6. Chapter Six
Alice. Jefferson couldn’t stop thinking about Alice. He knew that Wonderland had the ability to exacerbate emotions and feelings. The tea he had tasted in the hare’s garden was the best tea he’d ever had and tasted the way his mother made it. But once he got home to the Enchanted Forest, he knew that the tea hadn’t been anything special at all. Wonderland had forced him to feel that way. It was one of the many reasons he was warned against eating and drinking anything in the realm in the first place. That was second to the peculiar way Wonderland’s food could change a person’s form.
Emotions in Wonderland were difficult to contain. The Red Queen was known for being dark and violent. Irritation could quickly turn into rage if those emotions weren’t controlled. And in Jefferson’s case—attraction could quickly turn into passion.
Sometimes it is hard to shake those feelings once he returned to the Enchanted Forest and his mind and emotions had time to settle and go back to normal. His pride no longer felt bruised. In fact, he felt almost guilty for lying to Alice about his state just to get his hands on that cup. And then he’d been unable to part with the cup. He thought after a few days his heart, his mind, and especially his body would return to normal. He could take the cup to his employer and forget all about his meeting with Alice until their paths inevitably crossed again.
It just never happened. Alice stayed on his mind for days. He stuck to pickpocketing close to home, or stealing from pack mules and unsupervised horses. He thought of her dress with all those frustrating buttons. He thought of her lips that were as pink as roses. He thought of her hair with strands like the spun gold he had seen in Rumpelstiltskin’s estate.
He knew nothing about her. He heard rumors about her in Wonderland. She was famous there. Everyone knew the story of the little girl who had fallen through a rabbit hole and caused trouble with the Queen. She had left for a time and then returned fully grown once she’d found a portal of her own. She ended up causing more mischief as she took to a life of thieving and trading. The residents of Wonderland, outside of the Queen’s court, seemed to love her. They had high expectations for her, and he’d heard numerous times about how she was going to save them all from the Queen’s wrath, or how special she would be someday.
But he didn’t know about her hopes and dreams, or her reason for choosing the life she now led. He didn’t know about her portal or how she managed to fall through one at such a young age or how she’d found her way back. He wondered if she could travel to other realms. He wondered if she could visit him in the Enchanted Forest.
Jefferson dreamed about her as he slept under the trees at night. The teacup would have given him a room to rent and food to eat, but somehow he just couldn’t part with it. When he’d gone to give it to his employer that day, he found himself lying about the cup he’d stored wrapped in her cloak. He told himself the feelings would go away after a few days and he could sell the cup and the cloak and everything would fade away as it should.
But she was haunting him still, and he had to find her again.
He returned to Wonderland once he was confident that its hold on him had lifted. Wonderland was just as he left it. He stepped through the portal and into the bright sunshine. The scents washed over him like a warm and welcoming bath. Inviting him in and making him feel like he never wanted to leave.
It took him half a second to realize that it didn’t smell the same anymore. He stood on the road and looked around at the familiar sights. The scent of grass and earth reached him like it always had. But not that buttery sweet scent that took him right back to his childhood cottage. He tried to place the scent, and since his mind had already been on her all day, it didn’t take him very long.
The scent was sweet. Almost like apples, but more floral and sugary. Not like the fruit, but the blossoms that came before them. Like Alice. Or at least, the scent that Wonderland had chosen for her.
He wasn’t quite sure what it meant at first. Either Wonderland had changed for him because he had spent so much time thinking about the girl. Or she was nearby and Wonderland had altered itself to her.
His employer had been dejected when Jefferson told him that he couldn’t find the cup. He’d raged for several days before giving up entirely and sending Jefferson on a new task. It was a moderately simple one, with a minuscule payout. Just a butterfly. But the butterflies in Wonderland weren’t like any butterflies he knew. Their wings were soft and delicate like slices of honeyed sponge-cake. He was almost sure that whoever wanted the butterfly would likely eat it. And he really hoped they weren’t as sentient as the caterpillar he’d come across some mornings, smoking and turning riddles into smoke rings.
He hated bringing over sentient creatures. He always felt guilty. And depending on their level of sentience, sometimes the portal wouldn’t allow them through anyway. He knew he’d never be able to cross over with anything like the hare or the caterpillar. But maybe one of the singing pansies, since they were still very much just flowers with voices and were perfectly happy as such. The only way he’d be able to get anything highly sentient through the portal would be to replace it with something equally conscious. A life for a life. And his heart hadn’t darkened enough to abandon someone to the wilds of Wonderland just for the sake of a few coins.
The price would have to be much higher for that.
Jefferson didn’t find Alice that day. The scent of the apple blossoms lingered in the air and once or twice he thought he’d caught the sound of her giggle on the warm west wind. But only tracked her voice to a patch of flowers who mimicked her voice just to laugh and tease him. He’d been tempted to pluck them right out of the dirt in revenge, but decided against it. Silly little flowers or not, their lives were their own.
He located the butterfly early in his trip. A whole swarm of them had flown in on that western wind and settled on a large red mushroom, taking the shape of a loaf of bread. He’d startled them when he approached through the tall blades of grass, but they were thankfully on a much smaller mushroom. So when they took flight, he managed to guide one away from its group and settled it safely inside of a metal tin with holes in the lid.
Thankfully, it didn’t speak or scream. But he could hear it fluttering around inside the tin as he spent the rest of the day searching for a sign of Alice. He never found one. He returned to his portal reluctantly and it allowed him through with his catch, proving that the creature wasn’t sentient. Though it grew quiet once they crossed over, and he wasn’t sure if it had turned into a regular butterfly or several small slices of sponge cake. Or maybe it had just suffocated in the denser, cooler, and less perfumed atmosphere.
His employer was pleased to see it when he arrived, he handed the coins over without him knowing the fate of the poor creature. So he returned to the woods where he had hidden his belongings in Alice’s blue cloak. He swung the newly made sack over his shoulder and whistled as he headed for an inn to find a place to sleep for the night. He set the hat down on top of his head, and a thought struck him hard enough to break off his whistle and still his footsteps.
Perhaps he could find Alice after all. He didn’t know if she was able to travel to other realms outside of her own and Wonderland, but he could. And he had something that belonged to her. The cloak could very easily tether him to her realm. So he hurried to the inn where he could hide the cup and open a portal to wherever she may be. It could be dangerous since he had no idea which realm she came from. He could even die.
But when he stood on the bed holding onto the banisters, the portal opened on the floor in a swirling vortex of purple and light. It was all for the thrill of the chase, he decided. Then he laughed before leaping inside.