Chapter 11: In the Golden Afternoon
October 6th, 1874, now in the middle of a rather peaceful autumn. Rutledge Asylum was known for its insane patients, most of which never escaped their own madness and spent their days in hysteria until they died. Some were fortunate enough to be cured and sent on their merry way, but this was rarely common. Doctor Wilson stood in his quarters, staring at himself in a mirror. He had grown older than he though, with greying hair and wrinkles on his face. He still wore his glasses which he had been wearing years ago. Sighing to himself, Doctor Wilson went to his desk and picked up his patient notes. It had been too long since Alice last showed life signs. Sure, he hoped for her, but he did have other patients other than her. So, he spent the next few hours visiting his other patients, some of which weren't even under his care. He dropped in to visit the new Superintendent, the previous one having actually died due to mercury poisoning. As for his mischievous nephews, it turned out they had been heavily abusing patients behind closed doors and were sent off to prison, something Dr. Wilson was very happy to see occur. The new Superintendent was very polite and good-mannered compared to the last one and had vowed to clean up the asylum, dramatically flipping over his office desk in the process to add emphasis to his statement.
Rounding a corner, he soon found himself in front of the familiar door leading to Alice's room. Sighing to himself, Dr. Wilson opened the door and saw the familiar faces gathered in the room like they were there all the time. Alice slept motionless in her bed, eyes closed, almost looking peaceful. Sleeping at the end of the bed with her head resting on the quilt was Lorina, Alice's older sister. Dr. Wilson pondered what her fiancé was up to since he had not come with Alice. Nurse D. sat in a chair by the room's desk, petting the stray cat which had affectionately cared for Alice. By a stroke of luck, Lorina had identified the cat as Dinah, the family's old pet cat who had followed Alice to the asylum to keep an eye on her. Loyalty was very strong form of a relationship in Dr. Wilson's eyes. Nurse D. looked up and smiled as the psychiatrist entered.
"Morning, Nurse D," greeted Dr. Wilson, not bothering to close the door, nor expecting anything to occur today. "If I didn't know any better, you've become quite attached to that cat."
"Just as you have become attached to these two girls," replied Nurse D.
"Touché," said Dr. Wilson. "It does seem like such a long time ago when Alice arrived, the same with Miss Lorina."
"Do you think she will leave?" asked Nurse D.
"Which one?" responded Dr. Wilson. "Miss Lorina perhaps. She does have a fiancé or husband somewhere. As for Alice, I don't know."
Nurse D. looked down to the floor in sadness. Dinah stretched her body in exhaustion, and then meowed loudly. Dr. Wilson raised an eyebrow in curiosity, his eyes drifting to the sleeping girl. That was until he noticed that Alice was stirring in bed. Nurse D. gasped lightly in relief, Dr. Wilson immediately moving to Alice's side.
"Alice? Can you hear me?" Dr. Wilson called, anxious for the girl to respond.
A single cough came from Alice, who jolted violently in her sleep. Shifting around for a minute or two, Alice became still and silent again. Dr. Wilson bowed his head in disappointment and turned away, hoping today would be the day. He began to walk for the door.
Dr. Wilson had only taken three steps when he heard the voice. He turned, glancing over his shoulder and saw the reddish-browned haired, emerald-coloured eyed girl looking at him from the bed. Alice beamed at him from her bed, smiling peacefully to Dr. Wilson, who turned fully to face his patient.
"Hello, Alice," said Dr. Wilson, wondering if he was dreaming. "How are you?"
"Better. Much better," said Alice. "It wasn't my fault after all. My parent's did not die because of me."
"Of course not, child," said Dr. Wilson, his glasses beginning to steam up. "All I can say is, well, this is a miracle!"
Alice smiled brightly, and turned her attention to her slumbering older sister. Alice leaned over and played gently with her sister's hair. Lorina instantly stirred in her sleep, and opened her oceanic blue eyes. Lorina slowly looked up, seeing Alice looking at her lovingly.
"You're awake, Lorina," said Alice, quickly breaking into tears. Lorina stared at Alice like she had two heads, suddenly pulling her into a loving embrace.
"Alice, you're the one who is awake!" cried Lorina, breaking down into sobs. The two sisters held eachother for the longest time, sharing tears of joy and sorrow.
Nurse D. rose, placing Dinah on the floor. The cat hopped up onto the bed and sat beside Alice, who seemed to recognise her old pet and pulled him into the family hug. Dr. Wilson quickly strode out of the room into the corridor, followed by Nurse D. Unsure of what to do, Dr. Wilson was sniffing heavily, trying his best not to cry. Nurse D. approached him, placing a hand on his shoulder. Dr. Wilson turned to the elderly nurse behind him, smiling broadly.
"Thank you, Nurse D.," he said, patting her on the shoulder in gratitude. "Thank you for helping me."
"You are most welcome," said Nurse D., now crying herself.
"Oh, look at us. We have a reputation to keep up," said Dr. Wilson, removing his glasses to wipe away the steam.
"We work in an asylum, Doctor," said Nurse D. Dr. Wilson glanced at her, raising an eyebrow.
"That will do," said Dr. Wilson, smiling to himself in amusement and strode off down the hall. Nurse D. watched him go, and quietly closed the door to give the sisters some privacy before departing after him.
Alice was back in bed, after much crying and apologising between sisters. She was currently staring up at the ceiling, as she had actually done for the past ten years, only this time she was deep in thought. She had to have a medical check-up soon, but first she wanted to sleep, even though she had been sleeping forever. Lorina sat by her bedside, watching her intently.
"I'm not sure if I'll be able to forgive myself for what I did," said Alice.
"You couldn't help it if you were catatonic, Alice," said Lorina.
"No, I mean what I did to my own mind," said Alice, pointing at her head. "What I did to my friends in Wonderland. It's meant to be my dream world and I destroyed it, and I didn't even know I did."
Lorina looked fondly at her sister, and ran a hand through her hair.
"I'm sure your friends will forgive you in time," said Lorina. "But, please forgive yourself."
Alice looked up at her sister, smiling in appreciation. She leaned back onto the pillow and closed her eyes.
"Be back soon, Alice," said Lorina.
"For the check-up?" asked Alice, opening her eyes and looking at Lorina in horror. "I'd rather eat blotting paper!"
Lorina laughed aloud as Alice smiled, and she closed her eyes. She thought and worried what had become of Wonderland in her absence, and quickly drifted off into slumber, her answer soon to be revealed.
Alice's eyes snapped open, and immediately saw a strange purple, cloudless sky above her. Sitting up, Alice looked around, finding herself in a wooded clearing. Trees around her were covered in the coloured leaves of autumn, as well as on the grass that surrounded Alice. She was in Wonderland, or at least something that resembled her dream world. Rising to her feet, Alice glanced about her, not seeing a soul in sight. She instinctively reached into her apron pocket, only to find no Vorpal Blade or other weapon within. She was vulnerable, and immediately looked about in search of a weapon. She quickly spied a tree branch, and grabbed it defensively. Looking about in caution, she made a beeline for a nearby pathway of trees.
Walking steadily into the dark path of trees, their branches curling around like claws reaching for her. It reminded her of the Queen of Hearts' tentacles. As she moved on, she failed to notice a billowing cloud of mist following after her, until it stopped over a tree branch, materialising into the form of a familiar grinning cat.
"That twig is not exactly what I would call a weapon, Alice," said the Cheshire Cat, grinning away.
Alice turned and smiled brightly, seeing her old friend alive and well. The Cheshire Cat hopped down from the tree and was instantly pulled into an almost suffocating hug that could have snapped his emaciated frame like a twig. Alice was already crying, completely over the moon to see the Cheshire Cat alive.
"Hello, Cheshire-puss," said Alice.
"I thought I told you not to call me that!" he snapped.
"Sorry," apologised Alice, ending their embrace. "Although, I am actually very sorry
"For what?" asked the Cheshire Cat, cocking his head to one side in confusion.
"For what I did to Wonderland," said Alice, sniffing lightly, still saddened by her actions. "Please forgive me."
"Codswallop, Alice. You have triumphed over your guilt and thus saved Wonderland. There is nothing to forgive," replied the Cheshire Cat. "Even as a cat, I can say I'm proud of you. Now, come, everyone is waiting for you."
"Where are we going?" asked Alice as she watched the Cheshire Cat walk off past her towards down the leafy path, Alice following him.
"To the White Pieces' castle. We're running late," said the Cheshire Cat, turning back to look at her.
"You sound like Rabbit," said Alice. "Is he
"It seems everyone who died has been revived, save the Queen and the Jabberwock," said the Cheshire Cat. Alice beamed brightly, giving the smile which the Cheshire Cat had not seen since she was a little girl.
The two friends continued through the forest until they a large shining lake appeared into view, sparkling with a gold colour from the sun which now shone brightly in the naturally odd purple sky. Alice's smile had left her face since, led for once not by her will to survive and slice up some card guards, but instead led by her desire to reunite with her friends once again, some she thought were long gone. Now alive and well thanks to what the Cheshire Cat had told her.
"After the Queen's death, all of the card guards just dropped dead and rotted away and all the tentacles across Wonderland shrivelled up like dead ants," explained the Cheshire Cat. "Next thing I know, I was alive with my head back on my neck. I saw the Queen's body, well, what was left of it."
"She was a puppet too," said Alice, looking up to the sky as a flock of birds flew overhead. "She was just being used by my own guilt so I could have something to strike out at. Has the King of Hearts been revived?"
"I'm not sure, Alice," said the Cheshire Cat, as they passed by a slope which led to the lake's edge. He noticed his companion had disappeared and stopped.
Alice stood facing the lake, staring motionlessly towards it with wide eyes. The Cheshire Cat crawled up beside her and followed her gaze. A figure sat on the water's edge, observing the lake and the trees beyond. The figure was a tall, lanky man sporting a large top hat and a cane. It was the Mad Hatter. Without a word, Alice set off down the slope towards the Hatter, the Cheshire Cat not moving from his spot.
As Alice approached the Mad Hatter from behind, he turned his head slightly and noticed her. His eyes disappeared under the brim of his hat and he returned to looking out to the lake. Alice stopped several feet behind, and watched him in silence.
"I've come to realise how beautiful this place truly is," stated the Mad Hatter. Alice nodded and looked out towards the lake as well. She eyed the large gear sticking out of the Mad Hatter's back.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"I still am a machine. No surprise really. It's my punishment for acting as I did," lamented the Mad Hatter, reaching over his shoulder to touch the gear.
Alice walked over to the Mad Hatter and sat down beside him, placing a forgiving hand on his. He glanced at her without turning his head, noticing how she was smiling quite sweetly at him.
"I forgive you, Hatter," said Alice. "I'm responsible for driving you madder than you already were."
"Thank you, Alice. But I doubt though that Marchy and Dormy will be as forgiving," responded the Mad Hatter, removing Alice's hand to get up. He then took Alice's hand and helped her up. He noticed the Cheshire Cat watching from the top of the hill. He tipped his hat to the grinning feline, the Cheshire Cat nodding back.
"Why don't you come with us to the castle? I'm sure everyone will be pleased to see you," suggested Alice as the two walked up the slope to join the Cheshire Cat. The Mad Hatter towered over Alice in size.
"Oh, I don't think that's a very wise idea, Alice," replied the Mad Hatter, shaking his head despondently as the two reached the top of the hill. "I doubt very few people would be please to see me. Don't forget, I stepped on the White Rabbit and kept a lot of my friends as prisoners and experiments."
"You won't know until you try, Hatter," said the Cheshire Cat. "Don't turn into a coward, now."
"I am beyond that, Cat," said the Mad Hatter. "Very well, I shall accompany you to the White Queen's castle
you are going there right?" He glanced to Alice for confirmation.
"Yep," said Alice.
"Yes, right. Very good," said the Mad Hatter, turning back to the Cheshire Cat. "Right, Cat, I will accompany you to the White Queen's castle."
The Mad Hatter marched away down the path, waving his cane, motioning Alice and the Cheshire Cat to follow after him.
"Don't dawdle, friends. Time waits for no man or cat," said the Mad Hatter, waving his cane around in the air.
The Cheshire Cat smiled to himself and followed after the Mad Hatter. Alice smiled and began to follow after her friends. She took ten steps, and then paused for a moment of thought. The Cheshire Cat stopped, noticing she had stop.
"We're not going to get anywhere if you keep stopping, Alice," said the Cheshire Cat. Alice shook her head in defiance and smiled at her friends.
"Sorry, but I think I'm going to go for a little walk beforehand," said Alice. The Cheshire Cat and Mad Hatter exchanged confused looks.
Alice simply smiled again and walked off in the opposite direction, disappearing into the forest of falling leaves. The Cheshire Cat watched her disappear and his trademark grin returned to his face.
And so Alice wandered about her beloved Wonderland, taking in all the sights and smells. However, she never talked to anyone. Only watched, like a bystander watching the sights of their local high street. A silent observer, like she did not belong in Wonderland. She didn't feel like she belonged here. She had become so familiar with the hellish Wonderland, that this new calmer place seemed like a dream. Every few minutes she would look over her shoulder for any sign of an enemy she would have to kill. But none came. So she walked and watched, seeing old friends and enemies alike alive and well.
She visited the underground village of the mining gnomes. The gnomes were now free, no longer carrying heavy mounts of equipment and minerals on their backs, but building their village to become bigger and larger. The Gnome Elder was overseeing the project. Puffing from his pipe, he noticed Alice watching from afar, and raised his pipe to her in a gesture of thanks. Alice smiled back and with a nod of her head, she departed the village.
Alice walked through the Wonderland woods, kneeling to look down a hole where she spotted the Voracious Centipede addressing his army of ants and other insects. While she could not make out what they were saying, she noticed a notice had been nailed onto the Mushroom of Life. On it was the warning "The Mushroom of Life is property of the Voracious Centipede. Hands off!" Alice chuckled to herself as she got to her feet and continued on her journey.
She strolled down the rivers that made up the Vale of Tears, until she came upon the familiar sight of the Duchess' house. Bill McGill sat outside on the porch steps, swigging from a bottle of brandy and looking quite drunk. Waving drunkenly to Alice as she approached, Bill offered her the brandy bottle, but Alice grimaced in disgust, waving a hand in disagreement. Bill simply shrugged and downed the bottle. Alice stepped past him, steering clear of the front door and looked through the window into the house.
Inside, there stood the Duchess, a stout woman with an oversized head. Alice smiled joyfully, recognising the Duchess, and not the imposter cook. The Duchess stirred a large pot of who knows what, but a large cloud of steam was rising from the pot and covering the room is a murky fog. Alice noticed a door in the room had been boarded up, something from the other side banging against it loudly, trying to escape. Alice stared with concern at the banging door, but turned away, having faith in her friend's protection.
Alice passed through the central hub of sorts of Wonderland on her way to the Pale Realm, spotting Caterpillar and Humpty Dumpty sitting on the brick wall. Humpty Dumpty's head had been patched back together, and he looked rather happy to be back in one piece. The two sat on the wall, smoking from their hookah pipe and cigar, and puffed smoke rings into the air, each one growing bigger and bigger. Caterpillar smirked to himself as he puffed from his hookah pipe and puffed out a butterfly made of smoke. It flew its way through the smoke rings and vanished. Caterpillar turned to Humpty Dumpty who grumbled to himself, placing his cigar in his mouth and then blasted out a jet of black smoke into Caterpillar's face. Alice giggled to herself, and proceeded on her way towards the White King and Queen's castle.
The Pale Realm had changed too. The chequered sky of black and white squares had vanished, replaced by a clear blue sky. The now rebuilt castle of the White Pieces stood tall and proud, built out of white and silver stone. A large blue flag waved atop of the castle's tallest spire. As she approached the entrance of the castle, she heard the loud blast of a trumpet sound off in the distance. A swell of excitement formed in Alice's heart. She knew who was playing that trumpet, hurrying her way up into the castle.
Arriving in the castle's giant throne room, Alice hovered by the entrance and saw a large gathering of familiar faces were present. Standing at the front of the throne room where the White King and White Queen. Beside them stood noneother than the White Rabbit, dressed in his finest, holding aloft his trumpet.
Alice spotted Arcanum the white knight standing before the present army of white chess pieces, holding aloft a smaller version of the flag from the castle's spire.
Gryphon was present, alive and well, reunited with a very happy looking Mock Turtle. Although the Mock Turtle was in tears as usual, but this time it was tears of joy that he was crying.
Alice spotted the Mad Hatter's tall hat among the crowd, the Hatter sitting alongside the March Hare and Dormy, reunited. The Mad Hatter had taken up most of the bench with a number of gadgets and gears, fixing up his two briefs with temporary replacement limbs and body parts. Dormy was asleep as the Mad Hatter and March Hare chatted quietly.
Mr. Mouse sat among the numerous people present, alongside the Dodo who sat with a cane. Most interestingly was the presence of the Red Pieces. The Red King slept in a chair beside the White Rabbit, snoring loudly. The White Rabbit tapped a foot impatiently at the king's constant snoring. Shaking his head in anger, he brought the trumpet to the side of the Red King's head and blew hard into it. The blast of the trumpet awoke the Red King from his slumber with a start, causing him to leap right out of his seat and go flying onto the floor.
"I'm awake!" cried the Red King as he heaved himself up and returned to his seat.
"Stop sleeping," said the White Rabbit, turning to address the audience. "All rise for their royal highnesses, the White King and Queen."
The audience rose from their seats and broke into thunderous applause as the White Queen stood forward to address them.
"I shall keep this brief," spoke the White Queen. "We owe our survival thanks to Alice, our saviour and champion. Because of her bravery and willingness to face her struggles, Wonderland has been saved from destruction. I do not know where she is, but I'd like to say thank you, Alice."
At that point, the White King stood and joined his queen before the crowed and raised a fist of triumphant.
"Long live, Alice!" he cried and soon familiar cries of "Long live, Alice!" were shouted across the room before another round of applause followed along with cheering.
Alice beamed brightly, close to tears. Totally overwhelmed by this uproar of gratitude. She considered going in and making her presence known. She wanted to. Wiping her eyes, Alice smiled to herself. She turned to go away, only to find the Cheshire Cat standing in her way, grinning as usual.
"Going somewhere, Alice?" he asked.
"I was just
" started Alice, but she dropped her attempt of reasoning and smiled. "No, no I'm not."
"A lot of people here would like to speak to you," said the Cheshire Cat. "Mostly about complete madness but still. They are grateful."
Alice giggled like a schoolgirl. The Cheshire Cat was right. They would be talk about madness, nonsense, absurdities. But Alice loved it. She loved her friends. She loved her Wonderland.
She wanted to go into the throne room and make herself known. She wanted to. And she did.
The sun shone brightly over Rutledge Asylum, a seemingly out-of-place scenario in such a place of woe, misery and madness. A horse-drawn carriage was waiting outside patiently. The front doors of the asylum opened as Alice and Lorina stepped out. Alice wore her blue and white dress, and carried a suitcase with her. She looked up to the brightly-coloured sky with new resolve. She was free from her catatonia.
Lorina smiled at her. She turned her attention to Doctor Wilson and Nurse D. as they exited the building after them. Dinah followed and ran over to Alice, circling her feet. Lorina shook hands with Dr. Wilson and Nurse D.
"Thank you, Doctor, Nurse," said Lorina. "Thank you so much for looking after my sister all these years."
"It has been our duty, Madame," said Dr. Wilson, nodding his head. "Just keep an eye on her. There's every possibility she could still have lingering problems. We don't want a relapse."
"Of course, Doctor," said Lorina. She bowed in thanks, and walked to Alice. "Hurry, Alice. We have to catch that infernal train."
"Okay, Lorina," said Alice. "But wait one moment."
Alice placed down her suitcase and ran to Dr. Wilson, and to his surprise, pulled him into a hug.
"What's wrong, Alice?" asked Dr. Wilson.
"Nothing, Doctor," said Alice, looking up to him with her beautiful eyes. "Thank you for everything."
Alice detached herself from Dr. Wilson and gave a similar hug to Nurse D. Dr. Wilson smiled and patted the girl on the head affectionately.
"Our pleasure, Alice," said Dr. Wilson. "Take care. Now run along. You'll be late."
Alice nodded in agreement. She ran back to her suitcase, picking it and Dinah up and walked off towards the carriage with her sister. Dr. Wilson and Nurse D. watched as the sisters boarded the carriage. Alice looked out of the carriage's window, looking almost fondly at the asylum and cheerfully waved goodbye to her carers. Nurse D. waved back, tearing up again. Dr. Wilson closed his eyes peacefully and opened them to catch the sight of the carriage departing. He smiled to himself and pulled out his pocketwatch, fondling it, reminding him of his first proper conversation with Alice.
In the carriage, Alice watched the asylum disappear out of sight, replaced by green trees and large hills. Resting her head on Lorina's shoulder, and stroking Dinah who sat in her arms, for the longest time Alice felt something she had missed for too long: Peace. She closed her eyes to drift off into sleep.
That was until she sprang up suddenly in realisation, her confused frown on her face. Lorina noticed this, turning to her sister with concern.
"Alice, are you alright?" she asked.
Alice nodded lightly and turned to face at her sister, blinking rapidly, and replied.
why is a raven like a writing desk?"