[Chapter 1 of The Red Brick Road]
You don’t have to know where a journey will end to begin. Think about it. If Christopher Columbus hadn’t set sail on that fateful day in 1492, would the Americas ever have been found? If Thomas Edison hadn’t come up with the design for the light bulb, would we still be using gas lamps today? If Lewis and Clark had not set out to explore and map the west, would there even be 50 stars on the American flag? All these famous people changed our world by taking the initiative to start a journey. The same goes for the young girl in our story. While she isn’t well known in our universe, her actions caused a change that spanned two worlds.
Our tale begins on a normal day. The sun was high in the sky, which meant lunchtime was just around the corner. All the father munchkins were hurrying home for their lunch breaks (in that day everyone went home for meals) while the children came in from their adventures in the backyard. The smell of delicious foods floated through the air along every street. Munchkins are best known for their fantastic food, next to their size, anyway: blueberry chicken, apple scrunchel, roasted pumplets, and krimple dibblets, just to name a few. Fairs decided every year which family could produce the most amazing meal. As you can guess, these competitions never ended without some intense discussions.
One child, however, did not respond to her mother’s call or to the aroma filling the town. In fact, she was not in a place where she could’ve noticed either of these. In a meadow just south of Munchkinland, Lilyetta Lollypoppin sat with her back propped against a pear tree. A worn book sat perched between her knees. Its cover was a dark brown with gold writing spelling out the title Against the Sun on the front. As she turned the page, curly brown hair swung down from where it was once tucked behind her ear. Her dreadful floral bonnet lay on the ground next to her, along with a forest green satchel. Red stained fingers reached down and plucked another raspberry from the pile sitting on top of her bag. A simple violet gown that matched her eyes hung down to her ankles when she was standing at her full height of three feet, four inches. The white apron around her waist was tied tightly behind her back and white sleeves extended down her arms from where the purple sleeves ended halfway between her shoulder and her elbow.
Big eyes scanned the pages of the book in front of Lilyetta. Not a single cloud floated above to block the light from the sun. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference. The book enthralled her so much that everything else around her, including her mother’s faint call to come in for lunch, disappeared. Reading was her favorite pastime. Lilyetta had lived in Munchkinland all her life, as did her parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on. (“It’s how a family is supposed to live,” her parents always said.) Like many of us, Lilyetta had dreamed of adventure since her childhood. Those were always her favorite kinds of books to read. Through the pages of a book she could escape to places no munchkin had ever been and do things no munchkin had ever done. She could fight dragons, rule a nation, sail the open seas, or anything else you can come up with. The book she was currently reading contained the story of a young girl who set out to save her village from the wrath of the sun god their culture worshipped.
A pear suddenly dropped onto Lilyetta’s book. She looked up to find the warm eyes of the pear tree looking down at her. “How long have you been here?” the tree asked in its velvety voice.
“Only a couple hours,” Lilyetta responded in her high-pitched voice. ‘How could this tree be talking?’ you might ask. One thing you must understand before we continue is that the world which Lilyetta lived in is not like our own. Magic flows through everything; sometimes it can easily be seen, other times it seems almost absent. Most trees in this world can talk. Pear trees have the reputation of being the friendliest. Whenever someone asks for a pear, these trees willingly offer some of their precious fruit. Apple trees are the ones you have to watch out for. They can be perfectly civil until one of them gets upset. Once that happens all the other apple trees hear about it and they all end up in bad moods for the next year or so. This comes up later in our tale and ends up causing a young girl and a scarecrow to have some trouble entering a forest. But that’s a different story.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” the tree asked, teasingly brushing Lilyetta’s cheek with leaves from one of its lower branches.
Lilyetta scooted her body around so that she could better see the pear tree without hurting her neck. Her frame was small for a 7-year-old, (about 14 in human years), and she resembled a small child sitting in front of her grandfather as he read the Christmas story in front of the fire. “You just looked so peaceful I didn’t want to disturb you. I know you’ve been having a hard time lately.”
“I should say so! That stupid witch is always making the wind blow and causing my pears to fall before they are ready.” Fear sent the branches of the tree shivering. Its two bark-covered arms wrapped around its trunk as if it were cold. The tree’s eyes turned to the east. Far off in the distance, just across the Arken River, they could see a castle poking up above the trees. The raging river, flowing north to south, formed a moat around the castle. Black stones made up the walls of this terrifying structure. Dark clouds circled just above the tallest tower as they always had. No one ever went there unless they were young, immature, and looking for trouble. Anyone who did go was never seen again.
“I’m not scared of that old witch. All of her so-called attacks are mostly petty little pranks.” Lilyetta was not being completely truthful, however. She was scared of the Wicked Witch of the East, as was every munchkin in Munchkinland. A couple times every month the witch would appear and proceed to cause havoc on the town. People would suddenly disappear for days, stores would catch on fire, all the bread would turn to stone. Recently the witch had caused huge storms with raging winds to cause damage to the town for days at a time. Some roofs had been damaged and a lot of trees suffered injuries. This pear tree was no exception.
“You haven’t come to see me for a while,” the tree said, trying to change the subject. “I’m lonely here all by myself. There are not even any other trees around for me to talk to.”
“I’m sorry.” Lilyetta cast her eyes down in sorrow. “My mother seems to think I should learn handy things to do around the house. The last few days I’ve been helping my mom cook, clean, patch up clothes, and take care of my younger brothers and sisters. I’ve been living in misery!” She dramatically threw her arms into the air. “Nothing exciting happens at home! The most exciting thing that happened was when my younger sister fell on her way to the table and threw the squashed potatoes she was carrying all over my dad. He had to hurry and change his clothes before he went back to work.”
A look suddenly came into Lilyetta’s eyes like a light bulb had turned on in her head, and she froze. After a couple seconds of stillness, she stood up as quick as a rocket, smacked her bonnet back on her head, and started shoving her book and her raspberries in her bag, (she later regretted this because the raspberries got smashed and stained the pages of her book and the inside of the bag).
“Wait, where are you going?” the tree asked hastily. “We just started talking.”
“I have to go,” Lilyetta said while starting to back away in the direction of the town. “I just realized what time it was. I’m already late for lunch, and on top of that, I wasn’t supposed to come out here today.”
“Can’t you stay for just a little while longer?” It might be hard for you to picture puppy eyes on a tree, but that is exactly what they were.
“No I’m sorry. I have to go,” Lilyetta repeated as she turned around and began to run back to town. “I’ll come back as soon as I can!” she shouted over her shoulder. “Bye!”
Lilyetta’s brown boots pounded on the winding path as she followed it back to town. The small farms and fields passed her by in a flash before she entered the rows and rows of small houses that made up the outskirts of town. She skillfully weaved between all the munchkin men making their way back to their places of employment. Once she almost tripped over a dog being walked by its munchkin owner. Luckily, she regained her balance and hurried on towards her house without falling in any of the many puddles that covered the road. Her mother would not have been happy if she stained her dress, again.
After traveling a few blocks Lilyetta finally made it to her front door. Since her father didn’t make much money with his job as a watchmaker, Lilyetta’s family lived towards the edge of the town. Their house wore light blue paint that had faded over the years. Small round windows appeared every couple yards all the way around the cylinder-shaped house. Tulips and daisies grew just inside the old white fence that bordered their small yard. Lilyetta opened the waist-high gate and trotted down the stone path, only to pause with her hand reached halfway towards the doorknob.
Thoughts raced through Lilyetta’s mind as she stared blankly at the faded yellow door. What would her mother say? She would be mad, that was a guarantee. Hopefully she wouldn’t forbid her to go out into the meadow again. Maybe Lilyetta should just avoid her for a while. Let her calm down for a little bit. But that would probably only make her more angry. She could always just tell her mother that she had been helping one of the older neighbor ladies bake cookies for the younger kids on the block, but she knew that wouldn’t work. It was no secret that Lilyetta hated baking. In the end she decided to just go inside right then and tell her mother the truth. She wouldn’t have believed any excuse Lilyetta came up with anyway.
As soon as Lilyetta entered the house, her mind went crazy trying to take everything in. The first thing she noticed was how clean the house was. Their home had always been decently clean (“A clean home is a happy home,” her mother always said), but right then it was spotless. The hallway floor had been swept clean. There were no random spider webs on top of the bookcase like there usually were. The more advanced books the family owned had been placed on the shelves. Directly to her left was the living room. The wooden floors had been scrubbed to the point where Lilyetta could almost see her reflection on them. A sofa, (probably similar to one in your own home, only Munchkin size), stood against the far wall. It was light green in color with a white knitted quilt hanging over the back of it and two white pillows, fluffed to perfection, sitting on each end. Against the outside wall sat her father’s favorite armchair. The once-red velvet was now worn down to a pinkish color on the seat cushion, the back of the chair, and the arm rests. Even so, Mr. Lollypoppin always sat in it like a king on his throne. A recent scrubbing seemed to have worn down the fabric even more. An old, wooden rocking chair sat opposite the armchair against the inside wall of the living room. Someone had made sure that there wasn’t a single speck of dust left on it. A small, round coffee table sitting in the middle of the furniture finished off the room. The table had been emptied of the dozens of papers and empty cups that usually covered its surface.
“Lilyetta!” Her mother’s urgent voice brought Lilyetta’s attention back to the chaos. “What are you doing just standing there!? You need to get ready! Now!” A chunky munchkin woman stomped down the hall, passing the girls’ room and the boys’ room. Her heavy, yellow skirt swished between her short legs as she walked. A small boy followed right behind his mother, holding her skirt with one fist, and his other thumb planted firmly in his mouth. “There’s so much left to do. We need to finish cleaning the kitchen, and I need to run to the store to get some supplies for dinner. The children all need to bathe and we have to find something acceptable for you to wear. Oh, come on!” she said, grabbing Lilyetta’s wrist and pulling her down the hallway. “There is no time to doddle. Time is of the essence.”
“I don’t understand. What’s going on?” Lilyetta asked, trying to resist her mother’s strong grip. She had to waddle with her legs spread slightly apart so as not to step on her youngest brother who was still attached to his mother. Clarice, the second oldest daughter, rushed out of their room and into the living room, missing her mother by only a few inches, a light blue vase filled with daisies between her plump fingers. Lilyetta threw her bag into her room as they passed.
“They’re coming for dinner tonight. Your father told me as soon as he got home for lunch. That reminds me.” Mrs. Lollypoppin stopped only for a moment to turn around and glare at her daughter. “You are not getting away with not coming home for lunch today. But,” she said, pulling Lilyetta into the kitchen at the end of the hallway, “there are more important things to worry about right now.” She pushed Lilyetta down into the closest chair and shuffled over to where Basil, her second oldest brother, was perched on a chair, dusting the insides of the wooden cabinets. “Don’t forget to get under the parcels.”
“Who’s coming over tonight?” Lilyetta asked.
Another munchkin boy, only a year younger than Lilyetta, entered the room from the back door with an arm full of logs. “Here’s the wood, Mother.”
“Thank you, Tobias. Just put it over by the oven. Rupert, darling, please let go of Mommy.”
“Mother, who is coming over?” Lilyetta got up and stood in front of her mother so that she could not be ignored.
“The Brackenboroughs, of course.” Mrs. Lollypoppin avoided her oldest child’s eyes as she walked around her and strolled over to where the kitchen and the hallway met. “Rosykins, please bring in water for the bath!”
“The Brackenboroughs? As in the bank owners?”
“Yes, what other Brackenboroughs are there? Why do you think I want this place to look so nice?” Mrs. Lollypoppin tucked some of her grey curls that had come loose back into the tall, cupcake-shaped hat on her head.
“Well, why are they coming here?”
“Your father has arranged the whole thing,” her mother said with a grin. “I don’t know how he did it, but he did.” Lilyetta watched as her mother walked across the hardwood floor and disappeared into her parents’ room which was connected to the kitchen opposite the back door.
“Wait! What has Father arranged!?” Lilyetta shouted after her.
Her mother poked her head back out of the room. “Why, your marriage of course.” She once again disappeared into the room.
“My what!?” Lilyetta’s eyes nearly popped out of her skull.
Mrs. Lollypoppin reemerged with an orange overcoat over her shoulders. “Your marriage, silly. You’re going to marry the Brackenborough’s oldest son.”
“But I don’t want to get married,” Lilyetta complained.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby about it. You got lucky that someone with such class is willing to marry someone from a family like ours. You’re already eight-years-old, which is plenty old enough to get married. We should have gotten you married last year.”
“Mother, I’m only seven.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” her mother sighed, putting her hand over her heart. “We’re on schedule then. I thought I was going to have to listen to Mrs. Periwinkle brag for the rest of my life about how she got her daughter married off at the age of seven, and not me.”
“But I . . .”
“Now, I’m taking Rupert with me to the store but while I’m gone, could you please make sure the others take their baths?” Mrs. Lollypoppin didn’t make eye contact with her daughter as she picked up her handbag and made sure she had enough money in it. “And don’t make a mess and ruin this for us. It means a lot to your father and to this family. Now I have to run. Make sure everything gets done, and I’ll be back shortly.” She grabbed Rupert off the ground and was out the door before Lilyetta could even get another word in.
Lilyetta stood still for a second, stunned. How could it have come to this? Earlier that day she had worried about not making her mother angry and trying to find some time to be by herself. Now she had bigger problems. She had to marry a guy she had never even met before. She did not even know what his name was. A more horrific thought suddenly entered her mind. This marriage meant that she would be stuck in a house, raising half a dozen kids (which was normal for Munchkin families back then) and taking care of her fat, lazy husband for the rest of her life. Her dreams would be dashed. Not only had she not been on an adventure yet, she hadn’t done anything remotely exciting. Her life was over.
It’s probably hard for any of you to imagine what Lilyetta was feeling at that moment. Try to remember back to your younger days around Christmas time. Recall that one gift, the one you wanted more than anything else in the world, the one you begged your parents for every hour of every day. On Christmas morning you bolted down the stairs, ran to the decorative tree, tore the present open before your parents even got there, only to find a pair of dull, grey socks inside. That will give you only a hint of the despair filling Lilyetta’s heart.
The screen door in the back of the kitchen suddenly opened and brought Lilyetta back down to earth. Rosykins walked in, her two-year-old body struggling under the weight of a large, tin bucket full of water. “Here, let me help you with that.” Lilyetta reached down to grab the bucket and then led Rosykins, bouncing curls and all, back out into the hallway, through the living room, and into the washroom. “Now get undressed and hop into the tub,” Lilyetta instructed while pouring the bucket of water into the tub. Rosykins reached over the side of the tube and splashed the water around gently with her hand. “Can you do that for me?” Lilyetta brushed some of Rosykins light, blonde hair out of her face to reveal her rosy cheeks.
“Yes,” Rosykins answered in almost a whisper.
“I’m going to go outside and get more water for the others.”
“Lily?” Lilyetta heard as she turned her back.
“Yes?” she replied, turning around.
Rosykins looked up under her thick eyelashes and said one word: “Bubbles?”
Lilyetta’s eyes brimmed with tears and smiled at this act of innocence. “Of course,” she said. Grabbing a few blue tablets from a jar on the shelf, Lilyetta proceeded to throw them into the tub, where they began to fizzle and produce bubbles.
While Rosykins watched the reaction with wide, excited eyes, Lilyetta slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her, walked back into the kitchen and out the door into the backyard. She set the bucket she was still carrying down by the water pump and took the few steps across the yard to the peach colored shed that held the yard tools and other junk that Mrs. Lollypoppin did not want kept in the house. Lilyetta began climbing the old ladder that always leaned against the side of the shed. She settled herself on the crest of the roof and stared out over the town.
On a sunny day you could see the houses clear on the other end of the town. Lilyetta loved this spot. It was the only place within the city limits where she could be alone. Her gaze scanned the rooftops before finally coming to rest in the middle of the town. It was in this spot that Lilyetta’s dreams of adventure always started. In fact, it was the place where every journey began. It was this spot that contained the beginning of the yellow brick road. It swirled around in circles for a while before finally reaching out towards the west. Everyone knew where the yellow brick road led. The Emerald City in the Land of Oz was the very center of the magical world. It was also where the Wonderful Wizard of Oz lived. “What is it that makes the Wizard so wonderful?” Lilyetta always asked. “If he was really so wonderful, he would have gotten rid of all the wicked witches.” The other munchkins would quickly shush her whenever she spoke her opinion about the matter. They believed the wizard was the best person who ever lived. They were willing to blindly follow anything he said.
What Lilyetta really wondered about was the red brick road. It wound around with the yellow brick road before shooting off in a northwestern direction. No one recorded in Munchkin history had ever traveled down the red brick road, so no one knew where it led. Frankly, no one really cared. As close-minded people, Munchkins tended to only care about what they knew and had no desire to discover anything more. When one Munchkin did ask the Wizard about it, he simply replied, “That road leads nowhere. Do not concern yourselves with it. Just focus on the yellow brick road and it will give you what you want.” There were some theories, though. Some said it led to the back end of the Emerald City. Others believed it led through the Impassable Desert and into the Kingdom of the Nomes. Still some thought it just led out of Munchkinland for a few miles and suddenly ended in a field.
“Where does the red brick road lead?” Lilyetta asked herself out loud. She envied the person who would one day find out. That would be a true adventure. Meanwhile, she would be stuck in Munchkinland the rest of her life doing the same things every other munchkin had ever done, absolutely nothing.
Lilyetta’s head fell into her hands. Tears streaked down her cheeks as a soft sob left her lips. She had never been one for crying, but right now she couldn’t stop. A feeling of helplessness rushed through her. Her hair fell in front of her face, but she didn’t even seem to have the energy to brush it away. It was as if the life had been drained out of her. Everything worth living for was gone.
Then a thought popped into her head. She gazed once more over the rooftops. Smoke rose from every brightly colored chimney. Stone roads twisted and turned between the houses in an unchanging pattern. The same people took the same paths to the same places to do the same things they always did. Why did she have to be stuck here? No chain held her to that spot like some animal. She had a choice. She would not conform to the ideas and ways of life that she had always been taught as simply the way things were done. No one was going to force her to do something she did not want to do any longer. She would have adventures and do something exciting. Who could stop her?
That was it then. She would run away.
Copyright 2013 Caitlin DePauw