Heartless

This story is paired with Chapter 6 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free. 


Her dark olive skin and long raven tresses intrigued him more in the shadows of night than in the terror of day. Here, up close and intimate, she became personable now, if only for the passion igniting between them, unreleased like a gleeful parakeet, humbly sized yet sonorous.

Even the woodsman of tin felt he had struck his luck when he made his first entry, into her secret gates.

Freedom. There was a heavy realization, laying with this sensual outcast and forlorn rogue, that she may have been the only woman left for him in Oz, a place of motley characters and strange terrains.

A witch destroyed my life, The Woodsman, Nick, reminded himself with each rising and falling movement. Robbed me of my love and of my true body. And yet…here I am with the other.

Nick knew she was just as malicious as the eastern hag, just as demonic and cruel. The stories he grew up hearing were not his only source of proof. From high above, with her loyal flying monkey soldiers forever at her command, he had seen her demolish villages and towns. Yet there he was, in her boudoir, making shameless love with her. His metallic hands gripped onto her voluptuous thighs, his captive eyes staring straight into her jade pupils, her curving cheekbones and teasing plump lips. She hadn’t enchanted him, hadn’t brought Nick here against his will. He had entered her chambers willingly, indulging in his own appetites long blocked by austere, petulant resistance to the biological needs that never left him when his own body turned.

Long minutes filled with grunts, moans, bites, rhythmic thrashing and the switching of body positions stretched into half an hour. The sweet time ended with the splatter of oil against viscous cream liquids pouring from a dark womb.

Passion left Nick’s eyes. He pulled the metal member from the circumference of dark, soft flesh, his gaze somehow heroic and warrior bred as he refused to look away from the witch’s own stare. “Your… friend from the east ruined my life.”

“As you said before laying with me,” the Wicked Witch of the West replied with a humored tone. “And then you slept with me.”

“As good for me as for you, then. Not that any of these pint sized monkeys could fulfill your sexually placed hungers. When was the last time any sensible denizen of Oz even attempted to enter your lair and plow your tinder holes?” The Woodsman stood up, pressing his private metal anatomy back behind its covering, tightening the bolts that kept it secure. Witches are bitches, and bitches get stiches, Nick mentally sung in the secret confines of his head. Woodsman were no brilliant singers or lyricists, but Nick had made the song up with his own meager creative talents, and he was quite proud of it.

“Such a proud and eager Tin-Man,” the green woman taunted, curling her legs into her arms as she sat confidently over the bed. “Good for nothing but a soulless escapade. We’re not that different from each other.”

“I used to be far different from you…when I had a heart. And I told you not to call me Tin-Man. It’s Nick.”

“And I told you to call me Michelle. But you still call me The Wicked Witch of the West to spite me.” The witch guffawed before rolling over and waving a dismissive hand. “Whatever, hypocrite. We both got what we wanted, or needed…Down the mountain path. You know your way out.”

The Woodsman offered a final grunt before turning towards the door and heading out. A simple thanks for making your first night in many unfulfilling ones would have been nice, Nick thought with smug rage. He doubted the magical hag would merely rest for the remainder of the twilight hours. Witches had more to do than to gather beauty sleep for the night, and Michelle was the last of the evil ones. With her sister of the east dead, smashed under a wooden house, the Woodsman wondered if The Wicked Witch of the West was as lonely as he was now. They were the only witches dealing in dark magic that he knew of; Glinda, the other enchantress, messed with the goody-two-shoes dewy gumdrop variety of esoteric science, and Nick doubted she would want anything to do with the olive hag.

Sorceresses. Nick spit. He was a man of the land and he didn’t understand these magical females, holding séances in their bedrooms and celebrating witchy Sabbaths in dark, forbidden parts of the woods. They were charmers, deceivers, lovers of the moon and blood. Nick even remembered a sort of glee that arose when he talked about the death of the eastern witch with… Michelle. She laughed. She actually threw back her head and offered a bloodcurdling chortle. Then, she cried, wiping away a few tears…but Nick didn’t know if the tears were from amusement or grief.

A witch doesn’t even lament her own friend, Nick reasoned. The only person that was just as evil as she was. Probably the only woman she could have confided with in this world.

Nick would have felt sad upon his reflection of this fact…if he had only had a heart.

The mountainous path wound downwards in the dead of night as Nick walked carefully away from the Witch’s private castle. He could hear the monkeys laboring away in the dead of night, holding true to the witches’ order that they wouldn’t attack him upon his descent. How flattering; the green seductress was allowing the unfortunate man to live, all for fulfilling a sexual favor.

*   *   *

Michelle sat in front of her mirror, gracefully plucking her slender digits through her darkened hair.

Upon first looking in the shadows, the tresses could appear jet black, but then one would note the green sheen, the shiny vegetable-like quality of those strong locks that were slightly curly and so thick. Then, one could see how her hair truly complimented her gorgeous olive skin, her soft and full rich green lips with those shiny, light jade eyes that sparkled in the light. What a beautiful woman she was.

Woman of the night. Feared hag. Bride of evil and chaos.

A witches’ work is never understood by the walkers of day. Michelle reflected upon this harsh truth with an appreciative meditation. She had never felt embraced by the normal, mundane peoples of Oz. The munchkins with their docile, rustic lifestyles working the verdant land, the people of China Country with their fragile, meaningless lives, and the industrious metropolis of Emerald City were all outside of the witch’s otherworldly experience. Michelle related to none of these dull civilizations, walled up in her own castle, isolated from everything. Like her mother and her mother before her, she lived her life in the west as a witch, obscure to society and despised by all.

And now, the Munchkins are free. The Wicked Witch of the East, Selena, had ruled over them with an unrelenting grip. Michelle remembered how Selena forced them to gather crops and water, doing endless tasks for her.

Now, Selena’s place was under the crumbled debris of a foreign house that fell from the sky. Her corpse laid there for days, possibly because the munchkins were so delighted to see her lying there, dead. When she was finally picked up from that yellow brick road, the witch’s shoes had been stolen, her striped socks against her cold, rotting feet. She was dumped in the woods, denied a proper funeral, and left to decompose in some murky ravine.

   A tragic end. Was that what awaited Michelle? When Selena died, no one offered tears for her- at least, not out of sorrow. Even Michelle, knowing how cruel and emotionally disconnected she was, had laughed at her friendly rival’s downfall, at the loss of her enslaved munchkins and eastern territory.

After all they had been through, Michelle felt no love lost with Selena’s death. They had conducted moonlit Sabbaths together, mating with otherworldly beasts summoned by nefarious means. The sisters of black magic had gathered worms and insects, slithering things and body parts to use in sinister rituals. Even future plans of teaming up against the more powerful, sweet and loving Glinda before staging an attack on Emerald City had been discussed. Now, all of that was gone, and Michelle was alone, the final dark witch left.

   And two good witches left. Michelle rolled her eyes. The witch of the north, albeit weak in comparison to Glinda, still breathes. At least I could relate to Selena. Even if I couldn’t truly love her, or bond with her, she was the closest person I knew that seemed to resonate with me, to understand my madness and melancholy…

This Tin-Man. Nick, the Woodsman. Lacking emotion, lacking feeling. Was he the closest being for Michelle to somewhat bond with and feel some mutuality? She stared into his eyes and saw a fragment of herself: cold, barren, spiteful. This was a man that had once possessed a living, breathing vessel of flesh to house his now desolate soul. He had known the joys of life and sunk into the catacombs of despair and agony.   They were different in so many ways, the witch and this woodsman, yet now, he couldn’t deny that they had a connection beyond words, could he? Even if it could manifest with nothing beyond sex, beyond satisfying primal urges that had probably proven to be his downfall, all of it felt so good.

Feeling something was better than feeling nothing at all. Even Michelle reasoned that Nick would agree.

Those desires couldn’t have been worth the sacrifices Nick had just made. Even the witch was wise enough to know that…but she didn’t care. She had gotten what she wanted…needed…craved. If Nick ever wanted a round two, or more than that…

The green skinned beauty finally rolled away from her mirror. Vain and star struck by my own image, she mused with an empty smirk. A rich scarlet robe with intricate golden runes on the hem and cuffs rested over an iron chair nearby. She lifted the garment and moved her arms into its sleeves, pulling the fabrics around her torso and tightening the fine, silk belt that accompanied the clothing. Such a robe, fine stitched by the Munchkins of Munchkin Country, had once belonged to Selena only a few days ago, and Michelle felt no guilt in lifting it from the deceased woman’s hands.

   Such a hateful and empty man Nick is, Michelle thought, unable to feel any pity for him. A lost and desperate soul living in a machine. Once a laborious fool among Oz’s ignorance masses, and now a walking dead man, a useless appliance.

Fully dressed, the green woman walked out to check on her newly acquired treasures.

*   *   *

Had it all been worth it?

Off the mountainous path and deep into the forests, where he belonged, the Tin Man still asked himself that question. In the moment of passion, everything seemed to make sense and feel so right. He didn’t know if he had made the right decision, but maybe…

His heart was gone, forever. For that much, he was certain. Thinking he could get it back, that things could be fixed and restored, changed back to the way they used to be… that had been a dream, of course.

The memories of the Wicked Witch of the East still haunted him. He could see her laughing for what she had done to him. Her evil magic had tainted his ax and possessed him, cruelly making him turn against his own body. She was the reason he had cut himself up, limb by limb, destroying his organic composition, leaving him bloody and in pain before transferring his useless organs from damaged flesh and into a body of tin.

The hellish bitch. Tin Man spit oil phlegm onto the concealed dirt, trees and night air all around him. His body sunk deeper into the twilight, into the wilderness, ready to be consumed and forgotten.

Michelle had felt so good against his metallic body. He was surprised that even his new, artificial frame could feel something so real and invigorating. The last time he had enjoyed sex was as a human being, but then, there was love there. His fiancé truly loved him, beyond any doubt, and wanted to be with him, to spend the rest of their existence together. The Woodsman couldn’t feel that now. He could remember the events, her lying next to him, pleasuring him, holding him tight and whispering vows that seemed unbreakable at the time. Those memories didn’t amount to much, did they? Nick couldn’t feel them, couldn’t summon up those same feelings of love again, couldn’t bring back the joy and happiness that came from that love, that intimacy.

And yet hatred comes so easily. Nick’s teeth clenched with fury. How does a Tin-Man feel rage and hatred so easily, without a heart?

Yet love was denied of him. Those guttural emotions, the ones that swirled through the blood and enlivened the senses, that felt so animalistic in their energetic charge- somehow, they remained. Yet the joy, the unadulterated love, the uplifting serenity of union between a man and nature, a lover, a lofty ideal… something. All of that was undeniably lost.

I had my chance. My moment. And I blew it.

There was no doubting that. Perhaps a new heart could have been attainable. Sex with such a beautiful woman like the wicked witch seemed more realistic of a goal to achieve, more of an upfront opportunity that presented itself without question. Was it right, after all?

Despite the rage, the confusion, and the lust that seemed to be rising yet again, that inescapable cloak of emptiness remained heavily rooted to the Woodsman’s tin stomach.

*   *   *

Mockingly, the ruby slippers hung from a hook attached to the stone wall only eight feet or less away from the iron cage.

Moving in and out of the rocky prison at the bottom of the castle, the flying monkeys continued to switch positions for watch duty. They cruelly eyed the country girl claiming to come from some nonsense country called Kansas and her loyal companions, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion.

Well, almost loyal. The Cowardly Lion did give up a lot of information during the witch’s interrogation. Still, who could blame the weak creature? The witch had proven to be most unpleasant, tying up the craven buffoon and ordering her monkeys to beat him for hours, making them pull on his tail, bite him.

The Scarecrow had faired reasonably well throughout this horrid ordeal, though Dorothy didn’t know how long he would have left to live. The Witch threatened to rip Scarecrow apart and display him in the front of the castle. He would serve as a perfect warning to the people of Oz on how she treated her enemies. Seeing how evilly the witch had treated her lion companion, Dorothy didn’t doubt that the witch would keep her word about Scarecrow’s fate.

Dorothy was relieved that she hadn’t had to endure any terrible circumstance beyond being denied food and water at the moment, but the witch truly scared her. Not only had the witch snatched Dorothy’s admittedly stolen ruby slippers to avenge her friend, the murdered Wicked Witch of the East, but she had teased the girl with the revelation that those shoes were her one ticket home. “All you needed to do, my deary, was tap those shoes together three times and say, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…”

I’m such a fool, Dorothy thought, scolding herself. She had trusted that traitor, the Woodsman, a man without a heart. How could she have even reasoned that a heartless man would care about her fate? Dorothy didn’t know what would make the Tin-Man trade on the opportunity to get a heart, but whatever the witch had proposed must have been a great deal…

Now, Dorothy’s destiny was in the hands of the green skinned sorceress, and she was offering Dorothy secret deals of her own… deals she had not yet discussed with her friends, The Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion.

“Do you not see my power, deary?” the witch had said in confidence, when they were alone in her interrogation room. “You must have had some powerful juju of your own to travel in a violent storm from a foreign land to Oz and survive. Ah yes, dear. You have the flesh and blood of a human girl, but your eyes tell a deeper story. You have the makings of a witch, and I’d be damned if I let some softy trickster like Glinda get a hold of you. You follow me, you assume the green in your blood, skin and soul, become my apprentice… learn my ways as my mother taught me. And I guarantee, your friends won’t have to suffer a moment longer. In time, when my time has come, this castle will be yours.”

“But I don’t want a castle,” Dorothy protested with a soft, fearful voice. “And I don’t want to be a witch. I want to go back home…to Kansas.”

“What is Kansas to a castle? To deep and arcane power?”

“Why would you want me to stay here in this castle…with you?”

The witch had looked away at that moment. She couldn’t even look the girl in the face for a reasonable answer, but in seconds, something came to those quivering green lips. “I doubt I’ll ever have a daughter of my own, deary. And the closest woman I had to a sister in magic is dead. A shame for such a unique tradition to die with the both of us.”

Dorothy still didn’t understand. “At least feed me…or give me drink.”

“A witch has no need for food or drink, sweety. We abhor it more than anything. You’ll learn to appreciate your lack of such frivolous things, once you’ve accepted your fate as a witch.”

Dorothy stared back helplessly.

“Think about it.” Those were the witch’s final words before placing her back in the cage with her friends.

“I can’t take this anymore,” the lion said as his paws gripped the iron bars, staring out into the rocky penitentiary surrounding them with dismay. “Why can’t she just kill us? Why does she have to torture us in here?”

“This is all Tin-Man’s fault.” Scarecrow shook his head. “I had seen the look in his eyes when he would talk about the witch on the road. A lot of interest in a harlot for a man without a heart. We should have known not to trust him. Hell, I would have known, if I—”

“—only had a brain,” Dorothy finished haughtily. She was mighty tired of hearing Scarecrow say that.

“She had talked to you for quite a long time, Dorothy,” the Cowardly Lion said with unmistakable suspicion in his voice.

“Yeah.” The Scarecrow leaned in with squinting eyes at his young female companion. “Just what were you two discussing during your time out of the cell?”

Dorothy looked at the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion with utter disgust. “I’m sure we talked about the same things you two talked about when she escorted you out of the cell.”

“I was tortured and beaten!” Lion exclaimed, lifting his bloodstained claws, showcasing his battered face and damp fur. “I was threatened within an inch of my life!”

“You’re still kicking, you big drama queen,” Dorothy muttered, folding her arms.

“And I’ll be made an example. My dead stuffed body, ripped and torn, with only a decapitated head left to place up high in front of the castle.” Scarecrow kicked at the dirt. “All because I followed some stupid girl on her way to see a wizard.”

“Glinda told us that was who we needed to see!” Dorothy shouted angrily.

“Well, she isn’t here now, is she? And she won’t come here, not in the Wicked Witch’s domain.”

“Glinda’s more powerful than the Wicked Witch is-“

“With a monkey army to contend with as well? Don’t be stupid.” Scarecrow sulked as he sunk to the ground, sitting with defeat in his slouched body. “The happy go lucky huckster’s probably forgotten all about us. On to the next team of gullible saps to inspire with hokey promises.”

“…Glinda wasn’t a liar. And her words were true. We just…we just trusted the wrong person.”

“None of that matters now. We’ll be lucky if we don’t die in pain.”

Dorothy was about to respond, tired of suffering under those ingrates she once considered friends, when a horn blared triumphantly.

The imprisoned trio turned to look at the mouth of the prison as a flying monkey held his brass instrument with pride, heralding the return of the Wicked Witch.

“I want the girl,” the witch demanded.

The flying monkeys closest to the cage opened the door and escorted the frightened, hesitant Dorothy out. Then, they locked the cage before pushing Dorothy before their beloved witch.

Dorothy let her eyes look down to the ground. “Michelle,” Dorothy greeted with a heated tone of aggravation.

Michelle smiled. For once, the girl had referred to her by her real, respectable name. That was rewarding enough. “Come with me.”

Dorothy listened obediently, which was easy to do with flying monkeys grabbing you and stringing you along. The witch brought the girl up the stairs and into another part of her castle, a modest looking room with iron chairs and a fireplace nearby.

The door was locked. Dorothy had nowhere to go.

“Your companions are at the end of their rope,” the witch warned calmly.

Dorothy sat up in her seat, the fear present on her tired, hungry visage.

“And you have not eaten or had drink for hours. You’ll die in your… current state. Embracing a path of magic is all you have left.”

“I want to go home.” Dorothy’s words were as fiery as they were blunt.

“You are home.” The witch rested her green hands in the lap of her silky robe. “Now. I’m giving you your chance. Embrace the path of the dark witch. Learn the ways of black magic, the secrets of the misunderstood and lost ways. And I promise you, your friends will meet a pleasant fate.”

“What’s the point of being a witch? Look at you. You’re surrounded by flying monkeys and a cold, boring castle that’s just as empty as you are.”

The witch was taken aback by the girl’s words, and Dorothy could tell. Her bottom lip dropped, her jade eyes twinkled softly, as if hurt… as if actually feeling something. “Much is sacrificed…in this life.”

“Like Tin-Man sacrificed us.” Dorothy said the Woodsman taunting nickname with much abhorrence. “I’ve lost my way home. To the people that I love and the country that I know. Do with me and my friends as you wish. I have nothing to desire here.”

The green woman nodded, the disappointment plain on her face. “As you wish, deary.”

*   *   *

The man once known as The Woodsman had ignored many invitations to the castle over the years.

Now, after a decade or more, he had acquired a horse to ride up the mountain trail, to see how the hag had gotten along.

Nick could still remember when, only a week after making his treacherous decision, how he had found the carcass of The Cowardly Lion carelessly flung into the woods. Buzzards, worms and flies had gathered to partake in a scavenger’s meal along the entrails and exposed carrion of the craven beast’s corpse.

Now, the castle was plain in Nick’s sight. Also plain to him was the stuffed head of the scarecrow resting on a pike right outside of the castle. Had his head been on display for all that time? A straw man’s head would get worn and stained by birds and dusty wind, as it had now, but it would never decay.

Nick stopped his horse in front of a wooden post. He tied his reins to the wood and walked towards the castle. Flying monkeys soared over him. Not one of them bothered to trouble the visitor.

At the entrance of the castle were a few monkeys, standing watch. They recognized the Tin-Man immediately. Without hesitation, they guided him deeper into the castle.

Michelle sat at a window in one of her various studies. The room was surrounded with many magical texts and tools such as wands, brooms, and jars of herbs. She sat as she usually did on these afternoons, overlooking the surrounding mountains and valleys in silence.

Nick stood patiently at the door as the monkeys left him. “Michelle.”

Michelle looked up. She hadn’t aged much in all of those years. That olive pigmentation was still fresh, her face still smooth and clean. Her dark hair draped over her shoulders as she wore an opulent gown of cerulean and crimson. The color scheme of her garments seemed to clash with her natural green skin, but she was still a beauty. “Nick.”

Nick invited himself into the room. “It seems like much hasn’t changed here.”

“I beg to differ. What’s changed with you?”

“Nothing to brag about. I left the woodcutting business a long time ago. Now, I am the owner of my own oil company.” The Tin-Man snorted. “Some would call that a huge achievement. Can’t really say I feel anything for it, though.”

“Of course, not.” The witch looked back to the window, the sights outside providing more stimulation than the sight of the tin man. “I invited you back up here. Many times.”

“I know.”

“Why didn’t you come before?”

“Guilt. Frustration. Pain.”

The witch chortled with short, mean notes. “For a man without a heart, you sure do have a lot of feelings.”

“I still don’t understand it all myself.”

“As I don’t understand my own existence. The life of a witch in the black arts is depressing and lonely. Even in a castle of servants and subjects, solitude is all I can ever know. So accomplished, yet so hollow.”

“As is the life of a Tin-Man.”

Without a word of empathy or pity, the witch stood up and walked past Nick, exiting the room.

“Wait!” Nick called behind Michelle as he followed her. “Is that it? I finally come, and you walk out the room?”

“What else is there to say for people like us?” The woman laughed. “I’m not in the mood, and your company does nothing for me…not as I thought it would, in the past few years.”

Nick almost argued, but he stopped, watching the woman disappear down a hallway. What was the use? She was right. He had wasted his time coming here. There was nothing left to do but turn around and go back to the Emerald City, to overlook his oil empire and put the past behind him. The witch wasn’t his love, not the Munchkin woman that adored him, had lost The Woodsman when he had lost his heart.

Nimmee Amee, how I wish I could really be with you…but I can never love you, or be the man that can make you happy. What is the point of being in love with a man without a heart, without the passion I once had beyond bodily urges and meaningless lust? Any chance we had at a real relationship…that’s all in the past.

Walking out, Nick saw the green woman again. He walked behind her and placed a cold, metal hand over her shoulder as her dark tresses brushed his fingers. “Michelle, I—”

The woman turned her face to Nick, and she was no Michelle.

“Oh… dear. Dorothy?” The silvery tint of the Tin-Man’s face seemed to drain.

She had grown, a mature maiden in fine silk clothes. Nick should have noticed the clothing was different, that she wore a soft white instead of the cerulean and red that Michelle was wearing. He should have noticed that the dark hair was a bit straighter than Michelle’s curlier locks. Yet that skin, which had once been of a human peach complexion was now green, as if filled with chlorophyll. Her once soft, innocent eyes were a jagged jade and rock hard even in their brilliant shimmer. Her face was beautiful, well sculpted and seasoned, but it lacked the emotional wealth and grace of any regular person.

“Dorothy? What… what happened to you?”

“I took to the black arts and accepted a new fate.” Her voice was so empty, so monotone and lifeless, as mechanical as a metal man.

“But why… how could—”

“When you watch your last friends slaughtered in front of you, there’s not much left to live for. Or die for, either.”

“So you’ll spend the rest of your days here? As a witch?”

“Glinda could have come for me. She abandoned me, just as you did.” Dorothy looked to the side. “But that’s all over now. This is my home now.”

Staring into the haunted, lonely void of Dorothy’s eyes, Nick tried to think of something to say, but the words failed him. Desperately hopeless, his metal hands gripped his old friend’s shoulders as she looked away from him, seeming to ignore him. Nick’s tin face pressed against Dorothy’s neck, his mouth opened with agony as black oil poured from his sorrowful, squinting eyes.


NBR6BarrsmallBrian Barr is an American writer and artist. He writes comic books, novels, and short stories. He publishes comics through his own imprint, Cruel Productions, and has had a comic featured in Surreal Grotesque Magazine. One of his stories will be featured in the metal horror anthology, Axes of Evil II