I lay on the branch, purring and keeping myself invisible, when the girl approaches. She can’t be more than seven years old. And she’s human. My eyebrows raise, and my ever-present grin widens. She stops at a sign and peers at it, eyes wide and curious. She wears a blue dress with a white apron, standing out against the permanent darkness of the dense forest, and her blonde hair hangs down her back in a wave of curls. I’ve certainly never seen her around here before.
Upon closer inspection, she trembles with fear, and her eyes swim with uncertainty. Ah. This must be her first time in Wonderland, then. Newcomers appear every now and again. Sometimes they come through the Looking Glass or even the Rabbit Hole. Though, looking at the dirt on the girl’s dress, I’d have to guess Rabbit Hole. I chuckle. What an experience that must have been.
She looks up in my direction. I decide to let my body appear and revel in the wonder in her eyes. She opens her mouth and speaks, a soft voice like a tiny bell.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but could you tell me where I am?”
“That depends on where you want to go,” I say, rolling over on the branch.
“Well I—” She stops and puts her hands on her hips in a show of defiance. “I can’t know where I want to go if I don’t know where I am.”
I refrain from rolling my eyes. Newcomers are always this way. Still, this one’s curious.
Most of them are too afraid of me to speak, much less speak with an attitude. One little boy even ran away screaming. A laugh escapes me, and I float down to hover in front of her.
“There are plenty of places to go. You could go see the Duchess, though you just came from there, didn’t you?” I sniff, catching the reek of pepper. “Or perhaps the Queen?” I flip onto my back and float to her left shoulder, grinning as her gaze follows me.
“I’d like to go home,” she says. “But I suppose I can’t do that. What if they don’t recognize me? I’m hardly the same person I was this morning. Maybe I should go by another name…”
I almost giggle. She’s getting the hang of it after all. No one is ever anyone very long here. In fact, I’m sure I’m different than I was yesterday. I loved lemon custard then, but this morning I couldn’t stand the sight of it.
“Perhaps you should go to the Hare and the Hatter,” I say, coming back up to the branch. The tip of my tail begins to disappear. I have places to be after all.
Her eyes light up. “A Hatter? That might not be so bad.” She nibbles on her thumb nail. “Maybe they’d accept me. Let me stay awhile until I figure myself out again.”
“Do beware of the Hatter though, darling. He’s mad,” I say, as my back legs fade into the darkness of the forest.
“Mad?” She raises her eyebrows. “Oh, I’ve gone ‘round the bend, haven’t I?” She covers her face with her hands and begins to cry. I resist the urge to roll my eyes
I chuckle. “Not to worry. Everyone is mad in some form or another.”
My remark doesn’t seem to console her at first, as she continues crying, but after a moment she takes a deep breath and gathers her hands into fists at her sides.
“Which way to the Hare and the Hatter?” she asks.
“That way.” I nod to the left, as my front paws have disappeared. “Good luck…”
“Alice,” she finishes for me.
“Alice,” I say, and my head disappears, leaving my grin behind. She stares at me for a moment before walking down the path, leaving me grinning on a tree branch.