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Buffalo Dreams

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"Buffalo Dreams" is an Oz-related short story written by Jane Mailander. It was first published in Writers of the Future, Vol. 4 (1988), after winning the first place prize in the 1987 Writers of the Future contest. The story was reprinted in Oz-story Magazine No. 3 in 1997.

Summary

Oscar Diggs is down and out; he is stuck in the town of Broke Plow, near Kearny, Kansas, without enough money for a ticket out of town. A local exhibit is drawing crowds; Diggs takes advantage of the situation to perform juggling and street magic and so replenish his wallet.

The subject of the local show is a talking buffalo, supposedly occupied by the ghost of Sitting Bull. Diggs is amazed to find that the buffalo can in fact talk. In a private interview, the beast denies being the late chief; instead he claims to be a naturalist named Jackson Priest. Caught in a sudden blizzard on the prairie, Priest was in danger of freezing to death. He saw, and shot, a buffalo looming out of the storm, and used its carcass for warmth. Yet this was the last buffalo in Kansas; and when Priest regained consciousness he was in a buffalo's form.

The buffalo is oppressed and starved by his exhibitors; they calculate that they could not recoup the expense of keeping the animal alive through the coming winter. Diggs leads the buffalo on an escape; together they travel across the prairies until they join Buffalo Bill's wild west show, as "Omaha Jackson and his trained buffalo." At the end of two years with the show, Diggs makes his accidental journey to Oz, for the next phase of his mercurial career. (The talking buffalo's fate is left to the reader's imagination.)

Time

Mailander follows the trend of some other modern Oz writers, in adhering to a precise real-world-linked chronology for Oz. The story begins on 14 September 1896, and ends in August 1898 when Diggs takes his balloon flight from Omaha to Oz.

Tone

"Buffalo Dreams" is not a pretty fairy tale; instead it is written in a vein of gritty "End of the Frontier" realism. Kansas is bleak and hot and dirty. The men who keep the buffalo are greedy and brutal; they steal from Diggs and beat him. In these respects, the story belongs to the modern genre of Alternate Oz.

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