The Road Unravels Backwards
a story by Curt Cannon
It so happened that once when Dorothy was again on her way to Oz, she came across the Shaggy Man standing across a road that turned sharply and disappeared around the corner. “Why look,” she said to Toto, “It’s the Shaggy Man. We should go and say hello.” So she and Toto walked over to where her road crossed the Shaggy Man’s road. “Hello, Shaggy Man,” said Dorothy, and Toto nodded twice and barked once and turned around in a circle.
“Hello, Dorothy,” said the Shaggy Man. “I’m sorry, I can’t let you go down this road.”
“Well, why not?” asked Dorothy. “It looks like a perfectly all right road to me.”
“Oh, no, don’t think so.” The Shaggy Man shook his head vigorously. “You don’t want to go down this road, surely.”
“Well, what’s wrong with it?”
The Shaggy Man leaned forward a bit, turning his head and whispering. “Why, it’s the road that unravels backward.”
“Backward?” said Dorothy, ever curious. “What does that mean?”
“Most roads go forward, don’t they?” asked the Shaggy Man.
“I don’t know about that,” said Dorothy, who didn’t imagine roads went anywhere, except there were some roads that had apparently gotten somewhere else, as she could never find them again. Roads to Oz especially were often like this. It was usually much easier to find a new road to Oz then one you had traveled before. “Most people do go forward on roads, though, I can tell you that.”
“Of course they do,” said the Shaggy Man, “Straight ahead, that’s the proper way to go on a normal road. But on this road,” and here his voice sunk to a whisper again, “on this road when you go forward, the road unravels backward.”
“Well what if you went backward?” asked Dorothy.
“I don’t know,” Shaggy answered, surprised. “I never thought of that.”
“Now look,” said Dorothy, growing impatient, “Is that the road to Oz or not?”
The Shaggy Man gave her a slightly puzzled look. “I suppose it would take you there. But why would you want to go to Oz, where you’ve already been, instead of Oz, where you were going?”
Now this was too much turning about of words for Dorothy. Impatiently waving her hand, she said, “Shaggy Man, I am on my way to Oz, and if this is the way I’m taking it. So stand aside, or I’ll have Toto bark at you.”
The Shaggy Man looked very frightened at this. Shaking his head at Dorothy, he slowly stepped aside, putting a few more feet between himself and the dog. Toto growled and bounced off down the backward road. “Wait, Toto, you get back here,” shouted Dorothy, and she ran down the road after him, leaving the Shaggy Man behind.
A distance down the road, Dorothy caught up to Toto digging in the bushes. “Why whatever is the matter?” she marveled at Toto’s excitement, as he pawed furiously at the ground. “One would think you’d seen a rabbit.” Toto looked up at her, panting, and blinked once, firmly. Indeed, something was scurrying in the bushes, and Dorothy caught a quick glimpse. “Toto,” she said, “that’s no rabbit! What is that?” And together they hurried after it, as it scrambled away into the trees.
A few steps into the forest, Dorothy found a small man with a round stomach trying to hide behind a tree. “You!” she said. “What are you doing there? Trying to scare little girls?” The little man gave a frightened sound and ran further into the forest. “I won’t hurt you!” Dorothy yelled after him. “I just want to know if this is the way to Oz.”
The little man stopped and looked back at her. “What’s that you say, Miss?” he said, in a high-pitched funny little voice.
“I said, is this the way to Oz?”
The man shrugged. “I don’t know any Oz,” he said, “but I don’t think this is it.”
“Are you sure?” asked Dorothy. “The Shaggy Man told me this road would get me there.”
The little man shrugged again. “Don’t know any Oz,” he repeated. “Don’t think this land has a name. It’s the King’s land. It’s all the King’s land. Don’t need a name.”
“Drat,” said Dorothy, stamping her foot. This excited Toto, who barked and hopped a time or two. “Say,” Dorothy said to the little round man, who was still looking fidgety and ready to run, “what is that you’ve got behind your back?” The little man gave a start. “Well?” said Dorothy, “what is it?”
Reluctantly, the little man revealed the small shovel he had been trying to hide.
“A shovel?” said Dorothy. “What are you going to do with that?”
“Dig,” said the little man shortly, and turned and ran.
“Hey!” yelled Dorothy. “Wait, don’t run!” She sighed, lifting her dress up around her knees and chasing into the woods after him. “Come back! Come on, Toto, let’s find him!” So together they ran into the forest.
The found him a little farther along, breathing heavily, sitting on a tree stump, the shovel resting on the ground by his side. He wheezed at her.
“Well, I don’t know what you had to run for,” said Dorothy, reprovingly. “I could have fallen and scraped a knee, you know.”
The little man grunted.
“So why do you have a shovel?” Dorothy said. “Are you not supposed to? Is that why you’re running?”
“You don’t know much, do you?” said the little man, between gasps.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” said Dorothy.
“Not supposed to be digging on the King’s land,” he said. “Everybody knows that.”
“Oh,” said Dorothy. “Well, I didn’t know. But if I see him, I won’t tell him.”
“You’re very kind,” said the little man.
“If I may ask,” said Dorothy, “what is it you’re digging for?”
At that the little man hemmed and hawed and looked around guiltily. “Just,” said the man, “for no reason.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that for one second,” said Dorothy. “It’s all right, you can tell me. I won’t tell anyone. And certainly Toto won’t.” And Toto wagged and nodded.
“My bro,” mumbled the chubby fellow.
“What?” said Dorothy. “Your brother?”
“My little brother,” he said.
“You’re digging for your little brother?”
“Digging up my little brother,” he clarified.
“Oh,” said Dorothy, nonplussed. “Does he need digging up?”
“Yes,” the little man sighed. “I came down the road one way and buried him, and now I’ve gone down the other way to dig him up.” To Dorothy’s surprise, a small tear leaked out of the corner of one eye. “He was dead, you see.” He wiped the tear away and smiled unsteadily. “But now, if I’ve gone all the right ways, he should be all right again, once I dig him up.”
“How very strange,” said Dorothy. At that point they heard a sound, not very far away, and they both rushed over to where a voice was rising from the ground.
“Hello?” said the voice, weak and quavering. Toto barked furiously at the bare little patch of earth. “Hello? I hear someone,” the voice said.
“It’s my brother!” the little man said to Dorothy, “I’ve found him!” He took his shovel and started digging. “Hold on, Beanpole,” he yelled at the ground, “I’m coming!”
“Squat, is that you?” the ground quavered.
“Is your name Squat?” interjected Dorothy to the little man.
“Yes!” yelled, Squat, to Dorothy and the ground. “Don’t worry, Beanpole, I’m coming!” And shortly he had dug the dirt loose and a hand came free, waving in the air. Squat grabbed it, and Dorothy, wanting to be helpful, grabbed the wrist, and together they pulled.
“What a very large hand,” said Dorothy, and then, as they kept pulling, “What a very long arm,” and then, when they had backed up nearly seven feet and Beanpole’s feet were kicking free, she said, “My, what a very tall person you are.” But Beanpole ignored her, as he was leaning over to embrace his brother Squat.
“Squat,” he said, wiping tears from his cheeks, “thank heavens! It felt like eternity down there.”
“It’s all right, little brother,” said Squat.
“And thank you for your help,” said Beanpole, looking down at Dorothy, “whoever you are.”
“I’m Dorothy,” she said, “and this is Toto,” and Toto spun and raised a paw.
“Well, Dorothy,” said Squat, beaming a smile, “since you were kind enough to help us, maybe we can help you. Where did you say you were going?”
“I’m looking for Oz,” said Dorothy. “And I think it must be near. Or at least nearer there than Kansas,” she amended, “for I know certainly people don’t climb up from the ground near there.”
Squat looked blank, but Beanpole said, “I’ve heard tell of Oz.”
“Really?” said Dorothy, Toto barking.
“I think it’s down the road a ways. That way,” he said, pointing the direction Dorothy had been going. “Might be some distance though,” he said.
“Well, I shall get there eventually,” said Dorothy.
“We can walk with you a ways,” said Squat. “Wouldn’t do for a young girl to be walking out here alone.”
“I’ve got Toto,” said Dorothy, but Squat and Beanpole insisted, so together the four of them made their way back to the road and continued down it.
After a bit they came to a stream that crossed the road, over which no bridge appeared to be built. “Should we swim across?” Squat asked, coming over the hill, but Dorothy, who was standing next to the stream, said, “I don’t think it’s very deep.”
Indeed, when they came up next to it, they could see it wasn’t very deep at all. In some places it was just water running over rocks, or, as Beanpole put it, “Water running up the rocks. Look at it!” And he was right. Instead of falling down the rocks, the water appeared to be dripping up from rock to rock.
“How very odd!” said Dorothy. “The stream is flowing backwards.”
“It’s this road,” said Beanpole, “the Queen’s Southwesterly Highway. It’s haunted.”
“Yes,” said Squat, “it’s the ghosts that push the water the wrong way. There are hundreds of them. Sailors, I think, that drowned in the river.”
“Drowned in that river?” said Dorothy, looking at the inches of water.
“It used to be bigger,” said Beanpole, scratching his head with a long finger.
“We shan’t have any trouble crossing that,” said Dorothy, and she picked up Toto in one hand and hooked her dress with the other and began taking delicate steps across the wet stones.
“Oh, no need for that,” said Beanpole, and he picked up Dorothy and Toto in one of his long arms, and Squat in the other, and he started trudging across the stream. But a strange thing happened as they crossed: the stream seemed to get wider and deeper, and before long the water came up to Beanpole’s knees. And then it was up to his waist. And after that it was as high as his chest, and he had to lift Dorothy and Squat up above his shoulders, and then they were across and Beanpole set them down onto dry land.
“Oh my!” said Dorothy, looking at them. “What’s happened to you?” Something strange had certainly happened: Beanpole had gotten shorter, and Squat, somehow, had gotten thinner (though still a bit round in the middle).
“Squat, you look so young,” said Beanpole, in a high voice that cracked.
“Look at you!” responded Squat. “You can’t be more than fourteen.”
“It must be the Fountain of Youth,” said Beanpole, looking at the stream. “It’s made us young.”
“Can’t be the Fountain of Youth,” said Squat. He indicated Dorothy. “She looks like she’s the same age as before.”
“I don’t feel any younger,” said Dorothy, feeling her face with her fingers and putting her hand on her head to see how tall she was.
“Nope, you look the same,” said Beanpole, his voice cracking again. “I don’t want to be a teenager again,” he grumbled.
“Well, how will you get older again?” said Dorothy. “Should we find a Fountain of Age?”
“Never heard of such a thing,” said Squat. “Maybe we’ll just have to age the normal way again.” He didn’t appear to mind being younger himself.
Then they heard a voice: “Cross the stream the other way.”
“What?” said Dorothy. “Who said that?” She looked around but didn’t see anybody else. In any case, Beanpole had already bolted back into the stream and was almost at the other side, carrying a mildly protesting Squat.
“It works,” shouted Beanpole, his voice back to normal. “Dorothy, are you coming? You can come to our house for dinner!”
What a nice offer, thought Dorothy, but I must be very near Oz, as strange as things have turned. “No, but thank you,” she shouted back across. “Toto and I are going to find our way to Oz.”
And again she heard a voice: “Because because because because because.”
“What was that?” she said, peering intently where the voice had been. Toto barked and raised a ready paw, but again they saw nothing. She waved her goodbyes to Beanpole and Squat, watching as they disappeared down the road. “That was certainly odd,” she said to Toto. “I’m almost certain I heard a voice.” Toto barked, shaking his tail furiously and turning in a circle. “Toto, is there someone there?” asked Dorothy. The little dog barked again, pressing close to the ground and growling at a spot in the air.
Dorothy ran to Toto and scooped him into her arms. “Toto, you’re shaking,” she said, tucking him under her elbow. “Whoever you are,” she said angrily, into the trees, “you’d better quit scaring my dog and show yourself. It’s not nice, hiding like that.” She and Toto peered into the shadows.
“You won’t see him if he doesn’t want you to,” said a voice behind them, and Dorothy spun around, startled. Standing there, on the other side of a road, was a little girl about her own age. “I’m Alice,” she said.
Dorothy looked her over suspiciously. “That wasn’t your voice I heard.”
Alice shrugged. “I didn’t say anything. It was the cat.”
Toto growled and barked and growled and tried to jump out of Dorothy’s arms. “Quiet, Toto,” said Dorothy, holding on more firmly. She looked back into the trees. “I don’t see a cat,” she said. “And besides, cats don’t talk.” She narrowed her eyes at the other girl. “Is it your cat?”
“No,” said Alice. “At least, I don’t think so. It follows me.” She hesitated. “I think.” She pointed back into the woods. “Look, there he is!”
Dorothy looked over and saw nothing at first. Then, she made out a small shape, hanging in the air. She blinked and looked again. “Is that an eye?” she said. “It winked at me.” Next another eye appeared, and then a smile. “Quiet, Toto,” she said absentmindedly, as the little dog was barking furiously and straining.
“See,” said Alice, “it’s a cat,” as the whole head of a smiling cat appeared. “Talk,” demanded Alice, but the cat smiled even wider, and then the face disappeared completely. “He tries to annoy me, I believe,” said Alice. “What’s your name?”
“Dorothy,” said Dorothy. “Can you help me? I’m trying to find Oz.”
“No such place,” said Alice, shaking her head.
“Is too,” said Dorothy. “I’ve been there.”
“Maybe you dreamed it.”
“And I must be close,” said Dorothy, “as things have turned so odd.”
“Oh,” said Alice. “You’re looking for Odds. I know where that is.” She pointed down the road where Dorothy had been headed. “Odds is that way.” She spread her hands apologetically. “I thought you said Oz.”
“I did say Oz,” said Dorothy.
“Then I can’t help you. Never heard of Oz. But I can take you to Odds, which could be very like Oz.”
“I don’t have any friends in Odds,” said Dorothy. “Is that where you’re going?”
At that, the other girl’s face fell. “No,” she said shortly. “I’m not going anywhere, really.” They heard a snicker from behind them, and both girls turned to see the cat’s smile disappearing. Toto barked and jumped out of Dorothy’s arm, circling the spot where the cat had disappeared.
“Do you have friends in Odds?” asked Dorothy. “Are you from there? Do they all talk funny, like you?”
“I do not talk funny!” protested Alice.
“Oh, I didn’t mean…” Dorothy patted the girl’s arm. “I just meant, you sound like you’re from somewhere else.”
Alice laughed. “You sound funny,” she said. “They talk like me in Odds.”
Dorothy frowned. “Then it can’t be Oz,” she sighed. “I was hoping it could be the same place.”
“There’s no such place as Oz,” said the cat’s smile, appearing in front of them. Both eyes showed up next, and blinked. “Oz isn’t real.” He blinked again and disappeared.
“Go away!” shouted Alice. “Stupid cat!” For no reason at all that Dorothy could tell, the other girl burst into tears.
“What’s the matter?” asked Dorothy.
“Nothing,” said Alice, still crying. She turned and started walking quickly back down the road.
“Are you all right?” said Dorothy.
“Leave me alone!” yelled the other girl, over her shoulder. Dorothy stopped and watched her as she went down the road.
“Poor girl,” said Dorothy to Toto. Toto barked at Dorothy, then ran down the road after Alice. “Toto,” yelled Dorothy, but the dog paid no heed. “Fine,” said Dorothy, and followed.
Eventually they had gone some way down the road, though Dorothy didn’t get too close to the girl, who seemed upset. But after some time, Alice turned and acknowledged Dorothy again. “Come on,” she said, “I’ll take you to Odds.”
“Okay,” said Dorothy.
After a little while, Alice said, “I suppose you aren’t real, either.”
“What?” said Dorothy, who was beginning to think Alice might be strange.
“That’s what the cat says,” said Alice, “that if you can go all the way down this road, you aren’t real.”
“I am too real,” said Dorothy.
“Maybe,” said Alice, shrugging. “I’m just telling you what the cat said. Real people are like your friends that tried to cross the stream. They shrink.”
“You were spying on us!” said Dorothy.
“I wasn’t spying,” said Alice. “It was the cat. He told me to watch.”
“I am real,” said Dorothy.
“So am I,” said Alice. “Or maybe I’m not.” She seemed about to cry again. “Have you ever heard of Odds?” she asked.
“No,” said Dorothy, “I don’t think I ever have.”
“I don’t think Odds is real, either.” She said, “I’ve never heard of Oz.”
“Oz is real,” said Dorothy. “I have friends there. Maybe it’s past Odds.”
“It could be,” said Alice.
They came to a clearing and Toto, after doing dog business by one large rock, crossed to another rock on the other side and lay down.
“Come on, Toto,” said Dorothy, but Toto ignored her and looked off to the side, then rested his chin down between his front paws.
“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” laughed Alice. “He wants to rest.” She, too, sat down beside a rock, so Dorothy joined them, kicking off her slippers and wagging her toes.
“Yes, my feet could use the rest,” said Dorothy. She noticed a smile growing behind Alice’s head. “He does follow you,” she said, pointing. Alice turned and grimaced. Toto growled.
“I wish your dog would bite him,” said Alice.
Toto barked once. “That means Toto agrees with you,” said Dorothy.
“Is Toto real?” Alice demanded of the cat’s smirk.
“None of this is real,” said the cat. And now they could see his eyes twinkling, and then a whisker. “It’s all a dream.”
“Whose dream?” demanded Alice.
“Your dream?” Dorothy added.
“Someone’s dream,” said the cat, grinning. “Someone’s always dreaming. It makes one curious.”
“I’m most curious,” said Alice to the cat, “as to who invited you.”
The cat winked. “Everyone’s invited,” he said, “to the Dreamer’s Ball.” And then, all at once, he appeared fully, his claws grasping a tree branch like a wingless bat’s, his skinny body hanging upside down. He let go of the branch with his front paws, stretching toward the little girls like a kitten reaching for a ball of yarn, then let go with the other paws and fell, disappearing into the air before he hit the ground.
“What a strange cat,” said Dorothy.
“I hate him,” Alice said.
“But,” said Dorothy, “you do have to admit, it all feels very like a dream.”
“Perhaps this is what your dreams are like,” said Alice. “Mine are rather more pleasant.”
She certainly can be disagreeable, thought Dorothy. “In any case,” said Dorothy, “I certainly feel real enough to me.” At that, Toto barked and stood up, shaking himself vigorously before continuing down the road.
“I suppose it’s time to move on, then,” said Alice. She stood up and offered a hand to Dorothy, helping her to her feet. They both followed Toto down the road to Odds.
But when they had gone a little more distance, to their surprise, the road came to an abrupt end in a patch of grass beside a small cottage made of brick that shone red in the afternoon sun, a tiny chimney on the roof bubbling small clouds of white smoke. “I thought you said this road went to Odds,” said Dorothy.
“I thought it did,” said Alice, her face wrinkled in consternation. “I guess it must be the other direction.”
“Well, we’ve come a long way,” said Dorothy, “for you not to know for sure.”
“I thought it was this direction,” said Alice. “It has to be. I’ve never gone past the stream going the other way.” She looked over at the cottage. “Maybe we took a wrong turn.”
We haven’t turned at all, thought Dorothy. But all she said was, “Maybe.”
“We could ask for directions here,” said Alice, still looking at the house. Dorothy didn’t say anything, so after a moment Alice walked up the short path to the door of the cottage and rapped loudly.
“What if it’s a witch?” said Dorothy, quietly, but Alice just shrugged. After a moment, the door opened, revealing a young, beautiful woman with a rather stern expression that softened when she saw the two girls.
“Can I help you?” she said.
“Yes, thank you, please, ma’am,” said Alice politely, “we were looking for the road to Odds, and seem to have lost our way.”
“The road to Oz, you say?” said the woman, and Alice shook her head, but at the same time Dorothy’s face lit up.
“You know how to get to Oz?” she said. “No one seems to have heard of it.”
“Of course I know Oz,” said the woman, pointing. “It’s that way, straight down the road.”
“But that’s where we’ve come from,” said Dorothy.
“It’s pretty far,” said the woman. “You must have headed the wrong direction.”
“But you’ve never heard of Odds?” said Alice.
“Odds?” repeated the woman, articulating carefully. “No, never,” she said, “but it’s probably that way, too. Not much happening the other way.” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder, indicating past her cottage.
“Well, thank you for your help,” said Dorothy, “but if Oz is as far as you say, we need to be getting a move on.”
“You girls are making the trip alone?” asked the woman.
“We have Toto,” Dorothy explained.
“I see,” said the woman. “Then be safe. But if you come this way again—”
“I doubt we will,” interrupted Dorothy. “It’s awfully far.”
“Well, if you do,” the woman said, “my name’s Pandora, and you’re welcome to stop here if you need.”
“Thank you,” said Alice. “You’ve been very kind.”
They left the house and started back down the road, going back where they had come, until they came to the same clearing with the stones, and once again Toto sat to rest and the girls joined him. “Are you going to go to Oz with us?” Dorothy asked Alice.
“Might as well,” said Alice. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.” And behind them they heard a snicker and saw a disappearing cat. Toto barked and continued down the road, and the girls followed.
“I have lots of friends in Oz,” said Dorothy. “I think you will like them.” She had no idea if that was true (or if her friends would like Alice, either), but she thought it was the nice thing to say.
“I’m sure I will,” said Alice, who also didn’t know if that was true.
Shortly, though, to their surprise, they came again upon the same cottage at the end of the road.
“What?” said Dorothy. “Did we go the wrong direction again?”
“I don’t see how,” said Alice.
“It’s Toto’s fault,” said Dorothy. “I guess we just weren’t thinking when we followed the dog.”
“I guess,” said Alice, doubtfully. “Should we knock and say hello?”
“Let’s just get going to Oz,” said Dorothy. “Look how much time we’ve lost already.”
So they turned around again and went down the road, but it wasn’t long before once again they were facing the cottage where the lane narrowed to an end.
“I don’t understand,” said Dorothy. “How did we get turned around again?”
Alice ignored her and knocked on the cottage door. “Hello, Miss Pandora,” she said when the door opened. “We seem to have gotten lost again.”
“Oh, dear,” said Pandora. “I was afraid you’d come back.”
“What do you mean?” said Alice.
“Somehow we got turned around,” said Dorothy.
“Yes,” said Pandora, “that’s what I was afraid of.”
“I don’t understand,” said Alice, and behind them a cat appeared and giggled.
“Oh, hush,” said Pandora, to the cat. “Poor girls,” she said, to Alice and Dorothy, “you’ve wandered too far.”
“There’s no going back now,” said the cat, in a jolly manner, and Alice burst into tears.
“I can’t go home?” she asked. “I’ve been looking for such a long time.”
“I thought you were looking for Odds,” said Dorothy, surprised. “Is Odds home?”
“She’s been lost a long time, I think,” said Pandora. “Poor thing,” she said to Alice, putting her arms around her gently. “Were you ever real at all?”
Alice broke angrily out of her embrace. “I am real,” she said. “Come on, Dorothy, let’s get out of here.” She marched down the road, away from the house.
“Am I real?” Dorothy asked the woman, but Pandora, her eyes soft and sympathetic, took a moment before shaking her head no. “Come on, Toto,” said Dorothy, and they followed Alice away.
But barely had the cottage disappeared in the distance behind them when it appeared in the distance before them, once again. Pandora stood waiting at the open door for them.
“She is a witch,” said Alice. “We should have known.”
“I’m no witch,” said Pandora. “I just live in this strange place.”
“You can’t get out, either,” said Dorothy. “Is that it? You’re stuck here?”
“You can live with me here, if you’d like,” Pandora said. “There are no others here yet, but they will come.”
“And be stuck here?” protested Dorothy. “There’s no way out, is there?”
“To become real?” said Pandora. “That’s what you’re asking, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Dorothy, after a pause.
“You’ve never been real,” said Pandora. “What you’re missing is an illusion.”
“I am real,” Alice said.
Dorothy thought of Aunt Em, and Kansas.
“But there is a way,” said Pandora, “for dreams to take life. I have a way right here in my home.” She opened the door a little wider. “You can become real.”
“I can leave here? I can go home?” said Dorothy. “Or to Oz?”
“If your home is real, you can go there.”
“I know Kansas is real,” said Dorothy. “And I’m pretty sure about Oz.”
“Then I have a passage,” said Pandora, “a gate you can use. Come with me.” And she went into the cottage, leaving the door ajar. After a moment, Dorothy followed, and behind her came Toto, then Alice, her face set in a grimace.
She led them through another door, to a back room, where a large decorated jar stood in the center. It was made of an opaque, almost mirror-like glass, shaped almost like a raindrop, with the bottom wider than the top, and it was huge – easily large enough to hold a man.
“Look inside,” Pandora told Dorothy, indicating a step-ladder next to the jar. Dorothy climbed five steps, enough to get her head over the top to where she could look down into it.
“It’s black,” she said. “I don’t see the bottom.”
“There isn’t one,” said Pandora.
“It comes out in China on the other side?” asked Dorothy.
“No,” said Pandora, “it’s just a short trip to reality.”
“You want to see?” said Dorothy to Toto, who was making snarfing noises at the base of the ladder. Dorothy picked him up and brought him to the top, letting him look down into the darkness. He craned his neck to look in, then looked back at Dorothy, grinning. “Well,” said Dorothy, “I trust you, Toto.”
And with that, Toto jumped out of her arms and into the jar, disappearing into the darkness.
“Toto!” Dorothy yelled after him.
“He’s fine,” said Pandora. “Go, you can meet him on the other side.”
“Ah, reality,” said the cat, licking his only visible paw. “A consummation devoutly to be wished.”
“Alice, are you coming, too?” Dorothy asked, already climbing into the jar. “I know you’ll like Oz.”
“I’m already real,” said Alice, sternly. “Ask her why she doesn’t go through the jar, if it is what she says it is.”
Dorothy hesitated, one leg still holding her weight on the ladder. “Why don’t you, Pandora?”
“I like it here,” said Pandora. “I like to dream.” She looked at Alice. “But then, I was never real to begin with.”
“I have to find Toto,” said Dorothy. “Come on, Alice.” She climbed in and disappeared over the edge of Pandora’s jar.
“So how about it?” asked Pandora. “Are you going with her? Or are you going to stay here with me?” She seemed patient, and kind, even to Alice, who still didn’t trust her. “It’s all right to be a dream,” she said, “but it’s good to be real, too, if that’s what you want.”
“I am real,” said Alice. “I can go where I want.” And she walked out of the cottage and down the road. But eventually it appeared before her again. The cat sat on the doorstep, the door closed behind it.
“She knew you would strike again,” the cat giggled, “like lightning.”
“Disappear for me,” said Alice. “I like it when you do that.”
The cat faded away to a bare mocking grin.
It’s a curious world, thought Alice. She watched the closed door in front of her and started walking backward, thinking, I know it’s behind me now, eventually I will bump into Pandora’s closed door and it will open when she thinks I’m knocking. I will watch myself bump into it, she thought, if I can see far enough. Won’t that be a funny sight.
And she kept walking backward until the cottage disappeared from her view, though she strained to see it. And she thought, any second, I will trip over the porch step and fall and hurt my head. The cat will laugh at me.
But now she saw she was passing the clearing with the stones, and though she wanted to turn around and see if she had gotten away, she didn’t. I’ll just keep walking backwards, she thought, until I get home.
And after some time her feet stepped into the water of a stream, and after she had crossed it, she heard a voice, scolding, saying, “Alice! Where have you been? And look what you’ve done to your dress!”
“I’m sorry,” said Alice, turning around and facing her sister. “I got lost, chasing a cat into the forest.”
“Daydreaming,” said her sister, “always daydreaming. When will you ever wake up?”
Enjoy more short stories by Curt Cannon
in the collection "Day Trips" from Sidewalk Labs,
now available on Kindle!