So, as promised. This story was inspired by one of my daily riffs. I promised Kat a while back I’d write it and here is the first part at last 😀 Enjoy!!!
Dedicated to Kat of the Lily Café
There are certain rules for magic. And there are even more rules when you go looking for it. Especially when it’s a matter of life and death.
Nobody can quite pinpoint when Alice began to get ill. Was it a cough? A sneeze? And how much longer did it take to connect her illness with the withering of Wonderland? She is, after all, part real, as all Heroes must be. Thus she is susceptible to all those human maladies of a world that is not contained within strictures of Story. That is okay; always there will be a Wonderland, so long as Alice’s name endures. Then Wendy fell. And Dorothy. Finally, The Raven came to perch silent on the bell tower and the fairies began to die.
I was not the one to connect them, though I spent many long nights keeping watch on the beams above Alice’s bed, peering down at their faces against their pillows, pretty maids all in a row. Long had Alice been my friend, quick to answer even my smallest whispers. But no amount of calling would bring her back to me again, out of her strange and lasting sleep. It was Hook, clever, scheming Hook who was the first to read the truth in their pale, wasting faces. Yes, Hook, whose darkness is charming, but sometimes cruel, who first understood. For it takes a villain to see villainous acts, sometimes. It was Hook who pulled Peter from the air and made him stop crowing, Hook who shouted for The White Queen, and Hook who brought us the wizard. A villain, he thundered. A madman who did not, like Tinkerbell or The Hatter, or The Good Witch or any of the rest, depend upon the Heroes to exist. Which meant we needed a new prison, a new Story to tell the tale and find that last line upon which we all so heavily depend.
My father was always unsure of my friendship with Alice. He does not believe in heroics and so does not trust Heroes. “Cheshires,” he says, “are not meant to solve things. We are the riddlers. We are the mischief behind the Hero, triggering the thoughts that make them stronger, leading them down the wrong paths so that they might recognize the right one, then leaving them to their end without bothering ourselves over what that may be.” Mama only smiles indulgently at him and will not agree, but she does not deny him either; she will not ever speak clear, for that is not how she is written. Father wants badly to be more worthy of her, she who wears midnight and speaks in ancient tongues, she who has spoken riddles to pharaohs and eaten kings, but always, always it is her shadow in which he sits. I am not certain that he truly minds it; she can be distant and lost in melancholy born of long ages and Father does love to laugh. Father says the outcome isn’t our business, that everyone has their place, Heroes in theirs and riddlers ours. But who plays Hero to the Heroes?
I watched them below, calling for this or that shadow, shouting for unwrittens with zeal, each sure they knew the perfect one. Yet we that are unwritten remain so for a reason, or so it has always been said. I admit I had little hope; the thought of a Hero from the mismatched remains of unfinished sentences seems a bit much to expect when what they called for could barely form words or find the sense to use them. There are few unwritten who have anything resembling true life.
But there are some. I look young, like a girl-child some of the time and a silver, black spotted cat others. I have my mother’s slow, knowing smile and my father’s mysterious green eyes. Narrow, small, harmless, only a kitten, really. But I’m far older than I look and more clever, even, than Wendy, who tamed the wild boy-child they call Peter and outsmarted Captain Hook more times than he likes to admit. Oh yes, I know how they tell it. But just because it is told one way, does not mean that is the real Story. The Story knows itself and knows who belongs to it and it does not matter, so long as she is remembered, that Wendy’s stealing of Hook’s hook or her outfoxing of the pirate king was what made him – and Peter – to begin with. Yes, I am more clever. But I did not speak or offer advice; this is not the way of a Cheshire.
It was Peter who first demanded me as the White Queen wept over our Alice, unable, even with her strongest spells, to call the Heroes back again. The Wizard from Oz agreed. Even Hook, forever hating Peter for the love Wendy gave him, had set aside animosity in Wendy’s name and agreed as well; without a Hero, there is no answer, you see. And, strange as it might be, as impossible as it should have been, there was only one thing that can undo the magic of a Story told. And that is another Story being written. It is a conundrum. It is a puzzle. It is, of course, a riddle.
Everything in a Story exists for a reason and in our places, caught behind the net of Words, we are ruled very simply. The Hero, the guide, the riddler, and the villain. All who find a place in the Story are bound to the sword. Not all swords are born to cut. They may be like Alice, tripping through her personal circus of clowns and funhouse mirrors. Or clever, like Wendy, running always to find that bright, shining adventure. Or just lucky, like Dorothy, who only ever seems to be in the wrong place at the right time just enough to change everything to her liking. Without Alice, there was no-one to twist the mirrors, without Dorothy, the shoes were only shoes, and, without Wendy, Peter had no-one to tell his stories and Hook had no-one to thwart his wicked charms.
They called, but I would not come down. Hook, Peter, the wizard. Good witch and bad, all tried to wrap me in the thread of Story, trying to begin it with that oldest of magicks, the giving of the name. They listed a thousand, maybe more, but none of them could chain me; they were not mine. Only one name could hold me, who had played from pirate ship to yellow brick, who had chased winged monkeys through ageless forests to dance with moonbeams and playing cards. Only the name I allowed would find me. Only one thing could bind me, who had spoken Alice’s name and called her by another: Friend. I am a riddler and mischief maker. I do not come when I am called and will be bound by no name if I do not wish it and so none may discover one to hold me prisoner.
“We must have a new hero,” Tinkerbell whispered in my pointed ears. “It must be you. There is none better. But I am the cat, not the lion. I am the laughter, not the battle cry.
“Come down,” they cried. “Come down, come down!” And I knew why they called to me, unwritten and unnamed; the Stories center on the Hero, spinning out from them, existing for them. It isn’t as though one girl can step into another’s place. Wendy cannot be Alice and Alice may not be Dorothy. None who are written can escape the Words that made them. Even the Hero, caught upon the tide of Words, can be naught but a Hero in their own tale. Only one thing exists in that moment before the Hero is called. That breathless, promising whisper which sends the Story running out like silver thread. Once Upon A Time. But, without the Hero, the Story catches, falters, and dies. And it was this moment, as Hook so grimly suspected, which held our Heroes in its sway. If it died now, it would take them – and their Stories – with it.
Heroes were once unwrittens. At least, that is what they say. “Rumor and nonsense,” Father will cry out when he hears it, even though he knows it is generally accepted. None can ever tell you of a time when Alice was not Alice or Wendy was a nameless girl chasing leaves through London, but everything has a beginning. All that is made was once unfinished. The name is what completes the dream and makes what was unwritten whole. Always, in the quietness of me, I thought it probable that it was more truth than rumor, more sense than not and I’d have lied if I said I’d never thought what it would be like to have a name and Story of my own.
Still, I did not come down. Even if we don’t know exactly where the Heroes come from, even if an unwritten might be made more, we know what traits they must possess and I was not so foolish as to think I had more than a shred of one. I am not brave or wise. I am not good or very kind… or even a little kind when I am being wicked. Even Alice knows this and has chastised me more than once for trying to eat the dormouse or leaping upon Rabbit and tearing his soft fur with my wicked claws. I am clever, not smart, and I am not given to courageous acts. I prefer, truth to be told, the warm sun on a window sill to chasing after anything that looks like hard work. But then.
“You.” The White Queen looked up at me and I am nowhere near as good as Father at vanishing or Mother at willful deafness. There was a terrible, bright fire in the queen’s eyes. I could deny the others. But not The White Queen; I am the lost bits of Wonderland, the shadows that fell unseen beneath the trees, the leaves that were never spoken of or remembered by the Words. I am not bound to Alice’s Story. But I am of it. “Come down.”
She holds sway over all that is Wonderland – save Alice, that snowy and royal lady. So I went down, a very small and frightened thing, after all. But she did not yell at me or berate me for my insolence. Instead, she stepped back so I could see Alice. Pale as paper, looking thin and lost lying there in that narrow bed. “She is your friend,” the queen whispered. She has long favored you. And now you can save her.”
“I am a riddler,” I protested. “I do not know where I would begin. I am the question, not ever the answer.”
“You are an unwritten with a will of your own.” Her eyes, sharp and cold as ice, held a powerful desire to live, even if only in the confines of the Words that made her. She laid my hand across Alice’s. Always small, always pale. It was cold and felt as though she was already gone, as if the thing that had made her Alice had fled. “I cannot tell you where the answer might be. Only where to begin.” I knew what she was going to say, then, because only one would know more about Stories than her. The one that tried to break free, to leave the Story. And paid dearly for it. She knew all there was to know of Stories and those they create, but that did not save her. “My sister,” says the queen.
Even Peter recoiled. A hush fell down and, in it, even Hook held his breath. There are none who would go chasing that cursed place, not even the king of the pirates. If it can even be found, there are none who would wish to walk inside it. Who knows what happens when the Story twists the life from one who is written? Who knows what monstrosities it breeds? Did she live, perhaps she’d have been there with the rest of us. But she tried to escape. And it had been her final end, the worst of all things because she could not rise again. Could we retell the story, perhaps we might catch a shadow or a shred and it would be her enough to answer. But, without Alice, there was no hope of that. And so it must begin with her grave instead. “Save us,” The White Queen whispered. It was no order. Because it has to be a certain way. “Won’t you try?”
I am a riddler. And I do not know much of courage. But it was our Alice. And once, long and long ago, she saved me. I did not say the words. Not yet. There are rules.
“Will you go?” The rabbit, slipping from beneath the bed clasped his paws with his plea. Still, I held my tongue; there are strictures.
“Will you?” asked one of the round and merry brothers. “Yes, yes, please?” said the other at the same time, echoes of each other, whole only when they are together.
And I drew my breath, apologized silently to the long line of Cheshires before me, and looked to the queen. “Give me my name.”