no place like oz Page 9

The grass underneath us was bluish green. The sky above was even bluer. Not gray. Not white. Not whitish gray. But blue. The sun was warm on my face, and a light breeze ruffled the tall grass around me.

It wasn’t a dream or a fantasy. I knew it as well as I’d ever known anything. I could feel magic in every blade of grass.

A few feet away a grove of trees bore strange and luscious-looking fruit that cycled steadily through a rainbow of colors. Farther off was a gurgling brook that I could have sworn was singing to me, saying, “Welcome home.” On the banks of the stream, enormous flowers swayed in the wind, their giant blue blossoms—some as big as beach balls—opening and closing hypnotically, as if they were breathing.

Their scent wafted toward me on the breeze. I took a deep breath. It smelled like the ocean and fresh-baked blueberry pie and like the aftershave Uncle Henry wore for special occasions. It smelled like all those things at once, in a good way.

As if all that wasn’t enough to tell me I was back in Munchkin Country, the only real proof I needed was staring right at me. Not ten paces from the stream, a little old farmhouse was situated crookedly in a patch of dirt.

Just where I had left it.

The wood was rotting, the roof was beginning to cave in, and huge tangles of twisting vines crawled out from every crevice. The windows were broken, the porch was near collapse, and the whole place appeared to be well on its way to sinking into the ground.

It had only been two years since I’d landed here, but the house looked like it had been sitting here for a century.

Still, there was no mistaking it. And I wasn’t the only one who recognized it.

I heard a high-pitched gasp, and I turned around to see Aunt Em sprawled out in a bank of wildflowers, her eyes wide in astonishment, one hand covering her mouth and the other pointing at the crumbling shack.

“Henry! Look!”

At her side, Uncle Henry rubbed his forehead as he sat up creakily. “Now see here, Dorothy,” he said irritably. Then he saw it, too.

“Well I’ll be,” he muttered. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again, like he was expecting to get a different picture this time. When nothing had changed, he jerked his head back and let out a wheezing noise that was a little like a burp. “Oh my,” he said. “I knew I shouldn’t have had that drink at your party. . . . I never did have a taste for the strong stuff.”

I laughed. “Don’t you see?” I exclaimed. “We’re here! We’re all here.”

After the disastrous start my birthday had gotten off to, I was now sure I’d never been so happy in my life. I was back in Oz and this time my family had come with me. Now that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry were here, we could finally all be happy together. We would never need to go home, because home had come with me.

Aunt Em stood up, carefully dusting off her gray smocked dress.

She looked unsteady, and began to fan herself with her hand. For a second I worried that she was about to faint, but Uncle Henry stood, too, and put an arm around her waist. “There, there, Emily,” he said. “Take a minute. Breathe.” He gave me a strange look. “What have you gotten us into?” he asked. His gaze dropped to my feet accusingly. “And where on earth did you get those preposterous shoes?”

Aunt Em didn’t seem to care about the how or the why of any of this, though. Once she managed to catch her breath, she pulled herself from his grip, suddenly back in perfect form, and marched straight for the old house.

“Just look,” she marveled. “Henry, can you even believe it?”

Henry hurried after, her but he wasn’t as easy on his feet as she was, and he stumbled a few times as he tried to catch up.

“No, I can’t believe it,” he said, wheezing breathlessly.

Aunt Em pressed her palm to the weathered shingles in awe.

“Remember when you painted the window frames?”

“Yes, dear,” he replied. “But I don’t think you’re in your right mind at the moment. We have more important things to worry about. Like where we are and how we got here.”

She brushed him off with a wave of her hand.

I furrowed my brow and raced over to join them. “Excuse me,” I said. “I know it’s a wonderful house and everything. But haven’t you noticed that we’re not exactly in Kansas anymore?”

Henry jerked his face toward me sharply. “I did indeed notice, young lady. And we’re going to have a talk about that in a bit. But as you can see, your aunt isn’t well. Let’s just let her get her bearings.”

“I do have my bearings,” Aunt Em said. “Look! I’d forgotten all about this door knocker! The one you bought in Topeka just after you came home from the Great War!”

Henry’s face spread into an involuntary grin at the mention of the knocker. “Yes,” he replied softly. “I sure do remember that.”

It was just like Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to be so wrapped up in fond feelings toward our old house that they didn’t even notice where we were. You had to give it to them—my aunt and uncle had heart.

Still, I wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation. I wanted them to be as happy as I was.

“Look over here,” I said, trying to shift their attention to a bush that had sprung up next to what used to be the kitchen window. “This shrub is growing little puffballs with eyes instead of fruit.”

One of the puffballs sneezed right in my face. I jumped back in surprise, but my aunt and uncle went on ignoring me. Uncle Henry rubbed Aunt Em’s back as she examined the molding around the door frame, remarking admiringly on the craftsmanship.