Alice heard a noise. It sounded like… It sounded like fabric ripping. No, that wasn't it. A railway engine. But that was wrong as well. Oh dear, well it sounded like SOMETHING.
And it WAS something, Alice realized, because SOMETHING had just appeared. It was blue and tall and there was a light flashing on top of it. And there were words at the top, "Police Public Call Box."
Perhaps, thought Alice, a policeman has come to take me home.
Alas, when the door opened, thick smoke billowed out of the box, and a man emerged who was not a policeman at all. At least, if he WERE a policeman, he was like none she had ever seen, clad as he was in tweed pants, a waistcoat under a long frock coat, an enormous, colourful scarf, and a broad, floppy hat perched on top of a mass of dark, curly hair.
Stepping back a bit, Alice bit her lip, uncertain as to the correct form of greeting in this situation. Was it, How do you do? My name is Alice. Or was it, Isn't it a lovely day? Have you come here before? Or perhaps, If you please, I'm lost and wondered if you could help me find my way home.
Before she could make up her mind, the man teetered unsteadily and spoke. But he spoke words she couldn't understand.
"Dimensional stabilizer malfunctioning, space-time rotor nonfunctional, time corridor, dematerialization circuit. Temporal fusion? Space loop?"
"Pardon me," said Alice, "but are you mad?"
The man blinked, then looked at her. His eyes widened, and he smiled an enormous smile. But just as he opened his mouth to reply, he collapsed in a heap upon the ground.
"Dear," said Alice, settling herself down beside him. "You MUST be mad, for you've picked a most peculiar time to fall asleep. Nevermind, I'll sit with you 'till you wake. But whatever shall I call you, as you've started your nap before we could introduce ourselves? Oh, your hat has fallen onto the ground. I do like this hat very much."
Looking up at the box, Alice wondered if someone else could be inside. She got to her feet, approached the box, and rapped softly on the door. There was no answer, but a moment later she heard that noise again, and the light on top started to flash, and then, oh my goodness, as Alice backed away, the box disappeared.
Alice looked at the man and shook her head sadly. "He'll be ever so cross with me," she said softly.
Moments later, the man's eyes opened wide and he sat up.
"Well, hello," he said.
"Hello, sir," said Alice. "Have you finished your nap?"
"Yes, I suppose I have," said the Doctor. "Now then, what's your name, eh?"
"Alice if you please, sir."
"Alice. Pleased to meet you. I'm the Doctor."
The Doctor glanced around, taking in his surroundings.
"Well then," the Doctor said. "Now that we've introduced ourselves, I wonder where we are?"
"I should say that we're HERE," said Alice.
The Doctor smiled. "Quite right. Quite right. In fact, we ARE here. Still, the question remains, where IS here?"
Alice shook her head. "I'm afraid I'm quite lost. I'd hoped you were a policeman and would be able to take me home."
"A policeman?" said the Doctor. "Oh, of course. My TARDIS."
"You mean the blue box? Is that what you call it?" said Alice.
The Doctor nodded, then glanced around. "Now where could she have got to?"
Alice's head drooped. "I'm ever so sorry, sir. I think I scared it away."
"What?" said the Doctor. "How?"
"I knocked on the door, you see," said Alice. "And then it made its noise, and then it disappeared."
"Well, well. It wasn't you, you know. My poor old TARDIS got banged about quite a bit on the way here. She's gone off to repair herself, I should think. She'll be back soon enough, and then I'll take you home, never you fear."
"Oh, I would be most grateful," said Alice.
They were in a circular clearing in a very large, overstuffed garden with too many plants, indeed, too many varieties of plants to count. The garden was organized, if it could be said to be organized, in overstuffed clusters separated by shrubberies, flowering trees and paths laid out with irregular stepping stones.
Some of the plants were familiar. Alice had recognized hens and chicks, wormwood, and clematis. Some, like the beautiful, tall sunflowers to her right, she had seen only in books in Father's library. Then there were fantastic plants that she'd never heard of. In particular, there was one plant with a cat-like face within its petals, complete with green eyes and whiskers. And she could have sworn that, when the breeze blew a certain way, the face smiled at her, and when the breeze changed, the face vanished altogether.
There were bees buzzing amongst the flowers, a variety of birds darting about, and, to Alice's delight, even some hummingbirds. Never having seen a hummingbird before, she'd carefully tiptoed towards them and was able to observe them from quite close up before they finally darted off.
"Now, then," the Doctor continued. "The air is warm and it's clean. The sky is blue, and judging from the sun, it seems to be noon."
"If it is noon," said Alice, "then noon lasts a very long time. For it has been been noon since I came here, and that was hours ago."
"Hours? You're very brave, you know. Still, we could almost be on Earth. Now why would that be?"
"Do you mean that we are NOT on Earth?" said Alice, her eyes wide with wonder.
"Oh yes," said the Doctor. "Not only are we not on Earth, but I believe that we're not in the same universe. Still, even though it's very Earth-like, there's something about the gravity..."
The Doctor reached into his pocket and took out a yoyo. After inserting his finger into the loop, he turned his wrist and then with a flick released the yoyo.
"I say," said the Doctor. "That can't be right."
"How wonderful," said Alice, clapping her hands. "However did you get it to go straight up into the air?"
"Remarkable, isn't it?" said the Doctor, eyeing the yoyo as it sat perched on top of the string above his head. "Our feet are firmly planted on the ground, yet this yoyo… hmm…"
The Doctor pocketed the yoyo, then looked at Alice. "Tell me, how was it you came to find yourself here?"
"I came through the looking glass, sir," said Alice.
"What? Through the… How extraordinary. Wait a minute. You said your name is Alice. Not Alice Liddell by any chance?"
"Why yes," said Alice. "Have we met before?"
"Just a lucky guess," said the Doctor. "Can you show me this looking glass?"
Alice nodded and led the Doctor along a meandering path to another clearing, where they were met with a group of ostriches busily occupied with eating the grass.
"Oh!" said Alice. "I've always wished I could see an ostrich."
Alice crept closer, until one stopped eating and stared straight at her. Alice stood still until the ostrich spread its wings and took flight, joined a moment later by the others.
Alice, her eyes wide, said, "I didn't think they could fly."
"It seems this world is full of surprises," said the Doctor.
They entered another path bordered by a grove of pear trees and followed it to the next clearing. There, in the centre, a mirror rested on the ground, unsupported by anything visible. It stood some eight feet tall and five feet wide.
"Well," said the Doctor as he stood before the looking glass. "Mirror mirror on the wall…"
Alice clapped her hands in delight and finished the sentence. "Who's the fairest of them all?" Looking at the Doctor, Alice asked, "Is it a magic mirror?"
"Rather advanced science, I should think, rather than magic."
The Doctor withdrew a metal object from a coat pocket and pointed it at the mirror. Alice was surprised that it made a kind of warbling sound. After moving it about in front of the mirror, he pocketed the object and then gingerly touched the surface.
"How interesting," he said. "It's spongy, not a hard surface at all."
"I think you'll find the back of the looking glass particularly curious," said Alice.
Walking around the mirror, the Doctor noted. "It's two-dimensional. It has no thickness at all. And from the back… From the back there IS no mirror. I can see you quite clearly Alice. Do you see me?"
"No," said Alice. "Only myself."
"Hmm. Curiouser and curiouser," said the Doctor. Then he stepped forward a few paces, turned around, and found himself in front of the mirror, looking at his reflection.
He stood thus for some time until Alice spoke. "It won't do to be vain. That's what Mother says."
"What?" said the Doctor, startled out of his reverie. "Oh, well, where's the fun in that, eh?" he said with a wink. "I cut a rather dashing figure, after all, don't you think?"
Alice, unsure how to respond, said nothing.
"Actually, I was thinking about this mirror. It's not a mirror at all, of course, but a trans-dimensional temporal corridor."
"Oh dear," said Alice. "And I was just thinking that perhaps you weren't so very mad after all."
The Doctor chuckled. "Mad? Come now, everyone's at least a little bit mad, don't you think? Still, if this is a corridor, then it should be possible to go back the way we came. The only question is how?" After a pause, the Doctor added, "But that's not the only question, is it? I would very much like to know who or what it was brought us here. And then I'd like to know why. Now let's see. You came first. How did that happen, I wonder?"
"That's easy," said Alice. "I was at home, in the parlour, wondering about the people on the other side of the looking glass. I climbed onto the mantle for a closer look. That's when the glass started to melt away and become a mist, and I found that I could crawl through as if it were an open window. When the mist cleared, well, here I was."
The Doctor nodded. "And then my TARDIS was caught in the temporal undertow caused by the wake of your journey. Clever. I fear you may be a pawn in a larger game, Alice, and that you were used as a means to bring me here."
"I don't mind," said Alice. "It's an adventure after all, like a fairy tale."
"Good girl. That's the spirit!" said the Doctor.
Taking off his hat, the Doctor ran his hands through his hair, turned his head to and fro, and then said, "Do you know just how far this garden extends?"
"I'm afraid not. I tried to explore. There's a hill where I thought I'd get a good view. But every time I tried to reach it, I ended up back where I started."
"Well, that sounds like an excellent starting point," said the Doctor. "Lead the way. Perhaps we can manage better if we work together."
"You can see it from where we met just now," said Alice. "I do hope we have better luck."
"Oh, I'm a very lucky person," said the Doctor, brightly. "I'm sure we'll manage."
If you're so very lucky, Alice thought, how is that you're trapped here? But politeness forbad her speaking her thoughts.
After walking back to the first clearing, Alice pointed. "You see, the hill is just over there, over the top of those beautiful sunflowers."
"Ha! Excellent," said the Doctor. "That should give us a good vantage point. Let's go. And don't worry. My sense of direction is infallible."
The Doctor took the lead along a path that ran along the side of the sunflowers. It twisted a few times, and there were some sharp corners. But after a few minutes of walking, they found themselves back where they'd started.
"What?" said the Doctor. "Ah. I think I know what we did wrong. Let's try this path here."
Again they set off, but again, after several minutes of curves, twists and corners, they were back at the beginning.
"Well of all the…" but the Doctor didn't finish his sentence, and Alice understood why. There was that sound again, and something blue was becoming solid in front of them. The blue box he'd called TARDIS was coming back.
The Doctor's face split in an ear-to-ear smile. "Hello, old girl," he said. "Good of you to join us." Then, looking down at Alice, he added, "Didn't I promise to take you home? Let's do that, shall we?"
Alice's eyes widened and she smiled and said, "Oh thank you. This garden is very beautiful but I do want to go home. Dinah and the kittens will be so worried."
Alice watched as the Doctor produced a key from his pocket, opened the door, and beckoned her to follow him. She hesitated. It was, after all, a very SMALL box for two people.
"Well come on then," said the Doctor. His voice sounded far away, which puzzled Alice, for how COULD he be far way in that small box? Very curious.
She stepped into the TARDIS and gazed about her. "Why," she said, "we must have become very small, for suddenly the TARDIS seems very big."
The Doctor chuckled. "I suppose you're right. It's all relative after all, isn't it?"
"It's wonderful," said Alice. "So bright and shiny."
"Just don't touch anything, will you," said the Doctor. His brow was furrowed as he worked at the controls in front of him. Then he looked over at Alice and asked, "And what year was it back home, hmm?"
"What year?" said Alice, surprised at the question. "But yes, you are mad after all, so that's alright. Why it's the year of our Lord, 1862. July the second."
A few seconds later, the Doctor said, "Right then, that should do it. And off we... go."
The Doctor pulled a lever, and then the central column in the console started to rise and fall, and the TARDIS made its disappearing noise.
But suddenly there was a shudder, and Alice teetered a bit on her feet, and the column fell to its resting position, and the noise stopped.
"Have we arrived?" said Alice.
The Doctor pushed his hat further up his forehead. "What? No. We haven't left. Just a minute. Let me try something."
The Doctor pushed some buttons, flipped some switches, and again pressed the larger lever. As before, the column started to rise and fall but only briefly, then stopped again.
The Doctor's face darkened. "Of all confounded, interfering…" Then he looked over at Alice.
"I'm very sorry," he said, "but I won't be able to take you back just now after all. Something is has placed a time lock around my TARDIS and she can't break through."
"Oh dear," said Alice. "Well I'm sure you did your best. What shall we do now?"
"Now we shall search for whomever it was brought us here and convince them to let us go."
"Do you believe we'll be able to?" said Alice.
The Doctor nodded. "I can be quite persuasive when I want to be, you know."
Alice regarded the Doctor and decided that, despite his being mad, and perhaps a little conceited, she liked him very much.
"You're not welcome here!" screamed the Red Queen, pointing her scepter at the Doctor. Alice and the Doctor had made another attempt to reach the hilltop and, much to Alice's surprise, they had succeeded. But no sooner had they arrived than the Red Queen appeared from behind a shrub. She was very much like the chess piece from the set at home. In fact… Alice checked her pocket. Yes. There it was. She had put the queen in her pocket before climbing the mantle to peer into the glass.
She was as tall as Alice, this queen, though still red, and still without legs. But being without legs didn't seem a hindrance as she glided over the ground quite easily.
Alice tugged the Doctor's coat and opened her hand just enough to reveal the red queen piece. The Doctor's eyes widened. He smiled and winked, and then he addressed the queen.
"Not welcome?" said the Doctor. "But I was just beginning to enjoy this beautiful garden of yours."
"It is not me you should thank for the garden," said the Red Queen, nodding her head in Alice's direction.
"What do you mean?" said the Doctor.
"What I mean," said the Red Queen, "is that Alice has a purpose here. You do not. You should leave."
"Well I would, you know," said the Doctor, "if it weren't for the time-lock."
"YOU may leave any time you wish. Alice, of course, must remain," said the Red Queen, turning back to Alice and smiling sweetly.
"What?" said the Doctor, his eyes widening. "Then you didn't use her to bring me here?"
"I have no use for a… Time Lord," the Red Queen spat out. "Alice, however, is an entirely different matter."
The Doctor looked at her closely. "What exactly do you need with Alice?" he said. "No, wait a minute. I think I see. This garden. The gravity and physical laws. Your appearance as a Red Queen."
The Doctor blinked and he stepped back, pulling Alice with him. "You're a… Pesomorphe? No, that can't be."
The Red Queen said nothing, but her mouth curled into a kind of smirk and from deep within her eyes Alice saw a glow like the glistening of diamonds.
"Please, Doctor," said Alice, "what's a Pesomorphe?"
"My people, Alice, the Time Lords, they tell tales to their children. If you don't behave, they say, the Pesomorphes will come tonight to steal your dreams. But it's just a legend. At least, it was."
The Doctor was silent a moment, then continued. "So you needed Alice. To give your universe form. To define its physical laws. To give YOU form. In other words, you needed imagination. And who in the universe with more imagination than a human child?"
"And so," said the Red Queen, "you understand why Alice must remain. Now Alice," the Red Queen added, stretching her arms wide, "all this world is yours. You created it, filled it with your imagination, with your heart's desires. Anything you wish for is right here."
"This world IS beautiful," said Alice, looking around her, "but I do want to go home. I've been away too long already."
The Red Queen was silent. She folded her arms tightly and puffed out her cheeks and seemed to turn even redder than she was before. Then she relaxed, stepped to the side, and beckoned Alice to move forward. "Come and look out at the country, Alice, and tell me what you see."
Alice stepped forward gingerly and looked out at the landscape below, with its streams and hedges, its stone fences and forests, and its pastures with varieties of crops and flowers.
"Why, it's laid out just like a large chessboard," said Alice.
"Is that your game?" said the Doctor. "Are we to be pawns to your Queen?"
"You, Time Lord, are nothing. Alice, you can be the White Queen's pawn. For now. But you CAN become a queen if you like. Do you know how?"
Alice's eyes widened. "By reaching the eighth row!"
"Exactly. And when you are Queen, you can do whatever you please, including going home. If by then that is still your wish."
The Doctor joined Alice in looking over the countryside.
"Seems straightforward enough," said the Doctor. "Shall we be on our way then, Alice? Alice?"
Alice had turned and was scanning the hilltop. "She's gone Doctor. The Red Queen."
There being no sign of the Red Queen, and, Alice supposed, no more questions to put to her in any case, she and the Doctor descended the hill, following a path that led towards the largest chessboard imaginable.
The view from the twisty path was obstructed by tall, flowering hedges on either side. The flowers were of every size, shape and colour, and the air was thick with the mix of sweet perfumed fragrances. Side paths occasionally departed to the left or right, going who knew where. Alice found that she wasn't keen to explore them. This was unusual for her, but she realized that her hunger for home and its familiarity and comforts was growing stronger and stronger, and she just wanted to get to the eighth row as quickly as possible.
Eventually they emerged and found themselves on level ground, facing a hot plain that was grass-covered for the most part, with smatterings of bare sand and the odd pond scattered hither and thither. But all of that was neither here nor there, for the whole of Alice's attention was captured by the herd of elephants.
They were arranged in a rough line, a semicircle actually, Alice realized, with a radius of about 100 yards. She and the Doctor were in the centre. Alice had never seen even one elephant before, except for pictures in books. To see so many arraigned before her now, in real life, well it was almost too much to absorb.
There seemed to be just enough room in between some of them to squeeze through, but was it safe? Alice looked up to the Doctor, who seemed to be studying the elephants closely.
"Stay here," he said to Alice. "I'll just go up and have a chat with them. Make sure they'll let us through."
"You'll… chat with them," Alice said dubiously.
The Doctor grinned broadly. "I speak Elephant, you know," he said. And with that, he sauntered off towards the herd.
Alice shook her head, sadly. Sometimes he seemed quite sane. Not just sane, but wonderful. Yet at other times…
The Doctor stopped a few feet away from the elephants. One of them turned its head slightly in his direction and trumpeted briefly. "Now see here," said the Doctor, addressing this elephant. "My friend and I would like to get to the next row. You wouldn't have any objection to our passing through, would you?"
The elephant shook its head from side to side and backed away slightly from the elephant in front of it. Turning back towards Alice, the Doctor said, "There you see? Now just stay there for a moment and I'll make sure it's alright."
The Doctor took a step forward.
The elephant he'd spoken to raised its trunk.
The elephant linked its trunk with the tail of the other.
The elephants swung their trunk and tail like a skipping rope away from the Doctor.
The linked trunk and tail swung back and bowled the Doctor over.
All the elephants stamped their feet and emitted quick, short trumpets like a kind of tittering laugh.
"Are you alright, Doctor?" Alice queried, aghast that she had to raise her hand to her mouth to ward off a fit of giggles. Mother had taught her it was impolite to laugh at others' misfortunes.
Picking up his hat, the Doctor got to his feet and dusted himself off. "Yes, thank you Alice. Don't be alarmed. I think they were just having a bit of fun at my expense, weren't you now?"
The elephant nodded its head as the braying and stamping quieted.
"Well, now that you've had your fun, do you think I might actually pass?"
The elephant nodded again and winked at the Doctor.
Again, the Doctor approached. Unfortunately, the result was the same, and he once more ended up sprawled on the ground. This time, the elephants trumpeting laughter was uproarious, and they stamped their feet louder and shook their whole bodies.
After glaring at them, the Doctor returned to Alice, who was holding her breath, trying to think of anything else but the sight of the Doctor sprawled on his back in the dust.
"It seems they don't intend for us to pass after all," he said. "Let's see if we can find our way to a different square, shall we?" Then after a pause, he added, "Alice? Are you quite alright?"
It was no good. Alice, unable to hold it in for another second, let out a whoop of laughter. She laughed until tears were streaming down her face, until she had to hug herself, her sides hurt so.
The Doctor, at first perplexed and then chagrined, tried to glare at her sternly. But his frown wavered and his eyes crinkled, and in the end he succumbed and roared with laughter himself.
Returning to the path, the Doctor and Alice climbed upwards and followed the first side path that branched off to their left. They walked for a time, surrounded on each side by groves of densely packed trees. The branches, thick with fruit they didn't recognize, were so entangled as to form a nearly solid canopy overhead. It was dark and cool. The air was still and and it was all too quiet. Alice was relieved when they came upon a path leading downward. They zigged to the left and zagged to the right, but finally emerged onto the level ground of the giant chess board.
Here they found a plain, covered in short, fine, manicured grass that would have been suitable for a lawn bowling field. There were no obstacles in sight.
"Now this is more like it," said the Doctor, extending his elbow for Alice. "Shall we?"
Linking her arm through the Doctor's, Alice said, "Most definitely. Let's."
Their smiles didn't last long, however, as they soon found that no matter how many steps they took, they didn't appear to gain any ground. This was confirmed when they turned around and saw that they were exactly the same distance from the hill as when they started.
"Let's try running," said the Doctor as he took Alice's hand.
And run they did. They ran until they were breathless and red-faced, but they got nowhere at all.
When she'd almost caught her breath, Alice said, "We've done a great deal of running, but haven't made any progress, have we?"
"The story of my life," said the Doctor, rubbing his chin. "Well, there's nothing for it. We're going to have to try another square."
Alice frowned and dropped to the ground, sitting cross legged, her arms stretched behind her. "This is too much. If only…"
"If only what?" said the Doctor, seating himself beside her.
"If only I were already a queen, so that I could leap directly to the last row."
The Doctor's eyes widened. "Alice, that's it. You're a genius. Your majesty, that is exactly what we'll do."
"We've moved," said Alice as she stepped out of the TARDIS.
"Indeed we have," said the Doctor as he locked the door behind him. "The time lock prevents my TARDIS from leaving this pocket universe, but she's free to travel within it. Welcome to the eighth row!"
The TARDIS had materialized on moss-covered ground that was dotted with patches of flowers. A short distance away, a brook gurgled peacefully over stones that jutted from the water.
There was little time to enjoy their success, however, as the Red Queen emerged from the forest behind them.
Her face was the reddest red that Alice had seen, her cheeks were puffed wide, and her eyebrows raised. Pointing her scepter towards them, the Red Queen screeched, "You cheated!"
"Nonsense," said Alice.
"Nonsense?" said the Red Queen. "What do you mean, nonsense?"
"You said we were to reach the eighth row. You never said how. And now, I'm here, and I'm a queen as well, and I'm free to do as I wish, just as you said. And what I wish is to go home."
"You'll do no such thing," said the Red Queen. "THIS is your home now. You can have no other."
"But," said Alice, taken aback. "But you promised."
"Bah," said the Red Queen, folding her arms across her chest and looking away.
Alice found her eyes were becoming teary as she thought of the home she might never see again. But then another feeling took hold. Her eyes narrowed and she stepped towards the Red Queen.
"YOU have cheated," said Alice, "by breaking your promise. YOU have broken the rules. And now… now I don't believe in this world. I don't believe in YOU."
"What?" said the Red Queen. "No, Alice, you mustn't. You…"
But before the Red Queen could said another word, the ground shook beneath their feet, then it shook again, longer and stronger. And then again. Trees started to fall, and cracks appeared in the ground.
"No!" the Red Queen screamed. "NOOOOOO!"
The Red Queen herself started to crumble, an arm falling off, and then another, and then her torso split in two. The Doctor said, "Come, Alice," and took her hand. "We have to leave. Now."
Running the few steps to the TARDIS, the Doctor unlocked the door. Alice took one last look at this strange world, and then followed him inside.
"Alice, dear," said Mrs. Liddell as she entered the parlour, what was that noise?"
"I'm not sure, Mother," said Alice, taking the red queen from her pocket and placing it on the chessboard. "It came from outside, I think."
"Well, then, never mind that. Come along to the drawing room. Mr. Dodgson has come for a visit."
"Oh," said Alice, clapping her hands together. "That is splendid!"
"Ah, there's little Alice, Dodgson," said Mr. Liddell. "Always looks forward to your visits, you know."
"As do I," said Dodgson, his eyes twinkling. "And how fares Alice today?"
"Oh, Mr. Dodgson," said Alice, running up to him. "I've just had a perfectly wonderful adventure."
"Have you indeed?" said Dodgson, taking Alice by the hand. "Well then, come along with me into the garden and you can tell me all about it."