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Red Brick Road
I watched the world whirl past the car window. Trees, fields, barns, and so on. The yellow, orange and red trees shedding their leaves acknowledged that fall was nearly upon us, the way the leaves floated from their branches effortlessly was fascinating. I wish I had my notebook to sketch them but unfortunately I left it at home. I normally sketched everything I saw so it felt so wrong to leave that scenic view behind. I did commit it to memory though. I looked forward to feeling the silky paper under my hand and telling my story with charcoal.
I open my window just a crack and smelled the air that came rushing at me. Smoke. My favorite smoke. Down in this part of Kansas; where I had lived for all of my fourteen years, it always smelled like this musky, smoky scent. It only meant one thing to me. Home.
“Close that window, please. We’re going to be at the nursing home any second,” my mother said politely. Her words snapped me back to reality and I reluctantly rolled up my window.
“Do you think that she will remember us?” I asked.
We were visiting my grandmother Dorothy. She was literally my favorite person in the entire world. I loved to sit at her feet as she spun colorful stories about a green city, a dangerous adventure or ruby red slippers. My eyes wide, I would soak up every word she spoke. My mind creating the world she spoke of in such detail, tin men, lions, scarecrows. I had written them down for as long as I could remember and I’d always drawn what she described. I had multiple sketch books for solely that purpose. I was afraid to lose even one detail. Pictures line my wall as they tell the story of the yellow brick road. That’s why last month’s call was such a blow to me. Grandmother Dorothy was starting to develop Alzheimer’s. This broke my heart. I couldn’t stand to think of all those stories lost. Ever since then I had pressured my parents to take me to see her. This was the first time we had all been free at the same time in a long while.
“I’ll bet she does. She’s starting to forget recent events but past events are still locked inside of her for the time being,” my father said. I imagined grandmother as an old leather chest with her secrets locked up inside; the locks and straps keeping them safe. It was an odd thought, but I sort of liked it.
“But Jane believe me, she will never forget you. You’re very special to her,” my mother said in a soft voice.
We pulled into the elderly home’s parking lot, the gravel crunched under the tires. We found a parking spot and I climbed out of the car with my notebook in hand, ready to write anything and everything. The air was chilly and once again smelled smoky, but this time only slightly. We were pretty far away from home so the scent was diluted. We walked up to the sliding glass doors and the building’s warm air rushed past us. It smelled like old people, soap, some sweet scent, and strangely… peanuts. The bright lights looked unnatural compared to outside. The colors in the lobby were sickening. Blues, pinks, and yellows were the main color scheme and they didn’t go together well. It looked like a flower threw up all over this establishment.
The nurse escorted us to my grandmother’s room. The hallway to her room I knew well from countless visits but it still made me feel uneasy. It always made me wonder when the last time I would be walking this way would be. It was a depressing thought so I shoved it out of my head. We reached the correct door and I started to enter but I noticed that my parents didn’t move to follow me in.
“Aren’t you coming in?” I questioned them.
“No, we are going to let you have a little alone time with her. We think she’ll appreciate it. We’ll be out in the hall if you need anything,” my father spoke for the both of them.
“Alright then…” I said slowly as I turned the cold steel handle on the door.
I looked in and saw the same old room I’d seen all my life; a very simple layout and not many decorations. I found my grandmother in her rocking chair facing the window. Apparently it had started to rain while were inside and now it was coming down pretty hard. A strand of lightning streaked across the navy blue sky. I placed my hand on her shoulder, it felt frail and thin. She turned to face me. When she saw my face her eyes turned from tired to almost panicked. Her mouth turned down as if she was deciding something.
She spoke slowly but still with a sense of urgency; “It’s your turn Jane, a storm is coming and you have to meet it. It’s your turn to visit Oz,” she looked deep inside my eyes.
“Grandma, what do you mean? How is it my turn?” I asked quizzically, wondering if she’d had her meds and if I should get the nurse. She stood up from her chair and pointed towards the window.
“Go Jane, go meet your fate. Stand out there and wait for the winds to carry you to a place very few have visited. Go!” It was strange, a second ago I had thought she lost her marbles, but now I completely believed her. It was as if she cast a spell on me that made me hang on her every word.
Her room was on the first floor so she helped me get the window open so I could climb out. I couldn’t risk running into my parents. There was too much to explain. The glass window slid open easily and I lifted my leg through it. I pulled my torso out the other side and used the wall to support me as I lowered my other leg out the window and onto the little garden area. When I got out of the window my grandmother handed me a box through the opening.
“Don’t open this until you’re there,” she warned me. I turned away from the window. The overhang was still protecting me from the rain, but not for long.
I sprinted out to the middle of the parking lot, my feet splashing in little puddles on the way. Cold rain pelted me and ran down my body. I could taste the fresh water as I waited for something to happen. I could see my grandmother through the window, watching me intently. Water dripped from me as if I had just walked out of the pool fully dressed. That was when the wind hit. It hit me like a wrecking ball, angling the rain right at me and threatening to whisk me right away. Debris flew but none headed my way. My body involuntarily shivered from the onslaught. Then it happened. The winds whipped me this way and that; their unforgiving gusts threw me off balance. It felt like a hurricane, the winds were starting to spiral. I could barely hang up to my sense of direction, leaves flying into my face, cold wind slashing my body, rain showering me with what felt like daggers. The box I held in my hands threatened to fly away but I held tight. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I collapsed. Everything went black. My world stopped and I could feel nothing. The vast emptiness threatened to become permanent. I thought I was dead. I probably nearly was. Then something astonishing happened… My eyes fluttered open.
I had expected to see the worst…white light, angel wings or anything that would tell me I was dead. But my eyes did not find that angelic glow and I did not feel enlightened or whatever people feel when they move on to the next life. No. I felt….sore. Really sore. My entire body ached from what ever happened in that storm. My eyes found the cloudy sky above me.
I sat up and was faced with what was on ground level; dirt, filth. No, this was definitely not Heaven. Miniature buildings, the size of small houses surrounded what I would call the town center which I suppose I was laying in. The buildings were very dingy. Doors barely attached, windows shattered and there was even a building to my left that was half collapsed. I could hear the wind rattle the dead bushes that were planted here and there. There was a stale smell all around me. I started to remember the box my grandmother had given me.
I rolled on my side and saw the strange colored stone I was laying on. It was red, yellow and blue. It was the last thing I expected to see in this town. It was painfully out of place. I found the box a few feet away from me. I crawled to it, my muscles too sore for any real effort. I reached the box and tore away the tape with my nails. When the tape was removed I carefully opened the box hoping to find food, maps or anything that could help me. Instead I found ruby red high heels, or what my grandmother would call “slippers.”
They glistened in the little sun there was and they were cool to the touch. I inspected them further and found tiny real rubies encrusted in them. Overall, they looked painfully uncomfortable.
I looked to the sky and said to no one in particular, “Really?”
But I knew my grandmother’s stories well and I supposed this was Munchkin land, though it didn’t look all that happy. The small buildings and colorful stone ground confirmed my guess. My next step was to put on the slippers. I pulled my old Converse off my feet and slid on the new shoes…I immediately missed my familiar trainers. These shoes were stiff and I knew they would be killer if I had to walk in them all day. My feet tingled and I felt the real essence of the shoes. The magic tucked away in these highly unpleasant heels.
I heard a bush rattle to my left, and I whipped my head around to see a grungy looking Munchkin step tentatively from the weeds. He was of course very short, but he wasn’t the little happy go lucky singing Munchkin I heard so much about. He looked like the down and out hobo that lived in my town. His clothes were stained from who knows what and his jacket and trousers were torn. His eyes were bloodshot and his scruffy face was leathery and unshaven. I didn’t even need to see his teeth to know exactly what they would look like, yellowed and missing. He wore a hat that at one time might have looked good but now it was lopsided and chunks were missing.
He opened his mouth to speak. “You’re her, ain’t you?” he said. His voice was gravelly and hoarse.
“Uhh who?” I said slowly.
“Dorothy’s granddaughter. Our legends say that her daughter’s daughter is destined to visit Oz.”
“Ugg destiny. I am more of a freedom person,” I scoffed. That may have been true, but his words interested me.
“Whatever, it’s just my job to get ya where you’re supposed to be going. Been waitin here 14 years,” he mumbled.
“Sorry, I guess…” I replied slightly sarcastically.
“S’not your fault I guess, just hard to separate the phonies from the real deal. We get tons of creeps heading this way every year. Girls, boys, writers, old people…and the occasional schizophrenic. Wow, that was complicated,” he was now talking to himself while scuffing his shoe on a brick.
“Right then!” He exclaimed. “Now you are not going to make me sing are ya?”
“Good, then just follow the red brick road,” he said as he pointed to his right at the faded red walkway.
“Hold on. Don’t you mean the yellow brick road?” I asked.
“Nope, yellow’s been closed for years. Some punk took a pick axe to it and sent them flying monkeys rampaging all over the place,” he replied while pointing just beyond me. I turned around to find the yellow brick road torn apart and a safety road block placed where it divided from the town. A flying monkey screeched in the distance.
“Wow, flying monkeys, this is really real,” I spoke to myself but the Munchkin thought I was talking to him.
“Yup. My name is Sunflower by the way,” he mumbled embarrassed. I stifled a giggle.
“Mine’s Jane,” I said.
“Nice shoes by the way but a bit cliché. Well, off you go, have a safe trip blah, blah, blah. Don’t get killed,” he replied.
“Great parting words,” I thought to myself as I hesitantly walked down the red brick road.
Within the first two miles of the trip I felt confident, adventurous, excited even. But after five miles of walking alone in high heels it got tiresome and my feet hurt. I even tried to click my heels and say “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” No dice. Eventually it started getting dark out and I got worried. It never got dark in her stories! And still no tin man, scarecrow or lion. There wasn’t even a building in sight. The brick road was uneven and it hurt my ankles but it wasn’t like I could just stop here, I had to at least find shelter.
Along the path there were just monstrous fields upon fields that grew darker with every passing hour. I could see nothing more than long grasses swaying in the soft winds. I was pretty sure I saw a flying monkey fly over at one point too. This was just getting too crazy for me. I mean flying monkeys and Munchkins? Really? I must be delusional, I must have hit my head in the storm and this was all just a crazy dream I’m having in some hospital. I’m probably in a coma at home and my parents are worried sick! I was just about to have a major panic attack when I saw a small rock formation in the distance.
I kicked off the slippers and carried them as I ran with sudden urgency. I ran across the little patch of grass and felt the stands beneath my toes. I reached the rock and touched it with my hand. It was cold and jagged. I circled the rock and found a small shelter on the west side of it. Convenient…almost too convenient if you ask me. But I disregarded it and walked in. There was a small cot, pillow and blanket.
“You have GOT to be kidding me!” I exclaimed. There couldn’t have been one of these miles back?
I plopped myself down on the bed and I heard a small squeal coming from underneath me. I jumped up startled, and looked at where I had just been sitting. There was a…what was it? A small fairy right where I had just sat! If it wasn’t right in front of me, I would have never believed that it was possible! The fairy had small delicate wings that sparkled. She was wearing a short blue dress and had long black hair pulled up into a delicate up-do. Her lips were painted a soft red. She wore a pained expression on her face that didn’t surprise me much considering I had just sat on her.
“Don’t you look where you sit?” she asked me. Her voice was quiet and squeaky.
“Not normally, no,” I replied.
She snorted at me. “Well you probably should start,” she huffed. She flew to the opposite side of the small cave and landed on a small rock that jutted out from the wall. “Who are you anyway? Almost no one visits these parts anymore” she commented.
“I’m Jane, um, Dorothy’s granddaughter,” I said.
“No way! It’s really you?” She exclaimed now interested.
“Yep, me in the flesh. Geez, is there anyone who doesn’t know me?” I asked her.
“Probably not. And if they haven’t, they’ve been living under a rock,” she replied. We both looked up and around us. I didn’t have to say it for her to know what my reply was. “Touché… Anyway sit down! You must be terribly tired from your trip from Munchkin Land,” she said as she motioned for me to sit on the empty cot.
“Yeah, and my feet are killing me!” I said as I placed the shoes I’d been carrying on the ground.
“Oh! I can fix that!” She exclaimed. She pulled out her wand that was tucked behind her wing and made flourishing movements at my shoes. They sparkled for a bit and then exploded. When the smoke cleared I found my Ruby Red Slippers were now Ruby Red Trainers. The rubies covered the Converse in a way that made them exquisite. A bit flashy but beautiful.
“Thank God! But how did you know I love Converse? Can you read my mind or something? What am I thinking right…now?” I asked.
“No dummy Converse is the most popular shoes with teenagers. It didn’t take a genius to figure that one out,” she sounded snarky.
“Oh…” I replied, embarrassed.
“Anyway, you got a long day tomorrow so get some sleep. I have a smaller cot under that one so that’s where I’ll be if you need me. You better not snore,” she said sleepily as she fluttered beneath me. I looked under the cot and sure enough there was a tiny little bed with a tiny little pillow and blanket. “A little privacy?” she said and I whipped my head back up. I got settled on the bed and almost immediately fell asleep.
I woke that morning with a start. My nose was tingling and I opened my eyes to find the cause. The fairy was standing directly on my face.
“Meh!” I explained and I blew her off my face. She righted herself and flew to the end of the bed. Light flooded the space and I could see the details more clearly. Rocks jutted out all over the place and on the bigger ones miniature pieces of furniture resided there. On one there was a couch, on another there was a small vanity and a dresser next to it.
The fairy poked my leg to get my attention, “Last night it occurred to me that you don’t know my name. So it’s Liddea by the way,” she said while looking up to me.
“Well nice to meet you Liddea,” I said, still half asleep.
“We better get going. I heard that Glinda wants to meet you ASAP. Don’t want to keep her waiting, believe me. Oh, and I poofed up a new set of clothes today for you. They are kind of a modern spin on your grandmother’s outfit from when she was here,” I looked in the corner to find a blue and white plaid button up shirt and grey skinny jeans.
“It’s perfect, thank you!” I exclaimed. After she left the cave I pulled on the pants and buttoned up my shirt. I yanked the Ruby Red Trainers on and I was set to go. There was just one thing left to do… I put loose pigtails in my hair and braided them on each side. Perfect.
I walked outside and took in the view; blue skies, fields for miles and actually a castle in the distance. The morning air smelled of dew. There were no sounds except the ones coming from my shoulder where Liddea now flapped her wings. They tickled my ear a bit.
“That-a way!” She shouted right in my ear. I cringed a bit and she apologized.
We were off on our way. Nothing exciting happened for a long while, just watching the castle in the distance get bigger and bigger. Eventually we reached the grand doors to the Good Witch’s Castle. I knocked four times. The luxurious doors opened slowly and we could see into the front room.
The room was gigantic, the blue walls were covered in gold accents and the ivory floors were smooth and shiny. There was classical music playing somewhere in the distance. A grand staircase lined the west wall, and at the center of the room was a huge golden throne perched on a low pedestal with whom in it? Glinda the witch. Even though all this beauty, I could still see that she had seen better days. Her hair was limp, her dress was wrinkled and frankly she could stand to lose a few pounds.
“Come in dear, come in,” she sang. Liddea coughed a bit. “You to Liddea,” she sighed happily. Overall, I found her very cheesy. I walked forward anyway, until I was at the foot of the throne. My shoes slightly squeaked on the waxed floor. “You must be Jane, what a delight to have you here!” She sang again.
I wondered if it was possible for her to talk without singing. “Thanks...” I said hesitantly.
“Now that you have traveled all this way I shall grant you three wishes!” she sang in a higher pitch.
“Figures,” I thought to myself, but what I really said was: “Ok...well then…Wish number 1, that won’t be applied until I’m done wishing, is I wish I could go home. Wish numero dos…I can go anywhere I want by clicking these shoes together. And Wish number 3…” I thought for awhile about this one. “3 is that I wish Oz was back the way it was when my grandmother was here, minus the witch. I want things to be cleaned up and I want people to be happy,” I said. I watched Glinda nod her head.
“Ok, so wish number 3 first!” she exclaimed. She waved her ward above her head and made over exaggerated movements.
The world got brighter and brighter until it turned simply white. When the lights went away, I saw Oz the way my grandmother did; a wondrous place of dreams, and destinies. Glinda looked much better too, mind you. Her face was much younger looking and all her features just screamed Sparkle!
“Oh thank you dear, thank you so much! Oz is so much better now. Thank you! Now to send you back…you know the drill! Your second wish will be put in effect when you get home,” she sang, this time her voice much younger. Liddea kissed my cheek and flew away to sit on the arm rest of the throne. I closed my eyes and clicked my heels three times. “There’s no place like London, there’s no place like London, there’s no place like London,” I chanted out loud. I heard Glinda laugh. Hey, can’t a girl have some fun?