AN: A true story. No, seriously, it is.
I curled up on my bed, hands over my head, nearly seething with frustration. Why? Why couldn't I get it right? Why was I the one with the problem?
The problem was a hat. I usually had nothing against hats. In fact, I liked wearing them. But this hat just didn't agree with me, even though I absolutely needed it to!
Today was the first home football game, and so the marching band performed at pregame and halftime. I love marching band, I love drumline, and I love the shows. But I hate the hat.
It's not that I think it looks bad, or that the plume is silly, or anything like that. It's that the hat won't stay on my head! No matter what I do with my hair, no matter how I try to tuck it under my hat, no matter how I clip it or put it up, the hat slides around! Also, because I'm in the drumline, I'm not supposed to use the chinstrap, which would make it infinitely easier.
To make matters worse, it was windy today. And my hat fell off during pregame, while we were standing still! If I couldn't even keep my hat on while we weren't moving, how could I ever get it to work for competitions? I'd been working on my hat troubles fruitlessly for over a year now.
I hated being the only one with a problem, in any situation.
My mom told me to bring the hat home, and we'd figure something out over the weekend. I wasn't so optimistic. What would two more days of vain struggles in front of the bathroom mirror do? The hair stylist at last year's school musical had commented on the hopelessness of my hair ever staying in anything more complex than a ponytail.
"It's such a shame, too," she'd said. "You're hair's so beautiful and thick!"
That's my hair. Envy of all, except when it came to marching, which just so happens to be the only time I actually ask anything of it!
But was it the hair? Or was it the hat?
Who can help me? I thought. Who do I know that knows anything about hats?
The answer hit me so suddenly, I sat up straight. I did know someone. We hadn't ever met, not exactly, but I knew him. And he did know a thing or two about hats…
The idea was crazy. It was even impossible.
"Only if you believe it is," I whispered to myself, smiling slightly as I swept away the bed sheets and climbed down off of the bunk bed, glancing cautiously at my sleeping brother in the bottom bunk as I crossed the room to the closet.
I quickly pulled on socks and tennis shoes, and as an afterthought I put on a bathrobe over my pajamas. Mother Nature had suddenly decided that it was autumn after weeks of ninety-degree weather. I could only hope that it was warmer at my destination.
I crept downstairs, making my way without turning on the lights despite my fear of the dark. I couldn't risk my parents waking up and catching me sneaking out at—I checked the microwave clock as I passed through the kitchen—10:45 pm. But I wasn't too worried about what time it was. For all I knew, it could be the middle of the day where I was going. I grabbed my hatbox from where I had discarded it when I'd gotten home after the football game and pushed open the back door.
Immediately, I was glad for the bathrobe. The winds that had pushed my hat troubles over the edge, as it were, cut through my thin pajamas like sharp icicles. Luckily, I didn't have very far to go. I walked down the back porch steps and crossed the yard, heading for the maple tree.
There I stopped, my eyes shut tight. If what I hoped was there wasn't there, then I was out of luck. I hardly dared to think the two words, lest I jinx my chances. But I had to think them. If I had the slightest doubt of its existence, then it wouldn't be there.
Rabbit hole, I thought, stepping around the tree and letting go of a breath that I hadn't known I had been holding as I saw it between the roots. It was a hole even darker than the night around me, with no bottom in sight. I sat down, letting my legs dangle over the edge.
"Here goes nothing," I muttered, tightening my grip on the hat box and pushing off of the ground.
I kept my eyes shut tight as I fell, curling up into a ball to lessen my chances of hitting anything. The fast fall was disorienting enough without having to see how quickly I was passing the objects stuck in the walls.
Eventually, I hit bottom. Sitting up and looking around, I realized that the rabbit hole had not deposited me in the room of doors, but somewhere in the Tulgey Woods. I was fine with this, however, because I hadn't known how I would have gotten the hat box through the tiny door anyway. I stood up and brushed some stray leaves off of my bathrobe.
Although I wasn't exactly sure where I was, I set off walking. There was daylight here, and I had little doubts that I would be able to find my way around, or else I would run into someone and ask for directions.
I enjoyed the walk. Underland was a truly beautiful world. I spent the whole time staring at the plants of unusual shapes and colors, watching borogoves and raths, and listening to the buzzing of dragonflies and horseflies chasing each other through the air. It was warm, and there was a pleasant breeze.
I wish I lived here, I caught myself thinking.
No, I have to go home after this. I don't belong in Underland.
At this thought, I had emerged from the trees and come into view of the March Hare's tea table. Sitting there were the three people I had expected to see: the Hare, the Dormouse, and the man I had come with the intention of meeting: the Hatter.
"Hello!" the Hatter called to me. I smiled.
"Hi," I replied, approaching the table.
"It is very nice to see you again," he said.
I frowned slightly. "Have we met?" I'd never been to Underland before, unless watching the movie counted.
The Hatter shrugged. "Maybe we have, and maybe we haven't," he said. "Do you have any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?"
"I'm not sure—"
"Gae! Nowun evir knows!" the Hare complained. "Box?" he added, glancing at the black hatbox in my hands.
"—but I'm here with a question of my own," I said, setting the hatbox on the table. "And it's in this box."
"A question in a box?" said the Hatter. "Now, how do you put a question in a box?"
"You can't put questions in boxes, Hatter," the Dormouse said, running across the table to the box. "But you can put an object in it, and then ask a question about the object."
"Right," I said, opening the box. "And the object in question just so happens to be…"
"A hat!" the Hatter exclaimed, standing up and walking across the table to get a closer look. The Dormouse irritably stepped out of the way of his feet.
"I can't get it to stay on my head," I explained.
"Now, this is a matter of business," said the Hatter, picking up the hatbox and stepping off the table. "Let's go into the shop."
I followed him over to the old windmill, where he held the door open for me. The Dormouse tried to dodge through after me, but he stopped her.
"Just me and the customer, Mally," he said. The Dormouse scowled and crossed her arms, clearly unhappy with the idea of the Hatter being alone in a room with another female.
"Don't worry, Mallymkun," I attempted to reassure her. "I'm going home again after this…and I have no interest in dating anyone yet," I added in an undertone that only her sensitive ears could discern.
She nodded slowly, still not looking too pleased, and headed back to the tea table. The Hatter closed the door behind her.
The inside of the windmill had been turned into a sort of workshop. Hats and pieces of fabric were all over the room. The Hatter brushed some scraps off of a table and set the hatbox on it.
"Not staying on your head, is it?" he asked, taking the hat out of the box. "How naughty of it."
"I wear this hat for marching band performances," I said. "I'm supposed to tie up my hair so that it all stays under the hat, but once I've done that, it slides around and falls off. And then my hair comes undone, and I can't stop to fix it all, and it's just a big mess!"
The Hatter turned the hat over in his hands, looking at it from every angle. "It's a good hat," he said. "Perhaps you just need a different size."
"Maybe," I said. "But I've had problems with marching hats for over a year now. I must be doing something wrong. At this point, I just want it solved!"
"Try it on," said the Hatter. "Let me see."
I reached into the box and pulled out a little bag with ponytail holders and hairpins in it. "Do you have a hairbrush?" I asked. "I forgot to bring one."
The Hatter grabbed a hairbrush from a nearby shelf and handed it to me.
"You have very nice hair," he said.
"It's a pain in the rear," I said. "Sometimes I think I should have it cut short, and save me a lot of trouble."
The Hatter shook his head. "I've seen hair that wants cutting. Yours doesn't."
While I untangled my mess of hair, he discovered the hat's plume.
"It's a nice hat," he said, placing the plume in its slot. "Simple, practical, and official."
"When the whole band's in uniform, we look awesome," I said, bending forward to gather up my hair as far up on my head as I could.
"There must be a better way," I continued. "This takes too long. I need something quicker, more efficient."
"You would get along very well with the Rabbit," said the Hatter.
It took me a few tries to get the band tight. "G-d, I hate having to do this backwards."
"I don't think you should have to," the Hatter said, looking inside the hat. "Did you notice this string?"
"What string?" I pushed my hair out of my eyes to look. The Hatter was fingering a knotted, white string inside the hat.
"Have you ever untied this?" he asked.
"No…" I said. "Do you think that would help?"
"Take your hair back down," the Hatter suggested.
"But I just got it up!" I protested.
"Take it down," he repeated calmly, undoing the knot.
"It has to be under the hat," I said, but I complied.
"Now, do a normal ponytail," said the Hatter, tucking the string back into place and tugging a little at the hat.
"That doesn't work…" I muttered, as I did so.
The Hatter stood up, walked around the table, and took my ponytail in one hand. He pulled it forward over my head and placed the hat on top.
"Now, how's that?" he asked, backing away.
I pulled at the chinstrap, setting it under my mouth.
"I don't know," I said. "It feels snug, but…I don't know."
I turned. The Hatter was holding up a mirror, and I gaped at my reflection.
"It's straight," I gasped. "It fits."
I stood up and marched around the room, shaking my head.
"It stays!" I exclaimed. "It stays! Oh, thank you, thank you!" I whirled around and grabbed the Hatter in an impulsive hug. "Thank you!"
"Any time," said the Hatter, who seemed a bit bewildered by my excitement.
"How much do I owe you for your time?" I asked, stepping away and putting the hat back in its box. "Oh, crud, I don't have anything to pay with…"
The Hatter shook his head. "Just come by for tea sometime, and we'll be even."
"Oh, I will come for tea," I said. "As soon as I'm free, I mean, I can't miss marching practice, and there'll just be more homework as the school year goes on…but I'll come, I promise I'll come. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Don't be too late, or Thackery might use you for target practice," the Hatter joked, opening the door again.
I laughed. My bad mood of less than an hour ago had completely vanished.
"Bye," I said, starting off toward the trees. "Bye Mallymkun, bye Thackery!"
"Fairfarren, Hatter," I called back, turning to wave one more time. "Fairfarren!"
That's a problem solved, I thought as I headed back the way I'd come. And a friend gained, I think!
Before I knew it, I was quietly reentering the house, setting the hatbox back in its place and glancing at the microwave clock as I crept upstairs—10:50 pm. It was like I hadn't even left.
But I did leave, I thought as I took off my shoes, socks, and bathrobe and climbed back into bed. And I'll go back again, someday. Someday…
AN: You don't have to believe it if you don't want to, but just remember that things are only as impossible as you believe they are.