Black Alice

A Cat, a Hare, and a Hatter

Kate headed down a lane, beginning to feel quite tired by now. Though the quality of light had not changed, Kate felt it must have been nearly an hour of walking now. Though it surely had been an adventure, Kate was ready to go home. As she glanced up at the sky once more, she noted that it must have been nearly suppertime by now, and she was already missing her tea. At last she reached a main road, but no sooner than she did, the path she was on split into two directions.

“Why must I always come across a predicament such as this?” she wondered aloud, pursing her lips in thought. “I ought to be known as Grandma Fork-in-the-Road at the rate I’m going. Now just a minute; what’s this?”

She squinted at a signpost that stood crookedly between the two roads. The signpost bore two signs, one of which said ‘This way to the March Hare’ and pointed right while the other said, ‘This way to the Mad Hatter’ and pointed left. Kate stared at the signs for a moment. Then her gaze was dragged inexplicably upward. There was a cat there, sitting on a branch of a tree. Kate had seen cats in trees before, so this wasn’t a huge surprise to her. At first Kate though the poor thing was stuck up there, but then she looked more closely. There was a very strange thing about this particular cat… while many joked about cats smiling, for that was often how their mouths seemed, he wore a human-like grin that stretched quite literally from ear-to-ear.

If you have never seen a grinning cat before, you can imagine it would be quite a fright. Nevertheless, with all that Kate had seen already, a grinning cat didn’t much startle her. She considered that progress, a step in the right direction.

“I suppose you have an Opinion, too?” Kate asked grumpily. The Cat seemed somewhat taken aback at her question, though he didn’t seem to noticed the capital “O”.

“Me? An opinion?” it asked, still grinning. “I don’t have an opinion at all. Go whichever which way you feel you’d like. I have no say in the matter. However, I would humbly say that the direction you take depends a good deal on where you’re looking to get to.”

“I don’t quite know—” Kate began.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go, does it?” interrupted the Cat, its smile widening.

“I guess not,” Kate muttered to herself. The Cat’s grin faded slightly.

“You’re supposed to finish with, ‘as long as I get somewhere,’ and then I say ‘you’re sure to do that if you only walk long enough,’ and then you ask about the signs and I very graciously explain,” it said, sounding somewhat puzzled. Kate sighed.

“Yes, I’ve heard what I’m supposed to say and apparently I’m saying what I oughtn’t, but I still can’t distinguish the two from whatever-else-have-you,” she said rather pitifully. “My most humble apologies, I’m sure.”

“Well, all right then,” the Cat said agreeably, giving a good nod of its striped head. It seemed to be quite understanding, which Kate supposed was because it was a smarter creature than a caterpillar. Everyone knew cats were quite savvy, after all, but caterpillars did not have such a reputation. “I shall tell you anyway,” the Cat said, smiling (though Kate wondered if it was possible for him not to), “as it can’t be helped if you’re not sure what to say. In that direction.” the Cat waved its right paw towards the left path, “lives a Hatter; and in that direction,” the Cat waved its left paw this time, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like; they’re both quite mad.”

“It wouldn’t be nice to go about visiting mad people,” Kate murmured to herself. “And going from the other side, I can imagine it’d be quite confusing for a mad person to have a visit from a stranger all out of the blue. Why, if I’d begun forgetting things, it would have been very confusing to me.”

“That’s the spirit,” the Cat said, purring cheerfully. “But you see you can’t much help it. We’re all mad here, even you and me. Before you ask, because I daresay I can’t be sure that you will and you must, I shall explain. A dog is not mad. Do you grant me that?”

“It depends on the dog,” Kate said slowly. “There was a dog I knew once that went quite insane once, the poor thing. I think it was likely bitten by a fox or something of the sort. The poor man who was attacked had to go to a hospital and survived all right, but his reproductive capabilities were never quite the same after that. Then the dog—”

“Trivial,” the Cat said, waving a paw dismissively. Kate blinked. “A dog growls when it’s angry and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now take me, for instance; I growl when I’m pleased and wag my tail when I’m angry. So you see, I’m quite mad.”

“You’re not a dog,” Kate pointed out. “And that doesn’t prove that everyone’s mad, either, even if it proved that you were; which it doesn’t, unless ‘mad’ means something quite different around these parts. It surely doesn’t prove that I’m mad. In fact, I daresay I’m quite a bit less mad than you or most of the strange people around here. Though then again, they do say that mad people rarely know they’re mad, so by that reasoning I very well could be mad…”

“Well, I shan’t be getting anywhere with you,” the Cat murmured rather sadly, interrupting Kate’s thoughtful wonderings. “It’s your choice either way, just pick a path. I’m supposed to talk about the pig, but you completely bypassed the Duchess’s too. How very sad; she had prepared for guests and everything. Oh, well. Enjoy the tea party.”

And then the cat faded away, just like that, melting slowly into the air. His grin disappeared last, the oddest part of him. Kate miraculously stuck to the script, though she did not realize it, when she thought about the fact that she had often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat seemed simply impossible, and yet there it was. Thinking it better to forget about the grin on its own, Kate set her sights on the paths ahead of her, her lips drawing tight with thought.

“Well, left is always right,” she reminded herself, nodding self-satisfactorily, so she headed down the left path. Behind her, the bushes rustled, and two pairs of eyes appeared.

“Would you look at that,” one of them grumbled. “She took the wrong way! Even Cheshire couldn’t convince her.”

“He didn’t try, so of course he didn’t,” the other said philosophically. “If you don’t try, you won’t succeed, obviously speaking. But at this rate, she won’t reach the Hatter’s tea party, and that’s a very important scene, you know. She’s just got to get to the tea party! Whatever shall we do? We’re not even supposed to appear until the sequel!”

“We could chase after her and politely suggest that she go the other way,” the first one suggested. “Perhaps she’ll have a change of heart. She seems nice enough.”

“Oh, please, Dee. That wouldn’t work and you know it.”

“It’s worth a try, Dum.”


Kate stopped in surprise. She wasn’t surprised by what she saw (who would be, after a rabbit in a waistcoat, a fall to the center of the earth, a shrinking potion, a talking blue caterpillar, and a grinning cat?) but rather she was surprised that they appeared so suddenly. It was two boys, looking exactly alike right down to their clothing. The only difference was that one had the name ‘Tweedledee’ on his collar, and the other had a collar saying ‘Tweedledum’. It was a miracle Kate’s eyes could make that out, being a good few yards away.

“You should turn about, Miss Al—er, Kate,” the one marked Tweedledum said somberly. “These woods are very scary at night.”

“Contrariwise,” the one marked Tweedledee added, “the night is very scary in these woods.”

“Well, since it isn’t anywhere near night time yet, I shall continue on my way,” Kate said rather stiffly. The twins glanced at each other nervously.

“How’d you like a tea party?” Tweedledum asked eagerly. “There’s a very nice one near here that I think you’d find very nice, since it’s so very… nice and all. They have chamomile, your favorite. They’re a little mad, but I’m sure you can deal with them. With that sort of niceness going all around, it’s quite impossible for anything bad to happen.”

“It is how the adventure’s supposed to go, see,” Tweedledee said rather woefully. “This path just ends, because you aren’t supposed to go this way. It… drops off to the horrible, nasty, deadly, unforgiving Cliffs of Death. Right, Dee?”

“That’s right, Dum,” Tweedledum replied. They paused for a moment in confusion, and then Tweedledum scowled. “Nohow!” he exclaimed, poking at his twin’s collar. “I’m Dum and you’re Dee. Says so on our collars, see?”

“Yes, but, contrariwise, what the collars say could be said wrong?” Tweedledee suggested, his eyebrows wiggling in deep thought. “I could be Dum and you’d be Dee, unless of course I was really Dee and you were really Dum but we were switched around to think that you were Dee and I was Dum, which I’m not, because you are.”

“The tea party is that way,” Tweedledum said quickly as a hand raised to point, so as not to get further confused. “Er… I mean that way.” His arm switched directions.

“While that does sound quite nice, I have a feeling I ought to get to somewhere,” Kate murmured thoughtfully, looking up at the sky. “I’d hate to skip tea altogether, but… if there’s something else that needs doing, it makes sense that I do that first.”

“Oh, but you needn’t skip it,” Tweedledee said quickly. “It’s always teatime here! You could go off and do whatever you wanted and still make it back for tea, if you wanted to.”

“Now you sound like the Dormouse, except he’d probably give a little snore afterwards, I should think,” Tweedledum said, with a goofy little laugh.

“Contrariwise,” said Tweedledee, aghast.

“Nohow!” added Tweedledum firmly.

“Excuse me,” Kate asked as politely as possible. “Are you saying I should go right, or shouldn’t I? Please make up your minds.”

“Right is the right way, but if you want to go left, I suppose that’d be the left way or in other words the wrong way. I think that’s how it works. We’re improvising, you see. No script until the sequel,” Tweedledee said rather nervously. “Contrariwise, you’ve got to go right to meet the Hare and the Hatter, and stay for tea so you can move on in the game.”

“Not game, nohow,” Tweedledum said quickly. “He meant… er… adventuring.”

“Adventure?” Kate corrected, barely even noticing that she had. She glanced behind her. “I guess I ought to go right then, if you say so. But still, I thought left was always right?”

“Left is left,” Tweedledee said, as though it was obvious. “Left is left and right is right, as sure as long is short and short is long.”

“Nohow!” exclaimed Tweedledum. “It’s supposed to be ‘sure as short is short and long is long,’ you twit,” he corrected, rolling his eyes. “Otherwise you make the whole thing doubly confusing, see, and we can’t have that. The Hatter’s expecting Al—Kate.”

“My name is Kate, just Kate,” Kate said rather crossly. “So please stop calling me ‘Al-Kate,’ whatever that could mean. I’m not even sure it’s a name, mind.”

“Right, begging your pardon, ma’am,” Tweedledum said quickly. He elbowed his twin and they both bowed deeply.

“Anyway, go back and turn right,” they said together. Kate sighed.

“I suppose so, if you say so.”

She turned reluctantly and began heading back the way she had come. The thought plagued her; had Mr. Voice been mistaken? Was left not always right? It had seemed to be the only sure thing when she had been a little girl. It was the saying of her life. She’d give everybody advice, saying ‘left is always right,’ and thinking herself the smartest little girl despite the looks she got. And yet it was wrong? Kate shook her head. Maybe it was okay, just this once, to go right instead. After all, it couldn’t be any worse than the Cliffs of Death.

“Cliffs of Death?” whispered Tweedledum to his brother once Kate was out of earshot. “What sort of mixed-up world do you live in? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. ‘The Hatter’s path dropping off to the Cliff of Death’… how foolish!”

“Well, I had to come up with something quick,” Tweedledee said crossly. “Contrariwise, she can’t go on to the Queen’s without visiting the Hare and the Hatter first.”

The twins began to wander off the path.

“Nohow,” Tweedledum continued, rather loudly. “What an obvious lie! Everyone knows the Cliffs of Death is at the other end of the valley!”

Kate went right and found herself on the path that the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum had suggested, except that it looked exactly the same as the left one had, or at least up until she heard the strange voices. They were singing (rather badly, Kate had to admit) a mixed-up version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ that went something like this:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat,

How I wonder where you’re at

Up above the world so high,

Like a tea tray in the sky…”

The rest was cut short as there was the sound of choking.

“Ach, my tea got down the wrong tube,” someone said, their voice raw, as they continued coughing. Kate sped up a fair bit, curious now, and at last she reached a clearing.

It was the house of the March Hare. She was sure of it, you see, because the chimneys (it had two of them) were shaped like ears and the roof was thatched with what certainly looked like fur. It was a humongous house to be sure, but even more amazing was what sat before it.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it. A dormouse sat between them, fast asleep. The Hatter sat calmly at the head of the table with his feet resting on an empty chair, and Kate recognized him immediately. It was Mr. Voice, although he wore a straight black top hat instead of his cape’s hood, which was loose around his neck. His dark eyes glittered delightfully, and he has an impish smile on his face.

“Ah, the guest of honor,” he said as Kate neared. “How is your adventure so far, little Kate? I do hope it has proved enjoyable.”

“No room,” the March Hare shrieked very suddenly as Kate began to sit in an empty chair. Kate jumped in surprise and nearly knocked the chair over.

“Whatever are you talking about?” Kate asked crossly. “There’s plenty of room. See? Here, and here, and there, there, and over there, across the table, there are three seats in a row.”

“It’s in his script,” the Hatter said, smiling slightly. He removed his feet from the chair beside him and pulled it out, standing up. “I saved a seat for you, so please enjoy the party.”

“Have some wine,” the Hare offered. Kate stared at him with narrowed eyes until his ears began to droop nervously. “You’re supposed to say… er… ‘I don’t see any wine,” he offered encouragingly, paws coming up to gesture in the air.

“Well, I don’t,” Kate admitted.

“There isn’t any,” the March Hare said brightly.

“‘Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’” Kate read as her eyes fell on the cloth napkin that the Hatter had slid across the table. What she assumed were her lines were written on the napkin as plain as day. Kate sighed. Not the lines again! Nevertheless, the Hare seemed to be enjoying himself, and if Mr. Voice thought the lines were necessary, so be it.

“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited either,” he said brightly.

“‘I didn’t know it was your table,’” Kate read emotionlessly, her face about as expressive as wood. “‘It’s set out for a great many more than three.’”

“Your hair wants cutting,” the Hatter said softly. The Hatter’s fingers gently took a strand of her long graying hair, and he rubbed it between his fingers. “Is what I’m supposed to say,” he continued, just as the March Hare was about to continue with his lines. “But it truly is just as beautiful as it was fifty years ago,” the Hatter finished.

“It was going so well,” the March Hare sobbed, slamming his head onto the table. “She was saying her lines and you were saying yours, and now I’ve forgotten my next one because you had to be all womanizing! Oh, I shall just kill myself here.”

Kate watched in amazement as the Hare theatrically prepared to dive into a teapot, his eyes shut tightly. Kate reached out and grabbed ahold of the rabbit as he began to jump, and she plucked him off of his perch, stood up, and held him firmly in the air.

“Are you God?” the Hare asked, blinking rapturously in what little sunlight there was. “Funny… I always imagined God to be a man, and you know, younger.”

Kate let the Hare fall.

“Ouch,” the Hare said from the table.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” the Hatter asked suddenly. Kate turned slightly. He was sitting there as usual, with the same mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“What?” Kate asked.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” the Hatter repeated, still smiling.

“They both have quills?” Kate guessed. The napkin fluttered angrily, dragging her attention back to her script. “‘I believe I can guess that.’ What for? I already have.”

“Do you mean to say,” recited the March Hare, looking rather worse for wear with an offset teacup on his head and his little fluff of a tail sticking in the air. “You can find out the answer to it?” All the excitement in his voice had drained long ago.

“Really, this is no fun at all, if I have to say lines,” Kate said, stepping back. “I’d love to sit down and have tea, but to have to say what’s on a script doesn’t make it very adventurous at all. In fact, it’s quite boring. Tea is for making small talk, not strange talk.”

“But what you say very much impacts what happens next,” the Hatter pointed out. He was leaning over the table, supporting his head with one hand, while the middle finger of his other hand went around the rim of his teacup in an almost hypnotic fashion. “If you say the right things, you move on. Otherwise, you could be stuck here forever.”

Well, I wouldn’t like that, Kate thought to herself.

“Well…” Kate glanced back down at the napkin, which was looking smug. “Exactly so,” she said. The March Hare looked up, looking hopeful.

“Then you should say what you mean,” he said.

“‘I do,’” Kate said, gritting her teeth. “‘At least, I mean what I say. That’s the same thing, you know.’ Can we skip ahead, please, to the pocket watch and the butter?”

“What day of the month is it?” the Hatter said, without missing a beat, as he drew a pocket watch from his raven-feather cloak.

“‘It’s the fourth.’ I say! This script is a day off. The fourth of May was yesterday; today is the fifth!” Kate exclaimed, but the Hare wouldn’t let that stop him.

“It was the best butter!” he shrieked angrily, waving his hands urgently before the Hatter’s face to stop him before he could reply. The Hatter smiled slightly.

“‘Some crumbs must have gotten in as well,’” he said. “‘You shouldn’t have put it in with the bread knife.’ Perhaps the jam knife would have sufficed. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been used yet.”

“That wasn’t in the script,” the Hare snapped. “Jam is never mentioned!”

“I apologize,” the Hatter said quietly, seeming rather amused. The March Hare snatched the watch out of his unresisting hand and stuffed the watch into the teapot with a certain air of violence as the Hatter watched calmly, his expression unchanging. The Hare slammed the lid on and looked back up, his left eye twitching slightly.

“It was the best butter, you know,” he said with a somewhat ditzy little laugh.

“I’m afraid I don’t have the slightest clue as to what you could be talking about,” Kate said, for she was somewhat lost. “What butter? I didn’t even have time to take a look at the pocket watch. Is there something wrong with it?”

“In fact, it wouldn’t help,” the Hatter said, shaking his head. “The watch is two days wrong. The only way to get the right day would be if you went two days back in time with the watch set as it is now and lived two days behind everybody else, which as you know, just wouldn’t do. Now, would you like some tea, little Kate?”

“It tells the day…?” Kate wondered aloud, thoroughly puzzled as the Hatter poured her a cup of tea and placed it gently before her. He fetched a half-eaten scone on a little plate from across the table and placed that before her as well before giving a small sigh.

“It’s quite all right,” he said to the Hare, who seemed to be ticking. His head had gone ‘round his neck twice, but he seemed to be no worse for wear.

“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter asked, turning to Kate.

“No, I give up,” she said with a sigh, reading off the napkin once more. “What’s the answer?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” the Hatter said, smiling slightly.

“Nor I,” the Hare said, pausing three chimes in to twelve o’clock.

“If you knew Time as well as I do,” the Hatter said, turning to the Hare, “you wouldn’t talk about wasting him.”

“You say that to her,” the Hare said in a hoarse whisper. He yanked a sheaf of papers from his coat and shoved it into the Hatter’s face. The Hatter remained delightfully amused. “See here?” the Hare demanded. “‘Hatter turns to Alice,’ is what it says! Do it by the book, will you? The book doesn’t lie! The book lives, and breathes, and eats tea and crumpets every noon.”

The Hare slammed his head onto the table once more, sobbing.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Kate said quite honestly to the Hatter, who shrugged.

“Of course you don’t,” the Hatter said dismissively. “I daresay you’ve never even spoken to Time. But the thing about Time is this: he won’t stand a beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance,” here the Hatter paused to glance curiously at the Hare, who was trying to stab himself with the butter knife, “suppose if it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons; you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time and around goes the clock in a twinkling! Half past one, time for dinner!”

“I only wish it was,” the Hare said, lying flat on the table with a wide and mournful look, his eyes glazing over and his ears hanging limply over the little cucumber sandwiches.

“Would you like to sing with me?” the Hatter asked.

“Oh, I don’t sing,” Kate said quickly. She was staring at the poor Hare. “Is he…?”

“Mad? Yes, it’s a rather hopeless case,” the Hatter said, without giving Kate time to finish. “We’ve tried everything, but you see, unlike some people, following the script is very important to him. We think he may be Shakespeare’s reincarnation.”

“How doth the little crocodile,” the Hare began in a soft, sing-song sort of voice, a serene smile plastered on his face, “improve his shining tail, and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale… that would be strange, you know, because crocodiles are green...”

“I was going to ask if he was okay,” Kate said gruffly. “But my question is answered, so no need. Now, what were we talking about again? Oh, right. Can’t sing, never sung, don’t ever want to. Thank you for the offer though, Mr. Hatter.”

“Dormouse, story time,” the Hatter murmured, reached across the table with one of his long arms and poking the Dormouse on its little round nose. The Dormouse started quite suddenly with a loud sniffle, its eyes opening momentarily.

“I wasn’t asleep, I heard every word you were saying,” he said quickly in a sleepy sort of voice. His eyelids began to droop once more.

“Quickly, please,” the Hatter said, although there was no rush or worry in his voice.

“What, already?” the Dormouse murmured, already falling back asleep. The Hatter leaned over, smiling serenely, and yanked firmly on one of the Dormouse’s ears. The Dormouse leapt up quite suddenly, his eyes as wide as if he had just drunk an entire pot of coffee.

“Once-upon-a-time-there-were-three-little-sisters-named-Elsie-Lacie-and-Tilly-and-they-all-fell-into-a-treacle-well-and-drew-pictures-of-treacle-and-things-beginning-with-M-like-mousetraps-moon-memory-and-muchness-all-day-long-the-end,” the Dormouse said all in a rush, and then he slumped back down in his chair and went back to snoring.

“How do you draw muchness?” Kate wondered aloud. She looked down at the napkin, which was waving a little bit to get her attention. “I mean… ‘Really, now, you ask me. I don’t think – here, interruption by Hatter…’” Kate looked up at the Hatter expectantly.

“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter quickly. “There,” he said, smiling. “Our lines are done. This is where you get up and leave in a huff, but we can stay and talk awhile if you like.”

“Thank you for the offer,” Kate said, standing up. “But actually, it’s getting rather close to suppertime, and I haven’t so much as got biscuits in the oven, so I would like to get this adventure over with. I guess I’ll be moving on, then, but I’ll see you at the end, I hope.”

“Oh, yes, we’ll be there,” the Hatter said, nodding. “I hope you are enjoying your adventure, little Kate. I tried to make it fun for you.”

“I suppose it is a rather peculiar adventure,” Kate admitted. “But it really is a lot of fun,” she added, so as not to hurt his feelings. The Hatter nodded somewhat absently.

“That’s good,” he murmured, lifting his teacup to his lips. He sipped softly, his eyes meeting Kate’s almost questioningly. Kate looked away, rather embarrassed. She had nearly fancied herself a teenager again, almost forgetting that she was almost sixty years old. She shook her head. What foolishness!

“Goodbye, and thank you for the party,” she said thankfully as she got up. The Hatter’s eyes followed her as she turned and promptly marched back to the path and began to follow it past the Hare’s house and back into the woods, all the while thinking to herself that it was certainly a very peculiar adventure, and considering how it had gone so far, it was only going to get even more peculiar by the end of it.

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