by Tom Gilson
Did you know there were two tin woodmen in Oz? Probably not–the second one appears for the first time here.
“He thought it was a curse. I saw it differently. You probably remember his story–how he fell in love with a certain girl, who happened to be my niece. Her mother, my poor late brother’s widow, didn’t want her girl getting married, so she went to the witch to buy a hex on the fellow. Next time he went out to the woods, his axe slipped and cut a horrible gash in his leg. There was nothing to be done for it, the leg was lost; so he went to the tinsmith and got a replacement. He went back to chopping, not knowing his axe had been turned against him. He lost one arm to it, then another–and then in the end he was all tin.
“I didn’t understand what was going on any more than he did. Anybody could have told something was up, though. He wasn’t that bad an axe-handler! Somehow he was oblivious to what was really happening, and he kept right on cutting wood, and cutting himself. Maybe there was a spell on his brain, too–I can’t believe it was just his axe that was addled. Most people would have found it pretty remarkable to survive with a tin body, but he took it in stride–as long as he was well oiled, that is. His one big complaint was he had lost his heart.
“Well, I’m a woodman too. I saw what he never saw. Oh, he was proud enough of his new tin body, all shiny and all, and he was glad enough to have a skin that the axe couldn’t cut any more. But he never caught on to just how much good it had done him. He was a woodcutting machine! Fast, accurate, never bothered by the nettles and the brambles; he could keep going and going with hardly a break except to oil up. And he had the gall to complain about it!
“He didn’t know–not until it was way too late–just who it was who had caused this. But I knew. She was having one of those little gossip sessions with my wife, complaining about this and that. My wife–bless her–was one of my own bigger mistakes. When she got into one of these gripe-fests with other women, she only complained about one thing: me. ‘He’s lazy, he doesn’t make us any money, I’m so mistreated,’ and on and on. What did she know about woodcutting? I swung that axe all day long, sweating, blistering my hands, never knowing when some idiot with another axe was going to drop a tree on my head–and all she could do was whine.
“I have to admit, though, she wasn’t all wrong. Woodcutting is a hardlife: we never had any extra money, hardly enough food to eat, and our home was always just about falling apart. That’s how it was until I got things figured out. It was lucky, in a way, how I happened to overhear them talking (usually I stay as far from them as I can). My sister-in-law was crowing to my wife about how she had gone to the Wicked Witch of the East, and how it had cost her just two sheep and a cow to get this spell cast.
“That gave me the idea. It was only natural, don’t you think? We didn’t have any livestock to spare at the time, but I figured I could make a deal to pay the witch later, once I got myself improved.
“The witch went for it, the same deal she asked from my sister-in-law. Now, you’re probably thinking she would have had some huge evil trick in mind, to steal my soul from me, or make me burn with misery getting turned into tin, or have me pine away with regret for all I gave up. No, she may be a wicked witch, but she kept her word. A few good chops and a visit to the tinsmith, that’s all it took; then two sheep and a cow, as soon as I could afford them. That’s all she got out of me.
“I really don’t need animals like that now anyway–tin men don’t eat, and we don’t mind about keeping warm. I just have to keep my joints oiled up. I may not have a heart, but then, I wasn’t all that lovey-dovey with my wife anyway, if you know what I mean. Who cares about all that, anyway? I hardly ever think about a tree falling on me anymore; the other woodcutters mostly stay out of my part of the woods. I move a lot faster now.
“Why do they call her a wicked witch, anyway?”