The alleyway presents itself, which seems like an odd thing for an alleyway to do, but there it is, and here I am. I stop on my own tracks, and examine my situation, scratching my head.
I like the way the back of my head feels, and for a second I forget where I am, rubbing my fingers through the short-short hair, down to the nape of my neck, almost feeling myself purr with the feeling.
My dad used to have these big books, proper comic books – they were in French, and I couldn’t read them, but there was this kid in them… And I always loved his hair.
Before I even knew what my bits were for, I got a strange tingle, thinking what that boy’s head might feel like, all fuzzy and flat, with the long bit out front for tugging onto.
Got the ‘do’ done for myself, when the time seemed right. And I love it. But not as much as my BF does. And he does know what my bits are for. Alright, he’s never on time, but I proper love him.
That brings me back to my predicament, thinking of my BF heading for home, fretting, thinking about me. Thinking that I’ll be waiting for him, ready to go at it like rabbits.
But I’ve got to get these last few errands done, and then there’s the alleyway, you see. I didn’t see it coming, but here it is, and I’m wondering if my hurry is worth the risk.
You try, if you’ve got your head still about you, to avoid enclosed spaces hereabouts. If you want to be clear on where you’re going, you make sure that you can always see where you’ve been.
Because most of the time, when you go through a door here, you can’t be sure of where you’ll end up. And if you can’t see where you’ve been, you can’t be sure of getting back there again.
This means that alleyways are to be mistrusted. Going indoors is okay, but never let a door close behind you, if you can help it. Keep an eye on windows. It’s one of the rules to live by.
But I do love that boy, and besides, nothing all that bad ever happens here, even if you do get lost… not much frightens you, after a few years of travelling around, not even the Red Queen’s men.
So there’s this alleyway, and it’s between where I am, and where I want to go, or at least, it seems to be. So I figure, what the hell, and in I go, with only the odd glance behind me.
And it’s all going well enough, the alleyway only changing a little bit, and behind me staying the same all along, until the outside walls and windows seem to give way to rock, and then to wallpaper.
The cobblestones becoming dirt, becoming more like lino, black and white tiles, like in my parent’s bathroom. I gulp down the same old feeling of disquiet, thinking oh, fuck. Another adventure.
Looking behind, I realise that I’ve lost track of my trail – I’m not where I was. I’m all inside, now. And there’s these mirrors, a whole corridor of mirrors, like in that film with Bruce Lee.
I keep moving past a hundred reflections of me. Most of them look the same or similar, fashionably torn fishnets, spunky forelock all for tugging, big belt, leather jacket worn from scurrying down holes.
Now and then there’s another, though, looking similar but not the same, looking back at me, or just not noticing. There’s one, barely looks like me at all. Looks like ye olde me, in a world of her own.
After a while of walking, and this other girl recurring in the mirrors, all posh and ancient in her blue and white whatever-the-fuck sort of clothes those are, I start to take more notice of her.
Then I stop all together, and she kind of does, but a few seconds after me. I look at her, she looks back. I move my hand, she copies the movement, a mirror image. Annoyed, she wrinkles her nose.
I wrinkle my nose too. I move toward the mirror, and she does the same, matching my timing perfectly. I think on it, decide that I will surprise her, thinking that I will reach out quick, pinch her nose.
Suddenly, she reaches out, and pinches my nose. I yelp, and jump back, my arm instinctively going out and boxing her on the shoulder. The shock makes her let go of my face, and I yell at her.
“What the fucking hell do you think you’re doing, mush?” I say.
“I beg your pardon?” She says, sounding much older and posher then either of us. I rub my sore nose, and scowl at her.
“I said why’d you do that for?” She thinks about it for a moment.
“Well, I suppose that I thought that you were a reflection of me. That is, after all, how a looking-glass would normally behave.”
“Does this place look normal to you?” I say and she looks around. I do the same. We’re in a cave, now, no mirror in sight.
“Well,” she says, “this is a day for surprises.”
“Surprises? It’s a fucking abortion of a day!” I say, and head for daylight. She hangs on for a second, wondering whether I’m worth the risk, and then follows me closely through the earth.
“I am in the same predicament as you.” She says. “There is no need to be so truculent.”
“Like I know what truculent means!” I gasp.
“I hardly see how your ignorance is my fault.” She says. “I suppose that is the difference between an infant and a lady. The former might ask to be enlightened, while the latter might take comfort in oblivion.”
She keeps twittering on, but to be honest, by this point, I’m starting to tune her out. We’re not in the cave any more, for what that’s worth. Now we’re in the woods.
She stops talking when she hears the low growling coming from out where we can’t see. I reach into my pocket, and pull out my weapon.
Even as I unsheath the tiny blade, I hope to fuck that I don’t have to use it. My tiny vorpal flick-knife is hardly going to be any good against a fucking jabberwock.
I signal her to keep quiet, but to be honest, it’s more for the peace then anything else. I’ve already pegged her as being a lot like one of the clever bitches back at the boarding school. I can’t be arsed.
I reach into the side-pocket of my rucksack, and thumb the moby on. My fucking luck, there’s no signal, though, is there? Little girl lost, she looks at the thing, and I remember that she’s not from round here.
But then, neither am I. It’s my ‘back home’ that she’s not from. And I’d be lost in her part of town, too.
It’s my time she’s foreign to, though. Time works different here.
I’m guessing they didn’t even have the Spice Girls back in her day. Bloody cavemen.
Wonder what they did about periods?
You can’t get tampons in Wonderland, like most other things. I end up carrying loads in my bag.
You know, just in case.
The growling doesn’t stop, but doesn’t get any closer, either, and she only bloody starts moving out towards it, eyes wide and curious. I’m tempted to let her get fucking et.
But the thing is, you can’t get anywhere without going somewhere, first, and at least she’s got the right idea there, so I let the clueless cow go on ahead, and I follow a few steps behind.
And as we get closer, it’s more obvious that the roaring isn’t growling at all – it’s got a rhythm to it. It’s fairly clear, even before we’re in the clearing, that what we’re hearing is actually snoring.
Once we’re in the clear, the clearing doesn’t look much like a clearing at all. The trees are so close together that it’s more like the inside of a log cabin. The floor is perfectly mowed grass.
Except for in the shadow of the large picnic table in the middle of the space, where instead there’s only wood panelling. The table top is also covered in grass, but here it has grown wild.
Flattening down the blades of grass are dinner plates, around the edges of the table, as if for absent eaters. Serving platters of food are piled high around the table’s centrepiece.
A veggie’s nightmare, platefuls of sausages, pies and pepperoni pizza, as well as large bowls of Skittles, M&Ms, other stuff I don’t recognise. Chips, and gravy, and veg, but no sprouts.
And in the middle, lying flat on his back, mouth half-open as the wettest snoring I’ve ever heard bellows out of him, is the Red King. It doesn’t seem the smartest thing, sleeping in the grass. I say so.
“Shhh,” the other girl says. “You might wake him.”
“So?” I say, and realise that I don’t really care. She tells me anyway.
“He might be dreaming, and you could give him a terrible fright.”
I get what she’s saying. Where there’s a King, there’s a Queen, and the Red one is the worst one. Thinking about it now, my fella has told me about the sleeping King, out here in the woods.
About how he used to be about the only thing keeping the old bitch in check, and how nobody quite knows how he went to sleep, and why he never wakes up.
“They used to be the King and Queen of Hearts, you know.” I whisper. “Now it’s just the Reds.”
“What do you suppose happened to the Diamonds?” She replies.
“My bloke says that when he wakes up, things will be different.” I say. “But the thing about this place, it’s always different.”
She ponders that, then moves closer to the King, prodding him.
“I had thought that I might be dreaming all this.” She says, sliding his eyelid open, looking into his flat wet eye. She tuts. “Perhaps it is him that is dreaming us.”
“Not the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.” I say, searching for an exit. “Best stop poking him then.”
That seems to make sense to her. She glances around the room.
“I remember this place.” She says. “I believe that I have been here before. Or perhaps, is it possible, might I be remembering that I will be here at some time later on?”
“That would be pre-membering.” I correct her. My tummy makes a growling sound of its own, and I glance at the food. She follows my look, and I hear the sound echo in her own belly.
“Why, I feel as if I haven’t eaten since tea-time.” She says, more to the room then to me. I’m almost used to these free-roaming exclamations, so I only notice her reaching out for a cake…
… once she’s already taken a bite out of it.
“No!” I shout. “You stupid bitch. Don’t eat anything that’s been left lying around. No eating, no drinking. It’s one of the fucking rules!”
But of course, she’s already gone.
And that isn’t even surprising any more. If it isn’t shrinking, it’s growing so long and thin that people can’t see you any more.
If it isn’t falling asleep for a hundred years, it’s suddenly bouncing a thousand miles at a time. If it isn’t becoming so fast that you can’t be spotted by the naked eye, it’s becoming actual full-on invisible.
At which point it’s irrelevant, isn’t it? You’re on the next page, moving onto the next chapter, and you’re lucky if you see that last room again. It’s like life is a series of weird little escapades. All very odd.
Over the snoring, I can suddenly hear footsteps, loads of them, and I remember about the Red Queen, the creepy old cow, watching over Wonderland, claiming heads left, right, and centre.
I’m guessing that she doesn’t really want people bothering her old man here, and I start looking more frantically around for a way out. I hadn’t noticed the door, but then suddenly there’s a banging at it.
Just like the police back home, three hard bangs and then the shouting of a young male soldier, nervous with borrowed authority, worth fuck all. Just a bunch of pawns, as it goes.
I glance at the King, but he’s still sleeping, doesn’t even murmur.
“Let us in, on the Red Queen’s authority!” Soldier One shouts.
Hard core pawn, I grin, to and despite myself.
Full of hectic energy, I look harder for a way out, and then I look up, and notice the window in the ceiling. I guess that was where the light came from, as it seems to look out onto a sunny meadow.
Of course, that doesn’t make any sense, but what does, anyway?
When I first came here, I’d have thought that the window was out of reach, but now I’m not green anymore, and I know different.
All it takes, if I can ignore the sounds of shouting, battering and straining wood for a minute, is to concentrate on what it would be life if this room were to just roll on it’s side, so I could walk on the wall.
And so, of course, I can do exactly that. The wooden slats of the wall are hard under my feet, and I have to reach to push the window open, but then, with just the slightest bit of dizziness, I’m through.
The sun is warm on my skin. I can hear the final splintering of the door being smashed out of its frame, and the shouting of young men, so I look behind me, to see an oak tree, a hollow knot in its side.
Looking into the knot, there’s that disorientation again, as I’m looking down into the darker room, with the sun still on my back. The soldiers seemed scary before, but now they look so small and silly.
“Hey!” I shout, getting their attention. They all look up at me at once.
“Stop,” they shout, and “thief!” And I’m wondering what they’re on about, but then I look down at the table, and see that it’s bare.
Then, of course, I notice that there’s something in my hand. I don’t even need to look at it to know that it’s some kind of chess piece… after a while, you get a feel for the way that this place works.
I grin, thinking about how my bloke will react when he sees what I’ve managed to find for him. Half-horrified, half-gleeful, I reckon.
He used to work for big Red. She wasn’t very nice to him.
I wonder about the annoying girl and where she might end up.
I wonder what uses a once loyal white rabbit might find for a sleeping monarch.
“The Queen will have your head!” The soldiers shout, but what they really mean is, if they go back empty-handed, she’ll have theirs.
I wonder what else is waiting for me, before I find my bed.
I turn from the tree, and walk into the brightening day, ignoring the raised voices.
“Who cares for you,”
I mutter at the frustrated soldiers and their bitch Queen.
“You’re nothing but a pack of bastards.”
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