Turning her head to the windshield again she went stiff with shock, and made a faint sound. There was a bewhiskered smile there. Even as she tried to calm herself, a face and then a body slowly materialized. “It’s a catfish!” she gasped.
“Yes,” it said. “I’m the Curious Catfish. You have to turn the bus to the right. When you see the road, you have to land and leave it. No bus can travel the yellow brick road, or enter the Emerald City.” With that, it started to fade away again.
“Wait! Please wait I can’t walk underwater. I can’t breathe water!”
Only the face was left, but the catfish said “Don’t worry, in Ozland, you can breathe in water as well as you can in air. And hurry, they are waiting for you.” The face disappeared, and she was alone again. ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘I guess I might as well take a chance. Maybe the catfish knows what he’s talking about.’
Soon she saw a bright yellow road winding across the ocean floor. There was a reef with an overhang, and a sign “All buses must park here, by order of Queen Llola and King Sven.” She pulled the bus in, turned the motor off, and sat for a moment, gathering her courage. Then she opened the door and stepped out.
To her surprise, it didn’t feel any different than stepping out at the terminal in Winnipeg. Except that it was warmer. She walked around the front of the bus and stepped onto the road. It was definitely made of yellow bricks, and wound around reefs, beds of waving seaweed, and other obstacles until she couldn’t see where it went.
She walked forward slowly, still unsure about it all, but after a while when nothing untoward happened, she stepped out more confidently, ready for whatever adventure was in store for her. For a while, the road ran along between flat, green covered ocean floor, but then up ahead, she saw what appeared to be a pile of rocks, not very high. As she came closer, she realised that it was no more than two feet high, and about eight feet long. A fish was swimming in what seemed to be aimless circles over the centre of it.
“Hello, there!” called the fish. “How nice of you to come by. It has been a long time since I saw anyone; not even fish. Last year, a big squid came by, but he wasn’t at all friendly. He wouldn’t even say hello. Who are you, and where are you going? If you don’t mind my asking.” The fish had stopped to face Arwin, and now gave a very slight bow.
“Hello,” Arwin answered. “My name is Arwin Lane, and I’m going to the Emerald City. I don’t know why, but the Curious Catfish told me I had to park my bus and walk this road. I don’t even know why I’m in this land. Or how I can breathe underwater. I figure if I am ever going to find out anything, including how to get home again, I might as well go to the Emerald City. Maybe someone there can help me.”
“Oh!” the fish exclaimed. “Can I go with you? “My name is Solly and I’m a soldier fish, but a very unsuccessful one. When I was a very young fish, I was sent into battle. I was so scared, I hid in the seaweeds. Afterward the sergeant really yelled at me, and brought me here. He said all I was good for was to guard whatever might decide to live here. I’ve been here for a very long time. I’d like to go and see the wizard. I want to ask him to give me courage. Nothing has ever lived here, and I get so lonely. Please, may I come?”
“Sure,” Arwin said. “It would be good to have company, and maybe you can tell me something about this place. The catfish called it Ozland. I’ve heard of Oz, but that was a story in a book, and not real. There is a wizard here? Maybe he can help me. I really do want to go home, and I have gifts and money that I have to take to this year’s children’s charity for Christmas. “The fish cheered, and shot off the rocks to Arwin’s side, and they set out again.
They traveled for a long time, while the fish told Arwin what he knew about Ozland. He said the wizard’s name was Relish, and he had come to Ozland from some far place. Maybe even the same place as Arwin came from. As they went around the end of a large reef, a Lionfish came charging out at them. Arwin screamed, and Solly butted the lionfish in the side. It turned and looked at him.
“What did you do that for? I just wanted to be friends.” It looked puzzled.
“Well, scaring people half to death is not the way to make friends!” Arwin scolded. “If you want to make friends, you approach quietly and say hello.”
“Oh,” the lionfish said. “I guess that’s why no one will be friends. They all run away, usually screaming.”
“Yes, I can understand that, you certainly frightened me!” Arwin told him. “We are going to Emerald City to see the wizard. I want to go home, and Solly wants to gain some courage. Maybe you should come with us, and ask him to give you the ability to make friends. My name is Arwin, what’s yours?”
“I’m Leo. Do you really think the wizard could help me? I get so lonely I just have to jump at people to try to make friends.”
“That’s because you feel desperate. You need to slow down when you see someone new, and just say ‘Hi’ or something like that. Anyway, I don’t see why the wizard couldn’t help you. It can’t hurt to try, and the Curious Catfish told me I had to go there, and it makes the journey better with company.”
“Great!” Leo said, and moved over to Arwin’s other side as they all went off down the yellow brick road, singing “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard that was!”