Read Part 1
They left the poppy fields and headed back into the forest. This time the trees seemed to align themselves from smallest to biggest, which was a most curious sight indeed to the girl, but neither the mouse nor the cat seemed at all confused. Every time they passed a tree, there was a scuffling shuffly noise from behind. The girl looked behind her each time this occurred but spotted nothing more unusual other than the highly organized looking trees. The last time this happened though, she spotted the tree branches coming together and shaking as though with laughter. She wondered what was so funny. From that moment on, the girl became very aware of the trees’ movements around her and she was almost certain each tree was alive, or at least very high-spirited and giddy, you know, for a tree.
She was about to ask Mr. Cheshire about it, when they came to a clearing and all the trees seemed to fade into the distance as though they were nothing more than mere illusion. Before the unlikely trio of a cat and a mouse and, most surprisingly of all, a girl, stood a tall set of hedges, expanding out left and right as far as the girl could see. What the girl could not see was anything beyond the hedges, so tall that they were. Directly in front of the trio was a gated doorway, ivy winding itself around each iron rung. The gate did not have a look of unkemptness however, for the ivy was clearly in a state of being well looked after, gleaming proudly with its daily trim and readjustment. The ivy puffed up for show when the three arrived in front of it.
Mr. Cheshire scampered forwards. He cleared his throat, rearing up on his hind legs once more. Naturally accustomed to this posture, he began to walk upwards back and forth, first to one side of the gate then to the other. The girl watched him do this for several rotations before she asked him what he was doing. He did not answer. Chestnut had curled up midway through Mr. Cheshire’s route and fallen straight asleep, but even this did not detour the little mouse, he simply climbed up and down the sleeping cat and continued on his way. Back and forth, up and down, Mr. Cheshire paced.
“Aren’t we going in?” the girl asked.
“I’m waiting,” came the reply from the mouse, never slowing in his trek.
“The gate to open.”
“Can’t we open it ourselves?”
“Don’t be silly, gates only open when they want to open.”
“Well how long do you think we’ll have to wait?” The girl was beginning to lose hope.
“42,” Mr. Cheshire grunted. Chestnut had just turned over in his sleep as the mouse was climbing up him, and Mr. Cheshire had been caught beneath the furry stomach. He wriggled himself out from under the cat, brushed himself off, and picked up with his pacing, newly energized.
“42 what?” The girl furrowed her brow. Now what? she wondered.
“When I’ve paced my path 42 times, the gate will gladly open. Everybody knows that.”
The girl was frowning now. “Well I didn’t. Everybody assumes that I know these things, but I don’t, and I wish they would stop.”
“Oh don’t be glum.” Mr. Cheshire stopped pacing and scampered back over to the girl. “There, that’s it now!”
Mr. Cheshire looked at the gate. The girl looked at the gate. Chestnut carried on sleeping, but he too was probably looking at the gate. The gate looked back at them.
Then the gate opened.
“Excellent.” Mr. Cheshire rubbed his paws together. “Come along, Chestnut.” Mr. Cheshire scampered through the now open gate. Chestnut, opening one eye at a time, arched his back then silently followed. The girl sighed and fell into step behind them once more.
They entered what appeared to be some sort of hedge maze. The girl was in no mood for mazes, hedges or otherwise. Luckily for the girl, this was not a hedge maze at all, but simply several tall hedges bordering a gravel pathway in various directions. It wasn’t a maze because there were no dead ends. Only mazes have dead ends. Everything else is just a multi-routed hedge walkway. Everybody knows… you get the idea.
They took a particularly curvy pathway. Just when it seemed they were going in one direction they ended up heading in the other direction. But it wasn’t like they were walking in a circle, although the girl did begin to feel a bit dizzy, like they were walking in a circle. But they weren’t, so that was that on that matter. As suddenly as it had begun, the path ended and the hedges fell away. A vast yard expanded out before them and all the girl could think of doing at that moment was lying down in the soft green grass and falling asleep. But then she’d almost certainly never find the lagoon so she decided against it. She followed Mr. Cheshire and Chestnut a little ways further out into the lawn. Soon, she spotted the spires of a great white castle emerging on the horizon. The castle walls were very shiny, reflecting the sun beams that were beating down on it so that the castle sparkled and shone like a diamond. The girl opened her mouth in awe. It was a grand castle indeed.
The three headed in the direction of some canopies that were set out on the lawn, providing refreshing shade from the hot sun. Several picnic baskets and blankets had been set up nearby. Soft music could be heard, along with the sound of a rhythmically dripping fountain, although the girl could not see where either might be coming from. The string quartet and splashing water seemed perfectly timed to one another. Mr. Cheshire led the girl over to one of the blankets, a red and black checkered one. The girl noticed a little white rabbit was already sitting on the blanket, well settled in and nibbling on something green and leafy.
“Hello, Mr. Tilney.”
“Afternoon, Mr. Cheshire,” replied the white rabbit, his nose twitching slightly.
Mr. Cheshire curled up on a red checker. Chestnut snuggled in next to him, pawing at the blanket. “You know, you’re really not supposed to bring your own food to these parties,” the mouse said to the rabbit.
“I know. But they never serve anything until it starts and I’m always famished waiting here.”
“Then why do you come so early?”
The white rabbit shrugged, the way all rabbits do from time to time when they can’t be bothered to do anything else. “Why not?”
“You mean you don’t run late to things?” the girl asked.
The white rabbit eyed her curiously, nose twitching away. “Why would I ever be late for such an important date?”
The girl shrugged. “I’m late to school all the time. It’s easy to fall behind.”
The white rabbit’s nose stood still. “Harumph. I am never late. To anything. I arrive punctually early.”
“Ridiculously early,” Mr. Cheshire piped up.
“It would be rude not to.” The white rabbit continued to stare at the girl until she had to look away, embarrassed.
Mr. Cheshire coughed, avidly scratching at a spot on Chestnut’s side. The girl was about to get up and leave when several trumpets sounded behind them. Everybody’s head swung around. Six trumpeters stood alert, three on each side with space in between them to walk through, their trumpets held upright and forming an archway above the newly created pathway. All six trumpeters stood completely still, not even their trumpet-bearing arms shaking. For a while the scene remained as such and the girl wondered if they as the watchers were supposed to do anything. Suddenly a tiny dog came running through beneath the trumpet archway, yipping excitedly, its tiny legs moving as fast as they could. It was a little Yorkie, its golden brown fur billowing as it ran. The Yorkie ran straight into the girl’s lap, where it immediately curled up and fell asleep. Chestnut seemed undisturbed by its presence. The girl on the other hand was rather alarmed to suddenly find a tiny dog snoozing in her lap.
The trumpeters trumpeted once more and everyone around her stood. The girl, though, with the sleeping dog in her lap, felt she couldn’t disturb it and remained seated. She did look attentively at the trumpeters however. Before long, a grandly dressed woman swept through the archway. She wore a white dress that clung beautifully to her from the waist up but flared out at the hips, cascading down with the grace and serenity of a waterfall. She had long red hair that had been bundled into an elegant twist at the nape of her neck, sparkling diamonds pinning it together. Her alabaster skin seemed almost to shine against the smoothness of the dress.
The woman approached the group. She nodded to each before letting her eyes fall to the girl sitting cross-legged below her. At first she said nothing, only examining the girl with her bright eyes. The girl wished she could have stood with the others, for this was a most intense look-over.
At last the woman spoke, “I see my George has found a new friend.” The woman’s face broke out in a huge smile then and she knelt by the girl, stroking the dog affectionately. “Well any friend of George’s is a friend of mine.” The girl found she had been holding her breath and she quickly let it out. The woman continued, “Mr. Cheshire, who is your charming guest?” She swept her gaze over to the mouse, who was grinning from ear to ear, or at least, grinning as far as a mouse can grin.
“Why, her of course.” Mr. Cheshire climbed atop the girl’s right knee. “I thought I’d surprise you with her.”
“And you most certainly did. Bravo. Georgie approves.”
“And you know who this is,” continued Mr. Cheshire, speaking to the girl.
The girl pursed her lips, thinking over who the woman could be. “Oh, of course, you’re the Queen of –”
“Diamonds,” interrupted the woman. “Charmed, I’m sure.’
The girl chewed her lip. “Diamonds? Are you sure? No, that doesn’t sound right. Something’s off.”
The Queen of Diamonds turned her penetrating gaze back on the girl. “Are you questioning me?”
“No, of course not. It’s just… I thought… Never mind, it’s not important. Of course you’re the Queen of Diamonds.”
The Queen of Diamonds nodded in approval. She stood, towering once more, and clapped her hands. “Now, we dance!” The music started up again, louder and more lively. Everyone immediately started to bounce around to its beat. Georgie the Yorkie leapt out of the girl’s lap in a bound that would have been impressive for a large dog and ran circles round the grooving group, flapping his ears as he trailed after swirling skirts and swishing suits. Even the girl got swept up in the rhythm of it, giggling as she attempted to dance with Mr. Cheshire (her leather shoes, as it turned out were not great dancing shoes but she enjoyed herself all the same). Chestnut sat in the midst of the twirling bodies, his tail gracefully swinging from one side to the other, his purr molding perfectly to the chime of the music.
The group danced themselves into exhaustion. The Queen of Diamonds clapped her hands again. The music stopped and everyone collapsed to the soft blankets. The Queen delicately sat upon the only chair. Food was soon brought out, at which Mr. Tilney’s nose was set a-twitching once more, snooffling up the smells that were now wafting through the air. The girl couldn’t help her own nose from twitching ever so slightly at the delicious smells that drifted over to her, tickling her nostrils. She soon had a plate heaped with foods, some she recognised, some she didn’t, all more tasty than the last. From the moment that first morsel touched the tip of her tongue, her stomach twanged and she realised how famished she had been. She ate up every last crumb that made its way onto her plate.
As she finished eating, she looked around herself. Mr. Cheshire, Mr. Tilney, and Chestnut were still rummaging around the food table. Even Georgie had left her. It was then that the girl realised she was all alone. Not alone on the blanket, which she was presently regardless, but alone in this very peculiar place. She had no idea where her grandmother was and she felt like she wasn’t getting any closer to finding her by sitting here. So the girl got up, dusted herself off, and began walking. Perhaps the lagoon her grandmother told her about would be behind the castle. It was a long shot, to be sure, what a coincidence that would be, and as we all know, coincidences are just a writer’s way of not finding a better method of getting Main Character from Point A to Point B, but she figured it was worth it to at least look around.
As the girl drew nearer to the castle, she realised just how bright it really was. It was so bright in fact, that it forced a cry out of her, “Why this castle shines bright like a diamond!” – Shine bright like a diamond, shine bright like a diamond. The girl looked around. Great, she thought, now this place is echoing me too.
She tried to move forward, but the brightness of the dazzling diamond palace overcame her and she had to stop short and shut her eyes.
Soon she felt a tapping on her shoulder. “Here, put these on. They’ll help block out some of that shine.” She was handed a pair of dark sunglasses. She put them on and they did indeed block out some of that shine. The girl blinked, glad to have her vision back, although she was rather startled by what she saw staring back at her.
Read Part 3