A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY TONY LEE
The witch extended a wrinkled hand towards the ladle in her cauldron. With a magician’s flourish and pride, she violently stirred the boiling concoction. The tin man, scarecrow, and lion all observed silently behind heavy bars, unable to disturb her bizarre ritual.
Muttering a string of undecipherable enchantments and adding bottles of colorful powder, the witch coaxed her wild brew to mature. The potion bubbled angrily and swayed from side to side, threatening to break free of its confinements. Gradually, an eerie cloud of smoke began to rise from the cauldron.
Tendrils of black fume meandered toward the imprisoned trio, and the three flinched in fear. The potion, now tumbling in turmoil, was changing colors; originally a semi-pleasant shade of pale baby blue, it had transitioned to a deeper, more saturated cobalt. Although not repulsive to the point of regurgitation, it wasn’t exactly appetizing.
Cackling, the witch withdrew an empty glass vial from her threadbare cloak and brandished a metal ladle from the shadows. With a swoop, she spooned a generous portion of her finished creation into the glass container. The trio’s gazes were fixed on the bubbling liquid, marveling and shuddering at the same time about what potential powers it might possess.
When the witch turned to insert the last ingredients before the potion cooled, the three friends huddled to discuss an escape plan… well, at least one of them were. The lion was still petrified, an understandable aftershock from being ambushed and dragged around by rabid winged monkeys, and the scarecrow still wasn’t past his obsession with nursery songs.
The tin man cursed under his breath. First, Dorothy had been mysteriously murdered by an anonymous perpetrator. The trio was then assaulted by the wicked witch’s band of winged monkeys. Both the lion and tin man left the battle mostly unscathed, but it was the scarecrow who took the brunt of the blow.
The hay man lost an arm and his sanity when a particularly vicious monkey bared its fangs and struck. Weak and dazed, he offered no resistance when the beasts carried the trio back to the wicked witch’s castle. With the lion paralyzed in fear and the scarecrow almost mortally wounded, only one usable brain remained.
That left the burden of finding a way out on the tin man, and although his metal shoulders could withstand astounding weights, he was a bit more than stressed at his circumstances. The trio was stranded in the wicked witch’s castle. With any luck, the Wizard of Oz should notice his absence, put two and two together, and deploy a rescue squad to save them…
The tin man fearfully glanced at the witch’s back and the vial of bubbling goo she clutched. He gulped nervously and shivered.
… but he wasn’t sure their lives would last long enough to find out.
♥ ♠ ♣ ♦
The witch slowly brought the potion before them in an arc, letting the repulsive fumes seep into their pores and bloodstreams. Created from the innards of sea-dwelling monsters, consuming this wicked brew will pressurize the blood of the unfortunate victim, creating painful and sadly permanent bubbles in their blood vessels.
“What a happy bunch you three are; strolling merrily through the woods to my castle as if you didn’t know what you would get yourself into,” the wicked witch paused in her speech to shake her head in mock pity. “But alas, potions don’t function properly on winged monkeys, I’m afraid. They have already developed too many immunities… You three, however…”
The tin man gently nudged his companions, giving his cue to start the escape plan. The lion discreetly shoved the scarecrow from behind, and he toppled over dramatically. His left arm swung outside the prison bars and smacked into the witch’s hand. Her potion fell from her grasp and shattered on the castle floor. The foul liquid sizzled and steamed as it seeped into the cracks and disappeared.
“You wretched brat!” shrieked the wicked witch as she leapt back to avoid stepping on her spilled potion. “Precious time and hard work all gone with one swoop of your hand!”
The tin man and scarecrow pressed their faces to the bars to examine the mess while also effectively blocking the witch’s line of sight. In the back of the cell, concealed by his two friends, the lion furiously pawed at a loose stone. Once it gave to the lion’s strength, he began to carve out a tunnel while the others distracted the witch.
“Ooh… You’d have to make another potion now, don’t ya?” the tin man mocked, and the scarecrow giggled beside him. “Without a potion or your winged monkeys, you can’t do anything to us.”
The two wagged their tongues at the wicked witch, and she became more infuriated by the second. Shoving a gnarly finger in their faces, she exclaimed, “Don’t be so happy so soon, boys. I’ll be back with another sample in a snap!”
The wicked witch stormed back to her cauldron to prepare another dose of her potion. The tin man and the scarecrow peeked around the corner and made sure she was gone before rushing back to check on the lion’s progress.
Just as expected, the lion had already finished carving out the majority of their escape route. In the dark corner of the cell, behind the loose stone, was a tunnel about four feet wide and three feet tall. The trio could make out light at the end of the short tunnel, and the exhilaration of successfully fleeing from the wicked witch made them giddy.
Behind them, the witch gathered her ingredients for the new potion and sprinkled them into the cauldron. Seeing her creation come to life made her chuckle, and her wicked cackles echoed off of the castle walls. The trio shivered.
“She’s almost done. We must hurry!” the tin man warned. The others nodded, and the lion crawled head-first into the hole. The tin man quickly followed, and the two quickly made progress until they noticed the absence of their third group member — the scarecrow.
Half-conscious and not grasping the urgency of the situation, the hay man was lying face-down on the cell floor, humming an indistinct melody. The tin man beckoned for him to join them in the tunnel, but the scarecrow was too feeble to move.
“I-I’ll keep going and finish digging the way out,” said the furry lion. “You go back and bring the scarecrow along.”
The tin man nodded solemnly, determined to escape, and the two parted ways. The lion kept pawing forward, while the tin man inched back to retrieve the scarecrow.
However, the hay man refused to budge. Exhausted and suffering from pain, the scarecrow didn’t have the strength in him to stand, let alone walk. The tin man dragged him towards the tunnel, then resorted to carrying him on his shoulders. The duo could barely fit inside the beginning of the tunnel with the scarecrow on top of the tin man.
“I’m back darlings! It didn’t take that long, did it now?” called the wicked witch. Alarmed, the tin man shifted his grip of the scarecrow’s arm and rushed into the hole. Darkness enveloped them as they slowly moved forward. The lion was nowhere to be seen, and the tin man assumed he had already finished carving the rest of the tunnel and was waiting for them at the end.
But as the two trekked deeper and deeper, the tunnel grew smaller and smaller, until the tin man couldn’t move forward anymore with the scarecrow. The tin man could keep going, but only if he left the scarecrow behind. And he knew his friend couldn’t make it out in by himself before the wicked witch found him.
“That blasted lion didn’t dig the tunnel wide enough,” he cursed under his breath. The tin man gently set the scarecrow down, then crawled on by himself. “I’ll go find him, and we’ll get you out when I come back, okay?”
The scarecrow didn’t reply.
The tin man hurried forward, leaving the hay man on his own.
♥ ♠ ♣ ♦
“How could I let them escape right under my nose?” muttered the wicked witch. “They dug a tunnel right out of my prison cell!”
She paced back and forth in front of the nearly empty cell. When the wicked witch returned with her new potion, she had discovered the cell empty. After scrutinizing the cell, the witch found the secret tunnel and the scarecrow in the middle of it. He was brought back, and the escape route was patched up, but the other two prisoners were nowhere to be seen.
“It could have been much worse…” the wicked witch glanced disgustedly at the figure in front of her. “Well, to be honest, it really couldn’t.”
“But before you can find another chance to get away, let’s test my potion right now…” suggested the witch. With one hand she snatched the arm of the scarecrow, and with the other she slowly poured her potion onto him. The liquid sizzled and steamed and the hay in the scarecrow’s arm began to wilt and dry, until his whole left arm lay limp and useless.
“And how about some over here?” The witch brought her potion upon the scarecrow’s legs. The hay man shrieked in pain, but the wicked witch wasn’t the type to show mercy. She emptied her creation on his torso, then watched contentedly as his flesh slowly deteriorated and died.
With one last dying scream, the scarecrow vanished in a cloud of steam.
♥ ♠ ♣ ♦
“Lion! Hey, Lion! Where are you?” the tin man whisper-called from the back of the Wicked Witch’s castle. He had emerged from the tunnel to find the night sky and his furry friend nowhere in sight. The tin man scanned the clearing in front of him.
A patch of golden fur was lodged under a nearby shrub, and the tin man hurried over to the bush. Squinting in the dim moonlight, he placed a finger in a dark puddle in the middle of the grass. A tuft of golden fur floated serenely on top of it.
But the tin man knew that it didn’t rain that day. Or the day before. He lifted his wet finger and scrutinized the liquid.
It was as dark as the starless night sky and the silhouette of the Wicked Witch’s castle, and as red as autumn leaves and rose blossoms. Dark and deep and crimson.
He drew back from the pool of blood and stumbled into something behind him.
He carefully turned around and examined what his heel had collided him. It was cold to the touch but as bright as the morning sun. He would have described it as golden.
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, the tin man dragged the lion’s dead body out from the under the bush.
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“How tragic! It seems like your little merry band of friends are no more.” the wicked witch mocked the tin man. “Even after such a magnificent escape plan, all three of you ended up back in my grasp… or dead.”
The witch paced in front of her prisoner. The tin man was captured by the winged monkeys and once again stuck in the cell, but this time his four limbs were constrained by rope. He suffered in silence while the wicked witch retold the story of his friends’ deaths.
“First, it was the poor little scarecrow. Met his end brain-dead and abandoned by his closest friends… what a pitiful way to perish.”
The tin man grinded his metallic teeth in annoyance, but the witch enjoyed his show of irritation. “Then it was that heartless lion, who was oh so unfortunately killed by my precious monkeys. He offered no resistance; just screamed and screamed in terror until his death.”
The tin man shed a wistful tear. Not only were three of his friends brutally murdered by the Witch’s doings, but he was imprisoned with no way to escape his confinement.
Suddenly, with a thunderous boom, the door of the wicked witch’s castle were thrown open. A band of green-clothed men trampled in, armed to the teeth with blades and bludgeons. The tin man made out two letters stitched on their leaf-green collars. O-Z. Oz.
The green garments, the emeralds on their cloaks, and the word Oz embroidered on their cloaks confirmed the witch’s suspicions. “The militia… How did you get past my monkeys?”
With an angry swipe the witch snatched her crystal ball from her shelf. Her winged monkeys were scattered around the dark forest miles away, all of them triumphantly carrying a tuft of golden fur.
“We took the lion’s fur and spread it around the forest,” the Chief explained with a smirk. “Your little monkeys were more than eager to retrieve parts of him to win your favor.”
The Chief snapped his fingers, and his men stealthily moved into position around the wicked witch. Defenseless and vulnerable, the witch had nothing to fend herself with except for her old broom. She stuck it towards the men, threatening to poke them if they approach any closer.
“You don’t want to mess with me,” the witch snarled, desperation bleeding through her cracking voice. Her eyes darted around with undisguisable fear, and the militia smiled triumphantly. “I-I could do horribly thing to all of you, you know! Terrible potions and brews that will make your skin crawl with fear!”
Her empty threats didn’t frighten the men. Without her little primate minions, she didn’t have anything to guard herself. With a mighty cry, the Chief raised his axe and swung it down towards the wicked witch.
With a blood-curdling shriek, the witch dissolved into nothingness.
♥ ♠ ♣ ♦
The tin man stretched his metal arms, his body stiff from being constrained just moments ago.
“You have my gratitude,” he nodded towards the militiaman that had freed him.
The green-clad man was expressionless. “Our orders were simply to execute the wicked witch. Had you been any harm or annoyance to us, you would have been exterminated as well.”
The tin man flinched from his cold response. “Didn’t the great Wizard send you?”
Much to the tin man’s despair, the militiaman shook his head and strode away without an explanation. Their robotic and emotionless demeanor startled the tin man. They seemed to act like assassins; stealthily dispatching their victims before silently retreating.
Butterflies fluttered anxiously in his stomach, and he felt an uneasy sense of dread. Something is off here… should I be worried?
The tin man shook his head off from his disturbing thoughts and decided to the thank the Chief himself. But no matter what how many shaky breaths he took or how many unsteady exhales he made, he couldn’t get rid of the anticipation in his stomach.
♥ ♠ ♣ ♦
The tin man flew back from the blow and crashed against the witch’s shelf of ingredients.
He lifted his forearm and grimaced from the sight; his limb was bent at an unnatural angle, and black oil leaked from a deep dent. He had thought a metal body would spare him from human pain, but agony rippled from his injured arm.
The Chief Ozian stood before him, his axe now stained with a line of oil. His eyes were were rolled back and white froth lined his mouth.
What had come over the Chief? Does he not recognize me? wondered the tin man. Is it the wicked witch’s doings…? Or… something… else…?
Before he had time to react, the Chief brought his axe down and struck the tin man’s leg. The tin man clenched his teeth, not willing to react from the pain. A sheen of sweat covered his forehead as he kicked the Chief back and called to the rest of the militiamen, “The Chief has gone insane! Help me!”
The militia took up their arms and slowly approached, but the tin man quickly realized they weren’t considering helping him. With hostile glares in their eyes, they circled around him and snarled viciously.
The tin man glimpsed some familiar faces from the ring of men, but the recognition didn’t seem to be mutual. His head spun as he pondered of ways to escape, but he was hopelessly surrounded.
Suddenly, realization hit him like a slap to the face. The Ozian militia… the Chief… they must be controlled in some fashion…
But who was the culprit behind this mind-controlling?
The wicked witch?
The wicked witch’s personality and magical prowess fit the description flawlessly, but all clues point away from her. Even though she was Dorothy’s murderer, she wouldn’t manipulate the militia to kill herself.
The wizard of Oz?
It made perfect sense for the wizard to control his minions to do the dirty work for him. He would never leave the Emerald City himself just to kill the wicked witch himself.
But if he was the mastermind behind all of this, why would he command the Chief to murder the tin man? No, it couldn’t have been the great wizard. But who else had the power?
A joyous bark echoed through the castle, and Toto cheerfully skipped into the room.
Realization hit him like a golden brick to the face. The tin man shuddered.
Toto had never enjoyed Dorothy’s company. He had always strayed from her when walking along the Golden Brick Road. Always wanted to frolic in the perilous Poppy Fields. Always got lost in the Emerald City.
And now that Dorothy’s gone, he would have his freedom. He could slowly meander along the Golden Brick Road. Could roll around in the Poppy Fields. Could run around the Emerald City as much as he wanted to.
Toto… oh, Toto…
The pieces of the picture frame snapped together, and the tin man weeped in regret. He had always assumed he had the sight of the big picture, yet he never considered scrutinizing the missing frame.
Dorothy had been heartlessly murdered. But not by the wicked witch… it was Toto, and his nefarious mind-controlling magic. The waters were muddled, but now it’s pristine. And through the waves lies Toto’s selfish, malevolent, canine goals.
The leader stepped aggressively towards the tin man and raised his axe. The rest of the militia repeated the gesture, and soon the tin man was enclosed by a circle of gleaming weapons hungry for blood.
“Toto…” he cried, hot tears streaming down his face. “Toto, why…”
Oz is a Fantasy short-story based upon the Land of Oz and its characters. Tony Lee is a a ninth-grader in Ridgefield, CT. He wrote Oz because he grew up reading about the Wizard of Oz and wanted to create a story about a tale near and dear to his heart.