I inhaled deeply and exhaled in loud puffs or energy. Then I tried quieter in an attempt to calm myself. I opened the wardrobe cautiously and looked around the room. It had extremely dull, earthen colors all around, browns, whites, creams, blacks, soft woodland greens, pale pinks, straw-yellow. Still, there were paintings cluttering the walls and those were nice to gaze at.
They were odd. There were black-spotted puffballs, slightly like rabbits, roaming around, and several pink-tinted suns on the ceilings, and those were cheerful enough.
But then there were queer dark shadows with bony wraith-like hands, clutching the window pains, scraping the headboards of the Mad Hatter's bed. Vaguely I thought to myself that such morbid choice of decoration must be owing, somehow, to Isabella's reign.
I had seen enough. I shut the wardrobe doors, quiet as the sleeping Doormouse so I would not be heard.
Then I noticed a one-way mirror at the back through which I could see clearly what was happening. Doubtless, the Hatter had put it there for himself years ago for spying purposes, and it was very convenient for me.
Also, there was a little hole in the wardrobe, and if I concentrated I could faintly hear voices. All I had to do was stay away from the gap so I would not be seen, and try not to give myself splinters from this old, cracked, unforgiving wood.
It was through the mirror that I caught my first sight of the little demon, Isabella.
* * *
She was tall and prim, with large bunches of blonde hair like the original Alice, held back with a sky-blue ribbon. She wore a dress to match. She turned and faced me and I held my heart in my mouth until I realized that of course she could not see me at all, and was gazing at herself in a tall full-length mirror. Her face was vulgar and nasty and she wore excessive bright makeup. On her head was a tiny lavender fur hat.
"Stupid, stupid!" she huffed. "Oh, Hatter, this looks truly awful on me. It doesn't complement my flawless complexion in the slightest. Did you really mean for me to walk upon my minions looking foolish as anything, you poor ignorant man?"
"Well, you picked it out yourself to try, m'dear..." murmured the Hatter, cringing slightly.
Isabella now selected a lavish hot pink affair, huge and triangular, with glass beads and colorful dyed feathers sticking out at strange angles.
"I look," she simpered, "like a 5-year-old."
She stepped on it.
"Your Aliceness, please, don't wrinkle my hats-"
"Shut up, you moronic excuse for a sentient being and hand me more hats!"
"Yes, yes of course, try this on for size..."
Perhaps one hundred articles of head wear, each more ridiculous than the last, followed, and my eyelids were beginning to droop, until at last Isabella decided on a sequined lemon-colored top hat, which was a perfectly ridiculous choice. I mean, first of all, her hair was yellow... I was forced to change my original opinion. She had no fashion sense at all. That dark purple bonnet and that emerald crown had looked lovely, but this...?
The Hatter was obviously thinking the same thing, but he tried to look obsequious as usual and stared down at a thin sheet of paper.
"Madame, that will be sixty cordors."
"I'm not paying," said Isabella firmly.
"But, your Aliceness, I am but a poor man..."
"Is it not an honor to hat me?" she demanded.
Isabella performed a mock curtsy, gave a faux cute smile, and left.
The Mad Hatter breathed a sigh of relief and sank onto the cotton bed. Minutes later, as I was falling asleep, he knocked on the door and my eyes flew open with a start.
"Melody, dear, you've got a visitor!" he shouted.