It all began at my best friend’s ex’s funeral.
I don’t even know why we were there to be honest with you. Perhaps she’d always wanted to throw a dead flower on his grave for the irony; who has a clue? I didn’t know what went on in her funny little head those days… and often, I felt that I didn’t want to.
“Jez, you alright?” I whispered. She was staring down at the contents of the coffin as if she were looking inside the dustbin back at the flat. Her eyes were focussed though, and in them was pure hate… A look the stupid git must have been used to.
God I hoped he went to hell.
“I’m fine.” She replied coldly after a moment, tossing her shoulder length black hair arrogantly in a very purposeful way. Lucky thing… I always envied her hair, right back in high school. Damn my genes and cheap hair dye.
“Come on, I don’t think this was a great idea.” I murmured, and tugged her arm away from the coffin. She stole a last painful glance and then linked her arm through mine and we marched towards the exit. That was another thing about us; I was the one that strode ahead and did stuff, and Jez was the one who thought about it, and then usually told me what I’d done stupidly... And was usually right ad told me so.
“I think a burger is in order.” She said with a sigh, “A big one.”
“I thought you were on a diet sis.” I reminded her, as Jez usually forgot about her diets. They never lasted over a week.
“Fuck my diet.” She muttered bitterly.
You know, we’re not actually sisters, but everybody thinks so… and we let them. We’re like sisters, we act like it and we sort of look like it, but we’re not. If we were, she’d probably have killed me by this point for about a million different reasons.
A guy caught us up before we got to the doors. He was pretty tall, but not massively; just taller than Jez, and she was shorter than me but wearing a loaned pair of my platform heels (which were pretty demonic, if I say so myself). He had dark brown hair, quite long so it got in his eyes a lot, and he didn’t smile but greeted us as cheerfully as was possible at a funeral, which amounts to about a grave nod.
“Sorry to hear about Liam.” He said sympathetically.
“Why, he was a wanker.” Jez answered dismissively and got a fair few alarmed looks from the small congregation around us (many of whom were probably thinking along those lines anyway). We were about to carry on our way when it clicked.
“Oh hell!” Jez apologised (in her language, that alone was usually an apology, but she was messed up that day.) “Sorry, I didn’t recognise you!”
Then, finally, I cracked it. As I mentioned before, she’s the brains. “Oh my god, Jay?”
“You two haven’t changed.” He said with a sneaky grin.
“What happened to you since college?” Jez demanded, and did her best impression of an electrocuted goldfish.
“This and that.” Jay said with a smile again, “I suspected I’d find the undertakers daughters at the nearest funeral. I thought Allie was heading for Japan?”
Allie isn’t actually my name by the way, but that’s what you might as well call me, because everybody else does. Really it’s Allyson, but that’s even worse. I tried to change it to Alyss once, but everyone was too used to it, so I’m still Allie.
I decided to leave out the fact that I had about as much money as I had atomic bombs and just shrugged, “Not without a game design course… or sis.” I explained, and then mentally added a bit, or money.
We were beginning to get some very unwelcoming expressions by this point, and so Jez excused us. “We have to go, erm… mourn. She said with a wink. Maybe catch you later.”
“Ok, see you around, I know when I’m not wanted.” Jay joked, and we parted ways and Jez and I left the church. In one piece too which I hadn’t expected, perhaps god had really bad aim with that lightning strike.
“Well that was more than a bit awkward.” I remarked, stating the obvious but it broke the silence.
“Sherlock.” Jez replied, “Now about that burger…”
So naturally, we ended up sitting in the local crummy McDonalds, and I watched Jez destroy any minor progress she’d made on that diet of hers.
“Allie?” She asked thoughtfully after a while, as she poked at the last few fries in her box, “Do we just have this really shit luck that follows us around?”
I thought about it. It was unusual for her to just up and say things like that… She was usually pretty light hearted at the best of times. Then again, this wasn’t exactly the best of times. “Nah, we don’t. We’ve gotten this far right? And considering high school, that’s an achievement.” I tried to smile, but I was worried about her.
She laughed a little, but only faintly and stared down at the fries. “Remember when we were younger, and when stuff like this broke out, we could just… deal with it? What happened?”
“Hey, there’s a reason for that, remember?” I replied. Now I was especially worried, Jez never brought up that bit of our past. It’s sort of complicated you see… I won’t really go into it but back then we’d both been through a lot, and we developed this kind of… Childish fantasy to help us deal with all the hell, it just got a bit too real by the end. It was lucky neither of us had ended up in an institute, we should have.
“Let’s get out of here.” She said, changing the subject. I agreed with a sort of ‘hmf’ and we left.
We walked in the park nearby in silence for a while. It was an old habit of ours, the way we spent many lunch hours back in college. It was all as normal as the day was going to get until that confounded cat turned up.
I blame myself; if we’d have just gone straight home like we’d intended, probably none of it would have happened. Ok, perhaps he’d have found us, but all the same, it was the worst time the stupid creature could have chosen.
There we were, sat on the edge of the fountain, minding our own business when it’s furry black and white face popped up. At least he wasn’t smiling this time, but it was still enough to paralyse us on the spot.
…I know what you’re thinking. It could have been any cat couldn’t it? Well no. You didn’t see his eyes. His eyes were bright violet, like an unnatural shade of violet, and they stared with an expression that suggested the smile that wasn’t there. That’s how we knew it was Messenger, and it was undeniable.
I looked at Jez, Jez looked at me, and then we both looked at Messenger, who smiled with his eyes. None of us said anything, and he must have realised we both intended to ignore him, so he leapt up onto the fountain in between us, put down the item he had been carrying in his mouth, and then ran off again. Like a phantom, he’d disappeared.
I pretended he hadn’t been there for a precious few moments, and dared not look down at the spot he’d been a second ago. I think Jez did the same… We had a good enough life right now, apart from a few hiccups, we didn’t need our fantasy anymore.
Unless it wasn’t a fantasy…
I dismissed the thought and forced myself to look at the item Messenger had left. For a moment, I thought- no, I hoped- it was a regular British pound, but when I looked closer, my heart missed a beat. On the surface was not the usual portrait of the Queen of England, but of a Queen of hearts… like that in a pack of cards. When I turned it over in my hand, the reverse bore a picture of a little rabbit wearing a waistcoat and a top hat, and he had a little pocket watch in his paw.
“Allie…” Jez said quietly, her voice shaking so much that if she were a tower, she’d surely have fallen, “Allie, please tell me I’m not seeing this…”
I tried so hard to come up with an answer that would reassure her. Hell, I wanted an answer that would reassure me. In the end, though I didn’t believe myself, I just shook my head and said, “It’s probably just some convenient trinket. We don’t even have currency in Wonderland.” I considered tossing the coin into the fountain and leaving it there, but my utterly stupid curiosity got the better of me and I slipped it into the pocket of my leather coat.
“Don’t even say that word.” Jez muttered.
“Come on, we should go home.” I said, although my throat was so dry I had trouble speaking at all. “I need to feet Kurt anyway.” (Kurt was the dog). I figured at the time that if we ignored Messenger’s visit altogether, he’d get that we didn’t need him, and then perhaps he’d leave us alone. Dreams couldn’t pursue you could they?
It wasn’t normal, but the state we were in as we returned to the flat was at least visually acceptable for a girl who’s just attended her ex’s funeral, and the best friend of that girl, so at least there wasn’t much to hide.
But all the way we were contemplating the same things… If all that business with our Wonderland had been a dream, how did Messenger leave us a physical coin? And even worse, why?
I honest to god hoped that it wasn’t because our Wonderland needed us…
The flat we rented not too far from the university (seen as I still hadn’t got a driving licence), was pretty small and nondescript, but it was home all the same. Quite plain (as we’d never bothered to decorate) and furnished with mostly blankets, pillows and dog hair. Naturally, this meant that our current landlady wasn’t exactly Kurt’s greatest fan.
Kurt leapt on me immediately as we walked in, which made even Jez giggle a bit, and licked my face in the way that only a husky who happens to be a terrible judge of his own weight could do so.
“Hey there boy!” I laughed and attempted to drag him back onto the sofa by his collar before I collapsed into a heap. “Watch out, you’ll make Aiden jealous!”
“Well look at that, put aside for the dog!” Aiden himself said from the kitchen doorway. “Don’t I get a kiss?”
“Oh my God, Can’t you two take it to the bedroom? I’m still here you know!” Jez complained, and mock gagged.
Feeling considerably better, I shot her two fingers for the very outdated joke and went to grant Aiden’s request. Jez made a great pantomime of throwing her guts up on the carpet as I did so. It was alright, it was her turn for cleaning chores.
“Sorry.” He said brightly, although he had no intention of taking her advice, and neither did I.
Again, I’m ahead of myself here; I should really explain. Aiden and I met in high school, and we’ve pretty much almost been together since. All of our friends always found it weird for reasons I’m not even going to try to guess or explain. I also know he’s the man I’m going to marry someday… I just haven’t quite gotten around to telling him so yet. Either way, I never thought I knew what love would be like… In a way, I suppose he saved me from insanity, and many other things besides.
“Are you two done yet?” Jez groaned, and slumped down onto the sofa with Kurt (who was politely or disgustedly burying his head in his paws).
“Not yet.” Said Aiden with a smile, “If you don’t want to watch, why don’t you go make the coffee?” He suggested, and then re-attached himself to my lips before I could tell him not to be so mean.
“I’m not your housekeeper dear.” She said and stayed where she was to give Kurt a fuss. “No respect for us poor singles hm?” She said to him (his head was still awkwardly beneath his paws).
I giggled and flicked Aiden on the nose. “You think you’re the man of the house, you go make the coffee!”
Rolling his eyes in defeat, he gave me a mock salute, “Yes, ma’am!” He replied, and marched off back into the kitchen.
“Sorry, sis.” I apologised, feeling a little guilty now. She was used to us, but today wasn’t exactly a great time.
“It’s ok.” She smiled, “Kurt’s the one feeling awkward here!” She reached behind the sofa and conjured the remote control from it’s usual hiding place and turned on the TV.
“I’m going to go find out what’s taking him so long with the coffee.” I said, and wandered into the kitchen, leaving Jez to channel hop.
Aiden smiled when he saw me and, still filling the kettle with one hand, beckoned me over for a hug… yeah, for a guy, he had a hug complex... and one for messing with my hair. I wasn’t complaining.
“Oh yeah.” He said suddenly, he turned around to hand me an envelope which had been sitting on the counter gaining coffee rings. “This came for you earlier.”
I looked down at it… the paper was like old style parchment, and my name had been printed neatly in black ink on the reverse in a fancy Edwardian looking script. Oddly, it used the one variation of my name that I liked, but nobody used… Alyss. “Well it’s obviously not from uni.”
He began to take down what was left of the clean mugs and shrugged. “Well maybe it’s from that Lord of the Rings fan club thing…”
I shoved the envelope in my back pocket, “I’ll read it later. It’s been a weird day, I can’t think about ents and hobbits right now.”
Aiden’s face changed when I said that. “How is she?” He murmured, cocking his head slightly in the direction of the living room.
“Holding out I suppose.” I replied. “She’ll be fine.”
“Hope so.” He said, and started to make three coffees, one extra dark for Jez.
I sighed and piled more sugar into my own. Yeah, it had been weird, but I figured that if we just ignored the impossible and got on with our normal lives, we’d be fine. We always were.
The rest of that evening was pretty sane. Jez was quiet, but that was understandable, so I dug out the old Tim Burton collection from the DVDs to save her the trouble of conversation. She spent the films half asleep on a Kurt too tired to throw her off his back.
We said nothing of the incident in the park. I knew it hadn’t left either of our minds, but it wasn’t real if neither of us voiced what we were thinking.
On the bright side, no cat was coming near the flat with Kurt prowling around…
It was only that night, when we had finally decided to turn in, that I remembered the letter again. It was crumpled from my pocket, but undamaged otherwise, so I opened it, and found inside a very short note. It was the very last thing on earth I wanted to hear:
It’s no use trying to ignore us, you need Wonderland just as much as Wonderland needs you. Messenger will give you one final chance to return of your own free will.
And you never answered my question about the raven…
Dreams couldn’t write letters either. Was this Jez’s way of playing a sick joke to escape our lives? Somehow, I doubted very much that she would dare. “Don’t even say that word.” She had said.
But nobody else knew. Not even Aiden…
There was only one explanation, and it was the most irrational, mad thing I had ever thought of: Wonderland existed, and we were in trouble.