The Hidden Man
The Mysterious Voice
The day was hot and sunny. The boy's blue wool uniform was damp with his sweat. The dust choked his throat and he wished he could have a drink of water. He clutched his rifle with sweaty hands. He was young for a soldier, barely in his mid teens. The sweat running into his eyes made them sting. He blinked and tried not to tremble. A knot of terror twisted in his guts.
The man next to him squinted at the line of soldiers and cannons dug in on the ridge ahead of them. The field between them were littered with the bodies of men and horses from the two companies that had made the charge ahead of them. "Say, Ozzie. Do one of your magic tricks and make all them Johnny Rebs disappear."
The boy forced a grin. "Lester, if I could, I would." Lester chuckled.
Major Brady rode across the front of the line on his splendid brown charger. "Fix bayonets! One more charge and we'll break the line!"
Ozzie's hands fumbled as he fixed the bayonet on his rifle. He gritted his teeth to keep them from chattering and leveled his rifle at the men on the ridge.
The line of soldiers began marching across the fields. Up on the ridge the Confederate cannons began to roar. They were still out of effective rifle range but the cannonballs began bounding through their ranks smashing bodies and ripping off limbs. They had already reached the bodies of those who fell in the previous charges. Some of them were still groaning and Ozzie tried to step over the bodies of those who still had life in them.
They had now marched within rifle range. A crackle of flash and smoke obscured the top of the ridge. Some of the soldiers around Ozzie made coughing sounds as they fell.
"Double time! March!" The soldiers picked up the pace and began jogging. A fine red mist sprayed from Lester's head and he fell. Ozzie didn't stop. He couldn't help his friend, no one could.
The men in blue gave out a great shout and began charging up the ridge. The cannons, now loaded with grapeshot sprayed dozens of small iron balls into their ranks with each shot as the rifle fire increased. Men were falling all around him. Ozzie could hear the minnieballs whizzing around him. He got within 40 feet of the Confederate line and looked up as the rebels wheeled a cannon to point directly at him. Ozzie dived face forward just as the artilleryman yanked on the lanyard. With a tremendous roar the cannon fired a blast of musket balls over him and he felt the hot wind of the blast on his back.
Ozzie raised his head. Every man within twenty feet of him had been mangled almost beyond recoginition. He saw a bearded Confederate aim his rifle directly at him and squeeze the trigger. The hammer fell on an empty chamber and the rebel grunted in frustration. Just then the wave of blue hit the rebel line and they immediately fell into hand to hand fighting. Ozzie aimed his rifle at the chest of a young man in butternut grey and squeezed off a shot. He couldn't tell if he hit him or not. The number of surviving Union soldiers to hit the line were too few to break it and they began to retreat. Ozzie scrambled to his feet and began running down the hill with the rest of the soldiers as the rebels fired into their backs. Blood ran into his eyes from a wound in his head. He had no idea why his head was bleeding. It just was. The bullets kept whizzing around him and he tripped over a dead body falling face down in the dirt. He crawled behind a dead horse. He was whooping and gasping as his lungs tried to draw in enough air. Nearby a dead officer with a handlebar mustache lay on his back staring up into the sky with empty blue eyes.
Ozzie's hands shook as he tried to reload his rifle. He kept dropping the cartridge and finally gave up. The horse carcass was covered with flies. Every now and then a bullet would smack into it causing the flies to rise up in a small cloud but they soon settled back down again. The horse was also crawling with ants some of whom decided that Ozzie would also make a tasty meal. Ozzie tried to stay as still as he could while they bit him. The Confederates were firing at any movement and he didn't want to attract any atttention. His throat was choked with dust and he felt that if he didn't get a drink of water soon he would die of thirst.
He looked longingly back at the Union lines. High above the lines hung a tethered observation balloon. Ozzie watched as a message attached to a long red ribbon fluttered down to the ground to the awaiting general. He stared at the balloon. The sky was so clear and clean. The balloon was high above all the death, blood, and horror. It was far above all the troubles on the ground. It was so beautiful.
Professor Wogglebug strode down the halls of the Royal Palace humming a jaunty tune. He stopped to talk to a pretty young blond maid who pointed down the hall. He politely tipped his orange bowler and thanked her then continued down the hallway.
He entered the Magic Picture Room and spied Jellia Jamb on her knees scrubbing the floor. "Good morning Jellia." He greeted her with a bow and a florish of his hat.
The pretty young girl with the lusterous dark brown hair and a green apron looked up at him and smiled. "Good morning Professor Wogglebug. Are you here to see Ozma?"
"No my dear, actually, I'm here to see you."
"Me?" Jellia was confused, "Whatever for?"
The Wogglebug spread his arms out, "I am writing a comprehensive and complete history of Oz! I would love to interview you."
"Wouldn't a complete history of Oz be impossible to write?"
The Wogglebug grinned with excitement. "Of course it's impossible! Only the greatest of scholars would dare to attempt the impossible! I leave the merely difficult for lesser minds!"
Jellia shook her head. "Well, I don't know why you would want to interview me. I'm not one for adventures, I rarely even leave the city."
"You'd be surprised how much history takes place inside this very building. You've been here since the days of the Wizard's rule. You've served through the reigns of the Scarecrow, Jinjur, and Ozma. You probably know every inch of this palace. I absolutely have to interview you. What time do you get off work?"
"The same time I start work. Whenever I feel like it." She looked around the room and shook her head. "But I hate to leave a job half finished. Give me fifteen minutes."
"Very well," the Wogglebug stepped out into the hall and pulled a small book on glassblowing techniques in Ix out of his coat pocket. Jellia actually finished the room in about ten minutes and emerged from the Magic Picture room.
"Let's conduct the interview somewhere where we won't be disturbed." The Wogglebug suggested.
"How about my parlor? I hardly ever have any visitors."
"Lead on McDuff!" The Wogglebug declared throwing his arm out in a grandious manner.
"A quote from Shakespeare's MacBeth, actually a misquote but one which has achieved a life entirely of it's own. You lead, I follow."
Jellia led him through a maze of passageways to a solid looking oak door. She selected a key from the seemingly hundreds of keys on her keyring and opened the door to what appeared to be a stone masonry cylinder with a spiral staircase leading up into the distance. The Wogglebug gave an exasperated sigh as he followed her up. The stairway seemed endless. Wogglebug bodies weren't exactly designed to walk on their hind legs much less go up endless stairs. Eventually he was gasping, his legs on fire. He was tempted to get down and crawl, bug style, but he still had his dignity. "You hardly ever get visitors?" he wheezed. "I wonder why?"
"It's not much further." Jellia seemed unfazed by the stairs.
His vision was beginning to blur. "The palace is full of nice suites. Wouldn't Ozma let you have one?"
"I'm sure she would if I asked." Jellia opened a trap door in the ceiling. "We're here!"
The Wogglebug emerged into a cozy circular kitchen with a round table set in the center. The staircase continued on up and he followed Jellia up it into a little circular parlor with cozy chairs windows and a door leading out to a balcony that circled the tower. The stairs continued up into what he assumed was her bedroom and possibly other rooms as well. A look out the window at the magnificent view spread out before him told him why Jellia didn't want to move into larger rooms down in the palace. With a sigh of relief he sank into an overstuffed chair.
Jellia approached him with a pitcher and a glass. "Would you like some lemonade?"
"Yes! Thank you!" He gasped. Jellia sat down in the chair opposite him. "Now let me know what it was like working in the Palace when the Wizard ruled. I suppose it was odd working for someone that nobody ever saw."
"Yes it was at first. Let's start at the beginning."
Jellia Jamb shyly approached the servant's entrance of the palace and knocked. She clutched her carpetbag and waited, after about a minute the door opened up revealing a stout matronly woman with a green apron.
"Hello, can I help you?" she looked at the young Gillikin woman distainfully.
"I've come for a job. My name's Jellia Jamb."
The woman waved her in with a bored air. "Very well, come on in. You don't look very promising but our turnover is so high. I'm Miss Broom. The head maid of the palace. You'll be expected to work hard five days a week. The palace is huge so there's a lot of work to do. You'll probably be heading back up to the Gillikin country in no time!"
Jellia had no intention of going back to the Gillikin country. The isolation of farm life grated on her. She wanted to be around people, to have some excitement. And she loved to clean. To bring order out of chaos was her greatest joy. She stepped into the palace for the first time.
"So it was hard to find people to work in the Palace?" The Wogglebug asked. "I thought it would be a plum job!"
"Everybody was creeped out by the Wizard." Jellia replied. "No one ever saw him. It was just a strange, creepy voice that came out of the walls giving orders and making demands. He would want all kinds of strange items brought to him and left in a special room. When we came back later the items were always gone. He wanted food of course but also other things like coils of steel or copper wire, bales of cotton, feathers, paint, tools, books from the royal library. Nobody knew what he was doing and everyone was afraid of him."
Jellia was sweeping the floor of the throne room. It was never really used. There was an impressive throne but nobody ever sat in it. It seemed to be waiting for someone. Suddenly a voice came out of thin air. "I AM OZ! THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE! WHO ARE YOU?"
Jellia jumped and looked around. She didn't see anyone. She bowed toward the throne. "I am Jellia Jamb, a new maid. I'm pleased to uhhh, meet you."
"WHERE DO YOU COME FROM, JELLIA JAMB!"
"The Gillikin country. I just started working two days ago."
"A GILLIKIN EHH! GILLIKINS ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR BOYSENBERRY PIES, I DEMAND YOU MAKE ME A BOYSENBERRY PIE, VEGETABLE SOUP, A BUCKET OF ICE CUBES, AND A PITCHER OF MILK, I ALSO DEMAND A BOX OF CANDLES, A JAR OF TOOTHPASTE, AND A GALLON OF OIL!"
Jellia bowed toward the empty throne. "As you command sire." She rushed out to the kitchen.
Jellia soon settled into the routine of working at the Palace. Occasionally Oz would demand some item or service and she quickly obliged. The Wizard was pretty scary but she figured he wouldn't ever really hurt her.
One day after she'd been working in the Palace for about 10 months she opened up a cabinet in one of the sitting rooms. The shelves in the cabinet were extremely dusty. It probably hadn't been opened in years. She removed all the dishes inside and began wiping the shelves down. When she reached into the very back her hand pushed in a panel in. Suddenly the cabinet swung outwards and she jumped back. In the wall behind the cabinet was a brick lined passageway filled with dust and cobwebs, Jellia peered down the passageway. Finally her curiousity overpowered her fear. She lit an oil lantern and stepped inside.