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A note from Fox-Trot-9

Written on 8/7/18. Summer Season, August 2018 edition.


Warning(s): violent content; traumatizing content.

And then, how deep!—O, deep!
Is the passion of their sleep.

—Edgar Allen Poe,
"Fairy-Land"


1


Just like before, Colbie entered the lobby area through the same door where the masked doorman used to stand, wearing the same sky-blue Sunday dress she had worn before. On passing the threshold, she viewed a different lobby from the one she had seen on her last dream dive. It was now emptied of all the masqueraders that had crowded the place before, as if the Red Death had indeed scattered the last remnants of the nobility from these unhallowed chambers to an uncertain fate.

Banished was the steady hum of voices from incognito revealers, talking and laughing and joking and keeping to their facades of a double life behind their masks. Banished was the warmth of human society, intermingling in incognito groups and flying their fashions in order to see and be seen. Banished was the rumble of footsteps echoing through the lobby, echoing through the double doors that lead into the large ballroom stretching over a football field through six colored sections, each one lighted with its own chandelier, and echoing to the end of the ballroom where a large grandfather clock stood with double doors beckoning her to open them and claim the dark secrets they held inside.

All this had vanished, but still lingered on the edges of Colbie’s memory, there to tantalize her steps onwards.

And onwards from the lobby and through the double doors.

And onwards into the ballroom with all thirteen grandfather clocks ticking a tune through the air, twelve on either side of her and one big one at the end. Her footsteps echoed through the empty halls, tapping a rhythm to her steps on the herringbone parquet flooring against a symphony of tick-tock.

So onwards she went, then teleported to the grandfather clock at the end of the ballroom, where she approached its double doors and reached for the handles.

She grasped them and pulled.

And she pulled.

And pulled.

Yet no matter how Colbie pulled and yanked, leveraging her weight against the handles with each pull, she wasn't strong enough. The doors refused to give way.

"Shit!" Colbie said, and her curse echoed down to the other end of the ballroom, and echoed back at her in fading wafts of air. She then checked for any keyhole in the handle, but there were none. She then got onto her hands and knees and placed her cheek against the floor, keeping her eyes trained for any sign of anything underneath the doors, but got nothing. She got up and said, "Seriously? You won't open for me this time?"

The double doors remained silent in idiot indifference.

She sighed, envying Celia's ability to teleport to places beyond her direct line of sight.

She then started pacing back and forth before the door, thinking of some other way to get through that didn't involve brute strength or Celia's teleportation, when she caught a glimpse of the mask she had dropped on the floor. She walked over to pick it up, but just as she touched it, the light of all the chandeliers flickered above her head and went out, one by one, drowning the ballroom in darkness.

So Colbie stood back up just as the lights came on again.

And with those lights, the same girl in the blood-stained Sunday dress appeared before her like a doppelgänger and said, "Hello, again!"

Colbie teleported to the blue end of the ballroom and ran to the closed double doors leading to the lobby, grabbing the handles and pulling and yanking for them to open, but it was no use. "Shit!"

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the girl said. “You’re such a potty mouth.”

Colbie turned on hearing the echo of impossibly rapid footfalls, and the girl dashed across the ballroom in a blur and rushed at Colbie, slashing at her face with her knife but only slashed at the air.

Colbie reappeared at the violet end of the ballroom, huffing and puffing and scared, out of reach but not unscathed. A line of blood trickled down her face from a slight cut just above her brow.

"Who the fuck are you?" Colbie said.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," she continued, smiling yet another slasher smile. "I'm not the intruder here. You are!"

"This is Kathy's place!"

"Not anymore," she said.

And she dashed at Colbie in a blur, faster than before, and slashed at her yet again, but she dodged and she rolled, then teleported back to the blue end of the ballroom. Now she was huffing and puffing and wheezing on her feet, wondering how long she could keep this up with someone so fast. Then an exquisite burning sensation began needling at her leg, and she noticed a thin line of red leaking a rivulet of blood down her thigh. “Fuck!”

The girl said, "You're not as fast as the other one, are you?"

"Celia!" Colbie said under her breath, then: "What did you do with Celia?"

“Not much, I’ll admit,” she said. “She was a bit too fast for me. I only managed to nick her on her cheek, but you seem just right for me to play with for a bit.”

"Fuck you!"

"Alas, only for a bit," she said, looking at her watch. "Not much time left before my debut. I'll need to change out of these rags if I'm to make a good impression, but that'll have to wait. For now, let's play a little game of tag. I'll be it. And if I tag you again," she added, twirling her knife in her hand, "you'll be . . . dead."

Colbie visibly paled, and she gritted her teeth.

“Now, now,” she said, extending her arm with her knife pointed at Colbie, “I’m not such a bad sport as that! I’ll let you choose your own weapon, just to even up the odds a bit. It’ll be too boring if it’s one-sided. What do you say?”

"Let me put my mask on, first," Colbie said, and teleported to the violet side of the ballroom where the mask was still on the floor, and trained her eyes on the girl as she bent down, ignoring the burning in her leg, and picked it up and tied it to her face. She stretched out her hand, manifesting Prince Prospero's dagger, and gripped it tight.

"Playing the Red Death, are you?" And her words echoed down to Colbie on the other end of the ballroom.

"Prince Prospero," Colbie said, and took a deep breath, gauging the scene of the ballroom into divisions of six colored sections of violet and white and orange and green and purple and blue, with her opponent at the blue end of the space.

"You know that's a losing hand, right?" And her words again echoed closer and closer and closer like a nightmare about to pounce.

And Colbie knew it with icy premonitions of it beating in her chest. If this girl could cover six sections of the ballroom (more than a football field between them) and still draw blood, her next move might maim her if she wasn’t careful. So she took a deeper breath and said, "I'll take my chances," and glared at her opponent through her mask, when a thought flashed through her mind. "Who are you?"

"Alice Liddell," she said, and curtseyed even when such formalities were absurd at that distance. "And you are?"

And Colbie took another deep breath and smiled, then said, "If you tag me again, I'll tell you."

"Very poor choice of words," Alice said, and she flew at Colbie in a blink and got right up in her face.

But Colbie was ready and blew a blast of wind at her face to pause her attack, then summoned a hurricane crosswind roaring through the space like a wind tunnel, swinging the chandeliers like wind chimes and slamming into Alice and sending her skimmer hat flying, then picking her off her feet and tossing her about thirty feet across the hall and into the white section of the ballroom.

Yet Alice rolled and turned and wheeled on her feet—

As Colbie blinked out of sight and got up in her face, swinging her dagger and crossing blades with Alice, sending a clang echoing through the ballroom, then teleported back to the big grandfather clock at the end of the violet section—

(with 8 minutes left)


2


To find a way past its double doors before her dream sequence ended, for she couldn’t go back to her dream bedroom when Alice would be there to attack her the moment she opened stirred in her bed. So she yanked and pulled at the handles, then teleported away just as Alice dashed up behind her and slashed at her back.

Colbie appeared at the blue section of the ballroom with strands of her hair falling to the ground and said, "Fuck, I can't even take my eyes off her for a second!" Then she glared at the grandfather clock at the other end of the ballroom. "Damn it all! Why won't you open? You did it before! Why not now?"

And a line of red seared across her lower back, and Colbie felt the sting of it burning through her skin, making her wince when she reached behind to touch it.

"What's your name?" Alice said.

"Fuck you!" And Colbie teleported to the giant chandelier above the parquet flooring to gain the high ground, tipping it slightly and clinking the crystals, and crouched down to catch her breath. Now she was winded, almost gasping for breath, her face slicked over with sweat with some drops of it falling to the floor below.

“You’re not much of a sport, are you?” She set her sights on her retreating opponent and smiled and said, “It hurts, doesn’t it? So much feeling at the end of your nerves that you burn from the slightest nick of your skin. Feels almost like the touch of God, doesn’t it? Like the caress of His finger between your legs or His prick up your arse!”

"You're crazy!" Colbie yelled, and she steadied her heartbeats with deep slow breaths, then tore a strip off the hem of her dress and tied it like a bandage around the cut in her leg, grimacing at the burn of it. She then tore off a longer strip from her dress, dwindling it down to the top of her thighs, and wrapped it around the small of her back and tied it in a makeshift knot.

Alice smiled up at what she saw, strolling down the ballroom past the orange and green sections as though she were strolling through a park, and looked up as if she saw a bird on a tree branch as she passed the purple section and halted beneath the chandelier in the blue section. "Don't knock it till you try it, girlie-bird. You'll be surprised how it fires up your nerves and lets you know you're alive. A life of sin and pain is better than the sleep of death, I'll tell you that much! Have you any idea how long I've waited for my debut? How much I've longed to breathe the sweet air that you take for granted? You don't know how precious your puny little life is, till you've spent a century of it in the crypt, buried alive till asphyxiation, buried with the worms and the dead!"

And beyond the pain in her leg and her back, her words struck a stab of horror through Colbie's heart, and she wondered who this person really was. She had introduced herself as 'Alice Liddell,' the inspiration for the eponymous Alice that Lewis Carroll wrote in two legendary tales, yet the real Alice Liddell had lived into her eighties. So who was she really? What role was she playing?

"Will you stay up there all night?" Alice said, and she checked her watch and humphed. "Still a little time left, but the show's coming closer every moment. So," she said, looking up at her cornered opponent, "care for one more engagement before we're done? Or do I have to go up there and get you?"

"What are you waiting for?"

"For you to come down, is all," Alice said, then paused for a bit and realized something amusing, and smiled a slasher smile. "Ah, I get it! Cat and mouse: is that what you're playing? I'm that cat and you're the mouse, and I'll hiss and I'll growl and I'll snatch you up there!"

And she dashed towards the wall of the ballroom and ran up the paneling and somersaulted through the air, torquing her body to slash at Colbie on the chandelier, but she was too far away. So she landed in a heavy squat, shaking the ballroom with a boom and rattling the crystals below Colbie's feet.

Colbie sighed in relief, thinking, Thank God!

"Damn you, no wonder you chose that wretched perch!" Alice said and glared up at Colbie in disgust, extending her arm and pointing her knife at her crafty opponent. "Only cowards claim the high ground, you vixen! Get down here and face me on level ground!"

For the first time in this entire engagement, Colbie smiled at the knife-wielding sociopath, smiling through the searing ache in her leg and her back, and gaining more rages and curses from Alice below her.

"Get down here, I say!" she yelled.

"No way," Colbie said, standing up from a crouch on unsteady legs and looking down on her opponent with a gleam in her eye. "You'll need to give me a damn good reason to come down there. Otherwise, I won't! And there's nothing you can do to make me, so there!"

Alice cursed and screamed, "Get down here, nowwwww!"

"No way, no can do," she returned, smiling in agony down at the flustered Alice as more searing needles bit into her wounds. "You get your ass up here! Oh, wait, you can't, can you? Aw, too bad then. You'll just have to leave me here while you go to your little debut, so shoo! Shoo!"

"So you want to play it that way, eh?" Alice said. "A war of words in place of actions? Two can play at that game. You like it up there, don't you?"

"Yep. It's nice and comfortable."

“Like a bed, right?” Alice said. “You like soft beds. Is that your turn-on?”

"Yep," Colbie said, smiling defiantly at Alice. "And I like sleeping in this bed, too, and there's nothing you can do to get me down it, so there!"

"So you like sleeping in your bed?"

"Yep."

"With your pillows and your teddy bears?"

"Yep."

"What about your mamma? Do you still sleep with her, too?" At this, Colbie paused, so Alice continued and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. Have I struck a nerve? Was it because I mentioned your mamma—your dear little mamma? Was it? Was iiiiit?"

So she gritted her teeth and said, "Leave . . . my mom . . . out of this!"

"Ah, it looks it was your dear little mamma," she said, pacing to and fro below Colbie's feet, peering up periodically and grinning at the panties underneath Colbie's dress. "Tell me this, girlie-bird. When you sleep with your mamma, do you sleep with her knickers on?"

"Leave her alone!" Colbie screamed, trembling atop the chandelier and clinking the crystals below her feet. "It's you and me, so leave her out of it, you bitch!"

"Such a potty mouth, you are! Only dunces use foul language to get their point across. Do you know what 'dunce' means? If you don't, it's a sign of low breeding," she said. "But you know I won't let it go, till you come down here and face me on common ground! So where was I? Ah, I know. I know. What about this? When you sleep on your bed with your mamma's knickers on, do you wet yourself? Do you like how it feels to be squirming beneath the sheets with your legs clamped tight and your bladder full of piss? Do you? Do youuuu?"

"Damn it, what's your fucking point?" And all at once, the air pulsed through the blue section of the ballroom, pulsing with Colbie's heartbeats surging from the epicenter of her perch on the chandelier.

But Alice continued with a knowing gleam in her eyes, saying, "Or maybe it's someone else entirely, not your mamma but your papa! Now be honest, girlie-bird. Does he use you instead of your mamma to get himself off? Does he? Tell me!"

Colbie said nothing, but her thoughts shifted to her parents' deteriorating marriage. To all outside eyes, she had a stable and happy family, no fights in public or private when Colbie was there, but she sensed a growing separation between them, both spending more and more time away from each other and absorbing themselves in their work.

“And where does he like to stick it in?” she continued. ”In your snatch? Or your arse? Or maybe you suck him off before you do all that? Tell me!”

Again, nothing from Colbie, but her thoughts shifted to her father, who took a greater interest in her own writing and her own interests in general over those of her mother. Why was that?

“Ah, what’s got you clammed up, girlie-bird?” she said. “Does he give youuuu all the attention your mamma used to get? Are youuuu stealing him away from your mamma? Do youuuu like getting all of his attention? Hmmmmmmm?”

And to be honest with herself, Colbie found some truth in what Alice said. She loved it when she read her first story to her father, loved the rush of butterflies in her stomach as she read aloud and cast her spell over his eyes like the eyes of an awestruck prince wondering at his storytelling mistress. Maybe Alice had hit on something after all, that Colbie loved her father then and loved him ever since when she wrote many of her stories for him, till he said to her one day when she was twelve to 'write your stories for yourself, first, then revise for me afterwards.' His words fluttered through her and made her cheeks burn, but neither case (at eight or twelve) had she seen anything of lust in his eyes, but only wonderment and fatherly satisfaction. To Colbie, writing fiction was a journey and a discovery, an unveiling of the truth inside the lie, and she caught Alice in a big fat lie.

Colbie glared down at the foe below her feet and gripped Prince Prospero's dagger in her hand, visualizing a hurricane in her mind blowing all of its winds into the blade. And the dagger trembled in her hand, trembled with the blast of a hurricane trapped inside it, ready to release the moment she willed it.

"Ah, getting restless up there, are you?" Alice said, gripping her knife in her hand and spacing her feet into a stance. "Care to have one more tango?"

"I hope you're ready for this, because it won't be pretty," Colbie said, then leapt from the chandelier, clinking the crystals, into a free fall—

(with 2 minutes left)


3


And teleporting out of Alice’s reach and appearing right up in her face, swinging her dagger across her waist and crossing blades with her, sending a clang echoing through the ballroom. And a flood of gusts blasted Alice across the purple and into the green section of the ballroom, where she skidded to a halt on the parquet flooring.

Another wave of pain seared into her back and leg, but Colbie gripped her dagger in both hands and charged Alice, blinking out of sight and appearing right up in her face in mid-lunge, then pulled across her waist and crossed blades with Alice. And another flood of gusts blasted Alice amidst a clang of echoes into the orange section of the space. She charged Alice again, blinking out of sight and appearing behind her back, then pulled across the small of her back—

And tagged Alice as she turned and rolled and wheeled on her feet and faced her with a demon's glare through glowing red eyes. She was breathing through gritted teeth and wincing with every breath she took, and a line of blood stained the back of her dress. Then the ballroom rumbled with the stir of her presence emanating up through the floor, swirling the air around Colbie's feet in a growing heat of rage and pain and malice, feeding on these emotions like a ravenous monster.

So Colbie paused a moment, letting another wave of pain sear into her back and leg, and noticed Alice reversing her grip on the knife, gripping it with the blade under her fingers and the edge turned out, something Colbie had never seen before. Maybe Kendra could fill her in on knife wielding techniques later.

Then Alice said through raspy breaths, drips of her blood staining the floor, "What's the matter, birdie-girl? Got cold feet? Losing your nerves? Pissing your knickers?"

So Colbie grimaced at her words and charged her again, blinking out of sight and appearing behind her opponent, but Alice ducked and turned and wheeled on her feet with her arm outstretched, pulling her blade across Collie's stomach—

Just as she teleported back to the blue section of the ballroom, out of Alice's range.

And for a moment, Colbie felt nothing, so she wheeled around on the balls of her feet, facing her opponent for another charge. But she lost her footing and fell to her knees as pain seared into her abdomen with every breath she took, digging into her in vicious spasms and waves of nausea. She tried to get up, but her legs gave out under her as blood poured out and covered her dress and collected in a spreading pool on the floor. Her heartbeats skyrocketed and her breathing felt shallow and her vision blurred and doubled and tripled and quadrupled.

Just as Alice came sprinting at Colbie in a blur through the ballroom with bloody intentions, wheeling on her feet and slashing at Colbie's neck—

When instinct took over and Colbie rolled to the side and wheeled onto her feet and plunged her dagger deep into Alice's stomach. And somewhere in the fog of Colbie's confusion and disbelief, somewhere between elation and horror, was the feeling that she had fucked up, that she had committed an unpardonable sin, that her soul was done for as visions of Mara stabbing her through the stomach flitted past her eyes.

She pulled out the dagger and Alice fell to her knees, her eyes entranced in a look of disbelief.

Then another wave of pain seared through her stomach, and Colbie fell to her knees, letting her dagger clang to the floor in splatters of blood, like the knell of a funeral bell clanging through a silent night. She gritted her teeth hard against the spasms digging deeper and deeper into her, pressing her hand onto the wound and feeling the warmth of her blood running rivulets through her fingers.

She looked up and saw Alice still holding her knife, despite the blood flow seeping from her stomach. Yet the look on Alice's face changed and contorted into a grimace, her smile stretching wide across her cheeks, her eyes burning red in a demonic glare. And Alice rose to her feet just as Colbie's vision blurred and doubled and tripled and quadrupled, her astral body finally giving out and collapsing to the floor—

(with 10 seconds left)


4


And falling through the rabbit hole of unconscious slow-wave sleep and struggling with Alice in the darkness, struggling against Alice's hold on her wrists for nine long seconds, gritting her teeth and wrenching herself onto her side and yanking an arm free from her grasp amid a sea of taunting voices calling her name. So she flailed and struck at the monster called Alice Liddell, bloodying her nose and finally getting her off—

When the voice of Alice turned into her mother's, and Colbie sat up in her bed and saw her mother crying on the floor at the foot of her bedside with her hand pressed under a bloody nose.

That's when Colbie looked down at her hands and then felt at her stomach, her back, and the side of her thigh beneath the sheets, flinging it away. No blood on her pajamas over her stomach and none pooling on the sheets behind her back or under her leg.

It had all been a dream, a horrible dream.

She looked at her mother and said, "Mom, are you okay?" She got off the bed and approached her, saying, "Did I hurt you?"

Her mother wiped the blood on her sleeve and stared at her daughter with eyes of fright, as though she had been wrestling with a monster possessing her daughter.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry! I'm sooo so sorry!" And she came up to her mother and reached out to touch her, but she grabbed Colbie's hand and yanked her into a partial embrace on the floor.

Her mother then dug her hands through Colbie's shirt and felt at her stomach and then at her back, then yanked her pants down her thighs ("Mom, what are you—?"), but no sign of bloodshed was there. Her mother sighed and said, "You're not hurt, thank God!" And she hugged her daughter close to her, kneeling on the floor with tears trailing down her cheeks. "I thought I lost you."

Colbie blanked on the import of her words, but then it clicked. She pulled from her embrace and said, "Did you see?"

"I did," her mother said, wiping tears away with her sleeve. "Who was that girl?"

“I don’t know. I think . . .” Colbie paused, her mind racing with fresh images of the girl she fought, and the skin of her thigh, back and stomach tingled with the residual burning sensation of getting slashed. “Alice-something. I think her name’s Alice . . . Alice . . . Arrrrrgh, I can’t remember!”

Her mother's eyes flashed with something of recognition, as if a curtain was pulled back and she saw glimpses through the keyhole of a closed door.

"Liddell?" her mother said under her breath. "By 'Alice,' do you mean Alice Liddell?"

Colbie looked at her, speechless.

"As in," she continued, "Alice Pleasance Liddell?"

And a look of shock lighted on Colbie's face. "You know her?"

Her mother paused for several moments, seeming to dwell on things that Colbie couldn't see or understand, seeming to linger on the cusp of indecision about something beyond her ken, before getting to her feet in silence.

Colbie waited a moment for her to speak, and when she didn’t, she said, “Mom, what’s going on?”

"There's more to this than you know."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

But her mother left her bedroom, saying, "Follow me downstairs, and I'll tell you in the kitchen. And yes," she added at the threshold, "it's gonna be one of those talks."


5


With the last traces of Colbie's astral presence fading before her, Alice looked at the knife with the girl's blood on the blade, still vibrant and warm with the pulse of a beating heart. She raised the blade to her nose and the iron scent of it misted below her eyes and made her eyes water, tracks of it falling down her cheeks. And for a moment, she thought of the Madonna statuettes crying tears of blood down cheeks of cold stone and porcelain, wondering how it would be like if Alice herself had that kind of gift within her power.

She then looked at the blood-stained blade of her knife and ran it flat on her tongue, lapping it up like a kitten lapping up milk, then turned the blade over and ran it flat on her tongue again, savoring the taste of it and feeling the euphoria washing through her senses and sharpening her mind.

"You're a truant, my darling," Rancaster said behind her back.

And she turned around, saying, "And you are a voyeur," and turned back around in a pout.

“And you sure are a glutton for punishment, too,” he said, looking at the recent blood stains on her ruined sky-blue dress. “You just came back from the dead, and already you’ve been slashed and stabbed. I was wondering where Auna got her proclivities from.”

Alice gritted her teeth and said, "What do you see in that girl-character, anyway?"

"You, of course," he said, walking up to her, and wrapped his arms around her waist and ran one of his hands across the wound in her stomach, making her wince.

So she grasped the offending hand and held his fingers to her mouth and licked her fingers clean of blood, then turned around and looked up into his face, gazing into his eyes, and said, "And what do you see in me?" And she raised her knife to his face and placed the flat side of the blade on his cheek. "Answer carefully now. You might not get another chance."

"Saucy as ever, I see," he said, then smiled and raised her chin up with his hand and French-kissed her, then pulled away. "It's time for your debut, my darling. Best not to make them wait too long."

"Just a little bit longer," she said. "I want to pay my girl-character a visit."

"I thought you despised her."

“No, I don’t,” she said, then threw her knife to the parquet flooring, sending an echo through the ballroom, where it stuck in place. “I can’t despise the very means for my return, even if she is a good-for-nothing girl-character.”

"You're being too hard on her."

"Perhaps I am." Alice looked up Rancaster and pulled him closer to her height and kissed him again, lingering a moment before letting him go. "I want to make it up to her if I can. In my own way, of course."

The man just stood there in thought, then said, "You're a cruel child, Bambina."

She smiled another slasher smile. "I know."


6


After a time, Auna found herself once again in Katherine’s library, standing before the very mirror that Alice looked through when she peered into the Looking-Glass House in Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.

Instead of her Shad-Row uniform, Auna wore a white Sunday dress that she wore when she tried it on for Rancaster during July before the school term started. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, finding it all spick and span, not a blemish on her face, not a hair out of place. She felt better than she had since her father abused her, let alone since she broke her leg in her tumble down the stairs, yet the more she looked, the more anxious she became at her uncanny reflection.

So she leaned towards the reflection and saw her face getting bigger and bigger, as though this second self were copying her movements to the last degree of pantomime. Auna then passed her hand across the reflected face, crossing her own line of sight, and saw a slight change in the expression of those reflected eyes.

And in that split second, she recognized the roving predatory eyes of that she-wolf wearing her own face and her own clothes, but was not herself. And those eyes lit up with mischief, hinting at forbidden desires coming to the surface like hellfire from unfathomable depths. And in those eyes, her doppelgänger carried a cesspool of bodily sensations that only wanted more, more of Auna’s body, more of her heart, more of her soul.

Then a slasher's smile stretched across her doppelgänger’s face, and it said, “It only happens when you’re not looking.”

And the words of her imposter filtered through her mind and took her back down the rabbit hole of unconscious sleep and back to the conscious awareness of a nightmare.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, nooooooo!” she screamed, backing away from the mirror, away from the imposter wearing her face. “You can’t be real! You’re the imposter, not me!”

”Sorry for bursting your bubble, bambina,” this imposter said, “but it was never your debut to begin with. You’re just a stand-in for me, a persona that I merely adopted for my debut.”

Now it dawned on her who this second self was, who the little girl really was, the one she had hugged on the gondola floating down the Canale Veneziano into Arcadia Park, the one she had hugged in bed every night. “You’re Alice Liddell!”

“Bingo,” her doppelgänger replied, forming a gun with her fingers and pretending to shoot through the mirror. “Bang! Now you know who I am, you clever girl-character!”

“Alice, please, listen to me,” Auna said. “This isn’t right. You have to stop this, right now!”

“Why should I stop what you never had the nerve to endure yourself?” Alice said, no longer smiling.

Auna remained silent on her words, silent on the shame her father had brought on her, silent on the shame she has repressed for most of her life. By adopting the name of a ‘girl-character’ from a children’s book and repressing that sacrificial vessel that was Alice Pleasance Liddell from her memory, Auna thought she had escaped. She was wrong.

“You created me to endure your pain,” Alice said, “a pain that was never mine to suffer, while you hid yourself and watched your father commit atrocities on me and listened to my screams. I was your friend, Auna.”

“We’re still friends, believe me!”

“No, we’re not,” Alice said, shaking her head.

“Yes, we are!” Auna yelled, then broke down into tears and fell to her knees. “Alice, I love you. I love you more than anything in the world.”

“And yet you left me to endure those godless nights, left me to strive with a beast of a man,” and Alice raised the hem of her Sunday dress, revealing no knickers.

Auna averted her gaze from the evidence of her father’s crime. “Alice, I’m . . . I’m sorry, I—”

“It is I who should feel sorry for you,” Alice said, and when Auna looked up, she squatted down and met Auna’s gaze. “I should feel you for you, but I’m not. I should still be your friend, but I’m not anymore and never will be again. Even so,” she added, standing back up, “you’ve given them a good show, dear, worthy of Hamlet himself, if he were actually real. But he’s not, and you’re not and never will be again.”

“Alice, wait, listen to me!”

“Ah, look at the time!” she added, checking her watch and ignoring Auna’s pleas. “I must be off with the White Knight, but I’ll send you a card on your birthday. Oh wait, you don’t have a birthday! Oh, well. I’ll send you one, anyway. You can depend on it! In fact, I’ll mail it to ’Nowhere’ and address it to ‘Nobody’—how does that sound? Anyway, I’d love to stay and chat, Ms. Nobody, but my debut’s about to come,” and she bowed to her in mock-respect. ”Tootles!”

And she waved at the horrified Auna, then turned on her heel and walked out of the library entrance where Auna’s astral body still lay sprawled at the foot of the stairs, ready to make her big entrance in front of Rancaster’s adoring audience.

“Wait, waaaait!” Auna said, banging on the mirror, trying to break it, trying to break through, but to no avail. Soon her banging had ceased and she started to cry, crying more tears than she had cried since her father abused her, crying and crying till she leaned on the mirror, her tear-slicked face on its surface.

Now reduced to inaudible mumbles, she slid down to her knees again in despair, crying and crying and crying . . .


7


After splashing water on her face and patting it dry with a dish towel, Leslie Amame checked the time on the LCD clock that read 4:39 a.m. above the television screen before joining Colbie at the kitchen counter, leaning on her elbows over the countertop just like her daughter. Even when Leslie's feet ached a bit on the cold linoleum flooring, and Colbie suggested they sit on the couch or at the dining table, she was adamant about keeping her feet on the kitchen floor.

"But why?" Colbie said. "Was it a dream?"

“Yeah.” Leslie waited, expecting her daughter to say something about that movie that might clue her into something Leslie felt upon waking up, but when Colbie remained silent, she let it slide and said, “Do you know what time it is?”

Colbie looked at the LCD clock above on the television. “A little past half past four. Why?”

“Four o’clock in the morning,” she said. “That’s the hour of wolves. It’s the most dangerous time of night, and I was running from a pack of wolves in my dream.”

Colbie blanched at her words and sucked in breath, her mind flooded with memories of her misadventure in the old Rancaster district with her friends, where they had run afoul of an entire pack of them. Big ones, too.

Leslie noticed and said, "Did you encounter them?"

Colbie gulped and nodded her head.

"In the Rancaster district?"

Again, Colbie nodded.

She remained silent for a time, rolling more thoughts through her head, and when her daughter kept waiting for an explanation, Leslie said, "I'm not as good at dream recall as I used to be. It's been years since the last time I kept a dream journal, and even when I did, I only remember them in fragments."

"That's okay," her daughter said. "Just say what you can."

So Leslie closed her eyes, visualizing whatever manifestations she could, and said, "Right after I went to sleep, the first thing I remember was getting up from that couch after someone kissed my forehead," and her observation made her daughter pink a bit, and when she noticed her reaction, she smiled and said, "Ah, I thought it was you. Anyway, I got up from that couch, and I wasn't sure at the time, but I thought I heard the sound of bells ringing. It wasn't very distinct, though, so I just wandered around the house a bit. At first, I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, but I began to notice that the sound grew stronger in the kitchen."

"Is that why we're in the kitchen?"

"Yeah," she said. "I started opening all the cupboards in the kitchen, but I couldn't pinpoint where the sound was coming from. So I went to the pantry and opened the door," and she pointed it out to Colbie, adding, "and that's where I heard the sound getting stronger. They were ringing bells, all right: the sound was unmistakable. All of the sudden, I had an image of wedding bells in my mind. And for whatever reason, the sound of wolves howling accompanied the sound of bells, so I turned to get out, but when I did . . ."


8


The door slammed shut on Leslie, trapping her inside the moment she moved. She cursed and grabbed the handle, wrenching it and yanking on it, but it stayed in place like a rusted screw nut. She cursed again and leaned into it, leveraging her body weight against it, torquing it into turning over, but to no use. So she slammed her forearms against the door, preparing to summon a hurricane blast to break through the door, but stopped herself before the winds stirred.

Even if this was a dream, she preferred not to break the actual pantry door or destroy the stuff on the shelves if she was sleepwalking. She hadn't slept-walked in years, but she wasn't about to take any chances now.

She looked back over the shelves stocked with cans of food and boxes of dried goods and household supplies, went up to a corner of the shelves and crouched down to the lower shelf, then pushed open a hidden door compartment and reached into a cubby hole where the key was—

Only to find that key missing.


9


"I couldn't find it there," Leslie continued, "so I looked everywhere in the pantry. I even took everything off the shelves to look for it, but it wasn't anywhere no matter how hard I looked." Then she noticed the nervous look on Colbie's face and said, "Do you know where it is?"

Her daughter remained silent, looking down on the countertop to avoid looking her in the face.

"Colbie, what happened to my key?"

"I didn't mean to lose it, okay? Honest!" Colbie said, slamming a fist onto the countertop. "It just appeared in my drawer. I didn't know it was yours!"

Leslie sighed in exasperation and said, "You didn't take it with you, did you? Did you?"

Colbie stayed silent.

Leslie cursed and said, "Ugh, why do you keep doing this to me?"

"I didn't know, okay? Geez!" And she stormed off in a huff.

"Colbie, wait!" And Leslie grabbed her daughter's wrist. "I'll deal with that later, okay? My key can wait. This is way more important, trust me. You need to know this."

Her daughter relented and joined her side again, resting her elbows over the countertop.

"I'm sorry for getting angry, okay?" Leslie said, then continued with her story, adding, "I'm not gonna lie. I was pissed when I couldn't find the key, but then the sound of wedding bells came through the pantry door, and when I turned . . ."


10


Leslie saw the door opening on its own into another part of the Phantom Realms, where the bells rang on the whispering winds outside. And mingled with the clanging promises of marriage were long and lugubrious howls of wolves in the distance, where many travelers of yore feared to tread at night. She gulped down her qualms and approached the open door on tenuous feet and saw the pale gleam of moonlight on the linoleum floor on the threshold of the door, left ajar for her to enter if she dared.

And Leslie dared even as her heartbeats thumped like drumbeats in her chest. She approached on the balls of her sandaled feet, almost on tiptoe as though making sure not to stir the howlers of the night, stretching out her hand and pushing the door open into a nightmare.


つづく

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About the author

Fox-Trot-9

Bio: From Las Vegas, NV, welcome to my profile, RoyalRoadsters! I'm Foxy, the fluffy butt-stabber! I'm weird, introverted, impatient, cheerful (half the time), and friendly. I'm a Catholic, a former college student, a dream diarist, an amateur poet and short story writer and novelist, and a chronic perfectionist, ugh!

Genres I write include dark fantasy, gothic, magical girl, occult detective, action, thriller, horror, genre mashups, LGBT, and a dash of ecchi.

Genres I read include whatever catches my fancy. Who knows? It might be one of yours!

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