Oz and the Gone Strawberries (Second)
by William LJ Galaini
Oz, whose nose was ideally shaped for oinking, snorted himself awake. He was lying next to Ally under the shade of the gigantic oak in the courtyard. Having gathered some leaves together to make a comfortable bed, Oz and Ally had settled in after lunch for an afternoon nap. Things had gone well the past few days. Ally was more playful in the tub, and Oz had found his appetite. They now slept in Ashley and William’s bed, and each morning they awoke to the smell of William brewing tea and Ashley making blueberry pancakes.
Looking to Ally, Oz watched her snooze. Sprawled out in the weeds, she slept on her tummy with her sides slowly expanding and retracting as her nostrils did the reverse. Ally was at peace, and Oz wondered why it was that he had awakened. After a few moments, it occurred to him what it was. Raising him to his hooves, Oz’s nose reached high into the air as he sniffed about. It was a lovely, soft smell filled with lovely sweetness. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it indeed was yummy. Rooting through the weeds he discovered it wasn’t anything nearby, so Oz searched about in the courtyard, climbing about through all the shadows and peeking rays of light until he came to the door leading to the mead-hall. His nose had possessed his body at this point, and away he went oinking in delight and snorting and sniffing as his hooves took him across the Spanish-tiled floor deep into the kitchen, past the library, and into the greenhouse.
Amongst all the gentleness of the moist air was a new smell, and Oz snorted it out quickly. There, up on a stool was a small round basket. Oz, standing on his back hooves, couldn’t see in and he tugged at the basket a bit to tilt it. His vantage had improved, and he angled his head so his one eye could see the origin of the now intense smell.
Strawberries! Big, round, delicious strawberries freshly washed and cut! In excitement Oz slipped and they spilled out at him, pouring over him like a fruity-fresh tumbling of heart-shaped joy. He was so happy to see all of them, plump and juicy and round! Immediately he gobbled one up, and another and another and they were firm, but soft. No food has ever been so palatable before, and in less than a minute, Oz’s left front hoof reached for the last one.
Horror set in. He had eaten them all! Only one remained, as evidence of Oz’s greed and piggishness. “They will hates me! Mr. Williams and Ashley are goings to throw me outside the gates!” He began to cry. They had been grown and picked and washed and they must have belonged to William or Ashley and now they were in Oz’s tummy! It was a treat for someone, a present! And now it was gone! “I should be throwns away . . . but Ally! Ally will be throwns away too becauses of me!”
His shame became so audible now that his sobs carried deep into the castle. Somewhere inside the mead-hall, William called out.
“Oz? Oz is that you?” William was coming! Oz ran as fast as he could to the edge of the green house and outside into the field beyond. He dove into the wheat stocks and hid perfectly still. Awaiting to hear a roar of anger from William in the distance, he held his breath. Any moment now, he was going to see the evidence of Oz’s crime, and his tall man-shape would tromp through the field looking to squash him.
Oz turned and ran, tripping and bumping and bruising himself as he frantically escaped. After a long while he finally became tired, and his fleeing became a stumble instead of a run. The sun began to dim, setting the sky afire with melting clouds dripping into golden colors toward the horizon. Oz’s little eyes finally rolled up from exhaustion, and he flopped across a rock on his belly, ears and hooves toward the ground.
Something big swooped over him, and he started awake. Looking up there were more stars above than sky, and the air was dry and cool in an unknown hour of night. Just yesterday, just the night before Oz was cuddled up next to William’s head sleeping soundly and warm. And Ally was nearby, only the tip of her nose showing from under Ashley’s blankets.
“I wrong-ed Ally, I wrong-ed everybodies, and they should not loves me.” Self-pity was taking hold when the big something flew over him again, but lower and with a cutting sound in the wind. It must have been some kind of low flying bird, possibly a night raptor looking to rend him with its talons. Oz shook and shivered with fear. A wheat stalk snapped in the distance, and an animal cried elsewhere while Oz’s head darting back and forth with alertness. The crickets around him stopped, and the night fell silent.
He waited for the bird, his eyes closed, trying to straighten himself up on his hooves so that the bird could take him easier. Oz was ready for the horrible fate that he always expected. The flapping of wings came, and a huge nighthawk thumped on the ground before him.
“You’re not made of the meat I eat, but I’m still curious . . .” the hawk spoke with resonance, stern and steady.
Oz opened his eyes, amazed to still be alive. He wasn’t sure what to say.
“Bravery is not a strength of pigs, or piglets for that matter. So why do you sit here waiting for me to snatch you up? I don’t think it’s bravery . . .”
“I-I . . . I do nots even makes a good meal for a bird . . .” Oz lamented.
The hawk laughed a hiss-like laugh.
“Self-pity it is, then. Thought I recognized a fellow suffer. So, what wretched thing did you do? Whom did you betray?”
“Everybodies . . .”
“Did you tell them cruel lies to hurt them?” The hawk cocked its head.
Oz was suddenly offended. “No!” he squealed in protest.
“Did you beat them?”
“Never!” Oz was getting angry.
“So, what crime did you commit that was so vile, so disgusting that you deserved to be carried away to my nest for my young?”
Oz shrank under the eyes of the hawk. After some time, it was clear that Oz wasn’t going to answer.
“Well, whatever crime it is you’ve committed, those whom you betrayed must really want to punish you, because they’ve been searching the fields and cliffs all night for their revenge while calling your name and braving the night.” The hawk remarked.
Oz perked up.
“In fact, they’re right in that direction.” he pointed with a wing. “Perhaps you should go, and get the punishment you deserve, hmm? Throw yourself upon their anger, like a ship upon the rocks?”
Oz panted heavily, he wanted nothing more than to see Ally again, have Ashley kiss his nose, and ride William’s shoulders.
“In fact, little piglet, I should go, because your predator has now become my pred-” and before the hawk could finish his sentence, he bolted for the sky just as a yellow streak exploded from a nearby gathering of wheat stalks. Ally barreled at him, the hawk barely escaping her fluffy grasp.
Snorting at him as he escaped, Ally turned to Oz and launched at him with equal speed, plowing into him and nibbling his ears with joy. She wrestled him, tossing him about, smacked him with her tail, and bounced him around all in an expression of joy, frustration, and relief.
She whispered long and hard at him, sternly glaring into his eyes, and Oz nodded occasionally in remorse.
“I is sorry Ally! I is! I just, I just was bad and I . . . .”
Ally whispered one small thing.
“Right . . .” Oz replied, defeated. “I is too afraid to be hurts again, like I used too. It is just too nice here, Ally. It is too nice and I is thinking I is dreamings! I expects . . . expe-ex . . . I thinks I is going to realizes that you is not here, and you is not real and I is just . . . dreamings all of this . . .”
Ally nuzzled Oz, while Oz sniffled and whimpered. Human voices called out in the distance. Oz tried to speak, but his crying was now too much. Ashley and William soon arrived, both of them exchanging words of genuine relief. William dropped to his knees in emotional exhaustion.
“Oz? Oz we were so scared. What happened? Are you alright?” William asked, his voice choked. Oz’s crying didn’t ease, so William put one of his thick hands gently on his back, and Ashley stroked one of his ears.
“Can we go home, Oz?” William asked. “I don’t think I could sleep without you by my head . . .” Oz’s sobs eased, and he meekly reached out with his hooves outstretched. William picked him up and held him close. “Why did you run away? What happened?”
“I, I . . . I ates all the strawberries?” Oz confessed.
“I know. So?”
“They . . . they was nots mine to eats . . .”
“Well, true, they were for Ashley, but there was another batch for you and Ally. We were all going to share them for diner.”
“But now there is not enoughs because I eats them!” Oz wailed. Ashley put a finger gently against his nose to shush him.
“I have no problem with it. Strawberries are meant to be eaten, by piggie’s or humans. Their purpose in the would is to be a joyful food to eat. Did you enjoy eating them?” She warmly inquired.
Oz looked down, knowing that having enjoyed them would make him bad.
“No need for shame in our home, Oz. You don’t have to feel bad. Did you enjoy them? Were they yummy?” Ashley’s last question was asked in a playful tone with a smile.
Reluctantly Oz nodded.
“Then you and I have something in common. We love strawberries.” Ashley said, giving him a peck on the top of his head. “And even if you had done something wrong, we would never be vindictive and try and hurt you okay? We’d talk about it. So you see that even now, there’s no need to run away again?”
Oz nodded, gaze still on the dirt below his hooves, in accord.
“Promise you won’t run away again?”
“Neither William nor I will ever hurt you, Oz.” Ashley swore.
“I will never, never hurt you. Do you believe that?” William added.
Truth was, Oz didn’t. Some part inside him, some part that had kept him safe for so long wouldn’t let him believe either of them. But Oz knew better than to say so, so he just gave a little nod.
“Good. Now, let’s get home and talk about things in the morning, okay? We’re all just happy to be together again.” Ashley concluded.
Oz nodded again.
“Okay.” William said, wrapping him up in a warm cloth. Ashley took Ally and William took Oz, and side-by-side the four of them walked back tired and quiet. Oz’s head was filled with confusing thoughts while Ally, leaning from Ashley’s arms, gave him a kiss on the top of his head whenever he was near enough.
Later that night, in the bedroom at the castle’s highest tower, Oz couldn’t sleep. He was curled into a ball leaning against William’s thick curly hair, when he saw a lump move toward him from under the sheets near Ashley’s back. Ally had taken to snuggling with Ashley at night.
Oz wasn’t alarmed, because sometimes at night Ally liked to play ‘swamp’ in bed, stalking and swimming under the covers until pouncing on a sleeping and unsuspecting victim. Like Oz, for instance.
He waited for Ally to strike, but it appeared that she wasn’t in a playful mood when her head emerged. She motioned for Oz to follow her, and entering under the sheets he did so. The two lumps traveled southward towards William and Ashley’s feet, where they convened. Ally switched on a small flashlight that was usually kept on the nightstand and used it to prop-up the covers like a central tent pole, its bulb aimed downward. The muffled light dimly lit them both, illuminated the bed under them like a soft, glowing ground.
“All right.” she said, her voice sounding like a little girl’s; serious and with excellent finishing-school diction. Oz was surprised because it had been so long since he heard her full voice! “We need to make a promise to each other.”
Oz nodded, afraid his best friend in the world was angry with him. “I promises not to runs away again.” Oz swore, one hoof in the air.
“That’s not it.” Ally replied. “You must promise me that you’ll stop hating yourself. Every time you find yourself ugly, or fat, or bad you have to ask someone to kiss you. Understood?”
Knowing that there was no way around it, Oz nodded.
“Say it, Oz. Say you promise.”
Clearing his throat, Oz made a mellifluous attempt at an oath. “I, Oz the piggie, promises to let everybody know when I is upsets with myself. So that they may kisses my forehead . . .”
Ally looked as though she was expecting more from Oz’s promise.
“And rubs my ears, and feeds me. Good food. Like pancakes, covereds in choc-o-late!”
“And I, Ally the alligator, promise to speak more when Ashley and William are around.”
They shook on it, foot and hoof, and switched off the flashlight. Tunneling back toward the top of the bed, Oz remarked “Ally, I think you haves a beautiful voice.” Ally stopped, remained still for a moment, and after some deep, heart felt thought turned and hugged Oz. She whispered something in his ear.
“You too? You is thinkings we will wakes up, and William and Ashley won’t be here . . ?”
That night they cuddled each other, right between Ashley and William’s heads. And they awoke the next morning to hot tea and syrupy pancakes.
© William LJ Galaini
Note – The Ally & Oz series was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in 2005 – 2006, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.