Sample Reading - Chapter One of the Wizard Was Odd
“Wake up, Toto, Wake up!”
Startled, my head popped up and my eyes snapped open. Dorothy crouched before me, rubbing my side. I was panting.
“You were dreaming, Toto,” she said with a smile. “Your stubby little doggie legs were going fifty miles an hour! One minute you would whimper and the next minute you would growl.”
I sighed, and rolled onto my stomach, rested my chin on my paws, and decided that my whacky dream was Dorothy’s fault. A week ago, the wind whipped the sash of our cabin window into her head. She awoke with a bump on her noggin and a lot of nonsense on her tongue. Every day since, I listened to her tales of witches and wizards, tin and straw men. Now…she had me dreaming the same nonsense. I recalled a kind-hearted metal man-monster, a really annoying scarecrow, a talking milk cow, and a huge cat…. At least I didn't dream of witches and wizards.
I shook the sleep from my eyes, chewed on an itching hindleg, and tried to hang onto those magnificent muddled memories before they drifted into the obscurity of dreamland. But...a creeping fear took charge of my senses. My hackles twitched and rippled with a mind of their own as a hopeless sense of foreboding claimed my spirit. I shivered, perked my ears, and listened with every part of me. Something was wrong and it required my attention more than that itch, so I spit out my hind leg.
Muscles tensed. My eyes darted between the heavens and the horizon.
“What is it, Toto?” Dorothy asked with an edge to her voice.
I lay cold and still, like dew on the grass during a windless dawn and my nose quivered as I struggled to know the taste of my fear. It was July and near noon. In Kansas, no one was cold in July…ever.
As I studied the dust-choked terrain, something was eating me. It was a flea…. I shook it from my ear, but something else gnawed at me, something even more sinister, and the fear in my heart remained. Then, from the far north, I heard a low wail…a familiar sound that gathered a sense of desperation about it, desperation to all it seemed, who lived on the flat hot plains of the Midwest.
“Twister,” I growled with a loud shrill. Frenzied, I twisted and raced about like a cornered rat. I also acted like this when I cornered a rat, so no one but Dorothy paid me any mind.
“Twister,” Dorothy shouted. She pointed toward where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm. A sharp whistling in the air came from the south. When we turned that way, we saw ripples in the grass coming from that direction too.
Uncle Henry said, “Em, I'll look after the stock." Then he ran to secure the horse and cow sheds.
“I shall herd the chickens into the coop,” I barked. Though my routine chores were limited to ratting, I took an express interest in the chickens, as their gizzards were my favorite meal.
The tornado was dangerously close by the time we finished tending to the animals. I headed to our home, a small one-room cabin, but the wind picked up so much I could hardly put one paw in front of the other.
Twenty pounds of muscle, I was in my prime, yet I could not move against that storm, but at least it blew the bangs from my eyes and for once I could see clearly.
“I got yah Toto,” said Uncle Henry as he came from behind me and grabbed me by the scruff. As he leaned into the wind and struggled to make us safe, I watched in terror. Never before, have I known such fear. Vicious beyond words, our world had become a dust bowl, with gusts ripping one way and tearing another. I wagged my tail weakly as Uncle Henry handed me to Dorothy.
“Oh, thank you, thank you Uncle Henry, I don’t know what I’d do without To….”
Dorothy gasped; her jaw bounced off my head and as she stiffened, I twisted around in her arms to see what scared her. My tail whipped between my legs with a mind of its own. Where just minutes before there was that dustbowl of whipping wind and grey bleak sky, now, a blackened grey funnel twisted like an angry snake downward from the heavens.. With its mouth ever widening, it advanced…toward our cabin.
“Uncle Henry, look, there…in the tornado, a plow, and now…the roof of a barn…and far far up,” Dorothy said with a gasp, “how terribly terrible! There goes a cow…and…a poor gangly young man!”
“Em, into the cellar, now!” said Uncle Henry as he tossed aside the rug that covered the trapdoor. Pulling it open, he climbed in first to make it ready. “Leave it,” he said as Em reached for a lantern. “We have a lamp down there.”
"Quick, Dorothy!" Aunt Em screamed as she clambered down the ladder. "Get in here now!"
“I’m coming,” Dorothy cried.
First, however, she tossed me gently to the floor and then rooted around frantically under her bed. After Aunt Em was safe, Uncle Henry climbed partly up the ladder. “Toto, jump,” he hollered with open arms.
I was within inches of leaping into the safety of his arms, but Dorothy was still on the other side of the cabin, under her bed.
Uncle Henry cried out, “Jumping Jehoshaphat, Dorothy! What’re you doing?”
I turned from the safety of his open arms and nipped at her bare feet. I would not leave her until she got up.
“Quit Toto, I’m looking for my makeup case and…ah.”
Dorothy wore her sweet smile of innocent delight as she plucked her fine dress from a peg on the wall and slid her bare feet into her only pair of shoes.
“I’m not going anywhere without my makeup and Sunday dress. These are all I own in the entire world and I’m not leaving them for some tornado! Now, where’s my makeup?”
“Damn it to hell, Dorothy. Leave your makeup,” shouted Uncle Henry. “Have you lost your mind?”
As I made my way back to the ladder, I saw her makeup case under a towel by the washbasin.and I knew she wouldn’t leave without it. Uncle Henry called me again. I was between two hardheads and very confused. I licked my nose.
Then the cabin lurched and bounced on its foundation. Dorothy lost her balance, tripped on her dress, and flopped to the floor. That was enough to change her attitude. Like Aunt Em’s honey- dipped biscuits, her eyes glazed over, her lips quivered, and she froze. By the look of fear upon her sweet face, she finally got it. We were in deep doo doo.
The cabin bucked like a baby bronco. I panted, my tongue swung like a pendulum over my bottom buckteeth, and again, my tail found safety between my legs. The rich laundry-fresh scent of the storm tickled my nose while Dorothy stared at me with hollow pleading eyes. I glanced back at Uncle Henry, wagged my tail weakly, and wobbled my way to her red leather makeup case. I drug it to her outstretched hands, but instead, it was me that she reached for!
“Bless you Toto,” she said through her tear-filled eyes. Clutching her best dress, her case, and me, she struggled to regain her footing.
A great shriek arose from the wind, the house rocked on its foundation, and tilted.
Before she could regain her footing or even crawl toward the ladder, the house lifted. Yes, it literally lifted whirled, ever so slowly…, once, and then turned like a carousel as it picked up speed.
As the tornado carried us from Uncle Henry’s outstretched hands, tears filled his wide eyes, and gusts rippled his whitened cheeks like sheets on a clothesline. His lips moved as he yelled, but the twister wrenched the words from his mouth as easily as it lifted our cabin from its foundation with us in it. As the twister carried us upward, it left Uncle Henry battling the wind as he worked his way down the ladder into the blackness of the dirt cellar. Borne aloft, we looked down upon the man who had been a father to both of us. Two sad and soulful eyes trapped in a face of dread and horror was my last memory of that fine man.
Dorothy blew him kisses until he disappeared into the cellar. “He’s safe, Toto,” she said as she scooped me up and held me close. “I saw him go down the ladder.”
The cabin continued to rise…slowly…, and terribly. Had the trapdoor been closed, I would have considered this whole tornado affair to be nonsense, a child of my fanciful imagination. But, we saw a John Deere tractor float past us and collide with a spinning coop of dizzy squawking chickens. Then an updraft lifted us well beyond visibility into the smoky turbulence of clouds, dust, and storm. Although there was nothing to see, I shivered when the turmoil outside our open trapdoor, turned from smoky grey to black, pitch black.
“What now, Toto?” Dorothy cried. “Like a wounded beast, the wind screams. and I can’t see a thing.”
A streak of lightning lit Dorothy’s glistening eyes.
“I feel so stupid, Toto, and selfish! The tornado stole the cabin and us in it. I probably gave Uncle Henry a heart attack…and…I put all of us in danger…for a stupid makeup case.”
My little girl’s shoulders sagged and sorrow twisted her face, but the shame in her eyes hurt my heart. I did all that I could, I licked her hand…but I had to agree with what she said, and I was still mad as hell.
For what might have been hours, the storm carried us with neither a jerk nor jostle. I felt gently rocked, like a baby in a cradle. Eventually, exhaustion overcame me and I was too tired to be terrified.
“If I knew we’d land safely, Toto, I could really enjoy floating like we’re. It’s so peaceful.” Dorothy yawned. She tucked me under her arm and felt her way along the floor as she crawled to her bed in the corner. Her peace of mind was short-lived. From then until we fell asleep, Dorothy berated herself and worried dearly for her Aunt and Uncle.
“I can see again, Toto!” she said some time after we drifted in and out of sleep, “Look out the trapdoor.”
True, we could see, but only when a bolt of lightning lit the sky. Perhaps dawn was approaching and if this made Dorothy any happier, that was fine with me. But, the wind picked up again. It swished and whistled as it cut between the log walls of the cabin. The remaining curtain that hung above a well-shuttered window rippled fiercely. I thought of Aunt Em when she beat the dust from a rug: whap…whap…whap.
Cross drafts pawed at us, tickled, and teased. Some were cool and gentle while others dampened us. Dorothy shivered and hugged her Sunday dress. The blasts of wind against our cabin quieted. It became impossible to stay awake. Our stress and fear exhausted us.
“What was that,” asked Dorothy as she jerked from a troubled sleep.
The sounds were terrible and frightening, but a greater fear came from not knowing what caused them. As the wind battered the remaining curtain, fate battered our resolve. How much more could we take? Our nerves had suffered enough!
“Something alive is making those sounds…,” Dorothy said, “But what creature could live in the midst of a twister?”
Our world was again quiet. As I relaxed, a percussion ripped the breath from my lungs and drove me to near panic. It was neither bell nor drum, but a distant foreboding hollowed sound that cried out with forlorn loneliness, a loneliness that filled me with despair. Scraping overhead, like fingernails on a chalkboard, interrupted my misery. Then footsteps…distinct, and solidly planted, marched slowly across the roof then down the side of our cabin.
“Something,” whispered Dorothy, “is moving toward the cabin door.”
I could not control the fear that surged within me. It replaced the heat fueled by my anger with an all-consuming feeling of hopelessness. As if electrified, my hackles rippled along my spine. My nose sniffed for danger, but all that I could smell was my own fear, rancid and sour.
Knock…knock…, and then a banging…, something metallic and hollow beat on our cabin door. This was not the friendly knock of an expected guest, but rapid and impatient. Dorothy stared at me with wide eyes. I growled wildly. Instinctively, I moved between her and the door. Though my fear drove me to near madness, I did my best not to shiver. I had to be strong for Dorothy.
The timbers of the door bowed and creaked . We both stepped back. With a great crack, the door warped and burst open, but its hinges held and that alone, kept us from being crushed.
“Ni come ‘n?
Dorothy and I stared.
“C’n I come in?.
It was a cow: a cow of many hundred pounds. In her mouth, this ordinary, run-of-the-mill, white with puddles of black, Holstein milkcow held the handle of a milk bucket. This of course explained her inability to speak clearly.
With considerable effort, from the porch, she pushed her huge girth through the cabin door. Acting as if she owned the place, she set her bucket down, and leaned against the nearest wall. Breathing heavily she said, “Sorry to barge in like this, but I what else could I do?”
“You’re a talking cow!” Dorothy said.
“Ah, and I can see that you’re a child…excuse me…a fine young lady with a keen sense of observation,” the cow replied in a very low voice, “but the point is m-m-m-o-o-o-o-t.”
“I’m so thankful that you turned out to be a talking cow,” Dorothy said with a great sigh that carried the fear from her face. “With all of the horrible sounds and the banging, scraping, pounding, and knocking, Toto and I were expecting something terrible to come through the door. Was that entire ruckus from you?”
“When Jim and I were outside, we didn’t see anyone else,” the cow replied.
“How did you get here,” Dorothy asked. “And who’s Jim?”
“Jim, is the best milker I’ve ever had and where I live, he was milking me and just about to finish up. From nowhere came a sound like a train from Hades. ‘That be a tornado,’ Jim hollered. With no further warning, the barn roof over our heads disappeared, the hayloft blew apart, and the tornado sucked both of us up as if we weighed nothing more than dust bunnies. As the twister carried us off, Jim stuck the milk bucket handle in my mouth. With one hand, he held his stool and the other, my tail. What a ride!”
“Is Jim…still out there?” Dorothy asked with a frown as she peered cautiously into the storm.
“No, he isn’t back yet,” said the cow in her smooth bass voice.
“What do you mean?” Dorothy asked.
“By the way my name is William. As I was saying, this twister sucked us up like a bug. Jim and I were in the tornado a long time before we banged up against the side of your cabin. Jim had his stool, and as you can see, I had my bucket,” William said with a nod of her head.
“Before that, we were twisted, turned, churned, and bounced here and there for a long time, so long in fact, that I was due for a milking. Luckily, the storm pushed us into your cabin and with considerable difficulty, we made it up to the roof. Though the tornado surrounded us, the roof was actually quite calm and peaceful. Jim being a considerate boy, he obliged me when I suggested a milking.That was wonderful,” William said as she batted her big brown eyes. “It felt so good to be filling that bucket. Jim said that it felt great to be sitting on his stool without being buffeted by the storm.”
“’Your tail’s better ‘n any rope, William. You be sure to keep it handy,’” he said.
“By and by, the bucket got full and I still had another bucket’s worth of milk to give. If you know anything about us milk cows, you know that most of us are two bucket cows, which is what I am,” William said matter-of-factly.
“As I was saying, Jim recognized immediately that we had a dilemma with only one bucket and me being a two-bucket cow. Always quick to make a decision, Jim jumped off the roof and back into the storm. With a smart salute from one hand, and his stool in the other, the last words he hollered were, ‘I’ll be back’. With Jim gone and me hearing your voices inside, I wasn’t about to spend the night alone. So …here I am. I lost much of the milk, but maybe…,” William paused and walked to where she had set the bucket down…. “Yes, I still have a quart or so of milk. So the day was not a total loss.”
“Oh dear, it’s a shame that Jim was in such a hurry.” Dorothy retrieved a bucket from a cupboard. “As you can see, William, we do have an extra bucket right here.”
“If only I had known,” William said with a shake of her head. “Kind Miss, to whom do I have the honor to be addressing?”
“Oh! Please pardon my manners…my name is Dorothy, and this is Toto.”
“Dorothy, a lovely name, and the little fella is Two Two?”
You could have knocked me over with a buttermilk biscuit, because it was I who answered the cow, “No, it’s Toe-Toe.”
Dorothy backed away from me like I had a flea infestation. She covered her mouth with steepled hands and stared at me, in silence, with wide-eyes. I took that as my cue to proceed, but she cut me off as I cleared my throat.
“Toto…if you can talk…,” with a hysterical giggle she continued, “Then I’m either dreaming or dead.”
Dorothy went on a bit about losing her mind, but since that really had nothing to do with me, I considered the matter at hand, which happened to be this milkcow. Unlike Dorothy who was overly trusting, I was a bit skeptical…and confused. This surely looked like the milk cow of my dream, but I set that aside as an incidental and went back to considering William’s incredible tale. I reviewed the facts: we are in a cabin, in a tornado, with a dog talking to a cow that had been milked upon our roof, and still had a quart of milk to prove it. I recalled the wisdom of my mentor, Uncle Henry. There’s a fly in the ointment. I can see the ointment ripple, but I can’t see the fly.
Something was amiss…but I could not put my paw on it. However, the greatest mystery in my mind was the cow’s name. Who would ever name a cow William?
Despite these unanswered questions, right then we needed organization and leadership. Therefore, I boldly stepped forth.
“Three points you need to remember, William, and we will all get along fine.” With a tone of authority that I did not feel, I continued. “First, I am in charge. If I say jump over the moon, you do it. Second, please shut the door, it is windy out there. Third, I am in charge of all of the milk that Dorothy squeezes out of you, and fourth, if you have any questions refer to point number one.”
“How rude of me! One would think,” William said, closing the cabin door with her tail, “that I was raised in a barn. Furthermore, little dog, since I’m a cow, I’ve never been a leader because cows don’t know how to lead. Therefore, I’m glad that one as tiny as you has the ego, fortitude, and courage to look out for me. Secondly, I don’t make milk for myself, but to share it. My farmer decided to whom and where my milk would go and until I return to my farm and her, that honor is now yours. I’m glad to share my milk. Lastly, it’s very unlikely that I’ll ask you any questions.” With a smug look and sweet smile William said, “For the life of me, I can’t think of anything that you could possibly know that I haven’t already learned.”
It was clear that I was not dealing with just another dumb cow. William was a worthy adversary, but her manner was kind and respectful. I hoped thatas long as I was in charge, we’d get along fine.
During this exchange, Dorothy was speechless, her eyes wide, “Toto, I must be going crazy…you continue to speak…words.”
“You carried on a conversation with the cow,” I said, “and never gave it a second thought. What sets me apart?”
“I’ve lived with you since I was a child and you never said the first word. I just met William tonight! I don’t understand what you don’t understand.”
As I pondered Dorothy’s logic, a thought popped into my head. Uncle Henry was one quiet tight-lipped man. Did he know of nothing to say or know to say nothing?
In any event, Dorothy went on about one thing and then another. Now that I could finally speak, I could not; she would not stop talking…even to breathe.
“You were very rude to William. I’m disappointed that the first words out of your mouth were stern and reproachful.”
Since I did not fall off the watermelon truck yesterday, I knew better than to argue. Besides, my interest was in that bucket of milk.
“Agreed,” I said with a wag of my tail. “Now, that I can be understood, I promise to try to weigh my thoughts before I cast my words. Let us share the bit of milk that remains in the bucket…with your permission William,” I asked.
“Good dog, Toto,” Dorothy said. She lifted me above her, rubbed noses with me, and tucked me under her arm.
“Enjoy,” replied William. “Hopefully, tomorrow will find us alive, refreshed, and back where we started.”
William rested on the floor while she chewed loudly on a meal from a much better day.
“Good dog and good night,” William said with a toothy grin.
The floor swayed. With me in her arms, Dorothy made her way to her bed and I snuggled by her side. Cradled by the gentle rocking of the storm and the calming whispers of its dying wind, we fell asleep.