Before her stood a little boy, with the greenest eyes she had ever seen (they were so green that even her dark sunglasses could not dull them). He was wearing a pair of overalls and a scruffy white t-shirt underneath. He was barefooted and a spot of dirt smudged his forehead. He shuffled from foot to foot uneasily.
“Hello. It’s nice to see you again,” he said.
“Again? I’ve never seen you before.” The girl squinted at the boy. His green eyes widened.
“Oh no, I meant, I just meant hello. You haven’t seen me before.” The boy did not blink.
“Wait, who are you?” The girl tilted her head. “You don’t belong here do you?”
The boy crossed his arms. “Hmph, I could say the same for you. At least I know where I am.” The boy began to stalk away.
The girl ran after him, not wishing to lose the somewhat only normal being she had encountered. “No wait, I’m sorry! Please don’t go. I guess I’m still getting used to this place. Just when I think I’ve figured it out, something else happens and I have to rethink everything.”
The boy grinned. “That’s why I don’t think.”
He grew very solemn. “Never.”
“But how is that possible?”
“If you stop thinking so hard about it, you’d understand.” The girl couldn’t think of a response. “There, now you’re getting it!” The boy broke out in a grin again.
The girl hesitated. “I suppose. That just seems a rather empty way to live your life.”
“Not here it isn’t.” The boy shrugged. “Where were you heading anyways?”
“Behind the castle.” The girl started walking again and the boy fell into step beside her. “Do you have a name?” she asked him.
He shrugged. “I’m an orphan. Orphans don’t have names.”
“Well how did you end up here?”
He scratched his head. “All I remember is that we needed a pail of water for the pigs. So I went up the hill to get one. But then I fell.” He rubbed his head again. “When I got back, everyone was gone. Then I found myself in the woods and Lady Hatter took me in.”
“Huh. How did you fall?”
“The bright white light. It just sort of shot across the land and I lost my footing.”
The girl stopped and stared at the boy. “I saw a light too, before everything disappeared. It was like my world had just been wiped out, but somehow I still lingered. I wonder if it was the same light?”
“Probably not. I found my way here weeks ago. You’ve only just arrived.”
“What do you think the light means?”
The boy seemed to be thinking, but of course he wasn’t really. “The story ended.” The girl stared at him. “The white light was the ending of the story,” he said again, as if it made more sense the second time around, like someone was trying to make a point. “Our stories ended, so now we’re here.”
“Oh.” The girl kept walking, not sure what else she could do.
“And now we’re here.”
The girl turned back to the boy. “You said that already.”
“No, I mean, now we’re here, at the back of the castle.”
The girl looked up in surprise. So they were! How convenient to just gloss over that tedious trip with such informative dialogue. The girl blinked.
“There’s no lagoon.” Her shoulders sagged. No lagoon, no grandma.
“No. Why would you think there would be?”
“My grandmother said to look for the lagoon.”
“Did she say it would be here?”
“No. She didn’t say anything about it.”
“Then why would you think it was here?”
The girl looked at the boy hopelessly. “Coincidence?”
The boy shook his head. “Coincidences, nah, that’s just lazy work.” The boy looked outwards, raising his eyebrow. “You’ve got to put reason behind everything we do.”
“Who are you talking to?”
The boy focused once more on the girl, blinking. “No one.”
The girl looked down at the ground, biting her lip. “I guess I’d better go back to the party then.” The duo trudged back the way they came. The girl eyed the boy curiously right at that particular moment. “Wait a second. Were you the one in the cloak telling me to go to Lady Hatter’s cottage?”
The boy grinned, and winked a bright green eye.
“Why’d you send me there?”
“Had to get you here somehow, didn’t I? I didn’t have an extra invitation, like Mr. Cheshire always does.”
“But why did I have to come here?”
“You ask a lot of questions. One day you’ll have to learn you won’t be getting all the answers. Now shush, we’re back.”
The pair had indeed arrived back at the blankets and tents, just as everything was being wrapped up. Georgie ran up to them, yipping, announcing their return.
“Oh good, everyone’s here!” the Queen of Diamonds clapped her hands.
The girl looked around at this small peculiar group – a lady hatter (who had conveniently arrived after the girl had left), a Cheshire mouse, a white rabbit who was always ridiculously early to things, a queen of diamonds, plus some other guys. The girl frowned. “Is this everyone?”
“Well who else would there be?” clucked Lady Hatter.
“I don’t know. I just feel like some chara…people are missing.” The girl fiddled with her dress.
Lady Hatter burst out laughing, heeing and hawing. “What a strange girl you are! What land do you think this is?” Hee-hee-hoo-hoo-hawwww.
“Opposite land, apparently,” she grumbled. The girl turned to Mr. Cheshire. “You said you would help me.”
“I brought you here, didn’t I?” The little mouse was sitting on a sleeping Chestnut. “Here leads everywhere.”
“But I still haven’t found the lagoon! Or my grandmother!”
“Ah!” the mouse slid down the slide of fur and scampered over to the girl, his whiskers twitching excitedly. “That’s the next step now, isn’t it?” Mr. Cheshire skittered up the girl’s side, bounced off her shoulder and swung on the rim of her sunglasses. He landed smoothly back on the ground. Lady Hatter applauded loudly. “Life’s always better once you’ve had a look around.” He took a deep bow.
The girl hesitated. Everyone peered at her eagerly, waiting.
Seeing as how there didn’t seem to be much else she could do, she looked to her left. Nothing. She looked off to the right. Nothing. The girl looked forwards.
She spotted a hidden path she couldn’t see before. Curiouser and curiouser, she thought, these glasses are making me see things the naked eye can’t. The girl looked outwards, arching an eyebrow. What a coincidence, she thought flatly. …Hrm, yes, convenient isn’t it…
Moving down the path, she came across a sign, but she couldn’t make sense of it for it was covered in unreadable scribbles. Well, darn. The girl looked at it hopelessly, her hands on her hips. A voice floated through her head just then: Perhaps you’d best look at it from upside down. I find that helps me when I’m lost.
“Hm.” The little group had followed her, but she paid them no mind as she dropped down on her knees. With a slight struggle and a lot of breathing, she managed to stand on her head, balancing precariously.
“Oh, I think she’ll fit right in!” tittered Lady Hatter.
“There’s not thinking for you!” agreed the boy proudly.
As the group whispered amongst themselves, the girl was able to decipher the sign, its scribbles suddenly blatantly obvious to her now that she was looking at it from upside down. It was a map to the lagoon! How wonderful, and not a coincidence at all, no, no, just well-thought out plans falling into place. Mhm.
The girl now knew exactly where to go. The lay of the land was no longer such a mysterious and confusing mix to her, but a joy to trek through. She could now appreciate its uniqueness, and she saw that the land really wasn’t as familiar as she’d first thought. Birds flew upside down here, the better to see where they were going of course; and there was a wood full of faux-animal-skin trees (the Douglas Fur Forest, or Faux Forest as the locals called it); and a lake where the water was black during the day and blue at night and tasted like watermelon all times; plus, the Cave of Non-Wonders where you found everyday things like wheelbarrows and jerky.
But best of all there was the lagoon. To get into the lagoon, you have to go through a door (as you do). When the group reached the door, no one wanted to be the first to approach it, as not one of them had ever been to the lagoon before. It was a tall door, but not very wide. A fat giraffe wouldn’t have to duck but he’d have to go through sideways and suck in his stomach. Luckily for the girl, she was not a fat giraffe, so she would have to do neither as she went through the door. She stared at the door in wonder, worried she might not find what she wanted on the other side.
The boy was first to find his courage and approach the door. “Here,” he said. “I’ll open it for you.” The girl smiled at him and he blushed. He rolled his shoulders, made a flourish with his hands, and turned the handle.
If you were holding your breath, you may as well let it go. The door didn’t open. Didn’t even budge. The boy blinked. “It’s locked.”
“Oh, oh, oh!” Lady Hatter waved her hand, jumping. Chestnut shot into the Queen of Diamonds arms to avoid being trampled. “What kind of lock is it? That’s very important!”
“A number lock.”
“Hm.” The girl stroked her chin. “Try 42.” The boy entered the number and a loud click sounded out.
“Of course!” He grinned. “Now why didn’t I not think of that?” He rolled his shoulders, made a flourish with his hands, did a jig with his feet, and turned the handle.
The door swung open. “After you.” The girl took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway.
What she saw was –
The end. What she saw was the end.
Just kidding! I wouldn’t do that to you.
What she really saw was pure magic.
Canals of glistening water ebbing and curving, little arched bridges crisscrossing their way over the canals, the soothing trickle of water floating through the air, all flowing towards the lagoon, a central fixture in the pathways of water. A fountain spurted up from the middle of the lagoon, mirroring the elegant willows bordering the edge of the water. The sun was just beginning to set, splashing out pinks and oranges across the glistening surfaces. It was a world of pure imagination and it was perfect, just like the girl dreamed it would be.
And there, standing on one of the little arched bridges, was grandmother. The elderly woman held out her arms and the girl ran to her, breathing in the embrace. Oh, what a touching moment.
So happily ever after seemed on the horizon for the girl, now reunited with her grandmother in the place where they were safe. This was to be their new home, this land of many wonders. Lady Hatter and the others promised to visit often, and the girl looked forward to the adventures she would have in this vast land, still with much to reveal to her. But that’s another story.
Just before he left, the girl went up to the boy and kissed him on the cheek. His eyes lit up. “I think I’ll call you Jack,” she said. “Because everyone deserves a name. Even orphans.”
He smiled shyly. “I just realised, I never asked your name.”
The girl grinned back, a sparkle in her eye. “Can you guess?”
(For real this time, I promise.)