Of all the lands that Jefferson could travel to, Wonderland was his favorite. The Enchanted Forest was his home, but it was nothing like Wonderland. Other realms were filled with magic and chaos and their own versions of darkness and light. But Wonderland was the most vivid, living place he had ever visited.
From the moment he stepped into the realm he could smell it on the air. It was a scent akin to fresh grass, piney trees, a field of flowers, and beneath all of that—the rich buttery scent of freshly made cookies.
He heard from various sources that Wonderland smelled different to everyone. It was supposed to feel familiar and safe. Like home. And he knew exactly why it smelled the way it did. Because it smelled like the cottage he had lived in as a child with his parents. Specifically the summers. When his mother would open the windows, letting in the scent of pine and grass. She would set the table with fragrant flowers from the lilac tree in the yard. And she would bake him those delicious buttery cookies.
But that past was lost to him. And after a nostalgic moment where those scents brought him right back to that cottage in the woods, he remembered why he had lost it in the first place.
They all said he was mad. He was too wild. He had stolen and lost his family’s money. They were forced from their cottage and had turned their backs on him. The wayward, out of control son who now made a living jumping between worlds, stealing and trading even though he had barely reached manhood.
So once that moment of blissful nostalgia was replaced by his own self-hatred, his features straightened and he stepped down the path toward the glen he knew was just down the road.
The grass in Wonderland was so long it stretched high overhead. It was almost like a forest of its own. Every once in a while a giant mushroom would appear and cast a shadow on the path. The grass was as bright as green could be. The mushrooms were red with perfectly round white spots. And the sky was an always moving shade of blue with swirling purple clouds.
Most of all it was the freedom of Wonderland that he enjoyed. He knew the realm was run by a Queen, who seemed to be hated by her subjects, but he had never met her. He stayed as far from other people as he possibly could. There was nothing exciting to him about talking animals and plants. Practically everything in Wonderland had a mind of its own. And so he kept to himself.
The road turned off at the end of a sharp hill and headed toward the maze where the Red Queen lived. From this distance, he could see the hedge that led to her private gardens. But he never strayed any further than the glen.
The glen was just beyond the road passed a patch of singing pansies and that was where he found the skittish brown hare. It sat in the center of the opening between the tall grass blades. It twitched and fidgeted with every movement. And it nearly jumped out of its skin when Jefferson appeared through the grass.
“Oh! Mr. Jefferson!” the timid animal said with a squeak as the man approached. He felt his eyes roll in his head. He hated talking to animals. They were hardly any different than their mute counterparts. Except they had voices. It always unnerved him to talk to animals.
“It’s just Jefferson,” he told the animal as he stopped in the center of the clearing. He laced his fingers into the pockets of his pants, swinging his jacket behind his back. Wonderland was warm, but he didn’t want to leave anything behind. He could never be sure that he would get it back. “I brought what you asked for. Do you have what I need?”
The creature shook and trembled and nearly jumped out of his brown furry body.
“Oh!” he said with a start. “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten! Silly of me! I left it back home. I can retrieve it if you don’t mind!” Jefferson sighed and resisted the urge to tap his foot impatiently.
“I don’t have all day,” he said, even though time worked much differently in Wonderland and he could stay there all day without wasting an hour in the Enchanted Forest. There was never any telling, though. Sometimes he could spend ten minutes in Wonderland only for a whole day to pass in the Enchanted Forest.
“You can come around for tea! I do know how much you love tea!”
“I’ve been advised not to eat or drink anything while in Wonderland,” he said with a flat tone.
“Oh but it’s just tea! I can make it how your mother did.” Then the overgrown hare hopped away, and Jefferson watched with narrowed eyes. He didn’t know how the beast knew anything of his mother, let alone how she made her tea. But his curiosity struck him, and he followed along after the trembling creature anyway.
The hare lived in a burrow not far from the glen. The burrow was a mix of underground caverns as well as an above ground house. Though the house stood leaning against stilts and a sagging roof. Jefferson figured if it weren't for magic and the way Wonderland never seemed to age, the house wouldn’t have been standing at all.
A long table was set in the center of the yard. Various teapots and cups and plates were set out as if he was expecting a large company. Though Jefferson knew from experience that the hare hardly expected anyone at all. But he was always ready for tea, and he also assumed that was why the animal chattered and trembled with every movement.
He watched the hare bounce toward the table until he appeared in a chair toward the end and reached for a teapot.
“Please, sit and stay for a while,” he asked as the teapot shook in his hands. Jefferson could hear a squeaking from inside the pot as he took a seat, propping his legs on the arm of the chair and getting comfortable. The hare turned the pot upside down and released a dormouse, who quickly ran off to hide in another empty pot. Jefferson held back a look of disgust.
“Tea?” the hare asked.
“Please?” Jefferson said with the wave of his hand. He looked around for what he had come for, but he couldn’t make it out beneath the mass collection of cups and teapots.
The hare reached for a random teapot and checked the lid to be sure there were no animals hidden inside. Then he located a cup and began to fill it, spilling more of the tea on the lace tablecloth than into the cup. Eventually, he managed to get most of it full and went to lift it. But Jefferson quickly reached for it, so that the liquid didn’t end up on the table with the rest.
“Thank you,” he said with very little appreciation. He took a cautious sip and discovered that it was, in fact, made exactly the way that his mother used to make it. And still hot. His eyebrows furrowed and he looked up at the trembling, bug-eyed March hare. “How did you…”
“You’ve come for a teacup,” the animal said, interrupting his question. He set his cup down on the saucer on the table.
“I have. I hear it’s somewhat valuable. I heard you were the best.”
“The teacup you are looking for indeed precious. Though perhaps not worth much in gold.” The man’s eyebrows rose then as he rested his hand on his outstretched knee.
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t make a living with anything other than gold, my friend,” he spoke.
“Oh, you will get your gold I'm sure,” the hare stuttered. “But it is magic your employer is after. The cup you seek is worth more in magic than it is in gold.”
“I can’t buy dinner with magic.”
“Oh, but you do! Or else you would not be here. Not many are gifted with the ability to travel through realms like yourself. I only know of one other like you in Wonderland besides the rabbit.”
“The famous Alice. Yes, I’ve heard much about her.”
“Oh, Alice is very special. Or at least she will be.”
The animal let out a high pitched giggle as he hopped onto the table and began searching through the debris. Jefferson laughed alongside him. He found that was the best way to deal with people in Wonderland. He hardly understood half of the things they said, but they appreciated it when you pretended to.
“Oh, where is it? Where is it?!” the hare squeaked as he scuttled around the table, knocking over dishes and spilling numerous teapots onto the stained tablecloth. The hare clamored in Jefferson’s direction, and he lifted his cup just fast enough to save his tea from demise. He took another sip before focusing on the creature.
“I only came here because I was told you had it. Either you do, or you don’t. You’re not getting your pay if I can’t have mine. I need the cup or we no longer have a deal,” he said, taking another sip of the hot beverage. He swore it was the best tea he’d ever tasted. But Wonderland had a funny way of making you believe that.
“It was here just a moment ago! I saw it before I went and fetched you! Oh, if only I had remembered to take it! Mouse? Mouse!” The dormouse squeaked its way out of another broken teapot and looked up at the hare as it stood on its hind legs.
“Yes, Hare?” she asked in a tiny voice. Jefferson sighed heavily, having not expected the rodent to be sentient. Even though he should have. Even flowers had voices half of the time.
“Where is the cup? The special cup?” the hare asked.
“Oh, she took it. She did.”
“Who?” Jefferson looked up over his cup, now curious about what the little mouse had to say.
“She was here?”
Jefferson swung his legs back over and stood to his feet. Tossing his teacup behind his back he strolled away from the table.
“Well, I suppose we’re done here,” he said. “Send me a message when you find what I want.”
“Wait! Mr. Jefferson! Mr. Jefferson!” He heard the crashing of broken cups as the hare bounded across the table and followed after him.
“I don’t have time to wait around. When you find it, send word, and I’ll retrieve it. Then I’ll trade you what I have. Otherwise, we have no deal.”
“Oh, but I do so want that tea, Mr. Jefferson,” the hare begged.
“Find the cup,” he replied as he stepped over the garden fence and headed back toward the path. Luckily the creature didn’t follow.
The forest of grass grew quiet as he headed back toward the path. It had been a wasted trip, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to tell his employer that he hadn’t gotten the teacup. He didn’t know what was so special about it, but the hare said it was magic. However, magic in Wonderland was vastly different than magic in the Enchanted Forest. He wasn’t sure what use it would be in either land. But that was no matter to him. He needed the money, and it didn't matter if the cup was made of pure gold or contained all the magic in the realm, so long as it put food in his belly.
When he reached the path again, and sunlight returned to his face he paused before heading back to his portal. Wonderland was tricky, and it was hard to navigate. He was growing accustomed to the way the landscape sometimes changed, and that was the only reason he had taken the hare up on his offer for tea. Jefferson was a naturally curious person, and so it was the silence of the place that caught his attention.
He knew that he had passed a crowd of singing pansies on his way to the hare’s burrow, but he hadn’t heard them on his walk back. There were no birds singing. No wind. And most of all he noticed that the warm buttery cookie scent was absent from the air. Though he could still make out the scent of pine and grass. Now it smelled—well something like apple blossoms.
The only time Wonderland was ever silent was for two reasons. One, the Red Queen was approaching. Or two, another human was in the area. There weren’t many of them in Wonderland that he knew of. He had heard rumors that the Queen was human and that there were human villages on the outer edges of the land. But being that it was Wonderland, he doubted that very much. The only people he ever saw lived beyond her maze, and he was never quite sure if they were entirely human either. At least not in the way he was.
The only time he had ever experienced this sudden silence was when he brought along a visitor to help him obtain of a rare mushroom only found in this realm. Wonderland had not agreed with that visitor. The flowers told him so. But the silence meant they were paying attention. They had long grown accustomed to seeing Jefferson wandering their parts, and so they no longer paid him any attention at all. And whoever this person was, warranted silence, which meant the land was listening.
The mouse said Alice had taken the cup. And now he wondered if he had found Alice.
He turned on his heel and headed toward the hill that led to his portal, but he kept his footsteps silent and his ears alert for sound and movement. On occasion he could hear the wind whistling through the tall grass blades and once or twice, a creature whispered from within.
And then, very suddenly, he heard the unmistakable sound of laughter. Female he guessed. It was a light, airy giggle. But also arrogant. A taunt. And it attached itself to a breeze that gently rolled it over to his location.
He spun around and looked down the short hill to where the girl stood. She was wearing a blue dress with a tight corset. The dress was short for her body, not made like the kind in his kingdom. Her ankles were exposed, and he could see the shiny black shoes that only children wore back home. Her golden blonde hair was pulled out of her face in ribbons. And though she was dressed like a young girl, she must have been at least twenty.
She smiled at him with dark eyes as she pulled something from the pocket of her embroidered blue cloak. She held it up gently on her long pale fingers. It was a teacup. A delicately small thing with painted red roses and gold dipped edges.
“Looking for this, Hatter?” she asked with a voice that was playful and coy. He felt himself smile as he looked down at her.
“How would you know what I’m after?” he asked as he sauntered slowly toward her.
“We all need gold, don’t we? You can have it.” She slipped the delicate cup back into the pocket of her cloak and returned her eyes to him. “If you can keep up.”
Then she took off at a run in the opposite direction. He bolted after her, knowing just how much money that tiny little cup would get him. But he had to admit; the thrill of the chase was worth more than any gold he could be given. It was the whole reason he had come into this life in the first place. Not for gold or money. But because it was fun.
Her laughter chimed in the thick perfumed air. Her cloak billowed out behind her, as blue as a cold winter sky. Her hair was as gold as the sun and her black shoes tapped against the stones as she ran. She was fast, and she seemed to know exactly where she was going. He was aware that Alice was a portal jumper like he was, but he never took her for a thief.
She turned a corner and the moment he saw it, he knew the chase was over. A gold framed looking-glass stood still and motionless in the middle of the path. It was tall enough so that she could run through the portal like an open door. And he reached out as soon as he spotted it, hoping to get that cup before she could slip through. His fingers gripped the soft blue fabric, but it slid from her body as she disappeared into the looking-glass and the entire frame vanished.
Then he stood, standing in the path much too close to the Queen’s hedge than he liked. He held a bright blue cloak in his gripped fingers and looked down at it. He had seen her slide the cup inside of the pocket. And for a moment he smiled, relishing in the satisfaction of his triumph. But he stretched his hand into the pocket and found it empty. He frantically reached for the other side and knew before he even stuck his hand in that it was empty too.
He had her cloak, but Alice had won.