The reason I wrote this story, especially the way I did, is that the similarities between that story and the Wizard of Oz were on my mind this week. Especially the way it ended. I felt it deserved a little more to it. Incidentally, the Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies and has been since I was little and I first saw it on television. Thank goodness we have VCRs now and can avoid the commercials that would ruin it.
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Gary's Return from Oz
Gary Hobson had a pounding headache and he was completely and utterly confused. Earlier that day he had set out to prevent a major tragedy at a construction site on the corner of Dearborn and Randolph. His paper that morning had reported that due to a flooded freight tunnel beneath the site and an improperly performed geological survey an office building on Dearborn Ave would collapse and 500 people would die.
He’d gone out to the construction site only to tangle with a man named Trotter and his crew. Attempting to pass himself off as a spelunker, Gary had tried to convince the man to stop the work until the survey was double-checked. Someone had mislabeled the plans and when the crew dropped a steel pylon there would be a terrible disaster. Thousands of people would be missing.
The time in the article changed from 2:30PM to 12:45 as Trotter went out to personally give the order to drop the pylon. Gary had tried to convince the foreman on the site to stop the work but Trotter had spotted him and told two of his men to get Gary off his site. Breaking away from them Gary had gone to the driver of the pile driver to try and prevent him from dropping the pylon. The man had shoved him and Gary had fallen headfirst into a stack of barrels on a pallet just inches away. He’d struck his head and blacked out. When he awakened he found himself in different clothes and a different time period. A man driving a wagon down the street had stopped and asked him if he was ok. The man claimed to be Morris Best but to Gary’s eyes he was his best friend Chuck Fishman. Chuck was a clown who would do almost anything for a laugh but this was above and beyond his normal actions. Why would he tell him he was in 1871 Chicago? Why was he telling him that he was Morris Best?
The man took him down the street to a saloon. Gary’s confusion only grew when he met the “Dusky Nightingale”. The young black woman who was singing looked just like his friend Marissa. She looked at him with something akin to pity when he tried to explain about his “dream” and how he needed to wake up but couldn’t. Then a man who looked like Trotter came along. Only he wasn’t Trotter, he was Daniel Sullivan, the owner of the saloon. He tried to force Eleanor (for that was what she said her name was) to go to bed with a certain City Commissioner because he wanted to curry his favor and get a trolley line moved over to Canal Street where he owned some land. Eleanor would have no part of the Commissioner’s “friendly” overtures and had bitten his ear. Gary had taken a beating when he tried to defend her.
Thrown out in the street by Sullivan’s goons Gary had been picked up by Morris who took him home with him. Home was the boarding house run by the “infamous” Mrs. O’Leary. A dazed, cold and shaky Gary was fed, his cut forehead tended to and put to bed by Mrs. O’Leary. Next morning Cat had arrived with an “early edition” of the Chicago Chronicle which had a headline about the fire that would devastate the city that night. Gary had tried to explain to Morris but Morris had perceived Gary as a lunatic who needed to be driven off. Nervous about the devastation that he knew was coming, Gary tried to warn the fire department. No one at any fire station in the city would listen to him.
During his wanderings through the city he found Jesse Mayfield, Eleanor’s younger brother, hiding in an alley. His sister had been “picked up” at the station and taken back to Sullivan’s saloon where she was locked in a back room awaiting the arrival of the Commissioner. Distraught over the thoughts of the fire but unwilling to ignore Eleanor’s plight Gary had gone to a police officer for help for her. Unfortunately for him, this officer was on Sullivan’s payroll (free “refreshments”) and all Gary got for his trouble was a clout on the back of his head with the officer’s billy club and a bed in a jail cell.
Jesse managed to escape from Sullivan and his goons and went looking for Gary. Finding him in the jail, the clever youngster had given Gary something to make an impression of the door lock and fashioned a key, which allowed Gary to unlock the door and free himself and those incarcerated with him. They’d barely gotten to Eleanor in time to prevent her rape. Gary burst into the room where she was trapped by breaking through the window and knocked the commissioner out long enough for them to make their escape. Unfortunately Sullivan had caught up with them at Mrs. O’Leary’s barn where Gary and Morris put out a fire started by Daisy, the family cow and during the course of Gary’s struggle with Sullivan and while Morris lay stunned against a wall of the barn, another fire started. Rushing out to rescue Jesse who had saved his life when Sullivan came at him with a knife, Gary left Morris and Eleanor in the blazing barn attempting to stop the spread of the fire.
Stopping a passing wagon Gary put Eleanor and Jesse on it to get them safely out of the city. He gave Jesse the chiming pocket watch he had and told the boy not to give up because he’d know about it if he did. Watching them leave the city for safety Gary had gone rushing back to Mrs. O’Leary’s to try and put the fire out. Ignoring Morris’s cries he rushed back into the barn only to have a burning beam fall on him. Next thing he knew he was being helped to his feet by two of the hard hats at Trotter’s construction site. Just as disaster seemed imminent a red sports car pulled onto the lot honking it’s horn. Chuck and young black man dressed in a business suit exited the car. The man, who seemed to be in a position of authority told Trotter to stop the work and report to him in his office at 9AM the next morning. He thanked Chuck and a thoroughly confused Gary for their help assuring them that his company would never do anything to endanger the people of the city of Chicago. His pocket watch drew Gary’s attention - it looked just like the one he had given Jesse Mayfield back in 1871. The man’s name stunned him further. It was Jesse Mayfield IV. The pocket watch had belonged to his great-grandfather. It was this piece of news that made Gary tell Chuck that he thought he needed to sit down.
Upon arrival back at McGinty’s Gary sat down at his desk looking pale and dazed. Chuck told him “for someone who was only knocked out for two minutes you looked kind of chawed up” and when Gary responded in a daze to that he told him “you look kind of messed up.” Marissa came into the room to see if he was ok and all he could say in a voice that was barely above a whisper was “Marissa, you’re all right?” He was sure that it was Marissa he had saved from the Commissioner’s unwanted attention. Marissa, hearing this had said, “ well, yeah, I’m not the one that got knocked on the head.” Apparently Chuck must have told her about his “accident”.
When she left the room to get him some tea he tried to explain to Chuck what had just happened. What he had experienced. Chuck, however, just looked at him like he was crazy. Time is a magazine no matter what Gary tried to tell him. Gary wandered out of the room in a daze after telling Chuck it was good to see him.
“Hey, Gar,” Chuck called as he followed him out of the room. “Are you sure you’re all right? I mean, you really don’t look all that good and you sound even worse.”
“Yeah,” Gary replied as he sat down at a table in the main dining room. “I..I’m fine.”
Walking over to his friend Chuck looked closer at his face. Gary had a cut on his forehead that needed tending to, he looked pale and his eyes had a rather dazed look in them. Retrieving the first aid kit from behind the bar, he sat down next to his friend.
“Here, let me have a look at that cut.”
“Huh?” Gary hadn’t seen himself in a mirror since he left home that morning so he had no idea what Chuck was talking about.
“You have a cut on your forehead. It needs some attention,” Chuck explained as he took out the alcohol swab, a gauze patch and adhesive tape. Gently, he cleaned the cut. Normally, he would have let someone else do it but Marissa was busy getting the tea she’d offered and this was not really a job for a blind woman. Marissa was quite capable of a lot of things but cleaning a cut on someone’s head was not one of those jobs even she would attempt lest it need stitches and she not realize it.
“Chuck,” Gary said. “What I was trying to say was…Well…I…I…I went back in time when I hit my head. I was in 1871 the day before the Great Chicago Fire. You were there and Marissa and Trotter from the construction site. Only…only…you said your name was Morris Best and Marissa…well…she said her name was Eleanor. And she wasn’t blind and…and she sang in a saloon and…and she had a younger brother named Jesse. That Mr. Mayfield from the construction company is his great-grandson.” Gary started talking faster and his stutter was quite pronounced as he tried to get his friend to see that he’d had more happen to him than Chuck knew.
“Gar, those guys at the construction site said you hit your head pretty hard back there. You dreamed it all.” Chuck closed the first aid kit after replacing the roll of adhesive tape.
Marissa came up at that point in their conversation with their tea. She’d made chamomile knowing that it was a soothing drink. She may have been blind since she was a very small child but she was quite adept at reading people’s voices and Gary’s voice told her that he was upset about something and probably quite shaken up after his accident. She’d heard Chuck tell Gary about the cut on his forehead. It sounded like Gary had had a tough time of it at the construction site. He was talking nonsense. Rambling on and on about her singing in a saloon and not being blind. And being known as Eleanor “The Dusky Nightingale”. Tactful person that she was though she didn’t make light of what he was saying.
“Here you go Gary,” she said as she handed him his tea. “Drink this. It’ll help you feel better.”
“I feel fine,” Gary protested even as he took a sip of the hot liquid. “I just wish I could get you to believe me. I really was sent back in time. I was there when the great fire started! Really!”
“If you say so, buddy,” Chuck said.
“You don’t believe me,” Gary said.
“Gary,” Marissa spoke soothingly. “You had an accident right? You hit your head? You must have dreamed it.”
“If it was a dream, it was awfully real,” Gary said. “If I was only knocked out for two minutes why does Chuck say I look so bad? Answer me that?”
“I can’t,” she admitted. “But it doesn’t matter. Why don’t you drink your tea and then see if there’s anything new in the paper. I think it would be a good idea if you took a nap. You sound like you could use one. To get rid of the headache you must have.”
“I agree,” Chuck said emphatically. “You should take a couple of aspirin and go lie down for a while. We can handle things down here.”
Reluctantly Gary agreed. There was nothing new in the paper so he finished his tea and then headed up the stairs to his loft. He really didn’t feel that well. His head was pounding and he was shaky. His mind was whirling. He took off his leather jacket that he hadn’t removed since he came in. His hat had been lost at the construction site. Removing his shoes he lay down on top of his bed his mind whirling.
As he drifted off to sleep he suddenly realized that he knew exactly how Dorothy felt in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. When she returned home from her journey to Oz her family and friends hadn’t believed her either. But she knew it was real. She’d really been there. Just like he knew he’d gone back in time to 1871 just before the great fire. He didn’t really dream it. He’d really been there. Hadn’t he?
Email the author: Janet.E.Brayden@nae02.usace.army.mil