Free Ticket to Nowhere — Chapter 17
A Stark mystery
There was a magical air to the whole scene. The place was jammed.
Gwen (she told me I could call her Gwen) beckoned to us. I strode up the ballroom floor followed by Krystal, the Lion, and Fred. Krystal kept trying to break ahead of us but I warned her to stay by my side.
Larry and Fred hung back. Fred kept looking at the balloons and exclaiming “Wow!”
As Gwen led us to the stage, I wondered how she and Krystal coordinated their clothes. Both of them wore red dresses and both of them looked fabulous. They could have been sisters! The looks they gave each other.
So competitive! With all the chaos, I hadn’t had time to read this famous manuscript. But now was not the time to hash it out. I needed to apply my skill set. Whatever that was.
I told Fred and Larry to keep them apart.
As we reached the stage, Glinda appeared and stood between the other two dames. She had their respect and seemed to calm. They started moving in rhythm with the music and got a girl-group groove going. Larry and Fred stood behind them and did their scat.
I took center stage and the crowd went nuts. Who knew I had this particular skill set? I spent all those years being a private dick when I could have been King.
The whole place was moving with the music while the band vamped the intro. I put the manuscript on the little table they had on the stage, so I could keep my eye on it.
It was time to do some magic of my own. I only hoped my voice would do the trick.
Gwen and Krystal harmonized as they gave me my opening. “Your Majesty, if you were King, you wouldn’t be afraid of anything?”
The crowd cheered when I responded, “Not nobody, not no how!”
Then Fred asked, “Not even a rhinoceros?”
The crowd echoed my, “Imposserous!”
Gwen and Krystal again, “How about a hippopotamus?”
The crowd was with me for, “Why, I’d thrash him from top to bottomamus!”
Glinda asked, “Supposin’ you met an elephant?”
I responded, “I’d wrap him up in cellophant!” And the crowd cheered.
Larry stepped up. “What if it were a brontosaurus?”
The music stopped and I stepped forward. You could hear a pin drop. “I’d show him who was King of the Forest!”
It was pandemonium. The music started again and the women started this shimmy thing going.
The music stopped again and everyone asked, “How?”
I looked around and shrugged. “How?” I counted a beat. “I’ll tell you how… Courage.”
On ‘Courage’ the women started their thing again and the music came in loud. For the rest of the song, they kept repeating ‘Courage’ as a background rhythm bit. They’d hit it hard in answer to my questions.
I went into the main lyrics.
“What makes a King out of a slave?”
“What makes the flag on the mast to wave?”
“What makes the elephant charge his tusk, in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
What makes the muskrat guard his musk?”
“What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder?”
“What makes the dawn come up like thunder?”
“What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot?
What have they got that I ain’t got?”
They all sang, “Courage!”
Only we didn’t get the ending we hoped for. Something strange happened as we started into the main lyric. The balloons above us started to swirl about. And then the pages of the manuscript began to flutter.
One by one the pages lifted into the air and floating after each other mingled with the balloons. The ceiling opened and the balloons rose into the sky, followed by the pages of Gwen’s book.
Was this the magic my voice was supposed to generate? What are you asking me for? I was just a guy in a rhinestone jumpsuit on a stage.
We hit the last note and I bolted from the stage. The crowd was wild. I broke through the crush and found an exit. The balloons were gone but the pages were fluttering down in a distant field.
Running, I wished I hadn’t eaten so many donuts. But I also wished I had more energy which donuts are famous for providing. Running was never in my particular skill set.
I got to where the pages landed. I couldn’t believe it. They were neatly stacked with the title page on top. How could this be?
I noticed something, the watermark on the paper. I always thought it read ‘Nowhere’. But now it was obvious it read, ‘Now here’.
I moved closer and saw a glint from the dirt by the stack of papers. I kicked the dust away and a gold coin knocked loose. Another kick and some more coins surfaced.
A voice behind me said mechanically, “Good work Snark. You found the pot of gold.”
It was the Tin Man holding a six-inch shiv mere inches from my gut. He had me dead to rights. There was no way I could get my pistol without suffering a brutal attack.
He held out a shovel and told me to dig.
When I had unearthed the pot of gold, Tin Man instructed me to sit in the dust. With one swift movement, he plunged his knife into the manuscript, pinning it to the earth.
I thought I felt the earth tremble. A gust of wind caught the dust in a spiral. It began to cloud up.
Tin Man grabbed the pot by its handle as the dust devil enveloped him. He called out, “Dorothy sends her thanks!” The whirlwind carried him into the sky to disappear into the darkening clouds.
Fred, Larry and the chicks found me. I unpinned the book and held it up to the women who were trying to save their hair-dos.
“Can’t we all just get along?”
It was another day in Kansas.
Apologies to lyricist Edgar Harburg.
Continues in Chapter 18…