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Excerpt: 'Origin Story'


Note: There is language in this excerpt some readers may find offensive.

"Dorothy Gale," she said.

"I guess so." He said it grudgingly. Maybe he wished that he'd thought of it first. Maybe he didn't think going home again was all that heroic.

They were sitting on the side of a mountain. Above them, visitors to the Land of Oz theme park had once sailed, in molded plastic gondola balloons, over the Yellow Brick Road. Some of the support pylons tilted or tipped back against scrawny little opportunistic pines. There was something majestic about the felled pylons now that their work was done. They looked like fallen giants. Moth-eaten blue ferns grew over the peeling yellow bricks.

The house of Dorothy Gale's aunt and uncle had been cunningly designed. You came up the path, went into the front parlor and looked around. You were led through the kitchen. There were dishes in the kitchen cabinets. Daisies in a vase. Pictures on the wall. Follow your Dorothy down into the cellar with the other families, watch the tornado swirl around on the dirty dark wall, and when everyone tramped up the other, identical set of steps through the other, identical cellar door, it was the same house, same rooms, but tornado-tipped. The parlor floor now slanted and when you went out through the (back) front door, there was a pair of stockinged plaster legs sticking out from under the house. A pair of ruby slippers. A yellow brick road. You weren't in North Carolina anymore.

The whole house was a ruin now. None of the pictures hung straight. There were salamanders in the walls, and poison ivy coming up in the kitchen sink. Mushrooms in the cellar, and an old mattress that someone had dragged down the stairs. You had to hope Dorothy Gale had moved on.

It was four in the afternoon and they were both slightly drunk. Her name was Bunnatine Powderfinger. She called him Biscuit.

She said, "Come on, of course she is. The ruby slippers, those are like her special power. It's all about how she was a superhero the whole time, only she didn't know it. And she comes to Oz from another world. Like Superman in reverse. And she has lots of sidekicks." She pictured them skipping down the road, arm in arm. Facing down evil. Dropping houses on it, throwing buckets of water at it. Singing stupid songs and not even caring if anyone was listening.

He grunted. She knew what he thought. Sidekicks were for people who were too lazy to write personal ads. "The Wizard of Oz. He even has a secret identity. And he wants everything to be green, all of his stuff is green, just like Green Lantern."

The thing about green was true, but so beside the point that she could hardly stand it. The Wizard of Oz was a humbug. She said, "But he's not great and powerful. He just pretends to be great and powerful. The Wicked Witch of the West is greater and more powerfuller. She's got flying monkeys. She's like a mad scientist. She even has a secret weakness. Water is like Kryptonite to her." She'd always thought the actress Margaret Hamilton was damn sexy. The way she rode that bicycle and the wind that picked her up and carried her off like an invisible lover; that funny, mocking, shrill little piece of music coming out of nowhere. That nose.

When she looked over, she saw that he'd put his silly outfit back on inside out. How often did that happen? She decided not to say anything. There was an ant in her underwear. She made the decision to find this erotic, and then realized it might be a tick. No, it was an ant. "Margaret Hamilton, baby," she said. "I'd do her."

He was watching her wriggle, of course. Too drunk at the moment to do anything. That was fine with her. And she was too drunk to feel embarrassed about having ants in her pants. Just like that Ella Fitzgerald song. Finis, finis.

The big lunk, her old chum, said, "I'd watch. But what do you think about her turning into a big witchy puddle when she gets a bucketful of water in the face? When it rains does she say oops, sorry, can't fight crime today? Interesting sexual subtext here, by the way. Very girl on girl. Girl meets nemesis, gets her wet, she just melts. Screeches orgasmically while she does it, too."

How could he be drunk and talk like that? There were more ants. Had she been lying on an antpile while they did it? Poor ants. Poor Bunnatine. She stood up and took her dress and her underwear off — no silly outfits for her — and shook them vigorously. Come out with your little legs up, you ants. She pretended she was shaking some sense into him. Or maybe what she wanted was to shake some sense out of him. Who knew? Not her.

She said, "Margaret Hamilton wouldn't fight crime, baby. She'd try to conquer the world. She just needs a wetsuit. A sexy wetsuit." She put her clothes back on again. Maybe that's what she needed. A wetsuit. A prophylactic to keep her from melting. The booze didn't work at all. What did they call it? A social lubricant. And it helped her not to care so much. Anesthetic. It helped hold her together afterward, when he left town again. Super Glue.

She'd like to throw a bucket of Kryptonite at him. Except that Kryptonite was expensive, even the no-brand stuff. And it didn't really work on him. Just made him sneeze. She could throw the rest of her beer, but he would just look at her and say why did you do that, Bunnatine? It would hurt his feelings. The big lump.

He said, "Why are you looking at me like that, Bunnatine?"

"Here. Have another Little-Boy Wide Mouth," she said, giving up.

Yes, she was sitting on an anthill. It was definitely an anthill. Tiny superheroic ants were swarming out to defend their hill, chase off the enormous and evil although infinitely desirable doom of Bunnatine's ass. "It'll put radioactive hair on your chest and then make it fall out again."

"Enjoy the parade?"

Every year, the same thing. Balloons going up and up like they couldn't wait to leave town and pudding-faced cloggers on pickup trucks and on the curbs teenage girls holding signs. We Love You. I Love You More. I Want To Have Your Super Baby. Teenage girls not wearing bras. Poor little sluts. The big lump never even noticed and too bad for them if he did. She could tell them stories.

He said, "Yeah. It was great. Best parade ever."

Anyone else would've thought he was being one hundred percent sincere. Nobody else knew him like she did. He looked like a sweetheart, but even when he tried to be gentle, he left bruises.

She said, "I liked when they read all the poetry. Big bouncy guy/way up in the lonely sky."

"Yeah. So whose idea was that?"

She said, "The Daily Catastrophe sponsored it. Mrs. Dooley over at the high school got all her students to write the poems. I saved a copy of the paper. I figured you'd want it for your scrapbook."

"That's the best part about saving the world. The poetry. That's why I do it." He was throwing rocks at an owl that was hanging out on a tree branch for some reason. It was probably sick. Owls didn't usually do that. A rock knocked off some leaves. Blam! Took off some bark. Pow! The owl just sat there.

She said, "Don't be a jerk."


She said, "You look tired."


"Still not sleeping great?"

"Not great."

"Little Red Riding Hood."

"No way." His tone was dismissive. As if, Bunnatine, you dumb bunny.

"Sure, she's got a costume, but she gets eaten. She doesn't have any superpowers. Baked goods don't count as superpowers."

"Sleeping Beauty?" She thought of a girl in a moldy old tower, asleep for a hundred years. Ants crawling over her. Mice. Some guy's lips. That girl must have had the world's worst morning breath. Amazing to think that someone would kiss her. And kissing people when they're asleep? She didn't approve. "Or does she not count, because some guy had to come along and save her?"

He had a faraway look in his eyes. As if he were thinking of someone, some girl he'd watched sleeping. She knew he slept around. Grateful women saved from evildoers or their obnoxious blind dates. Models and movie stars and transit workers and trapeze artists, too, probably. She read about it in the tabloids. Or maybe he was thinking about being able to sleep in for a hundred years. Even when they were kids, he'd always been too jumpy to sleep through the night. Always coming over to her house and throwing rocks at the window. His face at her window. Wake up, Bunnatine. Wake up. Let's go fight crime. You can be my sidekick, Bunnatine. Let's go fight crime.

"Origin Story" by Kelly Link, excerpted by permission from Best American Fantasy edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer, Prime Books, © 2007.

"Origin Story" was first published in A Public Space magazine.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelly Link