Alice Part 10

XII.

Alice knocked on the door, and a man’s voice said: “Come in.”

Alice tiptoed around the door into the room, which seemed to be some sort of study, and was immediately assailed by the ticking of hundreds of clocks. They were everywhere: all over the walls and on every surface. He sat with his back to her at a writing desk beneath a giant stained-glass circular window, which looked like a clock: each segment was stained a different colour. A golden light seemed to fill the room.

He turned around to face her.

“Ah, Alice, I’ve been expecting you.”

His face was both young and old and yet nothing extraordinary. He had a sleepy expression and there were silver streaks in his carefully parted brown hair, which none the less was going ragged around the edges, as though he’d run a hand through it several times in excitement or frustration. He wore a dark suit of a conservative Victorian fashion with a white bow tie, though something about his air possessed the merest hint of dandyism.

“Is it really you?” asked Alice.

He patted himself. “I think so. Though I can never be quite sure. I always work on the assumption that I am myself. And you are you. Though I bet you’ve been confused on this journey.”

“I certainly have.”

Alice looked at all the clocks. Their ticking seemed very loud in the small room. She wondered how he could stand it.

“I am a Master of Time,” said Lewis Carroll. “And that is what you must become.”

Alice looked over at the papers on his desk. “What are you working on?”

“I’m writing a book upon the nature of reality. Does it ever occur to you, Alice, that our entire universe can be broken down into mere numbers?”

Alice shrugged. “I guess – no, not really.”

“Everything is numbers, Alice. We are all numbers.”

Alice looked around the strange room again. That golden light seemed to be everywhere.

“Am I dreaming?” she asked.

“Does it matter?”

Alice thought about it. “I must be,” she said, “because I’ve been able to control some things. Though not everything…”

“Such is life,” said Carroll.

“Did you invent this dream? Did you bring me here? They call you the Inventor.”

“Ah, but am I the real Inventor? Who can say who is dreaming the dream?”

“Is this meant to be some sort of puzzle? Why am I here?” asked Alice.

Carroll crossed one leg over the over and folded his hands over his knee. “Such a philosophical question. Where to begin?”

Alice tried a different tack.

“Okay, I’m going to go on the assumption that this is my dream. And you, apparently, have something to tell me.”

“Assumptions are all we ever have to go on,” said Carroll, and here he rose out of his seat and floated into the air, just like the Cheshire Cat.

“Why do so many impossible things happen here?” said Alice, turning on the spot as Carroll floated around her like an astronaut.

Carroll laughed. “A thing is not impossible merely because it is inconceivable. I assure you, Alice, that human reason has very definite limits.

“Take zero, for example,” he continued, floating around her. “It isn’t a number. It is nothing. It is the absence of a number. And yet, and yet – through a number of minute steps reaching into infinity, it somehow becomes a number one. Tell me, Alice, how is that possible?”

He turned upside down in mid-air and looked at her questioningly.

Alice shook her head. “I really don’t know.”

“That rather proves my point. And the universe is built on numbers, Alice, on finely-tuned calculations. But it is not for us to know everything. And how wonderful a thought that is! The space between understanding and non-understanding… that is where fancy lies; where creation happens…”

His face took on a dream-like expression as he slowly spun right-way-up again.

“But still we try to impose some order on things, and just as well, or there would be no civilisation. And humans impose their numbers on reality as they see it. Time, for example. Calendars. Clocks.”

Alice wondered what he was getting at.

“Time, Alice,” he remarked. “Time is of the essence. And you must become a Master of it. You have almost completed your journey here, Alice. You have almost crossed the board, from non-understanding to understanding.”

Alice thought of that story she kept meaning to write. She had some good ideas for it now, at any rate…

“Then, Alice,” he said, eyes widening,

there is no Time
    like the Present,”

and he slowly faded from view before her eyes, leaving nothing but the Cheshire Cat’s grin hanging in the air.

Then the room began to spin. The ticking of the clocks grew louder and louder, until it was almost deafening in her ears, and then –

Silence.

She was floating upwards, through darkness…

 

Epilogue.

Alice woke up. She was back at her desk. She was alone in the office. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was twelve o’clock.

Had she been sleeping? Her computer screen had gone into screensaver. She wiggled the mouse, and there was her old Solitaire game, with no Cheshire Cat.

She was confused. If that had been a dream, why had it been so very vivid? And it seemed to have lasted for ages, like she’d been through a whole day. How could she be back at her desk as though nothing had happened?

She got up and walked across to the other side of the office to the kitchen area. She switched on the kettle and pondered, intensely.

The dream had had some sort of message… she thought over all the events that had happened: the fall… the tunnel… the beautiful garden… meeting Humpty Dumpty on the riverbank. The Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The Dark Forest and the White Knight… she should have asked the Red Queen to free the Knight. But would she have listened?
Then there was the Gryphon and the beach. Her child self: she’d had to let her go… the train and all the animals. Then the White Tower, and meeting Lewis Carroll at the top. And all the while, the omnipresent Cheshire Cat. He’d been the one who’d started it all.

She needed time, to get her head straight. As soon as her work colleagues were back, she’d take her lunch break and get out of the office, go for a walk. Because she needed to know: what did it all mean? And had it all been a dream?

Well, readers, what do you think?

THE END.

Alice Part 2

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…

 

II.

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.

 

III.

“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?”

“Somewhere.”

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.

 

IV.

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:
THIS WAY!

Well, that was a clear enough message. She opened the gate and walked though.

An Alice. In Wonderland?

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:

Tick,
Tock,
Tick,
Tock,
Tick
Tock….

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:

“Wake
Up,
Alice!”

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 –

 

I.

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:

“Aaaaaargh!”

And then:

“Aaaaargh!”

And then, for some reason:

“Uuuurgh!”

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.

Cuckoo!
Cuckoo!

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…