I’ve decided to publish my Alice novelette in sections here on my blog, every Wednesday and Sunday. Any comments and constructive criticism are welcome! To read the first part click here.
…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…
And emerged into a beautiful garden. There were tall flowers all around her, and bees buzzed busily through the air.
“What a beautiful garden!” thought Alice. The grass was soft, and the air was warm. If this place was a dream, she wanted to stay here a while.
Not far away she could see a neat little house, which the garden must belong to, and beyond the garden there was a forest. Through the treetops poked the top of a tall white tower. Alice decided she had to go there; she didn’t know why. It seemed to pull her somehow.
“Still, I might stay in the garden a while longer,” she said to herself.
Though there was something strange about this world. The air felt curiously soft, if such a thing can be understood. Like marshmallow-air. And the birds sounded different, as though they were singing in a foreign language.
“Where on Earth am I?” Alice wondered.
As she walked, she brushed past a large bush with flowers on, and the flowers flew off and turned into butterflies. Very strange. Certainly like no butterflies Alice had ever seen.
As she was walking, she caught sight of the birds that were singing as they flew from tree to tree.
“Oh! A bluebird!” said Alice. “And a pinkbird! And, a greenbird! And an-an orangebird –” She shut up now. It sounded ridiculous, even to her own ears. There was no such thing as an orangebird, even though, indeed, the bird she had just seen was bright orange. They were all the colours of the rainbow, in fact.
Just then, a gigantic puppy came running and barking over the grass towards her. It looked like a chihuahua, but was the size of an elephant. She didn’t much like the size of its mouth – she was afraid it might eat her. So, she dashed out the garden gate and ran into the lane.
A sign pointed down a path into the woods. It said, “This way!”
So she followed it into the woods, where the path was too narrow and the trees too close together for the puppy to follow her in.
“Whew! That was a close one!” said Alice. Still, she was disappointed she didn’t get to spend much time in the garden. She would have liked to stay there a while; it was much nicer than anywhere she knew in real life. But at least she could look for the tower.
But where exactly was she? And why did all the trees look exactly the same?
“What a strange place!” Alice said aloud.
“You might well say that,” said a voice from the trees, “as you are living inside an artificial reality.”
Alice stopped and shook her head like a cartoon character. Did she just hear a voice? She wasn’t sure – it was almost on the edge of consciousness.
“Did someone just say something?” she asked out loud.
“I did,” said the voice.
“Where are you?”
“Who are you?”
“That’s a very personal question. Who are you?”
“I’m Alice,” said Alice, after only a moment’s hesitation.
“Are you sure?”
“I-I think so. Though I’m not quite sure where I am.”
“Then how can you be sure who you are?”
This seemed such an odd question to Alice, that she had to pause and think about it for a moment. All the while she kept on walking through the trees, and the voice seemed to follow her, though she never saw the speaker.
“I’m still me,” Alice continued, “I just don’t know where I am.”
“Who’s to say that a person is the same person if they are in a different place?”
Alice was getting slightly vexed now. “Look, I don’t want a philosophical discussion!” she said, perplexed. “I just want to know where I am!”
“You already know,” said the voice, simply. Then it didn’t speak again.
A giggling sound came from above her. Alice looked up. It was a squirrel, looking down and laughing at her. Who knew that squirrels could laugh? But Alice was already getting used to the extraordinary, and she kept on walking, musing over what the voice had said. Where was she? Surely not – surely not –? Was this place inside her head?
There was the sound of a piano being played somewhere, rather strangely and off-key. But the sound was soothing, nonetheless. As she walked through the wood, she seemed to be getting closer to the source of the music.
All the trees really were exactly the same, she realised. Not like real trees, but more like trees in a computer game or something.
The piano sound was getting nearer.
Finally, the trees started to thin and she could see a bright silvery stream crossing the path ahead of her. The piano was really loud now but she couldn’t see a piano anywhere. She reached the end of the wood and emerged onto a grassy bank. An arched wooden bridge crossed the shallow, silvery stream that rushed past, tinkling over rocks…
And that’s when she realised the piano sound wasn’t a piano at all but the sound the stream made as it rushed over the rocks. Well, of course. Alice shrugged and crossed the wooden bridge to the other side.
On the other side of the stream was another grassy bank and more woodland ahead, but it was fenced off, so Alice kept walking along the bank, following the bend of the wood, with the stream on her left-hand side. She stooped to look at some flowers in the grass. They looked as though they were fake. She picked one and it crumbled to dust in her hand. This place was certainly very odd.
She started as a large yellow-and-purple bee flew past, whistling merrily.
“Morning,” said the bee, as it bumbled past.
“Morning,” said Alice, after a moment’s hesitation. Well, of course the creatures could talk. Hadn’t she just seen a squirrel laughing?
After a while she saw, sitting on a picnic blanket, a very familiar nursery-rhyme figure. True, his appearance was much altered, as he was criss-crossed all over with bandages and band-aids, but there was no mistaking that distinctive shape: it was Humpty Dumpty.
As Alice approached, Humpty Dumpty watched her warily, as though he was afraid she might attack him.
“Hello,” said Alice. “Are you Humpty Dumpty?”
“Of course I am!” said Humpty Dumpty. “Who else would I be?”
Although he said this with some irritation, Alice noticed he trembled as he spoke, and his eyes were wide and wary.
“I’m sorry – please forgive my intrusion. It’s just I’ve never met a celebrity before. I don’t really know what to say.”
Humpty Dumpty seemed mollified. “It’s okay,” he said.
“Excuse me for asking, but are you alright? You have an awful lot of bandages on you.”
Humpty Dumpty flinched and said, “I’m okay – just fell off a wall, that’s all.”
He looked so downcast as he said it that Alice couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Humpty Dumpty said nothing.
“Do you know where this place is?” Alice asked him.
“Of course I do,” said Humpty Dumpty, “or I wouldn’t have come here.”
“It’s just, I’ve come here, but I don’t know this place at all.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“I didn’t mean to – it was an accident. The Cheshire Cat yawned and I fell down his throat.”
Humpty Dumpty scrutinised her suspiciously. “What an odd thing to say! Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
Alice didn’t like his scrutiny.
“You know,” she said after a pause, “I’m not quite sure that I am. Forgive my intrusion Sir – good day!” And here she curtsied. She felt it was expected somehow.
Humpty Dumpty nodded goodbye and Alice continued walking along the bank.
“If this is a dream,” she ruminated, “why don’t I wake up?”
She tried to remember how she normally woke herself from dreams – say if she was having a nightmare. She tried pinching herself, but it didn’t work.
Then she squeezed her eyes tightly shut and said, “Wake up, Alice! WAKE UP!”
She opened her eyes. But she was still on the grassy bank. Something wasn’t right – if this was a dream, it felt very real. But how could it be reality?
Up ahead, she saw a shepherd boy sitting against a tree. But, instead of a flock of sheep, he had a small herd of green pigs (if ‘herd’ was the right word for pigs – Alice wasn’t sure). The pigs snuffled and frolicked merrily on the bank, while the shepherd boy watched some nymphs bathing and playing in the water. It made for a slightly strange pastoral scene.
Alice approached the shepherd boy. “Excuse me,” she said, “Is this a dream or am I awake?”
The shepherd boy didn’t even look at her. “That depends on what you mean by ‘awake,’” he said, looking towards the river.
“Why must everyone speak in riddles here?” thought Alice.
Alice was distracted then by the nymphs’ squeals of laughter. She turned to look at them. They were difficult to make out somehow – their silvery forms reflected the light so it was difficult to focus the eye on them. They whispered to each other and splashed water at Alice. Alice walked away, their laughter ringing in her ears, feeling odd and out-of-place in her office clothes.
Then she spotted a gateway into the wood, with a large signpost over it that said:
Well, that was a clear enough message. She opened the gate and walked though.