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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2. Chapter Two

Wonderland was Jefferson’s favorite place to travel. The Enchanted Forest was home, but it was nothing like Wonderland. No other world compared to its unique magic. There were other realms with their own versions of magic, but Wonderland was the most vivid, living place he’d ever crossed into.

From the moment he stepped through his portal, he could smell it on the air. It was a scent akin to fresh grass, pine trees, a field of flowers, and beneath all of that—the rich buttery smell 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 chose those particular scents to him. Because it brought him right back to the cottage he’d grown up in. Specifically, those summers before his father took him under his wing as an apprentice. Those rare days when his mother was home, baking in the house. She’d open the windows up and let in the scents from the surrounding forest. She’d set the table with vases filled with fragrant lilacs, and they’d share buttery cookies together.

Those were the moments when the isolation felt like a dull memory. He remembered feeling safe and happy. Before his father forced him into an apprenticeship he didn’t want. Before he gambled away his family’s small fortune. Before a hat turned into a portal and he took to a life that shamed his mother enough for her to refuse to speak his name.

That feeling of safety and comfort was lost to him now. And after a moment, when the nostalgia finally faded, and he recalled the anger and shame that was still aching inside him, he felt nothing but self-loathing. It was his fault his parents had turned their backs on him, but to shame him and disown him so thoroughly over a few youthful mistakes, he would never forgive them for that. The memories soured his mood. His features straightened and he stepped down the cobbled path toward the glen down the road.

The grass was so tall it stretched high overhead. Almost like a forest of its own. Every once in a while, a giant mushroom would appear in the grass and cast a shadow on the path. The grass was the most vibrant green he’d ever seen. The mushrooms were a perfectly spongy red, with splotches of white spots, and the sky was a continually moving shade of blue with swirling purple clouds.

It was easy to get lost in the wonders of Wonderland, but it was the freedom of it that he enjoyed the most. There were no social guidelines, customs, and etiquette to follow, as far as he knew. When he was just starting out as a portal jumper, it was difficult for him to grasp the ways of each land and remember all the particular customs and social expectations. Something complimentary in one realm might be utterly insulting in another. It had taken years of practice for him to blend in wherever he went. If anything, he was good at pretending he knew what he was doing.

But Wonderland wasn’t like that. It was ruled by a Red Queen who seemed to be feared and hated by her subjects. She’d blocked off the land in sections, so that he’d never seen a human village and never had a reason to try and fit in. If there were social customs in her court, well, he didn’t know about them. The people of Wonderland, the animals anyway, seemed to decide on their own what was proper and what wasn’t. He could set his feet on the table and tea and smash a whole pot, and the hare wouldn't blink an eye. But if he happened to make the rabbit late, he’d get an earful for that. Otherwise, he seemed to be able to do and act as he pleased. It was like a relaxed slouch after a day of holding his spine straight, and his chin turned up.

The road turned off at the end of a sharp hill and headed toward the maze that surrounded the Red Queen’s estate. From this distance, he could see the hedges that led into her private rose gardens, but he never strayed any closer than the glen. He had no wish to insult the only person in Wonderland who might cut off his head if he so much as stepped on the hem of her gown.

The glen was just passed the road beyond a patch of pansies that sang taunting songs about his legs when he traveled nearby. He found the skittish brown hare in an opening between the tall blades of grass. The animal twitched and fidgeted with every movement and nearly jumped out of his furry skin when Jefferson pushed through the tall leaves.

“Oh! Mr. Jefferson!” the timid animal said with a squeak as the man approached.

Jefferson felt his eyes roll into his head. The talking animals in Wonderland weren’t very different from their mute counterparts. Only that they had voices and a lot to say. So while a jittery hare in the Enchanted Forest might end up as lunch, this one would stumble over his words as he told Jefferson of everything in the glen that spooked him. Ranging from walruses to the infamous Bandersnatch.

They also had an unusually annoying habit of referring to everything in semi-formal speech. Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Hare. Miss Dormouse. Mr. Cheshire. It didn’t matter how many times he told them his name was just Jefferson, they always reverted back to Mr. Jefferson. Or Mr. Hatter if they were feeling particularly formal. Which they sometimes decided to do mid-sentence and for no apparent reason.

“It’s just Jefferson,” he reminded the hare as he stopped in the clearing. He laced his fingers into the pockets of his trousers, swinging his jacket behind his back. Wonderland was warm compared to the chill of the Forest, but he didn’t want to leave anything behind. He could never be certain he’d get it back. At least not without a price. “I brought you what you asked for. Do you have what I need?”

The creature shook and trembled. “Oh!” the hare said with a start. “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten it! Silly me. I left it at home. I can retrieve it now 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 seemed to work much differently in Wonderland. He could stay there all day without wasting an hour in the Enchanted Forest. There was never any telling for sure, though. Sometimes he could spend ten minutes in Wonderland, only to find out a whole day had passed in the 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 answered with a flat tone. He could never be sure that the food wouldn’t make him shrink.

“Oh, but it’s just tea. I can make it how your mother did.”

Then the big hare hopped away, and Jefferson watched with narrowed eyes. He didn’t know how the beast knew anything about his mother, let alone how she made her tea, but his curiosity got the better of him. So he followed along anyway.

The hare lived in a burrow not far from the glen. The den was a mixture of underground caverns and an above ground structure. Though the house stood leaning against stilts and had a sagging roof. Jefferson figured that if it weren't for magic and the way Wonderland never seemed to age, the house would have collapsed a long time ago.

A long table had been set out in the center of the hare’s garden. Various teapots and cups and plates were set out as if he expected a large company. Though Jefferson knew from experience that the hare hardly expected anyone at all. He was just always prepared for company and tea, and Jefferson assumed that was why he 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 began to shake in his hands. A shrill squeaking came from inside the pot as Jefferson took a seat and propped his legs on the arm of the chair. The hare turned the pot upside down, and a dormouse tumbled out. She quickly ran off to hide in another empty pot. Jefferson held back his disgust. No matter how friendly the mouse was, he wasn’t accustomed to finding them in his dishes.

“Tea?” the hare asked.

“Please?” Jefferson said with a wave of his hand. He looked around the table for what he’d come for, but it was difficult to distinguish in the extensive collection of cups, pots, and pastries.

The hare reached for a nearby teapot and checked the lid to be sure nothing was hiding inside. Then he located an empty cup among the dishes and began to fill it. He spilled more tea onto the lace tablecloth than the cup. Eventually, he managed to get it mostly full and went to lift it into his paws. But Jefferson quickly reached for it, so that the liquid didn’t end up on the table with the rest.

“Thank you,” he said without the slightest hint of genuine appreciation. Until he took a cautious sip and discovered that it tasted exactly the way his mother used to make it. And it was 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 the question before Jefferson could finish. He set the cup down on a saucer on the table.

“I have. I hear it’s fairly valuable. I heard you were the best at procuring this kind of merchandise.”

“The teacup you are looking for is indeed very valuable. Though perhaps not worth much in gold.” The man’s eyebrows rose this time, and he rested his hand on his outstretched knee to regard the hare.

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t make a living with anything other than gold, my friend,” he spoke.

“Oh, you’ll get your gold, I’m sure,” the hare stuttered. “But it’s magic your employer wants. 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 portals like yourself. I only know of one other like you in Wonderland. Not including Mr. Rabbit.”

“The famous Alice. Yes, I’ve heard much about her.”

“Oh, Miss Alice is very special. Or at least she will be.”

The animal let out a high-pitched giggle as if he was in on a secret that Jefferson was not. Jefferson laughed along with him anyway. He found that the best way to blend in strange lands was to do whatever the locals were doing. He hardly understood half of the things the creatures in Wonderland said anyway, but they appreciated it when you pretended to.

The hare hopped onto the table and began searching through the chaos. “Oh, where is it? Where is it?!” he squeaked as he scuttled around, knocking over dishes and spilling numerous teacups onto the already stained tablecloth. The hare clamored in Jefferson’s direction, and he quickly lifted his cup to save it from the imminent destruction. He took another sip and focused on the creature, who was growing as panicked as the rabbit when late.

“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 that 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 people believe that.

“It was here a moment ago! I saw it before I went and fetched you! Oh, if I’d only remembered to take it. Miss Dormouse? Miss Dormouse!” The dormouse squeaked her way out of another broken teapot and looked up at the hare. She stood on her hind legs and ran her tiny fingers over a tiny pink dress.

“Yes, Mr. Hare?” she asked with an equally small voice.

“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.

“Miss Alice.”

“She was here?”

The little mouse nodded. So Jefferson swung his legs back over the chair and stood to his feet. He tossed the teacup behind his back as he strolled away from the table, splattering the stepping stones with tea and porcelain.

“Well, I suppose we’re done here,” he said. “Send me a message when you find what I want.”

“Wait! Mr. Jefferson! Mr. Jefferson!” The hare bounded across the table, crashing into cups and pots as he followed.

“I don’t have time to wait around for the cup. When you find it, send word, and I’ll retrieve it. Then we’ll make our trade. Otherwise, we no longer have a deal.”

“Oh, but I do so want that tea, Mr. Jefferson,” the hare begged.

“I don’t work for charity. Find the cup,” he replied, stepping over the low garden fence. He headed back toward the path. This time the hare didn’t follow.

The forest of grass grew quiet as he headed back toward the road. It had been a wasted trip, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to tell his employer that he’d failed. He didn’t know what was so special about the cup, but he’d learned not to ask. The hare said it was valuable in magic, but the magic in Wonderland was very different from the magic in the Enchanted Forest. He wasn’t sure what use it would be in either land, but that wasn't important. He needed the money, and it didn’t matter if the cup was made of solid wood or contained all the magic in the realm, so long as it put food in his belly and silver on his fingers.

When he reached the path again, the sunlight returned to his face. He paused before heading back toward the hill where his portal was waiting. Wonderland was tricky and challenging to navigate on a good day. He was getting used to the way the landscape sometimes changed unexpectedly. He was a naturally curious person, and it was the only reason he’d taken the hare up on his offer for tea. But he knew enough of Wonderland now to know that something odd was happening. It was too quiet.

He’d passed a garden of singing pansies on his way to the glen, but he hadn’t heard them on his way back. No birds were singing. No wind humming through the tall blades of grass. Most of all, he noticed that the warm buttery scent of cookies was absent from the still air. Though he could make out the distant scent of pine and grass. Now it smelled—well, it smelled like the flowers that bloomed on apple trees before the fruit. A sweet, crisp, floral scent.

The only time Wonderland was silent was for two reasons. One, the Red Queen was approaching in her caravan. Or two, another human was in the area. There weren’t many of them in these parts of Wonderland anymore. He’d heard rumors that the Queen was human, but he’d never seen her for himself. And there were supposedly whole villages of humans in other parts of the land far beyond the mazes and hedges, but his portal never took him there, so he never bothered to find out for sure.

The only time he’d ever experienced the sudden silence was when he brought along a visitor to help him obtain a rare mushroom only found in this land. Wonderland had not liked the guest. A caterpillar told him so. But the silence meant that they were paying attention. They’d long grown accustomed to seeing Jefferson stalking through their parts, and so they no longer paid him any attention at all. Whoever this person was warranted silence, which meant the land was listening.

The mouse said Alice took the cup, and now he wondered if he’d found Alice.

He turned on his heel and headed toward the hill where his portal was waiting, but he kept his footsteps soft and his ears alert for sound and movement. On occasion, he’d hear the wind humming through the grass, and once or twice a creature whispered from within.

Then, very suddenly, he heard the unmistakable sound of laughter. It was a light, airy giggle. But also arrogant. A taunt that got swept up on a breeze and rolled over to him on the hill.

He spun around and looked down at where she stood. Her blue dress was different from the ones worn in his land. It went only to her calves so that her white stockings and shiny black shoes were visible. She wore black ribbons in her golden hair. Even though she was dressed like a young girl, he placed her age at at least eighteen.

She smiled at him with dark eyes and reached into the pocket of her shimmery blue cloak. She held the teacup gently on her fingers. It was a delicately small thing with painted red roses and a gold lip.

“Looking for this, Hatter?” she asked, her voice playful and coy. He smiled as he looked down at her.

“How would you know what I’m after?” he asked. He sauntered slowly toward her.

“We all need gold, don’t we? You can have it.” She slipped the 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 the gold. It was a lonely life, stealing and trading between lands, and he’d learned not to get close to people. Though he really enjoyed the way the job filled his pockets and kept hunger at bay, he was really in it just for fun.

Her cloak billowed out behind her, as blue as the vibrant sky. Her hair was gold, and she laughed as her black shoes tapped against the stone path. She was fast and seemed to know where she was going. He knew 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 game was over. A gold-framed looking-glass stood still and tall in the middle of the road. It was tall enough so that she could run through the portal like an open door. He reached out as soon as he spotted it, hoping to get that cup before she could get away. His fingers gripped the soft blue fabric, and it slid off her shoulders as she disappeared into the looking-glass. The entire frame vanished in an instant.

He stood, standing in the path much closer to the Queen’s hedge than he’d like. He held a bright blue cloak in his gripped fingers and looked down at it. She’d slid the cup into the pocket, and for a moment he smiled, relishing the satisfaction of his triumph. But then he stretched his fingers into the pocket and came up empty. He frantically reached for the other side and knew before he’d even stuck his hand in that it was empty too.

He had her cloak, but Alice had won.

 


 

I forgot to warn you guys that the chapters switch between past and "present." And by present I mean somewhere after like season 2, I think? Things are mostly chill in Storybrooke for a brief period of time. Which is ridiculous because nothing is ever chill in Storybrooke. Honestly, the most unrealistic thing about this story.

Has anyone watched the new season/reboot? I haven't started watching it yet because I kinda just don't want to. But I'm also curious.

Also, Happy Halloween!

 

 

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