no place like oz Page 8

“What is it?” I sat up sluggishly and dropped my legs to the floor as Toto jumped down in excitement and scampered under the bed. When he came back out a few seconds later, he was huffing and puffing and dragging something in his mouth. It was a box.

It was wrapped in glittering, red paper that looked thick and expensive, with every corner perfectly creased. The package was tied with a bright green bow. “What in the world?” I gasped.

I took the box from him and carefully ripped through the paper to the box beneath. It was pink, the color of a perfect sunset.

Where had it come from? Was Uncle Henry trying to cheer me up? Had he snuck in here and hidden the box under my bed while I’d been asleep?

No. I knew instinctively that this was something else. The shade of pink looked so familiar. But there was no way . . . was there?

Or maybe there was.

I pulled the lid off and found myself looking at a pair of shoes. That was when I was certain.

Because they weren’t just any shoes. They were the most beautiful shoes I’d ever seen. They were red to match the wrapping paper and had sharp, pointy heels—the highest I’d ever seen, high enough that they would scandalize all of Kansas if I ever tried wearing them out of my bedroom.

They were lacquered and shinier than the glossiest patent leather, glowing with a warm radiance that seemed to come from within. No—not from within. It seemed to come from somewhere else. From another world.

I knew in my heart that that was exactly where it came from.

I reached down and ran my fingers over the heels. The shoes were smooth and strangely warm to the touch. These were the heels of a young woman who had never set foot inside a chicken coop. These were shoes fit for a princess. A fairy princess, if it would make Mitzi Blair happy to hear me say it.

I could barely breathe as I pulled them out of the box and set them on the floor, slipping off my worn, brown flats.

I heard a knocking at my door, but it sounded like it was coming from very far away.

I sat there, paralyzed, afraid that if I reached out to touch them again they would disappear, like food you try to eat in a dream. All I could do was stare at them in awe.

The spell was only broken when Toto barked one more time and dove into the box, emerging a few seconds later with a pink slip of paper in his mouth. He dropped it in my lap. It was a note written in fastidious cursive handwriting, the ink red and sparkly.

Dear Dorothy,

Happy birthday! I hope you like these. I thought about silver to match the ones you lost, but in the end I decided that red was more your color. I think you know what to do with them.

G

P.S. If anyone happens to ask, let’s keep this just between us girls.

When another knock came at the door, louder this time, I ignored it again.

Trembling, I lifted my feet and, one by one, slid them into the red heels. They fit perfectly. The warmth I’d felt when I’d touched them before now coursed through my body, rising up through my toes, into my legs, and beyond. A smile spread across my face. I felt like my heart was expanding by the second.

The knocking on the door got louder. “Dorothy? Everyone’s gone now.” It was Uncle Henry’s voice, anxious and urgent. “Can you open up the door, please?”

I rose to my feet. “Come in,” I said, my voice strong and commanding, reverberating through the room. The sound of it surprised even me.

Uncle Henry opened the door and stepped into the room with Aunt Em right behind him. At first, he opened his arms to give me a hug, but then he gasped when he saw my feet. A split second later, Aunt Em gasped, too.

Aunt Em’s hand flew to her bosom. “Oh my word,” she said.

“Where . . . ,” Uncle Henry trailed off.

Toto yapped and sprung into the air. Without even thinking about it, I scooped him into my arms and drew him to my chest.

“You were wrong, Aunt Em,” I said softly. “You both were. It is real.”

I knew what I had to do. I knew how I could get back. And I knew I wanted to go back. Before either of them could reply, I knocked the heels together. Once. Twice.

Three times.

The shoes constricted around my feet like they wanted to be part of me. A red glow began to snake through the room like smoke. The shoes took three steps forward. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry both grabbed my arms, trying to stop me, but I wouldn’t let them. I couldn’t let them.

“Dorothy!” Uncle Henry yelled. “What in the world . . . ?”

“There’s no place like Oz,” I whispered. The room exploded in a crimson flash.

Five

Everything around me blurred and folded in on itself, twisting into a hazy whirlpool of brilliant light and color. Aunt Em was screaming. Toto was barking madly, squirming in my arms. Somewhere, I heard Uncle Henry’s voice. “Dorothy!” he bellowed.

I couldn’t see any of them. All I saw was red and blue and green and purple and yellow as I plunged headlong into a liquid rainbow with no idea which way was up and which was down.

And then the colors stopped swirling and a new world constructed itself below me as I fell. I was just opening my mouth to scream when I hit the ground with a crash. Toto went flying out of my grip.

When I sat up a moment later, in the middle of a field, my head was still spinning but everything else was finally still again. I rubbed my eyes, trying to piece it all together.

Toto, though, had recovered himself more quickly, and was already bounding through the grass toward me. He jumped right up, barking wildly, and licked my face in excitement.