The child Dorothy Gale stood on a swell of land, knee-deep in blueblack flowers, heart-deep in perturbation. Before her and behind her the landscape of Oz spread its peculiar and myriad wonders, mountains to the left and right, patchwork farmland to the rear of her, and the endless road ahead, skirting a broad and motionless lake. Doubts niggled at her like mosquitoes, jumping and biting and snatching away the confidence that the day's journey had won for her. She did not believe that this would ever end. They would go on like this forever, and she would never reach home.
She quelled a sob at the thought.
"Do you find it frightening to be here?" inquired a gentle voice from behind her.
She began to smile before she began to turn, letting the worry ebb away from her and transforming it to a deeply-felt wonder at the sheer spectacle of it all. It would not do to let her new friends fret about her, no! They had been so helpful and kind.
"It is most certainly odd," she informed the Scarecrow, "and not at all like home."
"In what way," queried the Scarecrow, rustling as he came to stand beside her, "is this not like your Kansas? Don't you have mountains, and farmland, and valleys and rivers and blueblack flowers and Places of Hopelessness and a Mapped and Dotted Line?"
Dorothy laughed to think of such things at her home. "No, I do not! Kansas is very flat. Farmland, yes, farmland we have aplenty, but the rest of those things— do they exist anywhere else than here?" She turned her eyes once more to the view; the Scarecrow's painted eyes remained fixed on her. "I have never been away from home," she said softly. "Before now, I mean to say. Before now, I have not traveled beyond my own town, except for the one year we went to the County Fair— and that was twelve miles away. Twelve miles, Scarecrow. I was so grateful we did not have to walk it. Tom lent us his haycart and we rode all the way. Do you suppose we have come twelve miles as yet? We have been walking a good long time."
The Scarecrow looked ruminatively at the sun where it sank behind them, with a slowness that spoke of the lethargy of large beasts. "Four days or more," he estimated, "at a guess. I would venture it cannot be more than a week. We have not run out of oil for the Tin Man. That's as good an indicator as any."
"But in terms of miles? Speaking of distance?"
"Speaking of distance," began the Scarecrow, "I don't know what you mean by miles. I know how to count steps until I can no longer number, and then begin again, and if you keep track of the times you run out of numbers and then add those up together, why, you end up with no accurate amount if you're anywhere near as bad at maths as I am. But if you can manage it, you'll have a fair idea of how far you've walked. I haven't been counting, Dorothy."
She sighed and turned away from him.
"I have to say, that is not much good after all, if you haven't been counting."
"How far does one walk in a mile?"
"Why, it depends on how fast one walks," said Dorothy after a moment, with a slight cognitive frown.
"And if one just keeps walking all day?"
"Then it depends on the distance."
"And if one never reaches the destination?"
"Then either they are walking far too slowly," said Dorothy decidedly, "or the destination does not exist."
"Then," opined the Scarecrow, "if we never reach the Emerald City, we are clearly not going very many miles a day."
Dorothy reflected on this for a moment, and then owned it as truth. They stood in companionable silence for a few moments more, and the light behind them shifted and danced and drifted to bed for the night, or to death if it did not rise in the morning.
"Do you mind it all?" questioned the Scarecrow softly. Dorothy was unaware that his painted gaze had come to settle upon her again. "The strangeness of being somewhere not-home, and the fears of a different place?"
"I don't believe I do, really," said Dorothy, and the Scarecrow grinned— he could scarcely help it, as it was painted on— and quietly shifted to take her hand.
"And the friends you have made," he encouraged her on, "what do you think of them?"
"I was a bit frightened of the Lion at first," she admitted candidly. "He did roar so. And then when he carried on after I slapped him and called him a beast, how he cried! I feared we should never get him to hush after that. The Tin Man is lovely, truly he is— but so cold to the touch. He hugged me a good night and I do believe I have bruises."
"And I," said the Scarecrow, prompting, pushing, prodding.
"I never did tell you how affrighted I was of scarecrows, did I?"
"No!" denied the Scarecrow, aghast. "How ever did that occur?"
"Well, I mean scarecrows at home— not proper Scarecrows like you. I don't know for sure why it was, it just was. Something about your shape, like a man but not a man—"
"But we are Scarecrows, you know, Dorothy, not Scarechilds."
"Yes, I know. One can't always explain why one feels things, you know, Scarecrow. One just feels what one feels with no ready reason for it."
"Yes," said the Scarecrow fervently, "I know."
He was quite in love with the child he'd befriended; she was such an open, honest thing, and, he thought with almost fatherly pride, prone to fits of brilliance. Their companions surely loved her too— as who could not, he reflected. They called her Child, or Girl, or, if the Tin Man was feeling melancholy-romantic and the Lion subjective, they called her Milady. The Scarecrow alone always referred to her as Dorothy, pleased with the sound of her name. It was one of the first words he had ever said, when her presence gave him breath and thought to move where he would instead of staying in one place making a poor job of frightening marauding birds. He raised a hand to her cheek and she smiled at him instead of complaining about being scratched by straw, though it left a red mark there. Such a pleasant child, his Dorothy, and surely a credit to them all.
"I'm sorry you were frightened of others who were like me and yet not like me," he told her humbly.
"It can scarcely be blamed on you," she laughed, "as you weren't about at the time."
"Yet I feel somewhat responsible. I wish I could make it up to you, Dorothy."
"Why, you are, Scarecrow! Traveling with me as you are; I could hardly expect to make it to the Emerald City on my own. Its all thanks to you and the Tin Man and the Lion that I have even made it this far— however far it is I've made it."
"Yes," said the Scarecrow slowly. The child beamed at him.
"I do believe it will be all thanks to you that I make it back to Kansas and the farm and Auntie Em. After all, I could hardly get back without help from the Wizard— and I could hardly get help from the Wizard if I did not go to the Emerald City— and I could hardly get to the Emerald City, as I said, without your kind assistance. So it is really all thanks to you, you see."
"Yes," said the Scarecrow, slower still, and rested one hand on Dorothy's shoulder as she put an arm about him. Painted eyes and living ones took in the slowly-darkening landscape. Jealousy and hurt and love combined in the Scarecrow's middle and sparked so that he feared for his straw heart. He did not want Dorothy to leave. He wanted very much for her to stay there with him.
The child hugged him briefly closer, as though he were a pillow; or perhaps her Auntie Em, whom she must surely be missing dreadfully. The Scarecrow sighed. Of course he could not keep Dorothy with him. It wasn't a question of wishing, it wasn't a question of maybe. When the morning came they would continue their journey.
Yet, she truly understood that one could not always explain their feelings; he took comfort and a stingy bit of hope from that.
After all, what was it she had said? If they never reached their destination, perhaps they were walking too slowly, or the destination did not exist at all. He had never seen the Emerald City, and could not personally attest to its continued existence. There was no telling what they would find when they got there. Perhaps a hole. Perhaps a vacuum. Perhaps nothing.
Perhaps they would never get there. Perhaps they would tire themselves out with walking and yet have to get up the next morning and go on again. Perhaps there no such things as miles, or walking too quickly, or walking too slowly, or even walking.
The Scarecrow hugged the child to him, and was secretly, irrationally, gleefully glad.
They watched the sun go down in the mirror of the lake.