I pressed my ear to the bathroom door and heard the telltale sounds of my sister's sobs. Sighing, I knocked on the door cautiously, more than a little surprised to find it unlocked. I stepped inside, only to find my sister curled up in the corner bawling, clutching her hairbrush in her left hand and a small but sharp pocketknife in her right.

"Come on, Dinah," I coaxed her. "Give me the knife, okay?"

She responded by viciously flinging the hairbrush at my head. I staggered backward, then rubbed my aching forehead. I was sure to have a bruise later. Her crying seemed to slow a little, and she turned her head down to concentrate on something else. She began to write on her arm, using the knife as her pen.

I rushed over to her and snatched away the knife, something Dinah wasn't having. Her sobbing increased twofold, and she refused to stop until I'd thrown away the knife and cradled her in my arms. Slowly but surely, she began to calm down. Once I'd stopped the bleeding in her arm with a wet washcloth, I carefully stood her up and led her to her room, where she collapsed on her bed and immediately went to sleep.

I breathed a shaky sigh of relief and closed the door quietly. At least today I wouldn't be late for school.

And this morning had been a good one.

My name is Alice. I lived with my sister, Dinah, in a two-bedroom apartment. She was five years older than my eighteen. Even though I was only a senior in high school, I was the woman of the house, and let me tell you why.

Dinah was not your typical young woman. She had recently been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder, a condition that she inherited from our father. Hence the adventure that very morning. Her episodes had been happening more and more frequently of late, made even worse by her doctor changing her medications.

Our parents passed away some time ago, my mother having died in the process of birthing me. My father did the best he could, God rest his soul, but when I was fourteen, he hung himself. We moved out of that house shortly afterward.

Ever since our father's death, Dinah and I were surviving on the income from my job, our parents' life insurance money, and the money we got from selling our old house. Up until two years ago, Dinah was actually normal. She seemed to take my father's death a lot better than I did. When I was crushed, she pressed forward. Then it all seemed to take a drastic turn. She started trashing the apartment on a regular basis. She would pick fights with me constantly, and sometimes they didn't stay strictly verbal. I thought about calling the police, but I was terrified that if they thought Dinah wasn't able to take care of me, since I was a minor at the time, they would put me in a foster home and separate me from my last surviving family member. I was finally able to force her into going to the doctor, who delivered the bad news.

Unable to work, my sister mostly lay around and slept all day. Sometimes, though, I came home and she'd have done something to herself, like stapled her thumbs together or tried to tattoo something on her legs with a calligraphy ink pen. What was I to do, though? I hadn't the insurance to put her in a hospital; I could barely keep up with her bills for medication (that she sometimes "forgot" to take).

What I needed was a way to occupy Dinah whenever I was out. Ideas buzzed in my skull on my way out the door that morning. Maybe I could give her a creative outlet for her frustrations. Or perhaps I could enroll her in some sort of kickboxing class so she'd stop destroying our home when she got angry.

I started down the sidewalk to my school, sighing when I noticed the drizzle coating the air. My moods followed the weather, mostly. When it was warm, I was energetic. When it snowed, I was quiet. When it stormed, I was angry. And when it rained, I was miserable. Maybe I was bipolar, too.

It took me about an hour to get to school. Once inside, I walked calmly through the halls, happy that no one felt the need to stare at me today. My ninth grade year had been a triple whammy for me, being a freshman, the weird new kid, and having gone through my father's recent suicide. I was even more of a social outcast because of the attention that I garnered from school counselors and psychiatrists. They harassed me constantly, wanting to know if I needed to talk. I always politely declined, claiming I felt just fine, thank you very much. I had been befriended eventually, but my faithful comrades promptly dropped me like a rock when they lost interest. Not that I could blame them; I spoke only when asked a question, rarely smiled, and never laughed. I hadn't minded, though. Just fewer people to worry about.

Back then when I walked down the halls, I could always feel eyes on me. They had stared at the bizarre girl whom no one knew anything about. Now, I was simply another face in the crowd. Quite frankly, I was glad for the lack of attention.

Altogether, my life was a little dull, but I'd had so much chaos in my earlier years that I was

convinced should I have any more excitement now I'd surely go colorblind.

I opened my locker and was about to retrieve the book I'd need for my first class when a red piece of construction paper caught my eye. It was folded in half, and as I reached out to grab it I noticed letters cut out of a magazine and pasted to the front. The letters read "Alice." Curious, I slowly opened the note, hoping I wouldn't regret it later. It read:

What has hands, but no arms, and a face, but no eyes?

Nonplussed to say the least, I began to scan the area for any huddle of boys who might be laughing and high-fiving each other at my confusion. But nothing had changed. Everyone was still bustling about, chatting with their friends, rushing to beat the bell. Puzzled, I looked back at the note and inspected it for any incriminating characteristics, like a signature. Sure enough, at the bottom written in pretty cursive was a name.



I focused on the riddle itself. Hands, but no arms? A face, but no eyes? Surely it wasn't possible.

Don't give in so quickly. Think outside the box.

Another quirky little quality about me was that I often talked to myself. Moreover, I asked myself questions. Worse, I answered them.

Taking my own advice, I pondered over this strange riddle for a long while, and I only snapped to attention when I heard the loud, insistent chime of the tardy bell. I cursed both myself and the baffling piece of paper that had made me late as I raced down the deserted corridors.

I didn't get away with it. My teacher came down harder on me than usual; the verdict was detention for an hour after school. I was going to have to call in to work, which wasn't a problem, but it cut my paycheck by fifteen dollars. In my life, every cent counted.

All day I puzzled and pondered and brooded and mused over the confounding riddle. As a result, I was rather out of touch with the world around me. At lunch, I hardly noticed when some boy accidentally spilled his soda all over the back of my jacket. I thought I heard him mutter a stiff apology before scurrying away, but I couldn't be sure.

I almost escaped from class after the final bell rang, but my teacher stopped me and made me sit down. I sighed and obeyed before taking out my textbooks and working on my homework. But in the end, I couldn't concentrate, my mind straying to that stupid riddle over and over again, so I shut my book angrily and slumped back in my chair, waiting for the hour to be over.

A face, but no eyes... Hands, but no arms...?

Think, Alice, think!

I tapped my fingers, an impatient staccato, on the desk and stared at the clock, willing the hands to move faster.


My fingers abruptly stopped in mid-tap.

A face... A clock face?

The hands of a clock, no arms. A clock face, no eyes!

"It's a clock!" I shouted, elated that I'd finally solved the puzzle.

"Would you kindly keep your voice down?" the angry teacher scolded me. "Ten more minutes, young lady!"

Scowling, I slouched back in my chair and laid my head on the desk, grumbling little curses under my breath.

When I was released, I bolted from the classroom, out of the school, and a good ways down the road, half-afraid that the teacher was going to hunt me down to point out something else I'd done wrong.

Once I got to my house, I ran inside to change for work and check on Dinah. As usual, she was sleeping on her bed. Good. I didn't need any drama before work. I changed quickly into my uniform and brushed my hair before rushing out the door and locking it behind me.

While my school was an hour down the road one way, my job was in the opposite direction in just as much time. I ran almost the entire way there.

I was a cashier at your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart. It wasn't the most glamorous job in the world, but I preferred it to working in a fast-food restaurant, and it paid the bills decently, so I wasn't complaining. I worked forty-five hours a week, which is insanity for a high school student. But because it kept me away from home most of the time, I didn't mind.

It was very much like school, except I got paid for it. My coworkers were just that—coworkers—not friends by any means. Apparently, they took it upon themselves to try to figure me out, and they did so by gossiping about me on their lunch breaks. I saw no reason to put an end to their rumors, so I didn't. My misery brought excitement to their lives. Why should I have taken that away from them?

The trek home seemed much, much longer than the one to work. How odd. When I got inside my apartment, though, I was shocked, to say the least. Evidently Dinah had tried her hand at baking today. The walls, furniture, and carpet were covered in flour. My sister was on the floor, rolling around in the flour and laughing hysterically.

She was insanity personified. Again, the thought of making just one phone call to make all this go away crossed my mind. I cringed, envisioning the expression of betrayal on my sister's face as they would pack her away. I couldn't do that to her, or to myself. Whether I liked it or not, I needed Dinah like I needed air. She was my flesh and blood, all I had left, and I couldn't bear to watch her rot in an institution.

I sighed in exasperation, dropped my backpack on the floor, and walked over to my sister. I kneeled down next to her and politely asked her to get herself in the shower so I could clean up.

"Alice! Look at all the flowers! Aren't they beautiful?" She gazed at me with unfocused brown eyes. They were identical to the ones in my father's blue face the morning I found him hanging by his tie in the closet. I shivered at the memory.

It was rare for her to actually hallucinate during an episode, but it wasn't unheard of. I gently hauled her up by the arm and, to my surprise, she uttered not even a murmur of protest. She hummed merrily to some unknown tune as I walked her slowly over to the bathroom. She took her pills, with my prodding, and walked wearily to her bedroom to wait for them to take effect.

Once I was satisfied with my sister's temporary sanity, I busied myself with cleaning the apartment, determined to have it spotless before the night was through.

Spotlessness did not come easily nor did it come swiftly. By the time I was finished, it was past midnight, and I had not yet made dinner or done my homework. I made my way back to Dinah's bedroom to ask her what she wanted to eat, only to find her snoozing away. I noted vacantly that both she and, as a result, her bedspread were cloaked in flour. I sighed and decided to skip dinner in favor of my homework.

I didn't finish until two in the morning, and by then I was exhausted. After stuffing everything wearily back into my bag, I curled up lazily in my twin-sized bed. I fell asleep to the strange sound of a contented, purring cat, though I felt nearly certain that there had previously been no animals, feline or otherwise, in my room.

Despite having gone to sleep only a few hours before, I awoke promptly at 6:30 that morning and proceeded with my daily morning routine. My sister was still sleeping, so I left some eggs and buttered toast in the microwave, as I sometimes did. As I headed out to school, I noticed the thick fog blanketing the air. It left a disagreeable feeling in the pit of my stomach, one I dutifully ignored.

I was several minutes early, and the halls were empty, save for a few students trickling in and out. I opened my locker with the usual dragging. A dark red color caught my eye, and I was surprised to find a new note in my locker. The paper was addressed the same. Looking around me to verify the lack of unwanted company, I opened it and read:

What is your answer, my dear?


The only part of the message that was actually written was the signature, in the same elegant cursive as before. The rest were the same cut-and-pasted letters.

I dimly registered the fact that my eyes were as wide as saucers. Without proper thought, I whipped out a pen and wrote carefully beneath the note:

A clock.

After a moment of consideration, I added boldly:

Try to give me something a bit more difficult next time.

And who's to say there would be a next time, Alice?

I do, Alice. What an utterly perfect distraction from your everyday uniformity!

I dropped the note back in my locker with a sigh. It was safe to say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and the scariest part of it was that I couldn't bring myself to care. Not in the slightest. As if I needed further confirmation that I wasn't normal.

From the time I'd replied to the letter onward, I'd made it my personal mission to find out just who this "Cheshire" person really was, and why he or she was so fond of leaving cryptic messages for me. Was he some mischievous little teenager who got his kicks from confusing people like me? Was he one of my former friends?

My day was uneventful, except I had a mathematical fiasco in Algebra II. I had been exhausted the night previous, so not only was my work scrambled and barely legible, but the last half of the answers were horrendously wrong. As a result, my officious teacher gave me a D. Other than that, school flew past without incident.

Work was an entirely different story.

Things were unusually atrocious. Customers were cranky, constantly complaining that I wasn't scanning their items fast enough, blaming me for the high prices, yelling at me when their children randomly started crying, etc. My fellow employees gave me the evil eye, even more so than usual. All in all, the atmosphere was downright dreadful. I chalked it all up to the oncoming holiday season, although I couldn't be completely sure. I merely dismissed everyone's grumpiness. Just grin and bear it, I told myself.

Trying to keep myself out of the house for as long as possible, I took the extra long way home, riding the subway halfway across town and taking a bus all the way back. I did this sometimes, just to unwind.

I was sitting on the subway, the first stop on my circuitous route, doodling in my notebook vacantly. The subway stopped to take on more passengers, and I mentally prepared myself for more people around me. What I wasn't ready for, however, was another person frantically rushing inside to beat the closing doors. I was sitting right beside the door, and he accidentally slammed into my shoulder, causing my pencil to tumble out of my hand.

I leaned down to retrieve my fallen comrade, but a hand grasped it before I could and held it out to me. I looked up hesitantly, right into the smiling, apologetic face of a young man around my age, if not a little younger.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to run into you like that. Are you all right?" He looked genuinely concerned.

I took back my pencil and mumbled something that sounded like affirmation before returning my attention to my notebook. I heard him sigh, rather loudly I might add, before taking a seat on my left, much to my silent chagrin.

"So, what are you drawing?" the boy asked innocently.

"I don't know," I answered truthfully. I was honestly just doodling.

"Okay." He seemed to be searching for more menial small talk. "What's your name?"

"Bugs Bunny," I answered, annoyed. I tried to make it as clear as possible that I was being sardonic.

"Really?" he exclaimed.

I stared at him in wonder. "Is sarcasm a foreign language to you?" The underlying agitation bled through the quiet layer of subtlety in my voice.

The insult was not lost on him. Crestfallen, he scooted away from me, thus severing any kinship we may or may not have had.

Again, I wasn't bothered by the lost opportunity.

Dinah greeted me as I came through the door. "Evening, Alice. Are you hungry? I made some poached eggs. Would you like one?"

"Are you feeling okay, Dinah? Have you taken your pills?" I asked fervently.

But she just smiled and patted my cheek before turning away. I had to remind myself not to get angry at the patronizing gesture. She's having a good day, I told myself, might as well enjoy it while we can.

Right you are, Alice.

I shook my head to clear it and found Dinah casting me an odd look, as if I were the one who needed medication. A growl worked its way up my throat, but I tamped it down. I took a seat at the table, trying desperately to rein in my errant temper. Just a bad day at work, that's all, I kept insisting to myself.

Right. You. Are.

My hands tore through my hair as I tried to calm myself. My tone was deceptively serene when I said, "I think I'll have a nap."

Dinah's head poked out of the kitchen, a simple pleat between her eyebrows betraying her concern. "Are you sure?" The very same concern that grated like nails on a chalkboard.

I rose from the table with a quiet grace, even though the tension building in my limbs threatened to explode with a ferocity that frightened even me. "I'll be in my room." With that, I all but ran there.

After locking myself inside my room, I fell onto my bed in a heap of exhaustion and frayed nerves. I typically got like this on Dinah's good days. I felt purposeless, helpless. If she didn't need me, why was I even here? It didn't help that normal Dinah was the most condescending woman I'd ever met. I wondered if she even retained any memory of her usual hideous behavior when she frowned upon mine. I could just slap her silly. I could just wring her neck until her veins burst.

Having nothing else to do with my increasingly violent thoughts, I curled up with them until they didn't scare me anymore. It was only then that I was able to slip off into a slumber that danced with the bloodthirsty ideas that had been given wing.

A catlike grin twisted my mouth when I awoke to the sound of screaming.

Normalcy had gone away. Welcome back, Psychosis. We missed you.

The next day found me at school, and not without my fair share of cuts and bruises. Even though I was happy to be able to take care of Dinah again, she really did a number on me. I had to practically shove the pills down her throat, and she didn't stop her incessant screeching until at least a half hour later.

I'd forgotten all about ol' what's-his-name until I opened my locker. I shouldn't have been surprised to see another note waiting for me inside.

Child's play, dear heart. Be a lamb and figure this one out for me.

If you utter my name, I will cease to exist.


I smirked. I'd heard this one before. Feeling smug over my triumph, I sloppily wrote down the answer.

Silence. Who is this, by the way?

I left the note in my locker and went off to class, where I eagerly awaited Cheshire's response. I hardly paid attention to a thing my teacher said; I didn't even take any notes. When the bell finally rung, I dashed madly back to my locker. To my disappointment, my reply was still there. It finally occurred to me that Cheshire was somehow able to get into my locker without breaking the lock. Therefore, it was safe to assume that he somehow knew my combination. Therefore, since I didn't reveal my combination to anyone, he had to have access to current school records. This was getting more interesting by the moment.

Lunch passed by just like the rest of my school time: sluggishly. I had to know Cheshire's answer. I was thrilled to finally be able to get back to my locker, and when I did, I wasn't disappointed a second time.

Clever. I expect good things from you, Alice.


It didn't escape my notice that he had neglected to answer my question. And he knew my name. Curiouser and curiouser.

Slowly, my life began to dissolve into time spent waiting for Cheshire to talk to me and time spent figuring out his riddles. Work and school became nothing but irritating distractions. Even Dinah was receiving less attention from me than usual.

It came crashing down on me one day when I took her to the doctor for a check-up. After I told him about the past few days, he informed me that he no longer thought that she was bipolar. Shock and rage filled me at his words. Wasn't he the doctor? Wasn't he supposed to know this stuff? After graciously shrugging off my accusation that he'd cheated his way through medical school, he told me that the radical mood swings of manic depressive people typically don't occur within hours of each other. Usually, the person rides high waves of euphoria for days before coming down. However, after letting him know about her trying to cut herself up, then being excited about trashing the apartment with flour, he thought that maybe she was suffering from long-term depression.

"I'd like to put her in therapy in addition to prescribing her some antidepressants," he said.

"But I can't afford both," I replied miserably.

He didn't look happy about that, bidding me a grudging goodbye after returning my docile sister to me. He'd given her a couple of happy pills, leaving her sedate for my care.

Back at home, I left Dinah in her bed, preferring to mull over the latest riddle.

"I'm a part of the bird that's not in the sky. I can swim in the ocean and yet remain dry," I thought aloud.

I thought about it so much that night that I dreamed about it. In the dream, a beautiful golden eagle was soaring low over a lake. It dove under the water a few times, but every time it emerged, the bird was completely dry. I was befuddled.

When it finally noticed me, it flew over to land on the shore directly in front of me. The bird grew in size until it was a head taller than me. As it did, the sun dipped low over the horizon, causing the eagle's shadow to stretch over and past me. While I was distracted by the shadow, the bird lifted its wing and slapped me right in the face with it. I wouldn't have been so surprised if a wall of water that had been hiding in its feathers hadn't soaked me to the bone.

Its startlingly intelligent eyes flickered in the dying sunlight before the eagle cawed at me and flew away. Its shadow did not leave with it, remaining glued to my own. As I looked down at the unfamiliar darkness attached to me, the answer practically knocked me to the ground.

My eyes flew open and I sat bolt upright in my bed. A shadow. A very wicked smile crept across my face. Nothing felt better than beating someone at their own game.

Weeks passed, and Cheshire was actually starting to frighten me a little. His latest note read:

Your skills impress me more and more by the day, sweet. You look darling when you dream, and even better in the throes of a nightmare.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?


That was strange. All along, this had been nothing but a game to me, but it didn't seem that way to Cheshire. I wasn't comfortable anymore. On my way to the principal's office to ask for a locker change, I threw the note away in the trash can. The unmistakable feeling of eyes on my every move caused my skin to prickle. I shivered.

For some reason, the rest of the day dragged on with unusual slowness. I tried not to mourn the loss of Cheshire's riddles.

A week after switching lockers with a freshman, a new note appeared in my locker. Mixed feelings of fear and excitement swirled through me, leaving only nausea in their wakes. Against my better judgment, I opened up the letter.

I will appear to you soon. You don't want to run away from me again.


The night following Cheshire's final letter, to which I did not reply, I jumped every time my apartment so much as creaked. I tried to sleep in spite of leaving every light in my house turned on. Around three in the morning, I finally delved into a fitful slumber, but I awoke sharply at six. When day broke, the sky paled into a sickly yellow, wall clouds blocking the view of the sun. It was springtime in the Midwestern U.S., so it wasn't unheard of to have a few tornadoes here and there. Despite this, I tried to go to school. I felt safer with a bunch of people around me. Hundreds of witnesses.

I quickened my pace when I heard thunder begin to roll across the sky. All at once, it seemed as though every car, save for one, cleared the street. A lump formed in my throat as I eyed the car warily. It was parked in a space in front of a Laundromat, so it was entirely appropriate to assume it was just an innocent bystander doing a bit of laundry. No reason to get all jumpy. I tried to convince myself that I was being foolish.

No such luck.

Right in the middle of the sidewalk, in broad daylight, a black bag enveloped my head and erased me from the face of the earth. Surprise kept me from crying out instantly, but when I felt myself being hauled away, I shrieked right from the bottom of my diaphragm. Something heavy slammed into the back of my head, and my screaming stopped half a moment before my consciousness did.

I came to with my cheek pressed against a moist, giving surface. The smell was what tipped me off. I was lying in the dirt. I couldn't see a thing. The room I was in—if I was even inside—was pitch black. I tried to get up, but I couldn't move my hands. They were bound together behind my back. My ankles, too, were tied. When the memory of what had happened came rushing back, I started to panic. I'd been kidnapped! My breathing accelerated as I flailed frantically around, trying in vain to regain some mobility.

Trying and failing to calm down, I rotated my body and sat up. I moved my feet around, testing the strength of the bonds and how tightly they wrapped my ankles. After chafing against the ropes for a few more minutes, I collapsed in a heap of defeat and started to scream for help. I screeched until my throat was raw, but no one came for me. At this point, I would have been happy to see even the person who was holding me hostage. I was losing my mind being alone in the dark.

Finally, when my voice was so hoarse that I could barely even whisper, the creaking sound of an old door filled the room. My head swiveled in the direction of the noise, and tears of relief started to leak from my eyes when I saw a bright light several feet higher than where I was lying. I squinted at a shadowy figure stepping through the threshold. Whoever it was started clomping down the stairs toward me.

"You are awake. Come, join me for dinner," said a male voice casually.

"Where am I?" I croaked.

"Why, sweetums, you're with me. That's all you need to know. Come along." He started to walk away. After a few steps, he turned back toward me, seemingly wondering why I wasn't following him.

"I can't," I moaned pitifully. "My feet."

The man descended the stairs again. That was when I heard the shing! sound of a knife being pulled from a sheath. My fears multiplied when I saw light glint off the blade. I tried to scoot away from him, but he was on me in a second. I began to cry again, certain that he was going to carve me up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

"Don't cry, dear heart. It mars your pretty face," he cooed as he began to saw through the ropes at my ankles. I whimpered as I kept my eyes on him warily, trying not to let the knife out of my sight.

Once the bonds were cut, he hoisted me up to stand in front of him. "There we are." There was a smile in his voice, though I couldn't see his face. "Come, now. You must be famished." He tugged me by the arm insistently. I had no choice but to follow. He led me up the stairs and out into a hallway. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the light, I studied my captor. He was much older than me—if I had to guess, somewhere in his mid thirties. There were bags under his eyes and stubble on his cheeks. He had square glasses perched perfectly on a long nose. He had a receding hairline, but what he had left looked soft and cared for. He didn't look very strong, but he had to be to carry me around like he had when I was unconscious.

The house itself seemed normal. There were pictures of a happy family on the walls. There was no blood on the carpet or ceiling. No hate messages scrawled across the walls. In the living room, he had a seemingly high tech computer on a desk that was surrounded by papers. In the dining room, he sat me down in a chair in front of a round metal table. Abruptly, he shoved me face-first into the table so my hands would be splayed in front of him. I didn't want to protest for fear he would harm me, so I bore the discomfort. He cut the ropes around my wrists using the same knife. Additionally, he clamped a metal choker around my neck. It didn't hurt me; I was just confused about why he put it on me. He must have read the uncertainty in my eyes, for he just smiled and patted my shoulder. "Trust me," he said. "You'll want to be touching this table at all times when you have that on."

He left me to start setting the table. After disappearing into the kitchen, I started looking around for a way to escape. "I already cooked dinner for us, but I didn't know when you'd be waking up, so I left it in the pot so it wouldn't get cold," he was calling to me from the other room. "I didn't come to you right when I heard you screaming because I didn't want the pot to boil over. You understand, right?" He poked his head out to look at me, a smile on his face. I looked back at him and nodded with a smile of my own. I needed this guy to trust me so he'd leave me alone. Then I could figure out how to get out of there.

He continued talking to me from the kitchen, apparently attending to our dinner. Finally, I worked up the courage to bolt from the table and head for the front door that I'd been eyeing. It didn't occur to me at the time that it was just too easy to escape that way. Why would he put me right in front of the door to my freedom and not expect me to run for it? Unfortunately for me, the very moment I stopped touching the table, I felt like I'd been struck by lightning. Electricity assaulted my body and dropped me to the ground, where I convulsed violently. I was so paralyzed that I couldn't even give voice to the agony.

I couldn't focus on anything but the pain, so I was stunned when it abruptly stopped. I took a huge gulp of air, feeling as though I had been underwater. I vacantly registered the fact that my hand had been manually wrapped around the leg of the table I'd been sitting at. I looked up at the shadow that had been cast over me.

"That collar has a chip in it that interacts with another chip installed in this table. According to the setting I have the collar on, the table disables the voltage in the collar. When the connection between the two is broken, nothing holds back its shocking reaction." He chuckled as he said this. I wanted to spit on him. "I told you not to stop touching the table."

He walked away from me while I slowly pulled myself into the chair, all the while clinging to the table. Tears spilled from my eyes as he finished setting the table. He placed a plate of chicken, biscuits, and corn in front of me and took his seat opposite from me. He took a bite out of his meat and gestured for me to do the same. I wasn't interested in food.

"Why are you keeping me here? I won't tell anyone what happened if you let me go right now. Please. I want to go home." I kept my head down as I said all this, afraid to incite his wrath.

"I've never met a person who challenged my wit as thoroughly as you do, Alice. Why would I let go of that? You'll grow to like it here," he said nonchalantly. "By the way, why is a raven like a writing desk?"

It all slid into place with sickening clarity.

"Cheshire," I breathed, staring at him with wide eyes.

He grinned. "In the flesh, my dear."

After dinner, he took a remote out of his pocket and flipped a switch on it. He came over to me and pried my hands from the table, even as I was trembling with terror. I was bewildered that not even a twinge of discomfort befell me when I stopped touching the table. He grinned and tucked the remote back into his pocket. "Now you won't want to touch the front doorknob."

After his chilling warning, he gave me a tour of his house. There wasn't much to it—just the dining room, the kitchen, the living room, and the only bedroom and bath combination. Noticing that there was only one bed, I swallowed the nauseating feeling that I would have to sleep in it with him.

"Um, Cheshire?" I felt silly calling him by his pseudonym, so I asked what his real name was before continuing with my question.

He froze and turned to me, his face darkening. "You will know me only by that name, understand?"

I recoiled at his frigid tone. When I didn't answer him right away, he seized me by the hair and wrenched me close to his face. "Understand?" he demanded a second time. As he spoke, his putrid breath fanned my face, and I had to fight not to twist my expression into one of disgust. Instead, I ground my teeth in order to keep a cry of pain from escaping my lips when he tightened his grip.

"I understand, Cheshire." My sad little sob played on his name, and it seemed to appease him. He released me and stepped away.

"Now then, what was your original question?" His smile was back.

My voice quivered when I answered, but there was almost zero delay on my part. "I actually wanted to know where I would be sleeping?" I asked timidly.

His smile broadened, but the look in his eyes seemed to take on a decidedly wicked glint. My first instinct was to flee, which is exactly what I did. I bolted.

Flying past the pretty pictures that decorated the walls, I headed for the front door. I completely ignored his warning from before and laid my hand on the knob, meaning to rip it open. But the thing zapped me before I could even wrap my palm around it. With a yelp, I recoiled in surprise.

With a grunt of effort, Cheshire yanked me backwards and hoisted me up on his shoulder, towing me back toward the bedroom. I screamed as loud as my abused vocal cords would allow and thrashed around in his arms, fighting with every last ounce of strength I possessed. He elbowed me hard in the side, and I lost my breath when pain flared to life in my ribcage. I was wrong when I assumed he wasn't very strong; he didn't miss a single beat, whereas I was struggling to breathe.

He jerked open the door that led to the room where I had awoken, which I now knew was the basement. I redoubled my efforts at escape, wheezing in agony. With a roar, he heaved me off his shoulder and allowed me to roll down the wooden stairs toward the unforgiving earth below. I finally skidded to a halt at the bottom and turned my head weakly to look at Cheshire. He didn't even check to see if I had any injuries before slamming the door.

It was a wonder I didn't have a broken neck or any other seriously injured body parts. Save for several bleeding cuts on my arms and face, quite a few splinters, and a general feeling of soreness that pretty much permeated my muscles, I was unharmed. After recovering on the floor for a few minutes, I limped up the stairs and pounded with my remaining strength on the door. My voice was too far gone to offer any assistance, and I bloodied my fists further in the fruitless attempt.

After stumbling down the stairs a second time, I used my hands to search the walls for possible ways to escape, but I didn't find anything. Not even a crease that would line a door or window. The basement must have been absolutely spotless, too, because in all my exploration I didn't trip over any items that are usually found in basements. I didn't trip over anything. Did Cheshire keep this space clear for just this purpose? Was I to sleep here for the remainder of my captivity?

Having given up, I sunk dejectedly to the floor. I thought about what had led me to this point. My life's horrid consistency of inconsistency. My own unfailing stupidity. I knew better than to start talking to strangers. What on earth had possessed me?

More than I was worried for myself, I was worried for Dinah. Who would care for her if I couldn't? Did Cheshire know about her? Had he done something to her? I swore to myself that I would inflict on him tenfold what he'd done to her.

Who's to say he's done anything to her, Alice? Now you're just being silly.

Hmm. Perhaps you're right, Alice. How silly of me.

Silly girl.

I didn't know when sleep took me over, but I was acutely aware when someone shook me awake. I rubbed my eyes blearily and put a hand to my pounding head, moaning.

"You're awake! Finally! Tell me, why is a raven like a writing desk?" came Cheshire's voice. He sounded almost manic.

Still groggy from sleep, I didn't quite know what he was talking about. "Huh?"

After Cheshire abruptly dropped the grip he had on my biceps, there came a rustling sound from him. I still couldn't see a thing, so I assumed he was digging in his jacket for something. It belatedly dawned on me that I should have been afraid. The last thing I heard was the click of a switch.

I seized as jolts of white-hot pain surged through me once again. The zap lasted only a moment this time, but it still left me gasping for breath. Cheshire turned my head toward him, but my eyes refused to focus.

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" he repeated forcefully.

"I—I don't know," I whimpered.

"You don't know!" He was shouting now. "Why don't you know? Don't you always know?"

Groping desperately for a way to calm him, I asked with much apprehension, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?"

In an instant, Cheshire seemed altogether placated, replying concisely, "I haven't the slightest idea."

He didn't let me leave the basement for a good long while after that. Time slipped away from me, and I only knew that hours had passed when Cheshire brought me my meals. When he brought breakfast, he'd pelt me with a new riddle, and each evening when he brought dinner, he'd demand an answer. The first time he did so, I refused to give him the solution, even though I already knew what it was. That didn't turn out so well for me.

"My life can be measured in hours. I serve by being devoured. Thin, I am quick; fat, I am slow. Wind is my foe. What am I?" he repeated the riddle he'd given me that morning. He seemed calm, which made me too brazen.

"I'll only answer if you promise to return me safely to my home." I folded my arms and turned up my nose at him, putting on a brave face. I tightened my hands to keep them from quaking.

I didn't have time to shield my face before his fist plowed right into it. I flew backwards, knocking my head against the floor. I was lucky it wasn't concrete; the soil cushioned the blow to my skull. I lay there for a moment, shocked beyond words that he'd struck me. I'd never been hit in the face before. Not ever. How stupid of me to think that he was above such villainy.

"Clearly, you need to be taught some manners." There came a rustling sound that I had already associated with him looking for my zappy switch.

In my fear, I sat up too quickly, causing my head to spin. "Wait!"

"What's the answer?" he exclaimed.

I put a hand to my head and willed my focus to return to me, all the while terrified of his reaction to my hesitation. I mumbled the answer.

"What did you say, dear?" he asked in a polite tone.

I tried not to growl at him when I repeated myself. "A lit candle."

He seemed downright giddy with my reply. "Splendid! Marvelous!" His hand disappeared into his jacket again and I cried out in dread, covering my ears as though that would keep the pain away. Why was he going to punish me? Hadn't I answered correctly?

His brow furrowed like he was concerned that I was reacting that way. He shoved his hand toward me eagerly, in which he held a chocolate chip cookie. I could only stare openmouthed.

"Here. You were right. A reward." His grin stretched from ear to ear.

I tentatively accepted the cookie, setting it down on my plate next to me. "Thank you," I murmured. As I watched the grin slowly crack across Cheshire's face, it dawned on me that I was being conditioned to a new way of life—one of submission, obedience, and above all, repercussions to any rebellion. I just wasn't sure if I had the strength of will to resist it.

I didn't see sunlight again for five more weeks.

I had never considered myself a quick learner, but when it came to this man, self-sufficiency demanded me to be. He had a pattern, and I was thankful that he was mostly consistent. All I had to do was abide by his every command and acknowledge his absolute authority, and I would receive cookies, not pain. Gradually, I was able to make myself come to terms with this truth. The more time that passed, the more passive I became, the fewer opinions I offered, the less I spoke out against Cheshire. Day after day went by—I counted each one—and either Cheshire began to act more warmly toward me or I slowly became desensitized to his behavior. I'm still not quite certain which.

The worst days occurred when I didn't know the answers to his riddles.

The first time it happened, he had pitched me an especially difficult one. "The loftiest cedars I can eat, yet neither paunch nor mouth have I. I storm whenever you give me meat. Whenever you give me drink, I die." That morning, he'd dropped the meal of bread and old hamburger meat in front of me and delivered the riddle with dramatic flair, like he was practicing for a play.

Now, I wasn't perfect with these puzzles, but I was admittedly quite good at them. To have one of them stump me—that was a new, unpleasant feeling. I spent the rest of the day stewing about it, and when he returned for the answer, I had to give him the bad news.

He hated bad news.

His face was twisted up with grotesque madness. Frigid fury gleamed in his eyes. I crouched in the corner, frightened of his wrath, so when he turned around and trotted briskly up the stairs, I was flabbergasted. I began to crawl towards the entrance to the basement, wondering if I would be safe. What he was doing. What he would do.

Before I could worry myself sick, he returned, and I was disgusted with myself for being relieved. I tried not to let it show on my face, because he had a way with stomping on and murdering any positive feelings I had. As it turned out, it didn't matter either way.

"I know you're smarter than this, Alice." As he spoke, he did something I'd never seen him do before. He lit up a cigarette and began smoking it, acting incredibly cavalier about it. "Come on, try to think just a little harder."

His calmness, his patience, his body language—everything told me that I was in impending danger, but I couldn't figure out what from. Would he hit me again? Zap me? What was going on in his head? I was so distracted by that, I couldn't focus on what he'd asked me. "What?"

He sighed and shook his head, then took a long drag from his cigarette. As he approached, every survival instinct I had told me to flee. Now. I started to back away, but he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me closer. His cigarette was perilously close to my skin.

"Think. Use that brain of yours. I know you have the answer in there somewhere. You have all the answers, don't you?" I could feel actual heat from the cigarette now. I was afraid to struggle. I was afraid to stand still. My mouth disengaged and words fell in a jumble on the floor.

After much gibberish on my part, Cheshire smiled. "Let me give you a hint." With that, he tightened his grip around my arm and dug the burning end of the cigarette into the inside of my wrist. I screamed at the searing pain and thrashed in his grasp, trying desperately to escape. I tried not to think of my flesh boiling and sizzling under the cigarette. When it finally went out, he dropped my arm and I dropped to the ground, holding my arm close to my chest and weeping in horror.

Cheshire crouched next to me, smoothing my hair with kind hands. "Now," he began softly, "the loftiest cedars I can eat, yet neither paunch nor mouth have I. I storm whenever you give me meat. Whenever you give me drink, I die. What am I?"

I was absolutely sickened. I tried to dredge up any remaining mutiny in me, but he had squashed every iota. I was horrified to realize that I was becoming nothing but a blank canvas, to be filled by whatever he wanted. Even as my mind railed and raged against the chains that he'd already set in place, my mouth was moving of its own accord. "Fire," I heard myself say obediently.

He smirked and rubbed my cheek with his thumb. "That's my girl."

The more listless I became, the more he began to trust me. After what seemed to be years but were only weeks, he finally allowed me into the upper portion of the house again. I even slept on the floor of his bedroom. I still had to wear the collar, though, and whenever we had dinner together, I made sure to keep my bare toes touching the leg of the table.

When he wasn't hurting me, he was actually quite sweet to me. More than a few times, he brought me flowers and candy. I learned very quickly that he preferred someone meek and timid, someone who would bow to his will. So each time he showered me with gifts, I made sure to give a smile and say tenderly, "Thank you so much."

I was growing more confident in our camaraderie, so when we were having dinner eight weeks after he collected me from the basement, I asked him a question.

"Would it be all right if I took off my collar?"

He paused mid-bite and stared at me from across the table. There was a dark note in his voice when he spoke. "You want to do what?"

"I-It hurts my neck..." I trailed off, realizing that this was more than likely a giant mistake. I tried to backpedal. "Never mind. I shouldn't have said anything. That was stupid."

He went back to eating. "Yes, it was. Please refrain from saying anything like that again."

My lips tightened as I tried to keep the tears from bubbling over. "Yes, Cheshire."

"I checked in on your sister today while you were sleeping."

I straightened in my seat, shocked. "You did?" How was he able to slip out without my noticing? Years with Dinah had conditioned me to wake up at the slightest noise. And lately I hadn't been waking up as early as I was used to. Had he been drugging me? "How is she?"

He passed me an evil smile that spoke volumes. "She burned your apartment building to the ground."

My fingers tightened on the table to the point of pain. "Is she all right?"

"Of course."

I slumped back in my seat, relieved, but also defeated. She'd never be able to pay for the damages, so they'd take her to court, which she also wouldn't be able to pay for. I knew the outcome before he told me.

"She'll be taken to court, where I imagine they'll find her rather... off. Next stop will be the asylum." He popped a bite of meatloaf into his mouth, whereas I was suddenly feeling rather nauseous.

"C-Can I see her? Please?" Don't sound like you're begging, Alice.

"Out of the question," Cheshire replied simply and without hesitation.

I dropped my head in compliance, unwilling to suffer any more electricity, burning, or punches.

As I lay in the cot next to Cheshire's bed that night, I thought about my sister. I thought of all the episodes I'd been through with her and how much she needed me. I felt discarded, unnecessary... but, oddly enough, liberated. I had no one to look after, no incidents to struggle through, and no purpose. It was a strange sort of freedom, and I didn't quite know how to feel about it.

Cheshire rolled over in bed and interrupted my train of thought. "Alice," he whispered. "Are you still awake?"

It was hard for me not to whimper. What was he going to do to me now?

After getting no response from me, he sighed and climbed out of bed. I shut my eyes tightly, holding in a scream when he slid his arms under me. He picked me up and cuddled me close to his chest before laying me gently on the bed. Climbing in next to me, he pulled the covers over me and wrapped his arms around me. My heart hammered away in my chest, and I wasn't sure if it was because this was my kidnapper or because this was a man. Was I frightened or comforted? I simply didn't know anymore.

When I opened my eyes that morning, I found myself staring into Cheshire's sweet expression. Deeply asleep, his face was free of the aggression normally prevalent there. The lines around his mouth and eyes were smooth. I couldn't stop myself from reaching out and lightly touching his lips. The simple contact caused Cheshire's eyes to flicker open and stare sleepily through me. "Good morning, darling," he said with a lazy smile.

My voice was frozen. My mouth fluttered uselessly. No sound spilled forth. His palm found my cheek with love and tenderness. I wanted to sob at the feel of him, locking my eyes shut. Was this affection or panic squeezing my heart?


My eyes opened in time to see him leaning in close to me. I squeaked as his searching mouth claimed mine. At first, it was just a light meeting of lips. Caution was evident in his every movement. I was stunned into immobility. Tears gathered in my widened eyes and bubbled over as he deepened the kiss. What began as gentle was quickly becoming carnal and hungry. When he rolled over on top of me, I began to seize with real fear. He pinned my struggling arms to the bed and pulled away from me with a snarl.

"Are we going to have a problem?" He transferred both my wrists to one hand and used his free one to open a drawer in the nightstand. He pulled out the switch to my collar and made sure that I saw it.

I went absolutely still, eyeing the contraption with overwhelming terror. He set the switch on the table and seemed to take my paralysis for assent, attacking my mouth with renewed vigor. His intentions were clear in the waves of lust rolling off his body. His nimble fingers started to unbutton my jeans.

I shut down. I lay there. I let it happen.

And when he was finished, he collapsed beside me and whispered the words that filled me with a rage, bewilderment, and unending devotion that I had never felt before, and haven't since.

"I love you."

"I hate you!" His words accompanied a shock of my collar, and my body tried in vain to contain it. He was shouting. I tried desperately to listen. "My voice is tender, my waist is slender and I'm often invited to play. Yet wherever I go I must take my bow or else I have nothing to say! What is your answer!"

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Cheshire! Just give me a few hours! I swear I'll come up with an answer!" I begged.

He granted my request, but threw me back in the basement, where he left me for a long time. When he came back, I had his solution. "A violin!" I smiled, expecting a gift.

When his eyes lit up, I was filled with joy. "That makes perfect sense." With that, he led me back upstairs. "Today, you'll construct a puzzle while I work. I want to exercise your brain."

He set down a one-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle at the coffee table and sat me down in front of it. Then he went off to his computer, just a few feet away. I toyed with the pieces for awhile, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I inched toward Cheshire to see what he did for a living. Looking over his shoulder, I saw a black screen filled with white letters. They seemed to be rows and rows of codes, none of which meant anything to me.

He noticed me. Amusement warped his mouth into a twisted grin. "I'm the IT director for your school. I've already input into the system that you will be absent for a long while, likely until the end of the school year." He didn't have to say it, but I had already deduced that I would never be going back to school. But that didn't matter anymore, now that I had someone new to live for.

That was how he'd been able to get your locker combination, Alice.

You're right. How clever of him.

He went on to describe the employees he had under his thumb, one in particular catching my attention. It was a woman he illustrated with such fondness that I instantly became convinced they were having a love affair. I skulked off to glower at my puzzle until Cheshire came to hug me and assure me that I was his one and only. It didn't frighten me anymore that I was starting to love him. Nothing frightened me anymore.

Cheshire became my whole world, and I attached to him like a leech. We fell into a routine where I did everything I could to keep him happy and he gave me affection and adoration. I slowly began to forget about Dinah, the only thing that could have kept me rooted in my other life. I didn't need her to keep myself sane anymore. I had him, and he was everything. It was too easy to fall in love with him.

Two months later, it came crashing violently down on me.

There was a chill outside, and we were cuddling on the couch in front of a warm, romantic fire. My head was resting on his shoulder, and his hand was clinging tightly to the back of my neck. I tugged at my collar every few minutes—it was unusually uncomfortable—and Cheshire pretended not to notice. Even so, I was relaxed, safe, and secure.

Rustling noises and what sounded like radio static pierced my happy bubble. Confused and a little anxious, I looked at Cheshire to see his reaction, but he seemed to have nodded off. As I scanned the house for intruders, I saw two armed men in black Kevlar vests appear behind the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. I squealed in alarm and moved to get up, which startled Cheshire into exponentially tightening his grip on my neck.

"Where are you going?" he demanded as I fell back to the couch in pain.

"Cheshire!" I shrieked, pointing at the door.

His head swiveled in time to see one of the men raising his rifle and smashing the glass with it. I screamed as we covered our heads. "Police! On the ground, now!"

I looked to my love for direction, but he shoved me away and took off running down the hall. Three more police officers burst through the front doorway as the first two followed Cheshire, shouting as they went. Two of the officers forced me to lie on my stomach on the ground as they trained their guns on me, but I tried to listen for the sounds of what I hoped was Cheshire's escape. I heard glass breaking and him shouting, but what sent volts of agony ripping through me was hearing shots fired.

"No!" I jumped up and headed for where Cheshire had gone, only to be yanked back by three pairs of hands.

"Ma'am, keep struggling and I will shoot you!" growled one of the cops.

I fell limp to the ground, crying miserably. "Cheshire," I moaned.

As they rolled me back onto my stomach, I felt handcuffs snap around my wrists. They hauled me up and led me out the door, and I strained to hear what was going on before they took me out of the house.

A couple of the officers walked calmly back into the room, their guns hanging at their sides. "Call up the coroner," one said simply. "We have a body back there. Name is Glen Callahan."

When I heard that, I began to thrash wildly in the officers' grips. "You killed him! Murderers!" I screeched at the top of my lungs.

"Who's that? An accomplice?"

"Possibly," another answered. "Although the file we have on this guy says his MO is to work alone. It's hard to get away with murdering thirteen innocent girls when you have a loose end with you."

My mind immediately dismissed what I'd heard as a filthy lie as I was taken outside and stuffed into the back of a police car. Two men got in the car and drove me away. I spent part of the ride hurling vulgar insults at them, and when they failed to respond to my venom, I devolved into sobbing hysterically.

After arriving at the police station, two of the officers interrogated me. I refused to answer any questions without seeing Cheshire. Once they'd figured out that I meant their Glen Callahan, they explained to me that I had been his captive, and they couldn't comprehend why I wanted him with me. I tried to make them understand that I loved him with all my heart and soul, but they wouldn't listen to me. We were at an impasse.

A specialist was brought in to assess my condition. I told him the same, that I demanded to see my lover and wouldn't do anything they wanted me to do. After talking to me for a few more minutes, the man left the room for a long while. I started trying to chip the flaking metal off the table with my nails, which didn't damage anything but me. When he came back in, I asked him kindly when I could see Cheshire.

He ignored my question. "My dear, I believe I can help you. I would like you to come with me, and I will take you to a place where you can talk about your feelings and heal. And I have a surprise for you. Your sister is there also. Don't you remember her?" He was clearly expecting me to be very happy with this news.

I glared at him. "I don't have a sister. I just have Cheshire."

Three hours later, I was in the back seat of the man's car with an armed guard at my side, being driven to Wilkinson Mental Health Institution. I looked up at the graying sky, my cloudy eyes mirroring its desolation. Upon arrival, the two men escorted me inside the facility, where I was delivered into a kindly, old nurse's care.

She smiled the kind of smile that bled into her eyes, warming the frostiest parts of my heart. "We've been expecting you, dear. Come, let me give you the tour. Thank you, gentlemen." She nodded at them before ambling away, expecting me to follow, which I did.

She showed me several rooms for different activities, like crafts and music, as well as several halls for dorms. The asylum was a fairly large place, but I still felt caged and suffocated. Everything was white, from the walls to the orderlies' uniforms. All the other inmates we passed by stared at me like they were thinking about having me for dinner. I was trapped.

A piercing voice rang out above the clamor of my thoughts. "Alice!" That voice sounds familiar, Alice.

I turned in its direction, startled to see Dinah racing down the hall towards me. She was smiling broadly. I began to slip into my old habit of mothering her—the command to stop running nearly flew from my mouth—but she attacked me in a ferocious hug before I could.

"Oh, I missed you so much! I'm so glad you've finally been rescued! I was so worried," she gushed, her hold tightening with every syllable.

I patted her back, but couldn't bring myself to return her affection. For some reason, I couldn't focus on her. All I could think about was how much I missed Cheshire. "Dinah, you're so different," I said.

If she noticed how mechanically I was behaving, she wasn't bothered by it. "I have new medicine and it's been helping me quite a bit. I feel like a new person." Tears brimmed her eyes and she put her hands in mine. That was when I noticed the burn scars wrapping her fingers.

Hmph. Served her right for letting our apartment burn down and landing herself here.

"So tell me again why you won't take off that collar?" the therapist asked me patiently.

"Because it was given to me by Cheshire," I replied calmly.

She folded her hands in front of her, becoming the very picture of contemplation. "Why do you keep calling him that? The police told you his real name, didn't they?"

She had a way of making everything she said into a question. I wondered if that was some sort of psychological technique. I tugged at the collar uneasily, half-afraid that it would somehow shock me if I referred to him by anything other than Cheshire. But of course, I didn't let her know that. "Those policemen are nothing but murdering liars. They don't know anything."

"You're referring to what they said about his victims, right? Why do you assume they're lying?" Her whole face illustrated her concern—her eyes softening, her brows furrowing, and her mouth forming a small frown. She was very good at this, I decided.

"Because my Cheshire would never do that," I muttered in defiance, turning my nose up at her.

"Will you tell me more about your relationship with him?" she asked attentively.

I scowled at her. "I don't want to talk to you anymore." And with that, I stood up and sashayed evenly out the door without so much as a cross word from her.

After my dramatic exit, I wasn't really sure of where to go. I decided to head toward the cafeteria, which, upon arrival, I found bursting with life. I was about to turn around and walk out when I heard my sister call me with that shrill voice of hers. I whirled to face her.

"How was your session?" she asked excitedly, red-faced from darting across the room to reach me.

"Probably the same as yours are. We talked about stuff." I caressed my collar in order to keep myself calm. The contact was comforting.

"That's really encouraging! I'm sure you're making a lot of progress." Her eyes began to water and I recoiled in disgust. "You'll be out of here in no time."

I felt that old familiar fury rise in me. I made no attempt to tamp it down, as I had in the past. "Dinah, are you aware of how little I care about you?"

Her whole body tensed as she physically withdrew from me. Her eyes reflected the shock she was feeling, but I wasn't finished yet.

"I care about as much for you as I do about the raccoon lying dead in the street outside. If you were to disappear right now, I wouldn't miss you at all, and do you know why?" I was yelling now. She was sobbing. "It's because for so long I took such great care of you, and the moment I was taken from you, your whole world fell to pieces. I was our mother to you. Did I teach you nothing?"

"But," she choked out, "I was depressed. Losing Dad hit me so hard. I thought you understood."

All sense of reason escaped me at this moment. The anger I'd been feeling evolved into a deep abiding frenzy that invaded every part of my body. I drew my hand back and smacked my sister in the face so hard that my palm was throbbing with the impact. She screeched, drawing the attention of everyone else in the room, but I was too far gone to worry about an audience. That was when I completely lost it.

I leaped on Dinah, tearing at her hair, her face, anything my vengeful nails could reach. I didn't do nearly enough damage when two orderlies ripped me off of her. I fought them almost as hard as I fought those cops when they were dragging me away from Cheshire.

"You are not my sister! You're crazy and I hate you!" I shrieked at her. She picked herself up off the ground and watched me sadly. She didn't do a thing to stop those orderlies as they hauled me off, and I washed my hands of the woman then and there.

Straitjackets are not at all comfortable, let me tell you. My shoulders and wrists were cramping by the fourth hour that I was restrained. The room they'd put me in was blindingly white with a cushioned floor. I would have been just fine if not for those hospital officials. They were the only other humans I was in contact with, and they were always poking and prodding me. I was losing what little mind I had left.

It was on the fifth day that I began to feel more relaxed. I was becoming more and more comfortable with the white walls and the jacket that held me so snugly. The orderlies and doctors with their questions didn't bother me at all. I answered all of them very sweetly. I was enlightened.

On the sixth day, I saw God.

He walked through my wall. Through it, as I stared in awe. He was cast in a halo of warm light that washed over me. The straitjacket unbuckled itself and slid from my shoulders. I stood up and stepped gingerly toward him, wondering how he would receive me.

"It's been too long, my love." Cheshire offered his hand to me, and my heart overflowed.

I accepted his invitation, and he led me back through the wall into an open field of wildflowers with a sky that stretched on endlessly. I smiled into the sun and reveled in our love, never once looking back.

The nurse stepped into the room, armed with sedatives, and watched the girl warily. "How are you feeling today, Alice?"

The inmate was sitting on the floor, a dopey look on her face. Her head lolled in the direction of the voice, her wide blue eyes unseeing. A smile that seemed too sick to be truly happy broke across her face as she said simply, "I'm free."