The singing girl and her two new friends were walking very carefully along the edge of the yellow brick road. Outside of the bright sunlight, the bricks sere filthy and hardly yellow. This was thanks to a supply chain problem. The contractor had been forced to use inferior bricks to pave the road. The travelers were not impressed.
“How far are we from the capital city?” the girls wondered aloud as she gave the little dog in her arms a pat. ‘It’s certainly not over any rainbow I ever heard of.”
“It’s past the other side of the forest,” answered one of her new friends. He was a skinny fellow wearing ragged clothing, a farmer who had been cheated and chased away from his land. “I think we have to keep going through the forest,” he added.
“Assuming we don’t get lost and attacked by wild animals,” said the other man, obviously a prosperous citizen who had also suffered recent hardships.
“D’you guys think we can really get to see the Chairman?” the girl asked. “My uncle’s worried about his farm.”
The ragged fellow shrugged. “I think so. Let’s be brave and keep goin.’” So they kept walking until they finally stopped under a shady tree.
“We’ll have to find out if he’ll see us,” said the citizen. “You know, I was a partner in a lumber company a few years ago, but one of the major investors wanted to clear cut right here in this very forest.” He gestured at the trees. “The idea broke my heart. I said no way. And I walked away. They sent gangsters after me.” He rubbed his chin.
“What’s all this buzzing I’m hearing?” the girl asked a minute later.
“We call ’em jitterbugs,” the former farmer answered. “One bites you, and you get all jittery and achy and sick, and then you fall down half-dead. A couple years ago, we had a jitterbug pandemic. Everybody was sick!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue-checked mask, which he handed to the girl. “Wear this. Stay safe.”
The buzzing got louder and very rhythmical, then it began to fade as the jitterbugs went looking for other victims deeper in the forest. The three travelers, now masked, started walking again. The lumberman kept rubbing his silver mask.
Suddenly—“You there! Who are you? What are you doing here?” The voice was loud and strong. A tall figure with cropped hair and wearing torn brown corduroy jumped out from behind a thorn bush. As the figure began roaring at them, the travelers saw it was wearing a mask on which a lion’s face was painted.
“Oh, my,” the girl murmured. She stepped behind her taller companions, who raised their fists defensively.
“Oh, calm down,” said the lion. “I don’t bite people. And I’m not a dandelion, either.” The mask came off. They were facing a strong, muscular woman. “What are you doing here?”
“We were told,” the girl began, peeking around the farmer, “we were instructed to seek out the Chairman of the city and … and … and—”
“Oh, piffle on him!” the lion exclaimed. “He may be a wizard of financial manipulation, but all he’ll do is talk you to death. You got problems? You turn to me and my folks here.”
At this, a troop of women started coming around the trees toward them. They were all wearing masks, mostly with the faces of tigers and bears.
“Lions and tigers and bears,” said the girl. “Oh, my!” The dog jumped out of her arms and ran straight toward them.
A woman whose mask was a bear came forward. “Call me Mama Bear,” she said in a grim voice. “Them chairmen and judges in the capital city? They won’t do anything to help you except maybe hand you pages full o’ nonsense they wrote. They never help anybody except themselves. Make themselves richer, bossier.” When the citizen cleared his throat, she turned to face him. “Yeah. You know. You been there, had it happen to you.” She looked more closely at the travelers. “Sooo, y’all want some real help?”
The travelers were speechless until the lion stepped closer to them. “You’re safe with us. You look like good folks. But you don’t come from ’round here. Right? Well, you’re in the right place right now.” She went back to the troop of women, who gathered in around her. The travelers heard talking and laughing. “So,” said one voice,” ya think that little girl just wants ta go home, or what?”
The lion came back to them. “We’ve decided. You can join the Lions and Tigers and Bears if you want some direction in your lives.”
“And,” said Mama Bear, “I bet you know ’bout being polite to people who don’t look like you. Who come from other places, like that big green castle up there, or those farms way back east where the little people live. How they manage those big cows … well, I dunno. But we’re here to bring some changes to this ruined land. That Chairman and his men have damn near ruined it all. Damn men!”
“Slow down,” said the tiger. “Not all men are bad. We do have some men teamed up with us, ya know. They’re Lions and Tigers and Bears, too. They respect us women. They believe in kindness, being polite. They don’t abuse or attack us. Not much of that in yonder capital city, though. It’s full of mean people, everybody jealous of anybody who has anything they don’t. They’re all green with envy of … well, everyone else. Piffle on ’em!”
Another tiger stepped forward, a fist in the air. “It’s time to make some changes—”
“Down, boy,” said Mama Bear. “I think they get it.” She turned to the travelers. “Well? Let’s all sit down have a palaver together.”
And so they sat together, three strangers and many strong women and men. They girl and her two friends explained why they were walking along the so-called yellow brick road. The people surrounding them offered ideas, opinions, suggestions, advice. They said they could solve their problems and give them whatever they needed.
The Lions and Tigers and Bears gained three new members that day in the forest just as a ray of sunshine cut through the trees. The group began making new, more forceful plans to organize and march, to hold public protests in the capital city for the restoration of stolen rights and human dignity. The billionaires in power would soon learn a few things about being afraid of Lions and Tigers and Bears.
BIO: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.