Alice Part 9

XI.

Once inside, she saw she was in a wide entrance hall that seemed to belong to an old gothic mansion, and was certainly not the right dimensions for a narrow circular tower. The floor was tiled in black and white squares like a chessboard, but their edges seemed to be blurred; in fact, the whole room seemed to be shifting and moving and seemed never to stay still. The heavy chandelier that hung from the ceiling swung from side to side. It was like being on a ship at sea or in one of those fairground fun houses. Alice walked unsteadily across the hall.

The Cheshire Cat appeared in mid-air before her.

“Welcome to the Fun-House,” he said.

“What’s going on in here?!” asked Alice.

“Oh, you’ll find many of the Inventor’s half-formed ideas and dreams live here. They haven’t all quite taken shape yet, as you can see.”

Alice walked past some odd-looking contraptions that looked vaguely familiar, though she couldn’t quite place them. Though there were some distinctive objects too: she walked past bookshelves and a small table where a game of chess lay abandoned. Alice noted that a white pawn had nearly made it to the other side of the board.

“Watch out!” said the Cheshire Cat. Alice ducked as a grand piano went sailing over her head.

Then she looked around for the Cheshire Cat, but he had gone again.

“Whose dream is this?” thought Alice, not for the first, second, or even thirty-third time that day (if, indeed, this was a ‘day’ she was in).

Ahead of her was a spiral staircase, but instead of the steps being stationary they moved upwards like an escalator. Alice got on and held on to the handrail tight.

The upper floor was a white, circular hallway with four narrow corridors leading off from it. In front of one of the corridors stood a little girl with dark hair in a white dress. It seemed as though she had been waiting for Alice. The most curious thing was the girl was all black and white like an old photograph, and her dress was old-fashioned and lacy with a high collar; it looked Victorian.

The girl didn’t speak to Alice but looked at her for a moment with her dark eyes, then silently turned and walked down the corridor behind her. Alice followed, presuming her to be some sort of guide. The girl turned a corner, and when Alice had followed her around, she had disappeared.

Ahead of Alice was a long, white corridor, seemingly without end, with doors lining the walls on each side. Alice started walking down the corridor, and as she passed the doors, some opened, and things came out.

Out of one a great quantity of unusual insects came flying. Some of them looked like rocking-horses with wings:

“A rocking-horse fly!” said Alice.

Another kind looked as though it were made out of thin crusts of bread, with a glob of butter for a head.

“A bread-and-butterfly?” guessed Alice.

And then there was another which she wasn’t sure about: it had holly leaves for wings and a burning raisin for a head. What could they be? Such curious things they were!

Out of another door burst Humpty Dumpty, who was no longer covered in bandages but whose shell was shining and whole again.

“I’m healed!” he cried ecstatically, racing past Alice. “I’m new! I’m whole! I’m born again! I’m –” And here there was a great crash.

Poor Humpty Dumpty – he must have fallen down the stairs. Alice turned to go back to him but found the corridor came to a dead-end right behind her! Curiouser and curiouser! She turned and walked back down the corridor a little way and then looked back – the dead-end was again right behind her, as if she’d gone no distance at all. She kept walking then, afraid the wall would catch up with her, and all the while doors kept opening and strange things kept coming out.

Out of one some goldfish came swimming, through the air. A couple of them looked like her goldfish.

“Argyll! Olly! What are you doing out of your tank?” They both swam around and around her, opening and shutting their mouths, looking quite pleased with themselves, as far as goldfish are able to. Then they swam off through another open doorway. A creepy clown peered out at her through the next one, and Alice quickly moved on. Suddenly the Mad Hatter came running down the corridor towards her.

“ALICE!” he cried. “I’M AFRAID THIS IS ALL TOO MUCH FOR YOU! YOU MUST HAVE SOME TEAAAAA!!!”

“I’M OKAY!!!” said Alice, batting him off. “REALLY, I’M FINE!!!!” She had no idea why they were speaking in capital letters, or why they were using so many exclamation marks. She must really be going around the bend….

She shut her eyes tight and then opened them again. The Hatter was gone, and now she was standing in a plain circular room, with a lightbulb pointing up from the floor.

Alice looked up. There was an old-fashioned leather sofa and a coffee table on the ceiling. It looked like the room was the wrong way up…

The voice of the Cheshire Cat chuckled, and said,

“Why don’t you take a seat?”

The room flipped upside-down, and Alice landed in a heap on the sofa.

The Cheshire Cat materialised, curled up on the coffee table.

“How long will you keep this up for?” asked Alice.

“Keep what up? It has nothing to do with me.”

“Well, when will this madness end?”

“You must find the Inventor.”

“You mean Lewis Carroll?”

“I mean what I say.”

How do I find him?”

“The only way is up.”

And the Cheshire Cat disappeared again.

“I wish he’d stop doing that,” said Alice.

Alice rose from the sofa and walked towards the door. She needed to find more stairs, she guessed, and she had the curious feeling that she was running out of time…

Behind the door was another corridor that seemed to go on forever. She ran and ran, but there was no end in sight.

“You’ll never get anywhere like this,” said the voice of the Cheshire Cat, from the air around her.

“Up, I need to go up!” said Alice frantically to herself. And as she said it, somewhere a giant clock began ticking; she heard it, coming from above. What was she going to do? She wished the White Knight was here. She was lost. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping that when she opened them, she’d be somewhere else. Her feet left the floor, and she began moving, floating upwards…

She opened her eyes to see she was flying towards a beautiful bright light… it was heavenly.

“I’m going up!” thought Alice joyfully.

And so she was. She travelled at lightning speed. The wind rushed through her hair. It was like flying on the Gryphon, except there was nothing supporting her – and then she became afraid; what if she fell?

Her progress began to halt –

“Don’t stop Alice, you’re nearly there!” said the Cheshire Cat, beside her. And he was positively beaming with encouragement.

Alice began to move upwards again more rapidly. Up and up, and then, before she knew it, she had come to rest on a small landing. On the landing was a door. And on the door was a gold plaque which read, in formal lettering:

LEWIS CARROLL

Alice Part 8

X.

As the train gathered speed, Alice took a closer look at the other passengers on board. It was ‘standing room only’ in the most literal sense, as there were no seats, and many of the animals were not well-adapted to sit in seats anyway. There were squirrels, dormice, rabbits, oysters, hedgehogs, frogs, various birds and even an alpaca. The train was gathering speed rapidly now and Alice looked on in some alarm as some of the smaller animals began to roll towards the back.

“Eek!” said a squirrel, as it tried to cling to the hem of Alice’s trousers. They were going really fast. Alice looked out the window to find she could no longer see the ocean, just a racing blur of technicolour. Were they going faster than light? Alice began to tumble towards the back too, and suddenly felt she didn’t want to be on this train anymore; she was scared. Why couldn’t she have stayed on the beach, collecting shells?

“Ow!” she said, as she hit the back of the carriage, and dislodged a disgruntled hedgehog from behind her.

“Watch where you’ve flying!” said the hedgehog.

It was pandemonium: animals were piled up at the back of the train, all bickering with one another. Many of the birds had tried flying to keep up with the speed, but it was too fast for them, and they too were hurled towards the back; a large seagull was draped over the eyes of the alpaca, which was in turn draped across Alice and the other animals.

“I wonder were the gnat is?” said Alice.

“I’m right here,” said the tiny voice by Alice’s ear, and Alice fought the urge to swat at it.

“This is quite a way to travel, isn’t it?” said the gnat.

“Indeed!” said Alice. She was so vexed she could say nothing else.

“Trains have really gone downhill if you ask me!” said the hedgehog.

“No-one was asking you!” said the squirrel.

“Now, now, don’t bicker,” hooted an owl, who was spread in a most unbecoming way against the back of the carriage.

“Where are we going?” said Alice.

“To the White Tower, of course!” the animals all squeaked, hooted and chirped in reply.

“But why?” said Alice.

“Because we want to go, stupid,” said the hedgehog. “Why else would we be here?”

Alice thought he was only grumpy because she’d squashed him slightly. She wondered when this terrible train journey would end.

The Cheshire Cat materialised then, in mid-air in front of Alice.

“Having fun?” he asked.

“Not really,” said Alice. “What is the point of this?”

“The train is a great metaphor for life, don’t you think?” said the Cheshire Cat. “It can be rather a bumpy ride.”

“This isn’t funny!” said Alice.

“That depends on your view,” said the Cheshire Cat. “I like to view things a different way.” And here he flipped over onto his back in mid-air and grinned at Alice, upside down.

“Who are you? And why are you different to all the other animals?”

“I’m a cat,” he said simply. “And don’t expect me to tell you my secrets, for we cats revel in mystery. But I am not the mystery you must solve. In this case, I am simply the messenger.”

“So, you’re not the one who’s behind all this?”

“Oh no – I’m a cat. I may know things humans don’t, but I’m no inventor. I think there’s someone you should meet. You’ll find him in the White Tower. Right at the very top, if you can find it.”

And he disappeared.

Eventually the train began to slow down, and it finally came to a stop at the bottom of a hill. Alice and all the animals unfurled themselves, grumbling, from the back of the train, and got off. Alice looked up at the hill. The White Tower stood on top of it, gleaming in the sunlight. She looked around as a flamingo pushed past and saw that all the animals and birds were heading off in another direction.

“Where are you going?” she called after them.

“To the Visitor’s Centre and Cafe,” they replied in unison. Alice shook her head and started walking up the hill.

“Goodbye,” said the tiny voice in her ear.

Alice reached the top in time to see the Cheshire Cat’s tail disappear through a half-open door at the foot of the tower. A biting wind came from nowhere and the door blew shut. Some butterflies flew past that were the colour of autumn leaves.

Alice walked up to the tower and stopped outside the small wooden door, which was painted a peeling blue.

She’d been wanting to come here for so long…

She took a deep breath and turned the handle.

Alice Part 7

IX.

But no, they were flying to the other side of this strange world, where it was still daylight, and Alice could see the sea. They landed on a soft, sandy beach. Alice recognised the place from real life, though she knew they were still in the dream world.

“How do you know?” asked the Gryphon, as though he could hear her thoughts.

“Because there is me,” said Alice. And it was true; there, a little further off down the beach, was the child-version of Alice, staring at the waves.

“This beach holds a special place in your memory, doesn’t it?” said the Gryphon.

“It does,” said Alice. This was where she’d had her childhood holidays. This was the first place she’d seen the sea; she remembered seeing it on the car drive down: a big black line that broke the sky. A monstrous thing. And she remembered the beach: the tangled clumps of seaweed, the dead jellyfish, like shipwrecked space-beings. Her parents warned her not to touch them.

The beach looked different now: with combed golden sand, there was not a dead jellyfish in sight. The young Alice was watching the waves, as though entranced. A golden light seemed to faintly halo the scene.

Alice went and crouched down next to her.

“What are you looking for?” she asked gently.

“I’m waiting for my ship to arrive,” said young Alice.

Alice wondered whether she was playing a game. She noticed there were lots of colourful shells buried in the sand around their feet.

“Would you like to collect shells while we wait?”

Young Alice nodded. “Okay.”

A little further off, the Gryphon had curled up on the sand and gone to sleep. Alice wondered why he had brought her here. There were two brightly-coloured buckets sitting on the sand nearby and the two Alices used them to fill with shells. There were a lot of different shells, all different colours and shapes.

Alice felt like they were waiting for something more than a ship to arrive. She noticed, not far off, the start of a train track that ran alongside the sea into the horizon. She wondered whether a train would come soon? There was nowhere to buy tickets…

“Why are you sad?”

Alice looked at the child version of herself, who was watching her curiously.

“I’m not sad.”

“You are – I can tell.”

Alice had forgotten about child-intuition. She thought about what young Alice had said. She was a little lonely, maybe. She wasn’t really sad. She had things she wanted to do she never seemed to get around to doing. Maybe adult life wasn’t as she’d imagined it’d be when she was eight years old… which was nearly twenty years ago now.

“I’m not sad, Alice. I’m just –” What could she say to the child version of herself, who would one day grow up to be her?

“Did you write those stories you wanted to write?” asked young Alice.

“I wrote some of them down, yes.”

Young Alice brightened. “Does that mean you’re a famous writer?”

“Not exactly – I work in an office.”

Young Alice was puzzled. “Why do you do that?”

“I need to make money. I need to pay my bills.”

“Are you married?”

“No, Alice.”

“Do you have a house?”

“I have a little flat of my own. It’s okay.”

Alice felt she should add more. “I’m going to write more stories, though, Alice. And I’m going to get them published. And I’m going to travel. I’m going to go on adventures, and make lots of new friends.”

Young Alice shook her head. “You’re lying.”

Alice’s heart sank. “I’m not. I’m going to do those things.”

“I want to be happy when I grow up. Or I might as well stay being a child.”
Alice looked out towards the waves. It seemed an eternity before she noticed there was a ship on the horizon.

“Look!” she said, pointing.

Young Alice nodded soberly, as though she’d never doubted its coming. Then, in no time at all, the ship was at shore.

“I have to go now,” said young Alice.

“Why?” asked Alice.

“Because all things must come to an end.”

Alice nodded and hugged her younger self tightly.

“I won’t forget you.”

Young Alice nodded, and carried her bucket of shells onto the ship. When she was onboard, she waved at adult Alice as the ship bore her away over the horizon.

Alice kept waving until the ship was out of sight. Then she stared at the blue horizon.
She was broken from her reverie by the sound of a train arriving along the track by the sea, and a Dodo in a conductor’s hat was waving tickets and shouting. She looked for the Gryphon, but he was nowhere to be seen.

She heard little voices singing by the water’s edge. She turned and saw a small group of oysters walking eagerly towards the train, though she hardly knew how, as oysters don’t have legs. Still, walking they were, and singing sweetly in high-pitched voices:

““Will you walk a little faster?” said one oyster to another,

“The headmaster’s close behind us, and he’s threatened to tell Mother.”

See how eagerly the little oysters all do strain!

They are waiting on the shingle, and they want to board the train!
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you board the train?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you board the train?

You can really have no notion how delightful it will be,
When you board the train and look out of the window to the sea!
But you might think, “No way, no way!” and threaten to abstain,
And we will say, “Okay, okay, but you should board the train.”
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you board the train?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you board the train?

And you might ask, “What point is there, of going for the ride?”
So we shall say, “There is a tower, on the other side –
There’s a tower you will get to if you choose not to refrain,
So turn not pale, humanoid, but come and board the train.”
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you board the train?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you board the train?”

Well, Alice was convinced. She ran to the Dodo waving the tickets.

“Get your tickets for the White Tower! Last train!”

“I’d like a ticket please,” said Alice eagerly.

“There you go,” said the Dodo.

“Don’t I have to pay?” asked Alice.

“I’ll accept a few of those shells,” said the Dodo, nodding his head at the bucket Alice still carried.

Alice gave him the bucket of shells.

“Take them all.”

“For me?” asked the Dodo in astonishment. “Good heavens, I’ll be a rich man!”

Alice boarded the train after the oysters. It was rather crowded inside with various animals, even though she’d seen no-one else get on.

“Perhaps this ‘No-One Else’ is more popular than you think,” said a tiny voice by her ear. Instinctively Alice swatted at her ear, as the voice had sounded like the whine of a gnat.

“Hey!” said the voice, and then whined off.

The train started to move, very slowly. Alice looked out the window towards the sea.

The City Of Omalas Part II

To read part one click here.

 

woman girl eyes blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In short, I had everything I had ever wanted, but for one thing, one thing in which I couldn’t seem to get my way. I couldn’t get the image of Lord Vertigo out of my mind, and I desired no other man, no matter how many eligible suitors I had. Many nights I implored for his company; I sent him letters by dove, but to none of these did he reply.

So, one day, I left my palace and made my way to the Council building in my horse-drawn chariot…

Once there, I enquired at the door where I might find Lord Vertigo.

“He’s out, Your Highness.”

“Where did he go to?”

“On official business.”

I began to suspect that the doorman was keeping something from me. At first, I grew impetuous: “Do you know who I am?”, and then I grew angry. I pushed the doorman to one side, threatening to set my dogs upon him if he dared to follow me, and then I searched the Council building. I looked high and low, but Lord Vertigo was nowhere to be found. Neither did I find any other Council members.

Finally, there was just one place left to look: a stairway in the basement that led underground.

I began to descend the uneven stone steps, my dogs still close by. My only source of light was a small lantern I had found.

As I descended further and further down the subterranean stairway, the air began to grow cold and dank and foul-smelling. The walls were covered with a slimy moss I could hardly bear to touch. Still I pushed on, holding my nose.

I reached the bottom of the stairway after what felt like years, and was faced with a heavy black door that looked cold and clammy. I gripped the icy handle and turned it, slowly. I could hear my trembling breath in the dead, flat silence.

The door opened with a heavy creaking sound, and a foul stench from the room beyond hit me like a breath exhaled from a gruesome beast. My dogs howled and whimpered and ran back up the stairway, their tails between their legs, so that I was left alone in the dark with only the guttering light of my lantern for company.

I was afraid, but I also felt curiosity, and the curiosity won. I had come this far, after all, so what was the point in going back? With this in mind I entered the room behind the door.

What a sight did I behold in that room!

Such a gruesome sight I had never seen! Such a pitiful, frightful, disgusting sight.

A vast cage, filled with beings that were once human, crawling like dogs. Some were naked; others swaddled in filthy rags. Their pale skin appeared to glow faintly in the dark like spectres, or the strange, tragic-looking fish that exist at the very bottom of the ocean. Skeletal and wasted, they clawed at each other in the throes of madness. Their eyes were huge, glassy and glazed, like miserable moons.

I knew at once what they were: they were The Damned, the rotten foundation upon which this seemingly flawless city was built. They reached out to me between the bars of their cage, moaning.

I turned and ran, all the way back up the stairs, out into the basement, up into the hall and out of the Council building, never looking back. I dived into my golden chariot and raced homewards.

On the way back, it seemed that the city had changed. Things were not as they had first seemed: I could see the fakery; I could see the corruption. Omalas was crumbling around me, quite literally breaking into pieces.

Faces leered at me from windows, laughing at my horror and confusion. The marble drive that led to my palace was now crisscrossed with cracks: it seemed as though it might crumble apart at any moment. And my palace no longer shone like a pearl: it was the white of old bones in the wan sunlight.

But inside, nothing seemed to have changed. Was it possible I had been imagining things? Perhaps nothing I had just seen had been real. I surrounded myself with my courtiers, to bring myself out of my dark mood, which was the result, I decided, of a strange delirium brought on by the onset of a fever, and nothing more. A bit of company was what I needed.

But I found my courtiers irksome now. Their mindless, empty laughter grated on me like a violin played out of tune. When I peered into my looking-glass, a huge crack shot up the centre, splitting my reflected visage into two; I screamed, dropping it to the floor, where it shattered into a million tiny pieces.

I screamed again, in rage and confusion, and my courtiers screamed too, as if mocking me, and when they did so their faces began to melt like plastic, so their expressions became huge gaping yawns of misery. As one, we all screamed, and the sound rang through the palace like a death-knell.

I knew then that their beauty had been nothing but masks to hide the truth: that they were The Damned, just as surely as those creatures beneath the city were, and just as surely as I now was, for the Council had surrounded me, and my dogs were not there to defend me. They had come to take me away, for they knew that I knew the truth.

Out of my senses, I fell to the floor at Lord Vertigo’s feet, clutching desperately at the folds of his robe, and implored him not to take me to The Damned, but to come to my bedchamber instead. He did not respond to my request, but his face was grim.

I was forcefully removed from my palace, and transported back to the Council building in a cage on wheels drawn by four huge tigers. I was jeered at by the citizens of Omalas and some threw eggs at me. I wept and implored Lord Vertigo to let me go.

I was taken down to the dungeon where The Damned are kept and here I now lie as I tell you this story, one of many. I am weak, hungry and miserable, but I still have some resolve. I believe that Lord Vertigo loves me, and is secretly on my side, but keeps up a pretence of devotion to the Council through fear for his life. However, I am sure he is harbouring a plan to rescue me.

He will rescue me, and then I will become the Queen of Omalas once more, and he shall be my King. The Damned shall be executed, and so shall the rest of the Council, and I will have absolute power and the freedom to exercise my will however I choose. This is my belief, and it keeps me going through the long hours of eternity amongst The Damned.

THE END.

The City Of Omalas

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

“We have chosen you to be our Queen, for never before have we seen such physical and intellectual beauty amongst living beings. You are the Chosen One – come and live with us in Omalas, our beautiful city.”

 

I suppose I should begin my miserable tale by telling you how I got here in the first place. A long time ago – or at least it feels like a long time ago – I was taken from a lower plane: a planet called Earth.

I remember it well: I was walking along an empty road, gazing up at the thick white clouds that filled the sky that day. As I was gazing, an opening formed in the clouds, making a sort of portal, and I was dragged up into the air, unable to resist, towards that portal from which bright white light was issuing.

On the other side, I found myself in the centre of a large circular room. There were long windows all around, through which the purest light came pouring in and illuminating the white walls and floor.

Sitting in front of me, in a semi-circle of ornate and richly patterned silver thrones, were eleven men and women, all beautiful in appearance, wearing long and flowing white robes. Looking down, I saw that I too was wearing a white robe.

The man who sat in the centre of the semi-circle was the most exquisite being I have ever seen. His name, he said, was Lord Vertigo, and he was the leader of the Council of Omalas. I wish I could adequately describe to you his beauty, for such I have never seen. He had long, straight hair and high cheekbones.

But the colour of his eyes and hair were impossible to describe, as they always seemed to change. I hold his image in my heart always, and I hope that one day I will see him again.

But more of him later; I will move on with my story now. Lord Vertigo, the leader of the Council, said to me:

“We have chosen you to be our Queen, for never before have we seen such physical and intellectual beauty amongst living beings. It would be a shame for you to stay on such a lesser plane. You are the Chosen One – come and live with us in Omalas, our beautiful city. You shall be granted the gift of everlasting life, and have a palace of your own, and all the friends and lovers you’ve ever imagined. Come, live with us, and be our Queen.”

The way he spoke was supremely elegant, and his propositions irresistible. Of course, I was a little surprised to be spoken so highly of by such a creature as he, but naturally I accepted the offer, and requested that Lord Vertigo would visit me in my new palace.

I was transported to my new home in a golden chariot drawn by four horses. The city itself was grand and imposing, with huge white buildings that resembled seashells in their beauty and intricacy. The roads were wide and cobbled with stones that sparkled in the sunlight. The citizens of Omalas were otherworldly with their colourful robes and radiant faces. Youth and beauty abounded; of age and ugliness, there was nothing to be seen.

The grounds of my palace were entered through high golden gates, and then I was taken up a long and winding drive that appeared to be made of marble, snaking its way through a lawn of lush green grass. My palace shone like a pearl in the perfect pristine sunlight.

Inside, it was exquisite in every detail, from the master bedroom, presided over by a king-size four-poster bed; to the white marble bathroom, in which the bath had the dimensions of a small swimming pool; to the banqueting hall, filled with huge oak tables laden with all the food and drink you could imagine.

I revelled in my palace and my new-found glory. I twirled around and around in my cavernous ballroom, laughing with glee. All of this was meant for me. I suppose I’d always known, secretly, that I was the Chosen One.

I was glorious, I was decadent, I was truly alive! I threw masquerade balls and dinner parties; I surrounded myself with servants and courtiers, Lords and Ladies of the highest distinction. Two sleek black dogs followed me everywhere; they were my favourite companions of all.

I carried a looking-glass with me at all times so I could admire my beauty; this city was fair, and so were the people in it, but I was the fairest of them all, for I was the Queen.

In short, I had everything I had ever wanted, but for one thing, one thing in which I couldn’t seem to get my way. I couldn’t get the image of Lord Vertigo out of my mind, and I desired no other man, no matter how many eligible suitors I had. Many nights I implored for his company; I sent him letters by dove, but to none of these did he reply.

So, one day, I left my palace and made my way to the Council building in my horse-drawn chariot…

To be continued…

(P.S. Happy New Year to all my readers!)