You know you’re an English student when… (Part Two)

So tragically true.

Classicritique

1. Your local paper prints this.Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 13.40.06

“Me no know how to sudoku. Me forget how to maths.”

2. Hunger is the only thing that can get you to leave the library.

“Have you heard the news? The library is going to let us bring food in with us.”
“Oh god. I’m going to die there, aren’t I?”

3. You thought that guy/ girl in the library was Hot, with a majuscule.

“Baby, you’re just like the books in this library. I love checking you out.”

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Four Impossible Things – Undergraduate Dissertation.

 

Four Impossible Things

BY

18440

BASED ON THE NOVEL

ALICE IN WONDERLAND’

BY

LEWIS CARROLL

 reading

Under the Supervision of:

Dr Andrew Nash

Illustrated by:

Rachel Lamonby

 red queen

CHAPTER I

Begin at the Beginning

The Five of Hearts had become rather tired of carrying serving trays of tea cups and cakes. He had repetitively tramped to and from the kitchen all morning. The large marquee that stood tall in the grand gardens of Alys had become a beacon of dread. The morning was hot, the sun just peeking through little streams of cloud that were scattered across the sky. The grass had been re-seeded for the wedding celebrations and new rose bushes were just starting to come into bloom in the flower beds.

‘Look out Five, I nearly dropped the glassware!’ Another card shouted. He was almost identical to Five save the large four on his back.

‘I couldn’t help it; Seven was in my way.’ He grumbled, dumping the heavy tray down with an unceremonious thump.

‘That’s right, Five! Always lay the blame on others.’ Seven said, stopping what he was doing to glare at him across the tables.

‘What’s happening?’ Another playing card asked as he approached the group, bunches of roses in his arms for the tables centre pieces.

‘That’s none of your business, Two!’ Five said with a sneer.

tea caddy

‘Well, whatever it is you better pack it in. The White Rabbit told me the guests are starting to arrive. We’ll be for it if these tables aren’t dressed by the time the Queen gets here.’

‘I don’t see why they had to get me up on my day off to come and set out tea cups and French Fancies. They’ve already had the wedding reception, it’s unfair is what it is!’

‘Stop whining Five. The first King and Queen held a croquet match for the nobility every year. It makes sense that they should hold one now they’ve come to the throne.’ Four said rather flatly.

‘It’s only because he’s new to the pack. Ten never argued so much.’ Seven said with a smug grin, quickly hiding it as Two threw him a look.

‘I heard that it was an arranged marriage. The King had a favour to ask of one of the far away kingdoms. The Princess hadn’t even seen him until he lifted up her veil!’ Six gossiped to Two as he pushed a tea caddy past the group.

‘Oh yes! I’ve heard that too. Cook told me that the Princess was ever so upset about it all. She had her heart set on finishing her secondary examinations you see.’ Seven added.

‘It won’t last!’ Five called out from across the marquee where he was busy knocking Seven’s tea spoons out of line.

‘Hush, hush! Here they come!’ Two hissed, quickly shoving the last of the flowers into vases and pushing the rest of the cards into line.

Cheery voices and the tinkle of laughter could be heard lightly on the wind as the White Rabbit hopped into view. He wore a formal bow tie around his neck and a pair of little white gloves, stiff from starch. Taking out a pocket watch from his black waist coat he checked the time, twitching his whiskers with anxiety as he realised they were running a little behind. As the guests filled the Green with a glittering throng of jewels and gold and wealth, the rabbit hopped to the front of the ever growing group and blew on the little brass trumpet he had acquired.

‘Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the King and Queen of Hearts. Rulers of the province and generous care-givers to the people.’ He bellowed, as loudly as a rabbit could bellow.

table setting

Everyone turned as the young couple swept into view. The King lent his hand to his young wife, assisting her down a set of stone steps and into the eager gaze of their guests. They complimented each other. He was tall, brooding and broad; his forehead large and frowning, dark eyebrows sat low over dim eyes that scanned his audience with a chilling gaze. He was visibly stern, even for all his finery, the gleaming gold of his buttons failing to reflect in his eyes. The Queen was his contrast; willowy and pale she appeared like a china doll in the sun. The dress she wore billowed, swamping her slight frame in its great folds. The small features of her face, framed in tumbling dark curls were dominated by his large and over bearing appearance. As he took her small, delicate hand in his large, ape like paws, any of those looking on could not help but wonder how easily he could crush her little fingers.

They stepped out onto the Green to face a sea of faces, eager for their first address. The Queen opened her tantalising, red mouth a fraction, taking a small breath of air to prepare herself for her well-rehearsed speech. She had barely begun to pronounce her first word when her husband cut her short.

‘Welcome my dear friends!’ The King called out into the crowd. “We are most pleased to see you all here today. My wife and I are terribly grateful for all your gifts and kind words of support. It is our wish to see that we reign as well and as comfortably as those before us. Now I believe my wife has set up a little croquet match for you all. Get to your places!’

The Queen’s mouth had slid silently shut as her new husband had begun to speak. She felt a stirring of anger in the pit of her stomach, just a small flutter but enough to make her green eyes flash a little in the mid-day sun. It was not unrecognised and as the crowd dispersed a few whispered mutterings could be heard between the women.

“Darling.’ She whispered, catching hold of his arm. He didn’t say a word, taking the flamingo that the Seven of Hearts held out to him. ‘I thought, perhaps, that it would be prudent, for me to say a little something.’

The King raised an eyebrow in her direction and said nothing. He shooed Seven away and began to make his way across the Green toward the mingling crowd.

‘It’s just that I practised!’ She called out as she tottered unsteadily behind him, pulling the long skirts up so that she could run to keep up. His head turned and as he caught a glimpse of her, he stopped dead in his tracks. Catching his wife by the arm he swung her to one side, out of sight of most of their guests.

‘Look Aaliyah I really don’t have the time or the patience today to listen to your constant whining. I have been chosen to be your husband and I shall rule here, do you understand? I won’t be made out to be a fool! Now, save your tears and get you gone. I don’t want to have to hear from you for the rest of the day. Am I quite clear?’ Snatching her arm back from his grasp Aaliyah quickly swatted away the few tears that had slipped down her cheeks. He took one last venomous look at her before turning away, extending his arms to greet some of the council men who stood nearby.

Her new husband departed from her, leaving her confidence and hope in tatters and a bitter taste in the back of her throat. A large pit of despair opened up in her stomach and the sunshine that fell across her face failed to warm her. She was a simple woman, replaced and uprooted from her place in life by this stranger, this man.

Two looked up from the table he was clearing to see the Queen standing alone in a small beam of sunlight, her small face carefully emotionless, her childlike innocence left in tatters.

‘Such a pity.’ He mumbled to himself.

‘What’s that Two?’ Five asked. He followed Two’s line of sight until he caught a glimpse of the Queen attempting to compose herself before re-joining the laughing group on the Green.

‘Ah! I told you. I told you nothing would come of it. Not even out of her bridal gown and it’s already a disaster.’ Five sneered through his cheshire cat grin.

‘Shut up Five. Get inside. Don’t you have some floors to mop?’ Two snapped back, pushing him toward the servant’s back door.

‘Watch it will you! You’ll see Two, one of these days things around here are going to change. Just because you’re the oldest in the pack doesn’t mean you’ll be around forever. Mark my words, it’ll be my turn one of these days!’ With that Five stormed away kicking one of the giant land snails that were carrying after dinner mints on their backs out of his way.

Two bent down to straighten the line. The snail Five had kicked was flatly refusing to come back out of his shell declaring:

‘I’ve had it with this place! I won’t be coming back out. I won’t do it!’ in rather muffled tones. Sighing to himself Two tossed the stubborn snail aside and watched with some despair as the Queen wandered around the grounds, a smile plastered firmly upon her perfect face. He shivered a little as a large black cloud swooped in overhead and enveloped the land in its shadowy blanket. The choking darkness snuffing out the light and ripping the warmth from the land. Everyone on the Green gazed upwards as the first few drops of freezing rain landed upon their cooling cheeks.

Spoons

CHAPTER II

A Cat and a King

Aaliyah tugged nervously on the hem of her laced sleeves with damp hands. She was acutely aware that all the eyes of the court were upon her. Barely a breath could be heard, the silence packing every corner of the room. Moments dragged into a lifetime as every creature awaited the Queen’s command to begin. No one in living memory had ever been tried for the high treason, a charge from which no man escaped with his head. The tension was almost unbearable but the Queen sat aloof, her eyes fixing on some unknown thing in the centre of the room. She appeared to all the world steady and certain, only the slight shaking of her hands showed Aaliyah’s uncertainty.

The day was hot, stifling the audience of the farce. No air circulated and the suffocatingly low roof made everyone squirm and pull at their tight, formal collars. The White Rabbit stood next to the throne, uncomfortable and stiff in the tabard provided. It was too long at the front and too wide in the shoulders and it slipped slightly to one side as he walked.

The King had already been seated across the room from the throne and his wife. Their eyes never moved from each other’s, the seriousness of what was about to happen pouring in. No shock, no care showed on his face. His own wife sat cold and unmoving only a few feet from him. She held his life in her plotting, desperate hands.

In an un-wanted a marriage of politics, distant and miserable they had lived separate lives for years. She had tried to create a little common ground for them both and he had brushed her off, too involved in a life of court, women and power. Soon the respect had vanished, the trying had disappeared and all that was left was regret and despair. His affair had only cemented the issue in her mind and now there was no hope of a reconciliation. He knew as well as anyone else that she needed to be rid of him and the ball and chain that he represented.

‘Herald, read the accusation,’ Aaliyah commanded with a strength and resolve in her voice that she did not trust. The three blasts the White Rabbit gave on his golden trumpet blew through her. Her heart stuttered in her chest as he called out the charges of Adultery and High Treason against her husband, the King.

‘The head!’ The Rabbit bellowed and with a sudden bang a side door flew open. Four young monkeys scurried across the paved floor holding high above them a large silver dish upon which, sat the head of a young, blonde girl. Her pallor was grey and demure, devoid of the young rose’s blush that had once filled them. Her hair matted in her own blood at the point where her neck suddenly ended; the skin ragged from the blunt edge of a blade. The frayed, musculature veins and arteries trailed slightly across the platter. The group skidded to an awkward halt next to the throne; all was silent, not one gasp of horror was permitted to pass a pair of pink lips. The small footmen visibly shook under their burden with fear, disgust and strain. One end of the dish suddenly dropped and splashed a little blood onto the head of the smallest monkey. The trickle of red worked its way down his worried brow. The monkey’s wild eyes crossed as he watched it with shuddering breaths trickle down his nose where it dripped with a plop onto the pure white floor.

Aaliyah felt the bile rise hot and fast in her throat as the small troop lowered the large silver plate abruptly down onto the pillar that separated her from her husband. The clang of metal upon stone rang out through the silent court making some flinch with surprise, and the young girls head rolled a little to the left. Her half closed eye lids scanning her horrified audience. The King broke his silence to gasp and shudder at the sight of his once so beautiful and fiery girl, destroyed by his wife’s malice and hatred. He watched as his Queen shuffled in her seat and tried to catch her breath. He could see the conflict in her eyes between uncertainty and the enigmatic call of a self-empowerment she had never possessed.

Leaning over, she whispered softly to the White Rabbit, ‘Call the first witness,’ Casting a nervous look over the charade he blew again on the trumpet and bellowed ‘First witness!’ into the silent court room.

From a hidden side door a couple of playing cards, their ceremonial swords at their waists chaperoned a haggard looking man into the court room. His wild eyes darted from the cards flanking him, to the King and Queen and the full gallery, the crumbs from a hastily abandoned tea party still hanging from his quivering moustache.

Everyone in Wonderland had heard the rumours of what occurred in that court room, justice had long since been twisted out of all recognition. Suddenly all became friendless, your situation desperate. The Hatter was too keenly aware of hopeless position, rumourmonger fuelling his fears. With that thought buzzing in his mind he raised his gaze to meet the Queen’s cold eyes.

Court

‘Y – your Majesty …’ The Hatter stuttered as he began.

‘Take off your hat!’ She bellowed, her voice bouncing off the cold tiled walls. Everyone jumped and a small dormouse in the front row of the gallery squeaked slightly with shock. The man’s fumbling fingers ripped the hat from his tousled head and nearly flung it across the floor with panic. His eyes rolled as he watched it skitter across the surface.

‘State your name and occupation for the court.’ The White Rabbit demanded, peering over his large scroll of parchment, the black ink smearing under his sweaty paws.

‘John Addenbrook. I am a hatter,’ he offered in a half murmur. The Queen pull out a small pair of glasses and poised them on the end of her nose to look him up and down. The colour drained from the Hatter’s face and he began to tap his foot a little with nerves.

Aaliyah was in her element. To those watching from the gallery she would have seemed the same young, pale woman shrinking under the weight of the proceedings. In all respects her outer shell remain intact, only the King knew better. His eyes had not left her small frame, he had seen the little smile that had slowly tugged at the corners of her mouth. He observed the way she sat a little straighter in the engulfing throne and how she held her chin a little higher than usual. Everything was entirely within her control and her subjects trembled in her presence. He knew that at last she had realised the true power of her sovereignty and he feared the consequences that may bring for him.

‘Give your evidence!’ Called out the White Rabbit; still refusing to look at anyone over the brow of his scroll.

The Hatter’s eyes were wide; a tiny bead of sweat made its slow journey down his forehead and paused on the tip of a whisker. He raised a shaky hand to swipe it away and took a few gulping breaths of air before opening his mouth to speak.

The Queen sat forward in her throne, bending her back to rest her hands on her knees. Her head thrust forward in an almost grotesque and malformed way, straining to hear every last detail of her hated husband’s downfall.

‘If your majesty pleases … I saw them. The – the King and …’ John trailed off, gesticulating wildly to the head that still sat upon the platter in the centre of the room. The hot air was wavering just above the frizzed golden curls; he was acutely aware of the terrible smell of warm blood and rotting flesh sticking in the back of his throat. He could not pull his gaze away from her half closed, blank eyes.

‘Quickly!’ Aaliyah screamed, finally breaking the silence in her eagerness to hear the words she’d longed for.

‘It was her. It was dark, but I know it was them. In the corridor – leaning up against the door to the King’s quarters. They were … kissing your majesty. I – I didn’t mean to pry, I know I had no business but I had a commission you see and …’

‘That’s enough. You are sure of what you saw? There could be no doubt?’ The White Rabbit asked, finally daring to raise his eyes to meet the Hatter’s.

‘Well, it was ever so dark you see, almost pitch black ….’ He trailed off into a half trawled squeak as the Queen’s face turned maroon with rage. The Hatter’s eyes widened a little as he felt the small, pointed end of a dagger prod him ever so slightly in the small of the back. Twisting his neck slightly he looked worriedly at the playing card to his right.

‘B-but I’m sure! Very sure, it was definitely her and the King! You can have my word upon it your Majesty! Please … I saw the March Hare that very afternoon!’ John spoke so rapidly it was almost impossible to tell what he saying. The fear and the nerves were becoming too much, the panic obvious through the trembling of his voice.

‘H-he said to me that he could marry them. He was going to marry the two of them! It’s a secret! A huge secret! They’d just have to get rid of the Queen … They were going to kill the Queen. He said it! He said it!’ The Hatter pointed wildly in the astonished Hare’s direction.

‘I didn’t!’ Cried the Hare

‘You did!’

‘I deny it!’ He screamed into the silent room. The Queen didn’t move; she sat still with her hands upon her knees, gazing at both with an expression impossible to interpret upon her face.

‘Are you claiming that The Hare was part of a conspiracy to commit High Treason? To usurp the throne? To murder our sovereign?’ The Rabbit asked, unable to hide the tone of doubt in his voice.

‘No!’ The Hare cried out before receiving a rap to the back of the head by one of the playing cards.

‘Yes!’ The Hatter called out, his foot tapping nineteen to the dozen.

Too stunned to speak the Hare let the room fall quiet in the midst of the Hatter’s echoing words. Everyone’s gaze fell upon the Queen; even the King raising his eyes from the bar before him to await her verdict.

Hatter

She sat back; chin cupped with one sweating palm. These two creatures were disposable, nothing but fuel to the political fire which had raged through the Royal Court for weeks. The endless questioning and whispering; she couldn’t stand it a moment longer. They had given their evidence, so what did their fate matter to her? Didn’t she deserve the life she had craved since childhood? The freedom that all men seemed to possess that had been stripped from her by her own gender. Suddenly the rage at her father, her title, her situation, all that anger at the universe rose up within her, a strangling hatred she could not force down.

“Off with their heads.’ She commanded, the smallest stutter in her voice.

An audible gasp rang around the stone walls. A screaming and squeaking erupted from the far left corner of the upper circle where the Hare’s wife could be seen clutching her head and sobbing. She cried all the harder as her husband was swiftly chained and ushered out of a side door, his panicked face searching for hers in the crowd. The Hatter, his tear streaked face boring into the floor was shoved along behind him.

After this outburst the rabbit riffled through his papers, his panicky eyes scanning the list of possible witnesses. All were crossed through with red ink, their heads now rotting in the castle’s ditches. Sighing slightly to himself he pulled a quill from a red ink bottle at his feet and crossed through the names John Addenbrook and March Hare.

He leaned forward, pulling himself up a little on the arm of the huge throne, his nose just peeking over the edge.

‘Your Majesty … we seem to have run out of witnesses.’

‘Where have they all gone?’ She asked raising her eyebrows in a most disturbing manner.

‘They’re … they’re dead your Majesty. You ordered their beheadings.’

‘Well there must be someone, find me someone. I will not have him go unpunished!’ She hissed back through gritted teeth.

Filled with dread the rabbit pulled on his collar hard and scanned the crowd for someone; anyone who could give evidence. His eyes fell upon the Royal Cook, the only member of staff foolish and inquisitive enough to attend the trial. Thinking on his feet the rabbit pulled himself up to full height and called out with authority.

‘Next witness: Milleneva Jesson, the Royal Cook.’

A large woman, red cheeked and foul tempered, she looked up from picking the dead skin from a callous on her palm. As her name was called, a look of irritation more than fear spread across her face. She stood and roughly rearranged the hem of her dress and took a huge sniff from a snuff box which she quickly stuffed back into her bra

‘Give your evidence’ said the Rabbit

‘I shan’t. I have none!’

The Queen cast an anxious and confused look across the mock jury that sat to her right before saying to the White Rabbit in low voice, ‘You must cross-examine this witness!’

So looking uncomfortable and heartily wishing that he had never taken this repulsive job in the first place the rabbit stepped before the throne.

‘It is a well-known fact that you are somewhat of a gossip around the Royal Court, is it not?’

‘I see what I hear and I hear what I see.’

‘There is a rumour, Ms Jesson. It states that you had the ear of this young lady who could so easily stray our King.’

The Cook looked up, catching the eye of the blood soaked head of the woman she had come to know so well. Her fondness for Alice was too stubborn to be denied, she would not betray her even now in death.

‘I know nothing! Nothing!’ She screamed, folding her arms and refusing to say another word.

The White Rabbit stole a look at the Queen, she sat purple with rage at this new defiance. She cast him a look out of the corner of her eye, with a sigh he motioned to the playing cards standing guard at the door.

‘Take her away.’ He said. His spirits sunk as he crossed the last name off his long list of witnesses. He dropped it in his horror as he realised it had become a list of the dead.

Trail

‘I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so. I can hardly breathe.’ A little dormouse hissed in the gallery, jostling the large pelican to his right. The hum of voices rattled throughout the courtroom; the deliberation period had dragging on into eternity until, suddenly a side door flew open with a rumble and a little line of animals trooped in. All had slates hanging around their necks, swinging in time to their steps. The squeaking of their feet on the polished floor made the Queen’s stomach knot; this was the moment.

Once all had filed back into their seats with much jostling and squeaking as the fish accidentally trod on the fox’s tail in his hurry to get a good front seat; the White Rabbit stepped forward to receive the verdict. He skidded a little in his haste to get to the two guinea-pigs that sat on the end of the jury bench squabbling in hushed tones over who would present the slate with the verdict upon it. Tugging it away from them he glanced at it for a moment before swallowing hard. His eyes briefly met the King’s before he hurriedly lowered them again, the shame of the farcical court too much to tolerate.

‘This court, in its wisdom and insight has considered all the evidence laid before it and deliberated at length and has come to a verdict of, guilty.’ The Rabbit was forced to pause and a loud intake of breath swept through the court although no one was really surprised. The Queen stood, her small shoes clicking as they touched the floor. Raising herself up to full height she crossed the tiles to stand before her husband, aloof and triumphant in her moment of glory.

‘I deem this prisoner guilty of the charge of high treason and only one punishment is fitting for such a crime. This man’s attempt to canker and destroy our Monarchy has failed, We still stand, We still have our dignity! For this failure in his judgement and his plotting he will pay with his life.’ She glared down upon him, his little form bent to kneel before her. No pity filled her, no pain, but as her eyes met the cold determination in his, her sense of triumph withered into anger.

‘Off with his head!’ She bellowed striding with purpose toward the heavy wooden doors that dwarfed her small frame. In a sudden moment the whole gallery erupted into sound. Squeaking, squawking voices declared their disbelief to the world.

‘But your Majesty! Will you not stay to see your judgement passed?’ The Rabbit called after her, scurrying forwards and almost tripping over his long tabard.

She paused, one hand on the huge door, so keenly aware of every eye in the room upon her. She owed no one anything anymore, she had given them their spectacle. Her life had always revolved around them, why should she be their actress? With that thought she gave the door one defiant push and stormed through; her new life already tainted with blood.

CHAPTER III

The Truth of the Matter

 Hare

It was midnight; every living thing in the castle and beyond was fast asleep except the White Rabbit. By the light of one small, stubbed candle he darned a hole in his white gloves. The day had been long and tiresome. As the Queen’s last confidant his roles at Court had steadily increased over the years until it felt as though he was the only person holding the system together. He caught a quick glimpse of himself in the small, gilded mirror that sat upon his desk. The fur around his eyes had turned from a pure white to a deep jet black, the tips of his whiskers fraying and grey, he looked every inch his fifteen years.

He sat, deep in his musings until a sudden giggle from one of the dark corners made him jump straight out of his chair. With shaking hands he lifted his glasses onto his face and peered into the blackness. A set of upside down, blindingly white teeth shone out at him, bright green eyes winking just below them.

‘Oh! Ches it’s you. You did give me a fright!’ The Rabbit exclaimed throwing his darning set at the slowly materialising cat.

‘Just dropping in. I’d heard on the grape vine you were having a rather bothersome time lately.’ The cat’s huge black and white form floated slowly down onto the Rabbit’s bed, resting his head upon his upturned paws.

‘The Queen has me working day and night! It’s beyond the ridiculous. I refuse to darn another thing Ches. I simply refuse! Did you hear? This afternoon she had me hunting down the perfect pig footstool of all the things!’

‘That’s just too bad.’ Cheshire said rolling over onto his back and flicking his large paws in the air. ‘You know, we could make her really angry! Shall we try? It would be such excellent sport!’

‘Oh, no, no!’ The Rabbit had turned quite green with the thought. ‘She’d have our heads in next to no time.’

‘Oh but think of it!’ The Cheshire Cat’s grin widened even further at the look on his old friend’s face. ‘It’s not fair, not fair at all the way she makes such a scene.’

‘Oh, hush!’ The Rabbit said in a panicked whisper. ‘Someone is sure to hear you! I won’t listen any more Cheshire, I simply won’t!’ With that he turned away from the cat, put his head on the table and pulled his large ears flat across his head.

Cheshire flipped himself over and evaporated, materialising on the desk in front of the Rabbit. The large ears twitched a little and a small eye peaked out from behind the fur.

‘Go away.’ He mumbled into the wood.

‘We could sneak into the Royal Chamber and prod the Bandersnatch until it cries. Or we could taunt the footmen on the door with a feather duster.’ The Rabbit couldn’t stand the mischievous look in the cat’s bright green eyes. Nothing he’d ever suggested had turned out for the best.

‘I did hear that the cook made some tarts today.’ Cheshire held in a titter as the Rabbit’s nose twitched suddenly. He let go of one ear which sprang up, revealing a bright, interested eye in the half light of the candle.

‘What sort of tarts?’ He asked, the desire quivering in his question.

‘Oh the usual sort. I believe they are quinberry jam.’ The cat inspected his claws in a nonchalant manner. One eye watching his friend lick his lips with a tiny pink tongue.

‘Is it true they only feed you butterflowers and nuts these days? Truly awful and to think, half of those tarts are sure to be wasted.’

‘Well, perhaps just one …’ The White Rabbit trailed off in thought.

‘That’s the spirit! Help yourself and why not? No one else helps another these days, it’s quite enough to put a fellow in a most despondent mood. Now if you will excuse me I think I’ll pay the dormouse a visit on my way out.’ Cheshire bounced off the desk and padded to the door that stood ajar. Slinking around the corner the White Rabbit just saw the tail disappear into thin air before the back legs had completely walked through the doorway.

The rabbit swivelled on his seat a little, nervously wringing his hands. He did want those tarts but if he was found, it didn’t bare thinking about. Sighing to himself and attempting to hold his cravings in he hopped off his stool and made his way to the door. Perhaps if he made a start on the paper work for tomorrow’s beheadings it would take his mind off it all.

Chesh

As he made his way down the corridor deep in thought, a small, scuffling nose peaked around a corner. A large padded paw stepped into the light and a pair of glowing yellow eyes followed the wiggling fluffy tail of the rabbit as it disappeared into the distance. A plush cheater growled to himself; now was his chance to get rid of the rabbit. The Court hierarchy had been solid for too long, it was time for a shift and he envisioned himself on top. The Queen had become so delicate she was sure to punish any sort of corruption. It was his only chance and he ran off to seize it.

He strode up to the large door of the Queen’s bedroom, panting a little from the excursion he knocked a little on the thick wood. A loud smashing could be heard from behind the door and the cheater jumped back as it flung open to reveal the panicked face of Five, peering around the door jam. Beads of sweat dripped from his corners and a rosy tinge flushed his worried face as brandy trickled down him in streams. His edges frayed and peeled at the corners and glass tinkled across the floor as the door was pulled further open.

‘Her majesty isn’t accepting callers at this time.’ Five spoke clearly, only the darting of his eyes shattering the false illusion of confidence.

‘This is a matter of great importance. I must insist I speak to her Majesty immediately.’

‘Go away Brachan. It’s not appropriate now, can’t you see that? I’ve not got time for this now.’ Five hissed, making to close the door on the cheater. Brachan step forward and placed a paw in the door way, half his snout and a few whiskers edging their way into the room.

‘Listen here boy. I must speak with the Queen. It would be wise to do as I say. You wouldn’t want to end up like Two would you? I heard he met with a rather sticky end.’ Brachan growled in a low whisper and watched with a twinge of amusement as the red hint drained from Five’s face.

Clearing his throat Five moved away from the door leaving it open a little. The sound of slightly raised tones could be heard just before a woman’s voice rang out down the corridor.

‘Bring him!’ Brachan wetted his paws and quickly groomed the fur flat on the top of his head. Five wrenched the door open, giving the cheetah a dirty look as he slipped past into the huge bed chamber.

Aaliyah stood at her window, undressed save her underwear and a laced, black dressing gown, gazing out onto the land that she had ruled over for the last five years. A state of decay, stagnant and dark. Laws were hard and the punishments harder. Petty crime ran rife, murder and theft and beatings and bloodshed were common. Only last week the Chief of Public Order had been on the business end of a telephone he was attempting to wrestle from a rather large brown bear. The Queen took a deep, filling drag on her cigarette, dark grey smoke pluming around her. The pungent smell of strong tobacco swimming around the room.

‘Explain the meaning of this intrusion.’ Aaliyah said, not taking her eyes from the dingy skyline.

‘Your Majesty.’ Brachan growled, bowing low to the ground. His whiskers brushed the red tiled floor disturbing a little of the dust. ‘I have grave news regarding your confidant, the Rabbit.’ His beady eyes caught the slightest flicker of movement as her index finger and thumb rubbed together.

‘Proceed.’ She said, attempting to hide the tone of curiosity in her voice.

‘This evening, not hardly ten minutes ago, I passed the Rabbit’s door and heard the most disturbing plotting.’ He took a moment to gauge Aaliyah’s reaction. Finding her stationary as stone he continued.

‘I heard him conversing with another. They spoke of the tarts your majesty, your quinberry tarts. It grieves me to tell you, he plots to steal them from you.’

A deep silence fell, filling every corner of the room and in the distance a low rumbling of thunder could be heard, echoing out of the darkness. The small, bright lights of the candles and wood fire barely held the night at bay. Brachan padded the floor a little, his tail scuffing the tilling, as Five trembled to himself. In the reflection of the window he could see the Queen’s face contort with rage and madness.

‘Fetch him.’ She commanded. With that word Five seized his opportunity to make a swift departure from the cold atmosphere of the bed chamber. The echoes boomed as he called out to the cards patrolling the corridors and ran off into the night.

Despair

‘You’ve picked up a bit of an attitude you know. I can’t say I’m all together keen on it.’

‘You’re a villain Ches! I don’t know what’s happened to you! To all of us, especially her. Beheadings and men and smoking and drinking and flying off the handle at absolutely everything! She’s completely mad!’ The rabbit squeaked, his voice growing ever higher as the rage in the pit of his belly grew and grew.

‘How fine you look when dressed in rage.’ The cat ruminated. ‘Your enemies are fortunate your condition is not permanent. You’re lucky too; red eyes suit so few.’ He floated slowly towards the door, arms folded.

‘Is our situation not dismal?’ He continued a rather sad look just passing over his face. ‘Has it all come to this? Are we not victims, pawns in a game with only one player, one winner and a great hoard of losers? The proper order of things is lost and we are afloat in a great sea of miseries.’

He left the Rabbit sitting in the dark, still crying, still hurting and yet his mind was whirring. What his friend had said was true, for all his misgivings and false advice he had truth at his core. They had been pawns, but no longer. Now his thoughts turned to darker things, to revenge and to war and to ruin.

‘There is always a way to skin a cat.’ He muttered to himself, a small tear dripping from the end of his whiskers. The revolution had begun.

 

Walking with Demons – Dreams and Nightmares

Takeo, Maikeru and Keri strolled down the streets of Tokyo, the yawning expanse of pavement abandoned to the early hours of the morning. Lights sparkled and flashed from the thousands of windows and glittering LCD displays attached to the many buildings.

“So.” Maikeru mused, his hands in his pockets. “Got any thoughts on your next soul?”

“I didn’t realise we were in a rush. I have got all eternity you know.”

“You might, but I have things to attend to.”

“Like what?” Takeo asked, dubious that the Shinigami could possibly have something to fill the afterlife with.

“Someone has to do the admin work for the Aramageddon. Judgment day doesn’t run itself.”

Not wanting to get sucked into another odd conversation about Maikeru’s role in the underworld Takeo closed his eyes to focus on summoning a demon.

“Do you even have a victim picked out?” Maikeru asked, a hint of skepticism in his voice.

“I’ll find one when I’ve got the demon. Just let me … ah, I think I’ve got one!”

 Takeo heard his summon pop into existence and before he could recover his strength and open his heavy eyes he heard Maikeru say “well, this is just stupid.”

“What?” Takeo mumbled, forcing his eyes to open a crack.. “Don’t tell me I summoned something totally useless.” White light flooded his tired eyes and he raised a heavy hand to rub at his face.

As some semblance of sense crept back into his addled mind he stretched out his hands that were lying by his side. Something soft and warm grazed across his palm, springy to the touch, he was on his back. Sitting up, startled he opened his eyes wide and looked about him.

“What … what the hell?” He whispered, confused. He gazed around the bedroom of his old flat, dazed. Putting out a hand he touched the solid wall to his left, feeling its cold pressure to his fingertips. Everything was the same, like nothing had ever happened. Shaking his head he couldn’t seem to shift the solid images of Maikeru and Keri from his mind.

Standing on shaky legs he made his way across the carpet, the thick pile working its way up between his toes. As he shuffled into the bathroom, tousling his own hair in confusion as he came to a halt in front of the wide, oval mirror and checked his reflection.  His once gaunt face was now pink and flush with the light of life. He only wore a pair of old boxers, the same ones he had on the night before his death. Had he really died?

“Maybe, I dreamed it.” He whispered, turning his face this way and that in the light. Everything seemed so real, touch, smell; running into the kitchen with anticipation he wrenched open the fridge. Grasping the first bottle that he came to he took deep, grasping gulps of orange juice, the substance leaking down his face to drip from his chin.

Taking himself into his living room he flopped onto the sofa and closed his eyes as a warm beam of sunshine hit his face. It must have all been some horrible trick of the mind, although it still felt real nothing could compare to this sensation, the hard sensation of reality.

His beeping phone brought him out of his stupor, reaching over with his right hand he picked it up from its usual spot on the coffee table. Pressing the little button on the top of the device the screen lit up in a white light. Unlocking the device he scrolled through his message inbox, nothing new showed. The last message, from his mother the day before still sat proudly at the top of the inbox. No new emails either, his social media sites all as dormant and dull as they had been the previous day. Scrunching up his face in confusion he shrugged. Flicking the touch screen back to the main menu he made a note of the date, Sunday 27th of July, the day before he died in his nightmare.

Tossing his phone to one side he sat up on the sofa. He couldn’t shake the dream, if that’s what it even was from his mind. It had seemed so, so real. Takeo rustled in his seat, he thought about calling his mother, if he heard someone’s voice he might be able to rationalise this new reality. Shaking his head slightly he stood up, how could he want to justify ‘this reality’? What other reality was there? One in which he was dead and hunted the souls of the population of Japan? He scoffed at himself out loud and made his way to the computer that sat in a corner of the room. Today, he thought to himself, he would take it easy and try to get his mind off the hyper real dream he’d had. Hell, today he wasn’t even going to dress himself.

Takeo spent the rest of that day in front of his computer. Distracting himself had proved easier than he could have hoped for when he had the internet at his disposal. Before too long darkness had filled the room save for the ethereal blue glow of the screen. Unable to bring himself to sleep, just in case his dreams returned to him he sat glued to the spot until his eyes could no longer take the strain. He finally drifted off at three am, still at the computer, his forehead typing endless h’s into the google search bar.

The new day dawned bright and rosy, stirring Takeo from his well-deserved slumber. He lifted his head from the keyboard, groaning as the keys popped from their grooves in his face. He wiped at the trail of drool that had snaked its way down his face and attempted to flatten his disheveled hair.

Glancing across the room his eyes focused on the clock on the window ledge, the bright green 10:00 shone across the room at him. That’s kind of late for a Monday he thought to himself slumping back in his desk chair. As his brain kicked in he started himself from his seat and leapt to his feet.

“Aw crap!” He yelled as it dawned on him he’d missed his nine am start at work. Throwing on any clothes he could lay his hands on, he grabbed his keys and threw himself out the front door.

Taking the stairs two at a time and he reached the bottom with a thump. Sunlight streamed through the glass entrance door to the building, pooling the corridor in a warm and inviting glow. Takeo moved rapidly towards it still muttering to himself and sniffing the clothes he’d retrieved from his floor. He put out his hand to close it around the steel door handle when something made him stop dead in his tracks. A small movement caught his eye, reflected in the shimmering glass of the door. He screwed up his eyes a little, trying to make out what it was. He stiffened as he made out the vague form of a person, someone behind him standing at the top of the stairs. A cold dread snaked its way across his body, he hadn’t heard any footsteps behind him; he knew the old floorboards creaked with the slightest bit of weight. Giving himself a little mental shake he turned around slowly, unwilling to relinquish his hold on the door handle. Whatever it was couldn’t be any worse than what he’d seen in his dreams the other night.

He leapt out of his skin as his eyes fell upon a woman staring at him, not at the top of the stairs as he’d first though but at the bottom, no less than two feet from him. She was tall, slim and imposing. Her white face seemed to almost shine it was so pure, her dark eyes seemed to sink into her head slightly and her black hair clung around her cheek bones in a short, jagged bob. Her thin frame sported a striped, long sleeved top that seemed to hang from her shoulders as though on a coat hanger and a tiny pair of jeans. She was bare foot and a few toes were painted in chipped red.

“Hello.” Takeo said a little uncertain. “I didn’t see you there. You made me jump.” He grinned at her but her face did not move. She remained silent and still as stone, tearing his nerves apart with her eyes.

“I’m late for work. I’m going to …” He petered out, her unblinking eyes disturbing him. As he went to push on the door, still unable to turn his face away she parted her lips to speak.

“You don’t want to go outside. It’s raining.” Takeo frowned and scoffed a little.

“If it is then it must have come from nowhere. It was bright sun …” He stopped in his tracks as he turned to gaze out of the door. Water streamed almost noiselessly across the clear panes. Outside he could see water beginning to pool in the street. Clouds filled the sky, they could almost burst with the pregnant swelling of water that fell upon the window.

Pushing his face up against the glass his breath caught in his throat, his mind unable to comprehend what he was seeing. Whipping around he caught the eye of his unmoving companion.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or not. I have to go to work.” He reasoned, the confusion lacing his voice.

“It’s Sunday.” She muttered in a half voice, her tone surprisingly deep and matter of fact.

“No, it’s definitely Monday. Monday the 28th. I checked yesterday.”

The woman said nothing, she simply blinked in the face of his rebuff. Unable to take the pressure of her stare Takeo took his phone from his pocket, his fingers stumbling over the power button.

“See” he began. The luminous screen displayed the date, Sunday 27th July, clear and definitive. Almost dropping his phone in disbelief he looked up with a questioning expression to the woman, she gave no response.

Shifting uncomfortably on his feet he stumbled over his words, “I – I should head back upstairs. Make a few phone calls. Call my – my mother.” Takeo couldn’t take the uncomfortable silence anymore and began to make his way up the stairs. He could feel the woman’s cold eyes following him, twisting in her head to peer at him as he stopped on the landing. He couldn’t help but gaze back over his shoulder and take another look at the figure that watched him with such an intensive gaze. She had moved noiselessly forward and now stood two steps up the stairs, still watching, still silent. Swallowing back a ball of dread Takeo hurried forward, not even trying to disguise his anxiety and launched himself into his flat.

It was still raining, the water suddenly splattering up against the glass with such ferocity it reminded Takeo of dozens of pounding hands, hands that were trying to force their way inside. Turning on the computer he threw himself into his seat, leaning over, his face close to the luminous surface. The moment it booted up his eyes flickered to the date and time displayed in the corner of the screen. 10:30 27th July. Hurriedly opening up the calendar Takeo searched for the day, Sunday. Pushing himself away from the computer with force he stood, confusion and disbelief pulsing in time with his quickened pulse.

“I must have read it wrong yesterday.” He muttered to himself, putting his head in his hands. Through his cold fingers his eyes fell upon the front door. A small shadow passed underneath the frame, feet scuffled across the hardwood floor. He silently thanked god for the automatic external lock that had been recently fixed. Taking tentative steps forward his hands fell from his face. His curiosity getting the better of him he crept up to the peep hole. Taking a few shaking breaths he looked down to see the shadows still visible under the door, spilling across his own feet, but unmoving. Time seemed to slow as a new sound reached his ears, he looked down slowly, a sense of fear building like a giant gnawing pit in his stomach. The door handle rattled a little as it slowly twisted and turned left and right. Placing both sweating hands on the wooden door frame he peered through the little glass hole and felt a bolt of cold dread spear him through the chest as another eye gazed intently back at him.

Walking with Demons – The Cogs of Life

The corpse reclined on the floor of the bathroom; vivid red blood streaking and staining the white tiles. Takeo gazed at it with folded arms; Kerī sat next to him, scratching behind her ears with a hind leg paying no attention to the red liquid that sneaked its way towards her.

“Messy.” Maikeru mused as he stuck his head around the doorframe, barging Takeo a little with his pointy shoulders. “Well, I better get moving.”

“What? You can’t just leave me here! What do I do next?” Takeo squeaked, panic obviously trembling in his voice. Before Maikeru had chance to groan with exasperation a chugging, churning sound began to perforate the noiseless void that was the bathroom. Takeo whipped around, his hair catching in the current of the disturbed air. He stared, wide eyed as the far wall began to ripple and distort, almost as though steam were running across the tiles. The roaring deepened. Loud screeching pulled closer and closer until with a rush of noise, light and heat a great steam train poured through the shimmering hole in the undulating wall. The immense red and black monster pulled into the bathroom with the full force of hell and screamed to a halt inches away from the far wall; sparks flying from the wheels as they grated deep grooves into the floor tiles.

Takeo coughed heavily and took a few stumbling steps backward, slipping in the thick, red blood that now surrounded him. Steam bellowed from every opening and the hiss that resonated from the cooling equipment almost sounded like distant screams. As the mist began to clear Takeo could just begin to distinguish the outline of a man. Maikeru groaned loudly to himself and sauntered away into the cubical where he sat making notes and prodding the lifeless body that lay there.

Takeo crept forward cautiously, considering recent events attentiveness was best exercised here. Waving his hands in front of his face to clear his field of vision his eyes fell upon that huge black shape materialising out of the fog. Tall and lanky with a bulbous head the man before him sat slouched in his conductor’s chair. One long leg casually draped itself over the controls that sat to the left of him and the arms tucked behind his head seemed to stretch unnaturally far. His eroded boots had holes wearing in the tops and the laces hung limp and broken at the sides. His once brown boiler suit was now black with soot and dust from hundreds of years’ worth of use; holes gaped at the seams and the ripped ends of sleeves waved in the breeze. He gazed at the floor, unmoving, his black bowler hat and long bright red hair obscuring his face.

“Choo, choo motherfuckers.” His voice resonated off every tile, carrying around the room with an air of authority that Takeo envied. Kerī’s ears pricked up at the sound and she abandoned her search for food in the dead man’s pockets. Creeping towards the train with caution she began to whimper a little. Takeo gazed down at her as she tentatively put one fluffy paw onto the carriage. Slowly, she pulled her whole self-up into the train, her little face taking on a sad and bemused look as she crept forward and sat herself by the man’s side, contemplating him with huge eyes.

Takeo crept forward. “Who are you, exactly?” he asked tentatively.

The man said nothing, the slight chugging of the locomotive quietly breaking the silence. Maikeru stepped forward and leaned against the side of the train.

“This is Reeshna. He comes to take the deceased to hell, to Muzo and Guzo. He delivers your payments of souls.”

The man growled a little from the front seat of the train, Kerī gazed up at him with her vast, glassy eyes from the face that now rested on her paws. Takeo threw Maikeru a questioning look.

“He’s not all that keen on demons.”

“You coming or not, yo?” Reeshna called out, not really aiming his question at anyone in particular. Pointing one long finger over Takeo’s head he waved the digit in the direction of the body. Hooking his finger upwards he curled it slowly towards his body and snapped it back to touch his palm. A startling yellow and red light poured from the cadaver and a wispy form began to weave upwards into the air, taking the form of the man whose soul it had once been. Stepping over his own legs the spirit crept towards the train, his translucent hands outstretched before him as he gazed through them at his own blood pooling on the floor. Takeo, looked away, guilt flooding him at the sight of the horrified spirit floating its way into the passenger carriage and taking a mournful seat at the back. He was quickly wrenched from his stupor as Maikeru grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him up into the driver’s cab.

“Hell waits for no man, Takeo.”

Reeshna planted both booted feet up on the controls ledge and pulled with all his might on the gigantic lever in front of him. The train screeched and moaned as it shunted lethargically forward. The bathroom began to shimmer and distort as the gateway to hell opened up like a great, black cavernous mouth before them.

Reeshna looked up at Takeo from under the brim of his bowler hat, deep black eyes screwed through him with a cold, hard look that made him feel uncomfortable.

“You might want to hold on to something.”

Reaching to his left Takeo managed to grab an iron bar jutting from the side of the train just as it plummeted downwards at a steep angle. His eyes streamed with water as a hot blast of air ripped through the carriage and the ever gaining momentum of the train tugged on his hair and clothes. The fall seemed endless; they could see nothing through the pitch black of the hole. Only intense heat and an ominous orange glow from the engine fires penetrated the suffocating gloom. After a great deal of time had passed Reeshna shuffled himself in his seat and assumed a more upright position.

“Here we are. Get ready now!” He called out over the squeal of the breaks as he slammed the lever back towards the control panel in front of him. With a sudden burst of shocking white light the train ripped through the blackness of the tunnel and into a large open cavern. Shrieking and screaming hit Takeo’s ears with the force of a hurricane. On the ground below them many luminous souls drifted aimless from one torture to another, some sobbing, some yelping but all in eternal agony. The pit of burning fire sat in the middle of the floor, marring the jagged rock and splitting the edges of the hole with its intense heat. Different demons crawled, slithered and strode around the expanse of space crowing with delight at the destruction and misery that surrounded them. Horror had filled Takeo as they pulled to a squealing stop inches above the parched ground; sickness welling up within him.

“Two steps from Hell! Thank you for choosing Demonic Railways, we’ll never see you again.” Reeshna called out and the soul that he had acquired from the bathroom half stepped, half fell out of the carriage. The eyes of every demon swiveled in their undead heads to gaze at this new arrival. Some grinned in a macabre and twisted way, some drooled with the prospect of a fresh torture and some howled with pure glee. Several lurched forward with demonic delight and swept the poor ethereal entity up into their arms and carried him away to the pits of hell; his shrieks bouncing off the cavernous walls to mingle with the hundreds of others doomed to an eternity of torment.

“Why do they need so many souls?” Takeo whispered to no one in particular.

“Guzo and Muzo can only survive off the pain of others. Their very being relies on the endless destruction of a man’s soul. They thrive upon it.” Reeshna explained with an air of bitterness in his voice. Standing up he reached his arms up to the ceiling; his bones cracking loudly he stretched out the kinks of days at work. Reaching to his boiler suit he undid the zip that ran from his collar bone to hips, revealing a glimpse at what looked like a three piece suit.

Maikeru raised an eyebrow in Reeshna’s general direction, “Still sporting the suits I see.”

“Suits are cool, yo.” Reeshna retorted, not meeting Maikeru’s gaze as he stepped out of the boiler suit. He straightened up and Takeo was shocked at his enormous size. He towered over everyone else in the train. The black suit he wore defining his muscle tone and giving him a more human appearance. Hopping from the train onto the sands of hell below he held out a hand to Takeo to help him make the jump.

As he stepped down next to their driver with a heavy thump he felt the man pull him in close.

“A man in your position must be one of two things, desperate or stupid. You don’t come across as the stupid type so I’m guessing you’re here because you made a deal. A word of advice, trust nothing and no one, your deal is not all that it seems.” Takeo pulled back to give the man a frantic and confused look.

“Find The Blacksmith. He can help you.” Straightening up Reeshna winked. “You got this, bro.” Clamping a comforting hand to Takeo’s shoulder he nodded at Maikeru and turned, his open formal jacket flapping around him in the hot breeze.

As he became a black speck against the red flames that jumped from the pit of hell, the drums of the demonic gatekeepers could be heard, rolling on the air from somewhere in the darkness. Takeo looked up at Maikeru who was still gazing after Reeshna with the same blank expression upon his face.

“Can we trust him?” He asked, Reeshna’s own words echoing in his mind.

“Trust him.” Kerī muttered. Her companions turned to look at her, surprised by her sudden vocalism. She looked up to lock eyes with Takeo, sincerity shining in their glassy surface and repeated: “Trust him” her voice ringing with conviction.

“Well then.” Takeo said, stretching out a hand to touch Kerī’s soft head. “You better take me to The Blacksmith.”