as if they were propelled by an unseen force.

Everyone was smiling and laughing, milling around without a care in the world. A sense of liveliness permeated everything and everyone.

And yet I couldn’t help feeling uneasy.

It was all too happy. Nothing was this perfect, not even Oz.

My shoes sent a now-familiar pulse of energy up my legs, and as I looked back out at the bustling city, the cheerful scene suddenly seemed sinister: the smiles of the people turned to leers and the candy-bright colors took on a garish, desperate tint.

Glinda was gone, I reminded myself, off somewhere no one seemed to know about.

Something wasn’t right here.

Our carriage finally ground to a halt where the yellow brick opened up into a large, circular courtyard outside the palace entrance. Toto was the first out, followed by the Scarecrow. I clambered out after him, then helped Aunt Em and Uncle Henry down. The air was still and there was a lovely sound of water burbling in fountains. In the distance, I could hear singing.

The plaza was an explosion of azaleas that blossomed in a rainbow of colors: they were pink and purple and blue, but also striped and polka-dotted and paisley-patterned. A large marble fountain shot a waterfall of what looked like liquid diamonds high into the air.

Aunt Em trailed her fingers through the pool, then held them up in front of her and watched them glitter in the sun.

“I don’t suppose your friend Ozma would mind if we took a few of her jewels back to Kansas, would she?” my aunt asked me with a twinkle in her eye. “They have so many of them here and just one of the big ones would pay for a year’s worth of chicken feed and pig slop.”

I groaned. “First of all,” I snapped, “Ozma isn’t my friend. I’ve never even met her before. Secondly, I don’t want to hear another word of Kansas talk. Not while we’re standing outside the royal palace in the most beautiful city in the universe.”

Aunt Em crossed her arms at her chest. She clucked her tongue and shook her head. “My word, Dorothy. You’ve certainly lost your sense of humor lately. Of course I’m not going to steal from our hosts. And if I was going to, it wouldn’t be to buy pig slop. I’d make myself a beautiful necklace with diamonds so big it would scandalize all of Topeka.”