by Bryan Perley
Editor's Note: "Mont Corbeau" is an excerpt from a project Bryan is working on, tentatively titled If I Only. The story imagines Dorothy Gale returning to Oz fourteen years after the events of The Wizard of Oz, accompanied by a enigmatic journalist who is keen on investigating the lives of the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow. The tale is presented in interviews, journal entries, news paper articles and letters. It draws inspiration from the 1939 film. The excerpted section involves the journalist, Birch Mayhew, detailing his first encounter with the Scarecrow.
April 16, 1953 –
We were forty-five miles from Munchkin Land and it was really starting to show. Gone were the marching bands and the pie merchants. All the sugary excess – stripped away. Here the Land of Oz unfurled in golden sweeps of grain. We are in the breadbasket, my driver informed me. There are no pamphleteers or elegant displays promoting the re-election of President Gumwomp. No sickeningly over-colored banners bearing the rouge of his dolled-up face. Here men, women, munchkins, and winkies worked the land. In these parts we passed carts brimming with burlap sacks of ground wheat and sorghum drawn by strong mules and oxen. The only banner we saw hung above the fields and farmers, stretched between two towering poles. On this mighty canvass black upon white: the word COURAGE writ large.
This would be my first interview following my arrival, an event that had developed some fledgling controversy. I was nervous. I had spent two weeks buried in books and news archives within the libraries of Munchkin Land. The more I read, the more I knew reading alone would not be enough.
My driver was a Munchkin. An affiliate of the Emerald Police. The current administration had taken a liking to me immediately. In light of recent events, my position allowed for a unique vantage point. I was an outsider, untainted by the squalid grabbing of the historical record. They were eager to see what I made of the strange beings they mockingly referred to as the Triumvirate or The Big Three.
As we neared the village of New Florence, young children with dirt caked limbs ran alongside our automobile, marveling at the contraption as it sputtered and spun along the yellow brick road. I had come to learn there were very few cars in Oz, and nearly all of them could be traced back to the Tin Man’s plants north of the Emerald City. The current model was something they called the Chevalier II, a design and a name somehow influenced by the figure I was soon to meet.
“He’s in the big house on the hill,” the driver said as we neared the village. He made the tactical decision to avoid the busy heart of the settlement, where curious locals would surely disrupt our journey. So we took the farm roads on the edge of town, kicking up large clouds of dust in our wake. I could have been back home.
I recognized the outline of Mont Corbeau straight away. Scarecrow’s house was the most salient structure of the hill lands. The surrounding acreage was unimpressive: a dilapidated spread of barns, animal pens and cottages. I assumed many of which belonged to Scarecrow. The house itself could be described as a sort of neoclassical work of grey mudbrick with a roof comprising of robust layers of thatching. Highly symmetrical from afar, the manor most likely had been designed with advanced knowledge of geometry. However, as our Chevalier II chugged up the hill, it became more apparent that the execution of the grand design was highly flawed. The first word that came to mind was lumpy. A lumpy straw-covered Monticello.
I exited the vehicle at a small cul-de-sac at the top of the hill. No one seemed to be around. I could hear some sound of discord coming from down the hill a way. Scarecrow looked to be in some sort of rhubarb with the local farmhands, gesticulating animatedly at a mule-drawn plow and occasionally stepping away with his hands on his hips shaking his head or kicking up clods of dirt. It appeared to be quite a virulent lecture. A black hat, green shirt and brown pants. Physically, he looked the same as the prints in the books represented. Once he noticed me, he abandoned his tirade and began to trudge up the hill of his fabled estate.
“You’re the writer, the Kansas man,” he said, catching his breath at the crest of the hill.
“Birch Mayhew,” I said extending my hand.
“Scarecrow,” he replied. I expected his gloved hand to give like a sack of straw, but instead was met with something firmer, more dynamic, as if thousands or maybe even millions of individual grains were densely pressed together, or meshed into fibrous sinews.
“Welcome to Mont Corbeau.”
Scarecrow was set on getting right to it. He steered me straight into the kitchen, plowing through a staccato set of chambers, all equally unremarkable. There was a considerable coldness to the kitchen. I noticed first the decanters of whiskey, the vases full of straw and other grains, the heaps of literature. Even in the kitchen he had piles of dissertation drafts on the land ethic and the body politic. Heavy leather-bound volumes were laid open for reference on the kitchen counters, a couple chairs, and the center table. A makeshift podium had even been dragged into the room by the kitchen sink. I spotted Virgil, Sophocles, Rousseau. For pleasure- Twain and Melville. All thoroughly bookmarked with dyed strands of wheat.
We were not alone. A gaggle of cats were playing a gambling card game at a tea table in the corner, indulging in a small feast of treacles and fish tartars. One of them was wearing a monocle, all were seated in little canvas armchairs. One of them said “How do you do?” raising his tea cup in my direction.
He offered me one of two rocking chairs by a desolate looking hearth at the far side of the room. He sat in the other, fussily stitching together a real shoddy looking quilt (horrific color scheme- lots of bile looking greens and yellowy browns) – a quilt he described as a woven testament to the development of pre-classical irrigation and drainage systems. I asked him if I could record the conversation on my Ampex 200 tape recorder (with an agreement to edit out any segments he requested). He told me he does not mince his words.
“They didn’t assign you an attaché? Did they?” he asked.
“I wasn’t so lucky.”
“Indeed,” he replied with a skeptical glare.
“I suppose you want me to get right to it.”
“I wish it weren’t thus, but I have a legal matter to attend to regarding some infringed upon apple trees in the midlands.”
“You’re a lawyer?”
“I find jurisprudence to be satisfying on some level.”
“You’ve set wide ranging legal precedents, drafted bills that have become legislation, you’ve defended the public, preserved land, argued for-”
“Oh, dear crow, just ask me what you came here to ask me already,” Scarecrow interjected.
“How would you describe your first interaction with Dorothy Gale?”
As I ask this question the needling hand quits its hurried work. Scarecrow takes a minute to collect himself and then smiles curtly, straightening up.
“I’m assuming you haven’t read my prose detailing the encounter? Or Bucolia: Volume Four, the eight canto? Or perhaps the third chapter of my memoir of The Fall, ‘A Seed in the Wind’?”
“I am looking for a less filtered account.”
Scarecrow drops the sewing instruments and crosses his arms.
“My my, are you sure you’re not from the administration? I have corrected the public record on numerous occasions. Are you looking for some alternative narrative?”
“I apologize if my forwardness has created any friction here. I have read your works, thoroughly. I merely am looking for an account less steeped in the literary canon.”
“Well, if the tired work of my pen is to be relegated to a supplementary status, I can safely assume you are doing the same with Lion’s odious memoir, correct?”
“I’m not here to pick favorites.”
“Very well then.”
“Shall we proceed?”
“It was three months after the Wizard had implemented his latest produce price-fixing plan, this time they called it the Agricultural Output Act. Piles of corn, tobacco and cotton were burned in black pits by the federally condemned. Heaps of fresh vegetables became rotten fly acropolises. At that time the wastefulness of it all soured my sorghum. I lacked the wisdom to comprehend the logic behind it, to form a coherent rebuttal. Back then, I feared the hunger these policies would bring about so I chose a field at a well-traveled leg of the yellow brick road, instructed my comrades to fix me to a wooden pole, and began to fast. My hunger would hang over the road, spelling out the consequences of this crooked scheme. Or so I thought. My so called comrades were bought off by the new farming administration, lured in by the uptick in corn prices, and I was left in the lurch in that God-forsaken field without food, and more significantly without water. In that wretched sun-scorched heat, my dehydration mutated viciously into utter delirium. The red curtain of madness was lowering when she came upon my wreckage. The crows sought to murder me in vicious increments. Such exquisite anguish… the Promethean nature of it all has not been lost on me. In fact, I meditate quite heavily on this allusion in several of my writings. Well, she was just asking for directions, and in my impoverished mental state I could barely orient myself much less this girl. She helped me down. I only remember certain portions of my baked ecstasy upon being relinquished from that horrid crucifix. She said I was jolly… in a drunken sort of way.”
“What did you think of her when you met?”
“I was struck by her kindness. She was very polite, I suppose. Her wit, even for a girl that age, was remarkable… She found me quite funny. She’s perhaps the only person who I really don’t mind being a fool for.”
“Do you keep in touch?” I asked him. I clenched my fist. I knew I had miss-stepped here. I thought it was a banal enough question.
“Well, we’re all good friends, you know.”
“She writes often?”
“On occasion. We’ve all been dreadfully busy.”
“What do you think her return means for Oz?”
“For Oz?” he laughs, slapping his knee affectedly. “My dear boy, what is Oz anymore?”
“I guess in terms of the election?”
“Well there are certainly many who’d like her endorsement,” he chuckles and then he is up in a loft somewhere again. “Allow me to hyperbolize. She is everything. She’s our hopes and dreams. They want to parade her around. They want to build monuments of her. Every fifth girl born after the year 691 has her name. You enter a classroom and it’s Dorothy Ann, Dottie Jay, Dorothy Tulia. She’s bigger than the Wizard ever was.”
“What does she mean to you?”
“To me?” He fiddles with a loose straw. “She remains a true friend. I’m as inspired as the rest.”
“Surely she’s more human to you?”
“If you’re looking to debase her, you only disgrace yourself, and I’ll be forced to terminate this dialogue.”
The cats pause their mumbled banter and ten yellow eyes are upon me.
“The stooge has sharpness, but no mettle,” the fat one whispers to the others.
“Only a stooge,” mutters the black cat.
“Pass the field mouse tartare, Sinclair,” says the tabby.
“A beard does not a philosopher make,” grumbles the gray cat with the monocle.
“Obliti privatorum, publica curate,” says the black cat before sipping his tea. The rest of the cohort nods their heads in accordance and continues on with their game.
“I’m sorry,” I told the Scarecrow. “I seek no such offense.”
“She’s a woman now,” he stated. “It’s been fourteen years. A lot has changed.”
Bryan Perley is a writer from Hadley, Massachusetts. He is currently enrolled in The Writing Program MFA at Columbia University. His work has appeared in Web Surfer Magazine and is forthcoming in the Argentinian Anthology: Todo el Mundo en un Libro. Bryan began his journey as a writer in the Woven Word Young Writers Workshop, which he attended for ten years.