by Daniel Coleman
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Years after her Wonderland experiences, Alice, contracts a horrid flu. In her fever dreams she encounters an old friend from Wonderland. But as is always the case, it goes nothing as she expects.
The turtle-shell patterned hat, magenta coat and yellow-striped trousers are unmistakable, but for some reason the man wearing them is utterly out of place in the sitting room of Alice’s house, but she can’t figure out why. No matter.
“Why it’s my dear friend, the Hatter!” she says.
The man who turns to look at her is indeed the colorful oddball she’d met in Wonderland, but he is years younger than she remembers. Decades possibly.
No signs of recognition register on his face, but he smiles nonetheless. “What a brilliant idea to be dear friends before meeting. We can dispense with hours or months of tedious acquaintanceship and jump straight to dear friend.” His smile takes on a hesitant air and he says, “Methinks people would usually do it the other way round. No?”
“But of course we’ve met,” objects Alice. “I met you when I was a young girl. You’re the ma…the Hatter. But you are much younger than I remember.”
Relief shows in his smile and the Hatter says, “Well that would explain it. If you are much older now, then I would have to be younger, now wouldn’t I?”
“But that doesn’t explain anything.”
“It’s simply a matter of math, my dear child. If one of us is older, than the other must be younger. There must be balance, after all.”
The logic made very little sense to Alice, but she never was one to argue. “If you don’t recall meeting me then perhaps I should introduce myself.”
With an apologetic smile, the Hatter replied, “I believe I should be the one to do the introduction.”
“But I already know you.”
“How do I put this? You are older than you were when we met, but I am younger than I will be when we do meet.”
Finally he made sense. “Yes,” said Alice.
“So I have already met a younger version of you, a person who has happened. But the person you claim to have met who is me is a person who does not exist and never has though he may someday.”
“I suppose that’s logical.”
“So I already know a younger you, but you know someone who is not and has not been me.”
“You can’t very well know somebody before you meet them,” objected Alice.
“On the contrary, what better time is there to know somebody?”
While Alice tired to make sense of the idea, the Hatter went on. “Speaking of meetings, shall I tell you of the time I met the Cheshire Cat?”
“The Cheshire Cat! Why he’s a character even more curious than you are, or will be if I’m being accurate.”
“Now I think you’re getting it, my girl! Do let’s sit and I’ll tell you of when I met my friend Cheshire.
EXCERPT from Hatter:
To his delight, a fork appeared in the road a couple hundred paces past the first trees. Hatta hurried to the split in the road, but didn’t see anything resembling a cat so he said, “Good day?”
“Good day, yourself,” said a tenor voice low in the trees. A large-headed cat, with an even larger smile, emerged from behind a tree. It jumped into the fork of a pale tree and lounged along a branch. The gray fur with black stripes had blended into the mat of dead leaves, but stood out vividly against the bark.
“Mr. Cat? I’m Mr., um…,” Hatta hadn’t thought far enough ahead. “Well you see, I don’t actually have a surname.”
“Feel free to use mine if you like. And please, call me Cheshire.” The animal’s voice was high like an eleventeen-year old boy, giving the impression of mischievousness.
Hatta tried the cat’s surname but wasn’t comfortable with it. “Hatta Cat doesn’t seem to fit, but I thank you just the same. Would you be a cat, perchance? Or merely by name?”
“I’m no more a cat than a prairie dog is a dog or a titmouse is a mouse.”
Hatta nodded and Cheshire continued happily. “Guinea pig, mongoose, catfish.”
“As I understand it, a catfish is a fish.”
“Ah, but it is most definitely not a cat.”
Sound logic. But the non-cat’s name still puzzled Hatta. “Why are you called ‘Cheshire Cat’, if you are a Cheshire Cat?”
“They don’t call me ‘Man’, or ‘Human’.”
“But if you were the only one, I wager they would.”
Cheshire’s argument made sense. Hatta was shocked how easy it was to talk to the creature, even about things on which, at first, they didn’t see eye to eye.
“You are entirely delightful,” Hatta said. “How is it that you talk?”
Cheshire tilted his head and smiled wistfully. He trilled, “How is it that other animals don’t?”
“Oh, but they do! Some of them helped me find food on my way to Palassiren, and a rath spoke loudly at a wedding I went to.”
The smiling creature nodded. “All animals talk in their way. It’s people that don’t listen.”
“I’m going to save the kingdom some day,” blurted Hatta. He felt so comfortable with Cheshire that he didn’t mind telling him.
“Of course you are,” Cheshire said confidently.
“I am? Sometimes people act oddly when I tell them.”
“As you can see, I am not people. You are more important than even you know, Hatta.”
He had never received such optimistic praise, and was reluctant to trust Cheshire. Believing too much in his destiny could very well get him in trouble. “How do you know it? Because sometimes I wonder if mad thoughts make me think it.”
Cheshire considered for a moment then answered, “How do you know when an animal is comical, or hungry, or bored when most people have no idea?”
“Sometimes I can just tell things.”
“Ah,” said Cheshire, nonchalantly satisfying an itch on his neck against the bark of the tree. “So can I.”
Guest post created for YA Faeries & Fantasy event by Daniel Coleman, author of Hatter
© 2012. All rights reserved.
Note from Daniel: I've recently launched a podcast for aspiring aritists in all disciplines called CREATE OR DIE. We put up weekly episodes, and it's available on iTunes and at www.createordie.podbean.com.
by Daniel Coleman
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* image source Alice created by the Strangeling