Finding Alice

“Every time I close my eyes
It’s like a dark paradise
No one compares to you
But there’s no you,
Except in my dreams tonight.”
-Lana Del Rey

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6. Chapter Six

Her name was Alice. Jefferson couldn’t stop thinking about her. He knew Wonderland could exacerbate emotions. The tea he’d tasted in the hare’s garden was the best tea he’d had since his mother made it for him as a child. But once he returned to the Enchanted Forest, he knew the tea hadn’t been special at all. Wonderland just made him believe that. It was one of the many reasons he was warned against eating or drinking there in the first place. “Wonderland wants you to stay,” he’d been told. “So that you never want to leave.”

Emotions in Wonderland were difficult to control. The locals told him that the Red Queen had once been a good and just queen alongside her sister, The White Queen. But jealousy had taken root in her heart and turned her dark and violent. Her emotions were uncontrolled, and they’d mutated into rage. In Jefferson’s case, a minor feeling of attraction for a girl he’d only met once, quickly turned into passion.

Sometimes it was difficult to shake the feelings once he’d returned home and his mind and emotions had time to settle again. His pride was no longer bruised, and he felt 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 it. He thought after a few days his heart, and his mind, and especially his body would return to normal. He would 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 unattended pack mules and horses. He thought of her dress with all those buttons. He thought of her lips, pink like apple blossoms.

He knew nothing about her. He heard rumors in Wonderland. She was famous there. Everyone knew the story of the little girl who’d fallen through the rabbit’s hole and caused trouble for the Red Queen. She’d left for a time, then returned with a portal of her own. She ended up creating even more mischief as an adult when 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 stories about how she was going to save them all from the Red Queen’s wrath and the Jabberwock's teeth.

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 even how she found her way back. He wondered if she could travel to other worlds like he did. Maybe even the space between them. If she could come to the Enchanted Forest—maybe she could stay.

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 his employer that day, he found himself lying about the cup he had wrapped up in her cloak and stored in a hollowed out tree trunk. He told himself the feelings would go away in a day or two and he could return with the cup and sell the cloak. Everything would fade away as it always did when he took fancy with a woman.

But she was haunting him. And he wanted desperately to see her again.

He returned to Wonderland once he was confident its hold on him had lifted. He stepped through his portal into 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 a moment to realize the scent was different. He stood on the road and looked around at the familiar grass and swirling sky. The smell of grass and earth was ever present, but not that sweet buttery scent that took him right back to his childhood home. He tried to place the scent now, 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 crisp. Not like the fruit but the blossoms that preceded them. Like Alice. Or at least, the scent that Wonderland had chosen for her.

He wasn’t sure what that meant. Wonderland had never changed for him before. Either he recognized that he’d spent so much time thinking about the girl. Or she was nearby, and Wonderland had just altered itself to her.

His employer had raged for several days about the missing cup, but eventually gave up and sent Jefferson off with a new task. It was a simple one, with a minimal payout. Just a flutterby. But the flutterbies in Wonderland weren’t like any butterflies he knew. Their wings were soft and delicate like thin slices of honeyed sponge-cake. Whoever wanted the flutterby was probably going to eat it, and he really hoped they weren’t as self-aware and verbal like the caterpillar, who turned riddles into smoke rings, or the flowers that frequently mocked him.

He hated bringing over creatures who were sentient. He tried to live a life free of guilt and carrying a living talking creature through his portal was sentencing it to a lesser life. But the portal was wise enough to know the difference. He’d never be able to cross over with something like the hare or the caterpillar. Unless he traded it out with another body. He wasn’t sure about the pansies since they were still very much just flowers who happened to have voices. The portal asked a life for a life. Or at the very least, a body for a body. And his heart hadn’t darkened enough to abandon someone to the wilds of Wonderland just for the sake of a few coins.

He’d save that for when he was really desperate.

The scent of apple blossoms lingered in the air, and once or twice he thought he caught the sound of Alice’s giggle on the warm west wind. But only tracked the sound to a patch of pansies who mimicked her voice just to laugh and tease him. He threatened to pluck them out of the dirt in revenge, but they called his bluff and taunted him as he walked away.

The flutterby was an easy catch. A whole swarm of them flew in on the western wind and settled on a giant red mushroom, taking the shape of a loaf of bread. He startled them when he approached, but they were close enough in reach that he could guide one away from its group when they took flight. The delicate creature settled inside a metal tin with holes poked into the lid.

It didn’t speak or scream, but he could hear it fluttering around inside the tin as he spent the rest of the day biding his time and hoping Alice would show up. She never did. He returned to his portal reluctantly, and it allowed him through with his catch, proving the creature wasn’t capable of holding a conversation. Though it grew silent once they crossed over, and he wasn’t sure what happened to it after that.

His employer was pleased with the catch either way. Jefferson was given his pay without knowing the fate of the poor creature. So he returned to the woods where he’d hidden his belongings in Alice’s cloak in the tree trunk. He swung the sack over his shoulder and whistled as he walked toward town to find an inn for the night. He set the hat on top of his head, and a thought struck him hard enough to silence his song and halt his footsteps.

He didn’t know if Alice could travel anywhere other than Wonderland, but he could. And he had something that belonged to her. The cloak could possibly tether him to her realm. Of course, he’d never tried anything like that, but it sounded good in theory and wouldn’t hurt to test it. 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 land she came from.

But when he stood on the bed, holding onto a banister and looking down at the swirling vortex of purple and light, he decided he didn’t care. It was all for the thrill of the chase, he concluded. And he laughed as he leaped inside.

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