This is just a bit of nonsense I've been fiddling with since last spring. I discovered that I was never going to finish it at the rate I went, so I've decided to make myself accountable. Now all of you darlings can either kick me in the pants for not updating, or kick me in the face for writing it in the first place. Either way, we'll have some laughs. It's loosely WCMI-inspired, Lewis Carroll-inspired, Sunny Disposish-inspired, and sleep deprivation-inspired.
It's not very clever, but it's very, very fun to write, and I hope you enjoy it.
~Dec 24, 2009
To B, to J, to M:
I want to be just like you when I grow up.
Of course, if it hadn't rained, the whole business would probably never have happened. Alice would have wandered right back up the garden path and gone into the house and never looked into the little tool-shed at all, and that would have been that.
But it did rain. The signs were there some time before the axe actually fell, in the gradual darkening of the summer sky, the whistle of wind picking up in the trees and even the distant rumble of impatient thunder. Alice might have known better, but then she had always been the sort to make excuses, rationalizing and justifying, and just now she had decided that it couldn't possibly start to rain very hard within the next quarter-hour or so, and anyway, she wanted to look at the roses. They were in full bloom and very lovely, even to Alice who had never been especially fond of flowers. One might say, then, that it was partly the fault of the roses, or even of Alice herself – but mostly, it was because of the rain.
The first drop landed on the top of Alice's own pert, upturned nose just as she was stooping to sample the fragrance of a particularly fine specimen. The second followed very quickly, and within seconds, it was clear that a trick had been pulled somewhere, because unlike ordinary rainstorms which start with a drop here and there and then move on, this one just was; no sooner had it started raining than it was raining, and Alice was left with a decision to make. She could make a run for the house, but that was some distance away and the path would be turned to mud before she was halfway there. As a second option, she could seek more immediate shelter, taking a chance on becoming trapped there until the rain let up again. Her decision was made quickly. It was, Alice decided, only a summer storm, and would pass quickly. She would run to – to – to the garden shed. It was only a few yards away, standing quietly and inviting her very humbly to hunker down under the benevolent shelter of its peeling green roof. She trotted delicately toward it, loosing her cool composure only for a second when the door stuck and she had to wrestle it. Alice won and a moment later was standing safely inside the cool, dark shack, hair only a little mussed, petticoats only slightly damp. The only window in the place was a tiny, dirty one next to the door. Alice settled herself in front of it and waited patiently. And waited.
She had only started to feel really petulant after ten minutes or so had passed, but as it stretched toward twenty, Alice began to think unkind thoughts. She would have paced, only there wasn't much room, so she turned and began riffling through the contents of a crookedly-mounted shelf that was resting just at eye level. Finding nothing of interest here, she turned her attention to the rest of the shed. There wasn't much to work with. A collection of assorted garden tools in various states of cleanliness and rust, a watering can, an armful of long-wilted herbs tied together in a bunch which somebody probably had intended not to forget, and a few boards propped up in the corner that might have been intended to repair that slanting shelf, which really seemed to be on its very last legs. Wait – no, there was something else, half hidden in shadow behind the boards. Having nothing better to do, and possessed of that same old lifelong desire to know all the secrets anybody could tell her, Alice investigated, carefully lifting up the wooden planks (very wary of splinters) to have a look at the thing.
The thing in the corner was nothing more or less than a large terra cotta flower pot. There was nothing extraordinary about it at all except for its size, which was extremely large; Alice had never seen one larger. For all that, though, it was still a flower pot, and an empty one at that, and within two seconds of looking at it, Alice felt she had seen enough. She rested her chin against the board she was still supporting and gave a little sigh that was almost swallowed by the pounding notes of another ripple of thunder. Would it ever stop raining? But perhaps it was letting up – she had better have a look. Alice turned to reclaim her post by the window, and that was the start of it. As she came about, a little hastily due to her impatience, she let go of the board she was holding, which, deprived of her support, fell gracefully through the air and crashed against its neighbors. These in turn succumbed quickly to public opinion, and the whole lot of them fell over with an astonishing racket, thudding against each other, against the floor, against the far wall. Alice took a step back, stumbling in the semidarkness, and stood cautiously still as the cacophony faded. Goodness gracious – she would have to be more careful –
A deafening crash interrupted her reflections. Having believed that all this business was concluded already, Alice was badly startled. She took another step back, but collided with the very large flower pot and lost her balance. It was just beginning to enter her consciousness that the deafening crash had been the sound of that weak old shelf finally letting go, having been upset by the force of those boards banging against the wall, when her frantic effort to keep her footing failed altogether and sent her toppling back toward the enormous flower pot. Alice never got there.
There was not, on this occasion, that awful feeling of falling, falling, falling. Instead, it was rather the feeling of being yanked upside down and held above the ground by one's ankles – or so Alice imagined. The next thing she knew after the garden shed was that she was standing on a tiny square of a raft in the middle of a vast blue ocean. It was no longer raining, and instead, a warm breeze was blowing that smelled of overripe fruit. Alice blinked a few times. This was very peculiar – but then, Alice had been in peculiar situations before. Anyhow, it wouldn't do anybody any good to get upset, and therefore Alice set herself to investigation. A moment more revealed that, on each corner of the raft, there was a tall wooden post, which seemed a stupid thing to have on the corner of a raft, in Alice's opinion – one would be far better served by having one pole in the middle, to serve as a mast or something, if in fact rafts had masts; Alice didn't know. Perhaps they were there to offer handholds should the sea become rough. As she considered this, it occurred to Alice that the sea was not rough – in fact, it was so calm that she didn't appear to be moving at all. For the first time, Alice stepped carefully toward the edge of the little wooden square and, holding onto one of the posts just in case, she peeked over the edge. The ocean below was very pale blue, and seemed an almost perfect reflection of the sky, complete with tranquil white clouds. Alice frowned slightly. If she hadn't known better, she would have been convinced that it was the sky. She cautiously extended the tip of her little boot toward the blue and poked at it. She felt nothing, and a horrible suspicion began to creep over her. She looked upward.
The sky, or where the sky should have been, was not there at all. Instead, Alice found that what she had taken for a raft was connected at the back end to a long flight of narrow wooden stairs, rising up, up, up until they stopped in a field of very green grass that was undulating gently in the breeze over her head. Alice gave a little cry, and clung tightly to the pole she'd been holding. She was upside-down. The raft was not a raft at all, but a little platform at the top of those stairs – some sort of observation deck for looking out over the green meadow which stretched across the sky (which wasn't the sky at all) for ages in front of her before ending in a distant upside-down wood. Alice herself was standing on the bottom of the platform, and the four poles went up and ended firmly in the ground, supporting the structure against the pull of an inverted gravity.
This was unpleasant. For some minutes, Alice was entirely at a loss, except for one thought that was very clear – undoubtedly, this must be the Wonderland. The Wonderland, after all this time! Alice had often wondered whether it was still here, or if in growing older she had somehow murdered it, left it wheezing to death in the same place as old broken velocipedes went to die. She found that she was a little glad it was still here, although she would vastly have preferred to arrive under less awkward circumstances. Alice wasn't more afraid of heights than anybody, and knew very little of astronomy, but the sky seemed a pretty dreadful place to slip and fall into – if indeed she fell that way. She might at any moment fall toward the earth, instead. These reflections paralyzed her for a moment, her knuckles turning pale with the force of her hold on one of the sturdy poles attached to her perch. Eventually though, finding that she was not plummeting up toward the earth, Alice began to reason with herself, a familiar undertaking. It was no good at all to huddle here forever. She could starve to death. No, she must try to reach the ground. Alice wasn't sure what she would do once she got there, but any occupation was better than none, so she let go of the pole and began carefully making her way up the bottom of the staircase toward the grass. This was trickier than walking on top of a staircase, because every here and there were solid support beams which Alice had to navigate around. Then too, there was the problem of what to do when one reached the top. Alice found herself obliged to crouch as she drew nearer and nearer the ground, like trying to get into one's attic when there is a board over the opening. When she was curled up with her knees under her chin and could go no further, Alice stopped to think again. Perhaps this idea was not such a very good one after all. Alice didn't fancy stepping off the staircase only to discover the hard way how far one could fall if one fell upwards.
Well, walking back down towards the top of the stairs was no good at all, either. That would only put her right back where she had started, and furthermore Alice detested unwarranted retreat. Better to bash your head against something for a good while and then give up, she thought stoutly, although this seemed a little unsatisfying a moment after she'd thought it. Anyway, perhaps there was something nearby that she could grab hold of. Alice looked around and found to her chagrin that the meadow was devoid of anything at all except grass and daisies, and of course the stairs themselves. She was toying with the idea of grabbing onto a handful of grass and testing its strength when she noticed the shoes.
There were two of them, logically enough, planted very nearby in the grass. Alice was sure they hadn't been there a moment ago, but there were certainly there now. She looked at them for a moment, then lowered her chin and followed them down, down a pair of long legs wearing slate-grey trousers to a coat of deep gold, to a hint of a plum-coloured waistcoat, to the faintest sliver of a red tie, or possibly a cravat, as these things are somewhat difficult to discern from a position like the one Alice was in. Above – rather, below – the cravat was a face, and Alice could clearly see freckles, a large nose that must have been an optical illusion, and a pair of pale blue eyes, not a watery faded pale blue like an old man's, but a sharp, snappy pair which were just now widened in surprise and raised eyebrows looking like dark mustaches to Alice's upturned gaze. She let her eyes follow those eyebrows, and blinked when they led her further still, to a hat perched on top of a mass of pale hair. It was a top hat, ordinary in all respects save for colour, in which it was both unusual and distressing. It was striped vertically, with one stripe being the same identical gold of his jacket, the other being a purple indistinguishable from his waistcoat. This was remarkable, and Alice noted that the match was nearly-perfect. This didn't offer much comfort though, because the effect was horrific anyway, particularly when one considered that raspberry cravat. She shivered.
"Hullo," said the body encased in these monstrosities, and Alice started a little, having forgotten that the ensemble had a person inside. She realized belatedly how long she must have been staring, and this brought a swift return of social consciousness. Alice was still crouching on the steps, and she now wrapped her arms around her knees awkwardly – her skirts were behaving themselves perfectly well, but she wished to avoid any possible misunderstandings.
"Hello," she answered, and they looked at each other for a moment.
"Nice afternoon," remarked the young man, his voice indicating him to be this sort, and stuffed his hands into his pockets, rocking pleasantly on his heels.
"Erm – yes, very," Alice returned politely. There was another pause. The young man rocked a little, whistled a few notes, then looked at her again with interest.
"Say – I don't suppose you'd think me monstrously fresh if I were to ask what in the dickens on earth you're about, would you?"
Alice bristled. There is nothing so obnoxious as looking silly and then having someone else notice how silly you look – especially a perfect stranger. "It isn't my fault," she said defensively. "But, that is, I seem to have got upside-down."
"That would account for several of my more heatedly-burning questions," said the young man placidly, crouching to get a better look at her. "Although, speaking candidly, there is still some conflagration in my mind as regards the introduction of this point into the narrative."
"You mean, why am I upside down?" Alice tried after squinting at this speech for a moment.
"Oh. Well, I – I don't know. I was in the garden shed, you see – because it was raining."
"Typical," the young man interrupted, but corrected himself as Alice shot him a look. "That is, understandable. Go on."
"As I say, it was raining. I was just having a look round when the boards fell over, and it startled me –"
"Nervous dispositions are bad for the digestion."
"I am speaking!"
Alice frowned, not believing he was sorry at all, and why was she explaining all this to him anyway? It wasn't entirely proper, she supposed – but then, it wasn't as though she had anything else to do, and besides, as she recalled it, people in the Wonderland were all very rude themselves – certainly, the young man was very forward. "I was startled, and I fell backwards into the flower pot, and then I was here."
"Ah! Marvelous yarn, absolutely on pins and needles throughout," offered the young man, stifling a yawn behind a cream-coloured glove. "Of course, that does explain everything."
He was resting his chin on his hand now, elbow braced against his knee. "Oh, rather. After all, one can't expect to go in backwards and come out rightaways. If you contrive to be forward in your thinking, you must not be backward in your actions, and of course if your right way is wrong-side-up, then your wrong way will be right-side-up."
"I don't understand what you mean," protested Alice, starting to feel desperate. The young man chewed on the lip that was closest to his chin.
"I haven't the foggiest, myself. But never mind, old dobbin – we'll soon set things aright. Give me your hand."
The young man sighed impatiently. "Your hand, your hand – have I got to explain everything? Appendage attached via arm to the elbow, primary purpose being tying of shoe-laces – your hand, your hand!"
Alice almost pointed out that she hadn't got any shoe-laces, but felt that the conversation had gone on too long already. Having no real alternative, she reached out her hand and the young man took it. "Ah! Real progress at last, my joy is beyond expression. All right, then, little fellow, now just step you down from there and you'll be back in the races in no time." He tugged at her hand when Alice hesitated, doubting whether he really understood her situation. There was nothing to be gained by staying where she was, though, so Alice obeyed. It was tricky at first, but at last she settled for stepping up onto the ground just as you would if you were trying to step onto your ceiling, with the young man's hand firmly clasping one of hers, the other being splayed against the ground for support. Once she was crouched on the grass, he tugged at her hand again. Alice rose carefully, still wary of dropping off the earth. Her fears were groundless, an obnoxious sort of pun that would have annoyed Alice if she'd thought of it, which she didn't. Instead of falling, Alice found herself standing in the grass, right-side-up and firmly attached to the proper end of the world. She lifted a foot carefully, just to be sure, but it was quite true.
She gave a little sigh of relief, remembering the presence of the young man only when he gently freed his hand from hers. She looked at him now, finding his features easier to make out when they weren't end-over next to her feet. His face was very plain, she thought, yet oddly pleasant. His nose was as large as she'd originally thought – perhaps even larger – and much too big for the rest of his face, wide and round, although not nearly as red as you'd expect for a nose of its size and shape. He smiled at her now, revealing teeth that were also a trifle large, although not so much as his nose. His freckles were arranged artistically across nose and cheeks, leaving the rest of his face relatively untouched. Then there was that hair. At first, Alice thought he must be one of those ordinary fair-haired gentlemen one meets from time to time, in spite of the fact that someone with freckles like his really ought to have ginger hair , and also in spite of not looking nearly so sallow or droopy as he should have to join such ranks. Now she could see that his hair, which was curly and much too long, was not merely fair but absolutely white, like an old, old man's. He was very tall too, but this was not so unusual for Alice, who had never managed to grow very large for all her nineteen years could offer her. His hat, seen up close, was much worse than she'd thought.
All of this observation was completed in an instant, and then the young man, was raising his hat to her. Alice had a momentary wild idea that he would be bald as a cue ball underneath, but quickly found that the truth was closer to the hat being a necessity in the containment of the mass of pale waves that sprang forward and attempted frantic escape before he clapped those prison stripes down over them again.
"Well, well," he was saying. "Feeling better already, eh? Topping. I'm off then – I'll look back with fondness on our time together. Right." He inclined his head to her once more and then he turned on his heel and stalked off across the meadow, whistling tunelessly. Alice watched him go with the mild interest of somebody who has nothing else to look at. There was, she thought, something dimly familiar about him, like meeting somebody who looks a little bit like an old acquaintance whose face you'd know, but whose name you wouldn't remember if you passed them in the street. But what did Alice care? She was grateful – she supposed – for his help, certainly, but she had other concerns. Alice realized that if this was Wonderland, she had no idea at all of how to get home again. How odd that was, because it seemed as though Alice hadn't worried about that very much before. She tried to remember exactly what she had thought of all those years ago. A person of seven or eight years old is very capable of remembering things if they are interesting enough, and Alice remembered Wonderland quite well. But it is another thing altogether to ask someone to remember what they were thinking on any given day twelve years previous, particularly during what was very probably a dream. Well, never mind. Alice was older now, and naturally a young woman would consider things that a little girl would never trouble herself with. Alice was about to turn and reexamine that observation post from her new perspective when she became aware that the tall young man, walking briskly away from her across the grass, had stopped short. He stood still for a second, turned his head to look at her, came racing back. Alice blinked as he loped towards her, stopping in front of her to bend and prop his arms against his knees, panting. She stared while he got his breath back. Finally, she gaped as he stood again, leaning forward to get a good look at her face, which he squinted at for a long moment before rearing back with a little cry, at which point Alice jumped.
"Great Scott – you're Alice! Alice at long last!"
Alice, who was certainly Alice, looked at him as though he was on the outside of a goldfish bowl. He tapped his chin politely. "Your mouth's open."
Alice snapped it shut and swallowed. "How – how do you know my name?" she managed after an interval. He shrugged his shoulders, hands making their way back into his pockets again.
"Oh, that's easy – it is still Alice, isn't it?"
"Well – yes, but –"
"Well, there you are! Nothing shocking about that. Awfully sorry I didn't recognize you at first – looked somewhat different than I recalled." His eyes narrowed in thought. "Possibly your being upside down made a difference." He shook his head. "Anyhow – no harm done, eh? Well!" He smiled happily at her. Alice felt a little lightheaded. "Well, well," he repeated, and then removed a hand from his pocket and offered it forward. Alice supplied her own automatically and he gave it a warm shake. "Heartily glad to see you, my lad, most intensely pleased. Others may have doubted you, but my faith never wavered to the last. I knew you would come. 'Deception', they said, 'mistrust', but not Alice, I cried, not she – yes, were you speaking?"
"Whatever are you talking of?" Alice repeated, this time in a less strangled tone than her first attempt. "Do you mean, you knew I was going to be here?"
The young man gave her a quizzical look. "You know," he said after a moment's consideration, "you've got a distressing habit of making people repeat everything they say, and I advise you to stop it. Of course I knew you were going to be here. I've been waiting for you."