|Outside Your Window
Author: Dreamers-Requiem PM
Brandon thought things were going well, but when his girlfriend leaves him, he has to deal with more than just the usual break-up blues. NaNoWriMo 2012Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 13 - Words: 34,325 - Reviews: 11 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 02-23-13 - Published: 11-04-12 - id: 3071341
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Eleven: The Hatter and The Queen
There was grass beneath him and shade above, that much he could tell. On his skin, he could feel the heat of the sun, warming him slowly. Brandon yawned as sleep slowly let go, as the world around began to filter into his mind. He heard someone shuffle close by and opened his eyes. Candice was curled up nearby, her knees almost against her chest. He smiled, before realising what, exactly, was wrong with the picture.
Just behind her, a blade of grass stretched upwards, as tall as the trees in the dead wood.
Brandon sat up, glancing up at the sky as he did so. The sun was bigger than he remembered, way too big. He looked over his shoulder. They were surrounded by the too tall grass, offering a little shade for them, offering protection from the rays of the sun.
"Bloody hell." He would have yelled, would have called Mave's name over and over again, but he expected the cowboy, or hatter, or whatever he was, wouldn't even hear him, even if he was standing nearby. Brandon stood, running both hands through his hair.
The last thing he remembered was the overwhelming urge to sleep. Mave had said something, something he wished he could remember.
"Brandon." The whimper came from Candice, and he turned to look at her. She was staring at the blades of grass around them. For the first time, he looked at the floor. They were standing in a footprint, the grass beneath them flattened by whoever had stepped there. "Brandon, are we..."
"We've shrunk," he said, shaking his head. "And that is why I said eating in this place would be a bad idea."
He looked around, wishing he could see above the grass. Which way would lead them onwards? He was scared to walk, worried that if they moved they would end up in the dead wood. But they had no other choice; they couldn't stay there.
"What do we do now?"
"Do you know what he said?" he asked, walking slowly towards her. "Do you remember, just before we fell asleep, Mave said something?"
She shook her head. "I don't remember. Sorry."
"That's okay." What if they moved, and someone stepped on? The thought struck him that even staying there someone could crush them. He held his hand out to Candice and she took it, letting him help her up. "We have to move."
He spun on the spot, surveying the way the boot print was shaped. "Look, where it curves there," he said, pointing to the edge of the 'clearing'. "So they were coming from that way." He grinned at Candice. "Which means we should head the other way, yeah?"
"I think that's the most intelligent thing I heard you say."
"Even when I was, you know, not me?"
She rolled her eyes. "You sure I'm not dreaming?"
Feeling a surge of joy, he threw an arm around her shoulder, gently drawing her forward, towards the blades of grass. "Trust me, Candice, I passed that point long ago."
X X X
"God damn it."
They stood on the edge of a flower bed, exactly what he had been afraid of. Various flowers lined their path, all of them with faces. As Brandon, now with his arms at his side, and Candice stared, they turned their faces towards them.
"What are they?" one squeaked, a very small...thing. Brandon couldn't identify them, and by the look on Candice's face, neither could she.
"They can move!" one gasped, one he was pretty sure was a rose.
He used to buy roses, once upon a time.
"Candice," he said, glancing at her.
"Shall we just run?"
The grin stretched across her face before they both broke into a run. Soon, they were sprinting past the flowers and away from the flowerbed, plunging back into the grass. Candice whooped, her hair flying back as Brandon laughed. He felt energetic, for what felt like the first time in ages.
They came to a stop, both panting as Candice dug her fingers into her hips.
"You know what," Brandon panted, "I actually feel quite good."
He nodded. "Like, not moping over my ex, not even missing my video games." He lifted a hand to his hair, feeling the sweat that had built up there. "If I ever get home, I'm going to take up running."
"You should." She put her hands on the other side of her hips, stretching her back. "It's good for you."
"I know. Guess I just never had a reason to exercise, you know?"
"I actually don't know much about you, do I?"
He shrugged. "You don't need to know much."
"What was it like? Being, well, stuck in someone else's body?"
"Weird. More so when I didn't have control. It was like...being in a dark room, but with a torch and scraps of paper. Or a broken TV that every so often would, like, turn on and play something. I could see so much of him..." He drifted off, shaking his head. "His ex-wife...she really messed him up when she left."
"He didn't seem messed up."
"Guess he just hid it well."
She shrugged. "The ones hurt the worst are always the ones you can't tell."
"Sure." Candice nodded, slowly. "I mean, you see those girls who stand there and wail about how badly they've been broken, the guys who do nothing but mourn lost relationships, and they have no idea of real pain." She glanced around them, and Brandon indicated for them to keep going. Soon they were plunging back between the blades of grass, moving onwards as always. "Like, one of my best friends, she was so happy and bubbly all the time, one of the nicest people you could ever meet. You would not realise she cries herself to sleep every night. String of bad boyfriends just left her broken, I guess."
"Ouch. That sucks."
"I don't even know if she's alive."
"Why are you telling me this?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe because we're stuck here, together, and there's no point in not talking is there? And I might as well talk to someone. I've always had a problem keeping my mouth shut if something's on my mind." She grinned at him. "Got better at shutting up over the years but..." She drifted off as they stepped through two blades, coming into sight of more mushrooms. Although to the pair they looked giant, it was easy to see that unlike the others they had seen these mushrooms were, in fact, normal height for mushrooms.
Brandon's eyes darted around, until they fell on a plume of smoke, rising from a mushroom not far from them. If they walked in a straight line, they would come straight to it. He took a deep breath, reaching out and gently grabbing Candice's hand, squeezing it.
"Stay close to me," he said, before dropping her hand and stepping forward. She nodded, following him.
"I think we're about to meet the stoned caterpillar."
"Stoned? I thought it was a kid's book?"
He grinned. "Yeah, well, I don't know if he was meant to be stoned in the book or the film, but on what I've seen at least it seems like he is. He doesn't make much sense, either, so don't worry if you don't get a single thing he says."
"Treat him like every other nut job we've come across then?"
It wasn't long until they saw him. He lounged under one of the mushroom hoods, a pipe in his hand that he kept bringing to his lips and inhaling deeply on. The caterpillar turned its head, looking at them as he smiled.
"Ah, visitors, how delightful."
Candice and Brandon glanced at each other, as the caterpillar indicated for them sit down. They moved forward, dropping to the floor just in front of him, both crossing their legs. The caterpillar offered his pipe, first to Brandon, then to Candice. Both shook their heads, thanking him all the same.
"Suit yourselves." He sucked on the pipe, before blowing out a series of perfectly formed smoke rings. "It is delightful to have visitors here. You are, no doubt, on your way to the Queen's Castle, correct?"
"Apparently so," Brandon said. "Do you know the way?"
"Just keep walking, you will get there," the caterpillar said, smiling. "It won't take you long from here, and Mave should be arriving their shortly. I see he helped you on your journey."
"Helped us?" Candice scoffed. "He shrunk us."
"To enable you to slip through the grass undetected, without the queen realising you were here. Yet. It gives him time to persuade her away from the idea of cutting your heads off."
"You make more sense than anyone else we've met," Brandon stated, frowning as he stared at the caterpillar.
"The others you have met you have simply passed by, you have not met them at their homes, where they may feel some level of responsibility towards your comfort. On the other hand, you are currently speaking to me at my home. I very rarely get visitors, why would I wish to make you uncomfortable with riddles and other nonsensical musings?"
Candice smiled. "I like him."
"Thank you, my dear. Now..."He reached towards the mushroom, tearing off first one piece and then another. He passed both to Brandon. "I would not recommend eating anything you come across unless someone tells you it is okay. I suggest you keep hold of them until you reach the Queen's Garden. Only then. Like I said, it should not take you long. Perhaps one more set and rise of the sun."
"And Mave should have spoken to the queen by then?"
The caterpillar's smile stretched lazily over his face. "Yes. You should be safe. Like I said, if you just keep walking you will come to the garden. Rest when it grows dark. Your journey is nearly at end, here anyway. Mave will help you find your way, once you see him again."
"Thank you." Candice's voice was sincere, as she gazed at the caterpillar with something akin to admiration.
"It is my pleasure, dear. Now, if you do worry that you are ever lost, just look out for the white rabbit. He will help get you to the castle."
Brandon nodded, trying to absorb the information so he would remember it all. He didn't think he would have to remember the comments about the rabbit; he could have guessed the animal was heading to the castle anyway.
"You should go," the caterpillar said, and the pair stood. "The sun will be setting soon."
They followed his advice, thanking him more as they left. He had been right – shortly after they left the smoking caterpillar behind, the light once more just disappeared. This time, both curled up on the floor under one the mushrooms and fell asleep. When he woke, Brandon was sure no more than ten minutes had passed. The sun was high in the sky, casting its light over everything it could touch.
Candice woke up slowly, and they carried on.
This time, neither said anything, both feeling eager to reach the garden. Brandon was getting fed up of being so little, fed up of feeling scared that anything, or anyone, could squash them. They eventually left the mushrooms, finding themselves once more surrounded by grass. To Brandon, it felt too much like the occasional forests his parents had taken him to as a kid.
He hadn't liked them, hadn't liked the feeling of being enclosed once getting to a certain point. Then again, he had never been an outdoors person. He didn't like the gnats, or the places where the path was rocky or difficult to climb over. Even more so, he had hated it when they came across tire swings and his parents had insisted he swing on them.
But, despite the fact that they had been outside for ages, despite the fact that he and Candice were walking through something similar to those forests, he didn't mind. He was actually enjoying himself, and he could see why people liked places like woods and forests.
He began to whistle.
"Oh." He stopped, trying to think. "You ever seen the Disney film Robin Hood?"
She shook her head.
"You know, where Robin is a fox and Marion is a vixen and..." He stopped, looking at her blank face. "Disney are still around, aren't they?"
"Yeah!" She nodded eagerly. "I've seen the classics. You know, Toy Story and Bug's Life and all them."
He laughed, shaking his head. "Those are not the classics. You ever seen the cartoons? The actual, hand drawn cartoons?"
Candice frowned. "Cartoons look awful. They're so old."
For a few moments, all he could do was splutter. "Awful?" he gasped. "Old...bloody hell. That's all we had as kids. None of that CGI stuff." He remembered the cartoons on TV, remembered the films that transported him to new, wonderful worlds. "So you've never seen a cartoon?"
"Bloody hell." They fell back into silence.
It wasn't long after when they stepped between two blades of grass and came into sight of a huge doorway, cut from a bush. The bush itself stretched away either side, and through the doorway they could see a maze. Candice whooped, before darting forward.
"Brandon! We're here! We made it!" She whirled around and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Brandon laughed, hugging her back.
She broke away, blushing fiercely as she turned away from him. He didn't say anything, just took out the mushroom piece from his pocket and held it out. When she looked at him, she smiled.
"Thanks." Her hand snapped out, grabbing the mushroom. Candice bit into it, eating it slowly. "It actually tastes quite..." Before she could finish the sentence, she was falling. Brandon moved forward, catching her before she hit the ground. With a smile, he moved her closer to the bush and gently laid her down.
"Well, here goes nothing."
He bit into his own mushroom, savouring the taste. It was nothing like he expected. Instead, it was sweet, like cake. The flavour burst in his mouth, and part of him wished he had more. But he hadn't even finished the tiny piece he had before he was falling down, asleep, beside Candice.
Brandon didn't dream. He didn't see angels or messengers, wasn't witness to memories that weren't his own or to a history he couldn't change. He just slept, until Candice's cheering woke him. When he opened his eyes, it was to see her standing over him, grinning madly. Where she stood, he could size her up beside the doorway and, from the way she looked to him, it was clear they had both returned to their full heights.
"It worked!" she cheered. "Brandon! It really worked!"
Groggily, he sat up, rubbing his face. It was perhaps the most peaceful sleep he had in ages. Even back home, his sleep was restless and disturbed, dreaming of flashing images and the games he played during the day.
Candice's hand appeared in front of his face and gratefully he took it, allowing her to pull him up. Brandon brushed grass from him before they turned to the entrance of the maze. The grass maze stretched ahead of them, twists and turns they couldn't see. He wondered if they were supposed to head to the other side or to the middle.
"Onwards?" Candice said, nudging him. He flashed her a smile, before nodding.
"Onwards. Come on, let's go."
They headed into the maze. The bushes towered over them, roses poking out in many places. Each rose's stem was thick, full of sharp thorns. Candice stayed in the centre of the path, Brandon just off to the right. Every so often, she would glance at a rose, looking almost scared of it.
"How much further, do you think?" she asked, as they took a right.
"I have no idea. But we seem to be getting further in rather than going back to the edge, so we must be doing something right."
It was only when they turned another corner he heard a shifting almost creaking sound. Brandon stopped, grabbing Candice's arm as he looked over his shoulder. At the point where they had stepped between two bushes, the bushes were now joined. The gap was nowhere to be seen.
"Did it just close behind us?"
"What if we get stuck? Brandon, what if we get trapped?"
"We won't." He forced himself to smile, trying to ignore the thoughts in his head repeating her words. "We'll make it, Candice. I promise."
She nodded, though she didn't look like she believed him. Maybe his smile was more forced than he would have liked.
They carried on, Brandon trying to keep the maze to his left. Every so often, he would hear the shifting noise again, but resisted the urge to look behind. Whenever he heard it, he saw Candice flinch, but like him she refused to look.
They rounded another corner, and this time it seemed every inch of the bushes were covered with roses. Candice glanced uneasily from one side to the other, before Brandon put a hand on the small of her back and gently pushed her forward.
"You don't like roses?"
She shook her head, but said nothing more.
He wondered why; he'd never met a girl who didn't like the most romantic of flowers. Well, not that he had met a whole lot of girls. But still.
"They're not going to hurt you."
"I know," she said, voice quiet. He still had his hand on her back. "I just don't like them."
"Okay, okay. No need to get defensive."
"Sorry, I just...never mind."
They rounded another corner, and found themselves in the centre of the maze. In the middle was a large glass jar and, inside it, a huge rose. It stretched upwards, the stem curling in some places. Thorns sprouted at random points, and Candice shrank back against him as they stared at it.
"Well," he muttered, "that's not really what I expected."
Leaning against the bush on the other side of the jar were two huge cards. They were perhaps the same height as the pair, both hearts, one a knave and one...well, Brandon would have said it was a queen but she looked too young, her hair long, blonde. A small crown rested on her head. Both were asleep, eyes closed and mouths slightly open.
"Brandon," Candice hissed. "I really don't..."
The knave stirred, eyes flickering open slowly. A lazy, slow smile stretched across his face, before he tilted forward slightly. "Wake up," he said, turning his edge towards the other card. "They're here."
The girl card woke, yawning delicately as her eyes landed on the pair. "We've been waiting for you. What took you so long?"
"How did you know we were coming?" Brandon asked, as Candice's hand found his.
"Mave!" they said in unison, before the girl giggled.
"Mave told us you were coming," she said, "and he said..."
Before she could finish, something appeared over the maze wall. The blur of white flew in the air above them, landing on the other side of the bell jar, standing now to Brandon's right. He looked around. The white blur was the rabbit, an anthro like the others. He wore a blue waistcoat, a watch dangling from it. The rabbit's ears twitched, before his gaze landed on the two cards.
"Am I late?"
"Just in time!" the girl card said. "You're just in time!"
"So not late for the important date?" There was relief in his voice, as he shook his head. "I'm not late! I'm not late!" he chanted, stopping only when the knave spoke.
"You are now. Just."
"Oh, bugger." The rabbit groaned, before turning to look at Candice and Brandon. "Well, what are you waiting for? Grab on!"
The pair exchanged looks, as the two cards cried for them to do as the rabbit said. With a shrug, Brandon moved forward, Candice following at his heels. The rabbit was bigger than he would have thought, and they grabbed on his back, just above his waistcoat.
"Tighter than that or you'll fall!" the rabbit scoffed, and the pair moved forward, both somehow managing to wrap their arms around the big rabbit. As soon as they were holding on tight enough for the rabbit's satisfaction, the animal jumped. The wind whipped through his hair, as Candice squealed. It was the closest he had ever been to flying; Brandon had never even been on a plane.
"Why don't we go to France?"
"Takes too long."
"It's only an hour in the plane."
He forced the memory away, as the rabbit landed on the other side of the wall and, without stopping, leapt again. They bounded over the hedges that made up the maze, and when he dared to look, Brandon saw a huge red castle, growing larger and closer with every bounce.
Soon they had left the maze behind, and were crossing a well kept lawn. Brandon could see parts of the lawn set up for croquet, but they bypassed these and rather than heading for the door, the rabbit raced around the side of the castle.
When he stopped, Brandon and Candice tumbled off his back, rolling over on the grass until they came to a stop. Both sat up, looking around. The garden was set up for a tea party, with the queen at one end and Mave sitting beside her, elbows on the table and fingers hooked together. He smiled lazily.
The queen was the biggest shock to Brandon.
She was nothing like the big woman portrayed in the cartoon, or the short, large headed Helena Bonham Carter version. In fact, she was beautiful. Her hair was the same shade as Candice's, and her face was pale, a few freckles splattered across her nose and cheeks. Even from a distance, he could tell her eyes were green. Sharp. They remained fixed on him as he stood, helping Candice to her feet.
He found himself bowing, while Candice curtseyed.
"Please," she said, her voice soft and quiet, "sit." She gestured to the seats on the other side of her. Brandon and Candice walked forward slowly, glancing nervously at each other.
"Look at them, your majesty; they're terrified you're going to cut off their heads."
They sat, as the queen blushed and glanced down at her lap. Her hands were folded, resting there. "I don't do that," she said. "That was my grandmother."
Brandon gaped at her. "But everyone..."
"You're strangers." The rabbit leapt over the table, pulling out the seat beside Mave and lowering himself into it. "And we so very rarely get to have any fun."
"So you shrunk us because..."
Mave laughed again. "Because sometimes it's good to see the world from a different perspective."
The queen looked up, her eyes landing on Candice. "It is nice to see another woman."
This time, it was Candice who blushed.
"I mean it," the queen muttered, before smiling gently. "I am surrounded by men. Mostly fools."
Mave stared at her, mouth open, gently mocking. The queen laughed, nudging him gently.
"Except Mave, of course."
"So are you really a hatter?" Brandon asked, frowning at him.
"Sure. Just like my father and his father and his father. It was my father who was mad, though. It was my father, and Gwen's grandmother, who met Mr Carroll."
"I did wonder about that." Brandon shook his head, feeling everything drain from him. Candice stared at them, looking blank.
"Who's Mr Carroll?"
"He wrote Alice In Wonderland," Brandon explained. "Must have visited this place and got the idea from here." He turned his attention to the queen. "What about Alice? Was she ever..."
"No. Alice was his addition to the world. It is difficult to pass between worlds, very difficult. Since Mr Carroll was here, you are the only others to have come. He became somewhat of a legend, to us. But Mave has read his book."
Mave grinned. "Some of those here...I wasn't lying, before you fell asleep. Some people do, indeed, call me mad."
"What did you say?" Brandon asked, leaning forward. "I couldn't remember it but...it was important, wasn't it?"
The queen smiled. "Where do you think he got those clothes from? That accent?"
"How could you have gone to America?"
"I said some people here call me mad because they don't believe me when I say I can travel between worlds."
Candice's hand snapped down onto his knee, gripping tightly. "Brandon..." she gasped.
"I know. You can get us out of here?"
Mave nodded. "Sure can. But it's not an exact thing. I won't be able to take you directly to where you want to go. But we'll get there, eventually."
"We need to go to two places," Brandon said. "My time and...and Candice's. It's the future, to me anyway. Could you do that?"
"Sure. But depending on the way things go, I could end up travelling with one of you longer than the other. I doubt we'll just be able to jump from one to the other."
"Okay." Brandon was nodding eagerly, his heart thumping in his chest. "Okay! Let's do it!"
"How does it work?" Candice asked, frowning at Mave. "I mean, how can you do it?"
Mave shrugged. "Just something passed down from one generation to the next in my family. We only ever seem to have boys, just the one. No matter who we end up with. And that boy..." He paused, glancing at the queen before returning his gaze to Candice. "The boy may not be born here, but he always ends up here. Don't ask me to get any more specific than that, I really have no idea how it works."
"Hey, vague notions of time travel suits me. Though I know a few people who would kick off about it." Brandon grinned. "Nerds, eh?"
"So when can we go?" Candice let go of Brandon's leg, folding her hands in her lap, imitating the queen.
"Once you've eaten and rested," the queen said, gesturing to the food laid out before them. "I've seen him go off on his journeys, and seen him come back. It can be exhausting."
Mave nodded. "And if you're not used to it...she's right, you need all the strength you can get."
"This food, it won't, you know, make us smaller, will it? Or bigger?" Brandon was eyeing up a large piece of cake, though he looked weary.
"None of the food in front of you will cause any unwanted side effects," the queen told them, before reaching forward and cutting off a few slices of the cake. She placed a slice on a plate, handing it to Brandon before taking her own slice. She bit into it, smiling gently at him.
Happily, Brandon and Candice dug in, both unable to stop smiling as the rabbit, Mave and the queen helped themselves to the food, too.
A/N: So, what do you think? I kind of wanted to make it my own version of 'Wonderland', so fingers crossed it worked? If it didn't, please tell me what you didn't like. I'm always open to suggestions – without them, I'd never improve as a writer. And if you have a spare minute please check out the poll on my profile page. It'd really mean a lot to me to get some more votes on it. Thanks very much.