Chapter 12: The Endless Saga of Poor Chip Chopper or Have Ax Will Travel
I awoke to the glitter of dust floating in laser beams of filtered sunlight. Quietly, so not to disturb Dorothy, I trotted toward Door.
“Good Morning,” he creaked and opened softly.
“Is it safe?” I asked as I poked my head outside to find William looking my way.
With words muffled by a mouthful of fine green grasses, she said. “Better than safe Toto, this day is splendid.”
Darts of sunlight had cut through that congealed thickness of the Twilight Forest and scattered its foreboding mood with magical and radiant warmth; my sense of peace and the sensations of the night before, feeling safe, fresh, and alive, remained. I raced about madly chasing birds and squirrels. In time, with a smile in her voice, Dorothy hollered from the porch, “Toto, I’m thirsty and need to wash up."
“Follow the trail behind me. Not more than a stone’s throw, a small creek flows,” said the Cottage.
“Care to come, William?” I asked.
William looked up from mowing the lawn with her sizable white choppers. “Let me work a bit more on this front yard,” William replied with a full mouth.
As we made our way to the sweet smelling babbling brook, I said, “Dorothy, do you think William has eating issues? She never quits chewing. She eats all day, chews as we travel, and more at night.”
“That’s what cows, do, Toto; they eat grass, store it in one stomach, then chew it up later and move it to another.”
Efficient…, I thought and made a mental note. William possessed some excellent leadership qualities; efficiency was surely one. It was also considerate that we could travel while she ate earlier meals, thus saving us time. So far, the only strike against her was her name, William. That was just too…too over the edge.
After Dorothy washed up, she finished her breakfast of bread in the shadow of William’s udder.
“Before we go,” I said, “I want to see if we can help House and Door.”
Rusted hinges groaned. “I do need a good airing out,” Cottage said with conviction as she raised them. “and, yes please, since Door and I are unable to move around, will you search for Chip Chopper.”
“That we shall, and shall do so willingly,” I replied. “Where is Scrobins?”
“I’m up here, on the roof, silent, and watchful. I’m experiencing the world from the eyes of the squirrels that I saw playing up here.”
“Where did you find him,” asked Door. “He’s a bit odd....”
Scrobins leapt gracefully to the ground, spun to face Door, bowed deeply, and with a grand sweep of his hat said, “I too, offer my services willingly. Do you have any idea where we might look?”
“Chip mentioned working in a part of the Twilight Forest on virgin wood somewhere north and east of the yellow brick road,” said the Door.
“That works out well, said Dorothy. “We’re going that way.”
“Should you find him, well or…wounded,” whispered Cottage, “will you please send word?”
“We promise,” bellowed William. “This grass is the best yet. I welcome any reason to return, especially as a bearer of good tidings.”
“One more thing,” creaked the Door. “Could you oil my hinges?”
“And my shutter hinges” Cottage said, “please?”
“Allow me,” said Scrobins. “I noticed and oilcan on the top shelf?”
After Scrobins oiled their hinges, he loaded our sacks of supplies onto William’s back. She carried them with seldom a complaint as long as we removed them at night, and scratched her back for a bit. “If you don’t,” she said, “it may make my milk chewy.”
But, today was her day to complain. “I’ve been lugging these sacks for well over a week now,” William grumbled, “and you seldom open them…. I’m tempted to dump them.”
“Patience, William, patience…,” I said. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours…remember?”
“Mmmmmmooo…” William said, “You haven’t been scratching much of anything Toto. Dorothy, you put him on my back when we rest. If he can scratch his fleas, he can scratch my back.”
“You got it William, good for you,” Dorothy said with a laugh.
“Don’t say goodbye, anyone,” Scrobins admonished with a waggle of his straw forefinger. “We want to bring news of good tidings, and to bid them adieu is just plain bad mojo!”
“Thank you so much,” Dorothy’s eyes misted as she waved to the quaint Cottage and the hardy planked Door. “Someday, I hope I’m as blessed as Chip to have such a loving cottage and stalwart door. Keep your fingers crossed. I’d love to reward your kindness with the return of Chip Chopper.”
William’s ears collapsed as she turned from the yard toward the yellow brick road. Her big brown cow eyes glistened as she struggled to pull herself from the lush green grass of the front yard. “That yard needs such attention,” she said sadly. But, of course, she was still chewing on it hours later, so why she was sad made no sense to me.
After we walked less than an hour, William stopped abruptly and listened. “I heard something…something that doesn’t belong in this forest.”
“How can you hear anything over all of that chewing, William?”
“I don’t know, Toto, but I do.”
“I hear it too,” whispered Dorothy. “It sounds like metal.”
Not to be outdone, I went into birddog mode. Testing the air currents, I sniffed loudly with a look of intense concentration. I failed to smell anything, but after a dignified showing, I pointed north by northwest, the way that William and Dorothy were looking.
“William,” I said, “that way…check it out. Dorothy, stay here. It may not be safe…and Scrobins, you stay with Dorothy.”
“And what about you, Toto,” asked William with attitude.
“Fear not, I’m right behind you. You clear the brush. If we encounter something small, crawling, or talking, I shall deal with it. If is large, walking, or stalking, you deal with it.”
The sound grew louder as we approached. William ate her way through briars; I crawled beneath them. Scrobins disobeyed my command, stalked behind us, and got stuck in them. Lacking both brains and the common sense to be silent, he made a great ruckus as he struggled to break free.
“I fail to see anything from down here, you, William? And can you please quit chewing until we figure this out?” I whispered.
“Why are you whispering Toto?Thanks to Scrobins, anything within a mile of us knows we’re here.”
Ahead in a clearing, I saw something metallic…. Overgrown with thorny vines and covered with patches of dark greenish mold, wherever bare metal shown, its patina ranged from bleak sky gray to rainbow rust. Dorothy shouted from behind. Startled, I lost my breath as well as my wits. Before I could garner either, she charged around me, passed William, and stopped with a little cry of surprise.
One of the largest trees, scored, chipped, and chopped, leaned precariously. Beside it stood a giant machine of a man, rigid motionless, and almost made entirely of metal
He moved…slightly. I barked aggressively and snapped at a thick leg. “Dorothy, back,” I said. “It may be dangerous.”
"Stop it Toto, you silly thing. I think that this is Chip,” she replied. “Am I right, metal man?”
"Yes," answered the metal man in a soft rusty whisper, "I’m Chip. For more than a year I’ve clanged, scraped, whispered, and groaned, but frozen by rust, my efforts to move or be heard have been in vain."
The metal man was magnificent and monstrous. From shoulder to shoulder, he was an easy two meters across and he towered above the tallest of us by several feet. His left arm ended with a gigantic pincer rather than a hand. Though the other arm appeared complete, its cyclopean hand held a great ax, a Paul Bunyan sized ax of such weight and dimension, that no man of flesh and blood could wield. Thick cords of tarnished cable served as sinew and rainbow-glazed, springs of ample proportion functioned as his muscles. Metallic hoses of woven brass and copper, giddy green from oxidation, carried steam, and hydraulic fluids like veins in a man and various bulbous pulleys functioned as joints for his shoulders, elbows, and so on.
"What can we do for you?" Dorothy inquired in a tone that matched the sadness of her eyes.
“You can get me out of these briars,” shouted Scrobins. “How am I ever to protect you?”
“I’m not talking to you, Scrobins.”
“Can’t move…” the metal man whispered, "Get my oil-can and oil my joints. They’re rusted so badly…I’m near frozen from rust. You’ll find an oil-can on a shelf in my cottage which lies less than an hour from here."
First, we worked at freeing him from the vines that had grown around him; with a scraper from our sack, Dorothy, chiseled off a year’s growth of moss and mold.
“Cottage and Door spoke kindly of you,” I said. “However, Cottage said that the Wicked Witch destroyed much of your body. Wrongfully, I figured you crawled off into the forest and died.”
“I pictured an arm and your head attached to a small part of your torso, pulling yourself through the forest, by digging your ax into the earth, and propping yourself awkwardly while you chopped trees,” Scrobins said loudly from his prison of thorns.
“How silly,” said William. “Recall Cottage saying that Chip fixed his lunch. How could he do that with an ax in his hand?”
“I’ve used my ax before to spread butter,” the Metal Man whispered.
“I’ve had to use my finger to spread butter since I’ve been in Oz,” Dorothy said. “And speaking of butter, William’s butter is wonderful. By the way, we spent the night at your cottage; she and Door are generous and kind. They miss you terribly and will be so happy to see you’re alive!” Dorothy’s smile lit her face the way Cottage’s lamp warmed our hearts…with glee and wonder.
“I’ll fetch your oilcan.” Dorothy continued excitedly, “I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when I share with Door and Cottage, this astonishing news.”
While Dorothy went for the oil, William ate the briars that bound the scarecrow, and I studied the strange creature before me. How he breathed, I know not, but breathe he did and loudly. Most interesting, perhaps was his face. In fact, that was the only part of him that remained human. According to Dorothy, with his well-defined features, creases, dimples, and such, he was exceedingly handsome…ruggedly so. Despite a year of exposure to the elements, his face was free of blemish, beard, and the misery he must have endured. His emotional range of mixed expressions: relief, concern, curiosity, happiness, and intelligent scrutiny, were terribly incongruent with the inhumanity of his massive metal frame. The richest part of Chip Chopper was his swirly turquoise eyes. Bright and vibrant, they stood out like pearls in the night on his kind and noble face.
“My shirt is torn,” Scrobins said, interrupting my thoughts. “Upon her return I hope she’ll mend it.”
Shortly Dorothy returned with the oilcan. With her hands on her hips, she studied Chip through narrowed eyes. “You,” she said, "“are one big rust bucket, where do I start?"
"Please oil my jaw, first," replied the Metal Woodman.
“Oil his legs first,” I said, “more talking is the last thing we need.” With a frown and narrowed eyes, Dorothy bad-dogged me and applied oil to his knee bolt first. With wide eyes and an incredulous look, she said, “The oilcan is filled with water.”
“If that’s the oil can I used, you’re right,” said Scrobins matter-of-factly. “There was only enough oil to do one of Door’s hinges, but rather than hurt their feelings, I added a bit of water from the stream to stretch it out.”
With a stormy blush to her cheeks and a scowl, Dorothy said, “I’ll go back, it’s only an hour walk...each way.”
“Don’t bother,” said the scarecrow. “They’ve none to spare. Otherwise I’d not have filled the can with water.”
Once Dorothy tired of lambasting Scrobins, I said, “Listen up, Chip, here is the plan. There is an absence of oil in the cottage. I promised Door and Cottage that we’d get you home safely. We shall tie you to William’s back, and she can carry you. Once we get you to the Cottage, we can prop you in a corner.”
“What’s he supposed to do then Toto?” Dorothy said.
“Why he could whistle most assuredly,” said Scrobins pursing his painted mouth with his fingers. “After all, Cottage said he whistles while he works!”
“Whistle or not, amusing him is not my problem. He shall be home and safe. That was my promise,” I replied.
“It’s better than rusting in the woods,” said the Metal Man. “But I shall likely be bored.”
“More bored than you’ve been during the last year,” William asked.
“Stop it…, all of you. We can stand Chip by the table with the oil lamp and set a few books there for him.” I said.
“That’s a good idea,” agreed William. “However, I’ll be hungry after all that work and night will again be upon us.”
After an hour or so, we gave up. The three of us could not lift the metal man. William had no hands and though carrying the metal man might have been possible for her, we could not figure a way to get him on William’s back.
A brilliant idea of my own contrivance surfaced. “William’s butter! We can use it as a lubricant.”
“Won’t he stink before the week is out?” asked Dorothy.
“What is the alternative?” I said. “Would you rather he smell or rust?”
“This butter is pretty as vanilla icing and light as whipped cream,” Dorothy said as she scraped every bit of it artfully from the shaker and into in a small bowl from our potato sack. “Look Toto, look in the bowl. I made two eyes and a mouth….and now a …..”
“Stop,” I cried, “anything with a face, living or not, will want to talk and most assuredly wish to follow us to the Emerald City. The face in the bowl will be clamoring for a body in no time.”