Copyright 1974, 1988, 2018 by Richard Seltzer
Illustrated by Christin Couture
This is an expanded version of the underground classic, originally published in 1974.
The day after yesterday, the fire of enchantment burnt low, and children; and even grownups, found nothing new in the world, nothing worth seeing or doing or bothering about, except machines. There was no magic left, except in a classroom in Winthrop, Massachusetts, where a pair of talking fish, Mrs. O'Rourke and Mr. Shermin, lived in a fishbowl.
Their school was near the airport, across the harbor from Boston. The sound of planes overhead was loud everywhere but in the basement, where two classes had the good luck to be assigned. The teachers, Miss Osborne and Miss Shelby, were friends and had removed the partition so the classes could be together. It was an extraordinarily bright and creative set of kids and teachers. The principal was so proud of them that he suspended normal rules so they could go on field trips whenever the weather and the mood were right. It was as a field trip that the quest began that took them to Oz and to Ome to bring back enchantment to the world.
It all began one morning when Mrs. O'Rourke got out of bed and stretched her fins and shouted, "Good morning, everybody!" just like she always did on school days. But this time no one answered. So she wiggled to the front of the fishbowl and pressed her eyes against the glass. The whole class was there: Eugene and Mark and Linda S. and Linda C. and Cindy and Donny and Peter and Gaynell and Kathy. But no one was smiling or laughing or playing. They all looked blank and bored and disenchanted.
So Mrs. O'Rourke wiggled to the other end of the fishbowl, where Mr. Shermin lived. Mr. Shermin knew most everything. He used to be a teacher until he decided he wanted to be a fish, and then he knew how to make himself a fish, which not many people, even teachers, know how to do.
Mr. Shermin said, "It's the Humbug."
"The Humbug?" asked Mrs. O'Rourke.
"Yes, the Humbug. You may think that noise in the sky is airplanes. But, no; that's the Humbug. He's been flying around beating on his humdrum and disenchanting everybody. I was afraid we'd start to hear him down here. It was just a matter of time. "
"But where can we go? What can we do?"
"Calm down now, Mrs. O'Rourke. Calm down." Mr. Shermin could just imagine what it would be like living in a fishbowl with Mrs. O'Rourke if she didn't have anybody to talk to but him. So he tried hard to think of a way to break the disenchantment.
Mrs. O'Rourke calmed down and cheered up and calmed down -- up down, up down, like on a sea-saw, only she wasn't at sea, just in a fishbowl, waiting for Mr. Shermin to think of how to get the world back to its usual enchanted self.
"The only way to break the disenchantment," he told her, "is to make the Humbug change his tune. But only the Lizard of Oz can make him do that."
"Many stories in books and movies tell about the Wizard of Oz and his Emerald City. In those stories, that city isn't really emerald. The Wizard makes everyone wear glasses with green lenses that make everything look green. He's just an ordinary person who pretends to be magic. Well, those stories were written by the Humbug. He wants everyone to think that enchantment is make-believe. The Humbug doesn't want people to know about the Lizard. So he wrote about The Wizard, hoping people would confuse this make-believe Wizard with the real Lizard. And because he wrote such good stories, everyone remembers the Wizard, instead of the Lizard."
"But who is the Lizard of Oz?"
"A magical creature who lives in the green green grass of Ome."
"Yes, Ome is the nicest part of Oz, with lakes and trees and lots of grass to roll in."
"How can we get there?" asked Mrs. O'Rourke.
"The best way is in a little green VW."
Mrs. O'Rourke remembered that Miss Osborne had a little green VW. But before she could say that, she saw Eugene, the tallest of the kids, standing next to the fishbowl.
"Can I help?" Eugene asked.
"Holy mackerel!" exclaimed Mrs. O'Rourke. "Mr. Shermin," she asked. "I thought you said the children are disenchanted?"
Mr. Shermin explained, "They haven't heard the Humbug much because they've been down here in the basement at school. So they're not as disenchanted as everyone else. And Eugene, at least, can still hear us."
Just then they heard a dull humming noise through the windows, then faint words repeated over and over, "Humdrum Humbug beating on his humdrum. Humdrum Humbug beating on his humdrum..."
"Quick, Eugene!" shouted Mr. Shermin. "Put cotton in your ears! And tell everyone else to put cotton in theirs. Maybe it's not too late. You kids may still be enchanted enough to reach Oz and roll through the green green grass of Ome and find the Lizard and get him to change the Humbug's tune."
Eugene was the only in the class who could still hear Mr. Shermin clearly enough to grasp what he had to say. He got everyone to put cotton in their ears, so they couldn't hear the Humbug. Then he told them what Mr. Shermin had told him about why they needed go to Oz and Ome and find the Lizard.
It being a beautiful spring day, Miss Osborne had wanted to take the class on a field trip. She had changed her mind when it turned out that everyone was down and disgruntled. Now nearly all of them caught Eugene's enthusiassm. So she agreed that they should go; and Oz was as good a destination as any.
Kevin was the only one who objected. "I'm too big for kids' stuff."
But Miss Shelby said, "The fresh air will do you good. And you know very well that whatever we do, we do together."
So, along with everyone else, Kevin piled into Miss Osborne's little green VW.
That was a very crowded little green VW with Eugene and Mark and Linda S. and Linda C. and Donny and Joey and Timmy and Miss Osborne and Kevin and Peter and Miss Shelby and Gaynell and Kathy and Cindy, who got to hold the fishbowl, because she's very careful, and it takes a very careful person to hold a fishbowl when you're sitting on Linda S., and Linda S. is sitting on Eugene, and Kathy is stretched across your belly, and your knees are touching the ceiling. But Mr. Shermin had said that the best way to get to Oz is in a little green VW, and Mr. Shermin knew most everything.
When they got to the first intersection, Miss Osborne asked, "Which way is Oz?"
Donny told her, "Just follow the yellow-brick road."
She laughed, "That may sound easy, Donny, but where's the yellow-brick road? Have ever seen a yellow-brick road in Winthrop?"
Mr. Shermin answered, "No trouble, Miss Osborne. No trouble at all. I have a magic coin. I'll flip it at every intersection. Heads we'll turn right. Tails we'll turn left. And if it stands on end, we'll go straight ahead. We'll get to Oz and to Ome in no time."
Miss Osborne couldn't hear Mr. Shermin, so Eugene repeated what he had said.
Miss Osborne laughed and went along with the game. It was a such a beautiful day that she didn't care where they went.
Soon they were blocks and blocks away from school, and nobody knew where they were, except Mr. Shermin, who told Eugene, who told everyone. And Miss Shelby gave the class a geography lesson.
"Travel is educational," she said. And she, too, was learning the names of the streets. She could never have known them if Mr. Shermin hadn't known, because there weren't any street signs.
Mr. Shermin explained and Eugene repeated, "They built the streets without signs back in the days of the Revolution to confuse the British. Every once in a while you can still see a troop of redcoats marching through the streets. Most people assume that it's some sort of parade; but no, it's the redcoats trying to find their way home."
"Thank you, Mr. Shermin," Miss Shelby chuckled. "That's very amusing."
Everybody started looking for the redcoats.
Donny, with his brand-new glasses, was the first to see them. "Gosh, they look awfully tired," he said.
Mr. Shermin explained, "Yes, of course they're tired. They've been marching for two hundred years."
The Redcoat Sergeant waved like he wanted to ask something; so Miss Osborne stopped the VW, and the Sergeant said, "Pardon me, ma'am, but could ye tell me 'ow to get 'ome from 'ere?"
Donny said, "Gosh, they're going the same place we are."
Miss Shelby corrected him, "No, Donny, we're going to Ome, but he wants to go home. You see, some of the British don't pronounce their h's; so when they mean to say 'home', they say ''ome'." Miss Shelby was very pleased that this field trip was turning out to be so educational.
But Mr. Shermin said and Eugene repeated, "Not so fast, Miss Shelby. You never know about these things. It just may be... It just may be ... Tell me, Sergeant, what sort of place is this Ome you're looking for?"
"Oh, I long for the green green grass of 'ome."
Mr. Shermin explained, "It's a sad case. They're disenchanted and very efficient. You can see how smartly they march after two hundred years of marching; and they can probably go on marching for another two hundred years. But they still remember what Ome is like; and the more disenchanted they get, the more they feel they need to get there. But only enchanted people can ever get there."
Eugene told the Sergeant what Mr. Shermin had said, because the Sergeant was disenchanted and couldn't hear Mr. Shermin himself.
The Sergeant didn't seem to understand anything but that they couldn't help him; so all he said was, "Oh-'um," very softly, and the soldiers started marching again, smartly, but wearily, through the unmarked streets.
So far everybody was having fun: bouncing up and down with the bumpy road, counting buildings and cars and telephone poles, and singing "row row your boat" and "found a peanut" and "the ants are marching one by one." At every intersection, Mr. Shermin flipped his magic coin with his flipper and said which way to go.
Then, just as the ants were marching a thousand by a thousand, the VW stopped.
"What is it?" asked Gaynell. "I can't see a thing back here."
"Gosh," said Donny, "It looks like a pothole, but it's huge. I bet it's big enough to hold at least three VWs."
"Donny," warned Miss Shelby, "don't lean out the window."
"But, Miss Shelby," he answered, "this hole doesn't have a bottom."
Miss Osborne said, "It looks like the road to Oz is closed. Maybe we should go to the Children's Museum instead."
But Mr. Shermin said and Eugene repeated, "No, Miss Osborne, we're right on course. Straight ahead. Drive straight ahead. The magic coin just stood on end and the magic coin is never wrong."
Linda S. said, "I've been to the Children's Museum before, and it's really nice."
Nobody wanted to drive into a bottomless pothole.
"I don't think driving into bottomless potholes could be very educational," said Miss Shelby.
Miss Osborne was ready to turn around when Gaynell accidentally tumbled at her, and the VW lurched forward and fell.
"Gosh," said Donny, "the whole car rolled over."
"It's like we're on an elevator," added Gaynell. "Only there aren't any lights to tell us what floor we're on -- no lights at all."
"And we're up-side down," said Donny.
Miss Shelby, who was on top now and trying hard not to squash anybody, explained, "No, Donny, we're falling very fast and it just seems that we're up-side down."
"But it's dark," said Kathy. "How can you tell if we're right-side up or left-side up or up-side down?"
"You're right, Kathy," admitted Miss Shelby. "But if we were right-side up and squashed against the ceiling, that would mean we weren't just falling. If we were just falling, nobody would be squashed. We'd be weightless, like on a spaceship. We'd only be squashed like this if something stronger than gravity had hold of the car and were pulling it down. And things like that are simply impossible."
"Eugene!" called Miss Osborne.
"Yes, Miss Osborne?"
"Ask Mr. Shermin which way should we go now."
"Ask the next witch you see," Eugene answered confidently.
"Mr. Shermin says that down here, where there aren't any streets to turn left or right or straight ahead on, his magic coin isn't much good. But any witch can show us the witch way to Oz."
All the kids started looking for a witch.
"Donny!" called Miss Shelby, "don't lean out that window. You know perfectly well there's nothing to see in all that dark."
"But what's that over there, Miss Shelby?" asked Donny.
"That's a ... a ..."
"A witch, dearie," answered the Witch, who was sitting on a bucket and riding a red broomstick. She had headlights on her head and footlights on her feet.
Before Miss Osborne could say anything to the Witch, the Witch said, "So you want to go to Oz."
"How did you know?"
"What else would you be doing, flying down a pothole in a little green VW stuffed with sixteen people?"
Mark asked, "Why are you sitting on a bucket? It looks awfully uncomfortable."
"All the latest models come with bucket seats. You don't have much choice."
Then the Witch leaned back, and started flying away.
"Wait!" called Miss Osborne. "Miss Witch, which way should we go?"
The Witch yelled back, "You'll get ahead if you get a head; so go straight ahead, and get an empty head that's gone to pot; then go behind and you will find the spot you have in mind."
"Whatever could she mean?" asked Miss Osborne as the witch's lights faded in the distance.
"Well, hurry up. Do like she said," Mr. Shermin ordered and Eugene repeated. "Drive straight ahead, or we'll miss the intersection."
Miss Osborne couldn't see any intersection or any road, and she knew they wouldn't go anywhere if she hit the gas, but she did so all the same.
Suddenly, there was light.
Eugene and Mark and Miss Shelby groaned because they were on the bottom again.
Cindy screamed because the water had spilled out of the fishbowl.
And Kathy screamed because she was soaking wet and Mr. Shermin and Mrs. O'Rourke were squirming on her belly.
"What's going on?" asked Gaynell, wiping water from her face.
"Gosh," said Donny, "look at all the funny people."
"I don't know who you're talking about, Donny," Miss Shelby corrected him. "I can't see from here. But whoever they are, you shouldn't make fun of them. "You shouldn't make fun of anyone."
"But it looks like a bunch of flowerpots are walking around," he answered.
"Really?" asked Timmy.
Kathy and Gaynell giggled.
Miss Osborne was so flustered she asked Mr. Shermin directly, "Where are we? You got us here. Can you explain what's going on?"
And, much to her surprise, she heard Mr. Shermin when he replied, "Well, this must be Pothead Land. Here, everybody has flowerpots instead of heads; and since they can't see where they're going, they're tripping all the time."
"What's that one?" asked Gaynell, pulling herself up to the window.
"That's a pot-bellied pothead," said Kathy."
"Gosh, he's covered with mud," Donny said.
"We're down-to-earth people," replied the Pot-bellied Pothead. "Earthenware is our natural dress. That and wonderwhere."
"Yes, I wonder where my head's at."
"Oh, there's a water fountain," said Miss Osborne, opening the door and letting everyone out. "We need to fill the fishbowl quickly for Mr. Shermin and Mrs. O'Rourke."
So they walked over to the fountain, and Miss Shelby read the sign, "Potable water. Potable. That's a good long word for you to learn today. That means the water is clean enough to drink and clean enough for Mr. Shermin and Mrs. O'Rourke."
Cindy, who was carrying the fishbowl, stepped up to the fountain.
"Not so fast," said the Pot-bellied Pothead. "That's a potable water fountain."
"Yes, I know," said Cindy, and she smiled; and Miss Shelby smiled, too, because Cindy had learned the lesson.
But when Cindy went to fill the fishbowl, the water wouldn't go in. Instead, it splashed all over her until she was as wet as Kathy.
"I told you so. That's a potable water fountain. It'll only pour water into pots."
"Well, what can we do?" asked Miss Osborne.
"You'll just have to find somebody empty-headed enough to help."
"Wow!" Mark interrupted.
"Gosh," asked Donny, "what's this one?"
"Yes, what is it, Mr. Shermin?" asked Miss Osborne, staring in disbelief.
"That's an empty-headed pothead. He's petaling an icicle, and his head's low so he can go faster."
"Petaling an icicle?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Yes, of course. He's sitting on an icicle, and the wheels are huge sunflowers."
"Mister, why doesn't the icicle melt?" asked Mark.
"It's cool, man, cool."
"How do you get it to go so fast?"
"That's flower-power, man, real flower-power."
"Pardon me, sir," asked Miss Osborne, "I noticed that your head, I mean, you pot is empty, and..."
"Yes, it's empty. And don't go making fun of it either. Some of these guys'll put anything in their heads just to have something there; but I've been waiting till I find something worth putting in."
"Well, if it wouldn't inconvenience you, we'd greatly appreciate it if you'd help us fill our fishbowl."
"Fishbowl? You mean fish are drowning because they don't have any water to breathe? Why didn't you say so?"
In a minute, Mr. Shermin and Mrs. O'Rourke were breathing freely in a bowl full of fresh, clean water.
Gaynell recited, "You'll get ahead if you get a head. So go straight ahead and get an empty head that's gone to pot. Then go behind, and you will find the spot you have in mind." She was very proud that she remembered the Witch's words.
"That's the one," said Mr. Shermin.
"The what?" asked the Empty-Headed Pothead, who heard him loud and clear.
"The empty head that's gone to pot. You're the one the Witch told us to find and take back.
"Witch? You mean one of those old ladies that ride around on broomsticks? You've got to be kidding, man. That's far out."
"Well, come along with us and take a look for yourself," suggested Mr. Shermin. "Just hop up on top of the car. We'll take you places you've never dreamed of."
So the Empty-Headeed Pothead left his icicle and hopped on the roof of the VW, and they all went riding back to where they came from.
Soon the VW fell into the pothole.
"Man, this is some trip," said the Empty-Headed Pothead as he clung to the roof of the VW.
"Hey, there's the witch again!" shouted Donny.
"Wow! What a broomstick, like in Harry Potter." said Mark. "Look at that thing go."
"Do witches play quidditch?" asked Eugene.
"Please, Miss Witch, please," pleaded Miss Osborne, as the Witch whizzed past, "please stop and explain ..."
The witch called back, just before she faded from sight, "For a real meal see Sir Real. Then egghead south to the Mouth of the Nile, and find the tooth the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth, for smiles and smiles, till suffer-time."
"Oh, I do wish she'd explain herself," said Miss Osborne.
"Quick, do as she said," urged Mr. Shermin. "Hit the gas now, or we'll miss the intersection."
Miss Osborne didn't need Eugene to repeat what Mr. Shermin said. Without hesitation, she hit the gas. Then she hit the brakes, and the car stopped. Somebody was standing in the middle of the road.
"Gosh," said Donny, "that must be the cereal, like the Witch said. He's got a bowl of raisin bran instead of a head."
"The name is Sir Real," said the man. "And that's not ordinary cereal up there -- that's raisin brain."
"Certainly, sir, certainly," said Miss Shelby. "Donny didn't mean to insult you. He just sees things the way they are; I mean, the way he's used to seeing them. He's got a lot to learn. We all have a lot to learn. But could you please tell us where we can find a restaurant? You see, we're going to Oz and Ome, and it's a long trip, and we're all very hungry."
"Well," answered Sir Real, "you can get plenty of food for thought in the Library, on the other side of the block."
"What block?" asked Donny. "I don't see a block."
"Naturally. It's a mental block. Just do as I say, and we'll be there in a minute."
So Sir Real climbed on top of the VW, next to the Empty-Headed Pothead; and Miss Osborne hit the gas.
"Gosh," said Donny, "we must be getting near the restaurant. I see food walking all over the place."
"Yes, the Library's not far, my boy, not far at all," said Sir Real. "But those are people: eggheads, to be exact."
The car stopped, and the kids piled out.
"To be or not to be? That is the question," boomed a deep voice.
"Who's that?" asked Mark.
"Looks like an omelet," said Donny.
"Yes, indeed," confirmed Sir Real. "That's Omelet, Prince of Denmark. The others are cheery sunny-side-up eggs, or hard-boiled, or soft-boiled, or scrambled."
"Who is that leaning against the wall?" asked Gaynell. "He must be the saddest egghead in the world."
Sir Real explained, "That's Humpty Dumpty. He's in the dumps right now. Really depressed. He's in love with a wallflower, that light blue one up there on the wall. He and she were sitting up there for years, never paying attention to one another, just watching people go by and reading stories. Then one day, by accident, they got to talking; and Humpty fell for her, fell all the way down to the ground. And when he saw that he couldn't climb back up, he was all broken up about it. And there he's sat ever since."
"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall," recited Kathy and Gaynell. "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall."
"Kevin and Eugene, don't climb those trees," called Miss Shelby. "Linda C., this is no time to go wandering off. Timmy get off that wall."
But Timmy stayed on the wall and walked up to the wallflower, "Can I take it home?" he asked. He was set to reach out and pick it.
No, Timmy," said Miss Shelby, "this is a very special flower. She has thoughts and feelings just like you and me, and it wouldn't be right to hurt her."
"You're so nice to protect me," said the Wallflower. "But what's the use? I was just a quiet little flower before I met Humpty. I was too scared to say a word. All I wanted was for nobody to pick me or step on me. And since I was on top of a wall, not many people walked near me. And since I was homely, not many people would want to pick me. And the homelier I was, the safer I'd be. Every day was the same as another; but at least I was safe. And then I got to know Humpty, and everything was different, and I came to life and started to talk. And more than anything in the world, I wanted him to pick me, even if it would be the death of me. But just as he started to reach for me, he tottered and fell. And I've been so alone and miserable that I just can't go on. And I'd be glad if anybody would pick me and end it all."
"I wish I could help, miss," said Miss Shelby. "But I've never read anything about how to cheer up sad little wallflowers."
"I've got an idea," said Kathy.
"What is it?" asked Miss Shelby.
Kathy whispered to her and then to Mr. Shermin. (By now the whole class could hear Mr. Shermin.)
"Brilliant, my dear, brilliant!" Mr. Shermin exclaimed. "Kathy, lead the empty flowerpothead over to the wall."
"Watch out now, Kathy," warned Miss Shelby. "Remember, he can't see where he's going, and if he trips, he might hurt himself."
"Mark, Eugene, fill that empty flowerpothead with top soil," ordered Mr. Shermin. "Timmy, dig up the little blue wallflower -- very gently. Be sure not to hurt the roots."
Soon they planted the Little Blue Wallflower in the flowerpot.
Then Cindy poured in some of the water from the fishbowl.
Suddenly, the pothead started staggering.
Miss Shelby and Mark and Eugene and Kathy, who were all right there, tried to hold him up.
Humpty got up for the first time since his fall and came running to help.
The pothead reached for the flowerpot like he wanted to lift a great weight from his shoulders and said, "Heavy, man, heavy. Where's my head at?"
"Somebody stop him!" shouted Miss Shelby. "Fast! He looks like he's going to pull his head off."
Only they couldn't stop him. And, with a sudden yank, he ripped the flowerpot off.
Joey and Peter and Linda C. screamed and hid their eyes.
"Gosh," said Donny, "he's got another head. Can you do that again, mister?"
Miss Shelby said, "What beautiful blue eyes he has."
Mr. Shermin said, "Those are blue irises."
"Yes," explained Miss Shelby, "the iris is the part of the eye that is colored."
She was very pleased that Mr. Shermin had reminded her so she could tell the class.
Mr. Shermin went on, "The iris is a kind of flower, too. That little blue wallflower is an iris; and it looks like it was planting the iris in his empty head that made it so the pothead could see."
"Man, I feel like a new man," said the former pothead as he handed Humpty the flowerpot.
Mr. Shermin said, "Well, that's what we'll call you then, Mr. New Man."
"He looks just like Paul Newman," said Miss Shelby.
Kathy and Gaynell giggled, and Miss Shelby blushed.
And that's what they called him
from then on: Mr. New Man
"Man, I'm hungry," said Mr. New Man.
"Yes," echoed Miss Shelby, "it is high time we got something to eat."
"No problem at all," said Sir Real. "Right this way, folks."
He walked through a door in the wall. Nobody had noticed the door before, but there it was -- wide open.
Everybody ran in, because they were all hungry.
Donny said, "Gosh, this isn't a restaurant. There's nothing but books."
"Here's something," said Kathy. "Miss Shelby, do you have any salt and pepper? I just found the biggest most delicious-looking piece of bacon in the world."
Everybody rushed to get a piece of the bacon.
"Cannibals! Barbarians!" hollered the bacon. "Whoever let this horde of ruffians into my Library?"
Sir Real introduced him, "This is Mr. Bacon, Francis Bacon, the librarian."
"Excuse us, Mr. Bacon," said Miss Shelby. "We didn't mean any harm. We're just a class on a field trip to Oz, a very educational trip. We're all hungry; and when we asked the way to a restaurant, this gentleman directed us here. Apparently, there's been a mistake."
"No mistake, no mistake at all," insisted Mr. Bacon. "The Library is the best place to get food for thought. Help yourselves. We have a wide selection. Some books are to be tasted, others swallowed, and some few chewed and digested."
Eugene grabbed the first book in sight, ripped out a page and started chewing it. "This tastes awful," he said.
"Barbarians! Absolute barbarians!" Mr. Bacon was sizzling with anger. "Didn't anyone ever teach you how to eat a book?"
He picked up a little book from his desk and read, "'Once upon a space, there was a time, a cute little time; her name was Now.' That's how to eat a book," he said.
"But that's just reading," said Miss Shelby. "That could never satisfy these hungry children."
"And why not?" asked Mr. Bacon. "I myself find it very satisfying."
"Miss Shelby," hollered Timmy, "here's one about Huckleberry Finn and his dog, Huckleberry Hound."
"Yeah," said Eugene, "get this one -- The Quest for the Golden Fleas. Why would anybody want fleas -- even golden ones?"
Timmy suggested, "Maybe what they really want is the dog who has the fleas."
"What?" asked Eugene.
"Maybe it's a golden retriever."
Meanwhile, Mr. New Man asked Miss Shelby, "What's all this stuff about books?"
"Oh, you wouldn't know, would you? You never learned to read when you were a flowerpothead."
"What do you mean 'read'? What's this all about?"
"These marks are code for words that together make stories. If you know the code, you can enjoy the stories as if someone were telling them to you. It doesn't matter that you never meet the people who write the stories. They could have written those stories many years ago. And if you wrote stories, people might read your words many years in the future. You might say writing and reading is a way to talk across centuries."
"Like people and fish talking to one another. Magic."
Miss Shelby laughed in agreement. "Real magic, everyday magic."
"Man, I like that. Every day should be magic. Teach me this magic, please. What does this writing say?"
"Here's a story about a little prince who loved a rose, just like Humpty Dumpty loves the Little Blue Wallflower."
"I guess there are lots of flower children in the world. And what about this one here?"
"I don't know that story. But it says on the cover that it's all about King Arthur and Sir Ridesalot and other Knights of the Merry-Go-Round Table."
"And this one?"
"That's the story Mr.Bacon just read from. It's called Now and Then. And here's another one called The Lizard of Oz."
Soon all the kids were reading.
"Miss Osborne," said Donny, "look at this one. It's about the Trojan Rockinghorse and how people traded a whole city just for a chance to ride on it."
"Rockinghorse?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Yeah, and here's another one about an amusement park built by the same company. They call it The Oddest Sea, and it looks like it's even better than Disneyland."
"The Oddest Sea?"
"Yeah. You go sailing from one fun land to another, and there are wild rides and monsters along the way. There's even a Circus Island where you not only get to look at the animals, you get to be an animal yourself. Can we go there, Miss Osborne? Can we, please?"
"That's new to me, Donny," she admitted. "I'll have to read up on it."
"Help me first, Miss Osborne, please," asked Kathy. "I've been reading this story about a magic potion that makes you fall in love with the first person you see. I want to find out where I can buy some."
"Miss Osborne, Miss Osborne," Gaynell interrupted.
"Isn't it wonderful that there are lots of rabbitholes and potholes so people can fall through them to other worlds and have adventures to tell stories about."
Nearby, Mr.Bacon and Sir Real were discussing the state of the world.
"Have you eaten today's news?" asked Mr.Bacon.
"Yes, and I'm fed up with it," replied Sir Real. "Things just keep getting wars and wars and more wars."
"It's hard to say just what it'll all lead to," added Miss Osborne. "Only time will tell."
"Now, Miss Osborne, where did you get that idea?" asked Mr.Bacon. "You should tell time; not wait for time to tell you. What do you go to school for but to learn to tell time?"
Miss Osborne didn't know what to say to that.
A big bearded man joined them, "What is the world coming to? Children and even grownups reading fantasy, fairy tales, fables and legends. You'd think there was nothing serious or important in the world, nothing worth seeing or doing, nothing worth studying and changing."
"Oh, Miss Osborne," said Sir Real, "I'd like you to meet Mr. Marx, a frequent visitor at the Library."
"How do you do, Mr. Marx?
"Are these your children, miss?"
"Yes, Mr.Marx, they are my pupils."
"Then why do you let them befoul their minds with mere stories. Why not make them study problems of the real world, problems of social and economic injustice?"
"But, surely, you must admit that stories are important for children?" Miss Osborne insisted.
"Only insofar as they relate to the real world."
"Mr. Marx?" asked Mark.
"Are you one of the Marx Brothers?"
"The Marx Brothers?"
"You know. The guys who make jokes."
"No, son. My field is history and economics. And that's no joke."
"Can you teach me economics?" asked Kathy. "Please, Mr. Marx. Mommy says that the more economical you are, the more you can buy. And I want to buy lots of things. So I want to learn lots of economics."
"No, my dear. You mean 'home economics.' That's another field altogether."
"Oh, do you teach Ome economics instead?"
"No, no. You see, economics isn't just a matter of what you buy in stores. It deals with work and money and class."
"We're a class."
"Yes, but I mean a different kind of class, like the working class."
"We work hard, don't we, Miss Osborne?"
"You certainly do," she answered.
"I'm sure you do," Mr.Marx continued. "But the way society is today, there are many classes -- economic barriers determining the kind of life a man can lead. I believe that one day there will be a classless society."
Eugene asked, "You mean we won't go to school anymore?"
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" Mr.Marx replied indulgently.
"No, I like school. Miss Osborne, they aren't going to stop us from going to school, are they?"
"No, my boy," said Mr.Marx. "Nobody's going to stop you from going to school. All I mean is that someday there will be justice in the world."
Donny said, "You mean the good guys will get goodies, and the bad guys will get spanked?"
"Something like that."
"And everybody will live happily ever after?" asked Kathy.
"Now, look, children," said Mr.Marx. "I'm not talking about fairy tales. I'm talking about the real world."
"You mean you're not talking about the Underworld?" asked Donny.
"You know," Donny explained, "like in the book The Oddest Sea -- the place where there are judges and everybody..."
Just then, the clock struck two.
"My goodness," said Miss Osborne. "It's late. The school day will be over soon. Come along now, children. We have to get going."
"But, Miss Osborne ..." said Eugene.
"It's two o'clock," she insisted. "If we don't get back quickly your parents will worry, wondering where you are."
"Gee whiz," said Timmy, "I was just getting to the good part of this story."
"Now, children, you heard Miss Osborne," added Miss Shelby. "It's time to go."
"Can't we stay a little longer?" pleaded Gaynell.
"Please?" added Kathy.
"I don't want to go anymore than you do," said Miss Shelby, "but two o'clock is two o'clock."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Bacon, Sir Real, and Mr.Marx," said Miss Osborne. "It was nice meeting you. Thank you for showing us around. We all had a good time."
"But, Miss Osborne," asked Eugene, "what about our trip to Oz and to Ome? What about the Humbug and the disenchantment? Don't we have to save the world?"
"I'm sorry, Eugene, but the world will have to wait to be saved some other day by some other class. You children have to go home... Oh, Cindy, don't forget the fishbowl. We don't want to leave Mr. Shermin and Mrs. O'Rourke behind."
So Miss Osborne and Miss Shelby pulled the kids away from their books and herded them back into the little green VW. And off they went: two teachers, twelve kids, and two talking fish in the car, and Mr. New Man riding on the roof.
Miss Osborne was sure that she could get back to school by doing everything in reverse. So she backed up and once again fell into a pothole, and the VW started flying up, like it was on an elevator. Miss Osborne was sure that meant they were heading back to Winthrop. She was proud that she had learned so much about the world that she didn't have to ask Mr. Shermin which way to go.
"Yes," Miss Osborne thought, "Miss Shelby is right -- travel is very educational."
"Donny," chided Miss Shelby, "how many times do I have to tell you? Don't lean out the window. Gaynell, don't..."
Just then Gaynell tumbled into Miss Osborne, the wheel turned, the car lurched, and suddenly they were lost in another land.
It was dark and smoggy. There was water on the ground, and the air smelled like garbage.
"This place is spooky," whispered Gaynell.
"I want to go home," murmured Peter.
Donny was the first to step outside the car.
"Gosh," he said, "this must be the Underworld -- just like in that book, The Oddest Sea."
A deep voice boomed from the nearby shadows, "What's going on here?"
"Nothing, sir, really," answered Miss Osborne. "We're just trying to get home to Winthrop."
"Well, what are you doing in my sewer?" the huge shadowy figure took several steps closer, splashing in the puddles.
"This is the Underworld, isn't it?" asked Donny. "Are you Achilles the Heel?"
"No, I never heard of the guy. I'm Mack the Knife -- Big Mack to you, kid."
"He sure is big," whispered Kathy.
"Even bigger than that bacon in the Library," Gaynell answered softly.
"Pipe down over there!" Mack yelled at the girls. "Now you," he said, glaring at Donny. "What's this you know about the Underworld?"
"Well, there's a ferryboat and a three-headed dog and a courtroom where they give out goodies."
"Courtroom?" asked Mack.
"Yes, the good guys get the goodies, and the bad guys get spanked and.."
"What are you driving at, kid?"
"Well, that's the way it is in the Underworld," Donny insisted bravely.
"And how do you get to this Underworld you're talking about?"
"Most people get there by dying, I think."
"Well, you get here by trying to stay alive. And that's not easy kid, believe me."
"Gosh," admitted Donny, "then this can't be the real Underworld."
"It's real, all right. This knife here isn't make-believe, kid. And these scars aren't, either. We've seen plenty of dead people around here. But I don't mess around with three-headed dogs. And I've never heard of anybody named 'Achilles the Heel.' Are you in some gang, kid? Did somebody tell you to tell me that? Are you talking in some kind of code, kid? "
As Mack glared down at Donny, Mr. New Man stepped between them. "Look, Mr. Mack, don't pick on the kid."
"And who do you think you are, buster?"
"Well, man, that's a tough question. You see, they call me Mr. New Man. But I'm not sure who that is, I mean, who I am."
Miss Shelby, stepped up and added nervously, "Oh, pardon Mr. New Man. He means no harm. And Donny, too. They've been reading a lot lately, and they're very suggestible. But we really do need your help, sir."
"Yes," said Miss Osborne, joining them, "you see, Mr. Mack, we're a class on our way home from a field trip to Oz and to Ome, and we've lost our way. We'd greatly appreciate it if you could show us the way back to Winthrop."
"Lost? Have things gotten so bad up there you can't tell the difference between the sewer and the street? And who are these other guys?"
"Gosh, it's the Redcoats!" exclaimed Donny.
Indeed, the Redcoats were splashing steadily toward them out of the gloom.
"The what?" asked Mack.
"The Redcoats," explained Miss Osborne. "We met them before. They've been lost for two hundred years. Now, I guess, we're just as lost as they are."
The Sergeant stepped up to Mack. "Pardon me, sir; but could ye tell me 'ow to get 'ome from 'ere?"
"Okay, buddy, okay. This is getting ridiculous. You've got no business down here. Just because your world's falling apart doesn't give you the right to barge in on mine. It may be a filthy sewer; but I'm not about to share it with anybody. Turf's turf, and this is my turf. Go look for your home or your Ome some other place."
"But, Mr. Mack," pleaded Miss Osborne, "how can we get out of here?"
"Just follow me. And no snooping along the way."
So Mack the Knife led the class and the Redcoats through the slushy murky mess that was the Underworld, and left them when they came to a town that looked like Winthrop: the same kinds of hamburger stands and gas stations and ice cream shops.
By now, Miss Osborne once again couldn't hear Mr. Shermin, and Mr. Shermin was sure that she was disenchanted. So Mr. Shermin flipped his magic coin and told Eugene which way to go, and Eugene told Miss Osborne. She thought it was silly to try to find your way by flipping a coin, but she followed the directions anyway, because she was sure they'd soon come across a street she knew -- everything looked so familiar. So off they went through the unmarked streets, with the Redcoats running hopefully behind.
On they went, through the winding streets, until the road ended in the middle of a dark woods. It was night, and the woods were dense and wild and scary. The class could hear crickets and locusts and frogs, and nobody knew where they were.
"I can't understand it," Miss Osborne admitted. "I was sure I knew where we were. But here we're lost again. We'll just have to turn around and try again, children. Your parents must be frantic by now. But we can't be far from home."
Suddenly, they heard a voice that seemed to come from a bush, "Hello, miss, can I help you?"
Miss Osborne ducked down, as far as she could, in the crowded car. Miss Shelby screamed.
Mr. New Man, who was riding on the roof of the car, reassured them, "Don't worry. I'll protect you."
Gaynell whispered from the bottom of the pile of kids, "What is it, Kathy? I can't see a thing down here."
"It's a tall handsome prince," answered Kathy.
"How can you tell?" asked Gaynell.
"He has a crown on, so I can tell he's a prince. And even with nothing at all on, I can tell that he's very handsome."
The kids started giggling. Indeed, a tall, handsome, naked prince was standing near Miss Osborne's window.
Miss Osborne just sat there, staring, without saying anything.
So the prince said, "My name's Prince Frog."
Miss Osborne said, "I'm Miss Osborne. Pleased to meet you."
She got out of the car and shook his hand politely.
"Enchanted," replied the prince.
Then Timmy asked, "Gee, Miss Osborne, aren't you going to ask him how to get home from here?"
Miss Shelby whispered loudly, "Let's get out of here, Miss Osborne." Then she said louder, "Miss Osborne." Then she shouted, "Miss Osborne!" Then she called up to the roof, "Mr. New Man, what's going on?"
Mr. New Man answered, "Maybe he's a magician, and he's put her under a spell."
Miss Osborne and the prince were standing very close to one another, looking quietly into one another's eyes.
Donny said, "Gosh," and looked the other way.
Eugene laughed and said, "Go ahead and kiss him."
They probably didn't hear anyone, but in a minute, without either of them seeming to move, they were kissing.
Suddenly the prince turned into a frog.
Miss Osborne would have screamed, but she had a frog on her throat.
"You don't love me," said the frog. He was hopping mad; so he hopped down to the ground.
Donny said, "Gosh, that was neat. Can you do that again, mister?"
"Mr. Shermin! Mr. Shermin!" shouted Mrs. O'Rourke.
"Calm down now, Mrs. O'Rourke," said Mr. Shermin. "Calm down."
"But Mr. Shermin," Mrs. O'Rourke persisted, "the prince just turned into a frog, and he's the handsomest frog I've ever seen."
Meanwhile the frog told Miss Osborne, "All these years I've been looking for somebody who'd love me, and I did everything I could to make myself so somebody would love me. I even changed myself into a prince, which not many frogs can do. And I thought finally it had worked, and you had fallen in love with me, and I could relax and go back to being a frog and live happily ever after. But you didn't really love me." He sobbed big frog tears.
Miss Osborne felt sorry for the frog and felt bad about making him sad.
"Didn't you like being a prince?" she asked, and smiled, hoping that he'd turn himself into a prince again.
"Well, I feel amphibian about it. I don't know what I want to be. It's so good to be loved, at least I'm sure it must be; but then it's so comfortable being a frog. I think I'll go down to the river and croak."
"No, don't do that."
"Everybody croaks sooner or later. Frogs just do it more often."
Miss Osborne pleaded, "Please don't leave us. We were trying to get home, and the road suddenly ended, and we'd very much appreciate it if you could show us a way out of here."
"You passed a way a few miles back," he said.
"We didn't see it."
"Well, you must have passed a way. Nobody gets to the Underworld without passing away."
"The Underworld?" she asked. "Not Mack the Knife again ..."
"Mack the who? Well, whoever you want, sooner or later you'll find him in the Underworld. If he isn't there now, just wait a while."
"Is this the Underworld?"
"We're very close," he said. "We just have to go down to the river. Maybe you can give me a lift."
"Well, I guess we have no choice but to go there. Which way is it?"
"Any way at all. All paths lead there sooner or later."
So the frog hopped into the fishbowl, and Miss Osborne drove him to the river because she felt she felt sorry for him and because she didn't know where else to go.
Mrs. O'Rourke said, "Didn't I tell you, Mr. Shermin? Isn't he the handsomest frog you've ever seen?"
The paved road soon ended, and windy paths, just wide enough for a VW, branched and then branched again through the woods. Miss Osborne didn't know what to expect. The kids, who were tired of being crowded in the car, wanted to walk with the Redcoats, and Miss Osborne was too tired to chase them all down. Mr. Shermin didn't answer when she asked for directions. Maybe he was confused too. Who wouldn't be? So she drove very slowly, taking this path, then that, at random.
Miss Shelby was bewildered by the prince turning into a frog. She didn't know how to explain it. She just sat in the car, and Mr.New Man climbed down from the roof and walked beside the car near where she was sitting in.
The woods were full of wild flowers. The kids started picking them and bringing them back to the car.
Kathy picked daisies and pulled off petals. "He loves me. He loves me not ..." But no matter which way it came out, she picked another one and did it again.
Gaynell stuck forgetmenots in her hair.
Linda S. picked sunflowers and stuck some on the sides of the car to give it flower power. She gave a big one to Mr. New Man. It was almost as tall as he was. He stuck it in a buttonhole. The stem went all the way down through his pantleg and into his shoe, and the sunny top was up by his ear.
When they arrived at the river, Miss Osborne took the fishbowl from Cindy and asked hopefully, "Prince, I mean, Mr. Frog, Prince Frog, where should we go from here?"
But the frog didn't answer. He just croaked and hopped out of the fishbowl into the river.
"No, please don't go away without telling us..." she pleaded.
Then Mrs. O'Rourke, who had been getting along swimmingly with the frog, croaked too and jumped in after him.
"No, not Mrs. O'Rourke, too," cried Miss Osborne.
Mr. Shermin said, "I must admit, I'm feeling a bit amphibian myself."
"Please, Mr. Shermin," said Miss Osborne. "Please stay. How could we ever find our way out of the woods without you?"
"Who's that guy over there on the raft?" asked Donny.
"All aboard!" the stranger hollered.
Timmy walked right up to him and asked, "Are you Huckleberry Finn?"
"No, Charon's the name?" he replied, "Mr. Charon the ferryboatman. Where do you want to go?"
Miss Osborne answered, "We want to go home."
And the Redcoat Sergeant asked, "Could you please tell us 'ow to get 'ome from 'ere?"
"Home or Ome," Mr.Charon answered, "I wouldn't want to go either place myself. But everyone to his own taste, and either way it's quite an undertaking; so I guess you'll need me to take you under."
"Under where?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Under the world, of course. I'm the undertaker. Mr. Charon's the name."
"But why should we go under the world?" she asked. "We just want to go home."
"Do you know where you are or how you got here or where to go next?"
"No, that's why I asked you."
"Yes, you're like all the others, wanting easy answers. But if I understand, it doesn't do you any good. You've got to understand yourself; so I've got to take you down under the world so you can stand under it and understand it. That's my job. Let's get on with it. But first you'll have to pay the toll."
"Yes, of course. Do you think I work for nothing? That'll be one magic coin please."
"But..." began Miss Osborne.
"Mister," asked Donny, "do you know Achilles the Heel?"
"Of course, son," answered Mr.Charon.
"And the three-headed dog?"
"You mean the underdog?"
"Yes, Sir Berus is his name. He guards the Underworld. He makes sure that nobody gets in without paying the toll."
"This guy's the real thing, Miss Osborne," said Donny. "We'd better give him the magic coin."
"What magic coin?" asked Miss Osborne.
"The one Mr. Shermin flips to tell us which way to go," explained Eugene.
So Miss Osborne asked Mr. Shermin, "Could you please... ?"
"Of course, Miss Osborne," Mr. Shermin answered. "No trouble. No trouble at all."
Mr. Shermin gave his magic coin a big flip with his flipper, and it flew out of the fishbowl, onto the ground, and stood on end.
Mr. Charon waved them on board, and Miss Osborne drove the VW straight ahead onto the ferryboat.
The kids all ran aboard, then the Redcoats. Then Mr.Charon gave a push with his pole, and the raft went speeding down the river.
When they reached the opposite bank, they saw a huge dog with three heads.
Linda C. and Peter hid in Miss Osborne's lap; and everybody else, even Miss Shelby and Mr. New Man, scurried to the far end of the raft, nearly tipping it over. Everybody, that is, except Timmy, who walked right up to the dog and held out his hand and let the dog lick it with all three tongues.
Then all the kids ran ashore and crowded close so they too could to pet the dog.
Kathy started giggling and whispered to Gaynell; and Gaynell started giggling and whispered to Kathy.
Finally, Kathy asked a sparsely clothed man sitting on the dock, "Mister, why are you in your underwear?"
Both Kathy and Gaynell blushed and giggled some more.
The man in underwear answered, "Of course I'm in underwear. What else would you wear in the Underworld?"
Kathy was puzzled, "Somehow that just doesn't seem right."
"But of course it's right," he answered. "Everybody here writes. Perhaps you've heard of me. I'm Lewis Carroll."
"Yes," said Gaynell. "I remember that story you wrote about your friend Alice and how she fell through a rabbithole."
"That's right. And over there is Bill Shakespeare. And the man fishing on the riverbank is Mark Twain. And the ones playing with flash cards are Bert and Ernie."
"Miss Shelby," asked Mr. New Man, "what's going on? What's this all about? Who are these guys?"
"It's all very confusing," she answered. "Most of these people seem to be writers who have been dead for many years. I don't understand how they got here; or how we got here. But I'm sure talking to them could be very educational."
Eugene walked up to the ones with the flash cards and said, "You don't look like Bert and Ernie."
"Well I most certainly am Bert -- Flo Bert. Mr. Bert, if you will."
"Is that your dog?"
"His name is Mo Just, or, if you will, just Mo."
"What's with the flash cards?"
The cards, with a word written on each of them, were lined up in a circle.
"Let me demonstrate." Mr. Bert pointed to one card after another with his pen, like a conductor waving his baton. And each word that he pointed to counted to ten, slowly and clearly.
"Since when do words count?" asked Donny.
"Of course they count. Every word must count. I'm determined to teach every one of them. And my friend Mr. Ernie Hemingway, is even more earnest than I am."
Meanwhile, Timmy walked up to Mark Twain and asked, "Mr. Twain, what's that you're eating?"
"Huckleberries, of course," he answered. "Here, try some. Come cool your feet in the water. Don't be afraid. It's a friendly river. When you get to know it, you'll feel like you've always lived near it, even before you were born."
Kathy walked up to Shakespeare and asked him, "Mr. Shakespeare, could you please tell me where I can get that love potion you mention in that summertime play of yours?"
"Look to the power in a flower," he replied.
"But what flower?"
"The flower of youth."
"I never heard of that flower. Is it anything like a rose or a forgetmenot? Is it like the sunflower Mr.New Man wears in his buttonhole? Is it an iris, like the Little Blue Wallflower?"
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
"As sweet as what, Mr. Shakespeare? Where can I find it? Where can I buy it?"
"What can be bought can be sold; and what sold, can stolen be. True magic is not so easily found nor lost. Gently it grows within you without you being aware. Then it shows itself in unexpected ways. You may not know you've blossomed, until you find you're the flower of someone's eye, just like the iris."
Mr. New Man was staring at Mr. Carroll. "Miss Shelby," he asked, "who is this hotshot guy with the girl's name who goes around in underwear? What did he write?"
"That's Lewis Carroll?" she answered. "He wrote Alice in Wonderland and other children's books."
"Kids' books? Just kids' books? No point in filling my head with that stuff."
"Well, it's said that they can be understood on many levels."
"You mean like going up and down on an elevator?"
"Yes, you might say that," answered Miss Shelby.
"Hey, that's cool. Where's the buttons? I want to try that trip."
Meanwhile, Gaynell asked, "Mr. Carroll, do you really understand everything?"
"No, of course not. I only stand under the world. There are others, much lower, who stand under me. Yes, there are many levels of understanding."
Miss Osborne shook her head. "We may be standing under the world right now," she said, "but I don't understand any more than I did before. Nothing seems to make sense. I'm lost, and I've gotten the whole class lost with me."
"Nothing lost, nothing grained," he answered.
"Grained?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Yes, surely you want to be born a grain. Otherwise you wouldn't have fallen into the earth."
"I'm sorry, Mr.Carroll, but I don't understand any of this. Could you please tell us how to go home from here?"
Then the redcoat sergeant stepped forward and asked, "Could you please tell us 'ow to get 'ome from 'ere?"
"Well," answered Mr.Carroll, "I don't know how to get to either place myself. But, if you like, I can take you down to the next underworld, and maybe somebody there can help you."
"Oh, thank you so much," said Miss Osborne, greatly relieved that someone would help.
"Not so fast," added Mr.Carroll. "Before I can take you anywhere, we'll have to check the weather report."
"Weather report?" she asked.
"Yes, whether or not you can go any further."
"But, Mr.Carroll, surely you must be kidding? We're in a terrible hurry, and why on earth should we need a weather report?"
"You forget, my dear, we're not on earth; we're under it."
Then they heard a sneeze and another sneeze and a loud hoarse cough.
Donny said, "Gosh, that was some cough, mister. Can you do that again?"
The coughing man was wearing a white jacket, and carrying a brown doctor's bag. He had a stethoscope hanging round his neck. He coughed again and again and shook all over.
Donny apologized, "I'm sorry, mister. I don't want you to get sicker. That ws just an amazing cough. Miss Osborne, he looks awfully sick."
"Yes," replied the man, "I'm sick of the world."
"I hope it isn't serious," said Miss Osborne.
"That depends on how you take the world. For myself, I can't take it seriously."
"This is the Weatherman," Mr.Carroll introduced him.
"The Weatherman?" asked Miss Osborne.
"He's under the weather right now," explained Mr.Carroll. "That's the best way to understand it."
The man hobbled up to Miss Osborne, still coughing and shaking. She tried to get out of his way. "Please don't get close, sir," she insisted. "I don't want to catch those germs and pass them on to the children." Then she asked Mr. Carroll, "What's he trying to do?"
"Relax," said Mr.Carroll. "He wants to take your weather report."
So Miss Osborne stood still, and the Weatherman opened up his doctor's bag and started checking her temperature and taking measurements in the air around her.
"Hmmm," mumbled the Weatherman. "Cloudy and heavily overcast, with a thick ground-level fog. Visibility near zero. Temperature near freezing. Air pollution index critical."
"It's like I suspected," explained Mr.Carroll. "Nothing personal, Miss Osborne. The air where you come from is polluted. You're so used to it, you don't notice it. But it sticks to you. It's a deadening atmosphere. Disenchanting. You all have it, and you'll have to wash it off before you can go any further. Come right this way, to that big room over there."
Mr. Carroll led them down the beach to the building he had pointed out.
"Come along now, Mr. New Man," urged Miss Shelby.
"Where's this Carroll guy taking us?" Mr. New Man asked. "That doesn't look like an elevator to me. Looks more like a lighthouse with a dunce cap on top. What a blast! What a wayout way out!"
"I can't say I'm all that happy about walking into something that looks as weird as that," admitted Miss Shelby. "But we don't have much choice, and it could prove educational."
Once everyone was inside the big room, Mr.Carroll stepped out and shut the door on them.
"Mr.Carroll! Mr.Carroll!" shouted Miss Osborne. "What are you doing? Open that door at once! How dare you!"
"It's dark in here," whined Timmy.
"There aren't any windows," said Eugene.
"I want to go home," said Kathy.
"He must be some kind of kook," said Mr. New Man.
"He wouldn't lock us in here for no reason," noted Miss Shelby. "There must be an explanation."
"Miss Shelby, maybe it's like in his book," suggested Gaynell. "I bet there's a mushroom somewhere, and we're supposed to eat it and that will make us small so we can go out a little hole we can't even see now because we're so big."
"No, Gaynell," said Miss Osborne. "I'm afraid I made a terrible mistake. I should never have trusted him."
"Mr. New Man, what are you trying to do?" asked Miss Shelby.
"I'm trying to kick the wall in, but it's just a pile of mush."
"Yeah, gosh," said Donny. "Feel this wall. It's all mushy."
"Maybe we're in a mushroom," suggested Gaynell, "a huge mushroom. Here, Miss Osborne, try a piece of the wall. It tastes just like mushroom."
All the kids grabbed pieces of the wall and started eating.
"What!" boomed a deep hollow voice from all around them.
There was a whistling noise as air was sucked out of the room.
Soon everybody was struggling to breathe, as if they'd been running hard.
Then there was no air at all, and they were all breathless, waiting for something awful to happen.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and everybody rushed out and fell into the river..
The water felt better than any water had ever felt before: bright and sparkly, crisp and clean. Soon they were swimming and playing splashing games with Mr. Carroll and with one another.
At first, Miss Osborne was afraid that the kids would be in over their heads. But it was a funny river: no matter where they stood, the water level wasn't over their depth -- just deep enough to have fun in. Bit by bit they got all played out and came ashore to lie on the beach or build sand castles or pick up shells.
Miss Osborne lay there on the beach and looked out at the moon reflected on the water and at the woods beyond. She said, "Beautiful. It's just beautiful."
"Yes," Mr.Carroll added, "It's breathtaking."
Miss Osborne felt good all over, lying there on the beach beside Mr. Carroll.
Kathy and Gaynell would have giggled and whispered to one another, but they and the rest of the kids were already sound asleep.
The next morning they were awakened by a loud voice, "Hear ye! Hear ye! Order in the court!"
A tall man in a black suit marched by, pounding on the ground with a staff and repeating those commands.
"Gosh," said Donny, "the judges are coming."
Mark asked, "Who's that doing the talking?"
"That must be the Quirk," said Donny.
"The Quirk of the Court. Courts have lots of quirks, to keep records and make announcements."
"No," said Miss Shelby, "don't be silly, Donny. You mean 'clerk', not 'quirk'. A 'quirk' is a silly mistake."
"Hear ye! Hear ye!" announced the Quirk. "The lowest court is in session. Plus, Equals and Minus presiding."
Three men followed him. They were all bald, with gray curly beards, and they were all wearing black robes, each with a white symbol on the front -- plus, equals and minus.
"Mr. Minus," called Donny. "Mr. Minus..."
"Quiet in the court!" ordered the Quirk.
"That's all right, Quirk," said Mr. Minus. "Let the children come forward. And the grownups, too."
"Is this where the good guys get goodies, and the bad guys get punished?" asked Donny.
"Not exactly, son. But we do try to right the wrongs of the world."
"I'm sure this is all very educational, sir," said Miss Osborne. "But we're lost and trying to find our way home."
"And how far is this home of yours from here?"
Miss Shelby explained,, "We were on an field trip and took a wrong turn and fell down a pothole, then up another pothole. We're been in Potheadland, and Eggheadland, and the Library, and the Underworld. We met a witch flying on a broomstick with a bucket for a seat, and Humpty Dumpty and the little blue wallflower he fell for, and a prince who turned into a frog We met Francis Bacon and Sir Real and Mr. Marx. We crossed a big river on a raft, and met famous authors who have been dead a long time. Then we were locked in a mushroom and fell into the river. We've only been gone for a day, but we've learned a lot."
"Let's start at the beginning," the judge pursued. "If this home of yours is so important, why did you leave it?"
Miss Shelby explained, "We're trying to get to Oz and to Ome to find the Lizard of Oz and save the world from disenchantment."
"Yes, indeed, you have tried. I might have thought as much. That's how people get here, by trying."
Eugene said, "Sometimes Miss Shelby says we kids are trying."
"Yes, indeed. I'm sure you all helped. Not many cases reach the lowest court."
"Stop! Will you please stop!" shouted Miss Osborne. "Doesn't anyone here speak plain English? I just want to go home."
"And we just want to get 'ome," added the Redcoat Sergeant.
Miss Shelby disagreed, "No, Miss Osborne, there's no stopping now. We can't turn back, not after coming this far. I don't know where we are. But from what we've learned so far, the world is far more complicated and interesting than I ever imagined. And I sense that it's important that we get to Oz and to Ome, like Mr. Shermin said."
"That's the spirit, young lady," added Judge Minus. "Keep trying."
"But we keep making mistakes," objected Miss Osborne.
"Trial and error," answered Judge Minus. "That's how we learn."
"Now don't tell me a Mr. Error is going to march in," moaned Miss Osborne.
"Yes, I can just imagine," suggested Miss Shelby, with a laugh. "Error Flynn will come swinging by on a rope with a sword in his hand. That's the way things happen here, isn't it? I just love these crazy lands we've been stumbling into."
"No, miss," Mr. Minus corrected her. "There is no Mr. Error. And this is not a place of punishment. We are teachers, like you. Trial and error is a way of learning.
Miss Shelby added, "We all learn from our mistakes."
Mr. Minus corrected her, "More or less. When we learn, every mistake is a lesson for us, and we move on. When we don't, we make the same mistake over and over, adding to our troubles. There are many people here who just don't learn. Here comes one now -- Mr. Sissyfoot. He works eight hours a day pushing that rock up hill. Then at five o'clock, he let's go and heads home, and the rock rolls back down."
Mr. Sissyfoot was tall, with arm muscles bulging from a short-sleeve tee-shirt. In contrast, his bare and battered feet were small and dainty.
"Poor Mr. Sissyfoot," said Miss Shelby.
"I'd hardly call him poor, miss," noted Mr. Minus. "He gets a fair wage for what he does."
"It's not that bad," admitted Mr. Sissyfoot. "I did the same sort of thing for a living up topside, before I croaked. Only I didn't get paid as much for it, and the work was harder. This job's simple. All I've got to do is roll the rock. No deadlines. No pressure. There are plenty of guys who'd love to have this job. Sure, I work up a sweat, but it's good exercise, and there are no chemicals to poison me. It's a lot better than working topside in the plant."
"Plant?" asked Gaynell. "Did you work in the mushroom?"
"No, but that sounds neat -- a real living plant? I should check that out."
"Hey!" said Cindy. "There's a huge flat-screen TV over here."
Everyone went running toward the television.
"Yes," explained Judge Minus, "Mrs. Tantrum spends her whole day watching television."
Mrs. Tantrum was a middle-aged lady with her hair in curlers.
"Are the shows that good?" asked Cindy, open-eyed.
"No," admitted Mrs. Tantrum. "It's not the shows I like to watch. It's the commercials. The things they have to sell are so tempting, but I afford them. So I just sit here imagining what I'd buy if I had the money."
"But that's awful," said Miss Shelby. "How could the judges be so cruel as to make you do this?"
"Make me? You've got to be kidding, dearie. My husband bought this set for me, my dear departed husband."
"Yes. Oh! Watch your step there, children," warned Mrs. Tantrum. "There's a big hole there. Don't fall in or you won't be able to get out. That's my husband down there. He fell in getting me this big flat-screen TV. Wasn't that sweet of him?" She threw him a kiss.
"That's terrible," said Miss Shelby, staring down into the darkness.
"Gosh, that's deeper than the pothole," said Donny.
"You think that's bad?" asked Mrs. Tantrum. "You should have seen the hole we were in back home."
"But it seems such a waste," insisted Miss Shelby. "Why spend your life, I mean, your death like this? Why do this, when right over there are beautiful fields of flowers?"
"What's that music?" asked Linda C..
"Just birds singing," said Miss Shelby.
"Those are no ordinary birds," said Judge Minus. "That's the 'Hymn to Joy' they're singing. Those are the Easy One Fields."
"Hey!" said Donny. "There's Achilles the Heel."
"You mean the guy with the spear?" asked Kathy. "The one walking hand-in-hand with the beautiful lady?"
"Yes, indeed," said the Judge, "that's Achilles the Heel and Helen Troy."
"When will they stop that infernal music?" asked Achilles.
"Oh, don't be silly, love," said Miss Troy. "That music is simply divine." She pushed back her long blond hair with a dramatic stroke. She looked like she was performing in a shampoo commercial.
"Well, this is somebody else's idea of paradise, not mine," complained Achilles. "How are things in the world?" he asked the newcomers.
"Wars and wars and more wars," answered Mr. New Man, remembering what he had heard in the Library.
"Sounds wonderful," said Achilles. "Tell me about it."
They spent the night there in the Easy One Fields. Achilles entertained them with tales of the Trojan Rockinghorse, and Miss Troy told about the beauty contests she had won. They sounded sad talking about the past. They sounded like they wished they could do the same things they had done before over and over again, and be just as great at everything as the first time around.
"How could you be so cruel?" Miss Osborne asked Mr. Minus the next morning. "Mr. Sissyfoot, Mrs. Tantrum, Achilles the Heel, and Miss Troy are all miserable, each in their own way. How could you do that to them?"
"I didn't do anything to them. They condemned themselves. They don't learn. They keep making the same mistakes over and over again. They don't move on."
"But how could they move on?"asked Miss Osborne. "How could they know what to do or where to go any more than we do? There are no signs to point the way."
"No signs? Of course, there are signs. Minus, plus and equals. Without minus, there'd be no less. And without less there'd be no lessons and no learning."
"Hey, just listen to that!" said Joey.
"What?" asked Achilles. "I don't hear a thing but that infernal music. Joy, joy, joy. Nothing but joy."
"No, mister. This music is different," insisted Joey. "Come on, everybody! I hear merry-go-round music. I'll race you there."
Joey went running up a nearby hill, and the kids chased after him. Miss Osborne, Miss Shelby, Mr.New Man, Mr. Carroll, and Cindy, who had to be very careful carrying the fishbowl, rode in the VW. And the Redcoats marched along behind.
From the top of the hill, off in the distance, they could see a carousel.
"That's the Merry-Go-Round Table," explained Mr.Carroll. "We must be in Camelot."
"Hey, far out, man," said Mr.New Man. "Just like in the book -- 'The Knights of the Merry-Go-Round Table.'"
The knights were riding on merry-go-round horses. Some were facing forward and others backward. They were all playing chess with one another as they rode.
Mr.Carroll introduced them, "There's King Arthur and Sir Percival and Sir Galahad and St. George and Sir Beldivere and Sir Tristram and Sir Kay and Sir Gareth and Sir Gawain and Sir Murray and Sir Prize and Sir Ridesalot and Sir Lancelot."
"Gosh," said Donny, "they're as crowded as we are."
King Arthur asked, "Who are these young knights who have come to grace our court?"
"The Knights of the Little Green VW," answered Mr. Carroll.
And St. George asked, "Where are you going?"
"Home, St. George," said Miss Osborne.
"Ome, St. George," said the Redcoat Sergeant.
"To Oz and Ome," answered Miss Shelby.
"Do you know the way?" asked St. George.
"We were told by a prince, I mean a frog, that we had passed a way," answered Miss Osborne.
"Well, I sincerely hope that you can find it again. I always thought that there was only one true way -- a long straight and narrow path, much too narrow for a VW, just wide enough to walk down single file. But the times are changing, and maybe there are new inroads and outroads."
"We drove in through a pothole -- a big hole in the pavement," she noted.
"Yes, things have changed a lot up there. Why in my day, there were no pavements -- just grass and trees for miles and miles."
"And while we were flying down the pothole, a witch told us the witch way to Oz and Ome," Miss Shelby added.
"Do you believe in witches?" St. George asked her.
"Well, I never did before," Miss Osborne admitted. "But the way this field trip has been going, I don't know what to believe."
"You shouldn't believe them," he advised. "They're not to be trusted. They'll answer your questions, but they won't tell you the dangers or give you anything to defend yourself with."
"I want to take these people to the next underworld," added Mr.Carroll. "I think they're so far lost now that only the Muses can show them the way to wherever they want to go."
"Well, while you're here, I could give you some pointers on dragon fighting."
"Dragon fighting?" asked Mark. "Couldn't we have chess lessons instead?"
"I could teach you that," answered Sir Murray. "Come on over here," he told Mark. "I'll teach you the dragon defense."
"Dragons? What do dragons have to do with anything?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Well," explained King Arthur, "if you ever get to Oz and to Ome, you're going to need to know dragon fighting. Of course, you could rely on trial and error, but I suggest you get whatever lessons you can."
"But why dragon fighting?" asked Miss Osborne.
St. George answered, "In the midst of Oz lives the Great Dragon of Ome, the famous fire-breathing Lizard of Oz, the Leaping Lizard himself."
Mr. New Man whispered, "Hey, Miss Shelby, what's this bit about dragon fighting? You never said anything about dragon fighting."
"Why, of course not. None of us wants to fight dragons. And I'm sure there are no dragons in Oz and Ome. But we'd better listen. It isn't every day you get a chance to learn about dragon fighting from St. George himself."
Everybody got quiet and listened to St. George as he showed them the upper cut, the back stroke, the breast stroke, the stroke of luck, and the stroke of genius. The other knights helped, too, correcting their moves, as the kids practiced again and again. Miss Osborne didn't know what to think. Mr. Shermin had never mentioned anything about the Lizard of Oz being dangerous, and she still hoped to go home instead of to Ome. But just to be safe, she borrowed a pad of paper from a court scribe and took notes on everything St. George said.
After the lessons, Mr.Carroll led the class and the redcoats on a twisty road that led back to the river. He had a pocketful of magic coins, so they had no trouble getting back on Mr. Charon's ferry, and in no time at all they were in another underworld.
As soon as they got ashore, Kathy said, "Why I've never seen such pretty clothes in all my life. Could you please teach me how to make clothes like that?"
One of the three old ladies who were spinning and sewing said, "As a Mother of Fact, that could be very difficult."
Mr. Carroll introduced them, "These are the Mothers of Fact: Miss Hap, Miss Fortune, and Miss Take."
Kathy said "I'd like to learn to sew like that?"
"Sew what?" asked Miss Fortune.
"Sew pretty clothes like you're making."
"Those are very special clothes. They're costumes for our spring fete."
"Fate? What's a fate?" asked Kathy.
"Oh, that's a party. The way we do it, it's a masquerade party, and everybody wears pretty costumes and acts out silly parts. Our job is to make the costumes."
"Can I help? Please? Pretty please?" Kathy pleaded.
"Well, I'm afraid it's probably beyond you; but if you want to try, here's a needle and thread."
"But what can I use for cloth?"
"Use the fabric of time," answered Miss Fortune. "That's what we use."
"Once you get into it, it's really quite simple, nine times easier than regular sewing -- just a stitch in time."
Kathy felt silly sitting there with a needle and thread and no cloth. But she would have felt even sillier to ask again. So she pretended she was sewing.
The other kids gathered around her and stared.
"What are you doing, Kathy?" asked Mark.
"I'm sewing, silly. Can't you see?" she answered.
"But you don't have any cloth. How can you sew without any cloth?" he asked again.
"I'm just stitching time," she said.
Miss Fortune confirmed, "Yes, and she's doing a fine job of it. She'll soon have it all sewed up."
Miss Hap added, "Why that's lovely, perfectly lovely. That's finer than anything we've ever made. That's a very special costume. Fit for a king."
"For an emperor," said Miss Fortune. "That'll be the emperor's new clothes."
Kathy wasn't sure whether they were being nice, or if they were making fun of her, or if they meant something she didn't understand.
Donny said, "You mean emperors don't wear anything at all, not even underwear?"
Kathy giggled and whispered to Gaynell; and Gaynell giggled and whispered to Kathy.
But Miss Fortune said "There's a special fiber for making it visible. Yes, moral fiber. The emperor has to supply that himself. It's indecent for an emperor to go around with no moral fiber."
Mark asked, "What's moral fiber?"
"Cotton grows on some plants. Wool grows on some animals. And moral fiber grows on some people. They're a rare breed."
"I'd like to buy some moral fiber," said Kathy.
"Well, you don't see plants buying cotton or animals buying wool, do you? They've got to grow it themselves. People can't buy moral fiber either. They've got to grow it. It grows on you. Until you're all grown up."
Mark said, "Well, Miss Osborne's a grownup. She must have some."
Everybody looked at Miss Osborne, and she blushed.
Donny said, "I don't see anything."
Miss Osborne blushed some more.
But Miss Fortune explained, "Just give her time, and it'll show. Yes, matched with the right time, moral fiber can be quite beautiful -- bright red and blue and green. Really very becoming. Becoming even more beautiful."
Mr.Carroll asked the Mothers of Fact, "Could you please direct us to the home of the Muses?"
"Certainly," answered Miss Fortune. "Their sorority house is on Mount Parnassus."
When they got to the base of Mount Parnassus, Mr. Carroll said, "Okay, Miss Osborne, it's up to you to invoke the Muses."
"But what should I say?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Whatever you feel."
So she said, "Please, Muse, we're very lost and confused. We don't know how we'll ever find our way out of here if you don't help us."
A hollow echoing voice asked, "Which muse do you want to see?"
"A muse. Just a muse," she answered.
"Yes," said the voice, "the A-muse is my favorite, too. Right this way. Third cave on the right."
Mr. Carroll introduced the speaker, "That's Mr. Plato. He's the speaker of the house. He helps the Muses talk to strangers. He interprets their signs and strange words so people can understand them."
Plato led them into the dark cave and had the class sit down facing the wall. Miss Shelby, Mr.New Man, and the Redcoats all sat with them. The A-muse -- a young lady in a light blue evening gown -- sat by the fire behind them, moving her hands to cast shadow shapes on the walls. She was very good at it, and soon the kids were all laughing at the funny shapes and having a great time.
Miss Osborne stood off to the side with Mr. Plato and Mr. Carroll. She was very concerned, "Muse, Miss Muse," she called. "I hate to interrupt. I'm sure the children enjoy those shadow pictures you're making. And any other time I would enjoy them, too. You're quite good at it, really. But, you see, we're very lost. And I'm sure the children's parents are worried sick."
The Muse didn't say a word in reply. She just kept making shadow pictures on the wall of the cave, and the kids kept laughing.
"Mr.Carroll," Miss Osborne asked, "why doesn't the Muse answer me? Why does she just make shadow shows for the children?"
"She's answering you in her own way," he said. "The children understand."
"Well, I don't," she complained, her voice trailing off in despair.
"Come with me," offered Mr. Plato. "I'll explain in words."
He led her deeper into the cave, and told her the story the Muse was showing with her shadows.
"Once upon a time there was a world and an unworld. People lived in the world, and unpeople lived in the unworld. The world was very much like the unworld; and the people were very much like the unpeople. The sun spent half its time in each place; and everyone lived and grew and died and was happy.
"The name of the world was 'Home'' and the name of the unworld was 'Ome.'
"In Home there were machines that could wash your dishes and your clothes. They could cook your food or keep it cold. The people of Home were very happy with their machines. Machines saved them so much time in doing things they'd never enjoyed doing. And they could be made to do much more.
"So people kept working on the machines to improve them. Soon the machines could move you from one part of Home to another at great speeds. They could even tell you how great they were and show you pictures of how much everybody loved them and depended on them. That made it easier for people to work harder to earn enough to afford more machines and better machines that could do for them everything they'd ever dreamed of."
Miss Osborne could hear the kids reacting to the pictures.
"Gosh," said Donny, "that looks like ads on TV."
"Like videos on the Internet," said Mark.
Mr. Plato continued, "The more people worked for the machines, the more benefits the machines could offer, and the more the machines reminded them of what great new benefits were waiting for them. So people worked harder and harder so they could buy more and more machines; and in their spare time, they enjoyed seeing and hearing and reading about all the things machines could do for them and how happy everybody was and would be.
"The only trouble was the atmosphere. The machines gave off fumes. You got used to it after a while; so you hardly ever noticed except on what would have been a bright sunshiny day, but the fumes were always there. It was a deadening atmosphere. Plants and animals started dying. But people adapted. They learned to breathe machine air instead of plant air. They learned to use machine light instead of sunlight. If they, like the plants, had kept needing the sun to grow, they would have withered and died. But they adapted. They came to depend more and more on machines. They could no longer see the sun, and what plants and animals remained were ugly stunted creatures. There really wasn't much of anything to look at but the machines. And since there was less to distract people, they worked more efficiently, and the machines gave them more benefits, and they enjoyed those benefits.
"They worked and enjoyed. People used the machines, and the machines used people to make themselves better, and there was great progress throughout the world.
"Back when the sun could be seen, plants and animals and people used to grow up toward the sunlight. Now, instead, they grew toward the machine light. And they thanked the machines for letting them see. And they thanked the machines for letting them grow. And by the light of the machines, they saw the machines and other people working for machines and enjoying their benefits. And the machines built them houses, much warmer and more comfortable than caves. There in their houses, men sat night after night, watching the moving shadows that the machine's light cast on the walls, shadows that showed them how wonderful their world was. And they were very pleased.
"Meanwhile, without anyone noticing it, the sun left. It wasn't just behind the clouds anymore. Maybe just as plants and animals and people used to need the sun to live and grow and die, the sun needed the plants and animals and people. Whyever it was, the sun left the world and went to the unworld.
"Before, the sun used to shine equally in both the world and the unworld, revolving so it spent half its time in each. Now it just stayed in the unworld named Ome. And strange things started happening there. The unanimals and unplants and unpeople who lived there weren't used to all that light. They started growing in ways they never had before. Little lizards grew to the size of dinosaurs and dragons, and strange beasts of all kinds filled the unworld.
"The unpeople feared that if the sun kept shining that way, the monsters would get out of control and kill them. So the unpeople captured and tamed the biggest dragon they could find; and they taught him to jump, until he could jump all the way up to the sun. And he did. And he swallowed it and came back down to the ground with the sun in his belly."
"Gosh," said Donny, reacting to the shadow images the Muse was making. "Can you do that again?"
Mr. Plato went on, "As the unpeople had hoped, the monsters couldn't stand the change in climate. Soon the only monster left was the dragon with the sun in his belly, that somehow the sun had made deathless.
"The sunlight diffused through the dragon's skin like light through a lampshade, but still the light was so intense that many unpeople were blinded, all but those who wore sunglasses.
"Before, plants and animals felt drawn toward the sun, but gravity held them back. They hadn't been able to run to it. They could only grow toward it.
"Now, with the sun on the ground, gravity no longer restrained them. They surged forward, crowding toward the source of the light.
"It was unlike any light they had ever seen, unlike even sunlight seen from a distance. As they got close, they were speechless -- awe-struck and spell-bound by the sight. Ever after that, they never moved. Spell-bound to a single spot, they chanted over and over, 'Ome, Ome, Ome...' as an expression of their awe and perhaps of their joy at being in this place and seeing this sight.
"In the old days when the sun shone equally in both places, people and unpeople used to travel freely between the world and the unworld," Mr.Plato continued. "But when machines got so good that they did everything people dreamed of and even did their dreaming for them, people stopped going to the unworld -- they were too attached to the machines to want to go.
"A few unpeople kept coming to the world. While others were speechless in the presence of the light, these singers and tellers of tales tried to put what they had seen into words, and stuffed their words with light. A few of them met the Muses and learned to put their words together so the light shone through. And they arrived at Home with tales of the unworldly monsters and dragons and unworldly things that had been happening.
"People listened to those stories, and the machine recorded them. Then the machines retold the stories in different, more familiar words, so people could enjoy the stories with no effort at all.
"One of the very best stories the machines retold was The Wizard of Oz. They called the land 'Oz' because that sounds far away, and it's much more fun hearing about some far away place than some place that sounds like 'Home.' And it said that the sunglasses unpeople wore to keep from being blinded were green-tinted glasses that a fake magician used to fool people. And those were very good stories the way the machines told them -- so good that most people forgot the stories the unpeople told.
"But a few people did remember pieces of the original stories, and passed them on from generation to generation. Over time the dragon came to be known as the Lizard of Oz, the Great Dragon of Ome, or the Leaping Lizard.
"Legend has it that before the coming of the machines, a giant, the Promised One, stole fire from the sun -- not just the light but some of the fire itself -- and brought it to earth for man. Then there was just enough of the fire so man was enchanted and happy, but not enough to spell-bind him. And both the world and the unworld were enchanted for many years, until the fire burnt out.
"Nobody knows why the fire went out, but it did. Then people felt a great emptiness. And it was that emptiness that drove them to begin building the machines.
"Some say that the Promised One came again and tried to bring back fire from Ome; but that this time he failed and was spell-bound to a great rock at the dragon's feet.
"I've heard that things are changing fast at Home, that a humbug has been flying around beating on his humdrum, and most everyone has been picking up the beat. They say that people are getting more efficient. All are working at the rhythm of the machines. But the Humbug isn't the cause of the changes. He's just speeding things up a little. And nothing will really change the world until some new Promised One brings back the fire of enchantment."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Plato," said Miss Osborne, "I'm still very confused. We've seen so much so fast, and the pieces don't seem to fit together. These potheads and eggheads and everything -- who are they? And what do they have to do with Home or Ome?"
"At one time or another, for one reason or another, there have been people and unpeople who didn't like living in Ome or at Home. They found a rabbithole or a pothole or some such place, and just dropped out, like you did. They all fell to their own level -- suspended between Home and Ome. There are quite a few colonies of them."
"Well, being under the world, do they understand things?"
"Most of them aren't sure where they are, much less what's above them. The Underworld's something else altogether. It lies under and underlies everything, even the unworld."
Miss Osborne thought for a while. Then she admitted, "I really don't understand. I've never seen machines like that at home, and I'm sure if there are such things, they are very expensive and not many people can afford hem. And the sun hasn't left. It shines in Winthrop sometimes. I saw it just yesterday, before we fell down that pothole."
"Are you sure that was the sun you saw and not just something the machines made?" asked Mr.Plato. "I hear machines have been making moons and stars and flowers and fruit that look more real than the things they're copies of; but they are, nonetheless, just lifeless copies."
Miss Osborne wasn't sure what was real anymore, but she did know that something was very wrong.
She knew that she had to get the class home. But now she also felt that she ought to help bring fire back to the world, because, whatever that meant, it sounded like something that must be done.
When the shadow show was over. Mr. Plato led the class to the top of Mount Parnassus. They could tell that they were very high, and they could have seen far in every direction, but clouds got in their way -- light fluffy clouds.
Donny stuck his head into a cloud. "Gosh," he said, "it's really nice in here, all silvery and everything."
"Yes, every cloud has a silver lining," explained Mr. Plato. "But the best of them all is Cloud Number Nine. Right over there, kids."
All the kids went rushing to Cloud Nine.
Mr. Plato turned to Miss Osborne, "I gather that you and the Redcoats here aren't interested in Cloud Nine."
"No," she said sadly. "We must be going... wherever it is that we're going."
"Well, the path to the right leads to Ome. That to the left leads to Home."
The Redcoat Sergeant was ecstatic, "Right face!" he ordered. "Forward, double-time, march!"
So the Redcoats went running down the path to Ome.
"What's wrong, Miss Osborne?" asked Mr. Plato. "You hesitate. You don't seem to know where you want to go."
"It's all so confusing," she admitted.
"Then maybe you really should try Cloud Nine. If you like, you can stay at the amusement park inside there forever, and not worry about anything at all. In any case, take this package -- you may need it."
The kids and Miss Shelby and Mr.New Man were already inside the cloud. Miss Osborne was curious, so she took a look.
"Come on in," called Donny. "It's unreal how much fun it is in here."
"Yes, come on in," urged Gaynell. "I'm having a simply marvelous tea party with the Mad Hatter."
"I need you, Miss Osborne," pleaded Kathy. "How am I ever going to decide? There are all these Prince Charmings riding around on white chargers, and I can't make up my mind which one I want to be rescued by."
Miss Osborne couldn't resist. She stepped in, and Mr. Carroll followed her. They stood under an apple tree and watched the kids play.
Mr.Carroll said, "I've been here before, but I'm not sure when; and I'm not sure why I left here. It's a great place, with none of the cares of the world or the unworld or even the Underworld. The cloud just floats, and it doesn't matter where the cloud is, because things are always the same inside -- always wonderful, protected from sadness by the silver lining."
They both felt happy there inside Cloud Nine.
Then Miss Osborne remembered, "My goodness, how could I be so forgetful? Mr. Plato handed me this package, and I just walked off with it, without thanking him or even asking what it's for."
"Well, open it up," urged Mr.Carroll. "If Mr. Plato gave you a package, he must have had a good reason."
Inside she found a couple dozen pairs of sunglasses and a big stick.
Mr. Carroll explained, "The stick is a torch. It catches fire easily. It would come in handy if you went to Ome. But there's no reason to go to Ome now, or Home either. The kids are having the time of their lives right here. And there's no point in trying to change the world. Most people are happy with it just as it is. Those who aren't can just drop out, like you did. There's no reason for you to worry about them."
Miss Osborne looked very thoughtful. "I just don't know," she muttered softly.
Mr.Carroll noted, "You look like you're in another world."
"Or unworld," she answered. "I'm sorry."
She smiled and took his hand, and they played together and listened to music that came from all directions. But from time to time, she got that thoughtful look again.
That night while Mr. Carroll was asleep, Miss Osborne got up quietly and gathered the class together. She asked them to be careful not wake Mr. Carroll.
They did as she said, figuring they were going to play hide-and-seek or something like that.
As they passed Mr.Carroll on the way out, Miss Osborne borrowed a forgetmenot from Gaynell and laid it very softly beside him.
Cloud Nine was still on top of Mount Parnassus. (They were lucky that it hadn't drifted away). So Miss Osborne gave everybody sunglasses from Plato's package, and they all climbed in or on the little green VW and rode slowly and carefully down the path to the right -- toward Ome.
Going down the mountain wasn't at all like going up. Nothing looked the same, and it seemed they'd never get to the bottom of it all; but they did.
And there at the foot of Mount Parnassus stood Mr. Bacon's Library.
Miss Shelby went right back to teaching Mr. New Man how to read. She picked up one of the books they had looked at before and read, "Her father was Yesterday and her mother was Tomorrow. And they loved her very much..."
Miss Osborne found a copy of Alice in Wonderland -- one that had a photo of Mr.Carroll in it. After that, she always carried that book wherever she went.
Cindy went running to find her. "Mr. Shermin is acting funny, Miss Osborne," she said. "He's swimming back and forth in the fishbowl, and the water around his head is boiling."
"Boiling?" asked Miss Osborne. "I hope nothing's wrong. He hasn't said anything in the longest time."
The class gathered around the fishbowl.
"He looks very depressed," said Gaynell.
Mr. Shermin said in a voice that everyone could hear, "What's the point of it all? I don't know most everything. There are all these lands that I never dreamed of. I don't even know all the questions, much less the answers. I've just been living in a fishbowl."
"Gosh," said Donny, "he's knocking his head against the wall."
"Quick!" ordered Miss Osborne. "Hand me that fishbowl! If we don't stop him, he might crack it."
She reached in to try to stop him, but no, the fishbowl cracked, and the water spilt all over everyone.
Mr. Bacon came rushing up, "Barbarians!" he shouted. "What are they doing now? Breaking fishbowls and spilling water all over my Library."
But he stopped short, in shock, for there stood Mr. Shermin, the teacher, wearing glasses, smoking a pipe, and standing in a puddle of water and broken glass.
"Gosh," said Donny, "Mr. Shermin is a person again."
"Welcome... I mean .... how do you do?" said Miss Osborne. "I mean, welcome back, Mr. Shermin," she stumbled over her words, trying to figure out what had just happened and what might happen next.
The kids were glad to have Mr. Shermin back as a teacher.
"You were much more fun as a teacher than as a fish," Gaynell said, giggling.
Mr. Shermin said, "Not so fast, now. I'm not about to go back to my old ways. No, I won't be a teacher, and I won't be going back to Winthrop. Not right away, at least. I want to go back to the Underworld and talk to Mr.Plato. After that, I don't know. You just may see me again soon."
Then he turned to Mr.Bacon and said,"You're just the man I wanted to see. I'll be needing a backpack and some climbing boots and books -- lots of books. I'll need a lot to eat along the way."
Soon Mr. Shermin, with a heavy load of books, started the long trek back up the mountain -- all alone.
Watching him leave, Miss Osborne sighed, "If only we could find the Promised One."
Miss Shelby asked, "Miss Osborne, who is that?"
"Mr. Plato said there's a legend that a Promised One will bring back the fire of enchantment from Oz and Ome."
Mr. Bacon interrupted, "What's your name again?"
"Of course," concluded Mr. Bacon. "You may be the one -- Oz Born, born for Oz. Oz is your destiny. You were born for this quest. There is no way you can abandon it and just go home."
"Or maybe it's Miss Shelby," added Mr. New Man. "She Shall Be. Whatever Shelby shall be."
After Mr. Shermin left, Miss Osborne gathered everybody outside the Library. There they stood: the Knights of the Little Green VW -- Eugene and Mark and Linda S. and Linda C. and Cindy and Donny and Joey and Timmy and Kevin and Peter and Gaynell and Kathy and Mr. New Man and Miss Shelby. Eugene, the tallest of the kids, was shorter than Miss Osborne; and Linda C., the smallest, was very little. But together they were supposed to change the world.
Promised One or not, Miss Osborne had no idea what to do next and no one to turn to for help.
Miss Shelby hadn't heard Mr.Plato. She had only seen the shadow pictures on the walls of the cave. And Miss Osborne hadn't understood what he had said well enough to explain the importance of this quest to her or to anyone else.
Mr. Shermin would have been some help. She appreciated him now that he was gone. Even when he was a fish and even when he wasn't talking, it had always been a comfort knowing somebody was along who knew more than she did.
She had left Mr. Carroll behind, afraid to give in to the temptation to stay with him, knowing now that she had an important, though confusing, mission to carry out.
Even the Redcoats were gone.
Mr. New Man, the only newcomer left, was big; but he was still light-headed, having been empty-headed for so long.
Miss Osborne had a stick, some sunglasses, and a few rough notes on how to fight dragons.
Their only source of strength was flower power -- flowers they had picked in the forest by the river and in the El Easy One Fields -- Gaynell's wilted forgetmenots, Mr. New Man's slightly crushed sunflower, and Kathy's petalless daisies.
That was it -- some arsenal, some army.
She didn't know Mr. Bacon or Sir Real very well, but she had no one else to turn to.
So Miss Osborne asked Mr.Bacon, "Please, sir, could you come along with us and help us? It turns out that the Lizard of Oz is a great fire-breathing dragon; and none of us has an experience fighting fire-breathing dragons."
"Sorry, miss," he replied. "I can't leave my Library. There's no telling what would happen if I were to leave my Library. Barbarians, I tell you, barbarians are everywhere. They'd destroy these books without knowing what they were doing, and the world would starve. No, I can't go with you."
So Miss Osborne turned to Sir Real, "Please, sir, could you please help us? It's all very confusing, and I'm not sure what's real anymore; but I do know that we must bring back fire to the world."
"You don't know what's real?" said Sir Real. "Why I'm real, and my father was before me, and his father before him. But I don't think I should be going on any dangerous expeditions. You see, I don't have a son; and if anything should happen to me, no one would be real anymore. It's my duty to stay behind and protect myself. But maybe you can find some help along the way. You'll have to cross Redland and the Moors on the way to the Nile."
Gaynell recited, "Egghead south to the Mouth of the Nile and find the tooth the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth for smiles and smiles till suffer-time." She was proud that she remembered all of the witch's poem.
"Redland and the moors?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Yes," explained Sir Real, "if you get past Redland, the Moors are a wasteland, so bleak that trees won't grow there. But people live there, pioneers who have worked hard to close the wilderness."
"Excuse me, sir," interrupted Miss Shelby. "You must mean 'open' the wilderness." She told the class, "We all know we should be grateful to the pioneers for opening the wilderness."
"No, Miss Shelby," Sir Real explained. "In the old days pioneers opened the wilderness, tamed nature, chopped down trees and made the place livable. But as soon as it got livable, people moved in; and then there were so many people that the place became unlivable again. There wasn't anything the pioneers could do with that new wilderness. There was no way to chop down the forest of buildings. So they went back and found scraps of land that had been left behind. And they did everything they could to close off those bits of old wilderness. So instead of frontiersmen, now we call them 'backtiersmen.' I don't know if they'll do anything to help you. In any case, I'm sure they'll sympathize."
"But first this class has to get past the Reds," added Mr.Bacon.
"Indeed," confirmed Sir Real.
"Who are the Reds?" asked Miss Osborne.
Sir Real explained, "The Reds are exiles. There are all sorts of them: Redcoats, Redskins, and Redheads. They left the world years ago because they couldn't stand the way things were. And ever since, they've been plotting and planning and waiting for the right moment to go back and change the world. But that moment never seems to come."
Miss Shelby said, "They sound dangerous to me, Miss Osborne. We've been fighting redcoats and redskins and reds for years."
Miss Osborne replied, "But the redcoats we met were very nice. I'm sure they'd help us if they could." She turned to Sir Real and asked, "How can we get to Redland from here?"
"It just so happens that a redhead is visiting the Library right now. He stops by often to get a bite to eat. You remember Mr. Marx, don't you? Karl, could you lead this young lady to Redland?"
"Capital idea, sir. Capital," replied Marx.
So the kids all piled into the little green VW. Mr. New Man hopped on the top, and Mr. Marx climbed up next to him and showed them the way to Redland.
"Gosh," said Donny, "there are the Redcoats."
"Yes," said Marx, "here we are at Redheadquarters. Pull up by that building with the big sign over the door -- 'Better a readhead than a deadhead.'"
Across the street were billboards saying "Long live King George," "Hail Britannia," and "Our country right or wrong."
"Gosh," said Donny, "there's a xylophone."
"No," explained Mr.Marx, "that's an exile-ophone. We exiles use it to send each other notes."
"I was hoping we'd find our old friends here. But these don't seem to be the same redcoats," said Miss Osborne. "I don't recognize any of them. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. In those uniforms, they all look so much alike."
Mark asked, "Why do you all dress the same?"
"It's just-is," answered a redcoat.
"No, just-is. It just is that way. It's part of the Uniform Code of Military Just-Is."
"What sort of code is that?"
"That's hard to say. To find out what the code means, I'd have to break it. But they have nasty punishments for people who break the Code of Just-Is. All I know is the general drift of it -- that to be right you have to do everything the same as everybody else does, and that it's important to be right about clothes because clothes make the man."
"Pardon me, sir," asked Miss Osborne. "Do you know a sergeant who has been lost for two hundred years?"
"You mean you know the turncoat?"
"Turncoat? What did he do?"
"He turned in his coat yesterday. He said he had had enough of marching, and he was going 'ome."
"I can't say that I blame him," said Miss Osborne. "How do you ever expect to change the world this way?"
"We have to fight fire with fire, miss. They have a modern army; so we have one. We'll beat them at their own game. Our approach is really most efficient."
"Gosh," said Donny, "what's that?"
Mr. New Man said, "What a pile of bull."
"Mr. New Man!" warned Miss Shelby. "Watch your language!"
An Indian appeared out of nowhere and answered, "Whiteman has keen eye. Here comes bull man. Big Chief Sitting Bull. I am Crazy Horse."
"Crazy, man, crazy," said Mr. New Man.
"No, not Crazy Man, Crazy Horse. Maybe you help redman get back his lands?"
"Glad to help, chief," said Mr. New Man. "But what can I do?"
Crazy Horse said, "We use Indian headband. Headband sign of Indian good will. Good will prevail."
Just then, Sitting Bull raised his hand, and a band started playing "Joshua at the Battle of Jericho . . . and the walls came tumbling down."
"Music mighty strong medicine," said Crazy Horse.
"Man, that blows my mind," said Mr. New Man. "Where's that far-out sound coming from?"
"From that little big horn," explained Crazy Horse. "Many a redman died that we hear that sound. Someday soon, it bring us back our land."
"Man, this is where it's at." Mr. New Man put on beads and painted his face.
"Why, Mr. New Man, what are you doing?" asked Miss Shelby. "You look like a savage."
Mr. New Man shook hands with the members of the headband. "Hey, man," he said, "lend me that horn a minute, will you?"
They handed him the little big horn, and he started playing "Cherokee Nation."
"Whiteman play well," said Crazy Horse. "Make good Sioux."
Mark asked, "Why does an Indian tribe have a girl's name?"
"Sue very fine squaw," answered Crazy Horse. "Strong back. Carry heavy load. Sue best of squaw. Squaw backbone of Indian nation."
"You mean that women carry your loads for you?" declared Miss Shelby. "Why that's outrageous! Just let me talk to this Sue. She needs to be educated in the ways of the modern world."
"Squaw not complain," said Crazy Horse. "We give 'em plenty good backrub. You like 'em backrub, too?"
Miss Osborne said, "No, thank you, chief. We really don't have time for that. Like you, we want to change the world, to make it a better place to live in; but we've heard that to do that we have to take back fire to the world, a special kind of fire. We were hoping that you might help."
"Redman glad to help. Here's plenty of firewater, plenty whiteman's firewater -- poor in spirit. Take what you need."
"No," explained Miss Osborne, "the fire I'm talking about doesn't mix well with water. We're supposed to get it from a fire-breathing dragon."
"That very hot air. Hard to swallow. You wait. We see. Maybe dragon cool off."
Miss Osborne asked Mr. Marx, "Do you think anyone here might help us take back fire to the world?"
"Fire?" asked Mr. Marx. "Yes, we all know that we have to bring back fire to the world. But we're far from agreeing on what we mean by that. Everybody's got his own idea of how the world should be. Some young hotheads think ordinary match fire will do. But if we use that, there won't be much of a world left when we're done. Somewhere there has to be another kind of fire."
"Dragon fire," suggested Miss Osborne.
"Dragon fire?" repeated Mr.Marx.
"Yes, we have to cross the Moors and get to the Mouth of the Nile and get to Ome and find the Lizard."
"Do you really mean that?" he asked. "When you mentioned dragons before, I thought that was a metaphor, that you were looking for the same thing I am. Dragon fire?" he laughed. "No, the answer to the world's problems isn't to be found in fairy tales."
"Well, we have to get to Ome," Miss Osborne insisted. "I don't know how we'll find our way, but we simply must."
Crazy Horse said, "Redman make good guide. Me famous track star. Can track down anything."
"Do you know the wasteland called the Moors?"
"Know wasteland and unwastedland. Know good lands and bad lands."
Since Miss Osborne still looked depressed, Crazy Horse added, "Sad face no good. Need lift? Redman raise spirits, give 'em plenty good lift."
"Gosh, it's a giant," said Donny.
"How," said Mark.
"How indeed... " said Miss Osborne, in awe of an eight-foot-tall Indian woman.
"My name is Sue," she said. "How do you do?" Sue lifted the little green VW and started walking off with it.
"Put that car down this instant," ordered Miss Shelby. "You have equal rights, young lady. There's no reason why you should do all the lifting and carrying, even if you are... rather large."
So Sue put down the VW and sat on the roof. Then off they drove into the wilderness, with Crazy Horse and Mr. New Man running on ahead.
"This is a good time for a geography lesson," Miss Shelby told the class. "First, let's consider the word 'moor.' A moor is a treeless wasteland, children. But the word is used primarily in England. I saw a few myself when I was over there, in the southwestern part of the country. There's the Exmoor and the Dartmoor and .."
Linda S. asked, "What about the Nevermore?"
Miss Shelby laughed, "Oh, that's something else altogether."
"But I read about it last time we were in the Library. There's this scary, lonely place called the Nevermore, and a little girl named Lenore lives there. She has raven-black hair, and she's really beautiful."
Everybody started looking for Lenore. But the weeds were so tall and thick it was hard to see anything.
"My, we really are in the boondocks," said Miss Shelby.
"White woman has keen eye," said Crazy Horse. "Boonesville very near."
Around the next bend a big sign appeared, "Boonesville. Daniel Boone sole inhabitant. Private property -- keep out. Untouched wilderness -- do not touch."
"Who goes there?" boomed a deep voice, and out stepped a tall unshaven man, wearing a nylon jacket and a coonskin cap.
Crazy Horse answered, "Big Chief Crazy Horse and Mr. New Man and Sue and Eugene and Mark and Linda S. and Linda C. and Cindy and Donny and Joey and Timmy and Miss Osborne and Kevin and Peter and Miss Shelby and Gaynell and Kathy."
"That's too much!" said Daniel Boone. He threw down his rifle and curled up on the side of the road and started crying. "I just wanted to get away from it all; to lead a quiet simple life, close to nature. But no, now I have to spend all my time chasing people away. Every day there are more of them. I don't know what's going on up there, but something's driving people this way. I've done my best to close this bit of wilderness, but people just keep coming and coming. And now this -- a whole tribe at once. It's just too much to take. Too much." He cried some more.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Boone," said Miss Osborne. "We didn't mean to disturb you. We were just passing through on our way to the Mouth of the Nile and to Ome. We did hope that you might help us change the world."
"Change the world?" Daniel Boone suddenly stood up and smiled. "You're going to change the world? You're going to make it so people won't want to leave it?"
"Yes," said Miss Osborne. "That's what we hope to do."
"Then welcome. Welcome. I'll do anything I can for you. First I'll cook you supper."
Miss Osborne would have jumped for joy, but there wasn't any room to move in the little green VW.
"Marvelous!" exclaimed Miss Shelby. "It's been ages since we had anything to eat."
"You can spend the night and rest up," continued Mr. Boone. "You have a long journey ahead of you. You can get an early start in the morning. Best of luck to you."
"But you'll join us, won't you?" asked Miss Osborne, hopefully.
"No, of course, not," said Mr.Boone. "I have to stay behind and guard the fort."
"Oh," said Miss Osborne very softly.
Miss Shelby wasn't too pleased with the supper. She whispered to Miss Osborne, "Now I know why they call him a backtiersman -- there's bacteria all over everything."
But they got a good night sleep -- everyone, that is, except Miss Osborne.
All these things had worked strangely on Miss Osborne's mind. That night her sleep was restless.
She dreamed that she was home in Winthrop, and everything was as it had been before. In the dream, she thought that the trip to Ome had been a dream.
Then she found herself in the middle of a wasteland, lying on the floor of Daniel Boone's cabin.
Next she was in Windsor.
No, it was Camelot and her name was Miss Oz Born. It was the day of a tennis tournament. Thousands of people had gathered in the grandstands at King Arthur's court to watch the finals. She paid Attention at the gate, then found a seat in the back.
In the championship match E. B. White was playing against Alfred Lord Tennyson. They had very different styles. Tennyson rushed the net, with hard smashes and fancy spins. It was hard to imagine how he could catch his breath, running the way he did. White played a leisurely, effortless game from the back line. He would tap the ball so it dribbled over the net, or he'd lob one high over Tennyson's head. It was a close match with long volleys, as they struck and struck again. Then, suddenly, the match ignited, and the stadium was on fire, with people running and screaming. And there stood Miss Oz Born, all alone, weeping, amid the charred ruins.
"There was a flaw again," said a deep sad voice. In her dream, Miss Osborne knew that that was Merlin speaking. He was a tall old man, wearing a pointy black hat, like the sorting hat in Harry Potter. "Nothing to do but keep trying."
It rained heavily. A thick fog moved in. Miss Osborne was standing in a cloud, and the cloud was Cloud Nine.
Gaynell went riding by on a unicorn, and Kathy was reading Merlin's book of charms.
Nearby lay Mr. Carroll, sound asleep. Miss Osborne stepped up to him softly, kneeled and kissed him.
He woke but didn't see her.
She couldn't see her own hands or legs, anything of herself. She screamed, but made no sound.
"Miss Osborne?" he asked. "Where are you, Miss Osborne?"
He looked fragile and helpless.
She reached out, but couldn't touch him. She wasn't actually in the cloud. She was dreaming. She was asleep somewhere on the road to Ome and Home.
The clouds went away, but the sun didn't come out.
Miss Osborne screamed again, this time loud and clear, "Help! Help!"
But there was nobody around to hear her -- nobody but Merlin.
"I'd like to help," he said, "but I'm old and tired. Arthur and his knights would help, too, but they're caught on that Merry-Go-Round Table, that carousel of time."
"Will they ever get off?" asked Miss Osborne.
"Arthur will return. His day will come again. But don't hold your breath. For one brief shining moment, we had it, and the world was ablaze with the fire that doesn't burn. Then it was gone. And many of us chased false fires to fill the emptiness. But we had it for that moment, and it was splendid. Ah, those were the days.
"But no need to wait for King Arthur. The world could be enchanted and disenchanted dozens of times before he returns; and chances are he won't be back for long. In the past, whoever saved the day did it only for a day. There has always been a flaw, but that doesn't mean there always will be. Now it's your turn in the relay race of mankind. Take this stick and have a go at it, Miss Oz Born."
It was the same stick that Plato had given her.
"But . . ." she started.
Merlin was gone, and she had a book in her hands. She knew it was about Arthur, but was shocked by the contemporary cover, with a non-Arthurian title -- "They've done it; you can do it."
She opened it and read. It was about Arthur. She looked again at the cover, and under the title was an epigraph in Victorian type: "They've done it; you can do it; Whither you've known the shadow of its secret glow." Or was it "sacred glow" or "secret vow" or "sacred vow?"
She woke up trying to remember the words. The more she tried to remember, the more muddled her memory became, until all she knew was that she and the class could do it. Why or how she didn't know, but they could and would bring back the fire of enchantment.
The next morning, Miss Osborne woke everyone up at dawn. Skipping breakfast, she packed the kids into the VW. Sue sat on the roof again.
Daniel Boone gave Mr. New Man a coonskin cap.
"Is that real coonskin?" asked Mark.
"No, of course not," said Mr. Boone, "There's no point in killing a critter just for a hat."
With his new hat and his face paint and beads, Mr. New Man looked like an Indian scout. He ran ahead with Crazy Horse.
About noon, Donny spotted the Redcoat Sergeant. He was on the porch of a cabin, smoking a pipe and rocking in a rockingchair beside his wife. He looked happy. "'Ome is where the 'eart is," he said.
While Miss Osborne wanted to know what this place had to do with the place she was going to, she was in too much of a hurry to stop and ask. She had to get to Ome, and nothing was going to slow her down.
They drove for hours, crossing more and more moors.
Miss Shelby whispered to Miss Osborne, "You don't think we're lost, do you? I'd hate to be lost in a wilderness."
"There's nothing to worry about, Miss Shelby," Miss Osborne reassured her. "Crazy Horse knows the way."
Miss Shelby was amazed at how confident Miss Osborne was now. She crossed her fingers and shut her eyes and tried to imagine what it would be like to have such faith, but she was so hungry that all she could imagine was food.
Just then, Mr. New Man shouted, "Man alive!"
Donny said, "Gosh! It's raining bread."
Miss Shelby reached out the window, caught some, and ate it. "Like manna from heaven," she said.
"Yes," Miss Osborne said matter-of-factly, focusing on her driving, "it probably is."
Everybody was gobbling manna.
Between bites, Mark asked, "What's manna?"
"Well," said Miss Shelby, "it's usually just a figure of speech. But since we're approaching the Nile, this just may be the real thing. I don't know what else it could be. It's probably a local phenomenon, caused by the geography and the climate. Legend has it that long ago, a man named Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt."
Mark asked, "How many kids did Israel have?"
"Lots of kids," answered Miss Shelby.
"As many kids as our class?"
"Oh, many more than that."
"Gosh," said Donny.
"And Moses led the children of Israel across the Red Sea."
Mark asked, "Were they in Redland, like us, Miss Shelby?"
"No," explained Miss Shelby, "they were in exile in Egypt."
Donny asked, "Did they send notes to each other on an exile-ophone?"
"No, I don't think so. But they did leave their place of exile and they headed for their promised homeland."
"Gosh," said Donny, "everybody's looking for Home or Ome."
They all started looking for the children of Israel.
Miss Shelby explained, "That was a long time ago. You won't see anything now."
Mark asked, "You mean they're all grown up now?"
"Yes, I suppose they are. You see, after they crossed the Red Sea, they wandered lost in the wilderness for forty years."
Eugene said, "I guess it was like Winthrop -- without any street signs, a place where it's easy to get lost."
"Yes, I suppose it was," Miss Shelby agreed. "But they finally found their promised land."
"Did they live happily ever after?" asked Gaynell.
"For a while, yes. But what I started to tell you was that while they were in the wilderness, a bread-like substance called 'manna' rained on them, and it was manna that kept them alive through their long journey."
Cindy said, "That's a good story, Miss Shelby."
"I thought you'd enjoy it. History is full of good stories. Some people say that history repeats itself, and that's why we should read it. That's a silly idea, what with the way things change and people learn and progress. But history has so many good stories that there's no need to think up reasons for reading it. When we get back to school, we can read some together."
"Gosh," said Donny, "what a big mouth."
Miss Shelby was taken aback that Donny would say such a thing about her. She didn't know what to say, until she saw the mouth herself -- a huge wide-open mouth, swallowing manna. "That must be the Mouth of the Nile," she said.
Donny said, "It's a whale's mouth, and there's somebody inside."
"Oh," said Miss Shelby, "that must be Jonah."
"No," said the person in the whale. "My name is Joan, and this is the Ark. Haven't you ever heard of Joan of Noah's Ark?"
Miss Shelby explained, "Long, long ago, there was a great flood that covered the earth. Some people say that it happened because people were evil."
"What's 'evil,' Miss Shelby?" asked Mark.
"That's when people are naughty all the time," explained Miss Shelby.
Eugene asked, "What was wrong with them. Were they disenchanted?"
"That's one way of putting it. Yes, some people were bored and disenchanted, and that made them naughty. But a man named Noah stayed enchanted. He built a big boat that he called the 'Ark', and he took aboard two of every animal he could find. Then when the flood came, he and his family and the animals sailed away and had a long boat ride."
"That sounds like fun," said Cindy.
"When the flood went down, they went ashore and started the world all over again," Miss Shelby added.
Cindy asked, "What happened to the other people?"
"Euh! That's awful."
"If you'll just step aside," said Joan, "I'll let down the gangplank and let the gang out. It's suppertime, and they're all very hungry."
Thousands upon thousands of animals came rushing out -- two of every kind.
"The whale comes here every time he and his friends get hungry," explained Joan. "And they get hungry often -- so often that some people call him 'The Mouth of the Nile.'"
Gaynell recited, "Egghead south to the Mouth of the Nile and find the tooth the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth for smiles and smiles till suffer-time." She was very proud that she remembered all of the witch's poem.
Soon all the kids were playing with the animals.
Linda C. was talking to a friendly little pig. Donny let an owl try on his brand-new glasses. Timmy slid down the trunk of an elephant. Kevin and Joey were climbing all over the whale.
Kevin said, "Maybe this is the big white whale that Sinbad the Sailor was looking for."
"I don't know that story," said Miss Shelby, "but I do know one about a man named Ahab."
"What happened to Ahab?" asked Kevin.
"That's not a very good story," said Kevin. "Sinbad just kept having more and more adventures. I bet he's still having adventures."
Donny walked up to Miss Shelby, bringing his owl. With Donny's glasses on, the owl looked very human.
"Miss Shelby," said Donny, "maybe this is like Circus Island, and these are all people who were turned into animals."
"That sounds like reincarnation," said Miss Shelby.
"Is that some kind of milk?" asked Donny.
"No, it means being born again. Some people believe that all animals were once people and all people were once animals. They say that every living thing has a soul and feelings -- just like the Little Blue Wallflower -- and people should be careful not to hurt them."
Gaynell rode a unicorn, and Kathy found a white charger and looked all over for its rider.
The scene seemed strangely familiar to Miss Osborne, as if she had been here before or dreamed about it. Everything was turning out well. The whale would take the class to Ome, and everybody would live happily ever after.
Crazy Horse and Sue said their good-byes, "We give 'em music. Music mighty strong medicine." And they started singing, "Joshua at the Battle of Jericho . . . and the walls came tumbling down."
The class knew the words this time, so they all joined in.
"What's 'suffer-time,' Miss Shelby?" asked Gaynell. "In the witch's poem."
"I'm sure that's a mistake," said Miss Shelby. "The witch just mispronounced the word. She said 'tooth' when she must have meant 'truth,' and 'suffer' when she must have meant 'supper.'"
When suppertime was over, Joan started brushing the whale's one big tooth.
"You have to brush up on the tooth every once in a while," she explained. "Otherwise it'll decay; and there's nothing worse than having to go around with a false tooth."
"Why are you wearing armor?" asked Mark.
"Oh," answered Joan, "that's moral rearmament."
Kathy asked, "Is it made of moral fiber?"
"What a sweet idea," said Joan. "No, my dear, it's made out of stainless steel. It's much stronger and lighter than armor made of iron. And you can keep it immaculately clean with very little scrubbing. Cleanliness is next to godliness."
She whistled "Onward Christian Soldiers" as she brushed up on the tooth.
"How did you get here in the first place?" asked Miss Shelby.
"Oh, I came on a lark," answered Joan. "That big one right over there. I meant to go to Ome, but when I arrived here, I saw the error of my ways.
"I used to be a simple maid, scrubbing floors and pots and pans. Then heavenly voices spoke to me, telling me to fight the Lord's battles. Unfortunately, the lord at the time was a weak-kneed king, who had lots of battles that needed to be fought. I knew I was performing the will of heaven, but all around me raged the hell of battle. The ways of God are mysterious. A body could get mixed up.
"When I arrived here on my way to Ome, the place was a terrible shambles. All these animals were rambling about, and there was no one to clean up after them. And the whale's tooth hadn't been brushed since Noah left.
"I said to myself, 'Joan, now who are you to be running off to sit in the light of God's glory?' I was never very comfortable with courts and kings and important people. So I probably wouldn't feel right in the presence of God either. And if I went all the way to Ome, I couldn't turn around and go back, insulting all the nice people there and God himself. So I stayed here, and here I'm happy. I know my place. There's work to be done, and it's work I know how to do.
"Some interesting folks pass this way now and then. Some decide to stay. Sometimes I feel like I'm running a half-way house: half-way to Ome and half-way back, with a bunch of half-wits. One goes around in his left mind, because he finds that one more comfortable than his right one. Another keeps trying to lose his marbles so he can have a marble-less time, but his friends keep bringing them back to him.
"It's a strange crew we've got in our ship of fools. There are some, like me, who have never been to Ome, who heard voices and spent their lives following the mysterious and difficult commands. There's a man from Penzance who was told to be a pirate. Someone else was told to be a writer of wrongs, and he's written many thousands. Then there are the inorganic food eaters -- they can't bear the thought of eating any living thing, so all they eat is dirt and rocks.
"They're all well-meaning folks, even the Captain; but they seem to have gotten something mixed up. God works in mysterious ways -- especially when he uses words. It's so easy to mix up words. They can mean so many different things at once. Thank the Lord that I understood Him. But these others -- some of them are pitiful; though far be it from me to sit in judgment.
"And then there's the Captain... Well, speak of the devil..."
Everybody turned to see an old sailor with a peg leg
standing at the top of the gangplank.
"That's the ancient mariner himself -- Captain Ahab," Joan introduced him. "There are those who like his talk, who think it's good for the soul. Well, I'm not one of them." She went back to her brushing, ignoring Ahab as he walked down the gangplank in all his halting dignity.
"Gosh," said Donny, "he's got a false leg. Did he forget to brush it or something?"
Joan didn't answer. No one answered. Not an animal stirred. Total silence.
Then Ahab announced, "All right, ye landlubbers,
enough of fun and games. It's suffer-time."
All the animals rushed back inside the whale.
"What's the meaning of this?" asked Miss Shelby.
"It means it's time to suffer, missy," declared Ahab. "All my life I was weeping and whaling, and weeping and whaling. Then a voice cried out to me, 'Suffer the little children,' and I discovered the joys of suffering and making suffer: it's good for the soul, I tell ye. All aboard -- children first."
Miss Osborne said, "I'm sorry, sir. Apparently, there's been a mistake. We're on our way to Ome, but it seems we've chosen the wrong way to get there. I made the mistake of believing a witch."
"No back-talk, missy. I know my job. I'm here to usher ye into the very jaws of Hell. Now all aboard, I tell ye. If ye be feared of yonder whale, as well ye might, then ye should fear the fires of Ome a thousand times more. They'll burn yer very soul."
"Everyone in the car," ordered Miss Osborne.
"Run if ye like," said Ahab. "If ye think ye can. But ye'll never escape the darkness within ye. The wise stay. They suffer for their sins and learn to love to suffer. They pay penance."
Eugene said, "I've got a few pennies."
Ahab laughed a wicked laugh, and everybody piled into or on the little green VW.
Miss Osborne hit the gas.
But she put the car in the wrong gear, and they were falling into the mouth of the whale, and the mouth shut.
Ahab's laughter echoed in the pitch dark caverns of the huge white whale.
Inside the whale, the darkness was filled with every imaginable danger. Miss Shelby screamed. Peter hid his head on Miss Osborne's shoulder.
Linda S. said, "This is scary, Miss Osborne. I've never been this scared before, not even in the Fun House."
Kevin said, "Fun House? Aw, that's kids' stuff. Did you see the Dracula movie. . ."
"Dracula?" said Joey, "That's nothing. You should have seen..."
Everybody had a horror movie they wanted to talk about.
Soon they were singing "The worms crawl in" and "Found a peanut," and "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest."
"Music mighty strong medicine," said Mr. New Man.
"My, this is exciting," said Miss Shelby. "It's like being swallowed by nature itself."
She stretched out on the whale's soft tongue and took a nap.
Soon everybody was taking a nap.
Then the whale started to twist and turn.
Everybody woke up and huddled together.
Then a retching noise came from deep down inside, and the whale threw up, and the whole class was thrown up on the shore.
"Man, I feel like a new man," said Mr. New Man. It sounded funny hearing him say that again after all they'd been through together, but everybody was feeling great and knew what he meant.
Miss Osborne checked the VW. It had landed right-side up; and, by some miracle, it still worked.
"Don't go running off," she told the class. "This coud be Ome, so we need to put on sunglasses. We'll be safe, I'm sure, so long as we keep these sunglasses on."
Everybody put on sunglasses and stretched out on the beach, with the waves tickling their toes. They felt even better than they had when they fell into the river from the mushroom. Maybe they were relieved to be safe after all the danger they had passed through. Miss Osborne, in particular felt good that the quest was ending. Finally they were in Ome, and soon they'd be Home.
"Gosh," said Donny, "that bush over there looks like it's on fire."
Everybody went running to the bush.
Timmy got close enough to touch it.
"Watch out!" shouted Miss Shelby. "You'll get burnt."
"But it isn't burning, Miss Shelby," Timmy answered.
"Of course it's burning," said Miss Shelby. "You can see it's on fire."
But when she got closer, she too saw it wasn't burning.
"I wish Mr. Shermin were here," she said. "He was so good at explaining things. I learned so much from him."
"Why that's the fire that doesn't burn," said Miss Osborne, and she rushed forward with the stick that Plato had given her.
"What are you doing?" asked Joey.
"I want to see if this stick will catch fire, so we can bring the fire back home."
The stick glowed when she put it in the bush; but when she took it out, the glow faded.
"Do you think it's God?" asked Miss Shelby.
"Beware," a voice boomed, like it was coming from a loudspeaker.
Miss Shelby screamed, "The bush is talking!"
But Donny said, "Gosh, no, Miss Shelby. It's that astronaut over there.",
On top of the hill two men in space suits were walking toward them, waving frantically.
"Stand back from that bush," they said. "Return to the water. This area is contaminated. Radioactive material."
Everybody ran back to the water and got up to their waists in it. The spacemen plodded close to them.
"What's wrong?" asked Miss Osborne. "Did somebody drop a bomb or something?"
"No, miss, it's a natural phenomenon," answered one of the men. "Alpha and omega particles. It's long been a mystery, but we're very close to a break-through. Research has been going on here for years. Scientists named this land "Ohm" because they thought the phenomenon was electrical. An ohm is a measure of electrical resistance. But just last week we successfully separated and identified the two major forms of radiation: the alpha particle and a new particle we've christened the ohm-ega particle. That's an event of cosmic significance."
Miss Shelby explained to the class, "That means it's very important."
"Well, not really," the scientist corrected her. "Alpha and omega particles are cosmic rays and our discovery is very important in the study of cosmic rays. But nobody's sure how significant cosmic rays are in elementary particle physics."
Miss Shelby explained to the class, "Elementary means basic. The most important things, the building blocks you need for further study are elementary. Our school is an elementary school."
"Well, it's different in physics," the scientist explained. "Elementary particles are very advanced. Not that we've advanced that far in our knowledge of them, but that only advanced students ever study them. Actually, very few people study them, and we know very little about them and how they relate to the world of ordinary experience."
"You mean they don't matter?"
"Brilliant, my dear, brilliant!" he exclaimed. "Particles 'matter.' The very word we've been looking for. It's difficult to explain what exists and what happens at the subatomic level. Sometimes we talk of matter, and other times we talk of energy. Neither concept alone is sufficient, and yet the concepts of energy and matter seem mutually exclusive. When we try to put them together, we wind up with strange-sounding expressions like 'matter waves.' It all makes sense in terms of equations; but when we try to tell people what we're doing, language keeps leading us into the trouble. The words we use often mean more than we mean them to mean.
"We have to be very careful with our words, for they can imply whole systems of thought, and no single system of thought or set of concepts is adequate for describing the world around us. We are faced with the difficult task of using contradictory sets of concepts, now using one and now another, according to the needs of the moment. It's a complicated process that can only to be learned by experience. There are no signposts to tell us when to use which."
"Gosh," said Donny, " Winthrop's like that. There aren't any street signs, and it's awful easy to get lost unless you've got a magic coin."
Miss Shelby started to reprimand Donny for interrupting, but the scientist just kept talking.
"Particles 'matter,'" he said. "That's beautiful. A simple pun might make it easier to talk about elementary particles. Yes, 'matter' is a verb as well as a noun, and on the subatomic level it makes more sense to use the word as a verb. Light isn't matter as a noun, but it is matter as a verb. Language, for all its pitfalls, is capable of unexpected beauties. Its very imprecision can be a source of clarity. Light matters. Electrons matter. Elementary particles matter. Perhaps even matter matters."
"I certainly hope so," said Miss Shelby. "I'd hate to think people spend their lives studying things that don't matter."
The scientist laughed, "That's another good one. The words keep meaning more than we mean them to mean. If we aren't careful, we might find ourselves talking about values and morals and other things that have nothing to do with physics."
"All these theories are quite fine, I'm sure," said Miss Osborne. "But are these children in danger here? What's wrong? Why all this radiation?"
"As far as we know, miss, it's a natural phenomenon. But the sun is believed to be our major source of cosmic rays, and it's puzzling to find such a strong source here."
Miss Osborne smiled and explained to the scientist, "If the sun is the source, then this is perfectly natural. The Dragon of Ome, sometimes called the Lizard of Oz, swallowed the sun. It's in his belly."
"Dragon?" asked the physicist. "I must admit I don't know anything about dragons. They weren't in the curriculum. You mean to say there are dragons around here?"
"Why, yes, there is one dragon -- a very big one," said Miss Osborne. "We haven't seen him ourselves, but we have heard about him from very reliable people. If you've been studying the source of these cosmic rays, surely you must have seen the dragon."
"Can't say that I have. But that doesn't rule out the possibility that there is such a beast. I might have stood right next to it, even touched it, without recognizing that it was a dragon. Because of this protective suit, I get data second-hand. I don't see directly anymore than I hear or speak directly. The sense data are translated into electrical impulses, which are then re-translated inside the suit into recognizable stimuli. The equipment reports what it has been programmed to report. 'Dragon' simply doesn't compute. The way I get the message, there's a powerful source of cosmic energy in the form of alpha and omega particles diffused through a shield of organic material. Come to think of it, it's possible that the organic material could be a dragon's belly."
"Is the radiation really dangerous, sir?" asked Miss Osborne. "We've come a long way to find this dragon and bring back some of this fire that doesn't burn. And when I tried to light my torch on that bush over there, it didn't catch; it just glowed a short while and went out."
"We've noticed such effects ourselves," noted the scientist. "It seems to be some sort of induced effect. The bush radiates because it has long been near the source of radiation. Somewhat like induced magnetism. If such a bush is separated from the source, its radiant properties diminish. As for the dangers, I think you'd better consult my colleague, an expert on the psycho-physiological effects of this unique variety of radiation."
"It's a source of psychic attraction," explained the other scientist, "the most powerful such source known to man. If you don't wear protective equipment, even from this distance, the attraction is irresistible."
Kathy asked, "Is it really that attractive? Does it use a special perfume? Or a love potion?"
"I couldn't say. The science of behavior doesn't concern itself with the physical form of these stimuli. It could be a dragon or a man or a pile of stones. What matters is what it does to people."
The psychologist continued, "The closer you get to the source, the greater the danger. You see the way that bush seems to be burning? Well, this source can do the same thing to a person that it has done to that bush. It can change a man so that he in turn can endanger others. Take a look at that patient over there." He pointed to a man on a stretcher on the beach. "No, don't get too close to him without protective equipment. We're waiting for a rescue team to take him away. Notice the glow around his head -- similar to the glow around the bush. We call that the 'halo effect.' That may be the origin of myths about halos.
"This source, whatever it might be, destroys the will and the sense of self. The more extreme cases can no longer distinguish between themselves and the world. They lose the power of human speech. They go into a coma, mumbling meaningless syllables. Then their breathing and their heart rate slow down. I'm here to conduct tests and to do what I can for the victims. That's difficult because the victims show no desire to be cured. But we're making progress and hopefully some day we will be able to cure them and make them productive members of society."
Mark asked, "What's he talking about, Miss Shelby?"
"He wants to cure that sick man with the halo. He wants to make it so that man can hold down a job and earn a living wage."
"You mean that guy won't have his halo anymore?"
"No, I suppose he won't."
"That's a shame," said Mark. "He looks neat with that halo."
The water was cold, so everyone scrambled ashore again.
Mr. New Man, Kathy, Kevin, and Eugene started wandering up the hill.
"Hey! Come back here!" Miss Shelby shouted at them. "This place could be dangerous."
When they didn't respond, she ran after them to bring them back. But as she ran up the hill, she started forgetting what she was running for, and she just wanted to get to the top.
Soon everyone was running in that direction.
From the top of the hill, across the green fields of Ome, they saw the huge shape of the Great Dragon of Ome, the Lizard of Oz, the Leaping Lizard himself.
Peter and Linda C. ran to the shelter of Miss Osborne's arms.
Linda S. said, "The zoo's a really nice place to go to see strange animals. There are bars keeping them in, and it's really very safe."
Then Mr. New Man started singing "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
Soon everyone was singing that song, and they were all laughing and playing and rolling in the green green grass of Ome.
From the distance, they heard, "Ome, Ome, Ome . . ." repeated over and over again by what sounded like a huge chorus.
Joey asked, "Why do they keep saying 'Ome,' Miss Shelby?"
"It must be a football game or something," she answered. "They're probably chanting the name of the home team. But it's funny -- if I shut my eyes, I could think I was in the Far East in a Buddhist monastery."
"Where's the Far East?" asked Mark. "Is it in Maine somewhere?"
"No, it's on the other side of the world. The world is very big. The sun shines here half the time and there in the East the other half. When it's day here, it's night there. And when it's night there, it's day here. There's no real difference between their side of the world and ours. But by coincidence, all the major religions originated in the East."
"Miss Shelby, come quick!" shouted Gaynell. "Somebody over here's in chains."
"Don't free me," said the man. "Please, don't free me or I'll run to it. I know it will destroy me, but I'm drawn to it. Please, don't free me."
He pulled at the chains, trying to rip himself free. Then he fell back, exhausted, relieved that he hadn't broken free. His arms and legs were scarred and bloodied by such repeated attempts.
Someone else was praying, "Oh radiant being, light of lights, very God of very Gods . . ."
A girl was writhing on the ground, saying, "Stop! It hurts. Please don't pull me there. Please. I don't think I can stop myself. It feels too good."
Miss Osborne said, "Everyone back on the hill. We shouldn't expose the children to this. I'll run ahead and get what we came for. If I go fast, I think I can do it."
She went running down the hillside with the stick in her hand. At first she was scared, but soon she started to feel that she didn't need anyone bigger than herself. Then she realized there was someone bigger. She couldn't say who it was; but his or her presence gave her even greater confidence.
"Gosh," said Donny, "look at all the pretty colors."
Miss Osborne's clothes had suddenly changed color.
"That's the strange intense light," explained Miss Shelby. "It plays tricks on your eyes. It can make a perfectly ordinary dress look like it's fit for a queen."
"Fit for an empress," said Kathy. "That's moral fiber."
Miss Shelby laughed, "What a beautiful idea. Children say the sweetest things."
"Man," said Mr. New Man, "she can't fight that dragon all by herself."
He went running to the rescue.
"Stop!" Miss Shelby shouted. "Come back!"
But he kept running.
The kids wanted to follow him, but Miss Shelby held them back. So they practiced the dragon-fighting strokes that St. George and the other Knights of the Merry-Go-Round Table had taught them; and they cheered for Miss Osborne and Mr. New Man.
When Mr. New Man started out, he was scared. But the closer he got to the dragon, the better he felt. He could feel his muscles getting stronger with every step. It would be child's play to kick that little dragon for a field goal. The empty corners of his mind filled with new strength and confidence. It was no mystery to him how people turned themselves into fish and fish turned to frogs and frogs to people. He felt the life force surging through him -- the force that in an acorn can crack huge boulders, the power to change the world and to change oneself.
All around him, other people rushed forward then crawled back, fighting this force that drew them onwards. Hundreds shouted that they were Caesar or Napoleon. One shouted that he was an atom bomb.
Mr. New Man passed Miss Osborne. He had forgotten that he was running to rescue her and fight the dragon. Now he was running to that source of strength, and all around he heard "Ome, Ome, Ome . . ." He had to fight his way through masses of immobile people chanting over and over "Ome, Ome, Ome . . ."
Meanwhile, Miss Shelby was so busy looking off into the distance, trying to see Mr. New Man and Miss Osborne, that she didn't notice that Donny had slipped by her. He hadn't meant to go far; but with every step he took, he saw clearer and brighter and sharper. Soon he was seeing through things with x-ray vision, like Superman. Then he knew what it must be like to be one of those judges in The Oddest Sea who could tell at a glance who was a goodie and who a baddie. He felt he could literally see what was right and wrong.
Kathy, too, edged her way foreward. Her feet wandered of their own accord while she daydreamed about the love potion in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then she saw a robin with a hurt wing. She bent down and picked the robin up and petted it. She just loved the little robin. It looked like it wanted to fly toward the dragon and it had probably hurt itself trying so hard. So she ran forward with the robin in her hand, and the bird gained strength with every step she took. Then it sang for joy and flew off toward the dragon. Kathy felt good all over.
Next Mark started running toward the dragon; and as he ran, he felt he could answer all the questions he had ever wanted to ask. Then he felt he had the answers to questions he had never thought of asking. Then he didn't even know what the questions could be, but he knew he was finding answers and the answers were important.
Without realizing it, Miss Shelby, too, started moving forward, and the rest of the class with her. She felt she had never known so much in all her life. She felt she didn't even know how much she knew. Then she nearly tripped.
"I have to tell someone," said the man she almost tripped over. "I have to put it into words. I went to Ome singing, and I returned from Ome singing, and the light was in my words, and the light shone through my words. My beloved heard the song and came running to see what I had seen. But while I put what I saw into words, she was speechless; and it filled her; and she was spell-bound. Now I can see from her face that she's happy. But all she sees is that light -- that cursed light, that blessed light."
Then he ran off to tell someone else.
"We have to do something," said Miss Shelby. "This dragon business is dangerous. I thought so before, but now I know it. And we ought to put it into words; I know we ought. Our only protection is to put it into words; but I don't know how."
Linda S. started singing "Joshua at the Battle of Jericho," and everybody joined in. Then they ran back to the little green VW and piled in, and Miss Shelby drove as fast as she could toward the Great Dragon of Ome, the Lizard of Oz.
Everybody kept singing as loud as they could "Joshua at the Battle of Jericho."
They picked up Mark and Kathy and Donny along the way. Then they slowed to push their way through the mob. They had to sing loud to hear themselves over the great roaring chant of "Ome, Ome, Ome . . ." But the kids loved to sing loud and were very good at singing it.
They picked up Mr. New Man and Miss Osborne near a huge giant who was stretched out at the feet of the dragon. And still they sang loud and clear "Joshua at the Battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down."
Then the kids piled out of the car and started climbing on the dragon.
Gaynell put wilted forgetmenots between the dragon's toes. Kathy stuck petalless daisies under its scales. Mr. New Man took out his slightly crushed sunflower and tickled the dragon's belly with it. And Eugene and Kevin and Joey hit the dragon with upper cuts and back strokes and breast strokes, just like St. George had taught them. The dragon really didn't know what to make of it all.
Then Cindy, who had climbed all the way up the dragon's back, crawled carefully to the top of its head, and stroked it gently behind the left ear.
That was a stroke of genius.
The dragon purred and lay down and looked incredibly happy. Soon it was sound asleep.
Then Mr. New Man, Eugene, Kevin, Mark, Joey, Donny, Peter, Timmy, Kathy, Gaynell, Linda C., and Linda S. all held the dragon's mouth open; and Miss Osborne reached with the stick down the dragon's throat. When her arm came out, the torch was glowing bright and clear, with the fire that doesn't burn.
They had no trouble finding their way Home. Everything was familiar, as if they had always lived in Ome, and Home was the place next-door. As they got away from the dragon, the supernatural effects wore off. And it felt great to be their usual selves.
Miss Shelby told Mr. New Man what to expect and how to behave. "You're going out into the world now -- the real world. And I'm going to be with you when you see it all for the first time -- brand-new and full of surprises. Oh, brave new world!"
Miss Shelby had learned all the street names when Mr. Shermin told her at the beginning of the trip. So when they arrived in Winthrop, she told Miss Osborne which way to go, and soon they were back at school.
The kids all piled out of the little green VW, and Miss Osborne started walking up the front steps with the torch in her hand.
Just then, overhead, they heard an airplane; and as the plane got closer, they heard: "Humdrum humbug beating on his humdrum. Humdrum humbug beating on his humdrum . . ."
Miss Osborne lost her balance, tripped on the top step, and fell. The torch hit the door, and the door was ablaze and the building was ablaze, and all Winthrop was ablaze, and the whole world was ablaze with the fire that doesn't burn.
"Out of sight," said Mr. New Man.
"Gosh," said Donny, "everything's beautiful."
Mark asked, "Miss Osborne, why wasn't it always this way?"
"I don't know, Mark," she answered. "I just don't know."
Mr. New Man asked, "You mean it wasn't always this way?"
The sound above them changed. It was still a drum, but it was a different beat -- a wild dance beat.
"Man," said Mr. New Man, "that Humbug's turned into one humdinger of a drummer."
Miss Osborne looked up toward the sound, but all she saw was clouds -- light fluffy little clouds. She wondered if maybe one of them was Cloud Nine. She wondered if Mr. Carroll was still there.
The sun came out. Maybe, as Plato said, it wasn't the real sun; but it shone brightly. Miss Osborne stood up, brushed herself off, and picked up the torch. It was hard to say if it had lost anything in the fall. She opened the blazing door of the school and walked in.
Just then, Mr. Shermin came running and stumbling and dancing toward the school. "Marvelous!" he exclaimed, fighting hard to catch his breath. "It's simply marvelous. I never believed it could be this way. I came rushing back, thinking you'd all be depressed after doing all that you did for nothing. I hoped that what I had learned would help console you and give you some hope. And I'm greeted with this. It makes my head swim -- like when I changed myself into a fish."
"What did you learn, Mr. Shermin?" asked Miss Shelby.
"All I can say is what I thought I learned. I really don't know what to make of this. You see, Mr. Plato didn't tell the whole story; or, rather, the story didn't have all the answers. No story could hope to have all the answers. It struck me that just a few days ago this very class was enchanted. Regardless of what was going on in the world around them, regardless of what had developed through the centuries, these children were enchanted. Then I realized that Plato's explanation, or at least the way I took it at first, was weighted too much on the side of environment.
"Enchantment is in you. It's a spark in you that grows, then fades, and maybe it never totally goes out. Lord, I hope it never totally goes out. It's in you. That's what I came to tell you -- the fire is in you. You don't have to go chasing to the ends of the earth -- it's in you.
"But now I see this . . ."
Eugene and Mark and Linda S. and Linda Crotty and Kevin and Joey and Peter and Timmy and Gaynell and Kathy and Cindy and Donny inspired this book, together with their teachers, Judy Morgan and Mary Prysby, and the class fish, Mr. Shermin and Mrs. O'Rourke. (Mr. Shermin was also the name of their much-loved teacher from the year before). I occasionally visited them at the E.B. Newton School in Winthrop, Mass., to read them stories I had written, including the first six chapters of the Lizard of Oz. Miss Morgan read them chapter seven. Then school ended, but the story kept growing.
I'd like to thank the many people who with their enthusiasm, criticism, and candid reactions contributed to the writing of this book. In particular: Bliss Bruen -- photographer of children and encourager of wild ideas; John Winn of Stratton, Maine -- composer of some remarkable songs and source of contagious enthusiasm; Mike Bridge -- founder of the children's liberation movement; Rex Sexton -- author of The Palmist's Daughter; Ed Trobec -- artist; Mark Edwards of the Sword and Stone coffeehouse in Boston; Ray DeMarco, Bonnie Keyes, Janet Clark, Linda Bodner, Diane Rizzetto, Barry Madoff, Mary Maupin, Augusta Clark, Ellen Horn, and my wife, Barbara. Thanks to Ann Pennell for making me say what I meant. Thanks to my parents and my sister, Sallie (who was seven when the Lizard was written and is now author of several screen plays), for being so patient with me during the two weeks when I pounded out the final third of the story.
I was most fortunate in finding Christin Couture as an illustrator. In 1972, as an undergraduate at the U. of Massachusetts, she advertised on bulletin boards that she was looking for an original story to illustrate. I showed her the Lizard, and very shortly she was introducing me to my own characters -- once she had drawn them, I couldn't imagine them any other way. She is now author and illustrator of her own children's books.
David Gleason, formerly my roommate at Yale, designed the cover and hand-silkscreened the covers for the first thousand copies. He also helped with cogent advice that made the production of the first edition of this book possible.
For their help in the production of this book, I'd also like to thank Noreen Webber, Vicki Mutascio, Kathy Pikosky, Elynor Harrington, Mary and Ann Hartley, Shirley and Donna Maltzman, and Joyce Gleason.
And above all, I want to thank the person who
helped me edit the story to its present shape, who slaved long
hours preparing the material for the printer, and who makes
our world enchanted -- my wife, Barbara.
Richard Seltzer (original September 2, 1974, revised July 15, 1995 and February 2, 2018)
Sources for some of the ideas in this story.
from The Upanishads
Yama said: "That word or place which all the Vedas record, which all penances proclaim, which men desire when they live as religious students, that word I tell thee briefly, it is Om." ...
The Self, whose symbol is Om, is the omniscient Lord. He is not born. He does not die. He is neither cause nor effect. This Ancient One is unborn, imperishable, eternal: though the body be destroyed, he is not killed. ...
Smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest, this Self forever dwells within the hearts of all. When a man is free from desire, his mind and senses purified, he beholds the glory of the Self and is without sorrow. ...
As fire, though one, takes the shape of every object which it consumes, so the Self, though one, takes the shape of every object in which it dwells. ...
But those who are devoted to the worship of the Self, by means of austerity, continence, faith, and knowledge, go by the northern path and attain the world of the sun. The sun, the light, is indeed the source of all energy. It is immortal, beyond fear; it is the supreme goal. For him who goes tot he sun there is no more birth nor death. The sun ends birth and death. ...
Evil touches him not, troubles him not, for in the fire of his divine knowledge all evil is burnt away.
from Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce
The fall (bababadalbharaghtakamminarronnkonbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later in lie down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fal of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointand place is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.
from Frogs by Aristophanes
CHARON: Now stop this silly clowning. Brace your legs and row... row like a good one.
DIONYSIS: Never learned -- complete landlubber... most unnautical. How can I row?
CHARON: Easily. You will hear, once you have started, lovely songs...
DIONYSIS: By whom?
CHARON: Our minstrel frogs... wonderful!
from The Greeks and Their Gods by W.K.C. Guthrie
In his dealings with homicide, it was above all this question of miasma, or pollution, which concerned Apollo. As it was he who pronounced a city or an individual to lie under its cloud, so it was he who could grant the ritual purification that would set them free.
from Faust, Part II by Goethe
MEPHISTOPHELES: Loth am I now high mystery to unfold:
Goddesses dwell, in solitude, sublime,
Enthroned beyond the world of place or time;
Even to speak of them dismays the bold.
These are The Mothers.
MEPHISTOPHELES: Stand you daunted?
FAUST: The Mothers! Mothers -- sound with wonder haunted.
MEPHISTOPHELES: True, goddesses unknown to mortal mind,
And named indeed with dread among our kind.
To reach them, delve below earth's deepest floors;
And that we need them, all the blame is yours
from The Sovereignty of Good by Iris Murdoch
We do not simply, through being rational and knowing ordinary language "know" the meaning of all necessary moral words. We may have to learn the meaning; and since we are human historical individuals the movement of understanding is onward into increasing privacy, in the direction of the ideal limit, and not back toward a genesis in the rulings of an impersonal public language. ...
When Plato wants to explain Good, he uses the image of the sun. The moral pilgrim emerges from the cave and begins to see the real world in the light of the sun, and last of all is able to look at the sun itself.
from Idylls of the King by Tennyson
[description of the birth of King Arthur]
Shrunk like a fairy changeling lay the mage;
And ;when I enter'd told me that himself
And Merlin ever served about the King,
Uther, before he died; and on the night
When Uther in Tintagil past away
Moaning and wailing for an heir, the two
Left the still king, and passing forth to breathe,
Then from the castle gateway by the chasm
Descending thro' the dismal night -- a night
In which the bounds of heaven and earth were lost --
Beheld, so high upon the dreary deeps
It seem'd in heaven, a ship, the shape thereof
A dragon wing'd, and all from stem to stern
Bright with a shining people on the decks,
And gone as soon as seen. And then the two
Dropt to the dove, and watch'd the great sea fall,
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame;
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried, 'The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!' And the fringe
Of that great breaker, sweeping up the strand,
Lash'd at the wizard as he spake the word,
And all at once all round him rose in fire,
So that the child and he were clothed in fire.
And presently thereafter follow'd calm,
Free sky and stars. ...
from Moby Dick by Herman Melville
[on "the whiteness of the whale"]
Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those could of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God's great, unflattering laureate, Nature. ...
Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids, and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blackness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows -- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues -- every stately or lovely emblazoning -- the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yes, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtle deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, forever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, and with its own blank tinge -- pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like the willful travelers in Lapland, who refuse to war colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?
from Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg
For instance, the great scientific contribution to theoretical physics that has come from Japan since the last war may be an indication for a certain relationship between philosophical ideas in the tradition of the Far East and the philosophical substance of quantum theory. It may be easier to adapt oneself to the quantum-theoretical concept of reality when one has not gone through the naive materialistic way of thinking that still prevailed in Europe in the first decades of this century. ...
A clear distinction between matter and force can no longer be made in this part of physics, since each elementary particle not only is producing some forces and is acted upon by forces, but it is at the same time representing a certain field of force. The quantum-theoretical dualism of waves and particles makes the same entity appear both as matter and as force. ...
But the problems of language here are really serious. We wish to speak in some way about the structure of the atoms and not only about the "facts" -- the latter being, for instance, the black spots on a photographic plate or the water droplets in a cloud chamber. but we cannot speak about the atoms in ordinary language. ...
In answer to the first question, one may say that the concept of complementarity introduced by Bohr into the interpretation of quantum theory has encouraged the physicists to use an ambiguous rather than an unambiguous language, to use the classical concepts in a somewhat vague manner in conformity with the principle of uncertainty, to apply alternatively different classical concepts which would lead to contradictions if used simultaneously. In this way, one speaks about electronic orbits, about matter waves and charge density, about energy and momentum, etc., always conscious of the fact that these concepts have only a limited range of applicability. when this vague and unsystematic use of language leads into difficulties, the physicist has to withdraw into the mathematical scheme and its unambiguous correlation with the experimental facts.
from The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra
The following chapters will show that the basic elements of the Eastern world view are also those of the world view emerging from modern physics. They are intended to suggest that Eastern thought -- and, more generally, mystical though -- provides a consistent and relevant philosophical background to the theories of contemporary science; a conception of the world in which man's scientific discoveries can be in perfect harmony with his spiritual aims and religious beliefs. The two basic themes of this conception are the unity and interrelation of all phenomena and the intrinsically dynamic nature of the universe. The further we penetrate into the submicroscopic world, the more we shall realize how the modern physicist, like the Eastern mystic, has come to see the world as a system of inseparable, interacting, and ever-moving components, with man as an integral part of this system. ...
At the atomic level, matter has a dual aspect: it appears as particles and as waves. Which aspect it shows depends on the situation. ... It has taken physicists a long time to accept the fact that matter manifests itself in ways that seem to be mutually exclusive; that particles are also waves, waves also particles. ...
Faced with a reality which lies beyond opposite concepts, physicists and mystics have to adopt a special way of thinking, where the mind is not fixed in the rigid framework of classical logic, but keeps moving and changing its viewpoint.
from Blindness and Insight by Paul de Man
The unity of appearance (sign) and idea (meaning) -- to use the terminology that one finds indeed among the theoreticians of romanticism when they speak of Schein and Idee -- is said to be a romantic myth embodied in the recurrent topos of the "Beautiful Soul." The schone Seele, a predominant theme of pietistic origin in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, functions indeed as the figura of a privileged kind of language. Its outward appearance receives its beauty from an inner glow (or feu sacre) to which it is so finely attuned that, far from hiding it from sight, it gives it just the right balance of opacity and transparency, thus allowing the holy fire to shine without burning.
from The Orphic Voice by Elizabeth Sewell
It is of the nature of mind and language together, that they form an instrument capable of an indefinite number of developments. it matters very little whether the particular devisors or users of the instrument saw, at the point in time when they flourished its full implications. ...
We always say more than we know. this is one of the reasons for language's apparent imprecision. It is no reason for refusing language our confidence.
from Valerius Terminus by Francis Bacon
So as whatsoever is not God but parcel of the world, he hath fitted it to comprehension of man's mind, if man will open and dilate the powers of his understanding as he may.
from "Of Studies" by Francis Bacon
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few chewed and digested; and that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him. ...
Then I saw another beast which rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It works great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sigh of men; ...