no place like oz Page 40

It barely looked like a ballroom at all. The sky was a brilliant galaxy of stars studded with giant, red poppies that opened and closed in time with the music, emitting a shimmering, heavenly light. The dance floor was a deep purple sunset.

Swarms of Pixies flew throughout the room, carrying trays of drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

The whole place was filled with Oz’s strange and notable personalities. Some of them I recognized from hearing Ozma talk about them: there was Polychrome, the Daughter of the Rainbow, wrapped in a diaphanous gown that looked like it was woven out of the sky itself. There was Scraps, the Patchwork Girl, cartwheeling across the floor like a whirling dervish, whooping with laughter as she went. There was a giant, dignified frog in a three-piece suit, and a man with a jack-o’-lantern in place of a head.

There were Nomes and Munchkins and Winkies and a man and woman made entirely of china, dancing carefully apart from the rest of the crowd so as not to risk breaking into pieces.

I whirled joyfully through the room, gliding from one citizen of Oz to the next, smiling and kissing each one on the cheek in greeting before spinning on to the next one. Each one of them looked up at me with love and gratitude. I meant so much to them. I had done so much for them—so much more than Ozma could ever think of doing. And they all wanted to meet me. I was famous. I was their hero.

When I got to the Scarecrow, he was ready for me. He took me up into his stuffed arms and spun me around and I laughed, kicking my feet up as the crowd parted to make way for us. The orchestra was playing a happy, energetic ragtime number and the trumpets blasted as the Scarecrow tossed me over his head as if I was light as a feather. He caught me, laughing, in his arms as I came back down before twirling me across the floor to where the Tin Woodman was waiting for me.

My metal friend grabbed my hand, and his metal palm felt softer and warmer than I would have imagined was possible. He pulled me close against his chest, and the orchestra slowed up its tempo into something tender and sentimental. We waltzed across the dance floor. Everyone else had paused in their own dancing to watch us. They surrounded us in a circle, transfixed.

I was so happy that I was dancing on air. Literally: when I looked down, I saw that my feet were hovering a few inches above the ground, my magical shoes enveloped in a red mist, holding me aloft. No one noticed. They were too distracted by how happy they were.

The Lion was sitting on his haunches, ready to take me up in the next dance. He extended a huge paw, cutting in, and I was about to reach out for it when something bumped against my shoulder, hard. Cold, fizzy liquid splashed against my back, and then I heard the sound of glass crashing against the ballroom floor.

When I turned around, I saw Aunt Em standing there with a guilty look on her face, a shattered crystal goblet lying in a puddle of purple liquid on the floor.

I came back down to earth.

“Oh, Dorothy, I’m sorry,” Aunt Em said. “I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, and I just bumped right into—”

I put a hand up to interrupt her. “Stop,” I said. “You were thoughtless. You were careless. I was dancing, and you weren’t even watching. Everyone else was watching me.” I reached back and felt the dampness of my gown. “You could have ruined my dress.”

“I’m sure . . . ,” Aunt Em began. Her lips began to quiver. Tears came to her eyes.

I’d always hated seeing Aunt Em cry, and now I hated it even more. It was like she was doing it to spite me. Like she was trying to make me feel guilty on a day when I should have felt nothing but happiness.

“Clean it up,” I said.

She looked at me in surprised horror, her tears still streaming down her cheeks. “Well—I’m sure Miss Ozma can ask someone else . . .”

“No,” I said. “I want you to clean it up. Immediately.”

Uncle Henry was at her side now. “Now see here, Dorothy,” he said, taking my aunt’s arm. “This has gone too far.” For a moment, it seemed that he was going to be angry, but then he saw the look in my eyes and the expression on his face turned quickly to one of fright. He went silent.

“Clean. It. Up,” I instructed Aunt Em again. When she made no move to do as she was told, I took the choice out of her hands. Things had changed, and the two of them needed to learn that. I was their niece, and they had raised me, but we were in Oz now. Here in Oz, I wasn’t just another prairie girl. I commanded respect.

My shoes were urging me on. I could hear them whispering in my ear in a voice that was almost Glinda’s but not quite. It was low and urgent and sweet. It was the voice of Oz; the voice of magic. It was the voice of my mother.

Do it, it was saying. Teach them a lesson or they’ll never learn. Show her who you are. Show them that this is where you belong. Show them that you are the one with power here.

My whole body was burning; not just my feet. Every bit of me was singing with the power the shoes spoke of, and the music from the orchestra faded into just a distant hum as the song of my true self took its place. This was what I had been born for. Everything that had happened before had been preparing me for this moment, preparing me for my destiny. For who I really was.

I tugged at the strings that controlled my aunt, and she bent to the floor, onto her hands and knees, and began to wipe up the mess she’d created with a wet rag that had materialized for her.

“I’m so sorry, Dorothy,” she said. “You are so wise and beautiful. I’m lucky to know you. To be able to have kept you safe all these years. Please, I beg your forgiveness.”