Toto’s Tale and True Chronicle of Oz is now available at Bookshop Santa Cruz and in the Santa Cruz Public Library system. You can buy the paperback or Kindle version on Amazon, where you can also look inside. Get an e-book version on Barnes and Noble or Smashwords, for all types of e-readers. Find reviews on Goodreads.
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True Chronicle of Oz
“What we want . . .is within us, we need only look for it to find it. What we strive for has been ours all the time.”
Russell MacFall in To please a child; A biography of L. Frank Baum, royal historian of Oz
Everyone tells a different story about Dorothy Gale’s adventures in Oz. Memory is a tricky thing. But I was there, and I remember everything like it was yesterday. Since a dog can’t live forever, even a dog touched by the magic of the Good Witch Glinda, I’ve decided it’s time to tell what really happened: the important stuff, like how things smelled, and what it was like to be the only one who couldn’t talk.
My name wasn’t always Toto. Before I met Dorothy, I was just a shaggy grey, no-name puppy with bright black eyes. My ears flopped over or stood up with my mood. I was born on a Kansas farm together with five brothers and sisters. We all smelled alike, so my mother used the same bark for each of us. In those early days I never dreamed of adventures, or of speaking human words.
The farmer wore heavy boots and smelled of his oily sheep. He liked my mother because she was good at herding. His wife was always cross. Her smell was lye soap and smoke from the cook stove. We kept out of the way of her feet to avoid a kick from one of her hard, high-buttoned shoes. She called me “that shaggy runt,” and whenever she saw me, she’d snap her fingers and say, “Git!” To this day the hair on my neck stands up when anyone snaps their fingers at me.
One by one my brothers and sisters left to work on nearby farms, herding sheep or cows, and catching rats. We were all mutts, but I was the runt. People who came to choose a pup would look at me, shake their heads, and say, “He’s too small.” By the time I was almost full grown, I was the only puppy left with my mother. She was always working, and I was bored.
One day, when I had nothing to do, I discovered I could make those silly sheep run. I had a fine time chasing them across the field. I felt powerful. But the farmer saw me and was angry. His wife was angrier. She yelled, “That’s it! We’ve got to get rid of that runt. I refuse to feed a useless dog.”
In civilized countries like Kansas, animals don’t talk. But I understood what she said. Even then I had a knack for language. It’s one of my talents.
The farmer shrugged his bony shoulders. “I guess you’re right. I’ll have to drown him in the trough.”
The trough! It was full of water, so I had a pretty good idea what drown meant. I hate water, except to drink. I crept away. I would strike out on my own, before it was too late.
First I went to say good-bye to my mother, who they called Coalie or just “the dog”. I sniffed and nuzzled her, and woofed softly to tell her I was leaving. She barely opened one eye and rolled over to go back to sleep. She’d had a long morning helping the farmer round up sheep for shearing, and she didn’t want to be disturbed.
I’d miss her, but after one more “woof!” I started out to seek my fortune.
At that time there were no trees for shade on the flat, grey Kansas prairie. The dirt wagon track I followed was cracked in a pattern of jagged lines and deep ruts. An endless wind blew dust in my face and I was soon covered in it. I would have welcomed water, as long as no one was going to drown me in it. From my eye level, twelve inches above the road, I couldn’t see very far ahead. My keen sense of smell was dulled by dust blowing into my nose. The few farm houses I passed looked much the same as the one I’d left: as bleak as the landscape.
Dusk fell and I sensed night not far behind. My stomach rumbled and my tongue lolled out. Maybe the world was not a friendly place for a young dog on the road. Just as I began to feel desperate, a breeze brought human voices and smells of food: salt pork and biscuits. Ahead was a building, bigger than the farmhouse, and twice as tall. I smelled no sheep or chickens, corn or grain. I lifted my nose to take a deep sniff and pricked my ears. The good smells and the voices came from a window at the top.
I circled the building, sniffing. On the back side was a wooden platform ending at a pair of metal rails that seemed to run on forever across the prairie in both directions. A sharp, oily odor, like machinery, clung to them.
My stomach growled. There was no way inside to the delicious smells. I settled for some crusts of stale bread and old meat rinds from the top of a garbage pile. They weren’t fresh, but they calmed my hunger, until I was chased off by a fat raccoon. I drank from a puddle under the pump.
A dip in the ground made a gap beneath the wooden platform. I sniffed to make sure no raccoons were hiding there. It seemed deserted, so I wriggled in and curled up on the dust, tucking my nose under my tail. There I passed the loneliest night of my life, away from my mother and the only home I’d ever known. I woke often, whimpering each time I realized there was no warm body beside me.
The sounds of horses and wagons woke me. It was morning and feet were walking about on the planks above. I crept out to peer over the edge of the platform at a cluster of boots and shoes. Pricking my ears toward them, I heard people talking over the whine of the prairie wind.
They stood near the door of the building where a heavy man in muddy boots, overalls, and a straw hat was speaking to a man in shiny shoes and a uniform. “Is the train on time, Ed? I heard there were fifty orphans on it when they left New York.”
The one with shiny shoes pulled a silver watch out of his pocket. “Pretty close. Supposed to arrive at half past.”
An older man with a wind-burned face and worn boots scowled. “We need a big, strong boy to help with the plowing. I hope all the good ones haven’t been taken.”
“We want a girl, even a small one,” said a woman in high-button shoes and a faded gingham dress.
What were they talking about? What are orphans? What’s a train?
In a few minutes I heard a far off whistle and the rumble of something so big it made my whiskers vibrate and shook the ground beneath me.
I tucked my tail and ducked my head so only my eyes and ears were above the platform. A monstrous wheeled engine appeared, spewing black smoke. It rushed along the rails at the head of a snake-like string of carts. Steam hissed from between the wheels of the engine as it squealed to a stop beside the platform in front of me. I flattened my ears and bared my teeth at the monster.
A door banged open on one of the carts and out thumped the boots of another man in uniform, followed by several boys and girls in worn shoes. Behind them came a tall woman. A long, dark blue dress hid her feet. She ordered the children to line up along the platform in front of the train. Many of them were thin and dull-looking, but my eyes were drawn to one little girl whose chestnut hair hung in two long braids. There was nothing grey about her. She seemed even younger for a human than I was for a dog, and she was lively and smiling. Her shoes were as shabby as the others children’s, but her blue eyes were cheerful. They looked straight into mine. It was love at first sight.