Viya Sol looked around the mansion with distaste. She didn’t like being here, and she certainly didn’t like what she had heard about the monster who used to live here.
Not that she put much credence in the old tales that some of the more senior members of the Lollipop Guild talked about. Those wizened relics of the past had many tales to tell, all the stories outrageous and all the events sounding just a little too fantastic to believe.
Viya poked around the foyer and the living area, marveling at the size of the place and grimacing at the thick coat of grime and dust that covered every surface. She had drawn back every curtain on the ground floor, yet the area remained dark and suffocating. Curious.
The high, vaulted ceilings spiraled upwards, seemingly without end, but the claustrophobic feeling stayed. The ancient wood creaked and groaned with every step she took, voicing its complaint in sonorous, funereal tones.
She wanted to leave. Right now. But she had a prospective client. This place had been on the books for over one hundred years, and getting it sold would be a major coup for her. She had visions of a corner office and a hefty bonus. The realtor overcame her fears and waited, but she waited outside.
A wicked witch indeed. What ridiculous tripe.
Franklin Baumgartner looked around the mansion. Viya thought his eyes looked dead, but, she reasoned, that could be the effect of the poor light in the mansion. His assistant, a Miss Holcombe, also had a lifeless look about her.
Their size bothered Viya. The man towered over everyone in the land, standing almost six feet tall. The woman was a giant as well. Their attire was odd, and their actions startling.
“Miss Holcombe. Take some notes,” Baumgartner snapped. Miss Holcombe dutifully took out a notepad and readied herself for the onslaught to come.
“Replace the windows. Double-paned, insulated with argon gas. Make that triple paned. American made. Always buy American made, Miss Holcombe. None of that Chinese shit. Get some people in here to reinforce the floorboards. They squeak like a bitchy wife. Cleaning crew. Make that crews.”
“American crews?” Miss Holcombe pushed her glasses back on her face and peered up at her boss.
“No. Hire the illegals that come over here. They’ll work cheap and do a good job. Remember, Miss Holcombe: buy American, hire foreign.”
“Got it, sir,” Miss Holcombe said. She wrote rapidly and then paused, waiting for more.
“Contact Kate Mueller in Chicago. Have her come in and furnish this place. Spare no expense. It’s a fucking mausoleum right now. Get Haliburton to give me a call. I hear wolves out there. He’s good at killing things. Gardeners, of course. Lots of ‘em. The land has gone to hell. Oh, and I saw some beehives out there. Find me a beekeeper. If the bees aren’t producing honey, we’ll exterminate ‘em. The roof needs to be checked…”
Baumgartner went on like this for some time. Miss Holcombe wrote furiously, nodding occasionally and staying six feet behind her employer.
Viya Sol didn’t show it, but she was confused and alarmed. She had never heard of the places mentioned. America? Canada? Chicago? The man also used language that was unfamiliar to her, especially the word beginning with a “phu” sound. Or “bitchy.”
Maybe it’s their way of saying itchy. And maybe the “phu” word is a term of endearment?
Viya was snapped out of her reverie by Baumgartner’s stentorian voice.
“Miss Sol. Hey! You still with us?”
Viya looked up and almost stood at attention.
“Of course. Yes.”
“So. The price? You have it listed as “133 lollipops.” That must be a typo,” Baumgartner frowned at her. He didn’t approve of sloppy work.
“No sir. That’s the price, but we can negotiate.”
“Yes, sir. I’m assuming that you can pay in lollipops.”
“Hell no, missy! We use good ol’ American dollars. The best currency in the world, I’ll have you know. Lollipops? What the hell kind of lollipop do you require? Are they lined with gold?”
“Um – well – no – that is, they’re just – lollipops.”
Baumgartner looked at his assistant impassively. He blinked and shook his head. Miss Holcombe waited patiently for something to write down.
“Show me,” Baumgartner said.
Viya nodded, confused as to why someone needed to see what was widely considered the coin of the realm. She went outside to her horse and buggy, retrieving a couple of lollipops. She went back inside the mansion, not easy in her mind.
Baumgartner stared at them for some time. He inspected them closely, twirled them in his fingers, and even sniffed them. He handed one to Miss Holcombe, who mimicked her boss’ actions.
“Am I to understand that these lollipops are made with sugar? Nothing else?”
“Just sugar, and some natural coloring, I think. I’m not sure. The Lollipop Guild makes them, and they guard their secrets carefully.”
Baumgartner nodded. Although confused by the method of payment, he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the situation.
“What’ll you take for these lollipops? Cash? Goods?” Baumgartner eyed Viya closely, noting her body language. He was successful in part because of his ability to read people.
“Well – uh – I was going to purchase some new clothes after work. Food for the winter. Grain for the horse,” Viya said. She was nervous. The conversation about money bothered her. No one talked about money here. No one at all.
Baumgartner considered what the realtor said. He whispered to his assistant. She nodded lightly and wrote something down on her notepad.
“Tell you what, Miss – uh – Miss Sol. I’ll bring you a new horse when I come back if you give me one of these.”
Viya gasped. A new horse would normally cost seven lollipops. She tried to keep her composure.
The man is an idiot. However, I could use a new horse. Poor old Rusty is getting old. And maybe I could get a little more out of this dolt.
“A new horse is acceptable, but I think I’d want a little more. Maybe throw in a hundred kilos of grain for the new horse?”
Baumgartner accepted quickly.
The woman’s a dolt. Selling this place for 133 lollipops, and all she wants is a new horse and some feed? Jesus, this is gonna be easy.
“We’ll be back next week. Have the papers ready to sign. I’ll have the – uh – payment. In full,” Baumgartner said. He didn’t even try to haggle over the price. He was starting to love this exchange rate.
Baumgartner was as good as his word. He paid for the mansion and bought Viya a new horse, along with supplying her with an impressive amount of grain for the horse. Still, Viya was disturbed. The stranger found his way to her homeland. There were tales about a farm girl who had done this, but that was nothing more than a story that the old ones told.
Baumgartner was indeed from another land. Kansas.
His Aunt Ell had given him what was left of the family farm, and he sold it quickly, at a ridiculously low price. His aunt was dead, the farm was not a money maker, and he hated farming.
The only thing he kept was a pair of silver slippers, for they entranced him. In the light, they turned into a fiery, ruby-red color.
Aunt Ell also told him that he could transport himself to a magical land by wearing the slippers and wishing himself to this nebulous place. The slippers were far too small to wear, and he didn’t believe such nonsense anyway.
One night, after drinking, in excess, a particularly cheap and poor quality of a chianti, he tried it. Frank found himself in the middle of a poppy field, staring at a city that seemed entirely made of green crystals. He took one of the crystals and closed his eyes again, wishing himself back home.
Emeralds. The green crystals were emeralds. He made several trips like this and became rich. He also discovered streets made of gold bricks. He helped himself to plenty of these as well. When he returned, he found that the gold bricks and the emeralds had been replaced. Frank had no qualms about taking more emeralds and more gold from this place. None at all.
Frank Baumgartner had found Oz.
The inhabitants of the land that Baumgartner invaded were becoming unhappy with their new neighbor. He had a landing strip built for his private jet. The people thought it was a monstrous steel dragon, and fled every time it landed or departed. The same emotions arose when Baumgartner drove his vehicle. To them it was nothing more than an iron terror roaming through their land.
Queen Ozma demanded that the stranger leave. He refused. She had no recourse to his refusal; no one had ever defied the queen before, so she was at a loss as to what to do. They had no police force, for there was no crime. They had no standing army, for they had no enemies. Until now.
Baumgartner paid well – in lollipops. This became a problem. A huge problem.
The economy was turned upside down and inside out. Munchkins and Winkies, with newfound wealth, invaded Emerald City and bought up desirable plots of land and built houses. Baumgartner built several yellow-bricked roads that led to Emerald City, and the flood of country people to the city was unsustainable. The new royalty had been, just a short time before, farmers and craftsmen.
The Lollipop Guild had been decimated by the influx of lollipops from Baumgartner. Inflation ran rampant. And then, a recession hit. Everyone felt its effects, and the people of all four quadrants of the land found themselves struggling to survive.
Baumgartner didn’t care. He was rich in America, but here, he was a god. He controlled the lands, the supply chains, the very fabric of life. Poverty became the new normal.
“We have to do something!” Viya slammed her fist on the table.
The Munchkins looked at her with surprise and consternation; she had never been so demonstrative. Viya Sol had always been the epitome of grace and charm.
Goruh stood up, though it made little difference in his height relative to everyone else. He was short, even for a Munchkin, but he commanded respect. The eldest member of the Lollipop Guild had been Goruh for the past seventy years, and his word meant something.
“I have a solution, but you aren’t going to like it,” he said. A quietness overtook the room. If Goruh said that it would be displeasing, then it would be very displeasing. The council braced itself.
Goruh outlined his plan.
Everyone was horrified, but they agreed to it.
Effie sensed the Munchkin well before he came into sight. She sniffed the air and smelled fear. Desperation. Sadness.
Goruh stopped short when he saw Effie. It had been twenty years since she had been banished to the edge of Munchkin Land. Although he had voted against the banishment, he still felt a thrill of fear. Effie was dangerous. All her kind were dangerous.
“What brings the great and powerful Goruh to my humble shack?” Effie picked up a snake and stroked it gently before putting it back on the ground and giving it a shove with her toe. The snake slithered off into the underbrush, looking for a meal.
“A stranger from the Outer Lands. A bad person, Effie. Very bad. We need your help,” Goruh said, looking down. He was afraid to meet Effie’s eyes.
“I have no quarrel with you, Goruh. You didn’t vote against me when I was banished. But why should I help? I was exiled because of my grandmother.”
Goruh nodded. She was right; she had no reason to help.
“But I will,” Effie said softly, “because the stranger has something of mine.”
Goruh looked at her, surprised.
“You know about the stranger?”
“I may be restricted to the edge of the desert, but I hear things,” she said, “because the animals tell me.”
Goruh believed her. Effie’s grandmother understood the animals.
“I’ll come to the council next week, when it’s over. I’ll want something in return, though.”
Goruh nodded. He was empowered to agree to almost anything.
Effie looked at Goruh and smiled. It was a beautiful smile, so unlike her grandmother’s wicked leer.
“My grandmother’s old house.”
Goruh expected this. He nodded, and then he left as quickly as possible. The edge of the desert frightened him, and Effie frightened him most of all.
He thought of a saying he had heard long ago.
Needs must when the devil drives.
He would wonder, years later, who the devil really was.
Effie flew above the trees on her umbrella, scanning the countryside. She knew the area well, for she had been raised in Winkie country. Her old house looked different. Modern and bright. She hated it.
A portly man came outside and looked around, hands on hips. Effie’s tremendous sight allowed her to see him clearly. He had a smug look on his face. Odd clothes covered his portly frame, and he was smoking a cigar.
Effie banked sharply and flew toward the man. He finally spotted her and stared at her in surprise and fear. She saw his eyes widen. He screamed just as her umbrella penetrated his heart.
The umbrella settled gently on the ground as Effie stepped off. She strode to the man and took the briefcase. She had what she wanted.
She had what belonged to her.
“We have to do something,” Viya said miserably. She didn’t slam her hand on the table as she had done all those years ago, but the tone of her voice revealed her desperation.
Goruh and the rest of the council agreed. Effie had been a hero twenty years ago when she killed the giant stranger – and everyone else in her grandmother’s old house. The land was freed from the bonds of American capitalism and its monstrous ways.
Now, however, she was as her grandmother had been: wicked and controlling. The flying monkeys were back, as were the giant white wolves and the huge black bees. They had gotten so used to smallish wolves and gentle honeybees that the new, more dangerous versions were even more frightening than ever.
“What can we do? We made a deal and she took advantage.” Goruh talked quietly, as usual, but his voice was tinged with defeat. He saw no way out.
“It’s like the old days,” he continued, “when her grandmother ruled Winkie Land. But worse. Effie seems to have a vendetta against us.”
“So, we’re sunk. Back to the way things were in the old days, and no stupid farm girl to bail us out,” another member said.
“Where did she come from? Kansas? Where the hell is that?”
Viya was willing to travel past the deserts if need be.
“Somewhere over the rainbows, Viya. Somewhere we can’t reach.”
Effie sat in her darkened mansion and smiled, stroking the fur of a wolf and listening to the angry buzzing of the black bees flitting about her abode. She had reclaimed her family power.
The witch still remembered the day her mother died. She had been behind a curtain when the incident occurred, watching the events unfold. When the strange girl doused her mother with water, she gasped; her mother melted in front of her eyes. Effie had never seen such a gruesome sight in her life, but that wasn’t the end of the bad news.
She had been banished to the edge of the desert, though the council that banished her knew full well that she would, in all probability, die from this. The only member to vote in her favor was Goruh.
Effie, though, had been taught how to survive, by her mother. She flourished. Her hate grew. And then, another stranger showed up, and with the magical slippers. Her mother’s slippers, and the last remaining source of all witchy power.
Just a pair of shoes. Silver. But they fit her feet perfectly. Almost like they were made for her.
Now that she was the only living witch in Oz, she could rule all the lands, not just Winkie Land. There was a new ruler of the land, and she wasn’t about to forget what the inhabitants had done to her or her mother.
Effie scanned the skies for flying houses. It wouldn’t do to neglect the lessons from the past.
She grabbed her umbrella and took off across the land, flying low and fast, observing her domain. Effie was on her way to Emerald City to depose the queen.
She has a date with the point of my umbrella today. I look forward to the smell of royal blood spilled on the streets of Emerald City. My only regret is that she can’t melt, like my mother did.
Effie flew on, over poppy fields and verdant landscape. Evil had returned to Oz. The monster they all feared was a woman with silver slippers on her feet and hate in her heart.
The queen has an expiration date. Evil has no such restriction.