In frustration, Richard bumped his head against his knees. In a matter of seconds, he felt his stomach drooping, and his heart getting sick. He felt like he had fallen into a great big hole, and no one was around to help him escape. What could he do now that his only guide, and way out of this place, was broken?
He forlornly lifted his face to the tea table down by the house. The Hatter and the Hare were laughing maniacally, and pouring tea into several more teacups, while the Dormouse snored between them. Chloe wasn't there anymore, but he felt sickened watching those three at the table. His face flushed with great dislike for them, as he looked between the table, and his poor compass.
"Hey, Rich," Chloe's gentle, motherly voice said. "It's okay."
"How?" Richard asked, looking up with despair at his friend. He gave the compass to Chloe, and she cradled it in her arms like a tender child. "Without that compass, Chloe, we can't get home. Without some miracle, we're stuck here!"
Chloe sat down beside Richard, putting her arms around her knees, and giving Richard her warmest expression. "Hey, it's not so bad," she said. "I know what we can do."
"What?" Richard grumbled, looking up from his lap.
"Yes, what can be done?" a playful voice asked from above them. Richard and Chloe looked up, and noticed the Cheshire Cat, showing off his prize-winning grin as was usual.
"Not now, Cheshire Cat," Richard said. "We've got a big problem on our hands."
"When there's a will, there's a way," the Cat said, pointing its paws in opposite directions. "And I'm fairly certain you two have a will to fix this problem. Am I right?"
"Well, yes, of course," Chloe answered. "But we don't need your help, Cheshire Cat. We know what we have to do."
Richard gave her a funny look, raising his shoulders anxiously. "We do? Er, you do?"
"Yes," Chloe said confidently.
"Well, no matter," said the Cat. "How did you like the Hatter, and the Hare?"
"I don't want to talk about that," Richard answered.
"I figured," murmured the Cat. "You know? Perhaps you should have struck up a deal with Time, as those two jokers did for a time. That way, your watch might not have been broken."
"It's not just a watch," Richard clarified. "And, I don't know what you mean."
"The Hatter and the Hare sang a dreadful song once, at a celebration of the Queen's," explained the Cat. "And, it was so dreadful, so absolutely horrid, that the Queen belted out, 'He's murdering the time! Off with his head!'"
"Yikes," Richard whispered.
"Right," agreed the Cat. "And since then, it's always six o'clock down by that tea table. No matter what instances they ask of Time, it never listens to them."
"I guess it's what they deserve," Richard said, pointing to his compass. "That Hatter spilled tea on this compass when they asked about that weird riddle."
The Cat opened its mouth in a long, loud laugh. It rolled around in the air like a dog on a rug, and curled its tail. "I'd know that riddle anywhere," it said. "They always say it doesn't have an answer. I suppose you claimed otherwise, little girl."
Chloe nodded. "Yes," she agreed. "That riddle's not supposed to have an answer, but I came up with that one on the spot."
The Cat clapped its paws, still smiling. "No one's answered that riddle for a long time," he remarked. "Maybe you ought to tell riddles at the Queen's court. She would love the entertainment."
Chloe shook her head.
The Cat nodded, chuckling. "Well, perhaps I'd best let you both go. I like to check in with the Hatter and the Hare, and see what laughs they'll make with the current moment." With its grin remaining for just seconds afterwards, the Cheshire Cat was gone.
Richard half-smiled to himself. He was glad the Cat had sympathized with him and Chloe, but he still didn't like that they had no immediate way of fixing the compass.
"Chloe, what were you saying before?" he asked. "About knowing what we can do to get back home?"
"Easy," she replied. She reached into her pocket, and pulled out a large golden pendant that hung from a very, very long chain. It was the same size and shape as the compass, so that it fit just inside her palm. There was a tiny window on the intricately designed front, through which a ticking clock could be seen. "With this."
Richard looked cocky-headed at the pendant in Chloe's hand. "I don't follow you."
"You want to go home right now, don't you?" Chloe asked.
Richard nodded his head vigorously.
"Then, here, I'll show you." Chloe flung the pendant around her neck, and handed a bit of the chain to Richard. She pressed a button on the top of the pendant, and it popped open. And slowly, the hands of the clock started to whirl, until they could not be seen at all. Chloe peered through the window in the lid, and Richard mimicked her.
Rather than lush gardens and sunlight through the window, Richard could see shelves of books and a few stragglers walking with books in their arms.
Before Richard could react, he got a feeling in his stomach like someone had shoved him in the opposite direction. Chloe moved the same way, spinning in circles on her feet. The world of Wonderland didn't spin with them, it just blurred like they were looking at it through a foggy window. Abruptly, Richard and Chloe were pushed into each other, as if closed in by a tight space, by the world melting all around them.
At last, the light went away, and slowly, the library came back into focus.
When the magic was over, Richard and Chloe stumbled back to their feet, while Chloe pulled the chain of her pendant from Richard's hand.
Richard bent over when he could stand properly again, and closed the copy of Alice in Wonderland. Then he stood back up, and faced Chloe.
"You didn't tell me you could go into books too," he said shortly.
"Sure," Chloe said. "Here, why don't we sit down somewhere and I can tell you about this?"
"Okay," Richard said, putting the book back on the shelf.
For the next few moments, Richard and Chloe moved through the aisles, and then sat down in the secluded corner where Richard's book bag still lay. Most everyone had left the library by now, so they didn't have to worry about being overheard.
When at last they were both seated, Chloe removed her pendant from her tight fist, and held it out for Richard to see.
"I got this pendant on my first birthday," she began. "I didn't really know what it was all about until I was much older. Although, a lot of times, my grandpa told me that this pendant helped make me an extraordinary girl. That, maybe, there was some kind of exciting venture waiting for me when I would find out what it was."
"When did you first go into a book?" Richard wanted to know.
"I was five years old," Chloe said. "I mean, I was read to from books from the time I was born, but I didn't really want to go into a book until I could pick one up and read it by myself. I had a book of fairy tales in front of me, and I wanted to meet Prince Charming. I was playing around with the pendant, it popped open, and wham-bam, there I was!"
Richard's eyes widened, and he sat back in his chair. "You must have been so excited!" he exclaimed.
"Actually, Richard, I was pretty scared. I didn't know what had happened or where I was. But when I watched a handsome man come riding up on a white horse, I had the first idea that maybe I was dreaming. But, a few months later, when I was brave enough to want to go into another book, I started to figure things out."
Chloe laughed a little. "So, by the time I was nine years old, I had been through every book in my library. I made it a habit to go into every book I read, and I still do."
"Whoa," was all Richard could say.
"So…" Chloe began again, "I'm surprised, and I am not, to see that there is someone else who can go into books."
"Mr. Dewey gave the compass to me," Richard said. "He never said why he did, just that I would have a lot more fun reading with it."
Chloe grinned. "Well, he wasn't lying to you."
Richard couldn't bring himself to smile back. "But, the compass is broken, and we don't know how to fix it."
"Then we'll just have to find out why," Chloe said. "Sooner or later, you and I can ask my grandpa how, since he was the one who gave both our things to us. But, until then, at least we can still use my pendant."
"We?" Richard asked.
"Yes, 'we'," Chloe clarified. "I'm no longer in this alone, because you know that I can go into books. Just like I do to you."
Richard shrugged. "I guess." He looked around, and leaned closer to Chloe. "Okay. It'll be our secret."
"Our secret adventures," Chloe added, holding out her hand. Richard nodded his head, and shook Chloe's hand back.