“I am Oz! The Great and powerful …”
I ignore the floating green skull and its superior glare, hovering theatrically in its own flames as I make my way to the red curtain not too far away.
“How dare you!” the terrible voice booms, “You have not been given permission to go there!”
The sounds of thunder explode throughout the great chamber. Lights not unlike lightning explode into my eyes. I continue to stalk towards the booth with the red curtain with Apollonian purpose, an ironic reference in itself. Mists and fog swarm around me, and frightening admonitions echo throughout the great throne-room. These sights, and sounds and smells almost make me dizzy.
“Taking a scrap from the Pythia’s scroll, I see,” I speak aloud and continue walking.
“Cease this insolence!” the other cries, his below prompting a burst of orange flame around me, “Or I will summon my Guards to destroy you!”
“No,” I say calmly and without feeling, “you won’t. As an Oracle, you can’t afford to have your men that close,” I get closer to the booth, “besides, we both know they are already dead.”
I walk through the illusionary flames, images channeled there by glittering panels from the corner of my eye.
“Desist, or be struck down by the power of Oz the Great and Terrible!”
“I’m surprised, really,” I tell him as I get closer, “I’m surprised that in a world of magic and strangeness like this one, they wouldn’t have seen right through your disguise. Of course, a magician of any kind–mystical or otherwise–does his best work,” I come up to the curtain, “in plain sight.”
I rip open the curtain. And there is great maniacal laughter.
The man behind the curtain … is not a man at all. It is something else dressed in long emerald coattails. The bronze creature lunges for me with its blade. I barely dodge it, and meet it with the sword in my own hand. Then the curtain completely collapses and two more metallic creatures wielding great silvery wicked-looking scythes surround me. I parry the central construct’s blade even as the others come towards me from the sides …
And promptly collapse into pieces.
The central construct, the Tik-Tok as my companions outside called them, halted. In its beady clockwork eyes, I can almost see fear before it too shudders, steam bursting from its neck-bolts, and falls to the ground with its fellows in one great ruinous scrap-heap.
I hear the click of the weapon at my neck before I even turn around.
“Steam-powered clock-work automatons,” I nod, “I’m impressed.”
“Why thank you,” the voice behind me said, “it took me quite some time to create them.”
“I can imagine.”
Slowly, I turn around. He’s dressed in the same green coattails that his construct wore. He’s short, and stout, and his receding hair is grey, almost silver. Anyone who saw him would probably have thought him some kind of minor janitor in the Emerald City, a harmless and perhaps even friendly old man. But the hard eyes behind the small rectangular spectacles say otherwise.
“There’s always one in every crowd,” his voice quavers somewhat nasally without the machines to make it sound fearsome, “someone who just won’t believe in the magic.”
“So that’s what you call it,” my words are cold, and final.
He trains his weapon at me, a black antique Colt pistol, “Young man, it is all magic. It’s all one spectacle. Bread, and circuses, you know,” he drawls casually, “It’s just very rare that you find one in the crowd that sees through the trick,” his eyes narrow, “But since you seem to know how my tricks work, it’s only fair–from one magician to another, mind you–that you tell me yours.”
“It’s a trade secret.”
The man laughs, “It was Elphaba, wasn’t it?”
“And what makes you think the Witch is the only one with magic?”
“Well, she isn’t. Not really. She is just more skilled at it than most here. You’d be surprised how much ‘magic’ is left in even these lands.”
“Actually,” I tell him, “I’m not.”
“Tell me what I want to know, young man,” his nasal voice becomes low, the weapon in his hand clicking again, “we are not in Kansas.”
“Though we do come from the same world,” I relish telling him this, now, “Oscar Zoroaster.”
The man seems to freeze in place. His beady eyes seem to dilate like that of a bird’s, “What?”
“Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs,” I repeat, “You were a showman in the United States, probably in the late nineteenth century. A minor conjurer, traveling magician, and tinkerer. You know a lot about mirrors, tricks, sleight of hand, sophistry, clock-work devices, and the power of steam, your Age being what it was before you … left.”
“So …” he says after a while, “You are from Earth.”
“From a different time, yes. You missed a lot since you’ve been away, Oscar Zoroaster.”
“I am Oz now,” he grins at me, waving his gun at me, “the great and powerful Wizard of these Lands.”
“You’re an artificer at least,” I amend, “Like I said, you must have spent a lot of time here, letting you hone your craft. You made one great Industrial Revolution here, I’ll grant you that much, but not much else. I wonder though … how much of it was your innovation, magic filling the gaps … or slave-labour.”
“Merely dirty Animals, and savages,” he says dismissively, “no one will miss them. I brought peace here. Stability. I brought them civilization.”
“And all the horrors of Industry to go along with it,” my mouth clenches and I remember why I want to kill this man, “Like I said, you missed a lot after you left us. Pollution, starvation, two World Wars, and mechanized genocide. An entire century of human atrocity and dehumanization, anticipated by and brought to scale right here by a carny-man. You are an Oracle after all, ‘Wizard’: a retrograde Oracle from our world more than anything else.”
“Hush now,” he growls at me, “you only live because I want to know how you know about me. I mean, you could have researched, but there are things … perhaps you read The Book. Elphaba probably learned …” he shakes his head, “a pity I can’t let you live beyond this.”
“It won’t matter what you do or don’t do to me,” I tell him, “you’ve already lost, ‘Wizard.'”
“I can recover easily enough. My men are a dime a dozen, and there are many exits to this place. I know. I had it built myself,” his gaze becomes considering, “And then I will rebuild. It won’t take long. None of it really did in relative terms. Then …”
“Your Madame Morrible is already dead. I’m sure that Elphaba and Glinda of the South made sure of that by now, even as we speak,” I allow a smile to appear on my lips, “By the time you kill me, they will be right here. Them and the flying monkeys you experimented on. And all of this, all of this here will be even more meaningless than it already is.”
“You’d be surprised how quickly one can disappear,” he takes aim at me, and pulls the trigger.
There is a sharp click. And then nothing. I let him pull the trigger of his gun again. And there is still an empty click. His small eyes have dilated further into shock, disbelief, and then fear. Very calmly, I take the gun from his hand.
“This is quite the antique you have here. It’s almost as dated as your Vaudevillian antics,” I throw it on the ground.
“Please …” he backs away from me.
“It is already too late for that. And no, I don’t want emeralds, or power, or ruby slippers,” I grab the collar of his shirt, “you’ve already taken enough from these Lands as is.”
“Oz is a magical place, as you well know. Back in our world, I always had a knack for causing my machines to malfunction. But Oz … seems to make things less obvious things very pronounced, taking concepts and rounding them up to the next most cosmically ridiculous common denominator. It’s like one great Caricature.”
I let my rage fill my eyes, “But it was a Caricature I loved. Dearly.”
I throw him to the ground, “Your mistake, you murderous charlatan was that I watched this place from the very beginning. I saw it grow. I grew up with it. And saw you. I used to think you were pretty something. I used to think, much like Elphaba did, that you were a wise and benevolent Wizard. Even when I knew you couldn’t use magic. I looked up to you,” my voice cracks, “I liked you, and your hot air balloon until I realized that the only thing in your heart is precisely that. Hot air.”
The next thing I know, I’m shaking with fury, and pointing his own gun at him with one hand, “You ruined the Land I loved, that gave me any meaning in my life — poisoned it with the exact same nationalism, and war, and death from our own world. Our own garbage. You … had … no … right! I should kill you right now.”
I walk back a few paces. And then, I do the unthinkable. I toss his own gun back at him. He catches it, with shaking hands and trains it on me again.
“I helped Elphaba figure out how to read The Book. All of The Book. I didn’t have to do much. You can run anywhere you want. You can hide. You can try to kill your way through. But she will find you. Her and all the citizens of Oz: the Munchkinlanders, the Vinkus, the Quadlings, and the Animals. Especially the Animals. They’ll find you, and make you wish you were dead.
“But I don’t want them to get any more blood on their hands on your account. So you have two choices really. Choose wisely.”
I wait and watch him. He knows he can’t run from me. And I can see that he knows that even if he can, they will find him. Elphaba even knows who he is. It doesn’t take long for him to make the choice. I swallow violently and look away after. Even after all he did … I almost wished that what I saw come out of him was spilled oil, and shattered coils and springs. An advanced Tik-Tok mechanism that was created with benevolent intentions, then went out of control and killed his real creator: enchanted to look like a man. Like him. But sadly, all that hot-air inside him was not merely the result of steam-power.
It was just the result of another man playing at being God. I feel less like a child now than ever.
But there is just one more thing for me to do. I search around for a little while until I find it. The green elixir.
I hide it in my pocket before she comes back in. She stands there, surrounded by her winged monkeys and Vinkus allies. They scatter and start securing the room. She sees the body on the floor. Fiyero isn’t here yet, so it falls on me to get to her first. Elphaba doesn’t flinch from the sight. But even after all this man did, I can see in her eyes that her heart is broken. I hold her and she holds me back tightly.
“Glinda is fine,” she says to me, “she handled Madame Morrible. I came here as fast as I could …”
“I know,” suddenly I find a lot of my wordiness is gone.
“It’s done then,” she looks sad, and lost, but at the same time there is a great flush of strength from her emerald skin, “I suppose … you have to go now.”
I look at her. We stand at the same height. None of the literature from my world ever really did her justice. This time, I look away from that penetrating stare, “I … don’t want to,” I admit it. I love this world. I love it and its people, and the magic and the friends I’ve made here. I want to see them grow, and prosper. I want to be with them. There is so much wrong with the world that I came from, so much that disgusts me and isolates me there. There is just too much potential to become petty and small again. To forget everything. And her.
“But you have to,” this is not a question. For a few insane seconds, I want to ask her to come away with me, to fly with me on the Wizard’s hot air balloon back to my world. But although my world is more politically correct in some places, she would be no less green to anyone there as she is here. And she would know that. Those few seconds are gone. She has a life here … and a new life to begin. This entire Land has a new life to begin, and Earth and those few people from it have already done enough to it.
I look at this amazing person who is the best of both worlds–though she would never know it–embodied into a beautiful green form with discerning intelligence and an even greater heart and I know that Fiyero is a lucky man, whatever else he is now. A choking feeling sits hard in my chest, not unlike the one I felt as a child when I saw another farewell scene.
“There must be people who care for you,” she prompts, and then hands me something. It is The Book.
“No, I want you have this. Glinda, and I learned everything we needed to. We want you to have it and keep it safe. Who knows …” she smiled, sadly, “maybe one day it will lead you back to us.”
Then she wraps her arms around me and I hold her.
“What will you do with all of this?” I ask her, looking at the throne-room.
She smiles, “I think I might have a plan or two.”
We hug again, and then I manage to walk away. I don’t know what I’ll do now. Maybe I will go back home. Maybe I will succeed in finding the hot air balloon in one of those workshops that the self-styled Wizard had lying around. Or maybe I’ll take it and ride across the clouds to other places, others untouched by time and always going. A little girl and her family one day will move to Oz, hopefully under better circumstances. Maybe I will find the Oz I knew from my childhood again. Though it would be one without her.
No, it will be better to find other Lands. To keep travelling. A young girl from Kansas once said that there is no place like Home.
But I now know, however, that Home is where I carry The Book: this Book and story, that I now keep on living.
Photo and Collage Credit: Beth Ann Dowler