Toto was dead. Or just about, Dorothy thought. Her hands shook clutching the steering wheel of the truck. The Kansas state line and state highways signs flashed in the headlights. She had waited by the side of the road and called him until her feet hurt and her voice hoarse. Toto had jumped out of the truck while they stopped at a side road leading up to the northern state line. Still, she could have made it all up. Her mind had always played tricks on her, ever since she was a little girl.
Toto could be home sitting on the porch, waiting for her. But the crumpled bag of dog food for Toto and a hamper of washed clothes was in the back seat, making weird crumpling sounds when the truck hit a pot hole as she sped back home. She didn't know how long those things had been back there. Maybe an hour, maybe she put them there last week. She couldn't remember when she had made the plans to get out of Kansas.
Dorothy drove home, got out of the truck, and slammed the truck door behind her. Although she wished and prayed that she would see him again, his eyes twinkling in under the electric porch light, Toto was not home.
She went inside and slumped in a chair, not bothering to turn on a light, and stared at her shoes. Even in the dim light, they still sparkled.
Dorothy had grown old, but the slippers had never faded, never tarnished, and never had gotten so much as a speck of dust on them. Her brown braids were now a graying bun, those young hands which had grasped the witch's broom could hardly grasp much now, but the shoes remained the same. No one could explain why or how those shoes stayed on her feet all those years, or Toto's unnatural long life.
Toto had died the last week, or at least that's what Dorothy thought as she folded the laundry from the hamper.. She no longer could imagine his fluffy little old body, only his eyes. Those sad brown eyes did nothing but stare mindlessly back at Dorothy in her imagination. Blind eyes. Blinded by those blasted shoes. She remembered for moment that she had tried to go on without Toto. That she had tried to cross the border. But as she neared the border of Kansas foot by foot in her truck, her feet had burned like fire. She only had enough strength to fight the pain, stop the truck and turn around. Maybe it had been the first time she had tried, maybe the fiftieth, she could not remember exactly, but it had always been the same. The shoes were cursed to send her home and keep her home.
A month after Uncle Henry had died, Dorothy had moved as far north inside Kansas as she dared. She had once thought about going south, but she did not know whether she would like the busy city; people laughed at her shoes in town as it was. Her granddaughter Doritta had sent a nice picture a rather happy animated Toto for her to put up on the fridge, a few years ago. had been seven at the time. Doritta hated those visits with her grandmother now. Dorothy saw it in her eyes; saw her granddaughter scan the farmland for an ounce of color. For anything remotely interesting in that barren farmland. Except for the glittery slippers, there was none. The earth was grey, and so was the house, a dull lifeless grey where the sun had burnt the grass, and the crops, peeling the paint and life off everything in sight. She clicked her tongue at her and asked her to move closer to her and her mother, that is was not good for her to be alone after Grandpa died. But Dorothy would have none of it.
"It's too far west." Dorothy had said.
"Why? What's wrong with west?"
Dorothy had stared blindly down at her shoes.
"I like north Kansas. It feels good. It's clean."
"But it's greener in the west."
"Does it rain more?"
A bad question to ask a seven year old, Dorothy thought, but maybe the girl watched the rain outside the windows, or even watched the weather on the television.
Doritta looked sideways out the window at the forlorn Toto sitting on the porch with her mother. She bit her lip. Still, staring she answered:
"Maybe, they use sprinklers."
Dorothy had watched with satisfaction as a thunderstorm had built up and rolled across the sky a few hours later. Out in the evening dusk, the land swirled with dust and death.
"Do they have thunderstorms like these in the west?" she had asked. No reply. Her grand-daughter was staring at the slippers again.
"Grandma," her daughter had said slowly. "I told you those shoes are too small. You shouldn't wear them anymore."
Dorothy folded her arms across her chest and looked resolute. "They fit fine." She tried to wiggle her toes in them to prove the point, but they were bunched up against the toebox.
Later that night however, Dorothy had been caught practically oiling her feet with olive oil and butter, if you could call them feet anymore, trying to get the shoes off.
Her daughter sumized that the toes were probably curled in and under at strange angles, bones arched. The skin around the edges of shoe looked unnaturally pale, and was almost a different color. Dorritta thought they looked green. She and her mother had tried get them off, but the shoes were as hot as burning embers. Dorothy sat up half the night with a bag of frozen corn from the freezer on top of her jeweled feet, trying to ease the pain.
The next morning her daughter and Doritta left. The wind blew east and the storm clouds rolled past her house, without a drop landing in the rain bucket under the eaves of the porch.
In the dry heat of the night, Dorothy had strange dreams; instead of her usual void of color, dry visions in sepia and gray, she dreamt in various shades of red and blue. Toto would visit there her sometimes, his eyes two black glowing beads.
Her feet hurt in the morning, squeezed inside those slippers. They wouldn't budge. Her feet ached day and night, and their unnatural glow annoyed her. The postman stopped joking about them. Now he just handed her the mail without a single word. She slept with her feet propped up on a pillow.
The air baked the land day after day, the sky a glorious unwashed blue. The drought and the heat and the undulated sunlight seemed to spread across the country, carrying whispers of strange stories and memories back to Dorothy. None of them stood out in particular but meshed together in a strange way to convince Dorothy that the dream when she was a child, might be true. The shoes were just shoes after all, glitter all they might and kept her feet tight inside them, but her dreams, that was a different matter. The Land of Oz might not just exist in her dreams.
Then the rains came, violent and thrashing against the side of the house. Pounding the dirt and land into mud. Dorothy put out a bucket to catch the fresh water, to count the inches and the years the drought and the sun had battered and sucked from her. She would remember when Toto ran away, she would find a way to get the shoes off her feet, and she drive out of Kansas.
Dorothy dragged in a full rain bucket the next morning. She felt almost if she could dance.
As the sun set and the crows left their pestering station at the scarecrow in the yard, Dorothy felt restless. Her feet burned tight inside her shoes, but she didn't care. They felt like they were finally cracking, peeling from her feet. She had wanted to travel the world when she was younger, she had wanted to see towers and spirals as grand as the Emerald City, see the mighty rivers of the world, and watch the rain fall on the Amazon.
It was only her imagination, all these stories. It had to be. She decided that tomorrow, she would drive to her daughter's house in the west and then, perhaps drive to California, or Oklahoma. The ruby slippers were only a trick of the light, not something burning, magical, or cursed.
Dorothy sat down by the fireplace, already hissing with a new green log on the fire. The air was chilly tonight. The old woman did not notice the thunderclouds rolling in. Dorothy fell asleep in her chair, her jeweled feet propped up on a stool. It wasn't until a bolt of lightening struck close by that she woke with a start.
She thought she heard something close the front door. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the dying ember light of the fire. At first all she saw was blacks and dark blues and bits of grey, but slowly she saw lighter colors, the orange embers, the slippers glinting on her feet, a slip of pink.
Dorothy leaned forward and peered into the darkest corner. In her mind she envisioned the glittery pinks and golds that the Witch of the North wore so long ago. Any second, Glinda would step out of the darkness and tell Dorothy how to take the slippers off, as quick as you please, and then go off describing Oz in excruciating detail.
Then she saw it: a pink glove, sharp and crystal clear. It was Glinda.
Dorothy thought she heard a laugh, high and tinkling like a water fountain, but then she saw the form shift from the darkness and the colors sprang out like ghosts: blacks, deep purples and greens like the skins of lizards, or dragons. The pink gloves were cast off, revealing green skin, although no longer dry and papery, but moist and whole. Green hands clasped and unclasped together, folding finally around the handle of a large umbrella.
"Hello Dorothy," said the Witch. She smiled then, showing a bit of her teeth between blackened lips.
Dorothy clutched the arms of her chair, and bit back a cry. She shut her eyes. It could not be real. It had all been a dream. It had to be. She wished bitterly she could be anywhere else. Not in this nightmare.
Her eyes still shut, she whispered to the dream:
"You're dead. You melted. You're dead."
"Well," said the Witch slowly, "we can't have everything can we?"
Dorothy opened her eyes and looked at the very real, very alive form of her once-dead enemy. She unglued her arms from the chair and put them in her lap. She eyed the bucket of rainwater sitting next to the fireplace.
A great bolt of lightning hit the fields and shot white light through the house for a split second. The Witch took another step towards Dorothy, set her umbrella on the mantle and then turned aside to pick up the bucket of rainwater. Dorothy cringed. The Witch held it for a moment in both arms and stared down into it, seeming to judge her reflection in its depths. She doused the last of the fire with it, carefully, as if she were watering a precious rosebush.
"There now," The Witch said pleasantly as a bit of smoke rose from the watery mess.
She then swooped up her umbrella and jabbed the end into the watery ashes. Dry hot flames shot up instantly filling the room with red light. Dorothy felt its heat on her face. Her feet blistered inside her shoes.
She looked back from the fire to the Witch, and saw her face for the first time. She had not aged. There were no new wrinkles, no grey hairs streaking her brown hair. She still wore that pointy tipped hat, its brim overshadowing her green face, and an emerald green ribbon wrapped around it, its ends trailing down her back. But her eyes, brown like chocolate and mud and speckled with yellow, were infinitely older as if all the cares of world had been set upon her.
The Witch took another step towards her as she peered down at her. Dorothy wondered how she did not seem to mind the high choker collar, its lace almost touching her throat. She still wore the black dress from her childhood dream, The blacks of mourning, Dorothy thought. She then remembered she had never seen the Witch before the house dropped on her sister; before her sister had died. She wondered then if the Witch ever wore anything colorful before her sister's accidental death.
The Witch shot a disgusted glance at the pink gloves on the floor and picked them up and threw them into the fire. The Witch leaned over Dorothy's feet on the stool. Dorothy quickly picked her feet off the stool and hid them beneath her dress. She looked back at the fire, now suddenly burning an unexpected light purple.
"Where's Glinda?" she whispered.
The Witch followed her gaze and said in a matter of fact voice: "She's dead."
The Witch must have seen the look on Dorothy's face because she said quickly,
"Oh, no one knows exactly. The Emerald City was never the same after the Wizard went up in that ridiculous balloon. Looks like a rotting cabbage now. Needs a new coat of paint. Maybe she died of shock from the sight. Maybe that glorious bubble finally collapsed on her and she fell from the sky. Who knows."
Dorothy thought she heard rain tapping on the roof. It comforted her for a moment. But then she saw the Witch staring at the toes of her shoes and the glimmer of hope faded inside her. She saw the same look of want and greed and revenge on the Witch's face as she had seen all those years before.
"Funny things shoes," The Witch said leaning on her umbrella, "the prettiest always hurt the most, while the ugliest, well"—she inclined her head at her own brown boots, now caked in Kansas dust, jutted out from underneath the black dress—"they seem to last the longest."
The Witch then lifted her head and stood straight as rod and looked down at Dorothy, a strange and twisted light in her eyes.
"Now," she said, quietly, almost in a whisper, "Dorothy Gale, it's time to give me back my shoes!"
Dorothy squared her shoulders, and took a shaky breath.
"They are not yours to take. They never were. You can't have them."
A strange smile took hold of the Witch's mouth.
"I'll take them then!"
The Witch lunged at her then with a growl, dropping her umbrella.
Dorothy cried out and struggled to escape as the Witch grabbed her feet and started to chant, but the Witch was too strong. Her hands were hot and dry and gripped Dorothy like pincers.
Dorothy shut her eyes again, suddenly blinded by fiery red light. She wished the shoes that had gotten her from Oz to Kansas would take her faraway now, like they had when she was a little girl. But no matter how much she had wanted to run away, the shoes that she thought would take her to far distant countries, to jungles and rivers and cities and deserts had only led her back home in the end.
Dorothy heard herself starting to sobb and say she was sorry, asking the Witch to let her go, that she was sorry about her sister, about killing her, it was all an accident and she had been just a little girl. She heard the Witch hiss almost in her ear, "Too late, too late."
Then she heard another noise, on the roof, and realized there would be no rain. No rain in Kansas that night. The sound she heard wasn't rain, but feet, little feet, she thought, with claws. Something screamed then, something not human. She could almost imagine their wings, their hideous bat wings and their ugly faces jeering at her as they did in that little prison cell so long ago. She knew then there monkeys on the roof, not rain. They were ready and waiting to spring upon her and carry her off to Oz if the Witch's spells did not work.
Her feet felt as if they were melting inside an oven, and she screamed for water as the Witch continued to shout. A vengeful red light shimmered off the shoes burning Dorothy's eyes. Dorothy heard then another sound, the sound of a dog barking. Only one dog barked at the Witch. Toto had come home. Blind as he was by those slippers, maybe he could save her. After all, he had faced a lion and not run away.
*If you have enjoyed this chapter, please let me know :)*