Jeffrey Hollar’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Wonderland’s Call
Alyse had just been heading out to the corner coffee shop for a relaxing latte and some time to read the paper when she found the envelope on her doorstep.
It was a singularly unremarkable thing really, a pale manila color and not especially large. She picked it up and, upon reading the front of it, could not stifle an agonized yelp. It was addressed to “Alice of the Looking Glass” and had no return address whatsoever.
After all the years, after thinking that hellish time was only a sickening memory, they had found her. She supposed she’d been deluding herself they would ever stop looking for her but, until today, she’d genuinely believed herself to be free of them. Slamming the door closed, she triple locked it before turning her attention to the envelope. Tearing it open, she found a single page of thick vellum and two of the magical cards that were the Wonderland equivalent of photographs.
Tears streamed from her eyes as she realized the first was that dear old curmudgeon, Caterpillar. He had a, decidedly, smug and condescending manner about him but had supplied Alyse with invaluable intelligence enabling her escape. The image showed him on his back, his numerous legs sticking straight up into the air. His peculiar face bore an expression of pain and terror. Belatedly, she noticed his beloved hookah had been stuffed into an orifice quite different than the one he had traditionally preferred.
The image slid from her numb grasp onto the table and she steeled herself for what the second might show her. The tears, if possible, stung her eyes even more forcefully than before. It showed the Tweedle Brothers in a less than favorable way. Their corpulent bodies were covered in blood and, though they must have put up one hell of a fight judging from the cuts and slashes in their flesh, they were also, quite obviously, dead.
They lay atop each other in a travesty of a hug, having been impaled and staked together by what Alyse recognized as one of the spears carried by the Queen’s brutal guards.
Her heart ached recalling the two capering about and laughing. They had provided her with protection, guidance and as much assistance as their limited faculties allowed. Whatever they might have done, they certainly did not deserve to die in such a grisly and demeaning manner.
A cold rage began to build in her heart and Alyse turned her attention to the enclosed note. It was short and very directly to the point.
“This is the fate suffered by those who would conspire against the Monarchy. Unless you wish the deaths of more upon your conscience, you will surrender yourself to the royal agents forthwith. Dawson’s Pier…today…noon.” The note bore no signature, merely a stylized caricature of a rabbit’s head….the mark of the Queen’s covert operatives, the White Rabbits.
Alyse sat to contemplate her options. While she no intention whatsoever of surrendering herself to the minions of Wonderland’s psychotic ruler, she could never permit more of her acquaintances…her…friends to die for her actions of the past.
She changed into sturdy jeans and a comfortable knit top. She wanted comfort as well as mobility for what might well be an extended trip. Pulling on her heavy leather engineer boots, she knelt down and pulled the carved wooden box out from beneath her bed. She’d hoped to never have need of its contents but Cheshire had insisted she take it before she left Wonderland behind. As always, the wily feline had seemed to know more than he was letting on and Alyse had reluctantly taken it.
It was a pistol, of sorts, relying on magical energies rather than technology for its efficacy. It seemed to her like some toy store mock-up of a spaceman’s ray gun but she had no doubt of the very really lethal potential it promised. She had, to appease Cheshire, aimed it at a tree and depressed the trigger, watching the tree completely obliterated in the blink of an eye. She would use it on the damned White Rabbits before allowing them to take her back.
Checking her watch, she knew she’d have to hurry if she was going to get to the Pier and scope out the area before the scheduled meet. She concealed the gun beneath her striped blouse and drove as quickly as possible to the meet.
She sighed as she parked and got her first look at Dawson’s Pier in some time. Frustration boiled up in her as she realized the Rabbits couldn’t have chosen a better location. The pier was awash in a seemingly endless number of people, all enjoying its attractions and the warm fall day. She knew there was a very real potential for many of them to come to harm if she wound up having to resort to force to escape. Well, there was naught she could do but try to recon the area as thoroughly possible and get the drop on her pursuers before they could react.
Wandering about, she tried to appear just another tourist while scanning the crowds for anything untoward. There! Leaning against the chipped-paint support of a railing was the White Rabbit operative.
She had adopted the Seeming of a young girl, complete with a striped sundress and black patent leather shoes. Atop her shoulders was, what most would assume, a face concealed by an elaborate mask resembling a white rabbit. Only by exercising long-forgotten powers of perception was Alyse able to discern that what appeared to be a mask was, in fact, the creature’s true face.
Sliding into a secluded spot near the shops, she watched for what seemed an eternity before detecting no other Rabbit agents. Convinced she’d not been spotted, she decided her only choice lay in “neutralizing” the Wonderland resident and then leaving town to try and lose herself somewhere far, far away from here.
Adopting a classic shooter’s stance, she aimed the fantastical weapon at the furry white head of the Rabbit. Exhaling to calm herself, she was about to pull the trigger, when the agent raised an arm and saluted her with mock respect. Damn! She’d been spotted after all!
Well aware of the uncanny speed and reflexes of the Queen’s magical spies, she fired anyway, hoping for a lucky hit. The creature dodged with casual ease and Alyse swore under her breath as she realized she had lost the initiative and dared not fire again lest bystanders be placed in danger.
The Rabbit stopped, well-shielded by the crowds, and reached into a pocket of her dress for something. Alyse feared some sort of weapon, but realized it was, in fact, what appeared to those around her to be an immense and elaborate pocket watch.
Alyse knew all too well it was a dimensional shift device. The Rabbit was fleeing back to the safety of Wonderland. It offered her a final salute before activating the device, waiting for the portal to coalesce. Realizing she had no reason to do so but unwilling to retreat, she charged directly toward the scintillating circle of energy. As the Rabbit passed through, Alyse made a frantic dive forward. Fate smiled upon her at that moment and her boots vanished into the maelstrom a mere split second before the portal snapped close, leaving no trace of her or the agent for the hastily-summoned law enforcement officers to find.
Jeffrey Hollar is half Klingon, half Ferengi, visiting Earth in an attempt to negotiate a merger. He is currently working on a novella and a collection of zombie stories with his wife, Lisa McCourt Hollar. Jeff writes almost daily for his blog, The Latinum Vault, found at http://www.jeffreyhollar.com.