Down the rabbit hole, again!

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Wonderland was in a frenzy. For a few days, its drab grey magical skies had turned purple, probably reflecting the rare excitement of its inhabitants, imagining and discussing the fate of what was most likely the trial of the decade. Even the marshmallow fluff clouds flew over each other at such dizzying speed that if one looked at them for a long time, they would surely get their eyes crossed.

The things on land were no different. The Queen’s chessboard-like courtyard had turned into a media circus as the pawns from the palace staff scurried around trying to make the place look presentable. The press figures trotted around hunting for a juicy bite.  The jury had been thoroughly interviewed, quoted, misquoted and snapped. Even the Cheshire cat had started to complain that his face hurt from all the sudden smiling he had to do.

But then again, it was not every day that there was a high-profile murder in Wonderland! Truth be told, the wonderland had lost its glory in the past few years. The kids and the residents were far more interested in electronic gadgets than the books and magic that held the land together – the imagination and madness had worn out. Add to that the debacle five years ago, when the wonderland was wrecked as Alice pushed herself out, and the Queen had barely managed to plug the entrance between the earth’s surface (where Alice came from) and the wonderland (deep within this earth) with all the magic she could muster. Since then, things had been, in general, civil and boring.
Then four weeks ago, when Alice had decided to return to the Wonderland and murder its only keeper, the half-snake- a half-dragon leathery creature they all called Jabberwocky, and all the hell broke loose.

***
The Caterpillar massaged his bald head. He puffed on his ancient pipe, thick rings of greenish smoke filling the room, as the Mad Hatter cursed aloud, making others wince.

“I cannot believe that creature. Such an utterly ungrateful, uncouth human, that Alice? I say we rename her Malice before we sentence her!” Mad Hatter banged his fist on the table, continuing to spew insults in bursts, a small bubble of spittle hanging over his tiny mouth as he squeaked away.

“Now, Maddy, let’s not get all riled up.” The Caterpillar continued to make notes over his documents, calmy blowing away more smoke. “Granted, the lady is peculiar, but I have known her a bit in her childhood. She used to be a delightful, well-behaved little girl with a curious mind and polite manners.”

The Cheshire cat chortled. “Oh ja, once you get over those dreadful body tattoos which look as leathery as our Jabberwocky’s hide, those needle marks over her arms, her badly done red hair, those drug glazed eyes and the brow piercings, she is a delight to look at.”

“Don’t you patronise her, Caterpillar! You know how it ended the first time.” The mad Hatter prattled on. “We let her in this Wonderland, let her drink our tea and let her taste our magic mushrooms. How does she return the favour? He blows herself out of here with no thought or consideration for the destruction she left in her wake.”

The Cheshire cat took over. “Jaa, then she goes on to be a sulky eighteen-year-old, develops an attitude, snorts some powder at a rave, messes up with her body, is catapulted back into our world through some hidden door; we are not aware of.”

Mock Turtle chipped in, “What’s more? First, she organises a stupid Caucus race without permission and manages to upset the endangered turtle colony. Then she feeds my two dozen kids, sugar-laden gummies, till they develop a sugar rush and get so worked up that they pee all over each other and give my poor mother-in-law a massive panic attack. I will never hear the end of it.” Everybody in the room snickered as the Mock turtle snuck back into her shell out of embarrassment.

“And as if that was not enough, she picks a fight with the great Jabberwocky, our keeper of the gates and kills him leaving our entrances unguarded. Where do we find another guard?” Mock looked nervous again.

That set off the Mad Hatter again. “Pure blood lust, I tell you. She should not go unpunished.”

“And here I thought none of the ones liked the Jabberwocky and thought he was nothing but a waste of our tax money. So now he is a hallowed guardian after his death, eh?” The march hare quipped, and they all looked offended.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Caterpillar hummed his favourite lines as others looked at him in exasperation. But unfortunately, most of the jury did not share his sympathy with Alice.

“Isn’t this your first jury trial Caterpillar? No wonder you want to act important and leave your mark after spending an eternity among dead leaves and dung heaps.” The Cheshire cat taunted.

Mr Caterpillar lapsed deep in thought, almost wishing he could sink back into his peaceful anonymity. He had fond memories of little Alice he had met many years ago. He had played a role in her escape the first time using one of the magic mushrooms he had cultivated in his backyard. Then he glanced at her current photo and shuddered.
Where had it gone wrong with her?

***
I must keep up the charade. I absolutely cannot go back, not after I have finally found the way to be where I was meant to be. I should never have left his place the last time around.

Alice looked around in the courtroom filled with quaint beings of all kinds. From another time, she remembered a few of them. There had been the caterpillar who smoked a large pipe, the famous Mad Hatter, her old friend who now looked like he wanted to tear her into pieces, the Dormouse who avoided looking her (or anybody) in the eye and was doing a terrific job at botching up her defence.

And then there was the Queen of Hearts, looking every bit haughty as she did the last time they had fought together. She sat in the first row and seemed to be itching to declare, “Off with her head!”

Not that Alice needed defending, she mused. She was way past redemption, at least in the world she came from. Now her only hope lay in this queer but wonderful land, the only place where madness was welcome, where she could shrink and swell at her will without the need for a perfect figure; she could be content without the need to snort or inject drugs. The only place where she did not seem to have drug withdrawal or binge episodes. Or panic attacks. Yet.
A sudden drug overdose catapulted her to the world deep within this earth that she had dreamed about since childhood. For a rare moment, she had felt happy. Then her lousy luck had, as usual, followed her, and all went downhill. But for the first time in years, she felt hope. If she played her cards right, she could stay. The other alternative was unthinkable. It was being trapped in her drug abused, brain-dead body for a lifetime.
Alice felt her throat go dry and her heartbeat soar. Stop. She said aloud, not caring, that they thought she was crazy. She repeated her plan to herself. “Pretend you are crazy. Provoke them to punish you and let them put you in their prison.”

But the plan effervesced away like thin air as her old thoughts rushed back. The catastrophising got out of hand again.

“Alice, do not eat that; your dresses may not fit!”

“Alice, ensure you score A’s in your semester, or we will lose face before our neighbours.”

“Dr Dalrymple is a fine dermatologist; make an appointment to get your body hair lasered.”

How she had hated them all, with their perfect teeth, bodies and sane appearances.
She was mad, but they were all a bit mad here. This place suited her better.

***
The State of Wonderland and the Queen
Vs
Ms Alice P Hargreaves

Caterpillar looked at the grown-up, drug-addicted Alice with empty eyes who was miles apart from the naïve girl with light flecked eyes and a curious smile.

Meanwhile, the trial continued.

“…and then I heard a shrill scream from near the coast.” Mr Gryphon, the current witness, looked grave. “I ran with my axe and saw this girl covered in purple blood. At her side lay the leathery, wrinkled remains of what I knew belonged to ‘our’ Jabberwocky.”

Caterpillar rolled his eyes. “Did you see her stabbing the creature?”

“No.” Mr Gryphon looked surprised that the jury was even contemplating the reasonability of Alice’s actions.

“One, two! One, two!
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead and with its head,
He went galumphing back.”

It was Alice, reciting some lines in her deadpan voice.

“There, she admits to her act.” The Cheshire cat pointed animatedly as the court went crazier.

The media clicked in a frenzy, already deciding to paint her a villain.

“You shall speak when spoken to, and you shall speak no gibberish.” The queen spoke in clipped
tones. The court turned as one to catch the Queen’s expression, and the jury murmured while the
Caterpillar thought he noticed an old spark in Alice’s eyes.

Then she looked at him, and her face registered surprise. Caterpillar smiled.

So, she was not crazy.

But why was she doing this?

Curiouser and curiouser!

***

The court had adjourned for the day, and the Caterpillar set up a private meeting with The
Queen.

“Your Highness, thank you very much for granting me an audience. I am sure the trail keeps you
occupied these days.”

“Come to the point, Caterpillar; I know your sympathies lay with the girl.” The Queen tapped
her foot impatiently.

“Your Highness, I assure you my first loyalty will always lie with this land and nowhere else
and that is why allow me to ask you this question – what do you plan to do with her?”

“What do you mean Caterpillar?” The Queen looked irked at his words.

Caterpillar weighed his next words carefully.

“I have talked with others on the jury, and the opinion on her is divided. I can
confidently say my vote may be the tie-breaker in this case. Now here is where the problem
starts. If you banish her from Wonderland, it will do nothing worse for her. She
already has a life where she can return to. She may start to think that coming back is
fun and may cause more damage in future with an arsenal of poisons from the earth’s surface.
Like the one, she used on our Jabberwocky.”

He noticed he had the Queens’ attention. “If we keep her imprisoned here, it will still be a
win-win for her. She gets free meals and a bed in our land.”

The queen looked pensive.

“I may have a solution for this problem. Here are the details I chalked out.” So, saying, the
caterpillar took out a sheet of paper and handed it over to the queen. “But I have a request.”

“Obviously.” The Queen’s lip curled.

“I need an audience with Alice. In private. For 10 minutes.”

“And if I agree, you will do exactly as you have promised in this note?”

“I will sign a notarized document to that effect.”

The queen smiled. She called for a Knave to direct the caterpillar to the dungeons.

***
“Hello, Alice.” The caterpillar walked into the visitors chamber with a knave carrying a cup of tea
and some scones as Alice eyed him warily.

“What happened to you, Alice?”

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.”

He laughed as she recited those lines.

“Yes, that’s one more thing I want to ask you. How do you know this poem?” Caterpillar
chuckled.

Alice drew in a sharp breath. She had thought no one would guess the poem.

“I wrote that poem a few years ago as a silly birthday gift to Jabberwocky. He cherished it and
only shared it with the people he really had a soft spot for, which was no one in particular.
Even then, most people cannot recollect those words after repeated hearings. You, however
managed to catch on very fast. I say that pretty much tells me that you are as sane as I am,
which is not at all.” The Caterpillar elaborated.

“So now tell me, what happened that day?”

She remained silent.

“You know my vote can send you back to where you came from. I have a feeling you do not
want that.”

Now the panic in her eyes was real.

“Start from the beginning.”

“After I returned to my world the last time, I was a different person, and they did not like it.
They called me zany, kooky and whatnot. My parents asked me to give up writing stories and
work on my math. They believed spinning yarns was useless talent. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say I liked
trigonometry and loathed history. I had no friends there, and my life got miserable. I was
desperate to try anything that would make me a little happier. So, on my sixteenth birthday, I
snorted my first weed. The world seemed a little colourful and trippy in the drug-addled haze, just
the way I liked it. Then one day, the weed was not enough. So, I progressed to cocaine. I overdosed on heroine on my eighteenth birthday and landed in a coma. Imagine my surprise when
I returned to this place as my body still lies in the hospital like a vegetable.”

“But why did you kill Jabberwocky?” I asked her, biting into a buttered scone.

“I didn’t. At least not intentionally. I fled after the terrible commotion at Mrs Turtle’s place and her
panic attack. Her panic was a painful reminder of my problems, and I ran straight into his
lair. He was such a warm creature; we talked for a bit over some hibiscus tea. Then as I went to
freshen up, he accidentally touched the residual heroine I had placed on the table from my
purse. I meant to throw it away later. Unfortunately, he probably had a fatal reaction to it and blew up like a
huge purple balloon right before my eyes before he burst.”

And at last, Alice wept. “It seems like everything I touch shrivels and dies. Maybe I am evil.”

“No, you are not evil. A little mad maybe, but not evil.” Caterpillar sighed.

“Don’t send me back, please. I will lay there as a comatose body waiting for a painful death.”
“Hmm. Let me see what I can do.” The Caterpillar left. He had a lot of thinking to do and a
queen to convince.

***

The last day of the trial dawned.

As expected, the jury declared a tie. The half wanted the people her punished for her actions
While another half wanted her punished, they didn’t want to waste their tax money on her upkeep.

Caterpillar cast his vote.

The Queen had finally agreed to his suggestions, and the judge nodded at the caterpillar just
before he passed the verdict.

“The jury declares Ms Alice guilty of the first-degree slaughter of the Jabberwocky. At this moment, she is
Sentenced to life imprisonment in the Wonderland.”

Alice looked anxious.

The judge continued.
“The court believes letting the accused return to their land will not pose any punishment nor will
it offset the irreparable damage she has caused to the wonderland property in the past and present. Thereby is she instructed to take the place of Jabberwocky and henceforth guard
the doors of Wonderland against further intrusions from her kind. The court has a reason to
believe that since she has had multiple entries and exits from Wonderland, she is at present best
suited to guard all the possible entrances against future attacks.”

“If she is found, at present or in future, to cause any mischief or invite any miscreants in here,
she faces severe consequences and will be deported back to her world. Furthermore, against her assigned
duty, she will receive three meals a day and a minimum pension from the royal fund. Additionally,
she is expected to do lifelong community service by using her fecund imagination to teach the
kids here to read and write stories to improve the milieu of the wonderland.

***
As the guards took her away, Alice looked at the caterpillar in gratitude.
“Are you sure you will be happy here?”
“It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was different then.” She said and smiled for the first time since she had come.
As for the caterpillar, he returned to his quiet retirement and favourite pipe while saying, “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. So if you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
***
The end.

The author wishes to declare that the characters in these stories, up to and including the Jabberwocky and some quotes, have been taken from the famous works of Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland” as well as “Alice through the looking glass.” The author would like to credit the original author for the same and regard this work as a humble tribute to his great work of imagination and beauty.

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