As she progressed further the forest began to grow very dark. There were strange noises all around, and the trees seemed to lean in on her. As she walked along the narrow path, a familiar shape materialised on a branch above her head. It was the Cheshire Cat!
“Why, hello Alice,” said the Cheshire Cat, grinning down at her. His teeth looked very sharp, and seemed to glint strangely in the dim light.
Alice stopped in her tracks. “You!” she said. “You’re the one who brought me here!”
“Only to teach you an important lesson. But really, you brought yourself.”
“What are you trying to teach me?”
He grinned wider. “You’ll see. How did you find the Hatter and the Hare?”
“Crazy,” said Alice. “Are there any sensible people here?” Though she thought she knew the answer to that.
“Oh no,” he said. “We’re all mad here.”
“But I don’t want to be around mad people!”
“You have no choice, Alice. You see, you’re entirely bonkers too. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s quite normal, in fact.” Here he stretched himself and yawned.
Alice wanted to know how being mad could also be normal. But decided not to ask the question.
“A great many people are mad,” continued the Cheshire Cat. “But the real tragedy is, they try not to be. To pretend they are normal. I want you to fall into your madness, Alice. I think you have real potential here.”
Alice wondered what he meant by this. But instead she asked, “Is it far to the White Tower?”
“Not far,” said the Cheshire Cat lazily. “On the other side of this forest you’ll come to the kingdom of the Red Queen. But I must warn you, she has quite a temper. Be very wary of that one, and always keep your head. One false move and she’ll have it off.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” said Alice.
Here the Cheshire Cat began to fade.
“Don’t go,” said Alice. “Stay.” For she was afraid of being in the Dark Forest on her own.
“I’m afraid this is a journey you must take alone,” said the Cheshire Cat. “Besides, I thought you didn’t want to be amongst mad people?”
Here he grinned, and faded out, slowly, until his grin was all that was left hanging in the air. Then that faded too.
True, he was mad, thought Alice, but compared to the others he spoke a strange sort of sense.
Now the Cheshire Cat was gone it seemed even darker in the forest. Alice continued along the narrow path, which took many twists and turns. She heard strange bird calls in the darkness around her, but couldn’t see the birds which made them.
“Must be the calls of the Jubjub bird,” thought Alice, though she’d no idea where she’d got that fancy from.
“Perhaps I am mad, after all,” she said aloud. She had spent quite a lot of time talking to herself on this journey.
After a while, the path forked into three different routes. Alice stopped and tried to decide which one to take. What if she picked the wrong one? Would they all lead to the Red Queen’s kingdom? What if she somehow went around in a circle? She wished there were signposts. There simply weren’t enough signposts in life, she decided.
As she hesitated, the calls of the Jubjub birds seemed to be getting louder. It seemed they were speaking words now:
“Choose! Choose! Choose!
Now! Now! NOW!”
Alice took a deep breath and picked the path on the right. She hoped it was the right path, after all. Oh dear – she was making puns in her head now. She’d been here too long.
After a while, she definitely felt like she’d gone around in a circle. The problem was that everything looked the same. There were no landmarks – just endless dark trees and the unchanging path. But was it her imagination or was it getting colder and even darker? There were no fluorescent mushrooms here to light her way. A little further and she came to another fork. Or was it the same fork? It was all very confusing – this time she took the centre path.
She wished for a moment she had her phone, so she could look at the satellite map. But what would it say? Dreamworld? Wonderland? Nowhere-land? Where was she? Inside a weird dream or hallucination? Was she going crazy? Was this all happening inside her head?
“Thoughts are cheap,” said the voices from the trees. “But time is worth a thousand pounds a minute.”
Alice looked around, but couldn’t see where the voices had come from.
“Who’s there?” she asked, though she was pretty sure she wouldn’t get an answer.
“Better not speak then,” said the voices from the trees. “Speech is worth a thousand pounds a word!”
“I’ve had enough of this!” said Alice, and she ran, while the voices jeered at her. She ran, in what she hoped was the direction of the Red Queen’s Kingdom, for she wanted to get out of this creepy forest as fast as she could.
After a time, she came to another fork where the path split into three, and she took the left path. She carried on running until she was quite out of breath.
“How much farther?” thought Alice, for the air was getting very cold now. But she kept going and going, until she came to another fork, and here she stopped, despairing. She was quite convinced she had gone around in a circle, and had made no progress at all. She was lost!
She sank down to the cold ground and put her head in her hands. Would she ever get out of here?
Just then, a deep, gentle voice said, “Excuse me, young lady. Are you lost?”