|The Boundaries of Oz
Author: Bar Sira PM
Dealing with a previously unknown Wicked Witch of the North, the bottle of Powder of Life that she sends to southern Florida, and the consequences that result.Rated: Fiction K - English - Humor - Chapters: 14 - Words: 18,481 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 07-05-09 - id: 5192348
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Now we must return to Caesar Beutler, who, the readers of this chronicle will recall, was accidentally dropped on a museum floor, directly in the path of a rampaging Deinonychus skeleton, back in Chapter 9. We would have returned to him sooner, but we were distracted by all the excitement elsewhere.
For really there was nothing terribly exciting in what happened to Caesar. As Dr. Beutler ducked into the Evolution Room, and the other patrons fled in terror, there was nothing he could do except lie quietly on the floor until the Deinonychus showed up, sniffed at him curiously for a moment, and then grabbed him in its mouth and swallowed him whole.
As Caesar entered the great beast's maw, he felt a spasm of irritation. He was aware, of course, that he was a good deal more mortal than his sister – Jack Pumpkinhead's concerns about spoilage, expressed so vividly in The Land of Oz, applied with equal if not greater validity to salads – but he had thought he might live a bit longer than this. What was the point of being brought into such a varied and marvelous universe, if one was only to be unceremoniously ejected from it at the end of two weeks?
His philosophical temperament, however, soon overruled this line of thought. After all, he reflected, to have life at all was an inexplicable gift; it was ridiculous to say that he had a right to any particular length of it. The critical thing was to use it well, and this he believed he had done: so, really, there was nothing to complain of.
The Lord giveth, he mused (being familiar with the passage from one of Father Kilgannon's radio sermons), and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
And just as he came to this conclusion, the Deinonychus succeeded in swallowing him completely. He was squeezed out the back of the skeleton's jaw, slid through the open space between its ribs, and, with a loud plop, landed once again on the tiled floor.
It took him a moment to realize that he was still alive. When he did, he simultaneously felt bewilderment, overwhelming gratitude, and that peculiar annoyance that comes to people who reconcile themselves to a state of affairs just as it ceases to be the current one.
The Deinonychus, on the other hand, was merely puzzled. It turned around and sniffed at Caesar, flipping him over once or twice as though to examine him more thoroughly.
"Very strange," it murmured. Its voice was strong and masculine, with a tone somewhere between a hiss and a purr.
"What is very strange?" Caesar enquired.
"You are," said the Deinonychus. "I am. Everything is."
Caesar nodded. (It was interesting to watch when he did it; it involved letting his lettuce carry the vegetables that formed his face in an up-and-down motion across his bag.) "You have made a profound observation there," he said.
"One moment, I am battling one of my pack-mates for a share of the Iguanodon we have killed," said the Deinonychus. "The next moment, I am a stone carcass in a bright cave, unable to consume even so peculiar and helpless a creature as yourself." He shook his head. "I can't understand it. Can you?"
"Actually, I can," said Caesar. "You see, I am, in a sense, responsible for it."
The Deinonychus cocked his head to the side. "Indeed?" he said.
"Yes," said Caesar. "You see…" He hesitated, unsure where to begin.
"Tell me," he said, "are you familiar with the idea of time?"
"Time?" The Deinonychus frowned, as though he had heard the word before, but never given it any great thought.
"Yes," said Caesar. "What separates now from then. What makes young things old."
The Deinonychus perked up. "Ah, old!" he said. "Yes, I know about old. Old is what makes prey-creatures slower and easier to kill."
"Just so," said Caesar politely. "Well, since your battle with your pack-mate, the world has become very much older."
The Deinonychus hesitated. "How much older?" he asked, and Caesar thought he already knew the answer.
"All the creatures you knew are dead," he said simply.
Unlike podiatrists and soft-drink containers, social predators cannot afford to display their emotions too broadly. Consequently, the only reaction to this news that Caesar observed was the Deinonychus's tail drooping two inches.
"I suspected as much," he said quietly. "And I am dead, too, I suppose?"
"You were," said Caesar. "My father and my sister and I brought you back to life."
"Why?" said the Deinonychus.
Caesar considered the question for a moment, and realized that the strictly honest answer would be, "Because we had to do something with the Powder, and this was the most creative thing we could think of." He suspected, however, that this would not be a wise answer to give the Deinonychus, so he said, "Because we wished to know what the world was like in your time."
The Deinonychus snorted. "What a stupid idea," he said. "The world was quite dull in my time. You ate, you slept, you mated in the summertime, and that was all. We didn't mind because we didn't talk or think, but no creature who did talk and think could possibly be interested in it."
"Some might be," Caesar said mildly. "For example, I neither eat, nor sleep, nor mate at any time, so all these things are of great interest to me."
The Deinonychus frowned. "You don't?" he said. "What sort of creature are you, then?"
"The same sort as you are, now," said Caesar. "The magic that brought us to life does not believe that eating, sleeping, and so forth are necessary activities of life."
The Deinonychus laughed shortly. "So, then," he said, "from being a creature that could neither talk nor think, I have become one that can do nothing else."
Caesar was puzzled by the rueful tone in the Deinonychus's voice. "Do you not find this fortunate?" he said. "It seems to me that knowledge and thought are the major purpose of life, and that the need for food and sleep merely distracts from this."
The Deinonychus gave him an odd look. "You were never alive before the magic was performed, were you?" he said.
"I thought not." The Deinonychus straightened himself. "So, then, what shall we do now?"
Caesar considered. "We could try to find my father and Amy," he said. "I suspect they will want to meet you."
"I could do that," the Deinonychus agreed. "Does your father smell like you?"
Caesar, of course, had no nose, and therefore could not answer this question from personal experience, but all the same he felt rather sure of the answer. "No," he said. "He smells more like the people who were running away from you a few minutes ago."
The Deinonychus nodded, and sniffed at the air. "Yes," he said after a few moments. "There are very few scents in this air, and your father's is quite clear. He is in there." He pointed to the doorway of the Evolution Room.
"Then let us go in there," said Caesar.
The Deinonychus nodded, and began to walk off. After a moment, finding that Caesar did not follow him, he turned and looked back.
"Aren't you coming?" he said.
"I can't," said Caesar mildly. "Inside this bag, I am completely sessile. You will have to carry me."
So the Deinonychus picked him up (giving him at the same time a look of sincere but annoyingly condescending sympathy), and the two of them went into the Evolution Room, where they discovered Dr. Beutler lying face-down on the floor where Dawn had left him.
"Is this him?" said the Deinonychus, nudging the doctor's inert body with his foot.
Caesar frowned. "Possibly," he said. "Turn him over, so I can see his face."
The Deinonychus slid his foot underneath Dr. Beutler's stomach and lifted, and Dr. Beutler flopped onto his back with a muffled thump.
Caesar nodded. "Yes, that's him."
"Strange," said the Deinonychus, sniffing Dr. Beutler's body. "He doesn't smell dead, so I suppose he must be asleep – but I've never seen a prey animal fall asleep while it was being hunted before."
"Perhaps he fainted," suggested Caesar. "Humans sometimes do that when you mention the names of lost lovers to them." (This had been a key plot element on that day's "Amos and Andy".)
"Maybe," said the Deinonychus, unconvinced. He bent down to examine the body more closely – and, as he did so, Dr. Beutler moaned and opened his eyes.
Now, it was only natural that Dr. Beutler, regaining consciousness after a severe blow to the head to discover an undead Deinonychus's skull looming not two inches from his face, should have been somewhat flustered – and it was probably inevitable that, under the influence of this flusterment, he should have made an instinctive, spasmodic movement of his head, resulting in the collision of his forehead with the Deinonychus's stone snout. It must be admitted, however, that this was not an auspicious beginning for their acquaintance.
"Oof!" said the Deinonychus, shaking his skull. "May I ask, good sir, just what that was for?"
Dr. Beutler blinked. "You can talk?"
Caesar saw that some introductions were in order. "If you will allow me, Father," he said. "This is…" He frowned, and glanced up at the Deinonychus. "Do you have a name?"
"Not to my knowledge," said the Deinonychus. "Names are fairly unnecessary when you don't speak."
"True," Caesar admitted. "All the same, you should have one now. Shall I think of one for you?"
"Please," said the Deinonychus. "Nothing too fancy, you understand; just something simple and commonplace."
Caesar reflected. "I believe the most common name in the world is Mohammed Chang," he said. "Mohammed the first name, Chang the last name. Will that do?"
"Admirably," said the Deinonychus. "Thank you."
"My pleasure," said Caesar. "Father, this is Mohammed Chang. Mohammed, my father, Dr. Ralph Beutler."
"A pleasure," said Dr. Beutler vaguely.
Mohammed scrutinized him thoughtfully. "So you are the great sorcerer who can summon new life at will," he said. "I must say, I expected something… different."
Dr. Beutler smiled weakly. "I would scarcely call myself a great sorcerer," he said. "I just happen to have a daughter with a few exceptional abilities."
"Speaking of whom," said Caesar, frowning, "where is she?"
Dr. Beutler glanced down at his empty right hand, then back up at Caesar and Mohammed. "Oh, dear God."