As you move on, the sky around you, beginning to lose its evergreens and autumn trees, begins to not only turn dark, but also harden up. You’re walking, pushing through forestry occasionally, but now it seems that this one-way path is leading you into somewhere.
A leafy fern stands in your way as you near the end of your journey, the sky as dark as near-midnight. Whilst you cannot scoot around it, you stare at it instead. A frown appears on your face and your expression changes to that of one in suspicion. In one movement, you find yourself (as though you are no longer in control of all your actions) pushing at the bush with all your might. It creaks and folds down, revealing an opening, a crack in the base of what you now see as a black and brown wall, painted to look, from a distance, as if it is part of the forest. However, the forest is no longer.
You crouch down and weave your body through the hole in the wall; you only just fit, and, when you emerge, you are faced with pitch-blackness.
Chattering comes at your ears head-on. It is senseless, and yet you can make out the occasional word, until it finally clears to a single strand.
“Hello…?” you mutter.
“Alice!” one voice, a squeaking one, exclaims. The others break out into a new wave of excitement.
“You’ve come to save us, haven’t you?” another voice says. It is calmer and you feel okay to trust it for now.
“Where are you? I can’t see.”
“There’s a light-switch just above your head,” the second disembodied voice says.
“How can you tell?” you say, suspicious again.
“We can see in the dark,” the voice says. “Don’t worry, you’re safe for now.”
“For now?” you wonder, feeling the wall, and latching onto the little stone slip that turns out to enable the lights.
It reveals a small, squat room, a tiled floor spreading out beneath your muddied feet; you follow the tiles up the walls, to where you are greeted by a horrible sight.
Cages are stacked up against this wall. They are filled with the same half-animal-half-human beings that asked for your help in the tunnels. Birds, marsupials, and all sorts of mammals twitch, their poor faces pressed up against the bars, helpless. Three cages is not enough for the many of them.
I’m finally here! you say to yourself, relieved that you no longer need to search. However, there is still the case of getting out.
“It’s the Red Queen, you see,” the calm-voiced one continues. She’s in a cage of her own, slightly apart from the remainder of the assorted animals; her long white ears still protrude from the netting though, and her eyes are shot through with red. She’s the most human-like of the creatures, but still her whiskers and feet twitch simultaneously, moving in ‘rabbit-time’. “The Red Queen put us in here, and, if she realises that there’s any disturbance, she’ll come and find you too.”
“I know,” you sigh, compelled to begin hacking at the locks of the cages, “your friends sent me.”
“They’re safe? Oh, thank goodness!” rabbit-lady says, as the room breaks into excitement again.
“Please help us!” the owner of the first, squeaking voice remarks, a star-faced mole in (mostly) human form.
You help him out the front of the cage, and begin to help the others that have been stuck behind. There are men and women and children here, all animalised, with that same red symbol glowing in their foreheads. They look tired and depressed, and you know that must help them now that you are here. As they step out, you motion for silence and clear your voice.
“Now, here’s my idea…”