The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
I squint up at the sun as Mary licks a mound of fruit sorbet ice-cream. It’s dripping down a thick waffle cone and I scrunch my nose as she drags her tongue along the side.
“Your manners are repulsive,” I say.
“Says the pirate,” she snaps, licking the cone again with extreme exaggeration.
The boy, Randy, is walking with us—or her—his eyes scanning the crowd of nicely outfitted businessmen on their way to work. Most of them are dressed in dull grays or blacks with ties in varying shades of silvers, blues, and reds. The heels of their shiny patent shoes softly scuff the ground as they walk, and they swing briefcases at their sides. It is like another world on main street London.
Still, there aren’t very many women, and Mary—her hair tied up in a neat plaiting with a two piece skirt suit and dark heels—sticks out like a sore. Although, that could also be from the fact that she looks to be about twenty years younger than most of the people we pass. Or the fact that she has her face shoved in a cone of frozen dairy. Randy, too, is dressed in a suit, a brown briefcase hanging from his fingertips, an expression of pure boredom crossing his face.
“You really don’t blend in well while you’re doing that,” I tell Mary, unable to keep my lip from curling.
“Fine.” She throws the cone into the nearest bin. “Just know that it is your fault I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast this morning.”
“That’s what you eat for breakfast?”
“What? It’s frozen milk. Milk is good for you.”
I cross my arms. “So is meat. Protein is good for you. Until it kills you.”
“Is that what turned you into a ghosty?” Mary sweeps a hand up and down in the air, gesturing to all of me.
“No, that’s what made us sick. I turned into a ghost…after.”
She notices the pause and her eyes narrow slightly, but she doesn’t press for information, and I relax a little.
“Still, at least you will be eternally skinny.”
I tip my head back and laugh. I can tell she wasn’t expecting that because she jumps ever-so-slightly. “Yes,” I say. “Eternally skinny under the layers of this ghastly dress. I knew I should have worn breeches that day, but did I? No, of course not.”
“Are you done ranting?” she asks. “We’re here.”
Randy pushes open a glass door that leads into a large skyscraper with the name The London Chronicle embossed in gold above the entrance. He must be lost in thought (or very apathetic) because he hasn’t said a single word to Mary as we walk, even though she has been clearly talking to herself.
“What do we do now?” I ask as we make our way into the massive foyer of the office building. The walls of the entry hall are made up of only glass for two stories, allowing natural light to flood through the open space. Two parallel staircases with glass railings lead to a second floor, spiraling away from one another. These are set just behind a large, white counter at the very center of the room. There are two women seated behind the desk, the agitated sound of typing echoing into the common area as people shuffle in and out of the entrance.
Randy clears his throat. “Well, this is intense.”
Mary nods absently, her eyes wide as she lifts them toward the ceiling where three giant, glass chandeliers provide the only electric light in the room.
“I still don’t understand these new concepts of design,” I say. “Glass is impractical. If you were attacked by your enemy, he would be able to see you perfectly before storming through your doors. Why would you give him the upper hand?”
“Because people don’t ‘storm’ anything these days,” Mary says irritably. “Honestly, Rose, what have you been doing for the last two hundred years?”
A passing business man gives Mary an odd look and she glares at him until he glances away.
“This and that,” I snap. “Cleaning the ship mostly.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“It had a lot of damage!”
“You repaired a boat for two hundred years?”
“A ship. And that wasn’t the only thing. We have search parties that look for things that have crossed into the ghost realm—gold coins, tools, supplies. And then there are the things we lost before we died—”
“What do you mean?”
Before I can answer, we reach the desk in the center of the room and one of the secretaries looks up. She has flaming red hair and light eyes that narrow at us in confusion as we approach.
“You do look quite young,” I say in the woman’s defense, and Mary just visibly shrugs.
“We’re here to meet with Booker Smith,” Randy says.
She blinks at us. “Do you have an appointment?”
He leans forward until his elbows are on the counter, his shaggy hair falling eloquently to one side as his lips pull back to reveal a stunning smile. He blinks his light eyes at her from under dark lashes, laughing lightly. “He’s expecting us.”
The secretary makes a strange, fluttery movement with her hands before typing something quickly into the computer. A few seconds later she is handing over two temporary passes and gesturing behind her toward the stairs, telling us that there are a set of elevators at the top, we’re looking for floor eight, and to have a good day.
I raise my eyebrows at Mary and she sneers. “He’s a conman; don’t let him suck you in.” But even she can’t hide her surprise, and I catch her staring at him from the corner of her eye.
Randy lifts a hand, gesturing her to take the lead up the stairs. “M’lady, or should I say ladies—” he scans the air off to one side of Mary, missing me completely.
“Wrong side, thief.” She grabs his arm. “Let’s go before your lady-friend behind the counter realizes she’s made a big mistake.”
Randy smirks. “Is that jealousy I’m sensing?”
“Mhmm, sure thing Mary Jane. Just wait until I’m a millionaire, then you’ll wish you had been nice to me.”
“Mary Jane? That nickname doesn’t even work. I don’t have red hair.”
I groan inwardly at their conversation. We’re wasting time.
Florescent light shines down on us from above, alighting on the mole set below Mary’s eye, and I shudder as my thoughts flit to our little fairy visitor. I don’t know how much time we have left until that little pixie-gremlin comes back with more orders from her King. Whoever he is.
“She said the eighth floor, right?” I ask impatiently once we’ve reached the top of the stairs, gliding into a glistening silver box with buttons that line up and down one side. Neither one of them follows me and for a moment I think that I must have made a mistake and this is not an elevator, but then Mary steps in after me, reaching across to press the “8”, and it lights up.
“How does your friend not fall through the floor?” Randy asks as the doors slide shut with a ding.
“Good question,” we both say.
There is a short silence as the numbers slowly tick away in bright red blocks just above my head.
“What are you going to say to the writer?” I ask, and Mary shrugs.
“No idea. I guess I’ll just wing it.”
“Wing it,” I repeat slowly. “As in you plan to say: ‘Hello, Sir. I saw your article in the paper about that dead guy. It was quite interesting. And so is the one that you haven’t written yet.’ Something like that?”
She pops her jaw testily, fiddling with the strap of her purse which hangs across her chest. The doors ding again and we step out into the common area of another office, only this one is smaller than the one downstairs. Unlike the glass décor that plagued the entrance, this one has dark mahogany wood with cream carpets. A desk sits in the center of the open area, and two parallel halls stretch out behind it, leading to different corridors of offices. There is a woman here, too, and her sharp features and gray pantsuit clash awfully with the softness of the pastel painting that hangs behind her. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses sits perched on her beak-ish nose and she purses her lips at our approach.
“If you’re here about the internship, it’s already been filled. Unfortunately the people downstairs keep sending you up. Apparently they don’t understand the concept of a ‘closed position’. I’m sorry you’ve troubled yourselves to come all this way, but—”
She’s interrupted by a slightly balding man in a tweed suit jacket and corduroys that waltzes in from one of the nearby offices. His hands are stained with black ink and some of it has smudged onto his damp forehead where he must have tried to wipe away the sweat.
“Oh, Ms. Fulson, lovely to see you alert as always, there seems to be something wrong with the printer…” He trails off when he sees us. “Oh, and who do we have here?”
“No one, Mr. Smith, I was just sending them off—”
With flawless grace, Mary steps forward, immediately assuming the position of someone who belongs exactly where she is. For a moment I am startled by the effortlessness of it, and then I remind myself that this is her job—to blend in.
“Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Smith,” she says with a smile. “My name is Mary.”
Thanks for reading everyone! Sorry this is coming to you a week late, but things just started to get normal again. Then, in two weeks, it’s off to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC 🙂 I’m super excited. I will try to keep everything on schedule from now on. Try being the keyword (sorry).
Free the muskrats!