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A Riddle with No Answer

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Wonderland has been many things.

The only thing it hasn't been was 'enough'.

Not even the tea parties, even though she used to love those. Love consisted of so many things - strange and even stranger ones that didn’t want to be found and uncovered, wanted to remain a mystery and fill her head with questions at all times.

She had plenty of questions now, and it was making her uneasy, for a change. The thing was, if you treated questions like puzzles you got yourself a good entertainment. If you started treating them seriously… well, then the real trouble began. And Alice didn’t want trouble, not when she could finally forget, and escape. Her head felt wonderfully clean, and not only on the outside (Wonderland magic was useful this way), it was just as delightful inside.

Time was stuck here, and she was stuck with it. Being stuck was never one of her favorite activities but now she didn’t mind it in the slightest.

She just stirred some sugar into non-existent tea and took a pretend-sip. It wasn’t so different from a child’s game after all, and she actually played this one with… someone. Today contained a lot of some-ones, and no idea how to link them to real people.

This thought was just too miserable, so she shifted to another one.

The non-existent tea didn’t taste half bad, but probably it was only because she imagined it to be some other tea. She pictured it so clearly - the color, the scent, and yet she couldn’t picture the thing that mattered most.

Long ago Alice discovered that a tea party wasn’t just about drinking tea, as the title clearly suggested, it was also about breaking cups and plates. She didn’t share this fascination at first, but now… now she couldn’t help but understand the appeal it held.

Her fingers caressed a small cup. For some reason, cups were either small or big - that was one more rule she discovered. So you either got no tea at all or enough to drown in. Everything in between was for normal tea parties, and mad wasn’t synonymous for normal even on good days. If such existed, that is.

The cup seemed very fragile. She just had to press her finger in the right spot and there would be no cup left at all. Alice giggled at the thought. Thankfully, there were a lot of cups around here, so some waste was justified, she figured.

And yet, there was someone in her head who kept telling her otherwise. Alice pretended not to listen and that made her even sadder.

Why did it have to be like this?

She poured herself some more tea - real tea this time - and waited for it to cool off a bit.

But tea was very stubborn this day and nothing went as planned. Having tea define her mood? That was one miserable existence indeed. She sighed sharply and poured the tea out of the cup. If she couldn’t have it properly, she could as well have none at all.

She still had a few chocolate chip cookies, though. A few crunching sounds later, she realized that nothing was going as planned indeed - and it was a disturbing thought.

Just as disturbing as her dry lips and crumbs turning into sand in her throat.

Alice fought the choking reflex and looked at the cookie - what was left of it, that is.  

The icing was half-erased, but not by someone’s hand. In fact, no hand touched it for a while.

At first she thought she’d not be able to make out the words but then it came to her.

DON’T EAT ME

The ‘don’t’ part was so pale that it could certainly go as a piece of her imagination. Except that it wasn’t.

Alice closed her eyes. Opened them again. It was a common enough trick but very few knew its real advantage. The unreal one was about making things disappear, and if anything, it made Alice sad that people would wish for things to disappear in the first place. She’s always been lacking things, so any chance to explore was more than welcome, strange things included. In truth, Alice loved those most.

***

In Wonderland. A few years ago.

 

‘Closing your eyes is the best remedy for monsters.’

‘Monsters?’

‘Monsters - and things.’

‘Why would I want to get rid of things?’

They sent her dumb looks and hastened to change the places.

‘Things can be unpredictable, Alice.’

‘And even more importantly, things can be late. They can make you late, heavens forbid.’

‘But when I close my eyes, I stop seeing the world altogether. I become blind, and I’d never want to be blind.’

‘Being blind is better than being late.

‘Yes! Being late can make you dead.’

‘And when you’re blind you’re not very much alive either.’ she argued.

They let out a terrified sound (or was it laughter?) and changed the places again. Alice remained seated.

‘Look - you’ve already changed your places, and I didn’t. That makes me late.’

The horrified sounds became positively hilarious.

‘Also, time here doesn’t change. So you can’t be late, not really.’

Their indignant expressions followed her through to the last syllable.

‘Well, if you’re so clever, tell us: why would you close your eyes at all?’

‘To create new things of course!’

***

Mad Tea Drinkers might not have been the sanest company she’d ever encountered, and their madness could take unexpected turns at times, but they understood her. She could talk about things with them, both new and old, and never be afraid that they would call her crazy.

Because who wasn’t crazy after all? Alice’s guess was some very boring people. And boring wasn’t exactly her strong suit.

This time, closing her eyes felt good, intoxicating even, and the comfort it brought made her speechless for a while. Not that she needed any speech among those tea-less teacups but talking was soothing sometimes. Not hearing her own voice, she didn’t really like that, but talking, shaping words and putting them out there - it always managed to ground her, to make her feel like she belonged. Even if the truth was that she didn’t.

This time, there were no new things waiting for her. But there were memories. Memories about time.

The icing was also erased by time - this very value that was kept still and frozen.

And if this wasn’t the most impossible thing of all, Alice didn’t know what was.

She touched the almost non-existing icing with her finger and took off a small bit. It tasted oddly fresh. Blue sparkly sugar. Just melted.

She imagined a big pan giving off a loud, lively sound. A pan lit with fire that kept going off in all directions. She knew that place. She knew…

Next second cut her memory off leaving her with nothing but a bunch of ridiculous, half-baked suggestions. None of them seemed to fit the eventual conclusion: this cookie (or whatever it was) didn’t belong here in the first place, instead it was recently made (somewhere) and brought by something (someone?), then magically aged.

That was definitely one of the most ridiculous things Alice heard in her life. And yet, there were too many untied possibilities to discard any of them.

Nothing was making sense. Yet, the cookie was still here, and its ‘don’t’ part gave her goosebumps.

You ate everything in Wonderland. No forbidden foods, or drinks, or anything in-between. In fact, forbidden itself was allowed. You could change direction and speed, color and appearance. The only thing you could never change was Tea Time. The reason for that was that the very nature of the word ‘change’ was the opposite of the word ‘stillness’. You couldn’t change something that was unmovable by definition. And if you tried… if you tried, bad things happened.   

Alice often appreciated broken rules, they were more often fun than not, but this was not something she wanted to see broken. A few crumbs fell off the cookie making it look even more lopsided. More damaged.

And if there was anything she was sure about… it didn’t belong to Wonderland. This part of the conclusion remained strong in her mind, surprisingly strong, in fact, as if she wasn’t the one who planted it there. Anyway, this point was valid enough and she had to move on to the rest of it.

The influence of time was one of the most harmonious things ever. You could neither break it nor fake it. It was always fair, and cruel in its fairness. And yet, playing with time could have unforeseen consequences. It was so vague that Alice wondered why anyone even listened to it. Now she knew the answer. Playing with time might have ‘unforeseen consequences’ but playing with ‘still time’… those consequences were nothing short of dreadful. She’d never seen this time at play, and yet she knew that it was merciless. She could sense it in the thick air and the freezing feeling of eternity hanging over her head. At first, it was fun - a puzzle just waiting to be solved. Then she decided that the unsolved version was much more fascinating.

And now… now ‘fascinating’ was slowly turning into ‘horrifying’ and there was no going back from that.

However, this feeling wasn’t nearly enough to soften the effect of the remaining fact. It was brought here. She didn’t want to think about that, but it was one hell of a nag to avoid.

Alice closed her eyes once again. This time, nothing came. Perhaps because her head was filled with old thoughts, and those had the tendency to make her thinking slow and circle-like, as if made of jelly. Or marmalade. She liked marmalade more.

She barely had the strength to stop thinking about it. The last thing she needed was a head full of food. Certainly not when the ‘no eating’ sign was staring her in the face. She may not be the most rational person on earth, but she had no desire to tempt the fate if she could help it. And she would. She would help it.

This was clearly a warning - one she had never received before. A warning sent from an unknown source. A warning distorted by the reality of ‘still time’ - or un-reality of it?

Un-reality was always something to be captivated with, while reality… well, it often proved to be far less exciting, so she’d never quite got the point of separating those two - in her mind, it was akin to drawing a line in the sand and throwing a veil over one of the halves. It didn’t make that half any less real. You just chose not to look at it. And for Alice, ‘no looking’ strategy involved just the opposite - accessing invisible.

But today she craved reality with all her being while its opposite made her terrified of her own reflection.

Because ‘still time’ wasn’t supposed to change.

She could now drop the act and start being scared. And yet, something still managed to keep her in this ‘I don’t know if I’m mad or just cheerful’ mode that felt like a second skin to her. And skin wasn’t something you could easily get rid of. That knowledge didn’t require rocket scientist. And neither did the well-known fact that Wonderland could be two things. Fun and dangerous. The first part has been relatively easy, especially so if you minded loneliness and didn’t mind crazy. Alice fit the description perfectly. The second part, though, was yet something to get acquainted with.

And Alice had a feeling that there wasn’t much time left until the Happy Meeting.

She fingered the cup and raised it to her eyes finding that fragile spot once again. One small squeeze and it would be done. Or a big one. Perhaps it’d even hurt a bit, and it’d be good too - she didn’t mind the pain.

She pressed her finger to the cup’s edge and it went numb. It was a bad thing she couldn’t do the same with her heart. Their hearts.

There was one kind of pain Alice hated, though. It was hot, and it came in waves.

She squeezed her eyes. The numbness turned into sharp, razor-like awareness - and it still wasn’t enough.

‘Starfish, please.’

There are no some-ones anymore. Only him. And his voice makes every hurt disappear. Not because it’s not hurting anymore, but because this kind of hurt is the biggest of them all.

Alice opened her eyes and let the tears fall.