Moments later I was on the back of Colbert, and Claudine handed Toto up to me so I could sit her in front of me. Colbert had no reigns and no saddle so I held tight to his mane as we started down the yellow brick road.
The Rainbows End: The Riptide (Dreaming Your Life Away)
“Sookie, could we slow down for a while? Please?”
“No, Compton, we can’t. Either keep up or go your own way.”
Toto and I had been traveling for two days when we ran into Compton. The Scarecrow had been standing in a field at an intersection of the yellow brick road. I had been consulting with Toto and Colbert as to which was the quickest way to our destination when the Scarecrow threw his two cents in for traveling down the right hand path.
I shot him in the head before his sentence was finished.
I learned that day that a bullet has no impact on men of straw.
By the next day I knew how unfortunate that circumstance was because after some considerable whining over his wrongful wound he had somehow gotten himself off the post and started following us.
Colbert recommended the left hand route, so that was the one took. We had traveled at least ten miles before Compton finally shut the fuck up about how we should have gone right. I suspected this happy circumstance was due to his need to focus on keeping his weak spineless body moving at pace with Colbert, who had turned a most unpleasant shade of puce, clearly indicating he did not care for our new companion.
Personally, I was just pissed that I had wasted a bullet on his spineless ass. I was pulled from my musings when I heard Compton whistling and then singing as he traveled behind us.
Something, something, if I only had a brain.
I knew how he felt.
If I had a brain I would get down off Colbert and light his ass up with one of the precious matches I carried from home. If he kept up that fucking mumbling I might do it yet, but I needed the matches, and I still had hope that he would lose interest and go his own way, soon.
Hope is almost as big a bitch as karma.
Toto did not care for him either. She hadn’t said anything but she had been very free with the fire last night, accidentally flinging several flaming branches at Compton as she prepared our evening meal. Finally, after jumping up twice, squealing and flailing away he had taken up space a safe distance from the fire. I saw her hide a smile and I did, too.
Toto would have made an excellent Marine. Zero bitching, completely focused on the mission and ready to take out any obstructions in her way. I liked her more every day. By turn I also liked Eric more because he had saved her. Almost like he had known I would come to need her one day.
I wanted to think of him, really think of him, like I hadn’t let myself since our one night. I had kept him tucked away and safe but I needed him now. It wasn’t possible though because it was too risky to indulge in a distraction like that memory when I needed to focus on our surroundings.
Compton surprising me into firing at him, what I had thought to be an inanimate object, had at least served to remind me that I was not in Louisiana anymore.
Every fucking thing around me was a potential enemy. Meaning that to everything around me we were a potential fucking target. I needed to stay frosty.
Thoughts of Eric made me anything but frosty.
When Compton had abandoned camp in fear of his straw I had asked Toto and Colbert if Straw Men were common in Oz. They had said not particularly, mostly because they were a sneaky lot. You could never tell where you stood with a Straw Man. Their true allegiance was only to themselves, and that made them dangerous.
Knowing that we may have been infiltrated made the uneasy feeling he gave me increase when he started asking questions. His first being my name. It was instinct that made me tell him it was Sookie. It was unlikely he knew who Susan Stackhouse was, but it was not worth the chance.
Toto and Colbert had also said that Straw Men were not welcome in many places, which is why you were apt to see them standing alone in fields. Given how annoying he was I didn’t need to ask why they were pariahs. It was so fucking obvious that I would occasionally take out my matches and count them from time to time.
Whatever Compton was, he wasn’t dumb. When he saw the matches he would shut right the fuck up, for at least a little while. We were nearing a cabin beside the road when Compton found his voice again.
“Sookie, you never told me where you were headed. Perhaps I could recommend a short cut and get you there faster.” He was talking very fast now and had worked to come up beside Colbert who was moving at a decent clip. My focus was on the potential ambush ahead. “There are many nice places around here we could stop for the evening-“ I turned on him vicious and fast like a snake.
“Shut the fuck up, Compton or I will smoke you were you stand.” He came to a halt, his expression was drawn on his cloth face, so it could not register shock, but I felt it from him anyway. He had not seen this side of me before, but he had been around long enough to recognize the cold icy way I would love to set him on fire.
Keeping him pinned with my gaze, I tugged Colbert’s mane and when he stopped I slid to the road. Compton shuffled back a few steps, clearly afraid. I held him in my cold stare a moment longer, impressing upon him the seriousness of my threat before turning back to Toto.
“You stay on Colbert and hang back. Let me go ahead and check out that cabin.” She nodded, her little face looking fierce as she pulled out a tiny dagger and held it close. I wanted to hug her, but that would break both our tough warrior facades, so I touched her hand and nodded approval instead. She got the message. She was fucking awesome. Colbert, too. I stopped to rub his long gray neck, his color having changed as he sensed my tension.
“You be ready to get her out of here if this is a trap,” I whispered in his ear. He nodded his head and then looked around sharply, taking in his surroundings for the best escape route if this went sideways on us.
For just a second I wondered what Gyl and Vic would think of my new recruits and I knew that once they got past the idea of Munchkins and talking Animals they would have been just as fucking impressed as I was.
Family knew family when they found each other, even if they had never met before, and it was the blood you spilled together not the blood in your veins that made the true bonds.
I pulled my gun and approached the cabin in a crouching run, all my focus in that small building and its surroundings. I had confidence in Toto and Colbert to watch my back.
This was the first structure that we had come near in our travels, which might or might not mean something. Everything here was so fucking strange I had just decided that everything was suspect.
Coming up to the fence that ran along the edge of the road in front of the cabin I crouched down to listen. Nothing. I moved toward the door of the cabin and braced my back against the wall beside it, listening intently. Nothing again. I reached down and cautiously tried the door handle, it turned easily so I opened the door and pushed it open remaining in position. Nothing, again. Crouching low, I went in.
Quickly scanning the room I saw that it looked unused for some time. A think coat of dust covered everything. Along one wall hung several axes and on the small table in front of the window was an oil can. Other than these things, the place was empty of everything but the dust. I noticed a back door that was partially ajar. I moved with stealth to that and peeked around quickly taking a look.
Someone was out there. I froze and listened. Nothing. Taking another quick look I saw that they hadn’t moved, which was odd because their arms were raised, with an axe in their hand. I pulled back and waited. Still nothing. Cautiously, I opened the door wider and was prepared to step out when Compton burst through the front door.
“SOOKIE!” he screamed. I wanted so fucking much to shoot him, but I was in the cold icy zone that always took me on recon missions and I knew that bullet would be wasted.
I’ll get back to you, bitch.
Since my stealth was now blown I burst through the backdoor and rolled into a crouched firing position aiming at the unsub frozen in mid swing in the back yard. Still no movement.
“Sookie! We need to go! Now!” Compton yelled from the doorway and as I cut a dirty look back at him I saw him slip the dusty oil can into the pocket of his overalls. I stood and moved around to face the unsub. It was a Tin Man. Scratch that.
It was a rusted Tin Man, frozen in mid chop of a log. I looked at him for a long moment wondering what the fuck this shit was about when Compton squealed again from the doorway.
“Sookie!” Holstering my useless gun I moved toward Compton, grabbing him by his neck when reached him, taking him through the cabin and back out to the front. He wriggled in my grasp, but he was made of straw, Toto could have held him without breaking a sweat. I motioned for Colbert to come forward and when he arrived I threw Compton to the ground and motioned for Colbert to step on his chest.
I got tingly when he screamed.
It was the most pleasant sound he had made since we had met. I took the matches out of my pocket and poised one to strike.
“Who is that in the yard?” I sounded remarkably frosty considering my insides were shaking in anticipation of shutting him up once and for all.
“No one! It’s no one!” Compton screamed, writhing under Colbert’s leg.
“Not only are you annoying moldy piece of shit, but you’re a liar to boot, Compton. You know who that is back there and you have done everything you can to stop us from finding him, starting with your bullshit take a right instead of a left. You have exactly five seconds to spill or I will strike this match and put us both out of our misery!”
“No! I only worry for your safety, Sookie! I swear it! I know nothing of the man back there! Please you must believe me!” I reached into his pocket and pulled out the oil can he had stashed there.
“I took that for trade down the road. It might be worth something! I might be able to trade it for lodging for our companions or food. Please, I need nothing! I was only thinking of you, Sookie!”
This was going nowhere fast. “Keep him here,” I told Colbert as I turned back into the cabin with the oil can. I stopped before the tall Tin Man and looked at him, uncertain how to proceed. I reached out tentatively and touched him with a finger.
“Ouch!” I jerked back, my finger bleeding. I hadn’t seen any sharp edges on him, but somehow I had cut myself. I sucked the wound as I studied him closer. He was tall, well over six feet and the layer of rust on him was pretty thick, indicating that he had stood out here for some time. I looked at the oil can and then back at him. Logic over crazy, I thought for the millionth time since I had crash landed in this David Lynch film. Shrugging, I placed the oil can over his lips and squeezed out a few drops.
At first nothing happened, and then he rubbed his lips together like a woman applying lipstick. A moment later his lips opened and he whispered, “Thank you.” Encouraged I moved on to his shoulder and arms applying the oil liberally. He dropped the axe and sighed heavily. I went on to his waist joints and finally his long metal legs. A few moments later he took a tentative step and started moving his arms and legs like they were stiff and was trying to wake them up.
No that was what a human would do. He was moving the oil deeper into his joints and loosening up as he went. When he did a small jig I knew that he had broken free of the rust completely, and I don’t know why but it made me feel good to see him that way. When he came to stand before me and bow I burst out laughing. Again, I had no idea why.
“Thank you, dear lady. Thank you ever so much!” He rose with his hand over his heart and I saw for the first time that he had the most beautiful blue eyes. A Tin Man with blue eyes. Who knew there were such wonders? “May I have your name, dear lady?”
“Susan,” I told him, “But please call me Sookie.” Really? You’re flirting with a Tin Man? Get a grip Stackhouse!
“Sookie,” he said in a deep voice, a much deeper voice than I would have expected from a creature like this. “A pleasure. I am Hammerby, a humble Tin Man, at your service, Milady.”
“How did you come to be frozen here, Hammerby?”
“A foolish error. I came out to chop wood and forgot my oil can. A rain shower took me by surprise and I have been here since.” A shadow passed over his handsome Tin Face. “It feels like it’s been a life time.” Wanting to console him I looked for something comforting to say.
“Well, you’re free now.” He looked up at me, and smiled.
“Thanks to you. How may I be of service to you, Sookie?” I was about to wave him off when I considered the potential benefits of a metal warrior in my travels.
“Other than rust, what weaknesses do you have, Hammerby?”
“None that I am aware of. I can travel at speed and never tire. I don’t need to eat and I never sleep. I can swing an axe with the best of them. Have you need of such a man, Sookie?”
Was that supposed to sound sexy?
Cause it fucking did.
Fuck, maybe I had been thinking of Eric more than I realized because here I was getting lubed up over lubing a Tin Man up.
Shaking my head, I tried to put my tiger back in her cage. “Come with me.” I expected him to clank and clink as he walked, but he moved with an oily grace that did nothing to calm the strange and untoward thoughts my twisted mind were having.
We came out the front to find Colbert still standing on Compton with Toto still on his back, her dagger at the ready.
“Toto, Colbert, this is Hammerby, the Tin Man. Hammerby, these are my comrades Colbert, The Horse of a Different Color, and Toto.”
“A noble steed,” Hammerby said, causing Colbert to turn a regal shade of blue. “And a lovely companion indeed in Lady Toto,” causing her turn a very charming shade of pink.
Hammerby was a hit all the way around.
“What about me? If you don’t trust me, how can you trust the likes of him?” Compton whined from below. He had a point. Both were strangers to me, but one felt wrong and one felt right. My companions agreed, I could tell in the way they smiled at Hammerby and scowled at Compton.
We were in complete agreement that one was acceptable and the other was not. As a soldier I had learned that trusting my instincts could often be the difference between life and death.
“Do you know the Straw Man, Hammerby?” I asked him, watching for any sign of deception. He bent down with his freshly oiled joints and looked more closely.
“No, I do not know this creature,” he said sounding certain, but there was something in his voice that sounded like anger.
“Are you sure?” He hesitated but then confirmed that he did not know the Scarecrow.
“He seems to know you. He went to great lengths to keep us from finding you and then went so far as to hide your oil can when we did.” Hammerby looked at him again but there was no sign of recognition on his handsome tin face. He then turned to me and gave me an appraising look. After a long moment he went down on bended knee at my feet.
My heart did a double beat.
What the fuck was that about?
“Sookie,” he said in that deep voice that was way too deep for Tin Man to have. “Milady, Sookie. I pledge you my axe and my fealty to the end of the yellow brick road. Have you a need for me?”
A great big fucking-
I shut that shit down and took a deep breath before looking to Toto and Colbert. One was smiling and the other had changed from blue to a red rosy hue again. That would be a yes, all the way around-
“Yes,” I said.
“Then I am yours, Sookie. Do with me as you will.”
Another deep cleansing breath. Stay frosty.
“Then get your axe. We need to deal with the Scarecrow.”
In the end we tied him up and left him in the Tin Man’s cabin. He screamed until we could no longer hear him and probably long after. I was walking beside Hammerby, while Toto rode with Colbert. I could not explain it but it felt good to have him there with me, like suddenly this whole fucking mess didn’t rest on me completely, which was foolish.
First, he was just a Tin Man, second he was my soldier, awaiting my commands. I was more in charge than ever, and now I had another solider to care for as we traveled further into danger in search of the Wizard’s secret cache of weapons.
After a while I swung up onto Colbert’s back behind Toto, and asked him to gallop awhile to make up for lost time. Looking to my right I saw Hammerby easily keeping pace on his smooth metal joints, his axe strapped to his back and a gentle smile on his face.
I must have stared too long because Toto elbowed me in the ribs and cut me a grin of her own. I rolled my eyes and snorted at both her foolishness and my own.
Still, every now and then I would glance at my knight in shining armor and try to wipe the goofy grin off my own face as we traveled on.