As ever, it was a slow day on the farm. The chickens had been fed, the cows milked, and the horses ridden, and now the family had settled down in front of the television. There was Aunt Emma, sitting in my rocking-chair knitting herself a new scarf; Uncle Harry, his customary glass of home-brewed beer in his hand; and me, John, a soon-to-be university student with short hair, a short stature, and a short attention span. We were watching a party political broadcast from the Labour party, and my head was swimming.
How could one possibly choose between all these parties? They all promised so much, and the way they argued their cause, well, to someone who didn’t watch the Parliament Channel every day, every one of them seemed to be perfectly justified in doing what they wanted to do. I just couldn’t get my head around it. Rising from my seat, I told Aunt Emma I was going to churn some butter, and left the house, walking up the path to our small wooden dairy house. The wind whistled around the room as I churned away, my head still spinning with all the politicians’ words. Which one was the best party? Which one was right?
The wind was really getting up now, buffeting against the wooden walls of the dairy. I barely noticed, concerned as I was with the problem of tuition fees; but I was snapped out of my reverie by my Aunt Emma’s voice.
“John! Come inside, now! Hurry!”
I walked over to the entrance of the dairy, and, peering out through a knot in the wood of the door, saw my aunt gesturing wildly at me, hat akimbo and a woollen scarf around her neck with a knitting needle still stuck in it.
“John! It’s a general election! Get out of the dairy!”
Alarmed, I wrenched the door open wide, but was immediately buffeted back by the ferocious wind. A Conservative party pamphlet was driven through the air, embedding itself in the wood by my hand; other leaflets, red, blue and yellow were whizzing through the air like multicoloured wasps. A news reporter smashed against the side of the dairy, still shouting “Expenses!” as he bounced away. I shut the door and cowered in the corner, hoping to wait out the spinning storm of campaigning. Eyes tightly shut, I was unaware of the wooden stool which flew across the room and knocked me unconscious.
The air was motionless in the dairy when I awoke. Clutching my head, I stumbled around, the sunlight shining through the window stabbing my eyes. Evidently, the storm was over; it was safe to go back to the house. Still rubbing at the large bump on my head, I staggered over to the door, and gingerly opened it. Immediately, there came a great and joyful shout from hundreds of throats; but so strange was the sight that greeted me, I barely even noticed.
Standing in front of me were some of the strangest creatures I had ever seen. Hundreds of them were milling around in front of me, every single one of them barefoot, wearing eyeliner, and with long hair which stuck up as though they’d just received an electric shock. None of them seemed over four feet tall, and had evidently come swarming out of the gaudily-painted yet dilapidated wooden huts I could see behind them. Some were dragging pianos from underneath dusty covers, and each and every one had a beaming smile on their face; some were even crying.
A group of them rushed up to me and hugged me round the middle; they seemed to be thanking me for something, although I had no idea what. Where the hell was this place? What happened to the farm? On the verge of panic, I managed to extricate myself from the press of bodies and step out onto the dusty ground. Dimly, through the noise of cheering, I could hear the strains of song as some of the creatures began to improvise a ditty on the piano.
“Ding dong, the witch is dead,
A stranger came and crushed her head,
Her whale-like body is no more,
Flattened by the dairy floor,
The spiteful bigot has now gone,
Time for us to have some fun,
Now we Minchins are all right,
We can play our pianos through the night...”
Getting closer to a panic attack every second, my eyes darting frantically around the scene, I noticed a pair of red boots sticking out from underneath the dairy. Nobody seemed perturbed by this, indeed they all seemed quite happy; what was going on here?
I grabbed the nearest four foot tall man and shouted over the noise: “What’s going on here?” The man, with a beaming smile and a faint Australian accent, replied “You killed our overseer! You are our saviour!”
“What? What are you? I killed somebody? What...?”
The little man was about to reply when a shadow crossed over us. I followed his gaze and saw a rotund woman carrying a trident and wearing a long, glittering dress twenty yards away from where I stood. Silence instantly descended.
“Now then. Are you the owner of this dairy?” the woman asked me briskly. I dumbly nodded, and she continued. “Well, I guess I should be thanking you. My name’s Libertas, and you’ve just killed my sister, Anne Widecomb.” Ignoring my stammers of terrified apology, she walked over to the boots jutting from the dairy and pulled them off. “These are yours now, I suppose. If all the Minchins agree, of course.” The little men nodded their heads, and I guessed they were the Minchins. “Fair’s fair. I’ll be off, then.”
“No, wait!” I managed as she turned to leave. “What’s going on? What is this place?”
She turned back, slight astonishment upon her (I now noticed) rather shapely face. “You ... aren’t from Ozland?” she asked, then broke out into a stunning smile. “Then you may be exactly what we’ve been waiting for. Let me fill you in.
Anne Widecomb was one of my sisters, but she stood against everything I stand for. She hated feminism, homosexuality, atheism, independent thought, and anything that people could take even the slightest bit of joy in; that’s why she oppressed the Minchins here so much. Now that she’s dead, I can take her place and instil democracy here,” (she broke off as the Minchins cheered). “You are the first person to come here from another land for a long time, and I believe it is up to you to restore Ozland to the state it was in before the White Supremist Warlock arrived.”
“The White Supremist Warlock? Restore Ozland...No, you definitely have the wrong person. I’m just...John. I wouldn’t know the first thing about democracy, or saving a country, or anything. I just want to go home!”
Libertas looked deflated, but she rallied. “Well, then, as a mark of our gratitude, we should help you. As long as that’s what the Minchins want, of course.” Another cheer; having gotten rid of Widecomb, anything I wanted was bound to be acceded to. “Well, then, John, here’s what you shall have to do. Take my sister’s magical boots and follow the Neutrally-Coloured Brick Road to the Golden City, where you can meet with the Wizard of Ozland. He will show you the way home.” And with that, she twirled her sparkling dress and flew into the distance, leaving me with the Minchins.
Well, I supposed, I had no choice. I took the boots and replaced my battered old trainers with them (luckily, Widecomb must have had very mannish feet; they fit perfectly), then the Minchins led me to the gates of the Neutrally-Coloured Brick Road. As I stood there, looking down the rather drab path which would lead me, I hoped, to the Golden City, one of the Minchins presented me with a small rucksack containing all the supplies I would need, and telling me that anytime I needed help, all I had to do was to sing a comical song and they would rush to the scene. I thanked him, despite my doubts at being able to make up a comical song, let alone sing it, and, slinging the rucksack on my back, started off on my journey.