An OZ Tale
By Nathan M. DeHoff
Out in the middle of the great Nonestic Ocean that surrounds the fairy continent on which the Land of Oz is located, Trot, the Wizard of Oz, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Scarecrow were guests aboard the Crescent Moon, the ship of the Royal Explorer of Oz. The Explorer was a man named Samuel Salt, a former pirate who now served Ozma of Oz. Also on board was his friend Ato, accomplished sea cook and King of the Octagon Isle besides, and his faithful companion Roger the Read Bird. As many of the ship’s functions were automated and enchanted, there was no need for a large crew, despite the size of the vessel.
“We should be comin’ up on the new island in a day or two,” announced the Captain. “Uninhabited, as far as we could tell, but you can’t always tell.”
“I’ll say,” agreed Roger. “Remember that island with the man-eating grass?”
“Ho, do I?” roared Captain Salt.
“That reminds me of when Cap’n Bill and I were trapped on that island with the Magic Flower,” said Trot. “It was slowly absorbing our bodies.”
“No, the island itself. Oh, be careful, Jack!”
The girl was right to say this, as Jack was leaning over the side of the boat, engrossed in a nearby school of orange and black fish. Sure enough, the pumpkin that served as his head fell into the water. His wooden body, having no common sense without the pumpkin seed brains in its head, immediately followed suit.
“Man overboard!” shouted Roger, causing everyone to run to see where Jack had fallen.
“Do we need a life preserver?” questioned King Ato.
“I wouldn’t think so,” stated the Wizard. “Jack is made of wood and can float. I might be able to manage a quick levitation spell to bring him back, if I can find him.”
Despite the fact that very little time had passed since Jack’s fall, the crew could see no sign of him. So the Wizard used his Searchlight, a handheld device that that can track people and objects, and used it to follow Jack’s body.
Jack’s head had been dragged by the fish to an island, where they promptly deposited it on a beach of orange sand. A man with a bull’s head was sitting nearby, reading a novel. When he noticed the pumpkin, he picked it up and began to rush away toward the center of the island.
“What an excellent specimen of a pumpkin!” exclaimed the bull-man. “This will work perfectly for the festivities tonight.”
“Festivities? What festivities are you talking about?” asked the pumpkin head.
“What? You can talk? What sorcery is this?”
“It was the Powder of Life that did it. Of course, my heads do die eventually, but this one was still quite good.”
“Well, a talking pumpkin is good enough. By Hades, it might actually be better.”
“Better for what?”
“You’ll see. Oh, by the way, my name is Ferdinand.”
“I’m Jack. Is everyone here a bull-man like you?”
“Minotaur, if you please. And no, there are several different sorts on this island, but we minotaurs are the most civilized. The ghouls are always just shambling around, and the Rodentians spend all their time gnawing. We have a society based on that of ancient Greece.”
The two did not talk after that, with Ferdinand bringing the pumpkin through a maze to a wide-open area that served as a marketplace and grounds for public activities. Minotaurs were busy setting up decorations, and many of them were holding pumpkins.
“Ah, Ferdinand!” called a man in a wig. “That’s a nice pumpkin you have there. Where did you find it? They rarely grow that big around here.”
“I found it on the beach. And not only is it large, but it talks.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Jack. “Is there any way you can help look for my body? We really can’t bear to be separated.”
“You have a body?”
“Yes, it’s made of wood. My father made it for me.”
“Oh, well, you’ll have no need of it after the festivities.”
“You’re not going to eat me, are you?” inquired Jack, who himself often prepared pumpkin pies from pumpkins not fit to be new heads.
“Oh, no. We’re just going to smash you.”
“Land ho, Captain!” shouted the Read Bird, after about half an hour of sailing.
“Land? I haven’t heard of any land ‘round here. Did it pop up out of nowhere?”
“Sometimes I suspect that kind of thing happens in Fairyland,” observed the Scarecrow.
Regardless, the Captain continued sailing the ship toward the newly found island, which was fairly large in extent. Beyond the orange sands of the shore could be seen some rather gnarly, foreboding trees.
“I’m sure glad we aren’t here at night,” observed Trot.
“My Searchlight is pointing in two different directions, probably for Jack’s body and head,” stated the Wizard. “It’s likely that they’re both here, though.”
After dropping anchor, the small crew used a boat to reach the island. The Searchlight led them through the grim forest, where strange toadstools grew at the bases of the trees, and bats napped in their branches. Eventually, they came out into a clearing and to some high marble walls.
“What’s this?” asked Roger. “It looks like some kind of maze.”
“Aye, a labyrinth of sorts,” agreed Captain Salt.
The entrance was nearby, and the Captain hurried in, quickly followed by Trot and King Ato, with Roger flying overhead. The Wizard was about to enter, when the Scarecrow called his attention to something happening nearby. A man on a large black horse had found what appeared to be a collection of wood on the ground. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a wooden body without a head. The horseman, who himself had no visible head, grabbed the body and galloped off. The Wizard and the Scarecrow chased after him, eventually seeing the horse enter the mouth of a cave. The magician and the straw man pursued the horseman down a dark tunnel into a large cavern lit by red torches set in the walls. Slouched people with grey or blue skin and tattered clothes wandered here and there through the cavern, some of them carrying various items. At a nearby table sat a rather strange crew of people. At the head was a woman with green skin, a long nose, and black hair, dressed in the traditional garb of a witch. On one side of her was a kindly-looking woman wearing many items of jewelry, and on the other, a rather large and ungainly man with a flat-topped head and bolts in his neck. A tall skeleton in a high silk hat like the Wizard’s and a goat-like devil were seated in other chairs.
“Ah, greetings, Mr. Dullahan,” said the witch. “What is it you have found?”
The horseman replied in sign language, with the horse translating. “It’s a wooden body. It has no head, but I can tell it’s alive, much like myself.”
“Interesting. I wonder if it ever had one.”
“Yes, it did!” exclaimed the Scarecrow, as he rushed toward the table. “It’s my friend Jack Pumpkinhead, and his head was a pumpkin.”
“Sounds like he’d fit in well,” chuckled the skeleton.
“Yes, and so would you, if you didn’t have such a friendly face,” added the witch. “You’re a scarecrow, aren’t you?”
“I am, but I was never much good at scaring crows. It’s why I was made, but I soon gave up on it, obtained my excellent brains, and went into politics, which I’ve been told is a good career for a stuffed man.”
“You’re from Oz, aren’t you?” inquired the woman with the jewelry.
“I see my reputation precedes me. I am the Chief Counselor to Her Majesty, Ozma of Oz. And here you see the Great Wizard of Oz, otherwise known as Oscar Diggs.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said the witch. “My name is Emjiem, and I’m sort of the unofficial leader down here. This is Zinaro, a gypsy… oh, I’m sorry, do you prefer Romany?”
“I’m not too particular,” said the woman. “I hail from neither Egypt nor Romania, after all.”
“Very true. This is Adam, the famous creation of Dr. Frankenstein.”
“Actually, he never received his doctorate,” corrected the monster, in a surprisingly erudite voice.
“Frankenstein? I’ve read that story!” said the Wizard. “Didn’t you die in the Arctic after hunting down your creator?”
“Yes, that part was true, but someone who’s been brought back to life once can be again. Unfortunately, the magician who rescued me and brought me here dropped my head in the process, which is why it’s flat on top and he had to bolt it back on.”
“You visited Oz back when I was on the throne,” said the Scarecrow. “I heard you found a home in the North Pole.”
“A powerful sorceress sent me there, yes,” replied Adam, “but I soon grew restless for others like me.”
“If Frankenstein is here, what about Dracula?” asked the Wizard.
“That sanguine-sucking snob Vlad?” said the devil incredulously. “He’d never show his princely face in a place like this. How often do you think royalty visits us?”
“Well, the Wizard and I were both rulers of Oz,” declared the Scarecrow.
“Then you’re a lot more personable than the Transylvanian,” said the witch. “This is Tom Bones, our living skeleton. I’ll wager you’ve never seen one of them before.”
“Actually, I’ve met a live dinosaur skeleton before,” said the Scarecrow.
“Well, la-de-dah,” said Tom, in a dry tone. “We can’t all of us be prehistoric monsters, you know.”
“Oh, no offense intended, Mr. Bones.”
“A dinosaur skeleton sounds like it would be a good addition to our society,” mused Emjiem. “Do you think it would want to relocate here?”
“He seemed quite happy where he was.”
“Oh, well. The gentleman with the tail is Arbarax, and the man on the horse is Abraham Dullahan. We’re all of us symbols of terror here.”
“Unfairly, I should say,” stated Arbarax. “Why would red skin and the features of a goat automatically make people flee in terror? They’re not actually scared of goats, are they?”
“Well, maybe when they’re charging,” said the Wizard.
“Cash or charge, it’s all the same to me. Poor Adam here was disowned by his creator based on how he looked. Everyone said he was an unnatural abomination.”
“I’m sure there are people who would say that about a living scarecrow,” said the straw man.
“So, would you people from Oz like to join us for dinner?” questioned Emjiem. “We were having pigs in blankets.”
“Those are sausages in blankets, not actual pigs,” added Arbarax.
“Well, I don’t eat, but I’d be glad to stay if we weren’t looking for our friend’s head.”
“Hmmm,” said Zinaro, closing her eyes and pressing her fingers to her temples. “The head you seek has been taken by the minotaurs who live above ground.”
“Minotaurs? Like part man, part bull?” questioned the Wizard. “But I thought there was only one of them, who was slain by the hero Theseus.”
“When’s the last time you ever saw just one of anything?” questioned Tom.
“My friend the Woozy is one of a kind, at least as far as we know,” replied the Scarecrow. “And I don’t know of any other live scarecrows.”
“What about your friend Jack?” asked Adam.
“While there are indeed scarecrows made of wood instead of stuffed with straw, I would hesitate to place Jack in that category. He wasn’t made to scare crows, whether successfully or not, but rather to scare a witch.”
“There are witches who would be scared of wooden men?” inquired Emjiem.
“Well, I never said he succeeded. Mombi ended up using him to test her Powder of Life.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of Mombi. She was very successful for a witch who mostly only dealt in transformations.”
“So, anyway, how do we get to the surface?” asked the Wizard, who did not like to be reminded of his own dealings with Mombi.
“We have an elevator, but it’s on the fritz, so I’ll just take us there.” With that, Emjiem stood up, spun around a few times while holding her nose with her left hand, and promptly disappeared in a puff of green smoke smelling of sulfur. The Wizard, the Scarecrow, Zinaro, and Jack’s body promptly followed suit, promptly emerging in the clearing where the minotaurs were debating over the fate of Jack’s head.
“Why are we even trying to get through this maze?” asked Ato. “We don’t even know what’s on the other side.”
“They wouldn’t have put it here if there weren’t some purpose to it. Besides, the Wizard said part of our friend Jack was in this direction,” replied Captain Salt.
“There’s a sign over on this wall. Does anyone know what “ayopa” means?”
“It’s Greek to me,” said Trot.
“You know, it could be Greek,” mused the Captain. “Roger, do you know Greek?”
“I was planning on learning it, but Ato said it wouldn’t be appropriate for an official of the Octagon Isle to know nine languages,” said Roger in an irritated tone. “He said I’d have to either forget one of the languages I already know or relocate to Nonagon Island.”
“Look, Roger, I have an image to maintain,” stated the King. “I’d never actually send you to Nonagon Island, though.”
“There’s a Nonagon Island?” inquired Trot.
“Aye, ‘tis a small, barren place due north of Ev, inhabited only by nine fishermen,” explained Captain Salt.
“Hey, that’s one more fisherman than we have on our island,” said Roger.
“I think we’re coming to something,” observed the girl. “It looks like a marketplace. Oh, of course! That sign meant ‘agora,’ which I think is some kind of old Greek market.”
“It looks to be full of upright bovines, a fascinating new species,” said Samuel.
“I think they might have been in Greek mythology, too,” noted Trot.
“Well, for an Outside World country, the ancient Greeks and other cultures seem to have been rather familiar with unusual species," responded Captain Salt. "From what I’ve heard, they knew about the Pegasus, the Chimera, the Hydra, and the Centaur. I understand that you call centaurs something else in Oz, however.”
“Equinots," Trot reminded him. "That’s their name for themselves, anyway.”
The visitors proceeded to explore the agora, nodding politely to the minotaurs they passed, many of whom were engaged in putting up decorations in autumn colors. There were also tubs set up for apple bobbing. The minotaurs did not seem to find anything all that strange about humans being in their public space, and mostly ignored them.
“They must be getting ready for some sort of celebration,” said Ato.
“Yes, esteemed visitors, the Spirit Festival is tonight,” stated a nearby minotaur, who was carrying a box of noisemakers. “I figured that’s why you would have come here.”
“What day is today?” asked Trot.
“October the thirty-first,” answered the Captain, checking his log book.
“That must mean the Spirit Festival is their version of Halloween. It’s also Betsy’s birthday. Too bad I’m missing it.”
Roger promptly noticed a puff of green smoke near the center of the agora, and led the others toward it. It turned out that the Wizard and the Scarecrow had just appeared there, in the company of a green lady and a gypsy.
Ferdinand had brought Jack’s head to a minotaur in a white wig, who congratulated him on finding such a fine specimen of a pumpkin. When Jack objected to being smashed, the wigged bull-man checked a tablet, and claimed that there was no exception to the rule for talking pumpkins. In fact, he agreed with Ferdinand that a shouting pumpkin would be much better at making noise.
“Why are you so intent on making noise, anyway?” questioned Jack.
“Why, to scare away the ghosts, of course!” replied the minotaur in the wig.
Before Jack could ask what ghosts these were, the Wizard and his companions promptly appeared in a puff of smoke, and Captain Salt and his friends came hurrying over from a different direction. The head called out, “Am I glad to see you! These crazy cows want to smash me on the ground to scare some ghosts!”
“That doesn’t sound all that likely,” said Trot. “I’m sure it takes more than a broken pumpkin to scare a ghost.”
“It’s not just the pumpkins,” explained the minotaur in the wig. “We fill the space with all kinds of noise and chaos. Otherwise, who knows what they’ll do? Destroy our crops? Steal our calves? Turn our togas inside out?”
“Have they ever actually done any of these things?” questioned Roger.
“Well, no, but that’s because we always scare them first. They usually only show up at this time of year. I’ve heard stories about them being seen at other times, but no conclusive evidence.”
“The borders between the worlds of the living and the dead are weaker during the last days of autumn,” confirmed Emjiem.
“Has anyone tried talking to them?” asked Jack.
“We can’t, even if we wanted to,” answered the minotaur. “They only seem to speak Greek.”
“Wasn’t that sign in your labyrinth Greek, mate?” inquired Captain Salt.
“Our ancestors spoke it, but now we just speak Ozish.”
“I might be able to get around that,” stated the Wizard, rummaging through his black bag. “And if all else fails, I’ve exorcised ghosts before.”
“They all seem to be in pretty good shape,” said Ferdinand.
“No, I mean I banished them. So, is there any way to call them?”
“I should be able to do that,” declared Zinaro. First, the Wizard took a few language pills from his bag, and gave one to the gypsy and one to the minotaur judge. After the three of them swallowed the pills, Zinaro directed everyone present to hold hands in a circle. Soon, the wispy form of a man in bronze battle armor and holding a sword appeared in the center.
“Well, what is it you want?” asked the ghost.
“I can understand you now!” exclaimed the judge.
“Yes, it’s the result of the language pill,” explained the Wizard. “Its effects only last a little while, unfortunately. So, are you one of the ghosts haunting this island?”
“We prefer ‘shades’ to ‘ghosts,’ and I wouldn’t say we’re haunting it. We’re stuck here, and we’d much rather not be. The minotaurs are just so noisy and rambunctious. We can only materialize at this time of year, but we have to listen to them all year ‘round.”
“But how did ghosts come to be stranded here?”
“To tell you the truth, it’s a punishment. We were monster hunters a few thousand years ago, just after the Trojan War. We’d thought Theseus, the King of Athens, killed the only minotaur in the world, but then we started seeing others. They weren’t really doing much of anything, except for occasionally knocking things over, but we thought we could achieve glory by hunting them down and slaying them. They all ended up leaving, though.”
“According to our history,” began the judge, “our ancestors requested help from the god Poseidon, who brought us to this island.”
“Well, Poseidon must have told his brother Hades, because our shades were forced to live here among the beasts we once hunted. We all learned our lesson, but that was centuries ago. Why are we still here?”
“The will of the gods is not something we have the power to explain. We’re not even sure they still exist, but we still pay tribute to Poseidon.”
“I wonder if there’s something else we can do,” suggested the Wizard. He explained the dilemma to his friends, who had been unable to understand them when they were conversing in Greek. After a bit of thinking, Jack suddenly remarked, “If the noise is their biggest problem, why not just put them somewhere where they can’t hear?”
“That won’t do much good if they’re stranded here,” objected Ferdinand.
“What about a sound-proof building?”
“Jack, I don’t know how they did it," exclaimed the Wizard, "but your pumpkin seed brains might have devised the solution. I’ve been experimenting with sound-proof materials, and I believe we could accomplish such a thing.”
With some help from minotaur carpenters, ghouls, and the monsters from the cave, the Wizard had soon constructed a wooden shelter large enough for the shades, from which they were unable to hear the noise outside. It was a crude dwelling at first, but the minotaurs and shades were soon making plans to construct a full-size haunted house, which would draw in tourists. When Trot mentioned that the day celebrated on the thirty-first of October in other parts of the world was called Halloween, Jack suggested that for the name of the island, having remembered hearing that Easter Island was discovered on Easter Sunday.
“I’d say that’s your right as discoverer,” said Captain Salt.
“Don’t forget that we were living here for a long time before you discovered us,” put in the judge. “Still, I like the sound of the name. What do you think, Emjiem?”
Since everyone was agreeable, that became the official name of the island, which was promptly recorded on the captain’s charts and log book, giving Jack Pumpkinhead credit for being the first Ozite to set foot, as well as head, there. The islanders presented the visitors with several gifts, including a small golden carving of a minotaur that Trot would give to Betsy Bobbin for the birthday she missed. And Halloween Island remains a popular attraction to the inhabitants of the Nonestic region.
Author's Note: I believe the idea for this story, which I first came up with around 1993 or so, came from how there are Easter and Christmas Islands named after certain holidays when the first European explorers found them. I then associated Halloween Island with Jack Pumpkinhead; and because it involved an island and exploring, Captain Salt and his crew.
I had also wanted to do something with the Minotaur from Greek mythology, which I've found interesting and somewhat sympathetic for a long time. The rest kind of grew from that.
I remember a post on an Oz message board about how Frankenstein's Monster might have been able to fit in in Oz or thereabouts, and there actually is a story where the Monster visits Oz called Frankenstein's Monster Goes to Oz. I hadn't read it when I wrote this, but I did edit it a bit to acknowledge that tale. Zinaro is from "Ojo in Oz," and while Ruth Plumly Thompson's treatment of gypsies was pretty offensive overall, it did seem like she had considered making Zinaro helpful to Ojo, but never really did anything with it, so I gave her a new life without her rather nastier husband Zithero. The Equinots appear in The Hidden Valley of Oz.
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