How does the 20th Century Sibyl Vane become a vicious metal hound? What strange alchemy is at work here, what manner of replacing each speck of cell with spot of glitter and cold? How does she convince herself that a white rabbit will become a white steed, or think that a swan hides a princess—when the pack rises up and one discovers they are a deck of cards, all 2-dimensional? Or is it before then, possibly; when it is made plain that a ladder to the stars cannot be climbed while it's made of smoke? Oh, to climb, as simple as to fall, down a rabbit hole, or from the spangled chandelier.

When does Alice turn to malice? For that, my dears, it is necessary to learn what makes Little Miss Muffet sit where spiders are about, why a child might ignore the warnings of perfect poison that reach her ears and trust a stranger to tell her the truth, even when she knows enough to see a lie when she hears one. To depart from the teacup and the tried and true tradition, to find the bottle and uncork it.

Drink me.

I.

'Have you read him?'

'Who?'

'Wilde.'

Cooper was characteristically calm, draped across the desk, and her hands were shaking with nerves as she looked up at him. Every muscle was relaxed, casual—done with a calculated nature that almost terrified her. It seemed so easy. It seemed so—a catch in her throat—so real.

'Yeuh—yes,' she answered truthfully, dropping the number 2 pencils caught in a rubber band into the drawer and shutting it, then bringing her hands up to her face. Her fingers traced her Cupid's bow, but none of the lipstick smudged onto her nails. She was looking at him with a sense of quiet, almost like a mouse.

'Re-read him,' he said. Agile movement, one leg kicking over, then the other, then a swift, fluid spin as he turned to face her again. Her eyes switched onto his in a moment; his twinkled. Had he possibly noticed the way her eyes had lingered as he'd leaped down, with that grace, so like ballet? Just a brief glance, devoid of intention; perhaps really out of curiosity, and she'd made it. But she hadn't meant to.

She didn't tell him so. She was only aware of him, as he leaned forward to brush his fingers across her cheekbone.

'Take care, Shannon,' he said. As his knuckles touched her skin their progress slowed, so that when they had neared her jaw, they were almost resting there; she could feel where the warmth was concentrated, almost with intent.

'Hm,' she managed, eyes as innocent and attentive as she could have them. His expression was more closed; he seemed almost brooding, dark eyes intense for a moment, and then he was gone. "Hm," she'd said. Like, "hm, that's interesting," or "hm, I think my gaze shall now accidentally drop down;" though, thankfully, it hadn't.

"Take care, Shannon." As though he'd meant it. As though it was—had to give the door a jerk before it would open—was real.

II.

It was so unlike her to leave her things packed, but they'd only just returned from America and she had so much to do that when they'd gotten off the plane, she'd only deposited the suitcase and collapsed onto the bed, "A dream in lace," as her mother might have said. "A vision in white."

Oh, yes, a vision, a dream, a ghost. Shannon found herself nodding as she lifted the nightgown from last night in one hand and a large leather bag filled with books from the public library in the other. Something entirely anachronistic.

White lace crumpled to the floor. Cotton, high collar, buttons up the front, long sleeves, long skirt. She could hide her ankles in it. All her hair, light brown and streaming, fell down around her shoulders, and if she stood before a light, her mother said the outside of her hair would be illuminated blonde, like an angel's halo.

Ghost, ghost, ghost.

Angels, that was something else. The only image of an angel she had anymore was filled with sequins and polka-dots and loud, loud colours. Vibrant fake wings, red with silver glitter on them. Each fake red feather equally soft. "Oh, Shannon, you're a dear." Dove coo, obviously high and affected—like the shoes she tottered in. High heels; that demure little strut, affected. Pretty little hand, extending a flower out to her, and she took it.

Shannon almost never left her nightclothes on the floor, or anything. But there on the apartment floor was her nightgown, just where she'd dropped it. Then she seated herself on the edge of the bed and tugged her shoes off before scampering back over the seats, tugging the brown leather back along with her and then sitting on one hip, her knees drawn up.

As though she expected a wealth of gold or paper dolls to come out of it, she turned the bag upside down. Library books tumbled out, bounced on the bed. Only one was face up.

The Picture of Dorian Gray.

She opened the cover page and skipped the preface, which she remembered not understanding when she'd read it in high school. The pages flipped through her shining fingernails and then she tugged the book towards her, lifting it up nearer her eyes.

'The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses,' she said, her voice hardly anything to fill a room with. Nonetheless she would continue out loud until she was into the story sufficiently; soft-spoken and often silent, it was a paradox in her nature that had never occurred to her. 'And when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees…'