Chapter 10: Tic Toc Your Time is Up
Alice and Hatter were now walking at a sluggish pace as they attempted to catch their breath after being a safe distance from the town. Their feet dragged against the dirt path as their bodies were slightly hunched over. Roaring and neighing could still be heard in the distance so they guessed the townspeople were still attempting to drive the Lion and the Unicorn out of town. Alice stopped for a moment, searching for a possible place to rest for a bit.
"Alice, we can't stop now," Hatter protested. "We are on a very tight schedule."
"Us on a tight schedule?" Alice could not help but to laugh as she finally settled to rest on the ground since her clothes were already dirty. "And having tea twice today was part of the schedule I suppose?"
"Well...no," Hatter confessed. "But we really must reach Time as soon as possible." His speech, however, contradicted his actions as Hatter was now sitting on the ground as well. "Though I really wish you hadn't brought up the subject of Time Alice."
"I am awfully sorry," Alice replied, feeling rather guilty for having accused him of murdering Time when she had always been the one to reassure him that he did not murder Time. Yet, all the same, Alice could not help but to think there was some truth to her accusation. "But, you know, if what they say is true, then you could have murdered Time without even knowing it," Alice stated as innocently as possible.
"Alice! I cannot believe I am hearing the words that are coming out of your mouth!" Hatter exclaimed, practically jumping out of the position he was already in. Luckily, he possessed enough self control to remain on the ground. "The moment I begin to convince myself I was accused of a crime I did not commit, everyone begins to think otherwise. Now what if it is true and I really did murder time?" It was clear that Hatter was beginning to grow nervous now in their inevitable confrontation with Time.
"Well, think of it this way," Alice began gently, now feeling guilty for having brought up her theory. "If you really did murder Time, then you can apologize to him when we meet him."
"Yes, that's true," Hatter admitted, thinking over Alice's proposal. "Oh! I only hope he isn't as merciless as the Queen of Hearts! I'll be done for if that's the case!"
"You mean you have no idea as to what sort of person he is? But surely someone has met him, haven't they?" Alice inquired.
"Never and if they have, no one discusses his personality," Hatter informed Alice. "All the more reason to be nervous. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I will only be sentenced for a little while in jail. That isn't so bad, you know." In truth, being sentenced to prison (at least the Queens' prisons) was a rather terrible experience. While serving as a messenger for the White Royalty, Hatter had been accused of a crime he had not yet committed. As policy, he had been sentenced to a few months in jail. Of course, this was when Alice was just beginning to visit Wonderland so there was no one to assist him other than the March Hare and no one dared to protest Wonderland law other than Alice (though he later found out Alice did address this strange policy of punishing criminals before the crime is committed to the White Queen). Those months in prison were some of the darkest times in Hatter's life. The cells were dirty with rats scurrying about the cell floor, occasionally attempting to bite whoever they could. There was only one window in the cell but it had been so high up, Hatter could barely gaze out to view the beautiful Wonderland scenery. What was worse, he had no tea to enjoy during his sentence. It had taken Hatter an awful long time to recover from the incident once he was released. Though of course he ultimately ended up committing the crime afterwards so there really was no reason to complain about his sentence.
"Don't worry Hatter, it will be all right," Alice replied reassuringly. "And, if he is as merciless as the Queen of Hearts, I won't let him lay a hair on your head."
"Really?" Hatter asked, looking up with a bit more reassurance present in his face. Not to mention, her kindness had sent a small pang to his chest.
"Really," Alice repeated, wanting Hatter to feel comfortable when they met Time. After all, if Hatter was a nervous wreck, who knew how Time would react to this? It would not be a very good first impression that was for sure.
"I really appreciate it Alice," Hatter replied, smiling even. "Thank you." It felt nice to know Alice was willing to defend him just as he was willing to defend her.
"You're quite welcome," Alice remarked, smiling as well.
With his new encouragement came a fresh source of energy as Hatter rose from his position on the ground. He walked over towards where Alice had been resting and held out a hand towards her. She took his hand without hesitation. "As soon as we return from our visit with Time, I will personally treat you to a nice cup of tea at the March Hare's tea party," Hatter remarked as he pulled Alice up to her feet.
"You really don't have to," Alice replied, laughing a little at his token of appreciation. He acted as if she wouldn't receive tea at the March Hare's party otherwise.
"Oh but I must," Hatter remarked as he began to lead Alice forward once more. "It's the least I could do."
"I'm sure," Alice replied as the two continued to stroll down the path together. There were now only a few trees remaining along the path with nothing but the clear blue sky to keep them company. The grass grew considerably tall to the point where some of it was now beginning to seep into the dirt path, attempting to overtake it.
"Alice," Hatter stated after some time. "Do you remember when we were first properly introduced?" From the moment he had learned Alice was planning to leave Wonderland forever, Hatter had been trying to recover all possible memories of Alice as if attempting to relive the moments he had shared with Alice only this time with the love in his heart he now had. Only now did he actually address one of them to her. Why this particular memory came into mind, Hatter was not entirely sure.
The question caught Alice off guard at first as she was not expecting Hatter to bring up such a topic. However, once the question had its chance to seep into her brain, the memories began to depict vivid pictures within her head.
"Of course I remember," Alice stated though it was bringing up a time she was not particularly fond of. "It was at one of the Queens' banquets." Yes, she really did not like to think about her times as Queen. It was a rather boring segment out of all her various trips to Wonderland.
"That's right," Hatter replied, pleased that she was able to remember as clearly as he was.
"And the White Queen called you over," Alice recalled. "You were still a messenger for her I suppose?"
"Consider it a second job for when the hat industry wasn't going very well," Hatter clarified since he did not particularly enjoy that occupation and only took it when it was most necessary. He would much rather spend all his labor on creating hats for the citizens of Wonderland. Not to mention, being the messenger to White Royalty was what caused him to be sentenced to jail in the first place.
"Of course," Alice replied. "Then the White Queen said 'And this is my messenger Hatta'."
"I still don't understand why they insisted on calling me 'Hatta'," Hatter interjected, shaking his head at the same time. "'Hatter' is just fine."
"Indeed," Alice agreed. Even the March Hare had been given a different name when he was also employed in the White King's services. Perhaps the King and Queen had trouble remembering their names. "And then you said-"
"I said 'How do you do?'," Hatter once again interrupted, his enthusiasm rising as he attempted to re-enact the scene, causing Alice to giggle.
"And then I said 'We've already met'," Alice replied, attempting to imitate the tone of voice she had used during the incident which consisted of a rather rude tone.
"You were really rude you know," Hatter teased after it had become apparent in Alice's voice.
"Only because you did not give very good first impressions with your own rudeness," Alice retorted, teasing as well.
"Either way, it was you who ended the conversation," Hatter accused, attempting to clarify that Alice was rude in her childhood. Of course, this was not entirely accurate as he found Alice to be quite enjoyable company.
"Oh but Hatter, you're forgetting a whole segment of the conversation!" Alice exclaimed.
"I am?" Hatter questioned.
"You are. For, after I said 'We've already met' you said 'Yes, at a tea party. She invited herself' and then I replied with 'Only because there were so many extra seats' to which you said 'That still does not mean you can simply seat yourself at a party to which you weren't invited to'. Then the conversation ended because the White Queen began to discuss how lovely tea parties are." Alice was nearly out of breath by the time she had finished the remainder of the conversation on her own, acting as three people.
"I never said such a thing," Hatter denied, looking away from Alice for a moment as he said this only to return his gaze towards her once more.
"Oh but you did Hatter," Alice returned gaily.
"Well...continue on with the story," Hatter replied, not wanting to admit he had been a rather rude fellow eight years ago. Alice merely shook her head at Hatter's remark, not entirely sure why she was telling the story to begin with.
"I don't really remember much else," Alice confessed, attempting to recollect the memories of so long ago. "Other than you, the March Hare, and the Dormouse seemed to be enjoying yourselves at your small table. That was why I decided to give your tea parties another chance." Indeed, she had requested of Hatter and the March Hare to be invited to one of their tea parties. Luckily, due to her status, they had no choice but to accept her request. While it had been a rather shaky start with strange stories of folk's tails and treacle, Alice eventually began to look forward to the tea parties to the point where she ultimately relinquished her title as Queen.
"What?" Hatter exclaimed, quite shocked with Alice's failed memories. "You mean you don't remember us dancing together?"
"We never danced Hatter," Alice replied flatly. Although she could not remember much more of the evening, she certainly would have remembered that much.
"Of course we did!" Hatter recalled, distinctly remembering the two having danced together. Without warning, Hatter took Alice's hand and began to dance with her. He guided Alice lightly across the ground as he waltzed with her. His strides were both long and graceful. However, Alice could not help but to laugh as Hatter directed her forward.
"Hatter, you are positively mad. I never danced with you," Alice could not help but to point out in a calm and gay manner. His behavior was rather unusual today for while Hatter was known to overstep personal boundaries, he would have never danced with her as he was now.
"Well then, we really must go dancing some day," Hatter replied. After all, Hatter simply was in no mood to argue.
"Perhaps we should attend a Wonderland ball," Alice offered with Hatter still dancing with her as though the two had been swept into a fairytale.
"Yes, someday we should," Hatter replied, happy that Alice suggested such a thing. "Though they can be rather mad at times."
"Everyone is mad in Wonderland," Alice countered thoughtfully.
"Very true," Hatter replied. He then abruptly stopped his dancing at that moment. His gaze focused solely on Alice. With his hands still lightly gripping onto Alice, he simply could not take his eyes off of her. A small sensation was beginning to creep over him. Although he had told himself he would not confess his feelings to Alice, at that particular moment, he wished to throw that logic out the window. Hatter wanted nothing more but to hold her, to have her close to him as she had been when she cried on the way to his house for reasons he had not known until recently. "Alice," Hatter murmured softly, mostly to himself rather than to Alice. He wanted nothing more but to bend down and kiss her lips that were now completely still.
The thought only passed through his mind for a second before Hatter felt his body experience a surge of heat. He could feel his face was turning red as Alice stared at him, waiting to hear the rest of the statement he had begun. Hatter dropped his hands to his sides as he attempted to search for something to say. "We're here," Hatter replied as a hint of relief filled his voice while he gazed upon the door to Time's house. At the same time, he cursed himself for slipping yet again. He only hoped Alice had not taken notice to his unusual behavior.
But Alice had noticed his behavior. For a brief moment, she was able to see a glimpse of Hatter's soul deep within his eyes. And she had never seen so much love, so much tenderness present in those dark eyes before. Well, this certainly explained Hatter's unusual (at least, more unusual) behavior. Yet, at the same time, Alice did not quite know what to make of it. It had happened so fast Alice thought perhaps she had imagined Hatter's inclinations. After all, she never expected Hatter to possess those types of feelings for her or anyone really. Alice chose not to respond to what she had seen in Hatter for fear of having imagined it and to save Hatter the embarrassment if it had been genuine (for he did look rather embarrassed by whatever he was about to really say). Instead, Alice gazed upon the door Hatter had just pointed out.
To call it a door would not do the entrance to Time's home justice. A mural encompassed the double door entrance. As if it were a picture book, from left to right read the history of the world. It began with a picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, luscious green surrounding the small picture. Christ broke bread at the table with his twelve disciples present, knowing full well it would be his last meal in the picture next to Eden. Daring soldiers traveled to fight in the Crusades in hopes of controlling the Holy Land in another. The fight for the Holy Land poured into famous paintings and artists to indicate the Italian Renaissance. Settlers then began to explore and cultivate the New World. Alice's eyes finally focused on the final picture depicting an open book where fictional characters and magical beings were rising out of its pages.
The two stared at the intricate design in awe. Hatter cautiously reached for the door knob, his persona entirely different than what it had been minutes ago. With a small twist of the knob, the door lightly swung open. All previous thoughts aside, the two stared at one another, uncertainty in their expressions. Hatter took a deep breath, his chest puffing up as a result and bravely stepped forward. Alice too took a deep breath before proceeding.
Clocks of various shapes and sizes ticked as they walked down a long hallway filled with them. Hourglasses hung from the ceiling, sand pouring down to the bottom. A cuckoo sprung out of its clock, informing everyone of the time. Both Alice and Hatter jumped slightly at this as it was not in sync with the other clocks but an abomination. The small cuckoo cuckooed to Alice and Hatter for only a short time before hibernating back in its home, awaiting its next opportunity to be released.
They then came to another large wooden door, this time depicting a large hourglass. The addition of another door only caused Alice and Hatter to feel even more tense than before. This time, Alice placed her hands on the door handle. With a small tug, she pulled the door open. This door was clearly older than the first one and a loud creak echoed throughout the hall as Alice tugged on the door. The loud noise sent a chill down both their spines. However, they had no time to ponder their current feelings of fear and curiosity: they simply walked forward.
The room was well lit with an assortment of lights yet Alice could not find the source of such lights as she gazed around the room which was nearly completely empty. A man in a long, dark blue robe stood at the far end of the room in front of a large chair. He held a staff in his right hand, his long, silver beard nearly reaching the floor. His calm, blue eyes stared at the two neither welcoming them nor turning them away.
Hatter stiffened upon being in the presence of Time. He wanted to remove his hat from the top of his head in an effort to show the upmost respect. However, at the same time, he was much too frightened to even move. In fact, a part of him wished it was possible to stop breathing at the very instant.
Alice, on the contrary, relaxed as she gazed upon the man who had been known as Time. For, she never imagined Time to be none other than Father Time! His image was identical to that of the one present in an old picture book of hers that now belonged to Edith.
"Pardon me...Mister...Time," Hatter remarked, attempting not to stutter but to sound as stern as possible. "My name is Hatter... and this is Alice." He could feel his knees locking into place as he waited for Time to respond.
"Ah yes, Hatter: the one who apparently murdered me sometime ago," Time replied calmly as he stepped closer towards the two. He rearranged the spectacles that provided him the gift of sight as he surveyed Hatter. Hatter stiffened even more as Time began to overlook him. "Well, you can clear your conscious Hatter. It was nothing more than a rumor," Time continued once he had finished inspecting. The tension in Hatter's shoulder's immediately disintegrated upon hearing this news. He let out a sigh of relief.
"Please sir, we acquire your assistance," Alice interjected as politely as plausible. Father Time shifted his gaze from Hatter to Alice. He stared at her for some time just as he had done for Hatter. Like Hatter, this made Alice slightly uncomfortable for she had no idea as to why he was surveying her.
"Is there any way for Alice to stay in Wonderland and grow up simultaneously?" Hatter inquired once Time had finished his inspection. "Or to not grow up at all?" While Alice did not like Hatter's last offer, she made no notion to argue against it.
"Time stops for no man, I'm afraid," Time replied somberly, "or woman. Alice will grow up."
"But will I be able to stay in Wonderland?" Alice asked hopefully. "Lorina said I would have to leave Wonderland in order to grow up." Time chuckled at Alice's naivety as it was clear she was dead serious in her remark.
"My dear, you never had to leave Wonderland," Time replied. "I thought at least the Caterpillar would tell you that much."
"What ever do you mean?" Alice inquired. Was there really a possibility that Lorina had been wrong and Alice never had to leave Wonderland? And to think she had taken Lorina's words so seriously!
"Are you saying Alice will be able to remain in Wonderland?" Hatter interjected, attempting to suppress his excitement.
"And that the Caterpillar knew all along?" Alice added as she processed the rest of Time's remark.
"The Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat are much wiser than they make themselves to be. Of course, they are also rather mad. But I really should not judge the two: I spend all my time in here after all," Time answered, chuckling at his last remark. It was rather absurd when one thought about it especially when hardly anyone came to visit.
"Yes, but what about Alice?" Hatter pressed. "Will she ever be forced to leave Wonderland?"
"The only one who can force Alice to leave Wonderland is Alice herself. But that should come naturally. When the time is right, Alice will leave Wonderland behind her and move on towards adulthood."
"But then...that means...I will have to leave eventually," Alice said, disappointment filling her voice. It looked as though Lorina had been right after all: she would have to leave when she was ready.
"You have two choices Alice. You can either travel up the rabbit hole and leave Wonderland for the last time or you can continue to visit Wonderland and allow yourself to naturally leave." Time did not say anything for a while as Alice and Hatter pondered the information he had given them. Both their hearts were heavy at this new information. No matter what they did, one day, Alice would leave Wonderland and the two would never see one another again.
"What would you do?" Alice finally asked. On one hand, Alice really wished to stay in Wonderland as long as possible. However, Mary Ann's suggestion was now beginning to linger once again. Could she really continue to face her friends as they constantly pondered whether or not it would be her last visit? One day she would be in Wonderland and the next she would be gone forever without a single farewell. At least now she would be able to say goodbye to everyone just as she had been doing. Still, Alice did not enjoy thinking that she would have to make a choice between these two horrible decisions.
"My advice, Alice, would be to grow out of Wonderland naturally," Time answered. "Of course, I am not you and therefore should not be making such decisions. Only you can make this choice." Time's answer only caused more dismay within Alice. She then looked up at Hatter, hoping to also have some guidance from him. But Hatter offered no such thing. He merely gazed down back at her, trying his best not to demonstrate the current torment he was undergoing. So, Alice was to leave him after all and a time would come when he would never be able to gaze into her eyes again. This was most dreadful indeed and Hatter felt he might be dying inside all over again.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Time," Hatter said, now turning his attention towards the elderly man. Now that they had come this far only to remain where they started, Hatter wanted nothing more but to leave this place. "But we really should be going." Time merely nodded in agreement.
"Just remember that your future depends on the choices you make. I see you both have many possible futures, each relying on a set of choices you will both formulate," Time concluded.
"But," Alice could not help but to continue the conversation as Time revealed he was able to witness future events. "If you can see the future then you could tell me what the best choice is."
"I'm afraid I cannot. That is forbidden," Time replied calmly. "After all, if everyone was aware of their futures, they wouldn't be living. A part of life is the experiences we undergo and what we take from them. If everyone knew the experiences he or she would endure then there really would be nothing to gain from them. They would be too focused on completing the right sequence of events."
"Oh, I see. Well, thank you all the same," Alice remarked as politely as possible. She really did wish though Time would make an exception.
"You are quite welcome."
"Goodbye," Hatter and Alice said together though there was little enthusiasm in their voices and the two really wished to depart more than anything.
"Goodbye," Time replied.
With that, Alice and Hatter left Time alone in his room only feeling more lost and dreadful than ever before.