Black Alice

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Kate found the familiar chubby twins standing together underneath a tree, standing completely still. She might have thought they were statues if she didn’t know they were real people. She walked up quite cheerfully and waved as she got closer.

“Hello again!” she called. “I supposed you’d show up, since this is the sequel and all—”

“If you think we’re waxworks,” Tweedledum said quite suddenly, “you ought to pay, you know. Waxworks weren’t made to be looked at for nothing, nohow!”

“Contrariwise,” added Tweedledee, “if you think we’re alive, you ought to speak.”

“Haven’t I?” asked Kate, much puzzled indeed.

“I know what you’re thinking about,” said Tweedledum. “But it isn’t so, nohow.”

“Contrariwise,” began Tweedledee, but Kate stopped him.

“Misters Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” she began sternly. Tweedledum raised a hand to stop her.

“We’ve decided to both call ourselves Tweedledum,” he said brightly. “After our last show-up, right, no one could tell us apart, so now we’re both Tweedledum. We won’t be having any more problems, you can bet on that! I made everything so much easier with my smarts!”

“I thought we agreed to both be Tweedledee,” Tweedledee said, turning to his twin. “It isn’t fair if you get to keep the name you were born with but I have to switch to yours, nohow!”

“Contrariwise, it wouldn’t be fair if you did,” Tweedledum pointed out. “And ‘nohow’ is my line, don’t you forget that!”

“What about ‘contrariwise?’” Tweedledee challenged.

“Has it got your name on it? Nohow, am I right?”

“But quite contrariwise, Dum, it is mine!”

“You want to fight, Dee?”

“Excuse me, Tweedledum and… other Tweedledum,” said Kate, feeling rather foolish, for having the same name did not simplify things in the slightest. Both twins turned to her.

“You’ve begun wrong,” cried Tweedledum, rather aghast. “The first thing in a visit is to say ‘How do you do?’ and then shake hands, like so!” Here, the two brothers gave each other hugs and then held out the two hands that were free in order to shake hands with Kate. Kate sighed and stared at the two hands, not sure which one to shake first for fear of hurting the other’s feelings. She decided to take both at the same time, though it felt rather awkward.

And the next moment they were dancing around in a ring, complete with music (though Kate did not take the time, for once, to wonder how), and Kate even found herself humming ‘Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush,’ despite how very strange it was to her. Because of the twins’ plumpness, however, they were very soon out of breath.

“I think four times around is enough for one dance,” Tweedledum panted, dropping his brother’s hand. The music stopped immediately. Kate watched the panting twins for a moment, and then ventured a question.

“I hope you’re not too tired,” she began.

“Nohow; and thank you very much for asking,” said Tweedledum, nodding.

“Good, so can you tell me where the Fifth—?” Kate began, but she was cut off by Tweedledee.

“So much obliged,” he said. “Do you like poetry?”

“Not very well,” Kate answered. “Maybe some poetry, but it really depends on—”

“What shall I recite for her?” Tweedledee asked quite eagerly, looking ‘round at Tweedledum with great solemn eyes. In reply, his twin shrugged thoughtfully.

“‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ is the longest,” he suggested. Tweedledee began immediately, his thumbs linking together and a serene look coming over his face.

“The sun was shining on the—”

“Oh, I hate poetry,” Kate revised. “The very worst thing there is, you know. Especially something to with walruses, the nasty old things – nothing more than big, fat, leathery jelly blobs.”

“Oh,” Tweedledee said, crestfallen. “But, see, I’m supposed to recite it for you, because this is our one important scene, and you know, I spent so long memorizing the poem…”

“Just for you,” Tweedledum finished for his twin, heaving a mournful sigh.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I detest all sorts and forms of poetry,” Kate said with a firm nod. Little Roar mewed an agreement.

“Oh,” Tweedledee repeated dismally.

“Can you tell me the way to the Fifth Square?” Kate asked hopefully. “We’re playing a nice game of some sort of living chess, and I’m looking to get to the next Square.”

“Oh,” Tweedledee said, his tone making a complete turnaround. He had brightened up considerably. “I’m afraid I don’t know,” he said cheerily. “You’ll have to wait for the White Queen’s shawl to come along, and after that I’m sure you’ll do fine. You’ve got some time waiting around, though – we’ve skipped quite a bit of dialogue.”

“That has happened a few times,” Kate admitted wryly.

“Well, then, the crow should be along soon,” Tweedledum said thoughtfully. “But we haven’t got our rattle to fight over and the crow to scare us apart about, nohow.”

“Contrariwise,” Tweedledee began. “I think we could help you find the way out, without meeting the White Queen. That would be a real adventure, to say the least! So many other people have been going off-script that I don’t see why we can’t as well!”

“Oh, yes!” Tweedledum exclaimed, nodding quickly. “That sounds like quite a lot of fun! What do you think, Miss Kate; shall we try blazing our own trail?”

“Well,” Kate began a little hesitantly. Certainly she wanted to have an adventure, but it seemed a little dangerous to her to be going off in a world like this one. Surely there were much worse things than mad grinning cats and Cliffs of Death (the specifics of which Kate was still uncertain, but thought it better to not take the chance).

“Let’s go,” Tweedledee said, snatching her hand.

“Well, I suppose it won’t do too much harm,” Kate said at last. “But shouldn’t you two stay here in case another traveler comes along?”

“That won’t do, nohow,” said Tweedledum, rather quickly. “You can only travel alongside many sorts of travel partners, you know. You can’t travel alone!”

“Contrariwise,” Tweedledee added. “If we come too, we can provide company and… lots of witty dialogue. We’ve got some of both, you know, and plenty to go around.”

“If you say so, then I suppose so,” Kate said hesitantly. A thought came to mind. “You know, I haven’t eaten once throughout this entire journey, but I don’t feel the least bit hungry.”

“That’s normal,” Tweedledee said, nodding. “This is the Looking-glass world, you know. Time goes backwards here, so you have to eat to feel hungry.”

“You can’t feel hungry before eating, nohow,” Tweedledum added. “That might happen in the straight world, but here everything’s backwards. For instance, you see, it’s nighttime right now but the sun is still way in the sky. That’s because the days go backwards, and so the nights come before days instead of the other way ‘round.”

“But doesn’t that mean you would call this day, just because it’s daylight, and call the other one night, as if it wasn’t backwards at all?” Kate asked, puzzled.

“Contrariwise, that’d be like calling the ground the sky and vice-versa,” Tweedledee said, frowning. “Who in their right minds would do something as foolish as that?”

“Certainly not me, nohow,” Tweedledum said quickly. “But either way, we’d best get going before dinnertime, though.”

“It’s been almost dinnertime for an awfully long time,” Kate remarked.

“Perhaps so,” Tweedledee admitted. “But then again, it’s always almost dinnertime, unless it’s not, and in that case it wouldn’t be. Contrariwise, if it were, then we’d best be almost having dinner, which comes before having it, but luckily for us ‘almost’ it means it also ‘almost’ isn’t dinnertime yet, so not dinnertime quite yet for a while now.”

“You mean it isn’t, but it’s almost dinnertime so soon it will be dinnertime?” Kate asked, quite confused by now. Tweedledum shook his head.

“You’re explaining it all wrong,” he said. “You’ve got to—”

It was in the moment, as the preposition “to” fell from Tweedledum’s lips and just before he had begun to form the next word, that Kate found herself somewhere else entirely. She couldn’t find the words to describe this instant teleportation. It was even stranger to her because it’d happened to her so many times before, flashing from one place to another, and yet this time… it simply felt different, she had no way to explain it. It was so very curious, Kate thought, how things could change from moment to moment, but she suspected it wasn’t the end of things yet.

Here everything was pitch black, as if the sun had gone down quite suddenly. Kate couldn’t see more than a couple inches in front of her, and even then there was only dark past the inches to the forward-facing direction so it didn’t much matter if she could see farther or nothing at all.

“Er… Tweedledum?” she called somewhat hesitantly. The silence swallowed the word much like she imagined the hole at the beginning of the adventure had swallowed her. “Tweedledee?” she added, not forgetting the second twin, since it would be favoritism to call out for just one.

There was a rather upsetting silence, followed closely by a quiet but distinct snapping sound, and then the light was back just as suddenly as it had gone. The snapping sound, a part of Kate reasoned, agreeably had sounded much like a light switch being turned on, so that wasn’t the strangest oddity of them all. Instead of being in the forest with Tweedledee and Tweedledum as she had been, Kate found herself in the same room she had been at the very start of her adventure, standing right before the familiar little glass bottle that said “Drink Me”. It was curiously full now, though she was sure she had taken the last of it during the Knave’s trial.

“Little…?” she began, looking down at her pocket, as she didn’t feel the familiar weight of the Hatter’s gift in her pocket. The kitten, as she had guessed before she even looked down, was gone. Kate looked back up as she hoped that the kitten would find its way back somehow or another. It must when it got hungry, anyway. Something was different, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Everything seemed stranger to her, not as friendly as it had before. She wondered if perhaps she was meant to start the adventure over. With a sigh, she reached out for the bottle.

“Miss Katie Dawson,” said a calm, familiar voice out of nowhere. Kate’s heart nearly stopped right then and there. She turned, but the person she had expected wasn’t there. She looked all around the room, but he was nowhere to be found. Only his voice existed in the room. “Miss Katie Dawson,” his voice repeated. “Please do not be alarmed. There has been a momentary setback. It will be repaired in a moment, so please stay where you are and do not, under any circumstances, attempt to continue your adventure. I will see you in person shortly and explain in further detail.”

And then the voice as gone, leaving Kate utterly, utterly alone in the room that now seemed quite a bit more foreboding than at first. Kate stared at the bottle, a strange look on her face. Was it her imagination, or was it whispering to her? Kate looked around nervously, trying to move her attention away from the bottle, and her eyes fell on the many doors. They were still there, including the little one that led to her adventure world the first time ‘round, but there was no warm light filtering through the keyhole. Kate was almost frightened, and it wasn’t the sort of frightened one was upon finding flowers that could talk or cards that painted roses.

“Mr. Voice?” she called, hoping there’d be a comforting reply. Her words broke a silence so profound that a deaf man could hear a pin drop. By the time the last of her voice had faded away, echoing softly in the walls, the air around Kate was pregnant with worry.

“Something is wrong,” she told herself, shaking her head. “But don’t panic; no need for rash panicking. Mr. Voice said he’d sort it right out, so he will. A gentleman never goes back on his word. He did say he’d sort it out, right? He said something along those lines, anyway. I just have to wait patiently. I’m simply a gem when it comes to waiting. I’ve all the patience in the world.”

Kate paused. The air around her seemed colder, and it may have been her imagination, but the lights seemed to be dimming. The silence was more than unnerving now; it was frightening, in the same way a brilliant flash of lightning and a deafening thunderclap are when there’s a space of less than a second between the two. Kate took a hesitant step forward, and then a second. She reached for the door nearest her, praying that it would open. Mr. Voice had told her not to leave, but the room she was in now seemed very unwelcoming, it couldn’t get much worse if she tried the next door as well.

But this door was also locked. Kate shook it for a moment, and then determinedly moved on to the next one. She wiggled this doorknob, but it was locked too. She stopped before the third door, which didn’t look quite how she remembered it, but she reminded herself that she hadn’t really paid attention to what the doors had looked like before she had noticed the little one.

As soon as her hand touched the doorknob, she knew that this was the right one. The door slid smoothly open, without a sound, and revealed a rippling black curtain of darkness behind it. Rather shaken, Kate drew back at first. However, human curiosity is a funny thing, and sometimes strong enough to outweigh all natural sense of self-preservation when it feels it must. In that way, Kate supposed, curiosity was much like a friendly cat always getting in one’s way. Kate reached out for the darkness, but her fingers paused just before the curtain and she drew her hand back, having second thoughts. Something told her that it didn’t want to be touched.

Still, the way it seemed to call for her made it seem all okay. Kate tentatively reached out, and her fingers brushed the curtain. It was glossy, like silk, for the moments she felt it against her skin, but then it twisted suddenly, leaping up her arms, dragging her in. Stepping back didn’t help as the blackness lunged as if it was alive, and Kate’s scream disappeared into the thick fabric as she was pulled through the doorway and the door slammed shut behind her.

Kate’s eyes opened. The room was white. Something beeped with a steady pattern. Someone sat beside her, on a chair pulled up to her bed, holding one of her pale, veined hands in theirs. A soft friendly smile was on their face. “How are you feeling, Mom?” the person asked. Kate stared for a moment at the ceiling, confused. Something didn’t feel right. It took her a few tries before she was able to speak. “Where am I?” she asked. Her voice was weaker than she remembered it. The person beside her smiled and patted her hand.

“We’re at the hospital. You fell, remember? We were lucky you didn’t break anything.”

Kate stared at the ceiling a moment longer. “That’s right,” she whispered. “I was chasing a rabbit… a white one in a waistcoat. He was late for something. And then I fell down an endless hole.” Her tired eyes moved to the concerned face of the person beside her. She smiled just a bit. “I… don’t suppose that was all a dream?” she asked. The figure leaned forward reassuringly.

“That does sound like an incredible dream. Even at your age, you’re off having brilliant adventures. I envy you. Get some more rest, Mom.” Kate’s cheek was gently kissed by soft lips. “You look tired.” The figure let go of Kate’s hand and stood. Kate stared back at the ceiling. It was such a white ceiling. She had dreamed of a great many curious things… but perhaps it had all been a dream after all. There weren’t such things as magic after all, and it had all seemed very magical to her. But she had felt so young in that dream…

Kate’s eyes closed once more.

Kate found herself in a familiar forest, although everything that had been shining in brilliant colors had dimmed somewhat. Rather than “dimmed”, the colors that had once seemed so warm seemed cooler now. It was like the time of day when the sun began going down and everything became a little harder to see. Kate looked down at herself. What had that been? This felt so real… but then, which was the dream and which was reality? Looking around at this familiar setting, it was as though she had never left. She felt alive again.

Kate supposed she’d best continue the adventure. More curious things than this had happened; surely this was just another part to add on, another mystery that was certainly going to be solved by the end of it. She guessed that her best option would be to find the others once more.

Kate realized then where she was – near the mushroom where she had first met the Caterpillar. She recognized the path she stood on and the trees and the mushrooms that stood proudly along the way. Recalling the way she had gone the first time, she found the Caterpillar’s mushroom just where she thought it was, or at least the mushroom that she thought was the right one right where she thought it was, but the Caterpillar himself was nowhere to be seen. She turned around, thinking that perhaps he may have been smoking again, eyes peeled for a trail of smoke.

“Caterpillar!” she called when she didn’t see anything immediately, but the Caterpillar did not answer. Kate kept walking, determined to find the ill-mannered blue insect, keeping her eyes peeled for either the smoke trail of a hookah or the creature himself. When at last she found the thing, her eyes widened in surprise when she saw that instead of his hookah, he was smoking what seemed to be an elaborate bubble wand. One of her eyebrows rose in question.

“I suppose I got to you, eh?” she asked somewhat smugly, thinking that perhaps this was the Caterpillar’s way of getting himself to quit smoking. She had seen ways more odd than a bubble wand. The Caterpillar looked up at her, his expression one of lazy disregard.

“What, this?” he drawled. He blew another stream of bubbles. Only then did Kate notice the little things that flitted around the area. They were the oddest things; little rocking horses, it seemed, with wings. They buzzed loudly in varying patterns that could almost be called… laughter. “The Rocking-horse-flies are so easily amused,” the Caterpillar said, watching them dart around to chase the bubbles. “Like children, at the best of times, though pests at the worst, which I suppose continues to describe children.”

“Caterpillar, I have some things to ask you about,” Kate began seriously.

“It’s ‘Mr.’ Caterpillar to you,” he said frostily, releasing another slow breath into the bubble machine, “and if you’re here to inquire about the whole adventure reboot, then I can’t help you. I would assume the adventure has come to a close and it’s time for you to head home, human girl.” Kate’s astonishment showed on her face.

“What? But it can’t be over,” she exclaimed, taken aback. “Why, there was nothing answered in the end. If this were a mystery novel, it’d have entire chapters missing!”

“One rarely comes to the end of a dream,” the Caterpillar said philosophically. “More often than not, one’s mind supplies more railroad track than there is land. There’s not always an answer to everything, you know. Best to take it as it comes.”

“That’s no proper answer,” Kate began to complain, but the Caterpillar raised one of his hands – or legs, Kate supposed – and shook his head, interrupting her.

“I’ve just said you won’t always get one,” he said, seemingly annoyed. “Now if you please, head back the way you came and you should find yourself back to the beginning. It shouldn’t be too hard once you’re there, unless you’re even duller than you seem.” Kate was insulted by his words and tone. She crossed her arms.

“I’m not leaving until there’s a proper resolution to this whole thing,” she said firmly. “I never leave things unfinished, why should I settle for this half-assed ending? No sir, I’m staying until it continues, even if I’m here until I’m naught but bones. I’m half there already, anyhow.”

There was a moment of silence. Then the Caterpillar sighed and lowered his bubble wand, rubbing the permanent crease of disapproval between his eyes. “Why couldn’t this have gone easily?” he asked no one in particular. He glared at Kate. “You really want to see this through to the very, very end? All the way up and down, turned around, faced in the direction of the twisted, possibly dark and painful conclusion of an otherwise charming child’s bedtime story?”

Kate didn’t quite understand what the Caterpillar was saying. “That’s right,” she said, nodding. “I’m going to see this through to the end if it kills me.”

“It very well might,” the Caterpillar replied, somewhat under his breath. He sighed once more, a long drawn-out sort of sigh that seemed to Kate like his surrender. “I shall tell it to you in poem,” he said, and continued before Kate had a chance to complain, “because that’s just how we do things around here. So sit down and shut that disagreeable mouth of yours for a minute, if you will, while I recite for you. This is really an honor, I hope you know.”

Kate didn’t bother to press the issue further. She sat, smoothing down her skirts, and looked attentively at the Caterpillar. “I’m all ears,” she said. The Caterpillar gave a half-snort, half-chuckle that he half-heartedly disguised as a cough.

“All right then,” he said. He cleared his throat.

“Perhaps you’ve heard the name ‘Alice’,

And you know of her Wonderland.

A curious, wonderful palace,

A magical, marvelous land.

In truth, to some the name ‘Alice’

Brings to mind a time of great pain,

And to those of us here in her ‘palace’,

It’s a name that could drive one insane.

Giving that child the name ‘Alice’,

Began a story that ends with her, too.

Her heart proved to be greedy and jealous,

Her mind proved twisted, not true.

Now don’t you dare say the name ‘Alice’,

Lest we summon an upsumbering ghost;

She was a cat fell in love with a raven,

And as you know that just can’t ever be.”

“It’s like it was written by a kid. The rhyme fell all to pieces in that last part, and ‘upsumbering’ isn’t even a word,” Kate pointed out in a disagreeable sort of mutter. She seemed to be a very harsh critic, which didn’t sit well with the storyteller. The Caterpillar’s gaze hardened.

“No one asked you, little Miss ‘All Ears’,” he retorted, inspiring an equally hard glare from his listener. “And for your information, ‘upsumbering’ is a perfectly cromulent word. Now, it’s almost over, so sit tight until I’m done and please refrain from any further commentary.” The Caterpillar waited until Kate had given him a dismissive wave before continuing.

“From this raven who loved the name ‘Alice’,

Came the gift of her very own world,

Giv’n before she fell to her malice,

Knowing not of the truths she’d upturned.

For the human that had the name ‘Alice’,

The Wonderland wasn’t enough.

Her true self was so terribly callous,

She cared not for the raven but what he could do.”

The Caterpillar shut his lips tightly, staring off into space as one tended to do when a story had been finished. Kate waited another moment patiently, but he didn’t seem to want to continue. “Surely that’s not all of it,” Kate began, but the Caterpillar hushed her.

“That’s all of it,” he said. “I don’t expect you to understand it right off the bat. Put quite simply, I mean to say that it’s a long story, and one that you were unnecessarily involved in when you agreed to go along with the Master’s childish whims. You know humans, ridiculous things, Corbin thought it’d be fine if he dated a hormonal young female and—surprise!—it turned out like this. I truly can’t say I didn’t see it coming.”

“Corbin?” Kate asked, as though that was the only thing she didn’t understand.

“His name,” the Caterpillar explained. “What, you didn’t think his name was really ‘Mr. Voice’, did you? That was a nickname you gave him when you were a child.”

“Of course,” Kate said. She waited in silence. “So… say that, theoretically, I understood what you were talking about… how would that clue me in to what’s going on right now?”

“If you must have everything spelled out for you, Alice is back,” the Caterpillar said, rolling his eyes most dramatically. “The master’s old jealous, greedy, hormonal girlfriend from all those years ago who drained him of all the magic he had and then dumped him decided that she wasn’t going to let him move on with his life, and now she’s back to take what she wants.”

“All right, that’s a start,” Kate agreed. “So why is that such a big problem? I fail to see how some apparently very hormonal old flame could cause such a ruckus.”

The Caterpillar gave a sigh unlike all others. It wasn’t his usual “fine, I can see I’ll have to explain it to you” sigh, it was the “you stupid imbecile, I am so fed up with you” sigh. He sighed and rolled his eyes and groaned all at the same time. It looked as though he was having a seizure.

“She was human,” the Caterpillar said as though it were obvious, “before she wheedled Corbin out of eternal youth and a number of other things that should never be given to humans under any circumstances. It’s not like it was yesterday that they broke up; this was… maybe three hundred years ago now? She’s only come back because you’re here. She’s likely decided that he used her and now she’s come to take what she thinks is hers. Namely, Wonderland.”

“Three hundred…” Kate refused to let her eyes widen. “Well, is it hers?” she asked instead.

“It’s not like there’s a property deed for it,” the Caterpillar said, “but she thinks of Wonderland like a little girl thinks of a dollhouse. It’s just a toy for her. The master won’t let her take it.”

“I see,” Kate said. She sat back to think about it a little, staring into the sky, which was a dull blue. “So now what’s happening? They’re playing tug-of-war with Wonderland?”

The Caterpillar shrugged. “Something like that,” he said. “Knowing them, everyone will be pulled into it. The only way to get rid of her now that her little black fingers are all over the place would be to kill her and be done with it, but the only way she’ll be killed is with the Vorpal sword, which neither of them has. The thing hasn’t been seen in decades. It’s a legend.”

“Oh, it’s a fight to the death; that clears things up,” Kate said sarcastically. “Such drama. Honestly, young love is a ridiculous thing. You’d think two adults would be able to talk it over and have joint custody or work out a contract of some sort, but no. If you ask me, Mr. Voice… or Corbin, I suppose, is just as immature as Alice sounds.”

“For once, I must say I agree with you entirely there,” the Caterpillar said mournfully. “Anyway, this isn’t the sort of thing a human should get involved in, so forgive me for turning this conversation all the way back to the beginning, but you know where the exit is. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Kate harrumphed. “I don’t feel like being turned out so rudely after all that,” she said, “so if you don’t mind, I’d quite like to meet Alice for myself and give her a piece of my mind.”

“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” the Caterpillar said, sounding concerned. “Alice is a nasty character. The last thing you’d want to do it shove yourself in her face. ‘Look at me, I’m his new favorite, aren’t you just burning with jealousy right now?’ She’d have your head on the spot, and she goes through with something like that, not like the ever-charming Queen of Hearts and her unrestrained threats.”

“I’m the heroine of this story, aren’t I?” Kate asked, crossing her arms. The Caterpillar had no choice but to gesture miserably in agreement. “I can be stubborn if I want to be, I’m free to do as I please, am I not? If more heroines were willing to get the hems of their skirts dirty, we’d have much better literature, you can be sure, not like the crap just anyone’s coming up with these days.”

“This doesn’t just have something to do with you, you selfish little girl,” the Caterpillar said spitefully. “Where has all your respect gone? Wrinkled away along with your pretty face, has it? I’ll have you know I’m older than you by quite a few hundred years. And I’m an adult, I’m free to do as I please, and that includes enjoying a nice, quiet smoke once in a while!” He gestured to his bubble wand. “You think I enjoy being treated like a four-year-old?”

Kate set her jaw. “If you’ve spent hundreds of years as a caterpillar, I can’t imagine you can ever have grand dreams of becoming a butterfly,” Kate retorted. “You’ll be stuck a squat, fat, angry blue fellow for the rest of your years, I hope you grow to be happy with yourself. You shan’t live much longer if you choose to spend your free time smoking, I hope you know!” Kate realized sometime during her outburst that she had lost sight of the goal. “In any case,” she continued a bit more calmly, “I plan to play out this adventure until the very end, so don’t think you’ll stop me.”

“This is not the time to argue about it!” The Caterpillar snapped. The two’s irritation stewed in a silence contest of stares for a good few seconds before the Caterpillar threw up his hands (legs?) in surrender and waved her away. “Fine!” he said. “I give up! Go kill yourself if you want to. The master can do what he wants with you, I won’t waste precious minutes of my life on you. Alice will squash you like a bug, and then you’ll wish you’d listened to me. And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, don’t trust the Cheshire Cat.”

“Chess? Whyever not?” Kate asked, surprised.

“Because his cuteness might overload your pitiably useless mind,” the Caterpillar droned, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “Obviously, because Alice has an affinity for cats, in the same way the master has with ravens. I wouldn’t be surprised if that mad cat has been a spy all along, I never trusted that awful passive-aggressive grin.”

“I appreciate your concern,” Kate said firmly, “but I think I shall be fine. Now… if you’ll just point me in the right direction, I’ll be on my way.”

“Follow that path,” the Caterpillar said with a sigh, pointing towards a path almost hidden by a tree that bore purple peaches the size of Kate’s head. “If you’ve got any sort of a decent head on your shoulders, you’ll find her eventually,” the Caterpillar finished, dropping his hand. “I can’t say your courage is a bad thing, but I do hope for your sake that it will be an asset.”

“I understand,” Kate said, nodding. “Thank you so very much, Mr. Caterpillar.” She knelt down to plant a little peck on the Caterpillar’s blue cheek. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Caterpillar seemed to blush, his cheeks turning a garish shade of purple.

“Just go,” he said, embarrassed. Kate nodded and immediately turned to head past the peach tree. “Oh, and Miss Kate?” the Caterpillar said suddenly. Kate began to pause and turn back. He somehow managed to finish his sentence before she faced him. “Keep your temper.”

By the time Kate had finished turning about, instead of seeing the Caterpillar there, she saw the mushroom that Caterpillar had been sitting on when she first met him. Kate blinked, wondering where the Caterpillar had gotten to, but it was too late to worry about that now. “Is that all?” she grumbled disappointedly. It wasn’t like that was any help to her. She looked around for the path that the Caterpillar had pointed out to her earlier. It was still there, half hidden by the tree with giant peaches. She didn’t have time to wonder about the ever-changing scenery.

“Well, would you look at that, Katie,” she said to herself. “Not one, not two, but three different adventures, one right after another, all in the course of a day.” Shaking her head, the old woman started off down the path. “I can’t help but feel,” she continued as she disappeared past the peach tree, “that just the one would’ve been quite enough for me.”

~ XI ~

Kate wandered along the familiar stretch of Wonderland that lay between places of importance. Really it all looked the same; like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a brilliant expanse of wonders that somehow really didn’t seem worth investigating, just looking at. Kate supposed that was a good thing, or nobody would ever get anywhere.

“Well, well,” Kate said aloud to herself. “Isn’t this a grand pinch you’ve gotten yourself in? It’s up to you to save the world. Or, a world, I suppose, is a better term for it. And thank heavens it isn’t the actual world, I don’t think I’d be able to stay sane under that kind of pressure. But what is that Mr. Voice thinking? If he could do all he’s done, I would imagine it’s easy enough to tie up a little girl and stick her in the corner for a while. The way the Caterpillar said it, it almost sounded like they were evenly matched. I can only think of a devil of a girl when I hear the name ‘Alice’ now. She must be a devil of a girl if she can stand up to Mr. Voice.”

Kate fiddled around in her pockets. “Now where did that little kitten of mine run off to?” she grumbled. “I would have expected him to come back for feeding sooner or later; all children are like that, regardless of species. Oh, what’s this?” Kate raised her hands. She found a chunk of some unidentifiable item in each pocket. She looked at it curiously. Both pieces, strangely enough, were ribbed on the bottom. Understanding dawned. “Why, it looks like pieces of that mushroom!” Kate exclaimed. “But why do I have these? I could have sworn I walked away from the mushroom the last time I was given a choice… well, no matter, they could come in handy.”

Kate put the mushroom pieces back into her pockets. “Though it’s not like I know which is supposed to make me grow taller and which will have the opposite effect. I’m not the gambling type, myself, perhaps I’d better not touch them. Though I’d have a fifty-fifty chance, if I still remember my math, and those aren’t bad odds at all. I wonder where those twins went off to? I do hope they’re all right. I can’t be sure of anything when it comes to Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Or are they both Tweedledum now?” Kate shook her head.

“In any case,” she told herself firmly, “there ought to be something near the end of this path that will be useful, since I trust that irritatingly stubborn Caterpillar all the same. He and I are really very much alike, which explains our butting heads. I wonder if I shall somehow come across that legendary sword. Wouldn’t that be a spot of good luck? Of course I’d be rooting for Mr. Voice, so the question then would be how to use that when I have no idea where anyone is. It’s a small word after all, so I’m sure I’d find him eventually. The sun doesn’t go down here, it seems, so I’ll have all the time in the world. Though I do wonder; am I still in the Looking-glass world, or had I been sent all the way around to the… er… normal world? Normal doesn’t seem like the right word…”

Kate looked up at the sky. “It does seem to be the same time it was,” she said, “though it looks to be just a bit darker, I would assume that’s because of the colors dimming just a little. It almost looks like rain now. How far does this path go? I hope I don’t need to wander until the very end of it. I’m patient, but everyone has a limit, not to mention I’ve already walked quite a bit on this adventure. My feet are quite sore. I’ll have to pay one of the boys to give me a foot massage when I get back. They’ve been getting more expensive every day, though. I take good care of my feet, they shouldn’t be asking more than a quarter in any case…”

“Any ideas?” asked Tweedledee hopefully, his voice nothing more than a whisper.

“Nope, nohow,” Tweedledum replied.

Tweedledee nodded somewhat sadly, for once without a ‘contrariwise’. They were in a cage together, a cage that would have been very large for a bird or other manner of creature but not large enough to be comfortable for the two plump little men. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were watching the chair in front of them nervously through the bars of their cage.

Sitting in the chair was a young woman with long blond hair. She was bathed in black from the fake cat ears sitting atop her head to the lacy hem of her dress. Her eyes looked like they were crying black tears, for there was heavy black makeup dusting her eyelids above and below her big, icy blue eyes. Her eyelashes were long and thick. If a little dark, she may have been considered beautiful if not for the disgusting expression on her face.

Her expression was a half-scowl made up of equal parts disdain and lemon juice, making her lips curve upwards in the most abnormal way and her nose scrunch up as though she were perpetually smelling something awful. Her eyes shot daggers at anyone and anything they happened to gaze at. In her lap sat Little Roar, who almost disappeared completely in the folds of her black skirt and was washing himself perfunctorily. He was apparently trying very hard to ignore the long black fingernails that dug into his back every time Alice, for that was who the woman seemed to be, dragged her fingers over and into his glossy black fur.

“My lady,” said a voice. Alice turned slightly, and Little Roar winced as her pinky nail clipped his delicate ear. The tabby cat that stood there was standing on his hind legs and wore little glasses, much like a human. Alice’s mouth twitched, and then went back to her hideous scowl.

“Yes?” she asked threateningly, as though daring him to give her bad news.

“We’ve caught the March Hare and the Caterpillar,” the cat reported.

“But still no Hatter or Miss Kate?” asked Alice, just to be sure, her eyes flicking dangerously down to the cat in her lap. The cat with glasses shifted nervously.

“Er… not yet,” he confessed. Alice’s expression remained unchanged.

“Then you’d best hurry,” she said in a soft voice, a voice that somehow explained in detail every ghastly thing she planned to do if he did not do exactly as she said. “That hat-making coward can’t hide from me forever, not now that I’ve stolen his precious Wonderland and his newest pet. Go and fetch me our playthings, Raoul; I grow tired of waiting.”

The cat bowed, and two big cages, much like the ones Tweedledee and Tweedledum were stuck in, were brought out. One had the March Hare in it, looking a little worse for wear, and the other held the Caterpillar, sitting calmly with his eyes shut as though he was taking a nice nap, bubble wand in hand. He opened one eye when he was placed before Alice, who smiled. Her smile wasn’t much prettier than her scowl, and was certainly just as mirthless.

“If you keep scowling like that, your face will freeze that way,” offered the Caterpillar helpfully, his expression one of extreme boredom. Alice’s scowl came back.

“Caterpillar,” she said frostily.

“Alice,” the Caterpillar replied, with a little bow of his head.

“Please,” the March Hare said, trembling as he leaned forward. “I must have… a typewriter! I have to change the script! Please, go no further! It is worse than torture, worse than death! Kill me now if you must and end it, get it over with, I beg of you! Mercy!”

“I’m afraid I have nothing of the sort,” Alice said rather smugly, dragging her fingernails back over Little Roar’s back. She apparently thought it made her look more regal to stroke a cat, but she still couldn’t seem to get the hang of doing it properly. “Oh,” Alice said, as if just remembering something. She stood up absently, and Little Roar tumbled out of her lap unheeded. He didn’t dare make an effort to escape from his master, although he did scramble out of the way as one of her large black slippers nearly squashed his tail.

“Where is Miss Kate?” she asked, the closest thing she could manage to an inviting smile coming over her face. It was obvious that she was trying as hard as she could, but she couldn’t seem to get the hang of that either.

“You look constipated,” the Caterpillar said with a sigh.

“Where is Miss Kate?” Alice repeated, making no further attempt to smile invitingly. The temperature must have dropped at least 2 degrees more with each syllable that came from between her lips, laden with deep purple lipstick. The Caterpillar, however, just yawned very slowly.

“I really couldn’t say,” he said in a bored sort of voice.

“Oh, I see,” Alice said, nodding understandingly. She turned back to her throne and snapped her fingers as she sat down. Two cats, walking on all-fours unlike the tabby with glasses, raced forward and took the Caterpillar’s cage, standing onto their hind legs to lift it as best they could.

“Give him some time,” Alice ordered. The cats nodded and stumbled away with the cage balanced awkwardly between them. The March Hare, meanwhile, was hopping all about the cage and raising a great clatter trying to get out. He kept muttering something about a script over and over again, in as loudly a hoarse whisper as he could manage.

“Take him away,” Alice said with disgust, averting her eyes and waving her hand. The cats hurried forward to do so. Alice sat back down in her chair and scooped Little Roar from the ground into her lap. “Corbin,” she murmured, with a devilish smile on her face. “Hurry, hurry home to me, or your little pet will know the true meaning of suffering.”

It was all Little Roar could do to merely softly mew his distress as Black Alice’s dark fingernails continued digging mercilessly across his skin.

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