A figure crawled out obediently from behind a large red-dotted mushroom, and even hidden by glittering swirls of gray, I recognized him immediately. It was the Caterpillar, smoking a hookah.
I was about to laugh and give proper greeting when the smoke rings, for the most part, disappeared and I spotted the long, miserable frown on his furry bright green face.
"He-hello?" I asked softly.
"Are you one of the Scarlet Soldiers?" His voice was surprisingly deep and mournful.
"No! Who are they?"
"Don't you know? Everybody knows, you know. It is simply not possible not to know, if you catch my meaning."
"Excuse me, Mr. Caterpillar. I'm new here. Uhh, very new."
"You look familiar," said the figure, with a hint of suspicion in his low voice. "You're one of those little girls who come at unexpected moments, and, oh, dear- I just hope you're more like Alice than that dreadful Isabella creature. What's your name?"
"Melody. Melody Summer."
"Welcome to Wonderland, Melody."
There was an awkward pause as I racked my brains for something to say. I knew there was something. What had I been thinking of? Oh, right.
"Who are the Scarlet Soldiers?"
"Isabella's followers. What else is there to know, anyway? Honestly, it's very rude the way you go about asking questions. Humph!"
"Please Mr. Caterpillar, I intended no impudence, I'm sure. I just got here and I'm afraid I don't know anything about Isabella or her soldiers, and I do wish you would set down that rusty old hookah. Smoking is very poor for your health, you know."
"My dear," sighed the Caterpillar, "listen as I sing you the ballad of Isabella. It's original verse," he added proudly.
"I'd love to hear it," I agreed, eager as anything, as I recalled the Lewis Carroll poems I had loved so dearly throughout my childhood. A new one!
"The sun was shining on the sea
Shining with all his might
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright
And this was odd because it was
The middle of the night.
"The moon was-"
"Caterpillar," I interrupted cautiously, my voice tinged with disappointment, "that isn't the ballad of Isabella at all. That's the beginning of The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll."
He looked sheepish. "You're quite right of course, New Alice. That wasn't mine, the Walrus wrote it. And who's Lewis Carroll?"
"Never mind," I answered quickly. "No one of consequence. So, do have original verses about Isabella?"
"No," admitted the Caterpillar. "Not at all. I am sorry."
"That's alright. Do you know how I can get home?" I was anxious to be gone, to escape the possibility of truth in the Cheshire Cat's words.
The Caterpillar tensed suddenly. He grabbed my arm, and naturally I cried out in pain. My arm had to undergo so much. The two of ducked behind the mushroom, quick as lightning.
"What is it?" I whispered.
"Scarlet Soldier. Hush!"