An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
Friends of Dorothy
By Will Keyser
Even though she was dizzy, Dorothy still had enough sense about her to know that something was very wrong. Though she’d failed her prerequisites for the Butterfield branch of the Kansas criminal investigations unit, she still had the savvy to understand that great pools of blood were, more often than not, a sign that trouble was afoot.
“Sweet Wynona,” she whispered, taking care to hold herself steady, steeling her nerves in order to process the scene around her. “Oh, Toto! What in the world’s happened to this place?”
Toto glanced up at her, his tail wagging at the sound of his name. Once, not so very long ago, her ruby-red slippers glowed in brilliant contrast to the sweet, golden yellow of the famous brick road her and her friends had skipped down, arm in arm, singing songs of friendship, of hopes and dreams. Now, her shoes were barely noticeable amongst the malignant swatches of blood that smeared nearly every inch of the road she now stood upon. The air was thick with the scent of iron, and swaying from the tree limbs like limp, aimless vines, what could only be entrails hung and twisted aimlessly with the breeze. Toto, noticeably less phased by the carnage than Dorothy, patted over to one side of the road and began to gnaw on something small, chewy, and decidedly munchkin-like.
“Toto! Don’t eat that! That might be a friend of ours, or at least a part of one! You stop that right now!” Barking his dissatisfaction, he backed away and rested at Dorothy’s feet, unhappy to have had to quit his meal but obedient none the less. “We have to find our friends, Toto! We simply have to!” She paused, noticing the castle far off in the distance, a glittering jewel washed in the radiance of a thousand dreams. It was just as she’d remembered. “And I know just who’ll be able to help us find them! Come on!”
As if she were a bolt of lightning from the sky, Dorothy raced along the once yellow brick road. As she ran, she noticed carnage strung all along the length, transforming the once flat, polished brick into a sort of grim obstacle course. Here, the severed head of a flying monkey. Jump! There, the exposed chest cavity of lollipop guild member. Jump! Hop! Jump again! In no time, Dorothy and Toto both found themselves running out of breath.
“My goodness!” Dorothy exclaimed. “I wonder if this is what the obstacle course for the Butterfield investigations unit would have been like! Maybe it’s a good thing I failed that test where they make you take a number one in a cup and then test it for drugs and whether you’ve been saying your prayers or not. I don’t think I would have been able to do it!” His tongue hanging from his mouth, Toto panted in solemn agreement. Another couple hundred yards behind them, Dorothy slowed her pace, looking around at either side of the road. What had once had been fields of flowers and grass had grown wild and unkempt, looking less like a meadow than a malignant, snarling grip of weeds.
“These look like the cornfields after Uncle Henry’s spent too many weeks in the barn making his special cigarettes,” Dorothy mused. “I wonder what…”
There was a rustling beyond the thresh hold of the meadow, a far off swooshing of overgrown weeds and grass. Dorothy and Toto stopped. His ears pricked, Toto burst off into the brush, yapping as he headed toward the sounds of something moving.
“Toto, no!” But it was too late. A four legged bullet, he was here and gone before Dorothy could so much as take two steps toward him, vanishing out of her sight as easily as a shadow. She listened to the sounds of his barking until they abruptly stopped. Dorothy’s heart sank. “Toto! Oh! Oh, you silly dog, I can’t follow you in their! I’ll get lost for sure! And I have to find out what’s happened here! I have to see the wizard!” As if in response to her declaration, the rustling sound grew louder, fiercer, and decidedly closer. Wasting not another moment, Dorothy took off running once again.
“Oh, Uncle Henry, I so wish you were here,” Dorothy spoke aloud as she ran. “Or Aunty Em, or Hunk, or Zeke, or even that nasty Miss Gulch! I…oh!” Worried more about being alone than paying attention to where her feet were landing, Dorothy tripped over the legs of some creature and found herself flailing. She hit the cold, sticky surface of the road with a thump.
“Bother!” she hissed, swatting the folds of her dress as she righted herself on the ground. She kicked at the creature that had caused her to spill, crossing her arms and glaring. “Oh, just look at my dress! It’s ruined now, and it’s your entire fault! These are blood stains, do you hear? Blood stains!” She stared at the tiny person on the ground, still merrily dressed and otherwise presentable save for the top of his head, which was utterly missing. Dorothy huffed. “Oh, you don’t care about my dress at all, do you? You’re just like those silly old barn owls that keep leaving dead mice on my window sill every morning, no thought for me at all!” Picking herself up, she heard the unmistakable rustling again, the sound of someone or something out of site coming at her. She stumbled several footsteps back, lashing her head back and forth, desperate to find something she could use for protection.
“Nothing around here but slippery insides and popped eyeballs and oh, nothing I can use at all!” The sound grew steadily closer and faster, until Dorothy could see the weeds rustling in front of her, could hear the heavy footfalls coming at her, until all at once the weeds were flung apart and a great creature burst out onto the road.
“Cowardly Lion!” Dorothy exclaimed! “Oh, it’s so good to see you! I thought you were whatever it was that caused all of this!”
The Lion shook its head, fanning its paw out in front of his face. “Oh, Dorothy, I’ve been trying to catch up to you since you got here! Oh, it’s terrible, terrible, terrible!”
“What happened here, Lion? I’ve been all alone and scared ever since Toto took off into the field after you! Did you see him?”
“Maybe,” the Lion replied, looking up into the emerald sea of sky that covered Oz like a blanket. “And by maybe, I mean yes, I saw him. And by saw him, I mean that I ate him. So sorry about that.”
“Oh, no! Not my Toto! You ate my Toto!” Dorothy stepped forward and gave the Lion a sharp swat on the shoulder. “Bad Lion!”
“Look, I’m a Lion and he’s a dog!” said the Lion in defense. He paused, giving Dorothy a long, thoughtful gaze. “And boy, I’m gonna guess that if I didn’t eat him you would have, eventually. You’re not exactly at your fighting weight these days, Miss Dorothy.”
“Oh, that’s a wicked thing to say!” Dorothy said, giving the Lion another swat on the arm. She paused, looking down at herself, rubbing her hands down the length of her hips. “Aunty Em’s let this dress out three times already. They built a doughnut shop less than a mile from the farm, Lion! I guess I have been helping myself lately. I make four dollars a month working on Uncle Henry’s farm, and I spend it all on those gosh darned doughnuts. But they’re the best in all of Kansas!”
“You should have stayed there!” said the Lion. “Things have gone crazy around here since you left.”
“I can see that! I just got off the last tornado and as soon as I did I saw all of this! Oh Lion, is there another witch? There is, isn’t there? We have to find the wizard! And the Tin-Man, and the Scarecrow!”
Lion let out a deep sigh, his face twisting as the weight of bad news settled upon it. “The wizard of Oz is dead too, just like your Toto, minus the “me” eating him part.”
“Not the wizard! Oh no! What sort of witch could do all of this, Lion? Tell me, who?”
“It’s not a witch, Dorothy. It’s your “friends” the Scarecrow and the Tin-Man! They did this! All of this! Oh, bother!”
Dorothy threw her hands up to cover her mouth, disbelief shaking her from the inside-out. “Oh, Lion, oh no. No, they couldn’t have done this. I don’t believe you!”
“Believe it, Dorothy,” the Lion said. “After you left, and the Tin-Man got his heart and the Scarecrow got his brain, they both decided that having one heart and one brain wasn’t enough, so they started taking everyone else’s. Everyone’s! And as it turns out, no one in Oz can do a whole lot when a six foot steel robot with a hatchet decides to start hacking up the residents. And the Scarecrow? A lot stronger than anyone thought. Stronger, and oh! So much meaner!”
“But he’s just made of straw,” Dorothy protested. “How could he be that strong? Couldn’t someone just pull him apart?” She paused, considering. “Unless he’s been lifting weights, getting into shape, maybe doing…”
The Lion shook his head. “Don’t say it, Dorothy.”
“Maybe doing a lot of… Crow-dio vascular fitness?”
“I said don’t, Dorothy.”
“And then supplementing that with…Scare-oids?”
“Probably learned how to build up his muscles from a “STRAWNG-Man” competition?”
“You’re on your own now, Kansas. Have fun getting your brains smashed out.”
“Oh, Lion!” Dorothy said, grabbing him by the arm. “I was just trying to make a joke! It’s so scary here, and I just lost my Toto, I was just trying to make us both laugh.”
“There’s a killer Scarecrow and Tin-Man on the loose,” Lion replied. “I’ve been hiding in these fields for weeks now. I don’t feel so courageous any more, and I certainly don’t feel like laughing. All I want is to get as far away from this place as possible!”
“Why, I can do that!” Dorothy took the Lion by the hand, pulling him close to her. “Just like before! Why, all I have to do is click my heals together three times, and we’ll be back in Kansas!”
“Oh, Dorothy! You’ll take me with you?! Oh, that would be wonderful!”
“Of course I’ll take you with me,” Dorothy replied. “You’re my friend, and I can’t leave you here to all this. This is no place for a formerly cowardly, presently talking Lion!”
“Are there a lot of talking lions in Kansas?” asked Lion.
“You’ll be the very first in the whole wide world!”
“Oh, goody! Goody, Goody Goody!”
“Now, just wrap your arms around me, Lion,” said Dorothy. “And hold on tight. Close your eyes, too, if you feel like you have to.” The Lion wrapped his arms tightly around Dorothy, closing his eyes with a smile.” “You’re the very best friend I’ve ever had, Dorothy.”
“Oh, Lion, aside from Aunty Em, Uncle Henry, Hickory, Zeke and his longtime companion Don-Fredo, and Toto before you ate him, you’re the very best friend I’ve ever had, too. Now, quiet. I have to concentrate on this part.”
Dorothy stood still, the Lion hugging her tight. She too closed her eyes and then said, quietly, “there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…” And the grim, bloodied world of Oz vanished away from them.
“You sure about this, young lady? Aint a whole lot of talking lions running around the word, at least not that I’ve ever seen. You might get a better deal taking him someplace bigger and better, say, New York or Chicago.”
Dorothy glanced at the man standing next to her, the scent of hay mixed with dust swirling around her. Somewhere, not so far off, she heard the unmistakable cry of an elephant’s trumpet, the air shaking with the power of it. “I’m as sure as sugar,” she replied. “Have you trained very many lions before?”
“Oh yeah, yeah,” the trainer replied. “Been all over Africa and Asia, parts of Europe too, and I’ve trained as many lions as people have come to see them perform. Never one that could talk and carry on like your lion though, that there’s a first. I feel like a regular heal, only giving you two hundred dollars for him. ‘Course, you can come in for free whenever we’re in town, see the show. Complimentary peanuts, too.”
“Oh, that would be grand!” Dorothy replied. “I’ll just say my goodbye’s and then I’ll be out of your hair!” Dorothy walked away from the trainer and toward one of the large, striped tents that covered the ground. She entered, making her way toward a cage at the far end, where a familiar face sat waiting for her.
“Dorothy!” the Lion cried. “How could you?! Oh, just how very well could you?”
Wrapping her hands around the bars, Dorothy offered him her sweetest, most innocent of smiles. “Oh, Lion. Don’t be a grump! After all, it’s your fault that you’re here, not mine.”
“Mine? How in the world could the fault be mine? I warned you about the Tin-Man! And the Scarecrow! I verily saved your life!”
“You also didn’t laugh at my jokes,” Dorothy said. “And before that, you called me fat. This, of course, was right after you ate my dog. My dog, Lion. You ate my fucking dog.”
“Dorothy!” the Lion said, his eyes wide and moon-like. “You’re language! You’re no better than the Tin-Man and the Scarecrow!”
She shrugged. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Lion. You just worry about you and all the traveling you’ll get to do now that you’re part of the show. Like I said, you’re the only talking lion in the whole wide world! You’ll get to work for the very rest of your life! Your whole life, Lion, your whole life!”
“You’re not in Oz anymore, Lion.” She smiled, clicking her heals three times while turning away from him. “Welcome to Kansas.”
© 2013 Will Keyser