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Posts Tagged ‘alice through the looking-glass’

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“Who goes there?” Was what people said in stories about wars and adventures and Alice, a young lady of lawks-a-mercy-almost-ten, felt rather silly saying it. She was hardly a soldier, though she supposed she might count as an explorer. How many people could say they were ripped into pieces and stitched back together again as she had been? Not many, if any, she thought. That sense of uniqueness added some strength to her spine, and she stood up straight with her shoulders back – just as the doctor had told her to.

“Who be going over there by ‘eck?” It was a queer little voice and as it spoke the figure that was carrying it lifted a small lamp and Alice got her first look and who – or what – it was.

Before her, was a peculiar little man in a fustian suit of muddy brown. His pale little face peered out from between the eaves of a high, starched collar and as he blinked, Alice realised that there were more than two eyes. His whole face was covered with them, all of them staring. Alice also became aware that there were other little lanterns, picking over the ground, which she now saw was a ripe and foetid mix of everything that had ever fallen down the plughole.

“Why, I’m Alice. I’m pleased to meet you,” Alice gave a little curtsey, a man in a suit – however peculiar – seemed like a gentleman to her, and politeness cost nothing.

The little man seemed somewhat sombre, and he stared with his too-many-eyes at Alice before appearing to recall his manners. “My name is Edward,” he said, and stepped closer, wiping his grubby hand on the corduroy roughness of his russet trousers. “I’m afraid you come at a sad time, I was going to give you the last rites.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to have put you out by not being dead,” Alice didn’t quite know what to do, she hadn’t been to a funeral before – save that of poor old Dinah. She curtseyed again, for lack of anything better to do and offered the only words she could think of. “My condolences for your loss.”

“Thank you, thank you, but fortunately it seems to have stopped,” Edward looked upward and, when Alice followed his gaze with her own, she could see the opening to the plughole high above and the light streaming through – though it hardly seemed to penetrate the gloom.

“Oh however will I get back up there?” Alice fussed.

“You come from that hellish place?” Edward started in horror and turned his many-eyes on Alice again, seeming to see – for the first time – all the joins and scars where she had put her pieces back together.

“It’s not so bad, even if my aunt and cousin can be a little cruel,” Alice frowned as she looked up into the sky, trying to puzzle out the problem.

“But it is such a cruel place! Full of horrors! Only we, the shortest are spared the tortures, our friends and brothers skinned alive, cut to pieces, their severed parts raining down on us from above and only our dedication putting their spirits to rest!”

Alice was shocked and horrified to hear such a thing, not to mention puzzled. “You make it sound like the most ghastly place imaginable, and it’s really just a kitchen!”

“But look at you!” Edward, rather presumptively, poked and prodded with one whitish finger at the scar lines on Alice’s arm. “You were ripped to pieces as well! What manner of vegetable are you and how did you survive?” An intense, penetrating, suspicious stare emanated from every one of his squinty little eyes.

“Why I am not a vegetable at all!” Alice declared with her hands on her hips. “I am a human being!”

“A harwig bean?” Edward leaned even closer. “Que’st ce to fais ici, si loin de la Belgique?”

Alice’s French vocab had entirely abandoned her, so she tried explaining clearly and loudly. “A human being!” She said. “An animal!” She added, for clarity.

“Oh, we don’t get many of those, and never alive,” Edward said. “How is it that you are untouched?”

“Sir, I hardly think I was untouched. The machine chopped me into tiny pieces, and it was all I could do to pull myself together again. I’m not sure I got every piece though, I have a suspicion that there were some bits of my insides left over.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t worry about that,” Edward shook his head. “Have you ever taken apart a carriage clock?”

Alice thought for a moment and winced slightly. “Never on purpose.”

“Well, you will often find,” Edward took on a professorial and lecturing tone. “That there are pieces left over, but that the clock works just the same as it ever did. You seem to be fine. Has anything like this ever happened to you before?”

Alice paused and thought for a long moment, she had happened to have strange adventures before, but she had never been entirely sure whether they had really happened or not. “I suppose I have. There was a time when I fell down a hole, and another when I travelled to a mysterious land. There may have been another one where there was a sort of mechanical doll that looks exactly like me, but I’m not sure it’s canon.”

“Well, I’m sure I fail to understand what guns and explosives have to do with it, unless they’re what blew you to pieces,” Edward had become haughty and priggish since explaining about the clock. “You can join me if you wish, I must find a couple more casualties before I return to camp and then we can see what is to be done about you.”

“Oh, I do so hope you and your friends can help me,” Alice fell in behind Edward, glad of the warm little light cast by his lamp and keeping quiet, for his search seemed to be rather sad.

Alice found herself wondering, recalling her past adventures, which of them had been real and which had not. They seemed ridiculously fanciful when she thought back to them, but then again here she was in yet another strange and sinister world, at the mercy of forces beyond her comprehension. There was nothing for it but to go along with things and to see how they all worked out.

“Hark! Avert your eyes girl!” Hissed Edward, and Alice swiftly turned her back.

“What is it?”

“The gruesome remains of one of my poor, fallen brothers,” answered Edward and crouched in the muck, mumbling some sort of prayer. Alice could barely hear, but it was something to do with tubers and leaves and the richness of the soil. It had the same, well-practised drone that the Reverend’s words had every Sunday and while it was pleasant enough, it made her feel bored by association.

Alice had been told not to look, but then she’d also been told not to play with the garbage grinder and where had that gotten her? Slowly, carefully, trying not to make any noise, she turned about. “Why, it’s nothing but a potato peeling!” She cried.

Edward started from his crouching prayers and twisted back to look at her. “I said don’t look! This is too terrifying for a mere bean-sprout to see! It’ll turn your leaves black!”

“But it’s only a potato peeling, I’ve seen plenty of those!” And, after a moment “Altogether far too many of them!”

Edward seemed horrified, spluttering without words for long moments before gasping out, “You poor, poor creature, to see such terrors!”

“Oh, it’s not terrifying, just annoying to be made to do chores like a common scullery maid. I’m almost ten you know! I shouldn’t be peeling potatoes.”

“Puh-puh-puh-peeling? You did this? You carved the living faces of my brothers from their bodies and cast them into the pit?” He was shaking and trembling and seemed in a frightful sweat.

“My aunt made me,” said Alice, scuffing the dirt with her shoe.

“But why?” Edward stood, clutching at his own face, every one of his eyes glaring, unblinking at Alice.

“Well, without them what would we have to go with our sausages for supper?”

“Sausages?” The concept seemed outside of Edward’s experience.

“Chopped up meat in a sort of skin-bag and cooked,” Alice offered, matter of factly, trying to remember what the butcher had said last time she had visited. “Pork and fat and… rusk, I think.” Then, after another moment’s thought she added; “But I don’t think I’ll eat sausages any more, having been treated like one. I think I might become a vegetarian.”

“Eat… only vegetables?” Edward’s jaw had practically hit the floor.

“Well, what else could I eat if not meat or fruit or vegetables?”

“Soil!” cried Edward, forcefully. “Like any peaceable, civilised tuber! Delicious, loamy soil! Full of goodness and minerals!”

“I can’t eat soil,” Alice frowned.

“Won’t, you mean, you unethical monstress!” Edward took a deep, deep breath and began to bellow. “Help! Help! A demoness! A monster! A wild-eyed potato eater! A fiend in a pinafore!”

Alice almost jumped out of her skin. “What? No! I mean yes, but…” There was no talking to him, and the little lights of the other suited men were getting brighter and closer. Alice turned this way and that and then, in a panic, hitched up her skirts and began to run, as far and as fast as she could.

The lights gathered and pursued her, with a hollering, bellowing roar of outrage. Alice was terrified, but also confused and scared. Why were they all so upset? “It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t mean anything! It’s just a silly chore!”

Clammy, wet, white hands clawed at her, dancing lights threatened to catch her petticoats aflame and just as all seemed lost, a great flood of water fell from the sky and in a maelstrom of icy suds and filth the world was swept away.

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sergey-shetukhin-alicesAlice was getting thoroughly, indescribably bored with scrubbing and peeling potatoes. Her fingers were numb and cold from the tap water, there was dirt under her fingernails, and her fingertips were scratched and tender from slipping with the knife.

The little potatoes kept falling down the plughole, which was frustrating, and the larger ones seemed to take simply forever to get clean and were leathery and awkward to strip out of their tight brown jackets.

“Surely,” Alice said, petulantly. “Some clever fellow should have invented a machine to do this, so as to spare little girls such a chore? Or is it could have? Would, could, should.” As was so often the case, Alice found she was only confusing herself even more in trying to puzzle it out.

Snowdrop thought, for a moment, that Alice might have been talking to her and stretched out her paws, giving a little “Mrrp” for an answer, but Alice was only talking to herself.

What would such a potato-peeling machine even look like? Alice liked to imagine something terribly modern, electric and shiny, gleaming gears and clicking switches, but if she allowed herself to be sensible – something she was loath to do at the best of times – she thought it would likely more closely resemble her mother’s unused apple-peeler. How beastly dull that would be. Even duller was the realisation that, so far as her aunt was concerned, Alice was the potato-peeling machine.

Alice stared down at the latest potato from the sack, a big greenish one, and it stared back, in all directions at the same time, which was a little unnerving, like trying to maintain eye contact with a basket full of kittens.

“Why do they call them eyes do you suppose?” She asked, to nobody in particular and Snowdrop paid no heed, curled into a ball in front of the stove, already dreaming of sardines. “They don’t see, they’re where the potato grows its roots – so I’m given to understand by the gardener.”

Alice drew the peeling across the skin, slicing down to the watery off-white flesh beneath. The length of peel unfurled, curled and dropped down into the sink. Easily distracted, especially when engaged in a chore or left at a loose end, as she often was, Alice watched it slide perilously close to the yawning maw of the plug hole.

Soon, fascinated as she was by the slightest amusement, Alice found herself on tippy-toe, atop the wooden step that granted her sufficient reach to use the sink. It was a grand old sink, massive, weighty, almost the size of a bathtub – so it seemed to Alice – dark and smooth, like the worn stone steps at the church. In the dark of the plughole, there was a sinister glint of steely metal teeth.

That was the grinder.

Alice was a little confused by such a modern contrivance. It seemed out of sorts, out of character, out of time and out of place. Alice often felt that way herself, and so didn’t really feel she had the authority to complain about the world she found herself inhabiting. Why shouldn’t objects have as queer a life as she had, herself?

Her aunt had been simultaneously proud and terrifying when she described the grinding machine. A set of electrically powered, stainless, whirling blades that would chop anything that fell down into the hole into tiny bits and flush it away into the sewers, “of which we do not speak as it is not ladylike” as her cousin would have it.

“Alice,” her aunt had said, wagging her finger with the imperious authority that came naturally to her, despite her advancing spinsterhood. “You are absolutely, positively, never to poke your finger or anything else down the plug hole that does not belong there. Do you understand me? I lost my first engagement ring down there, never to be seen again, and a maid lost her finger. It was a such a frightful fuss.”

Losing a ring made sense to Alice, she had once lost a good dozen curtain rings and had been locked in the nursery for a whole day for the sake of it, but losing a finger didn’t. How could you be so careless with something that was attached to you? She’d heard you could forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on, which worried her because she’d never been able to find the screw. There was nothing about fingers though. For all she knew the finger was still in there somewhere, and perhaps the maid would be happy to have it back. Still, it wasn’t worth incurring the wrath of her aunt, who was quick to anger and almost as ready to reach for the slipper.

After those dire warnings that dark little hole and the mysterious machinery that lurked within had become increasingly attractive to Alice’s inquisitive mind, rather than less. It was most certainly a lot more interesting than peeling potatoes, while her aunt and cousin were off trying on dresses and taking tea in town. Alice was near-as-damn-it-ten, wasn’t she? Old enough to think, and even sometimes say, a scandalous word like ‘damn’. Maybe she was also interested in dresses and gossip, tea, cake and shopping. Perhaps she wasn’t, but it had to be more fun than peeling potatoes for supper, and she did oh-so-very-much want to be treated as a lady, rather than as a child.

Alice heaved a fresh sigh, puffing her hair up into the air, and slowly she drew the peeler over the potato once again, making a game of it. She tried to get the piece of peel to drop, directly into the hole and she smiled to herself in delight when a part fell right into the hole. That was when the grinder gave a deep, vibrating grumble and swallowed down the skin – eyes and all – in one, big, mechanical gulp.

All of a sudden a long strand of Alice’s golden hair fell from behind her ear, in the exact same instant that the latest strand of peel dropped from the potato into the mouth of that metal glutton. With a roar, it began to chew enthusiastically, on both the skin and Alice’s hair.

“Oh dear!” Said Alice and braced her hand against the edge of the sink as her hair was twisted, knotted into a rope and pulled down into the sink.

“Oh bother!” Alice shouted as she was pulled, head first, off her feet, into the air and over the side of the sink.

“Help!” Screamed Alice, getting dizzy as she spun around and around, legs in the air, stockinged feet towards the ceiling, presenting a most undignified sight to a fortunately indifferent Snowdrop.

“Rurrrr!” Said the grinder, as it chewed its way through Alice, from the crown of her head, all the way down to her toes. It ate the lot of her, unfussy, snout to tail.

It gnashed its way through her dress, her pinafore, her shoes and her unmentionables.

It chewed her hair, devoured her scalp, gobbled up her arms, wolfed down her legs, gorged itself on her torso, noshed on her skin and gulped her down, every bit, without so much as a burp to show for it, the lace of her shoe vanishing into the plug hole like a strand of spaghetti.

Alice decided there and then that she would never eat another sausage so long as she lived, now that she had some inkling of what might be involved in the process from the perspective of the meat.

The kitchen had vanished in a whirl of metal, blood and ripped strands of cloth. She was left dizzy, nauseous and sickened from the twisting as she spun around and around into the darkness of the drain. She had a strange sensation of being stretched, drawn out, taken apart piece by pieced, sorted and alphabetised as though she were a bookcase, rather than a collection of bones and organs, dreams, aspirations and half-remembered French vocabulary.

Finally, it stopped, and Alice realised she was sitting in a little pile, all bits and pieces, in the dark of whatever it was that came after the grinder.

Then Alice realised that she was realising something, and that – she realised – was unlikely and peculiar for someone who had been chopped into little pieces.

“I would have thought that I would be dead,” said Alice, thinking aloud as she was wont to do. She heard her own voice coming from the area around where she would normally expect her knees to be. That was unsettling, but amongst so many other troubling things it didn’t seem quite so urgent.

“Well, it is what it is.” She’d heard her aunt say that when she broke a vase once, and it seemed to help a little. “Pull yourself together gel!” That she’d heard at the train station, called from the window to a distressed looking woman, so she assumed he’d meant ‘girl’ and had never had a governess who was committed to elocution.

Alice wasn’t entirely sure where to start, but she had to start somewhere and, so, she began to grab around with her hands, pulling the scattered pieces of her body into a pile and sorting through them, trying to remember – from her dollies – how her body might fit back together into one overall piece.

Finally, with a sort of wet-sounding ‘pop’, Alice slid her second eyeball into place and turned back and forth, swishing her raggedy skirts. She was just about certain she had put herself together, and now that her eyes were brushed off and put back where they belonged they’d had time to adjust a little to the darkness.

Alice was still a little dizzy, but even through that dizziness and the shock of being pulled apart and put back together, “definitely no more sausages,” she was aware of the sensation of being watched.

She squinted a little and peered into the murky darkness, shielding her eyes with her hand, two-dozen little eyes glittered in the dark, gazing back.

“Hello?” Said Alice, and took a careful, faltering step towards the eyes. “Who goes there?”

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