Oz, the Dread and Terrible by A. J. Francisconi



Dart leaned forward and thumped the table with his fist. His graying whiskers twitched with agitation. “You don’t go to Oz without a fully outfitted water gun.”  

Across from him, the younger mouse flashed a sleek and cocksure smile.

The young ones left arrogant but rarely returned alive. That was why it was important that Dart make himself understood.

“You asked for tips and that’s the best one I can give you.” He dug one claw into the worn tabletop to press home his point. “If you have the coin, you’d be smart to equip that gun with a backpack reservoir connected by a sturdy, flexible hose. If you don’t, you’re either a thrill-seeker or a fool. You ask me, they’re the same thing.

“Shut up and listen,” he warned when the young buck opened his mouth to speak.

“Myths say a pair of ruby slippers will get you out of a bad scrape there, but I know a guy whose friend went with just the slippers. This guy said he tried to save his friend, but he couldn’t hold them off. Said his friend’s intestines were unlooping onto those slippers even as the guy tried to make them work.

“I go to Oz’s capitol city every six months or so, but I’m in and out as fast as possible. You don’t get greedy and weigh yourself down; you only take the number of emeralds you can comfortably carry. Sometimes you’re lucky and you get a bunch with unusually good clarity. I heard about a gal who scored a batch that fueled her ship for nine months. Nine! I want to believe it, but I don’t.

“Here’s another tip: you stay out of places like this. It might seem like an all-you-can-eat restaurant is the smart choice before long space travel, but it’s not. You have to stay lean and you have to stay fast. I’m here to tell you that our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. You stay hungry and you keep yourself small. Most of all, you learn there’s no shame in turning tail to run or finding a hidey-hole to duck into.

“I see you smirking, kid. If you want to be a transport pilot longer than a year, you’ll listen and take heed. You eat light from the grain store you’re running and that’s it. And know this: that water gun you carry isn’t going to save your life; it’s only going to buy you time. You point it directly in their face, you get off a shot, and then you run. Because the most important myth you need to know about Oz is that it’s not monkeys flying around there. It’s cats.”

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