Tick

THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION, but it’s not totally original this time. It’s fan fiction based on the characters created by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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The Tin Man opened his eyes and realized his joints weren’t stuck anymore, but he didn’t know where he was. He looked around, bending his squeaky knees and elbows to make sure it wasn’t just a vivid dream. He had those frequently; detailed, amazing dreams about simple freedom of motion, not high adventure, and they were exhilarating. He remembered them like they were real, but they weren’t. He always woke up frozen and silent and disappointed. But now he felt lucid and fully present in the moment. He raised a cast forearm to shade his melancholy gray eyes from the sun.

‘This isn’t Oz. At least no part of Oz I’ve been to before. No bright colors or spontaneous musical numbers. No munchkins or poppy fields or even flying monkeys. This isn’t even the Kansas Dorothy described to us,’ he thought to himself. ‘No vast farmer’s fields or little homes for people and barns for animals. Where am I? How did I get here and why can I move with such ease?’ He mistrusted his newfound ability to choose what to see and where to go, despite his almost giddy appreciation for it. The mere act of turning his head to look in a direction besides the one he was trapped facing for so long nearly overwhelmed him with joy. He, of course, didn’t show this euphoria outwardly.

He finally stood from his seat on desolate asphalt ground and felt alone. Loneliness was the worst part of being frozen, but even now that he could somehow move with relative fluidity, he still felt lonesome. He missed Scarecrow and Dorothy and even Lion with all his bluster and pomp, although it wasn’t Tin Man’s style. He was so far removed from their caper-filled journey together. They didn’t leave him with hostility. They all had great things to accomplish; new goals to achieve and passions to pursue. But they all did leave. Scarecrow had gone off to study and Lion had gone off to fight and Dorothy had gone home, but he had only gone back in the wood with his ax to rust again. He banged a steely hand against his chest and counted the regular ticks of the watch inside. Oz had given him that watch to comfort him with the delusion that he now had a heart. He knew it wasn’t true, though. It was just a story Oz told him, one he continued to tell himself, but he knew he was still heartless. The predictable, enduring ticking did comfort him, however. It made him feel less alone, having something to count on. He began walking across the rough pavement, hearing the screech of the bare metal of his feet across the stone, and wondered if it were even possible for another to really love him. ‘No wonder they all left. Walking down a road with me is literally like fingernails down a chalkboard,’ he privately mourned.

Alone wasn’t a new feeling. He felt like an outsider, even with Scarecrow and Dorothy and Lion. He knew they cared about him, at least they once did, even if it was for a brief period, but the connections between them always seemed tenuous and uneasy. The constant uncertainty was how he knew he remained incapable of love. ‘Love never fails.’ That was a line out of some book Scarecrow quoted. Dorothy and Scarecrow pitied him. He felt kinship and affection for them, but he knew they were his friends because they saw he didn’t have any, and they felt sorry for him.

“Look at him out here, suspended. Can’t move…no one to talk to…how terrible!” Dorothy wailed. “We’ve got to help him!” Dorothy had such a good, open heart. Tin Man admired…even envied it.

Scarecrow loved her, and did what he could to please her, or at least end her displeasure, so he said, “How can we help you, friend?” Scarecrow called him a friend. No one else ever had.

Tin Man already felt embarrassed that they’d happened across him in his petrified state, as he preferred to suffer in silence. Their blatant sincerity won him over faster than his customary skepticism normally allowed. He squeaked out a barely intelligible, “Oil can,” for them, and they gladly restored movement to his limbs, and expression to his still mostly expressionless face. He thanked them and startled himself by how immediately secure he felt with them. Others had passed him by without noticing his pain, and he attributed his accelerated trust in them to their consequential acknowledgement, and their effortless willingness to aid him, asking nothing in return. Tin Man wanted to repay them, despite their unconditional generosity. They had no need for chopped wood, though, and it was unfortunately all he had to give.

“How did this happen to you?” Scarecrow asked. He liked knowing ‘why’ and ‘how.’ Tin Man remembered how ridiculous it seemed when Scarecrow said he was traveling to see Oz for a brain. Scarecrow already had a rather advanced mind, in Tin Man’s opinion.

“Well, I’m made of deteriorating tin, and live out in the elements. Rain makes rust. Rust impedes independence. No one’s fault. Just the way of things,” Tin Man responded factually.

“How long have you been stuck this way?” Dorothy lamented. Her empathetic reactions to all she met made Tin Man question why she felt so homesick. She wanted Oz to help her ‘go home,’ but she could easily make friends and find a home anywhere.

“A few years, I guess,” was Tin Man’s answer for her.

“No one’s helped you be free in all that time?!” Dorothy shouted in alarm.

“No one saw me. I’m pretty easy to walk past when I’m immobile.”

“We could understand ‘oil can.’ Didn’t you call out to anyone?” Scarecrow questioned, trying to comprehend Tin Man as best he could, but still felt a bit like a dunce and a failure, the very feeling he embarked on a dangerous expedition to thwart.

“I didn’t want to be a bother. A burden…”

“Still. You’d think someone passing would recognize such clear distress before we did… How heartless people are!” Dorothy spouted with righteous indignation. No one felt on his behalf before, and it gave Tin Man imminent faith in her.

“I’m the heartless one,” he claimed, tranquilly knocking against his forged torso to illustrate the emptiness. That was the defining moment when Dorothy and Scarecrow’s motivation for assistance changed from friendship to philanthropy. Tin Man watched them look at each other with palpable devotion, then turn to him, giving alms instead of affinity.

“Come with us. Oz will give you a heart. Oz can do anything,” Scarecrow altruistically offered. His compassion and eagerness to please Dorothy combined to overrule the inconvenience of traversing with a tag-along. They offered Tin Man tenderness, but it was colored by obvious charity. They didn’t need him (or really want him) around, as their clear preference was for closeness with one another, but they at least congenially accepted his presence.

Then they happened onto Lion. Scarecrow and Dorothy’s authentic bravery outclassed Lion’s false bravado right away. In hindsight, they should have left him there to his own devices, but he cried, and Dorothy couldn’t bear to see anyone in pain, even the selfish, self-inflicted variety, so she and Scarecrow took pity on Lion too. Because Scarecrow and Dorothy were such an innate pairing, it left Lion walking behind them with Tin Man in an uncomfortable, forced acquaintanceship, born of the only thing they had in common; that Dorothy and Scarecrow showed them similar mercy. They managed to get along, mostly because Tin Man was a soft touch with forgiveness (and conveniently carried an ax).

Lion did need Tin Man to temper his own overly emotional reactions with cold, stoic strength. Lion was cowardly, but shrewd, and gleaned that more people liked him with Tin Man around. In fact, he suspected that were it not for Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy would have left him chastised and smarting, gone on to Oz, just the two of them, and he’d go back to being the weak bully that took advantage of smaller forest creatures for his petty personal gain. Tin Man permitted Lion’s manipulation, rationalizing it as paying it forward.‘Dorothy and Scarecrow helped me. I’ll help Lion. He mimics my reserve a bit, and it moderates his abrasiveness. He’ll offend fewer people. He’ll be happier…’ They were opposites, and Tin Man’s quiet demeanor reigned in Lion’s essential bombast enough for others to tolerate him. He was the cream to Lion’s strong coffee, allowing Lion to make mightier, more influential friends; the friends Lion wanted in his life because they could progress his agenda, and ‘do more’ for him. Now, it seemed, Lion had successfully found a group that took their strong coffee black and didn’t mind occasional over-caffeination. Lion no longer needed Tin Man to soften his effects.

Dorothy and Scarecrow’s sympathy upon their exits from Tin Man’s everyday life were mildly hurtful in an unintentional way (he wanted them to live the great, meaningful lives they imagined for themselves), but he turned down their humanitarian extension to join them. He knew he was ill equipped for the relentless anxiety bred from repeated pursuit of unfamiliar and potentially threatening ventures. Lion’s more quick, naked approach to severing ties was harsher and hurt much worse. Tin Man perhaps no longer fit into Dorothy’s full embrace of reality or Scarecrow’s intellectual awakening, but Lion made it clear that he now found Tin Man to be an outright liability in his new life, showcasing his ‘courage’ via extreme risk. There was no place at ‘brave and bold’s’ table for ‘careful and sensitive.’ Lion left him feeling unworthy and worn down, like he had to compete for Lion’s attention, and Tin Man didn’t want to live his life in competition. He wanted straightforward camaraderie that he knew Lion had never provided and could never supply. But he missed Lion anyway. Lion did, although their association was one-sided and toxic, make Tin Man feel necessary; like his existence was justified. And even ‘unworthy’ and ‘worn down’ were superior to totally solitary.

Tin Man most deeply longed for someone to truly understand him; to need the things he had to offer and make him feel useful without feeling used. He pined for stability and steadfastness; the things he naturally was. He speculated if perchance there was another being out there like him, who favored discreet integrity over dauntless ambition. While he knew his two earnest friends would continue to welcome him if he called upon them (they’d even urged him to call upon them), he still felt wholly different and separated from them, and didn’t want to call upon them. He just genuinely wanted to be genuinely wanted.

After walking for nearly an hour, the concrete shifted to loose gravel, and he passed rows of dismantled metal machinery, but it wasn’t broken or destroyed. He could tell each piece had been painstakingly handled, studied, and preserved, not carelessly discarded. It was the work of one who desired to know how complicated things worked in order to maintain and repair them. His feet began to fatigue as he labored further up the challenging terrain and he turned his ax over, blade down, to use as a cane when the trek took on a slight bent uphill.

“Hey!” a soft female voice timidly called out to him as he approached a small home, front and center of a deep forest, which somehow, didn’t feel out of place after what seemed like miles of stark industrial landscape. The voice sounded similar to Dorothy’s pitch, but was a more maudlin tone and a much lower volume.

“Hello,” he tentatively replied in kind.

“You’re him,” she stated with wavering confidence.

“I’m sorry? I’m who?”

“The one I’ve been waiting for.”

“No one waits for me,” he scoffed.

“I do. See, it’s cold here in the back property. I’m always cold. I’ve built a couple different furnaces, but heat from gas combustion or an electric generator just doesn’t produce the same intimate warmth as a wood burning fire. There are plenty of trees back here. You see them?” she asked, and he nodded in confirmation. “I plant more every year. I have an ax. I have several, actually. I even have a few chainsaws, but I just don’t have the strength to chop them down. Not enough to stay warm anyway.”

“You’re the one who took all these machines apart?”

“I like to know how things work and why they’re put together a certain way. The best way to examine them is to take them apart…but I also put things back together. I improve on things or build new things from the undone pieces.” Tin Man thought about how much this was like Scarecrow. He felt closest to Scarecrow when they discussed their shared curiosity for how and why things happened.

“You’re very skilled.”

“Thank you.”

“And respectful of these machines. You could have thrown the parts away, but you didn’t.”

“I don’t like throwing things away. You never know when something unorthodox will be useful to you.”

“I see.” She kept things to use them. It’s why most people kept things. He’d thought for a moment that she stood out, and although they were the only two around, she still began to disappear into the sea of ‘others.’ She conjured memories of Lion, and for the first time, he became aware that he would rather persist alone than be exploited again. “You get rid of the ones you can’t see a future use for, then.”

“Sometimes. But not usually. Usually, I grow attached to them.”

“They’re only machines. They don’t have feelings.”

“I’m not always sure that’s true. But even if it is, just because the machine doesn’t form an attachment to me, doesn’t mean I can’t form an attachment to it. It happens quite often, actually. I know they aren’t ‘alive,’ but…I guess I feel like I’m more useful…I feel better about myself when I have something to care for.”

‘Just like Dorothy,’ he thought. ‘Always wanting to nurture everything, even things that don’t deserve it, that didn’t ask for it, that can’t even thank her…’ “I like to feel useful too. But doesn’t it hurt you? To foster things that don’t show you the same care back?”

“No. The satisfaction I get from minding them doesn’t require them to reciprocate.”

“It’s always hurt me.

“I’m sorry you’ve been hurt. I won’t hurt you.” To his astonishment, he believed her. She presented as exclusively able to voice truth.

“Why are you so kind to me?” he inquired, suspicious and fighting back an excruciating build up of optimism.

“Because it’s my general philosophy to be kind. But of course I’m kind to you. You’re the one I asked for.”

“You asked for me?”

“Yes. I asked for someone that could help me with the things I need that I can’t do all by myself. Who or whatever provides when you can’t make it on your own must have sent you here.”

“You believe I was sent here to chop your wood?”

“Yes. And to keep me company. Those are the things I requested. I’m pretty secluded out here. Most of the time, I like the privacy. But sometimes I have to remind myself that I intentionally chose to live up such a difficult way. It takes a determined and dedicated pilgrim to even make it here. And you did. Will you stay with me?”

“I’m happy to help you, but you should probably keep waiting for someone better suited for what you really want. See, I have finicky joints, and now my feet are scratched and damaged from walking so far up that coarse path, and…”

“But I’ve been waiting a long time already. I’ve learned everything there is to know about metal, and those minor issues don’t matter to me. And there have been others. They got weary and bored, and quit. So I asked for someone tireless. They wanted me to change; to stop tinkering with my machines; to go out in the world to do something they found more exciting or appropriate for me. But I like it here and I like what I do. I like my life the way it is. So I asked for someone who wanted to live an unassuming life like mine; who’d accept me as I am. I want to stay here. And I want you to stay with me.”

“So you need me. I’d work for you here.”

“No. Not you for me. Us together. We need each other. We’ll work for each other. We’ll be partners. You can chop the wood to keep me warm and I can take care of you. I’ll oil your joints so they’ll never freeze up again. I’ll fix the marks on your feet. And we’ll laugh together and share our thoughts and…”

“I could chop your wood, and I’m thankful you’d take time to tend to me, but I’m just another machine. I’m not good company.”

“You’re not just another machine.” She looked like he’d hurt her feelings by insulting himself; like being unkind to himself was equal to being unkind to her, and it made him remorseful. She looked at him the way Scarecrow looked at Dorothy, and he was filled with an untried feeling he could only describe as affliction, but it was somehow…pleasing.

“I’m made like a machine…”

“But you aren’t one,” she asserted despite his persistent argument, the gentle sentiment in her voice tinged with something more powerful…related to anger, but not malicious. ‘Passionate’ is the word that escaped him as he tried to name her response to his stubborn adherence to self-deprecation.

“You should wait. Ask…the world…again…to send you the correct match, and be patient, because you could have…someone to love. Someone who’ll love you. I’m heartless…”

“That’s you…the someone for me to love…the someone who’ll love me. That’s absurd…claiming you’re heartless. I can hear your heart from here. I adore its steady sound. You stay so calm. It’s amazing, really. Meeting you…well, mheart’s racing.

“It can’t be me. I’m not like you; I’m hollow inside. That sound you’re hearing isn’t a pulse. It’s just a pocket watch.”

She stepped toward him and placed both her talented hands, and a discerning, insightful ear to his chest, both to raptly listen, and to encounter the subdued vibrations from the resolute, loyal noise inside; to ‘know’ what made him tick. Not even Dorothy ever awarded him such demonstrative, doting touch before. The rigid, unyielding nature of metal rarely produced contentment on contact, so he’d never received any. He instinctively dropped his ax to the ground and placed both hands on her back, returning her embrace, and instantly regretted it, assuming his hands were hard and frigid and caused her discomfort. “Your hands are heated from walking so long in the sun,” she sighed. “It’s nice…your arms around me…I’m safe here. And your chest is smooth and even and warm against my face…it’s soothing to finally feel like I’m the right temperature.” Her face rose into a moving, inviting smile. “It’s not the sound of a heartbeat that makes a kind, loving heart, you know. It’s the ability to think of another person’s well-being ahead of your own. You can love me. You already do. I know because you want something better for me that what you think you can give. But you can give me everything I need. You are exactly what I asked for.”

The last of the Tin Man’s reluctance melted away, and he smiled. He hadn’t smiled since Scarecrow and Dorothy went off to seek fortunes and dramatic narrative, leaving him behind. He’d never smiled this kind of smile before ever. “You love me,” he said, gratified but surprised. “You love me just like this. And you won’t go away. You want this plain, modest life. With me.”

“With you. You and me.”

“I thought if I ever found…you…that you’d be…the same as me.”

“No one’s the same as you. But that’s alright. It’s good. We shouldn’t be the same. We should complement one another. And we do.”

So The Tin Man accepted her love as something he could depend on, as reliable and trustworthy as his ticking, timeless heart.

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