Bored? Got a few minutes to spare? Here is the intro to my soon-to-be-published novelette, a spin-off of the Alice stories by Lewis Carroll:
It was a sunny, late September day. The clouds were fluffy and far up in the bright blue sky. Alice sat at her desk by the window in the open-plan office, playing Solitaire and daydreaming. Once again, she had been left behind by her work colleagues to answer the phones while they all attended an important meeting. Alice was okay with this, though, honestly: she was used to being the odd-one-out.
There were no phone calls this morning though and all was quiet. Alice looked at the big clock on the wall. It was an unusual clock to have in an office: old-fashioned and very large, and the seconds seemed very loud. Endlessly ticking life away, here in the dreary office, when Alice would much rather be outside enjoying the sunshine and reading a book. The minute hand of the big clock was coming up to twelve.
Alice sat and played Solitaire on her computer, waiting for the inevitable moment when her peace would be disturbed. Already, her eyes were growing heavy – she had stayed up late last night. She had a habit, you see, of staying up too late so she was tired for work the next day. As she recalled, she had been doing nothing in particular; just browsing online, and had ended up researching Mad Tea Party ideas, Alice in Wonderland-style. She only wished she had enough friends to invite to such a party.
She carried on stacking the cards: red, black, red, black – she glanced at the big clock: less than a minute to twelve. Any moment her work colleagues would be back, and then she’d have to look busy.
The clock was so very loud. It echoed through her head as though the inside of her skull was a large, empty hall:
She jerked her head up suddenly. Had she been dozing off for a minute there? She really needed to start going to bed earlier. She blinked her eyes and focused on her computer screen. Where she saw the big face of a stripy cat looking at her, with big yellow eyes, grinning. It looked very much like the Cheshire Cat, from the Alice stories. Its teeth were very sharp. Why was the Cheshire Cat on her computer screen?
It looked at her for a moment, still grinning, and then it said:
It grinned even wider, then yawned. And it yawned and yawned; sucked up so much air as it yawned that Alice was being pulled towards her computer screen, towards the Cheshire Cat’s mouth, which opened like a gaping tunnel before her. This was very irregular! She tried to scream, but –
She was falling, down and down, head over heels.
Tumbling down through darkness that had no end. She was falling, but falling very slowly. It wasn’t very scary, but Alice felt she ought to scream, for posterity.
So she opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
Instead, letters formed in the air like smoke. They said:
And then, for some reason:
Alice stopped trying to scream. It was pointless. What was the point in screaming if no one could hear you?
So she was falling, floating, down in the darkness without end. But she could see outlines of objects now in the gloom around her. She could hear the ticking of clocks, echoing, reverberating, and then she saw them: clocks of all shapes and sizes, floating around her. Even cuckoo clocks.
She could hear laughter echoing in the darkness, and she was pretty sure it was the Cheshire Cat laughing at her. Then she could see other objects as she was falling past them: bookshelves crammed with books – “All that knowledge!” Typewriters too; “I really must get around to writing my novel,” she thought to herself.
As she was trying to make out other objects in the dark, she became aware of a black-and-white chessboard coming up beneath her. It got bigger and bigger as she fell closer, until she realised it was a black-and-white-tiled floor coming up to meet her.
Alice landed lightly into a heap on the chessboard-floor. She got up, brushed down her office clothes, and peered around. The darkness was so intense she couldn’t make out anything around her, only the chequered floor.
“Perhaps my eyes will adjust in a moment,” she thought to herself.
Suddenly she saw a pair of eyes blinking at her out of the darkness. They were the beady eyes of some sort of animal.
“Hello?” Alice said uncertainly, and realised she could speak again. She stepped gingerly towards the pair of eyes. Then she could make out a tunnel behind the animal, and the creature turned and bumbled off down there.
“I wonder where I am?” thought Alice, following the creature.
She was in a large tunnel – large enough for a human to walk through. It was just light enough for her to see that the eyes around her were the eyes of badgers. They stopped and snuffled at her curiously as she went past, seemingly unafraid of her.
The tunnel seemed to go on forever. She lost sight of her guide around a bend, but it didn’t matter, because she realised she was getting close to daylight – the tunnel was growing lighter, and was that birdsong she could hear?
She followed another bend, and then it was straight ahead of her: the exit to outside, through which fresh air and beautiful golden light came pouring in.
Alice walked towards the light…