Alice went back to Wonderland because she was determined to be believed.
She may have been difficult to reason with, or distracted during lessons in algebra, but she had strength of character, and she was very serious about being believed. She wasn't a liar, and she wasn't to be dismissed.
"Alice, you've got to stop going on about this giant striped cat who can fly you around a forest," Alice's governess told her during a sciences lesson, not even a year after Alice had come back from Wonderland, when Alice was 10. "Cats don't fly."
"But they do, Miss," Alice said. How could she sit there while she was taught lies? Even worse, the governess thought that cats didn't fly, and how could Alice let her keep thinking that for the entirety of her life? It wasn't fair to her governess, and it wasn't fair to cats that they'd be thought of as so limited. "Cats don't just lie in the grass and chase butterflies and lick butter out of plates. I've seen a cat that is the size of an elephant, and it can fly above the trees."
"You, young lady, are sadly mistaken. No one has ever seen a cat in England or any other part of the world that could fly," and she stabbed the globe next to her with her pointer stick.
"That's because they're in Wonderland, not in England. They're not on your globe, because your globe doesn't have everything on it."
Her governess had a stern look on her face. "If you refuse to stop telling your lies, I'm going to tell your father I can't continue your lesson today." She left this open for a response. And Alice almost agreed to be silent, and let the governess return to teaching her about the wildlife of England. She felt bad causing her governess to leave after she'd traveled all of the way to Alice's house to only be there for one hour. And she didn't want to irritate her father, because he always looked so troubled when she tried to tell the truth. But her eyes were drawn to where the governess's pointer was resting, in the center of Wales, in her tragically incomplete map of the world, and she couldn't pretend that she didn't know the truth, and let all of the old men who had drawn that globe be called correct when they weren't, and let her governess believe their misinformation.
So she lifted her chin, and said, "They aren't lies. Just last year, I saw the Cheshire Cat with my own eyes. And he flew me above the trees so I didn't have to walk through the forest to get to the Red Queen's rose garden to pick up my mother's locket that I had dropped."
The governess shook her head and snapped her briefcase closed.
"Please, Miss," Alice said. "I can find the maze again. Come with me, and I'll show you!"
"No, Alice, we're done for the day," her governess said, and stalked out of the room and down the hall.
Alice deflated as she watched the woman's heels click quickly towards her father's study. If only she could find the rabbit hole again, if only it hadn't disappeared from where it was before. Then she could go back through to the forest, and find the Cheshire Cat, and maybe wrench one of his teeth from his mouth with the help of some snoozeberries. Then she could bring it back and her governess would stop believing what her books insisted, and Alice's father would stop looking at her like he looked at pictures of her mother, like he had lost her.
It was that damn dormouse again!
"Knave, what are you doing on the floor, we've got to keep going. The singing flowers won't stay happy for long. Soon, they're going to grow jealous of me again, and alert the queen of our presence. So we have to get back past them soon."
"You," the Knave muttered from his current position resting on a shrub, "should just thinking about stopping wearing dresses that look like petals. Then they wouldn't get jealous."
Alice prickled. First of all, she was 17; she didn't need to take fashion advice from someone wearing clothes she had never seen on the streets of England. Second, she'd been wearing dresses that looked like petals every time she'd traveled to Wonderland for the last three years, and she'd survived for this long. Third, the argument was completely irrelevant, as things the Knave said were wont to be. "That's not an issue for right now. Do you see a clotheshorse anywhere around here?"
"Can't see much from down here, to be honest," he responded completely uselessly. "Doesn't matter anyways; I think it's time for a nap." He gestured widely with his arms to illustrate some point that Alice couldn't see anywhere. "The dormouse had the correct idea crawling back into the grass. I should have gone with him, need to return his teacup anyways."
There was, indeed, a teacup on the stones next to him, and Alice felt anger flare up inside her.
"The dormouse? When exactly did you see the dormouse?"
"At the bottom of the snoozeberry tree!"
"Oh, so when I was climbing through the thorny gnarls, and you said you would keep watch, you decided to sit down for tea?"
"Alice," Knave said, aghast, "you can't turn down free food!"
Alice shook her head at him, and hoisted her bag over her shoulder. "We both know the dormouse only brings dreaming tea with him, so now you're not going to want to walk anywhere with me. You're just going to want to roll in the daisies."
Knave nodded in agreement, and simultaneously hiccuped. "Right you are. I'm sat here, and I'm not getting up. I'm sorry, you don't really need me though! I'm not strong enough to wrench a tooth out of a Chester Cat anyways."
"A Cheshire Cat." Alice huffed. She looked at his collapsed, hiccuping form, and took the teacup from the ground, lest Knave roll over onto it and hurt himself. "Stay here, then," she told him, "I'm quite fine on my own."
It wasn't until Alice was 14 that she located the entrance to Wonderland again. She had spent every afternoon that she could manage for the last four years searching her garden for the rabbit hole that she had originally taken to it.
She wandered past a willow one sunny day, and suddenly there in front of her, where yesterday had been a patch of dirt (she was sure of this) there was a hole as wide as her armoire.
She was momentarily distracted from her delight when she saw Kitten prowling along nearby. It was just like he had been doing when she had gone down the rabbit hole the first time, and she picked him up. "It's not like it shows up where you are, Kitten. I tried following you, a dozen times. But here it is, and here you are, so I suppose that's that, then."
The cat, who was now nearly tripled in size, and sagged in her arms, despite its name, let out a woeful meow.
She released it and sighed. "I don't suppose you want to come with me this time, do you?" she asked it.
All she received in return was a sombre look, so she let the cat fall down into the grass, where it lumbered away. It was worth a try, although she was quite aware, from many tests, that Kitten couldn't speak. So, he probably wouldn't be much company anyways.
Alice didn't have anything with her, not even a bag or a shawl, but she decided she should capitalise on this opportunity, because what if the rabbit hole to Wonderland disappeared by the time she had gone to get her things and come back? What if she had to wait for four more years?
So she steeled herself and climbed into the rabbit hole. The white rabbit wasn't to be seen, even now that she was able to peer down the tunnel. Was that a bad sign? Maybe that meant the tunnel was a passage to a place other than Wonderland. Her heart seized suddenly, and she paused for a moment. What if, in fact, Wonderland didn't exist at all, and she had made it all up like her father and anyone she tried to tell had told her, and what if she simply ended up in a neighbor's garden?
"No, Alice." she told herself, as a haunting feeling washed over her. "It does exist. It does exist, and you didn't make it up, and just because you're not following the rabbit, it doesn't mean you won't end up back in the queen's maze, just like you did before. After all, it is the rabbit hole, not the rabbit, isn't it?"
She nodded, and crawled farther into the hole. Finally, she reached the hole of sunlight at the end, and she hoisted herself up onto hard dirt. And then, underneath her dirt-smeared hands, she saw the gleaming white of stone. And she looked up to see hedges, thirty-feet tall at least, stretching to her right and her left, nearly as far as she could see.
She got to her feet, brushed off her skirt, and peered around her. Yes, these were the same hedges; and there were the mushrooms, and there in the distance was smoke curling into the air, surely from the pipe of a caterpillar. It all looked exactly the same. This was definitely Wonderland. It had existed, and she hadn't been lying, and she was back.
A bluebell next to her suddenly shot into the air and unfurled large blue wings, and flapped off into the distance.
"Wonderland," she said. "I wasn't wrong, and what did they know?"
She peered down the path to her right, and saw the smoke curling from above a mushroom. She looked to her left, where the hedges turned and disappeared from sight. She had gone in the direction of the caterpillar before, but she'd never wandered down the other path. Now wasn't a time for exploring, though.
"I had might as well go the way of the caterpillar, because I know where that leads. And where that leads to is the forest. And that's where the Cheshire Cat lives. So that is where I need to go."
Because now that Alice was back, she could get what she'd resolved to: proof. All she had to do was find some snoozeberries, put the cat to sleep, and bring back one of his teeth to show her father.
Alice beamed. In just a few days her father would believe her. It was all so simple.
Tea was sounding quite enjoyable to Alice, nearly five hours after she left Knave lying in the bushes. Her stomach growled, and she shushed it. After a dozen journeys in Wonderland, she wouldn't be surprised if something was drawn by growling stomachs.
"Who is that growling, hmm?" she suddenly heard, above her.
She tried to hide her surprise, and instead stared headlong at the two, huge, bright eyes that had appeared above a nearby tree branch.
"Cheshire Cat!" she exclaimed. "I've been waiting for you. And here you are. I need your help with something."
"Hopefully not waiting long?" the cat said.
"No, not long," she responded, and thought of three years she'd spent keeping an ear out for the words "snoozeberry grove."
"Hmm, good. It never does to keep waiting long, instead of letting things just come a-long."
"Yes, of course," she said, trying not to get roped in by his logic games. This was not a day for that.
"Well, how can I help you be helped today?" he asked her, and settled onto a branch that looked more like another tree trunk growing horizontally.
"You see," Alice began, using the lie she had prepared years ago. "I have need to get to the queen's castle beyond the forest. I was wondering if you could fly me there, like you did before."
"Before?" he asked. "I haven't flown you across the forest before."
"Yes, you have." Alice said. "You did; seven years ago, you did."
"I did fly you across the forest, but I didn't fly you across the forest." he said.
"Okay." She said slowly, trying not to be perplexed by him.
"You are not the you that you used to be, you see?"
"Yes, Cheshire Cat," Alice said, losing patience. "But how could I not be me, when the memories are in my head and I did do it?"
"But did you do it? Why does the fact that you remember doing it mean that it was this you that did do it?"
"I suppose that makes sense," she said.
"That's good," he said, "this you isn't useless."
"Cheshire Cat," Alice said, determined to move on, "I know how much you love cream. I have some to give to you, if you'll fly me across the forest."
"Yum!" The Cheshire Cat grinned. "The you you used to be told the you you are now the things that matter, didn't she?"
"Yes, I suppose she did," Alice said, hoping the grin meant he was near convinced.
"Make sure you thank her for that next time you see her," he told Alice sagely, and then said, "I think cream would be a lovely snack. Then I would have the energy to fly you across the forest."
"Perfect," Alice said. She opened her pack, and poured cream out of a cream jug into a large bowl. "Here you are."
The Cheshire Cat began drinking the cream, and Alice felt a flood of triumph wash through her. She would be ready to bet that the cat wouldn't taste the flavor of the snoozeberries that she had mashed up and stirred into the cream. He was too greedy and self-indulgent.
Alice didn't even care that she was hungry now, as she leaned against a tree, waiting for the Cheshire Cat to stop telling her things that he thought she needed illuminated, and fall asleep already. And then suddenly, his words turned into snores, and he fell off of the branch onto the forest floor with a loud thud.
Alice had heard, the very first time she went to Wonderland, that snoozeberries could knock out a beast the size of an elephant for days. Just to be sure, she kneeled down in front of the cat and yelled, "Cheshire Cat. Can you hear me? Wake up!"
As expected, he did not stir. She kicked him a few times for good measure, with no change.
So Alice shuffled through her bag, and pulled out a set of huge pliers that she had lifted from her father's repairman's tool-belt when she was thirteen, and she had kept in her pack for just this occasion. They had actually come in handy an unexpected number of times over the years: to open soda bottles, to pry rocks out of the sole of one's boot; and to clean the dirt from under one's fingernails.
The Cheshire Cat looked quite peaceful while he was sleeping, actually. She stared at the source of her absolution. All of his insufferable and slightly unsettling comments were gone, and without them, he reminded her a little of Kitten when he'd fallen asleep on one of the tables in the conservatory. Alice wondered if he was dreaming, and if the Cheshire Cat dreamed in riddles even more complicated and confusing than the ones he spoke in.
Alice shook her head swiftly, and said aloud to herself, "No, Alice, stop thinking about this. You've achieved your goal. You've put the Cheshire Cat asleep with snoozeberries, and now all that you have to do is pry one of his teeth out with pliers, go back home through the rabbit's hole, and show your father. Then everyone will believe you." She nodded, in agreement with whom-- herself? As a gesture of resolution-- maybe?
She crouched near the Cheshire Cat's mouth, which was hanging open in his sleep, and reached for a tooth, and then couldn't help herself from petting him first. His long, thick, purple fur was very soft, exactly as she remembered it being when she had ridden him all of those years ago. Which brought her to the fact that he had flown her above the forest to the Red Queen's castle. The Cheshire Cat had numbed her brain with philosophical monologues about royalty and the true meaning of death, but he had said yes when Alice had come to him crying about the fact that she had dropped the only object she owned that had belonged to her mother.
Alice sighed and stood up, and reluctantly stuck her pliers back into her bag. She had been certain, so certain, that she would be able to steal one of the cat's teeth would she have the chance. But here she was, and she found herself incapable. Because the Cheshire Cat was actually quite a nice beast when it came down to it. And apparently she had a moral compass in all of this now.
Alice picked the cream bowl up and shoved it in her bag as well, and hefted the bag over her shoulder.
She looked down at the Cheshire Cat, lying on his back on the forest floor. She looked down at her feet, she looked up at the sun, which was approaching the horizon. She let out a sigh because she actually didn't have any idea what she wanted to do now.
She was so close; so close to proving to her father that she hadn't been making things up. And he was getting more worried as the years went on. Ten-year-old Alice wouldn't have hesitated to pull out the Cheshire Cat's tooth. If only she was still her, all of this would be solved. If only it hadn't taken Alice seven years to get here, it would be done.
She supposed there might be something to what the Cheshire Cat had said about her not being her anymore.
"I suppose I'll just have to come up with a new idea, then," she said to herself. "One that doesn't hurt anyone, perhaps." Maybe she'd go to the Red Queen directly and ask her if she had any ideas. Alice had survived run-ins with the queen several times. So, honestly, she wasn't too worried about it; maybe it would have some benefit.
But instead Alice turned away from the forest and walked back from where she'd come. Maybe the Knave would have an idea. It was getting late and he did have food supplies with him. It was much more logical to find where she'd left him and camp there for the night. It would be rude not to return at least to say goodbye anyways. Also, he had more experience with the queen. It would be logical to ask him his advice. Certainly the best plan of action.
Also, maybe Alice wasn't happy spending months hunting things down by herself. Maybe she couldn't be alone on a quest for one thing, proof, for as long as it took. Maybe making her father believe her wasn't worth it.
Alice made it back to the bush where she had left the Knave by midnight, and the moon was bright enough in Wonderland for her to see that he hadn't moved a bit. Which didn't mean he was still passed out; no, in fact, he was strumming a guitar.
"The prodigal lass returns!" he exclaimed as she dropped her bag onto the grass next to him.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said, baffled.
"Of course you don't, nevermind," he said. "Where's your sabre-tooth?"
Alice quirked her eyebrow at him, because maybe he'd read an entire library of books she'd never heard of about worlds she couldn't imagine. "If you mean the tooth of the Cheshire Cat, I couldn't get it," and she frowned down at her hands.
"What happened? Ol' Chesty didn' like the taste of snoozeberries, did he?"
"No, he did! My plan worked perfectly and they put him to sleep, thank you very much," she couldn't keep herself from saying, because Knave had the gall to look smug.
Knave sat up abruptly at that, his guitar falling off of his lap. "Really?" he asked, and gave her a very strange look. "Are you saying you just didn't pull his fang?"
"I couldn't," she said.
"Couldn't or wouldn't?" he asked her.
"Wouldn't," she said quickly, and sat down next to her pack. "Give me some of your dinner, Knave; I know you always make more than you can eat."
He gave her an appraising look, but was nice enough not to tease her. "Alright," he told her, and passed her a bag of cherries and biscuits, "But only because it's a consolation meal."
"Where did you find a guitar?" she asked him to change the subject.
"What, this? I've had it for months."
"No, you didn't have it this morning," she frowned.
"The dormouse gave it to me, today at tea," he said with a straight face.
"Nevermind," she said. And then, "I need a new way to find proof of Wonderland. So I'm thinking of asking the Red Queen. I know you have a history with her, so I think we should go ask her together!"
"No way am I going near her," he said, truly physically shivering.
Alice frowned, because the Red Queen really was a logical place to begin.
Knave must have seen her frown, because he leaned forward and said, "Don't let me stop you, though. Feel free to go; I can catch you up whenever you're done. You're fine on your own, Alice."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean I'll choose to be. Necessarily."
Knave was uncharacteristically quiet, and for longer than Alice had ever experienced, so she looked down at the burnt biscuit in her hands, lest she find some kind of soul-searching look on his face.
"By the way, Alice," he said to her, and she was forced to look up and meet his eyes.
"Yes?" she asked, tentatively.
"I always thought that the White Rabbit would fit nicely into your burlap sack," and he grinned. It looked bigger than the Cheshire Cat with all 30 of his still intact teeth.
She smiled back, because despite the recurring futility of her efforts, and the expectations she had failed to fulfill, at this moment she was happy.