The dealer shuffles

The hare's eyebrows raised in a manner of tedious acceptance, originating from his understanding as to quite what the Hatter's plans involved.

   The moustached man himself was walking merrily in this new land, gazing from the large house that dominated the view nearby, to the river at the bottom of the hill. He decided to examine his surroundings in detail.

   If he had looked across at the upstairs window of the house, he would have seen a man crawling through a mirror. If he had looked merely metres below him, not far from the river bank, he would have seen a teenage girl crawling into a hole in the ground after her sister. However, in the end, he simply lay on his front on the soft grass, and examined a daisy. First he sniffed, then he tasted it with the tip of his tongue, and then he tapped it, brought up his ear and listened intently.

   The hare looked on, critically.

   "I would have chosen a different daisy, myself" he commented.

   "This will do fine" the hatted man replied.

   The hare choked on the smoke arising from his pipe, but his mind was still determined to ask one question.

   "Your plan wouldn't have anything to do with the matter we discussed earlier, would it?" he examined the hatter from the corner of his eye. "You know how THAT discussion went"

   "If you are insinuating it went badly for me, then clearly we had very different discussions. Anyhow, I will explain my plan momentarily"

   The hare fiddled with his tail, bent his legs, and bounded. It was a way of testing the springiness of the grass, while enjoying the great pleasure of flying three metres through the air, and landing quite comfortably on top of a mound. At least, it appeared to be a mound at first, but as soon as the hare's weight fell upon it, he realised that it was hollow - and it caved in. His head fell forwards and examined the front of the mound, where he now realsed he had just collapsed a hole. He faced the Hatter, who was still lying up near the tree, examining his daisy.

   "Hatter!" called hare, "Does old W.R ever come this way. Her majesty sent him out this way, didn't she?"

   "Her majesty's orders are always a little difficult to understand!" called back the Hatter, "besides, she was rather vague. Perhaps he, like we, tracked the girl down to here. AHA!" He suddenly rose, feeling pleased, and smiling through his moustache.

   "What have you found?" called the hare.

   "The daisy!" shouted the Hatter, "has revealed all! And they said flowers couldn't speak here too!"

   * * *

   "Are you alright?" hissed Edith, still trembling.

   "Yes." replied Alice. Which was true enough, now that the original shock had subsided, though mostly it was an attempt to sound brave.

    "Something landed directly above us I believe, the ground just gave away. And yet..."

   Edith paused in the acknowledgment that something was not quite right. Alice felt it too, for being in a tunnel, and a rabbit hole at that, where the exit had just been sealed, it was awfully spacious. And, also very odd indeed, though she only realised it just now, was that she could see the dirt around her, and turning her head around, she could see her sister directly behind her.

   "...Alice?"

   Alice had stopped paying attention, her eyes were now looking for the source of the light - and a grayish light it was too.

   "Edith, I swear the light is coming from further up the tunnel."

   Edith crawled up behind Alice.

   "Alice, listen to me, crawl toward the hole. Forget Dinah"

   Alice was already crawling, though she had barely heard this last comment. Instead, she was bewildered and transfixed by the source of the light. Her hands glowed paler as she crawled, and before she had realised that the light was directly beneath her, she was already falling.

   "Alice!" Her sister's cry was lost.

   Edith's heart was racing. Desperately, she crawled after her sister, her mind shouting half with anger at Alice being so silly as to crawl through a rabbit-hole in the first place, let alone let herself become trapped underground, and half with distress and confusion as to what on earth had just happened.

   It wasn't until these thoughts had died down slightly, that she suddenly realised she wasn't crawling at all, and instead drifting slowly downwards on old, stuffy air. And, it would be a few minutes more before her rational mind would accept that this was what was happening.

   By the time she was wondering what could possibly be creating such a realistic illusion (or delusion) of falling, she suddenly noticed the cupboards. They were old, dusty, rickety cupboards of all kinds, and they drifted from beneath her to above her head as you would pass trees while walking in a forest.

   Some held glass cabinets, with different tonics and potions. In some, there were musical instruments, or china dolls, or pictures, or teddy-bears (which she half-realised to be a family of sleeping guinea-pigs). Some weren't even cupboards at all, but dining tables laid out with small meals on a flowery white tablecloth, or even chess-boards, and clockwork devices, and, she could swear, even a giant eye staring at her, evidently from a body buried into the earth.

   "Oh I do hope I wake up soon" said Edith, "for otherwise I shall think I am going mad. Perhaps if...", but then she was silent, for she realised only mad people talk to themselves.

   It was soon enough that Edith awoke from this state of dreamlike confusion, for she saw the dark nutmeg hair of her sister beneath her, and immediately she hoped, and shouted.

   "Alice! Is that you?"

   Alice faced up.

   "Oh Edith! I am so glad that you are really here. I was beginning to feel very lonely..."

   Edith, still questioning whether her sister was part of the delusion, started spinning the practical clogs of her mind.

   "Alice," she called, "listen to me. Grab hold of one of the cupboards as you fall, and then grab my hand as I come past. Can you do that?"

   "Certainly Edith."

   Alice drifted merrily across in her descent, to a large oak cupboard door with a large brass cupboard handle, grabbed hold of the handle with her right hand, and reached out with her left.

   Edith, careful to drift towards Alice at an appropriate distance, grabbed hold of Alice's hand, and swung towards the cupboard door, using her right hand to hold on to the top. Relieved, she looked at her content sister.

   "So you are here."

   "Of course" replied Alice, chuckling slightly. "Isn't this place odd?"

   Edith looked around her. The dark tunnel, the cupboards - the fact that - and if she wasn't deluded or dreaming - that a place like this had existed so close to her home. Well, the fact that a place like this existed at all... Suddenly it scared her.

   "Alice." She said directly, "we should go home"

   "Oh certainly..." Alice replied, while trying the brass doorhandle. Upon realising it turned however, she heaved the door to, commented "Oh my, it turns!", and both sisters found themselves looking at two staircases. One headed upwards, and the other down."

   "Oh sister, where are we?"

  * * *

   Mr Liddell finished his tea with one last sip, but still found his throat very dry for some reason (in fact, if possible, it was dryer than before). But, the important thing was, he now understood why the clock needed him. He smiled at the clock. All those years of keeping the time on such a regular basis. He decided it was time to repay his debt of gratitude.

   "Mr Clock" he said, "I will help you."

The End

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