Chapter 2:

Chapter Two

Alice: Descent to Madness

The silence was maddening, its ambient eeriness only growing by the moment. Time was nonexistent- an illusion even. Devoid of life with drab walls and a black and white tiled floor reminiscent of a chessboard, the corridor twisted and turned like a labyrinth, stretching for what seemed like miles, leading everywhere and nowhere at all.Bookmark here

Step. Shuffle. Step.Bookmark here

The featureless passageway was oppressively liminal, isolated from the outside world and only illuminated by sickly yellow lantern light. The air was stale and dusty- suffocating even- and the overwhelming silence made it even harder to ignore.Bookmark here

It felt like a tomb.Bookmark here

With nothing but her thoughts for company, Alice had no choice but to limp forward- a challenge, for the bitemark in her shin throbbed dully, and a sharp, burning sensation shot up her leg like kerosene set ablaze whenever she shifted too much weight onto it, forcing her to cling to the wall.Bookmark here

Step. Shuffle. Step.Bookmark here

Exhausted beyond belief, the girl only seemed to grow more debilitated, her boots feeling as if they were filled with lead. With each breath of musty air, the ache in her chest only persisted, muscles almost melting. While the blood had begun to clot, her still inflamed wounds stung horribly whenever she moved the wrong way, as if she were being sliced open all over again, and the red stain on her shirt had darkened into a rusty brown hue.Bookmark here

Ambling along and trying to silence a pained hiss, Alice could only hope to find something to tend to herself with soon.Bookmark here

Step. Shuffle. Step.Bookmark here

After all, who knew how dirty her wounds had gotten during her time in the rabbit hole?Bookmark here

She bit her lip, trying not to think about potential infections as she continued her journey.Bookmark here

How much longer could this passage be? Surely all paths had to end, right?Bookmark here

Slumping against the wall, Alice numbly reached for the pocket watch, tiredly staring down at the dial.Bookmark here

9:16- frozen on the dot.Bookmark here

Alice's eyes widened at this, heart skipping a beat. Last time she had checked, it had been two minutes later.Bookmark here

How could it become earlier than it had last been?Bookmark here

But then she recalled its peculiar feature.Bookmark here

“...Oh, right...” Before her very eyes, the hands had moved in reverse- though seeing as the ticking had ended long ago, that hardly mattered now. With motionless hands, it had become entirely obsolete.Bookmark here

However, Alice could not bring herself to discard the watch. It dangled comfortingly from her waist. Even so, grimacing as she pushed off the wall, she knew she'd have to find a new way to tell time. After plummeting down that miles-deep abyss, seeing what color the sky had become would be impossible. The bland, windowless corridor did not offer any help in that regard.Bookmark here

Taking a deep breath of unrefreshing, stale air, she had no choice but to keep walking.Bookmark here

Step. Shuffle. Step.Bookmark here

No matter the distance she covered, the scenery did not change. Those dull, empty walls stretched on for eternity, the floor a never-ending chessboard for a hopeless pawn forced to participate in an everlasting game she could never win.Bookmark here

Sighing, Alice hung her head, eyelids fluttering shut.Bookmark here

"C’mon...enough already...” Her voice was soft, frustrated, and hardly a mumble. The same deafening silence ensued, and when she had given up on pleading to an omnipotent entity that didn't exist, she opened her eyes again.Bookmark here

Her path had split into two. Alice stopped dead in her tracks, stunned by the change.Bookmark here

"Finally!" She suddenly exclaimed, relief spreading across her weary features.Bookmark here

Maybe someone had been listening after all.Bookmark here

Although now, there was a choice to be made, her gaze flickering.Bookmark here

Left or right?Bookmark here

Each path looked identical, with ornately carved doorways crowning the barren walls. She could just barely make out a dark wooden paneling, but nothing else within each room, bathed in that same dull lantern light- entirely uniform. With no reason to favor one over the other, she thoughtlessly chose the left route, limping through the corridor and through the doorframe.Bookmark here

No sooner than she had crossed the threshold, Alice heard a strange, soft sound behind her.Bookmark here

Was someone there?Bookmark here

Whirling around, she found only a featureless wall. Then she was struck by a sick, spiraling sense of dread.Bookmark here

A wall. A wall with no archway. A wall that had been sealed shut behind her.Bookmark here

“Wh-What?! How?!”Bookmark here

Pulse thundering in her ears, she desperately pressed her hands to the wall, groping and clawing at it for anything that could reveal a hidden door- but there was nothing that indicated more than a flat, barren wall.Bookmark here

It was as if the passage had never existed- why? Why had she walked in so blindly?Bookmark here

Alice pounded her fists against the wall harder and harder, stopping as her resolve died.Bookmark here

It seemed it would never open again.Bookmark here

“Dammit...” She hissed, heart hammering as she turned back around, gasping out.Bookmark here

The walls were covered in doors- some nearly as tall as the high ceiling, others a size fit for a dollhouse.Bookmark here

They surely had not been there before.Bookmark here

Eyes wide, Alice recoiled and pressed her back to the wall behind her, something hard digging into her waist. Startled, she sprang away- only to find more doors in her place.Bookmark here

“What the hell's going on here...?”Bookmark here

Perhaps she was already losing her mind- a horrifying thought.Bookmark here

The girl shook her head, trying to calm down as she reached out to the door that had been behind her, twisting the handle. Even as she rattled it, the door did not open. It was locked- or perhaps jammed. At least it wasn't the only one. Alice cut her losses, moving onto a different door- which was locked as well. With growing anxiety, she tested each one in sight, praying that one would eventually swing open.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

The low sound echoed throughout the claustrophobic room, startling Alice. She froze, her throat dry.Bookmark here

The pocket watch.Bookmark here

With trembling fingers, she lifted the silver watch, staring down at the dial. Before her very eyes, the hands were moving in reverse, as if they had never stopped in the first place.Bookmark here

Alice’s heartbeat began to quicken, and she started to feel light-headed, her lungs strained.Bookmark here

Why was she so frightened by this? She tried to be reasonable- it was just a stupid clock. A clock stalling and starting again was nothing unheard of.Bookmark here

But a horrifying possibility occurred to her.Bookmark here

Was this the doing of the White Rabbit? Had he set this up in advance? Or had someone else trapped her in this room?Bookmark here

“Wh-Where are you?! Come out and show yourself!” Though she had meant to sound authoritative, her voice involuntarily quivered. Wildly darting around, Alice's eyes searched for something she could use to defend herself with- anything. Anything. She’d take anything she was given.Bookmark here

In the center of the room now stood a tiny table. With three legs, it was made entirely out of glass, glinting in the dim light. Atop of it sat a small glass bottle and a plate of pastel puff pastries.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

Warily, she approached it with narrowed eyes. It was unsettling how suddenly things seemed to materialize.Bookmark here

“Drink Me” read a small tag, tied to the neck of the bottle with twine. Atop the pastries, “Eat Me” was written in cursive frosting letters.Bookmark here

“I’m not stupid enough to fall for this.” Alice scoffed, feeling almost insulted by the absurdity of the messages. “Who’d obey something so suspicious? Bet they're full of poison...” She picked the bottle up to examine it.Bookmark here

Cling.Bookmark here

Suspended in the pale blue liquid was a silver, L-shaped object.Bookmark here

A key.Bookmark here

“Thank god!”Bookmark here

Yanking out the cork stopper, Alice eagerly turned the bottle upside down to dump out its contents. The liquid rushed towards the mouth of the bottle, but nothing spilled out- it merely hovered inside, cradling the key.Bookmark here

Eyes wide in disbelief, she shook the bottle, but not even a single drop escaped. Head beginning to pound, her dizziness only grew. She smelled something oddly sweet, too sweet.Bookmark here

What was this strange feeling?Bookmark here

Looking around the room for some sort of explanation, she saw nothing but doors- not a single clue.Bookmark here

But then she looked up.Bookmark here

A thick lilac smoke was pouring into the room, the clouds slowly spreading across the ceiling.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

The girl’s eyes widened in helpless horror.Bookmark here

She was being smoked out- with nowhere to run.Bookmark here

In a panic, Alice hurled the glass bottle against the ground.Bookmark here

Cling.Bookmark here

The bottle almost seemed to bounce, unscathed as it landed on the tile floor. The key bobbed up and down slightly, before settling at the bottom.Bookmark here

Now what was she supposed to do?Bookmark here

Her head spun, vision growing hazy. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and her chest stung.Bookmark here

Clamping a hand over her mouth and nose, Alice unsteadily lowered herself to the floor. A prickly pins-and-needles sensation had begun in her fingertips as she numbly picked up the bottle again, staring down at it.Bookmark here

“Drink Me” the bottle encouraged, taunted, pleaded.Bookmark here

Praying that it wasn't drain cleaner, Alice lifted the bottle to her lips with trembling hands, taking a sip.Bookmark here

She choked on the liquid- it was disgusting, a strange and horrific combination of flavors and textures.Bookmark here

Cherry tart. Custard. Pineapple. Roast turkey. Toffee. Hot buttered toast.Bookmark here

But the key was inside- she needed it. She needed that key. She needed it, or she'd die like vermin.Bookmark here

Plugging her nose, Alice forced herself to keep drinking, even as her tongue burned and her eyes watered. It trickled down her chin, onto her blood-stained shirt. Coughing and gagging and sputtering, she wanted to stop, to spit it out and wipe her mouth until the horrid taste was gone. But she couldn't. She kept drinking the foul liquid until the bottle was drained, and cold metal brushed against her lip.Bookmark here

The girl was quick to lower the bottle, which had seemed to grow larger and heavier in her hand until she had to hold it with both of them, before being forced to drop it. The room seemed wider, taller, the doors more imposing somehow. The already high ceiling got higher and higher and higher, covered in those clouds of lilac, and that was when Alice realized she was shrinking.Bookmark here

She got smaller and smaller and smaller, until she was barely the size of a doll, paralyzed in shock as her heart pummeled her ribs.Bookmark here

Now that she was closer to the ground, she could breathe more comfortably, although that smoke kept pouring in, slowly pressing down upon the room, and soon, even Alice herself wouldn't be able to avoid it.Bookmark here

Quivering at the thought, she unsteadily rose to her full height of ten inches, eyes wide. Her perception was distorted- the room of doors appeared over ten times as wide as it had been, and the lilac cloud-covered ceiling more closely resembled the sky than a roof. The tallest doors were as high as skyscrapers, and the tiniest ones were now just the right height for her to enter.Bookmark here

But she still needed to unlock the right one.Bookmark here

Eyes frantic, she looked for the glass bottle she had drank that foul potion from. It lay on its side just next to her, now the same size as an outdoor trash can. The silver head of a key peeked out from the empty bottle’s mouth, glinting invitingly.Bookmark here

It was hers now.Bookmark here

Alice scrambled for it, grabbing onto the thick metal ring that crowned it. She pulled, but the key was significantly heftier than she had anticipated. Lifting her foot to brace it against the lip of the bottle, she realized that the pain in her leg was gone. So was that of her other injuries.Bookmark here

“What the hell?” She gawked down at herself, realizing that the wound- that horrible, gruesome bitemark- had disappeared too. The previously torn and bloodstained fabric had also somehow been mended- her striped stockings were as pristine as they had been on the day she bought them.Bookmark here

How? How was this even possible?Bookmark here

The girl quickly shook her head- she had just been shrunk to the size of a doll by ingesting a bizarre blue beverage, so it was stupid to question the nonsensical “rules” of this mysterious place. Instead, she used her newfound strength to yank the large silver key until it slid from the bottle with a slick pop, the force nearly sending Alice tumbling to the ground- but she managed to steady herself again, using it as a staff.Bookmark here

The key was half as tall as she was, reaching her waist, and the stem was as thick as the handrail on a bus, curving up into a delicate heart shape. The pale polished silver was striking and suddenly familiar- the same metal that cased the pocket watch.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

Her realization once again made her aware of the ominous ticking noise that came from around her waist. Shuddering, Alice gripped the key more tightly, blue eyes scanning the great room of doors. There were just so many that it would be impossible to try to unlock them all- at least, before she succumbed to that frightening lilac smoke.Bookmark here

Dragging the key behind her, the girl hurried across the room, towards the first door in her line of sight- one that must've been the height of a ruler- and inspected the surface of it. The knob and keyhole were proportional to the door itself, significantly tinier than the silver key.Bookmark here

It seemed this was not the one.Bookmark here

"If this one's too small, then the others are probably the same...” Alice mused to herself, peering at the other miniature doors as she began to make her way around the room. “So it’s one of the larger ones...”Bookmark here

But how could she reach the locks of the taller doors? At her current size, it was an impossible task. Even when she vaulted upwards, the doorknobs were entirely out of range. She had nothing to use as impromptu climbing gear, and if she were to fall from just two feet in the air, she was sure it would feel equivalent to falling from a second-story window.Bookmark here

No, she couldn’t risk certain injury...Bookmark here

While desperately glancing around the barren room of doors, looking for something- anything- that could be used to help her escape, Alice spotted it.Bookmark here

The small glass table.Bookmark here

It had previously been about knee-level, but now- as she dashed over to it with the silver key slung over her shoulder- it loomed over her head. Atop the translucent surface was that platter of peculiar pastries.Bookmark here

“Eat Me” their frosting letters encouraged.Bookmark here

“I should grow taller again, right?” Alice mused to herself, apprehensively, hesitantly.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

Dropping the key onto the ground, she cracked her knuckles and rubbed her hands together, before leaping upwards and trying to climb onto the glass table.Bookmark here

Up. Up. Up- she managed to grab ahold of the edge, clinging to it and attempting to pull herself up, but the smooth surface provided no friction and was not so easily conquered. The girl’s fingers mournfully squeaked against the glass as her grip slipped, and she unceremoniously landed back on the ground.Bookmark here

“I should’ve tried harder in gym class...” Alice grumbled to herself, wiping the sweat from her hands onto her shorts. “Ugh...”Bookmark here

The thick lilac smoke was pouring into the room steadily now, the great cloud slowly growing heavier and lower- soon, she would be at its mercy.Bookmark here

There had to be something she could do.Bookmark here

Heart racing again, her blue eyes darted around frantically. Doors and doors and doors. Smoke. The silver key. The “Drink Me” bottle.Bookmark here

Suddenly, she was struck with an idea.Bookmark here

Alice hurried to the discarded bottle that lay on its side, determined to escape. Crouching down, she gave it a strong nudge- heavy, but moveable. Taking a deep breath, the girl began to roll it forward, pushing and shoving for what felt like an eternity, until her arms were throbbing and the bottle was just in front of the table. With some difficulty, she managed to stand it upright like a pedestal.Bookmark here

Grabbing the silver key with one hand and planting it against the ground, she reached up to grip the rim and tried to climb up. Bracing herself with the key as if it were a staff, she lunged forward and- with a great deal of effort- pulled herself up until she was standing on top of the bottle.Bookmark here

Alice stopped to catch her breath, but she had only accomplished half of her plan- she still needed the pastries.Bookmark here

Cautiously, she extended her arm- she could grab the edge of the table- but hesitated. Last time, she hadn’t been able to hold on long enough to pull herself up. If her grip slipped, she’d have to climb the bottle again- and she wasn’t sure if she could afford to waste the time or energy.Bookmark here

No, she’d have to go about this differently...Bookmark here

Alice chewed on her bottom lip, her head throbbing. There had to be a way. There had to be. She gripped the ring of the key, pressing her fingers into the metal with desperation. She had to think. She could think of something. There was a way out of this. Her eyes were locked on the pastries, heart racing fervently.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

Her time was running out, the lilac cloud closing in, hovering maybe three inches above the table. She probably only had mere minutes left.Bookmark here

There was no time to stall.Bookmark here

Taking a deep breath, Alice lay the key against her shoulder, crouched, and in a desperate, impulsive attempt, she leaped at the glass table.Bookmark here

She couldn’t jump far, for she wobbled on the tiny rim of the bottle- but as her waist slammed into the edge of the table, Alice swung the key. It rammed into the tin tray’s rim, knocking the pastries further down, enough to hang over the edge.Bookmark here

The girl landed in a heap on the ground, the glass bottle falling on its side and the silver key clattering on the tile. She grit her teeth, curled into a fetal position as she tried to push away the pain. Her back hurt. Her muscles stung. Her waist throbbed. Her head ached.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

Forcing herself to her feet, Alice grabbed the key, dashing to the other side of the table. The platter of pastries loomed over her- just out of reach.Bookmark here

With sore arms, Alice gripped the key with both hands, lifted it over her head, and swung as if it were an axe.Bookmark here

Clang.Bookmark here

It struck the platter. The strength of the blow tipped it like a seesaw, the puff pastries a blur of pastel colors catapulting through the air. The girl ducked and shielded herself from their onslaught as they came flying down to earth.Bookmark here

Whump. They hit the ground like sacks of flour.Bookmark here

Opening her eyes as she straightened up, she looked around. A mess of crumbs and powdered sugar littered the surrounding area and Alice alike.Bookmark here

Hastily dusting herself off, the girl reached down to grab a crumb the size of her miniature hand, studying it warily.Bookmark here

“Just a little at a time...” She muttered, skeptical about how strong of an effect it would have on her growth.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick. Tok.Bookmark here

Praying that it wouldn't taste as horrid as that shrinking potion, the girl lifted the crumb to her lips and took a small bite.Bookmark here

Vaguely sugary. That's all she could say about the flavor.Bookmark here

Her perspective seemed to jump a little higher. She took another nibble. She grew taller again. Then she took a larger bite. Then another. Before she knew it, after feasting on the crumbs, Alice had returned to her usual height of five feet three inches- and not a moment too early, for now the sickly sweet clouds of lilac smoke enveloped her. She instantly felt dizzy, a stronger ache spreading through her temples.Bookmark here

Coughing and wheezing, she pulled her shirt up to cover her mouth and nose, the silver key clutched in her hand. Abandoning the mess of baked goods on the floor, she hurried towards the first suitably sized door in sight. Her eyes watered, yet her throat felt bone-dry.Bookmark here

Alice hastily stuffed the silver key into the keyhole, twisting it with desperation. When she tugged on the doorknob, it did not swing open.Bookmark here

Wrong one.Bookmark here

The girl was quick to cut her losses, pulling the key out and dashing to the next similarly sized door. As she glanced at the triangular-shaped hole, she quickly asserted that it wouldn’t fit.Bookmark here

Another decoy.Bookmark here

The more doors she tested and could not open, the more her panic grew. Her heart felt ready to tear through her chest, pummeling her ribcage as black spots dancing in her tear-blurred vision. The pins-and-needles sensation had returned to her trembling fingers, and she could hear a high-pitched ringing above the sound of her pounding pulse.Bookmark here

Alice wobbled through the room, vision failing and her legs numb. Her mind raced a mile a minute as she clutched the key, barely able to insert it into the keyhole with her near-blindness and badly-quivering hands.Bookmark here

What if she had been doomed from the start?Bookmark here

She felt her throat close up, heart stopping as she gripped the doorknob. Maybe she had never stood a chance.Bookmark here

The White Rabbit- that twisted homicidal maniac- he could’ve planned this. A deadly escape room with no actual escape- he was demented enough to devise such a trap. That foul potion, the lilac gas, and that silver key- what if that key didn't match any of the locks?Bookmark here

Alice felt sick, the room seeming to spin even faster as tears streamed down her cheeks. Her hope for an escape was crumbling, as was her resolve. Death was simple; easy even. She was so close to it, already on its doorstep. All she needed to do was give in and wait for it to consume her.Bookmark here

Her knees buckled. Swaying as if blown by a breeze, she dropped the fabric from her face, clutching the doorknob as she fell, fingers soon slipping.Bookmark here

Click.Bookmark here

The door swung open, and Alice collapsed outside the room, landing flat on her face. She lay motionless on the ground, eyes shut and lips parted. Her skin was pale, tinged blue, and clammy.Bookmark here

Tick. Tok. Tick...Bookmark here

With a strangled gasp, she began to breathe again, coughing and wheezing. Her lungs burned like an inferno, her limbs as heavy as lead, her fingertips numb, and her head pounded, still spinning. She was in absolute agony and felt weaker than she ever had, nauseous and disoriented.Bookmark here

But she was alive.Bookmark here

As Alice rolled onto her side with great difficulty, she realized she was lying in a patch of soft green grass, and warm rays of sunlight shone on her, almost blinding in comparison to the lantern light she had grown used to. With heavy eyelids, she watched as those lilac clouds drifted out of that dim, horrifying prison of doors, wafting into the bright blue sky.Bookmark here

Lucky- she had been so, so lucky to survive that death trap.Bookmark here

The girl slowly and shakily brought a hand to her face to rub her watery eyes as she lay on her back, turning her head. Blades of grass tickled her cheek. The sun's warmth soothed her. The air was unbelievable crisp. Beyond exhausted and dazed, Alice was glad to have returned to the park, her eyelids slowly fluttering shut.Bookmark here

But now, as she faded into unconsciousness, she noticed red rose petals littering the grass around her.Bookmark here

How curious.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.