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Book I. Uninvited Strangers

Alice said it was always tea-time with the Hatter, but Oliver was seriously beginning to believe he had come down the wrong rabbit hole…

  •  Brief description: When a game of catch-ball suddenly goes wrong, Oliver wakes up in a place unlike any other.Soon his mind recalls the young blonde girl who would tell stories in the classroom. Alice said it was always tea time with the Hatter, but looking at the man on the opposite side of the table, Oliver was sincerely beginning to believe he had come down the wrong rabbit hole.
  • Genre: Horror, General
  • Price: Currently Free!
  • Word Count: 4,140
  • Where to Download 1:  Visit the Smashwords page here
  • Where to Download 2: The Wattpad page is here

Excerpt:

When he finally stepped out the forest path, after following the almost endless winding roads, it was to find a lone table covered in goodies and teacups in a small sunny glade, the backdrop of a small, quaint cottage giving the scene a familiar touch. Flapping wings resounded behind him as a flock of small birds darted from a hidden spot into the skies as though spooked, their shadowed flight crossing the space of the clearing. Smoke rose from the smoldering coals in a ground pit beneath a metal kettle held aloft by an iron spit. One small man in an overlarge purple hat sat at the table, biting on a cookie and occasionally bringing a teacup to his mouth. The man looked up when Oliver approached, but the brim of the hat was too big for Oliver to see his eyes. A playing card with a slash between the numbers ten and six rested easily in the band of the hat next to a small faded bundle of dried flowers.

When the man said nothing, Oliver offered a wan smile. At least he could ask where he was or get directions of some kind. “Hello, I was wondering if you could assist me, I’m not quite sure-”

“Are you here for the tea party?”

Oliver blinked, “I’m sorry?”

“Are you a friend or aren’t you? It’s rude to stare and ask questions while someone is having tea. Don’t you know its tea-time? Sit down already!”

Instinctively obeying the tone his parents often took, Oliver sat down at the only other chair at the table, which was across from the strange man. As he settled uncomfortably, the little man took another sip from his cup. There was something about him and his purple coat and white gloves that egged at his memory.

He was still muttering to himself as Oliver stared, “Imagine that, at a tea party, no less!”

Some girlish voice in his memory was chattering: “Always at a tea party…

Ah! That’s what it was! Oliver peered at the man again, “Are you a- forgive me, is your name Hatter?”

The man stopped eating his cookie and frowned, “It is. Do I know you?”

“No, I’ve just heard of you before.” But Oliver couldn’t recall from where.

“Of course. Everyone knows of my tea party, stupid.” The last word was hissed in an undertone, but still audible in the quiet glen.

Bristling at the insult, Oliver debated turning tail and leaving. He didn’t have to stand for such behavior, especially when he had done nothing to warrant it. But Oliver’s curiosity had the tendency to bolster his determination past normal levels. Whatever it was that was needling his brain had to be discovered. After a moment’s hesitation, he calmed down enough to reach for the plate of shortbread cookies, deciding not to wait for an invitation to partake. Lifting one up, he stared at the headless shape of a rabbit with surprise. Discretely, he attempted to find another cookie, only to find the plate filled with headless animal-shaped treats. How odd…

To come down a rabbit hole and find all this…

It was then that he remembered the pretty young girl in a blue dress that they all had teased in their younger days. Once a quiet, mouse-like child, she had never spoken up before, never voiced complaint nor opinion. She kept to herself and spent most of her time outside of her lessons with her older sister, reading in the grass or playing with a stray puppy close along the riverside during the twilight hours. Mostly, the other children had forgotten she was ever in the classroom, although Oliver had noticed her from time to time.

One day, completely out of the blue, her verbal floodgates burst open and no one could get the dam on her mouth fixed back to normal. On and on and on she went about this place called ‘Wonderland’ and the white rabbit and Queen who had all her possessions designed in the shape of hearts. The colors were predominant in her tales: purple and green and red and white. No thing or person was left without description, even if it made little sense to the rest of them. As a schoolboy, Oliver had thought her pretty, if not severely unbalanced, but strangely enough, the one thing Oliver remembered most clearly was the story of the Hatter, his perverse rabbit friend, and their endless tea party. It was so absurd that it had stuck with him all these years: that one single scene she had talked about with excitement flashing in her eyes.

Only now, the Hatter was all alone. That didn’t seem quite right. “I thought you had a friend or two.”

The Hatter cocked his head, his gloved hand reaching delicately to pick up a headless shortbread cookie, “I have many friends; But you see, they come and go so often…”

There was a scraping noise from inside the teapot on the table, and the Hatter smiled, “But there are some friends that are still around.” He picked up the lid of the pot, peering inside, “Is that you, Doormouse?”

There was a squeak and scuffle of tiny nails against china that barely made it out of the pot before the Hatter put the lid back on, “No, I forgot. Doormouse is gone now too…. Never mind that, I have made two new friends today. That is reason enough to celebrate.”

Oliver tried to sneak a glance at the pot, but the Hatter pulled the teapot to the side, offering his new guest a smile that made Oliver’s skin crawl. “Fancy a cup of tea?”

He really didn’t have the time, but Oliver agreed with a faint noise. He didn’t understand the unease in the bottom of his stomach. The whole affair had a nice, peaceful setting, even if it was slightly odd. He watched as the Hatter pulled the hot tin kettle from the small smoldering piles of coal in placed in a small pit and pulled his teacup closer to him. Perhaps a little tea would be nice….

The Hatter lifted the lid of the teapot and poured the scalding water from the kettle inside. A few small shrieks let out before the lid smothered out the rest of the sound, the bubbling and popping ricocheting off the inside of the ceramic like oil and water in a hot pan.

Bile threatened the back of his throat. Oliver choked, “What are you doing? What is that?

The Hatter frowned. “Mouse tea, of course. What else do you do with a mouse in a teapot, stupid?” He picked up the pot, sloshing the contents a few times before pouring into one of the teacups.

Oliver stood, “I don’t think I feel very much like tea at the moment, thank you.”

The Hatter placed the cup down, “How rude to stand while in a tea party. It’s very rude, you know. Where are you going?”

He should have never come down here. “I came here for something. I must get it and head back home. The dormitory is very strict with curfew, you see.”

“Are you leaving me?”

Oliver didn’t bother to blink at the petulant tone. He began to walk away from the table, all too eager to leave behind the mouse tea and headless cookies for his normal home and normal tea.

Had Alice said the Hatter was a complete basketcase? Oliver thought back to the long days spent in his childhood schoolroom, tried to remember the girl with yellow hair and large blue eyes. Odd little man, she had said, an odd little man with odd little friends. He remembered vaguely something about butter in a watch, and endless tea, but he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to join such a repetitive never-ending event.

“I’m afraid I don’t like it when my friends leave me.”

That voice. Oliver spun around, finding his eyes level to the top of the tall purple hat, the shorter body of the Hatter starting at the top of his neck. There was nothing little about this Hatter, he thought. It was all the clothes that swallowed his average form. Alice was barmier than he gave her credit for. He would have pushed the smaller man aside if it wasn’t for the strangled grip he held on the dripping butter knife.

Dripping…like water out of a leaking bucket. Dripping with what?

Red. Deep, dark, unmistakably Red…

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