For katzsoa. This story is the third installment in our "Final Game" series. To better understand this story, read the last two installments: "The Final Game of Cat and Mouse", by me, and "After the Game", by katzsoa. PLEASE review!
Rating: T (for references to suicide and disturbing situations)
Disclaimer: I believe it has been established that I own nothing connected to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I have removed Painting Flowers by All Time Low for various reasons (which I would not like to go into.)
Summary: Alice checks up on her Underlandian friends, and realizes the dormouse is missing. After an interesting encounter with the March Hare, she goes to Chessur for answers.
A New Game
After the death of the Mad Hatter, Alice returned to Overland. She didn't stay long, though. Less than two weeks later, a few days before a voyage to Bangkok, Alice snuck out that evening into the garden outside the home of the Ascots, whom she stayed with most nights. If she got caught (and she didn't), her alibi would be that she was visiting a sick friend. (It was almost true.) She raced to the rabbit hole and practically dived into it.
The fact was that the Hatter had been Alice's dearest friend, in both Overland and Underland. No one in either world had cared for her more than the somewhat crazed milliner, besides her mother and father. What's more, she knew his death would affect all of Underland, as he had been such a prominent member of the Resistance and was greatly liked by most of its denizens.
Alice was sad that Tarrant had died, of course, but not as sad as she expected some of the Underlandians would be. Her father and her favorite cat, Dinah, both had died when she was young, so she had learned early how to cope with death. While she was sure of the strength of her friends, how strong they were was a whole other story.
Strength. That word brought up memories of one particular Underlandian. As Alice tumbled head-over-heels down the rabbit hole – it was a fall she'd gotten used to – she couldn't help but remember the Dormouse, Mallymkun. Not only was the snowy-furred dormouse strong, but she was just as unpredictable as her tea-loving friend, the Hatter. When Alice first saw her on Griblig Day, the Dormouse was rude, grouchy, and even obnoxious, constantly insisting that she was "the wrong Alice." At the tea table, she was always a bit nutty, giggling and singing while hopping into teacups and launching sugar cubes and scones at the March Hare in a never-ending food fight. When Ilosovic Stayne, the Knave of Hearts, had tried to arrest Alice, the dormouse was a frightened little schoolgirl. According to the Tweedle Brothers, the dormouse had been tough and courageous before the execution, defiant and bold with her cries of "Downal with Bluddy Behg Hid!", and then elusively managed to avoid being trampled on or getting snatched up by the Jub-Jub Bird. And then, on the Frabjous Day, Mallymkun was an avenging angel, riding upon Bayard the Bloodhound's back, while his bride Bielle galloped beside him, throwing knives and hatpins at the Jub-Jub Bird and several Red Knights and Card Guards.
And at Tarrant's funeral, she seemed small, frail, and delicate, more mouse-like than ever. Her fists were clenched, her face sad and stoic, and tears streamed down her white cheeks, leaving streaks of light gray.
All in all, the Dormouse was full of surprises.
Alice's thoughts were interrupted, as she landed with a loud THUD. She grabbed the key, drank the pishsalver potion, and unlocked the silver door behind the velvet curtain. She opened the door and entered the strange garden. Twas brillig, then, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble about the bushes. The borogoves were mimzy, as usual, and the mome raths outgrabe.
Funny, thought Alice, how similar the day was to Tarrant's poem about the Frabjous Day.
The flowers, especially the tiger-lilies, had become more talkative and vain since the fall of the Red Queen, Iracebeth. None of them took much notice of Alice, but that was all right, because she didn't particularly care for them either. She quickly decided to visit the windmill where the March Hare, the Dormouse, and, once, the Mad Hatter, usually took their tea. It felt right to visit them first, since besides her and Chessur, they had been Tarrant Hightopp's closest friends…
Chessur the Cheshire Cat. He was a living riddle in Alice's mind. Always smiling, but not necessarily always glad. In fact, Alice got the distinct feeling he was rarely happy at all. He and Tarrant had been good friends before the Horunvendush Day when the Jabberwocky and Stayne destroyed Hightopps' Land. Unfortunately, the feline "chickened out", and left all of Tarrant's friends and family to die on that fateful day. Some, like Mally and Thackery, had escaped, but most had perished or were captured by the Knave and his Knights. Alice couldn't blame Tarrant for being angry with the Cheshire Cat for that; she would have been just as mad at him if it had been her family in Overland. Still, the cat made up for it by helping to rescue Tarrant, Mallymkun, the Tweedles, the Bloodhounds, and countless others at the Hatter's execution, and she had noted in the months before the Mad Hatter's death that the Cheshire Cat had been attending the Hare and the Hatter's tea parties more and more frequently.
Now that she'd got back her memories from her first visit to Underland when she was only eight years old, she remembered the smiling cat being more than a little frightening. To a small girl shrunk down to three inches tall, the enormous cat, with his very long claws, great teeth set in a wide, grinning mouth, and evaporating skills, Chessur was actually, genuinely terrifying! She'd been very cautious and respectful when addressing him, she recalled, calling him "Cheshire-Puss" several times. The caution was not needed, it turned out; like so many other Underlandians, Chessur was quite fond of Alice.
"That's enough nostalgia, Alice," she said to herself, like she did so often. "We're nearly there."
As soon as Alice saw the tea table, she knew something wasn't quite right.
First, the tea table was in morbid pandemonium. Mind, it had never been clean to begin with, but now it looked sickly, unhealthily filthy. The tablecloth looked more like a pile of white string, it was in such tatters. The tablelegs were covered with what looked like moss. The only pot on the table that had tea in it was open, and Alice shuddered when she saw what appeared to be a slimy, floating substance akin to green algae on the surface of the brown liquid.
Secondly, and most importantly, the only one at the table was the March Hare, and that immediately disturbed Alice, who was used to seeing the Dormouse attacking Thackery with pads of butter, still on the knife, and usually the Cheshire Cat trying to stop the two from killing each other, as the Hatter attended parties more for conversation with Alice and good companionship than anything else.
Alice walked up to the Hare, who was stiff as a board in his chair, staring blankly into space. One of his eyes was twitching non-stop. He held an empty teacup in one paw, and the other was on his lap. His coat was dusty, and he looked so skinny she wondered if he had eaten at all since she'd last seen him a week ago at the Mad Hatter's funeral.
"Thackery?" asked Alice softly, knowing how violent the Hare could be when upset or disturbed. "Where are Mallymkun and Chessur? Is something wrong?"
The Hare made no response. He didn't even blink. Needless to say, this served only to unnerve Alice Kingsleigh even more.
The March Hare still made no response. Alice wondered just how much his friend's death had affected him, mentally and emotionally. After pondering the situation for a short time, Alice clapped her hands in front of the Hare's face and shouted "Thackery!" at the top of her lungs.
It worked! The Hare let out a strangled sounding gasp, blinked rapidly, stared at the cup in his hand, and looked at Alice with an almost feral stare, curious and wild.
"A-Alice?" he croaked in a voice that sounded like a rusty hinge. "Is that ye noo, lass?"
"Yes, Thackery. It's Alice."
The Hare just gave her another strange stare. Alice moved down the table, ignoring the Hare as he watched her with that crazed look in his pink eyes. She opened up the teapot Mallymkun usually slept in…but the dormouse was not there. A chill came upon Alice, worse than a London fog.
"Thackery, where's Mallymkun?"
Thackery Earwicket's eyes became as wide as the mouth of his teacup.
"M-M-Mally?" He croaked.
"Yes, Hare! Where's the Dormouse?"
Thackery blinked. His eye began to twitch, and with a shrug and a deranged giggle he turned away. Once again, he was lost. Alice heaved a sigh of irritation mixed with pity.
"Thackery, did Mally leave?"
The Hare grunted, but did nothing else.
"Thackery!" she yelled, clapping her hands again.
The effect was electric. The Hare's eyes flickered, he jabbered, and then began talking rapidly. Alice was able to make out some of the words.
"Late fer tea agen! Gae! Hatter's goin' radger! Hatter? Dead? Oh no!"
"Thackery, what are you…?"
"Ah, Mally! Whatcha want? Eh? No! No, don' leave meh! Chessur? Him? No no no!"
"Chessur? Mally left with Chessur?"
The March Hare heard Alice amidst his rambling. He took one look at her and let out a hideous, squealing, strangled scream – the scream only rabbits and hares can make – and jumped out of his chair and onto the table.
"Git away! Ye won' git meh! Stay back noo, ye hear?"
"Thackery, it's me! It's Alice!"
But Thackery didn't seem to hear her. He grabbed two teacups and threw them at her with a snarl. Alice ducked with a gasp and ran off, back into the Tulgey Woods, spoons and butter trays crashing against the trees as she fled.
Alice stopped running when she was sure she wasn't being followed by the maddened March Hare. She sat down on a log by the burbling brook (it seemed louder than usual) to catch her breath. She had ran through mud and brambles in her flight from Thackery Earwicket, and so her dress was torn and dirty, and her long, golden hair was in a mess, hanging loose and tangled.
Alice looked up to see Nivens McTwisp, the White Rabbit, splendidly dressed as always in his bright blue waistcoat. He regarded her with a look of surprise and curiosity.
"You look something awful! What happened?"
"It would seem that Thackery has gone gallymoggers."
The Rabbit nodded gravely.
"Everyone was upset, of course, by the Hatter's death, but I don't believe anybody took it quite as badly as Thackery," he said, sadly.
"Hmm…" murmered Alice thoughtfully. She was trying to remember the Hare's rant. She knew he had mentioned that Mallymkun had left, and he had also mentioned Chessur. An idea popped into her head, which was nothing new, except that this idea was a somewhat fearful one.
"Nivens…have you seen Mallymkun?"
"No one has," sighed McTwisp with a shake of white-haired head. "Not for a week. I'm getting a little worried, and I'm sure some other people are, too. It's not like Mally to stay underground so long…if you get my meaning."
"And what about Chessur?"
"The Cheshire Cat? Well, he keeps to himself usually. I saw him this morning, just outside his house. If you ask me, he seems a bit more mysterious than usual…which, I must say, is pretty mysterious. I'm wondering if maybe Thackery wasn't the only one who went insane when Tarrant…well, passed on."
Alice nodded sadly.
"Is there anything else I can assist you with, Alice?" asked the White Rabbit. "Quickly! It's getting rather late, and I need to get back to Marmoreal."
"Yes: you can tell me where the cat's house is. I don't think I've been there, or at any rate, I can't remember going there."
"It's that way," said the Rabbit, waving a paw. "In the Tulgey Woods. About half a mile from here, just go straight on. You can't miss it…really."
"Thank you, McTwisp. Fairfarren."
"Fairfarren, Alice," smiled the White Rabbit, and bounded away. Alice watched him go for a few seconds, and then stood up and began walking in the direction Nivens had pointed out. It was time to get some answers.
It was evening when Alice found the Cheshire Cat's home. McTwisp was quite right: it was certainly hard to miss, due to its height. She knocked on the door.
Inside, Chessur had just settled down to sleep, after bidding a sad fairnacht to Tarrant and Mally as he did every night, when he heard a knock at the door. This both worried and intrigued him.
"Who is it?" he called, and then to himself. "At this hour! Perhaps only Bayard, coming to see…"
As he peeped out the door with one blue-green eye, his heart sank. There stood Alice, just the right size to come into his house, smiling gently. Chessur gulped hard; he had a feeling about why Alice was here, and it wasn't very good.
"Please don't have the vorpal blade," he muttered to himself, and then, out loud. "H-Hello, Alice."
"Hello, Chessur. May I come in?"
"Well, of course!" said the cat, and held the door open. Alice entered, thanking her ever-grinning host, and the cat watched her carefully. He almost sighed with relief; the vorpal sword was nowhere on her.
"You've never visited me before," said the cat. "How did you find this place?"
"I asked the White Rabbit," replied Alice, and then added, off-handedly, "It is rather dark in here…"
It was indeed very dark. The cat had snuffed out all but one of the candles in the candelabra that lit up the whole house, and the flame on it was dying.
"Well, I was going to get some sleep," hissed Chessur, trying to appear peeved to hide his worry. Besides his eyes and mouth, which glistened in the darkness, Alice could only faintly make out the Cheshire Cat's form.
"I'm very sorry, Chess, if I woke you up…"
"…But I need to talk to you. You see, I was hoping…"
The Cheshire Cat held up a paw to silence her.
"I think I know why you're here," said the cat. "You want to know if I know where Mallymkun is, don't you?"
Alice was taken off-guard by Chessur's tone. Although a smile was still fixed on his furry face, he somehow managed to look and sound sad and nervous.
"Well, yes," replied Alice when she had recovered. "The March Hare mentioned that Mally had left the tea table with you."
"The Hare is talking again?" asked the cat, hopefully.
"Ranting is more like it. It was strange; he kept switching in and out of focus. One minute he was asking me if I was really me, the next he was staring into space, and when I snapped him out of it, he attacked me with teacups."
"Oh," was all Chess said. No hope.
"Chessur, where is the Dormouse? Do you know where Mallymkun is?"
"I do," said the cat in a somewhat dark tone. He pointed a black, glossy claw at the candelabra. "Light the candles and look on the wall."
"With what matches?"
Without a word, the cat held out his paw, and a box of matches materialized in his hand.
"Thank you," said Alice, and lit the candles. She looked up on the wall, and gaped at what she found there. Mounted on the wall, not too far up from the top of the candelabra on the table, glinting like a sliver of silver in the firelight, was Mallymkun's pin-sword, a weapon Alice had painful knowledge of.
Alice turned to look at the cat, eyebrow raised curiously. The cat did not look back. His eyes were closed, and his permanent smile seemed sadder than ever. He poked a thumb in the direction of the cupboard. Alice strode to the cupboard, keeping her eyes on the cat (who had put his face in one paw and was muttering "Why? Why, oh, why?" under his breath), and opened the doors of the cupboard.
She gasped and took a step back. There, in the cupboard, folded neatly and placed in a small, tidy stack were the Dormouse's pink skirt, pink blouse, cream-colored apron, and a bright red dress with blue lace trimmings that Alice had never seen before, but instantly knew whom it belonged to due to its size. She turned to the cat, now as serious as she had been on the celebrated Frabjous Day.
"I guessed there was something strange about her absence."
"Yeah. All cats have their secrets, Alice," said Chessur. "It shouldn't surprise you, love."
Alice turned away from him, looking intently at the red dress she guessed only Tarrant's skillful (but scratched) hands could make. Chess spoke to her, but she didn't turn to face him as he talked.
"We didn't leave from the tea table. I found her in tears at the burbling brook. She told me she loved Tarrant, and she was in such a state that I actually asked her to come and stay with me, the foolish slurking ur-pals that I am. She only said yes after she checked in with the Hare. She brought that pretty red dress with her."
Alice turned sharply, shocked anew to see tears streaming down Chessur's grinning cheeks.
"She's dead, Alice," he said in a soft, broken monotone the golden-haired girl had never heard him use before. "Mallymkun is no more."
"Dead? How, Chessur? When? Why?"
"About five days ago, for when," answered the cat. "Because she wanted to see her beloved Tarrant again and couldn't without dying, for why. And as for how…"
The cat took a deep breath and, for the first time that evening, his turquoise eyes gazed into Alice's blue ones.
"I killed her," he said in a tearful voice. "I ate her alive."
"What? You ate her? Chessur, how could you do such a thing to Mally?"
"Simple: she asked me to."
Alice swallowed down another verbal strike to the cat, realizing just how remorseful he was, and trying to process this newest shock in a day of shocking news and events.
"What…was…that?" she choked out.
"She asked me. She asked me to eat her."
For a short time there was silence.
"Does anyone else know?" asked Alice, gently.
The Cheshire Cat nodded. His smile went from sad to sadder.
"After she died…after she digested, I couldn't look at myself without wanting to cut my heart out with that pin-sword on the wall, so I talked to him about it. As far as I know, he hasn't told a soul, not even Bielle or their pups."
Alice frowned with sadness and confusion.
"Tell me what happened, Cat," she said quietly. "Tell me everything."
"If I must," sighed Chess, and related the story of the dormouse's death to Alice, just as he had to Bayard the Bloodhound, from Mallymkun's tearful rantings at the brook to her "batty" song as she faded out of existence within the confines of his stomach. Once all was told, he sighed shakily and looked at Alice again. A single tear was rolling down her cheek. Chessur smirked half-heartedly.
"A wise old bug once said 'nothing was ever accomplished with tears'", said the cat. "I'd follow his advice myself, but the truth is, I haven't been myself since. It seems like I've been crying all week…I probably have been."
"At least she's with the Hatter now."
"Yes…I suppose she is."
Alice paused before asking, more out of curiosity than anything, "How did she taste?"
Chess chuckled and replied, "As lovely as she looked."
"She didn't feel any pain, I hope?"
"I doubt it," assured Chess. "My saliva has a pain-killing agent in its mixture…it's a predator thing."
He laughed softly.
"Mally never told you how she met Tarrant, Thackery, and I, did she?"
Alice shook her head. The cat grinned wider (if that was possible, and Alice guessed it was), and began the tale.
"It was about two years before the Horunvendush Day. She got separated from her family on their way to a Yadyam celebration in Witzend. I was hunting that morning, and I cornered her.
"She was just as courageous then as she was on the Frabjous Day. She grabbed the biggest twig she could carry and hit me in the eye…don't laugh! It wasn't funny! It hurt! Anyway…I managed to remove her of her weapon and pinned her down with one paw. I was about to bite off her head, and end it all quickly for her, since she'd been such fun to play with…when she did something very much unexpected…"
The cat paused, an affectionate and amused smile on his sad face. Alice eyed him curiously.
"What did she do?"
"Well, most rodents, once pinned by a cat, tend to scream or plead for mercy or call in vain for help. Not Mallymkun. She looked me dead in the eye and called me 'a miserable meatball of a cat.' It was then that I realized something: unlike all other dormice, who feared me with all the wrath of the Red Queen – may her name be cursed forever – Mallymkun felt no fear, not of me and, as I soon found out, not of anything else. If she ever did show fear, it was always fear for someone else.
"So I let her go, but I didn't leave her alone. I kept ambushing her. I had no intent of eating her then, you understand, although the thought was still tempting at the time, but I simply loved seeing and playing with her, even if she loathed me. In time, she came to understand my mindset, of course, and we became friends. It was sometime around there that I introduced her to the March Hare, who in turn introduced her to Tarrant."
Chessur's eyes narrowed as he continued.
"Then came the Horunvendush Day. Poor Tarrant and Thackery nearly went gallymoggers, but decided to simply stay mad, albeit in a different sense of the word. The funny thing was, since Mally's family was killed in the Jabberwocky's rampage as well, I figured 'If the Hare and the Hatter don't kill me, she will.' But once again, she surprised me: she said she'd run out on her own family, like I had on hers and so many others. She forgave me, and long before Tarrant did. And like I feel now, I think she felt terrible about leaving her family to the fire."
The Cheshire Cat finished his story, sniffled, and turned to Alice mournfully.
"I miss her so much," he meowed. "I miss her even more than I miss Tarrant."
"I can only imagine," said Alice. The cat turned away from her again. Alice felt a curious urge hit her and she reached out and gave his ears a gentle scratch. The cat almost literally melted under her touch, purring like crazy.
"Oh…ohh…that does feel good…" he murmered.
Alice giggled and pulled her hand away. The Cheshire Cat instantly stopped purring.
"I wish you didn't stop," he said. His eye caught the red dress. He tenderly picked it up, and stroked it as if it were a kitten.
"She only wore this whenever she went to sleep, she said. The Mad Hatter made it for her. Funny thing…she looked more beautiful in this than any other outfit I'd seen her wear before. I truly would have liked to see her in it more often…but now, all I have left is this, and the image of her, dancing in this dress."
"My father was like Mally in that respect, I think," said Alice.
Chessur looked at her with some alarm.
"Your father wore a red dress whenever he went to sleep? And I thought Thackery was mad!"
"No, silly! He had a pale, sky-colored suit, almost the color of McTwisp's waistcoat. He wore it whenever he went to company parties, but never any other time. I only got to go to one such party, about a year before he died. He looked grander than anyone else there in that blue suit, and it was the first and only time I ever saw him do the Quadrille."
Alice grinned and whispered, "He looked very silly doing that dance in that suit, but otherwise he looked fantastic."
Chessur's smile hinted he was just as amused by Mally waltzing with his paw in the red velvet dress.
"My father's gone," said Alice, "But my mother still holds onto the blue suit for memories. Like you, it's all we have left of him."
Chessur smiled so wide, Alice swore she saw his gums.
"Whenever I feel upset, Chessur, I think of pleasant things, and the first thing that always comes to mind is my father in his sky-blue suit. Perhaps you should do the same to help you feel better."
"I'll try, Alice. Thank you."
Alice nodded and gave the cat a pat on the shoulder.
"I have to go home now, Chessur. Fairnacht."
"Fairnacht, Alice. Sleep well."
"Same to you," said Alice, and left.
Chess stared for several moments at the red dress in his paws. He laughed, remembering the feeling of small white paws on his large belly.
Whenever Chessur the Cheshire Cat felt glum, he thought of that moment. He would always remember Mallymkun that way, wearing the bright red dress.