This story is dedicated to Kitty LaFrance, as a graduation gift. Hope you like it my dear—and I hope all the rest of you do, as well! The poem used within is by Lewis Carroll. Please leave a review, and enjoy the adventure!
A Raven and a Writing Desk
A Sequel to Burton's
Alice in Wonderland
When Alice watched the butterfly flutter past her and dart up to dance among the rigging, she had truly believed that the flash of brilliant blue was Absalom. But as the ship's bells rang and the sailors shouted, and a strong, salt-scented wind rushed through her golden hair, she had found herself hoping it was not. For the sea was no place for a butterfly—especially one that was her friend.
That feeling was now compounded as she lay in her bed in her small cabin, staring at the ceiling and feeling the ship pitch and tip beneath her. She had to admit that she had not anticipated getting—and staying—seasick. But a new, cold sweat broke out on her brow as the ship swayed to the side once more. The cabin was dark and stuffy, but according to the shouts of the sailors above decks, water was coming over the railing—and Alice had no desire to be swept overboard, no matter how sick she was.
She stiffened her spine as the room reeled, and took tight fistfuls of the bedcovers. She gritted her teeth, wanting to growl in her throat. Even if she did venture outside, the sailors—or worse, the cold young Captain Kerbeck—would order her below as soon as they saw her.
The merchant seamen had not kept it a secret that they considered a woman to be bad luck aboard ship—she had endured many impertinent remarks during the first few days of the voyage—but Captain Kerbeck had quickly silenced them. At first, Alice had been grateful to him—until the blue-eyed, wheat-haired captain had called her into his cabin and told her that he did not appreciate her presence any more than his men did, but her passage was at the request of his employer, Lord Ascot, and therefore he must endure it. However, he then informed her that she was to stay out of the way and keep to herself as much as possible during the months-long journey. A week of such solitude had now made Alice lonelier than she had felt since her father died.
Exhaustion now swept over her as she squeezed her eyes shut, blocking out the sight of the shadowed wooden ceiling. This storm had been raging for two days and three nights already, and she had not been able to sleep during any of it. And now, even as her eyelids grew so heavy it was impossible to open them, Alice felt she was on the verge of lurching out of bed and retching everywhere. She swallowed hard. Her tongue was dry.
"Think of something else," she rasped, her mind spinning. "Something calm and peaceful and…still."
For a moment her thoughts flailed through the darkness, like a candle down an unfamiliar corridor, but then she latched onto a memory of a place, like an anchor on a reef, and without hesitation, she plunged into an imagining of it.
To her surprise, she found herself standing at the height of a blade of grass, wandering toward the towering, long tea table where were accustomed to sit the Dormouse Mallymkun, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter.
The March Hare hopped in his teetery chair when he caught sight of her, and immediately began twitching more vigorously than usual.
"Look at this handsome fork," he declared, pointing at Alice with an unsteady claw. He then twisted and looked at her with one eye. "No, I was wrong. 'Tis a butterknife."
"Of course it is," Mallympkun piped up. "Couldn't you see that before?"
"You both are being utterly ridiculous—stop it this instant," a familiar, cheerful voice lisped, and two giant worn boots thudded down in front of her, shaking the ground. Alice jerked back. The wearer of the boots bent down to her, and Alice beheld the beaming white face, emerald, offset eyes and wild, scarlet hair of the Mad Hatter. He ran a wrapped finger across the brim of his fantastically tall top hat and winked at her.
"No, you're entirely wrong, Hare. This is the loveliest Chinese fan I have ever seen. And she's come for tea!"
"Tea!" the other two chorused, and their cry was promptly followed by the crash of a shattering saucer.
"So kind of you to drop by, Alice—we were just talking about you last week." The Hatter held out his hand to her. She reached up and grabbed his forefinger with her tiny hand.
The next instant, she felt herself rising, growing, and even as the Hatter pulled her forward, she soared up to her usual height, and her hand slid into the Hatter's, and was wrapped up in his warm, calloused fingers.
"There was something I've been meaning to tell you for the longest time; very important," Hatter said as he tugged on her and began to trot away from the table, the scarf on his hat fluttering behind him.
"What is it?" Alice asked, speaking for the first time. He stopped suddenly, turning back to her, a startled frown on his face.
"That is the trouble, you see, I've…Well, I've had a great deal of difficulty already…" He turned and began pulling her again.
"I am here, now. I am listening," Alice assured him, distressed at the furrow of his brow. She hurried her pace and caught up to walk beside him, but kept hold of his hand.
He slowed, and at last stopped them atop a grassy hill. The sky was purple behind Hatter as Alice studied his flickering eyes. His hand squeezed hers.
"You understand, don't you?" He raised his eyebrows. "This note is traveling through mirrors and fog and glass—not to mention water and sky—so you can imagine that the phonograph won't play a very clear melody." He smiled hopefully. Alice stared at him. His smile faded. He leaned toward her.
"Do you remember, Alice?"
"Remember what, Hatter?" Alice asked, holding his hand tighter, for he seemed to be drifting away. He blinked, his voice quiet.
"Why a raven is like a writing desk."
Alice almost smiled.
"Of course not. You said yourself you didn't know."
His eyes looked worried—sad. It frightened her.
"It's the key, you see, that unlocks the door. The only door," he said.
"What door, Hatter?" Alice's heartbeat sped up. His fingers were sliding out of hers. The edges of his lips curved upward.
"They told me you had been to her," he murmured, his voice distant. "And mentioned me to him; She gave me a good character…" His hand pulled out of hers altogether, and his tone lowered to a whisper. "But said I could not swim."
"Hatter? Hatter!" Alice screamed, suddenly overcome with panic.
Hatter, tumbling backward, threw his hands up to cover his face, and wicked flames leaped up around him. Alice wailed at him, but the heat forced her back. Fire and water swallowed him, and drove Alice up and out of Underland.
Alice jerked to a sitting position, sucking in air as fast as it would come, her wild gaze darting through the dark.
The cabin was still. Her throat closed and she listened. All was quiet outside. The storm had stopped.
A shout from above cut the silence. She twitched.
"Ship ahoy! Captain, Captain!"
"What, what is it?" came the gruff answer.
"Captain, a ship off our starboard side!" the lookout cried. "She's on fire!"