Chapter 7: Who Are You?
Having no assistance from Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum, Alice finally managed to find her way out of the forest thanks to a deer. The young buck was a magnificent creature and Alice had been surprised by his willingness to walk towards her. Along their short walk, for Alice had managed to be located close to the exit, she was able to learn he had guided her out of the forest before. Of course, this caused Alice to feel quite uncomfortable: it was rather embarrassing to forget someone who had been so kind to her in the past.
The buck came to a slow stop. His hooves carried him a few paces ahead of Alice before stopping again. His antlers glistened in the sun as he turned his head, examining the surroundings.
"This is where I leave you," the buck said. "The exit is just beyond those trees." His head drifted towards the edge of the forest where the exit lay.
"Thank you very much," Alice replied even though she knew there would not be a next time.
"Farewell," was all the buck said before he quietly slipped back into the depths of the forest. Alice returned the buck's favor however the buck never indicated such a comment had been delivered.
Alice stared dreamily towards the last bit of trees, hesitant to step forward. There was a very good chance the Caterpillar had now left, forcing her to start the search all over: an idea Alice was not very fond of.
Alice crept slowly towards the exit. If the Caterpillar was there, she would need to be as still as possible otherwise she might scare him away due to her size. Alice carefully pushed back a few branches so the edge of the forest came into view. The grass was mid-height, surrounding the horizon. A large rock rested just a few meters away from the edge of the forest. Bright red mushrooms grew around the rock though there were signs the mushrooms were spreading out and away from the rock. Sitting on one of the mushrooms that was close to the rock was the Caterpillar.
Alice sighed with relief and removed a mushroom from her pocket. She nibbled at it as the forest began to grow to an immense size. By the end of this process, she was a mere three inches height. The trees now appeared to touch the sky. The twigs and branches surrounding the area were as tall as carriages, some higher. With great difficulty, Alice maneuvered passed the various branches as she desperately tried to reach the Caterpillar.
"We're going to ask you one last time: Where. Is. Alice?" Hatter demanded as the March Hare and himself were still in the process of grilling Milo until he revealed Alice's location. Milo sat innocently in his chair that was now separated from the table, staring off into the direction of the Dormouse. The Dormouse used all his strength to refrain from shaking in terror as he witnessed Milo's interrogation.
"He's still not talking," the March Hare confirmed. "Listen Milo, we don't wish to harm you. We are just concerned as to where Alice is," the March Hare added in a gentle tone, clearly portraying the role of the "good" cop.
"She could very well be in danger and yet you act so calm and collective as though nothing serious is happening!" Hatter exclaimed accusingly at Milo, waving his arms towards the sky.
"Hatter, calm down. This is no time to panic," the March Hare remarked. He really never understood why Hatter was always so over dramatic about these types of situations.
"This is the perfect time to panic!" Hatter retorted, now drawing his attention away from Milo. The Dormouse was relieved by this small argument yet his heart continued to beat rapidly. Oh he only hoped poor Milo would be found innocent! However, the odds of this were unlikely as Wonderland policy was "guilty until proven innocent".
"Don't be ridiculous! It's still tea time you fool," the March Hare replied, now becoming irritated by Hatter's performance.
"Can't you see he is trying to pin the two of us against one another?" Hatter stated as he pointed towards Milo who sat calmly in his seat. The March Hare faced Milo as he hoped to understand Hatter's accusation. If Milo was truly that diabolical, it would be present in his facial expression.
"You're absolutely right!" the March Hare exclaimed. The two now glared down at Milo. "So, thought you could pull a fast one, eh?"
"Oh dear, this not good. Definitely not good," the Dormouse thought to himself as he recalled a time when both the March Hare and Hatter would attempt to stuff him in a teapot when they were either not happy with him or wanted information. He wished Milo was not about to suffer the same fate.
"Prepare the teapot!" Hatter declared as his eyes remained on Milo in hopes of catching some sort of reaction. The March Hare quickly ran to the table and grabbed a light yellow teapot. However, much to the surprise of Hatter and the March Hare, there was still no reaction from Milo. But this did not stop the two as the March Hare prepared his torture device. The Dormouse gulped as he saw Hatter bring Milo's chair closer to the table once more.
"If you don't want to be forced down the teapot, tell us where Alice is," the March Hare demanded.
"Tell them something, even if it is a lie Milo!" the Dormouse thought frantically as Milo continued to remain silent.
"He's still not talking," the March Hare declared. "Throw him in the teapot!" Hatter obediently picked Milo up and was about to stuff Alice's guest into the teapot.
"Wait!" the Dormouse shouted, his heart nearly about to burst. The torture was simply too much! How could he possibly allow someone else to suffer such a fate when he was guilty from the start? "Alice, please forgive me," the Dormouse thought.
Hatter and the March Hare immediately looked towards the Dormouse, both equally surprised by his outburst.
"I know where Alice is."
Alice paused to catch her breath as she finally passed the last of the branches, now finding herself standing amongst blades of grass. She could only stop for a minute or so before she was forced to continue onward, pushing the grass aside. The grass was tall to the point where Alice had to stand on her tip toes in order to navigate through the field. The sun was currently beaming down upon her fair hair. Mushrooms were coming into view however Alice could not simply push them aside and instead walked around them. This became increasingly difficult as the number of mushrooms continued to grow with each passing step.
As Alice walked in the direction of the rock, she could see the Caterpillar sitting comfortably on a mushroom. The end of his proboscis rested in a lavender hookah as his large, silver compound eyes stared off into another world of possible deep thought or utter nonsense. His two antennae swung about wildly while his blue-black wings lay still as he inhaled whatever was contained in the hookah. To Alice's great relief, the butterfly looked as though he planned to stay where he was for some time.
Alice's nose twitched slightly at the smell of smoke as she was now standing directly in front of the Caterpillar (although the Caterpillar had transformed into a butterfly, the citizens of Wonderland still referred to him as the Caterpillar). The Caterpillar inhaled from the hookah, smoke escaping from his pedipalps. She stood politely, waiting for the Caterpillar to acknowledge her presence. However, the Caterpillar continued to smoke his hookah, not taking any such notice in her.
"Excuse me," Alice finally said. After all, she could not wait all day for the Caterpillar to finally acknowledge her presence.
"Who are you?" the Caterpillar inquired.
"Perhaps you must have forgotten me-," Alice began.
"I never forget," the Caterpillar replied shortly before continuing to smoke his hookah. Alice decided it was best to not say anything for the moment. Instead, she watched him for a few minutes, waiting for him to continue the conversation. The Caterpillar's eyes once again focused on her. "Who are you?" he repeated rudely, smoke engulfing Alice's face. Alice brushed the smoke away with her hand, coughing as the substance filled her lungs.
"My name is Alice," Alice replied once she had successfully sent the smoke away, not bothering to argue that the two had already met, several times actually.
"I know your name," the Caterpillar remarked sternly. Alice tilted her head in confusion as she attempted to understand his words. If the Caterpillar knew her name, then what was the point of such a question to begin with?
"What do you mean then?" Alice inquired. The Caterpillar once again refrained from answering immediately. He took a few minutes to smoke. Due to her impatience, Alice was about to begin tapping her foot but ultimately decided against this as she did not want to offend the Caterpillar.
"You were once naive, silly, and stupid yet now you seem different. So I ask you: who are you?" the Caterpillar finally answered. "Then again, from your question perhaps you still lack vital intelligence."
Alice nearly fumed at the Caterpillar's remark but quickly held her tongue. She was, however, unable to hold the frown that was now stuck on her face. Her hands had instinctively moved to her hips in agitation. The nerve of him! How dare he say something so...so rude?
"I seem different because I'm growing older," Alice replied sharply. She wished to also point out his rude behavior yet she knew very well this may send him away and Alice needed her question to be answered immediately.
"Perhaps." The Caterpillar's answer clearly did not satisfy Alice. Had she really changed so much since her last visit to the Caterpillar? She did not think so right away. Yet, the controversial situation with Hatter and the March Hare began to loom over her once more. Would the Alice just a short while ago have kept a secret from her closest friends? In a way, Alice felt as though she had not grown up very much. After all, she was still being rather silly as well as naive to think she could keep the secret from Hatter and the March Hare.
"That's what I've come to see you about, you know," Alice continued, attempting to stick to the point of her mission. "I was hoping you knew if there was a way to leave Wonderland permanently."
"If you want to leave Wonderland, just go back the way you came," the Caterpillar answered indifferently.
"But I fell down the rabbit hole when I came here," Alice replied. The Caterpillar abruptly ceased the conversation by taking the time to have another smoke. Alice suppressed her impatient, somewhat annoyed attitude; instead, she waited calmly for the Caterpillar to be more specific.
"Then you must go up the rabbit hole," the Caterpillar continued after smoking his hookah.
"Up the rabbit hole?" Alice repeated. That seemed like a rather silly idea.
"Yes." Alice pondered the Caterpillar's last statement while he once again proceeded to smoke. For a moment Alice became sidetracked as she wondered if the Caterpillar ever did anything else besides smoking. Her nose twitched again as he puffed a cloud on smoke in her face in an attempt to be rid of her. The volume of smoke caused Alice to cough a bit as her thoughts once again returned to the idea of traveling up the rabbit hole.
"But one can't possibly go up a rabbit hole," Alice stated confidently.
"You asked for my advice and I have given it to you. Take it or leave it," the Caterpillar bluntly remarked. Alice was unsure of what she should say to such a remark. Traveling up a rabbit hole still seemed rather ridiculous despite the Caterpillar's vague explanation. Yet, she knew better than to continue arguing with the Caterpillar. Not to mention, it was the best answer she had heard so far or rather, the only answer she had heard thus far. Keeping that little fact in mind, Alice curtsied politely.
"Thank you very much," she said before preparing to leave. Before she could take two steps away from the Caterpillar, a small idea popped into her head. It was a strange idea yet Alice felt she ought to bring the subject up either way. "Pardon me but do you happen to be very good with riddles?"
"If I answered your previous question, I believe I would know the answer to a riddle," the Caterpillar replied tartly.
"All right then," Alice said, managing a small smile. "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
Why the idea of asking the Caterpillar for the answer to an apparent unsolvable riddle was beyond Alice. However, seeing as guilt was creeping over her, she felt it was the least she could do for Hatter. After all, who better to answer the riddle than arguably the wisest creature in Wonderland? Alice knew if the Caterpillar could solve the riddle, the answer would make Hatter very happy and Alice wanted nothing more than to make amends for keeping secrets from him. She only wondered why the two had not thought of asking the Caterpillar earlier. Perhaps a riddle eight years old (or possibly older) was about to be solved.
The Caterpillar smoked his hookah quietly as he attempted to solve the riddle. Of course, he would have no choice but to provide some sort of logical answer for he would look foolish if he could not solve it. Carefully he inhaled from the hookah, exhaling with as much care. Alice waited patiently for the Caterpillar to hopefully solve the riddle.
"Because it can produce a few notes, though… they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front," the Caterpillar finally answered. Alice's smile once again returned upon hearing the solution to the riddle. She clapped her hands out of joy.
"Thank you," Alice repeated, finding a new ray of energy to brighten her day.
"You are welcome," the Caterpillar returned though there was an air about his speech that suggested a snobbish attitude.
"Oh, wait until I tell Hatter," Alice thought aloud as she turned to depart from the Caterpillar.
"I should have known such a riddle would come from Hatter," the Caterpillar remarked mostly to himself, a hint of disgust present in his voice. However, Alice could not help but to overhear this comment.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Alice inquired as she turned her head towards the direction of the Caterpillar. The Caterpillar was too absorbed in himself to notice Alice's comment. Without thinking, Alice shuffled in her pocket, pulling out a piece of a mushroom that would make her grow taller. She bit into it, allowing herself to gradually grow. The Caterpillar immediately ceased smoking his hookah. He watched in horror as the small girl of three inches was now growing larger by the minute. Out of fear, he frantically flew away from the rising girl.
"That will teach him not to be so rude," Alice thought, glad to once again be at her normal height. Still, in the back of her head, Alice knew very well her actions had been equally rude. She never imagined herself to lose her manners in the company of Wonderland citizens especially after being so used to their unusual behavior. Either way, Alice could not be bothered with such trifle matters. It was now time to travel back to the March Hare's house in hopes of joining their tea party. Of course, Alice was still not looking forward to the discussion that would take place at the tea party.
The forest appeared to be unusually darker than normal. A sense of eeriness crept passed the outstretched branches, silently spreading around Alice. Even the birds' usual, pleasant melody appeared to be morbid and threatening. Cautiously, Alice stepped through the forest, hoping the buck or some other friendly creature would be willing to assist her. She did not even mind if she encountered Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum. However, oddly enough, no such creature was present in the woods.
"Perhaps I should find a way around the forest," Alice thought as the dark, looming trees appeared to be watching her. Although she was tempted to take another route, Alice knew very well the easiest way to the March Hare's house was through the forest rather than around it. Yet, the forest continued to darken with each passing step.
Alice's heart leaped upon hearing the sound of rustling branches. Her eyes quickly darted into the direction of the noise, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source. Whatever it was had moved from its position.
"It was probably just a squirrel of some sort," Alice attempted to convince herself. All her convincing was futile as a strange feeling consumed her. It felt as though a shadow was hovering over her. Alice turned her head sharply to see if such a figure was present however there was nothing behind her. Slowly, she took a few more steps forward yet fear began creeping over her as her footsteps created a rustling noise. If there was something in the forest, Alice did not want it to know where she was.
Breathing as calmly as possible while her heart raced, Alice forced herself to continue her journey through the forest. Yet, she still felt as though someone-or something- was following her. Occasionally, Alice would look behind her but with each turn she found nothing.
Suddenly, Alice heard another noise. While holding her breath, Alice's head spun around to check the surroundings she had left behind. Nothing. Just as Alice released the breath, a low growl rumbled behind her. Chills traveled up her spine as it felt as though her heart had come to a complete stop. Cautiously, Alice turned her head around. Two large, yellow eyes stared directly at her. Saliva dripped from the creature's mouth, its sharp teeth shining. Alice was too stunned to say anything as she stared at the creature. It was not until the creature gave off a powerful roar that Alice screamed in terror.
Alice ran as quickly as her feet would carry her as the Jabberwocky attempted to take a bite of out her. Its long, snake-like neck stretched forward, grabbing onto a tree. Meanwhile, Alice tried desperately to hide herself as best she could. The Jabberwocky shook the tree violently as it hovered in the air. Once it threw the tree out of its mouth, sending it across the forest, the Jabberwocky searched frantically for Alice. A long, hairy hand, appearing to be a spider, stretched toward Alice. Alice attempted to dodge the hand but a claw snagged onto the edge of her dress. Pulling as hard as she could, Alice tugged forward as the claw ripped through the blue cloth. Nearly falling to ground, she picked herself up and continued in her attempt to escape the beast. However, Alice was still in range of the Jabberwocky and much too small to escape his radius in the short amount of time that she had for the Jabberwocky was already taking another swing at her. With Alice's back turned, the Jabberwocky's claw came down on her.
Luckily, the Jabberwocky never managed to hit Alice for if he had, the blow would have been fatal. Instead, his long, deadly claw ripped through the flesh of another. Alice turned around as she heard someone give a small cry of pain. She found none other than Hatter standing in front of her, his feet planted firmly. Blood dripped from his arm, where the Jabberwocky had struck, down upon the forest ground. His arm shook slightly at the impact for although the Jabberwocky had finished striking, its claw was still embedded in Hatter's arm. Hatter winced at the pain, aiming not to cry out again. Alice was too stunned to move from her position. The rushing blood caused a sense of queasiness to consume Alice. She began to feel dizzy as the Jabberwocky was struggling to tear Hatter's arm to shreds. Hatter took a small glance towards Alice's direction.
"Alice! Run!" Hatter exclaimed, surprised she had not run sooner. Well, that clearly did not go according to plan. As Alice obeyed Hatter's instructions, Hatter faced the beast once again. Not knowing what else to do, Hatter threw his hat at the Jabberwocky with his good hand. The Jabberwocky instinctively swung at the incoming object, removing his claw from Hatter's arm. Once his arm was free, Hatter took this opportunity to escape. In no time he managed to catch up to Alice and was now leading her by the arm. His arm was throbbing with pain yet he still forced himself to bring Alice out of harm's way. Alice could not help but to have her eyes focus on his other arm that was beginning to soak the remainder of his sleeve. Abruptly, Hatter stopped near a hollow tree. Both hands instinctively rested alongside Alice's arms in order to keep her in her place. "Stay here," he instructed as his gaze searched for the Jabberwocky. For, the Jabberwocky would be able to easily track Alice down if he were with her. The Jabberwocky can sense fresh blood from miles away. Hatter would have to find another way to escape while leading the Jabberwocky away from Alice.
"Hatter!" Alice exclaimed in fear as she felt he was about to do something incredibly mad. But as Alice reached out to stop Hatter, he was already running towards the direction of the Jabberwocky. Alice desperately watched as Hatter was coming closer to the Jabberwocky. He would never survive with his arm already torn. Oh, Hatter what were you thinking? The Jabberwocky's eyes focused upon Hatter, glaring down below at him. He snarled as his head moved back, ready to strike with its razor sharp fangs.
And then, the White Knight came.