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“OFF WITH HER HEAD!”
Awakening with a start, Alice mumbled, “What, what was that? Did someone say something?”
“I said off with your head!” the Queen of Hearts roared at her. Looking about her royal self, she said, “Where is that executioner when you have need of him? Off with his head!”
Although suffering the Queen’s icy cold glare, Alice tried to be as polite as she might possibly be, considering the circumstances. “Excuse me, please,” she said, “is it really you? And if so, is this your seat?” Uncharacteristically silent, the Queen eyed Alice most suspiciously. Alice, however, pressed her further. “If it really is you, the Queen of Hearts – your majesty – I am delighted to meet you again, and I am most frightfully sorry for having fallen asleep in your chair. It is your chair, isn’t it?” she asked, and all of this in the one long breath. Taking another deep breath, trying to explain further, Alice said, “Unfortunately, since my arrival here, at the top of the world, if that is where I really am, I have been overtaken by these sudden spells of acute tiredness…”
“Where is the King?” the Queen asked, changing the subject from her chair, and why Alice was sitting upon it, to her missing husband, without as much as a by your leave.
Stepping away from the chair (Alice had no intention of being the target of the Queen’s rage for a second longer than was absolutely necessary), she replied, “I have only just arrived in this house, but if it pleases you, m’am, I will help you to find him.”
“If it pleases me?” the Queen roared, eying Alice with even greater suspicion than before. “It will please me if you stop assuming that you know what I want before even I do!”
“I was only trying to…”
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted again, weaving between the wardrobes, tables, tallboys and presses, hoping to find the missing executioner, there.
“Please will you stop that!” said Alice in as firm a tone as she dared, considering it was a queen she was addressing.
The Queen’s jaw dropped in sheer disbelief that anyone might dare to address her in such a wanton manner. And she was just about to repeat her call for the beheading of Alice, when the King stepped out from one of the wardrobes.
Seeing her husband, the Queen cheered up considerably, and calling Alice to come closer, she said, “Thank you, my child, for having found my King.”
“B, but,” Alice spluttered, trying to explain that the King’s appearance had been nothing to do with her.
“I will hear no more on the matter,” the Queen ordered, returning to her usual gruff manner. Then stepping up to her chair (it was actually her throne), she sat upon it and bade her husband to do likewise.
Although Alice thought it most peculiar for the King to have been inside one of the wardrobes, the Queen appeared to see nothing unusual with it, so following her example Alice said nothing about it, either. Holding her tongue, Alice waited to see what the outspoken monarch might do next.
“The top of the world,” said the Queen, without the slightest trace of emotion in her voice.
“I beg your pardon, ma’m,” Alice replied, again in her politest tone of voice (you see, she wanted to keep the Queen onside, thinking her far better a friend than a foe).
“You said you were still not convinced that you were really on the top of the world, child.”
“That is most true, your majesty,” said Alice, baring her fears to the Queen sitting so proudly before her. “You see,” Alice continued, “I do so want to believe that I am on the top of the world, but whenever I take something for granted, it changes – like being here with you and the King, in this room, or house or whatever it happens to be – that makes me think I am somewhere else, or dreaming. It’s all so terribly confusing,” Alice sighed.
After studying Alice’s face in minute detail, the Queen leant over to the King and whispered something into his ear, then returning her attention to Alice, she said, “We have discussed this problem of yours, and have decided that you are taking far too many things for granted.”
Speaking for the first time, the King said, “Yes, the Queen is right, you are taking far too many things for granted, this night.”
“But it’s not night,” Alice spluttered. “And why are you speaking in rhyme?”
The king, however, would have none of her questions, and he continued, “How do you think Wonderland might be, if the executioner took the Queen’s orders for granted – Can’t you see?”
“I don’t know,” said Alice, watching the Queen for any sign that she might disapprove of the conversation, wondering where it might actually be going, and also feeling almost as confused as the King and Queen seemingly were.
“I can help you, to understand – this is true,” said the King, standing up and strolling across to one of the wardrobes, which he duly opened.
Alice watched in silence as the King opened the door, stepped into the wardrobe and closed it behind him.
Once again, the Queen appeared to see nothing unusual with the King’s actions. Indeed, she was now so relaxed she began singing a song. Rubbing her hands along the gold painted armrests of her throne, she sang:
“If you take things for granted, be they right or they wrong,
You will surely get into a pickle before very long.
So listen to my words as I sing you this song
And we’ll all get by swimmingly, am I right or am I wrong?”
Despite feeling quite frustrated by the King and Queen’s eccentric behaviour, Alice held her temper and her ground, then following the King, she stepped up to the wardrobe and knocked on its door.
From within the wardrobe, and without a hint of a rhyme in his voice, the King asked “Yes?”
“It’s me, you wanted to show me something,” said Alice.
“Me – who is me?” he asked, surprised that he was having a visitor at all.
“Alice,” said Alice, tapping her foot on the floor, in growing frustration at the King’s increasingly erratic behaviour.
Opening the door, the King looked out from the wardrobe and saw Alice. “Ah, it’s young Alice,” he said. “What an unexpected surprise!” Opening the door fully, he said, “Please do come in…” Before accepting the King’s invitation, Alice tried to see past him, into the wardrobe’s mysterious interior, in case anything dangerous might be lurking there, but she was unable to see anything more threatening than a shadow or two. So stepping up, she accepted the King’s invitation and, for the time being at least, left her concerns over his unusual behaviour, outside.
“Shoes off, first,” the King ordered, scolding Alice for having taken for granted that she could enter with them on.
After slipping off her shoes, Alice placed them to one side of the entrance, and then squeezing past the King’s rotund body, she stepped cautiously into the wardrobe.
Once inside, Alice was pleasantly surprised by what she found. “This is so nice,” she said, as she continued her inspection of the surprisingly roomy interior.
“I designed it myself,” said the King, walking on ahead of her, lifting an arm, here and there, to show off a painting, a candelabra or some other such item that he was particularly proud of.
“How were you able to find so much room inside an old wardrobe?” Alice asked, as she came upon an exquisitely carved chaise longue. Sitting upon it, to see if it was as comfortable as it looked, Alice sank deep into its soft upholstery.
“That’s one of my favourite pieces of furniture,” said the King, sitting next to Alice, running his hand along the rich, red and gold fabric.
Wondering why the King would want to have such a splendid interior to a common old wardrobe, Alice said, “This wardrobe is as good as a palace.”
“It is a palace,” the King replied quite matter-of-factly. “And so are all the others – that’s why we need so much room inside them…”
“Others – what others?”
“All the other wardrobes the Queen and I own, of course. You saw them outside.”
“This palace is undeniably nice,” said Alice, feeling increasing confused by the concept of palaces within wardrobes, “but don’t you have a real one, anymore?”
“We do – in Wonderland – you know that,” said the King, giving Alice a look as peculiar as the one the White Rabbit had given, when she had asked if she was in Wonderland. Temporarily at a loss for words, Alice said nothing. Seeing how confused she still was, the King, trying to clarify the matter further, said, “These wardrobes are our Travelling Palaces – now do you understand?”
“If I am to be perfectly honest with you,” Alice replied, “No, I do not.” Shaking her head in bewilderment, Alice struggled, trying to understand the need for one Travelling Palace, let alone so many.
“Ah,” said the King, “you are wondering why we have so many of them, aren’t you?”
“That’s easy,” he said, happy that he had finally got to the bottom of Alice’s quandary. “They are spares!”
“Yes,” he said adamantly. “You never know when you might misplace a palace or two – do you?”
“If I owned some, perhaps I might find it possible to mislay a palace or two,” said Alice, trying to understand the logic of the King’s argument. “But considering the fact that I don’t even own one, I am finding it difficult to understand how it might feel. I am sorry.”
With no hesitation, the King said, “It’s yours,” and with that he handed Alice a brass key.
“Mine? What’s mine?”
“The palace, this Travelling Palace, that is,” the King said. “You can have it. It’s yours. We really have far too many of them, anyhow.”
Looking at the key, Alice asked, “What do I need this for?”
“To lock it, of course, you never know when someone might want to steal it. Why, only last week I had two palaces stolen from right under my nose… Do you think it might be that dreadful Knave of Hearts, again?”
Having no intention of getting involved in another trial, the last one having tested her patience to the limit, Alice steered the conversation away from the alleged theft, saying, “Thank you so very much for this Travelling Palace, I will always treasure it.” Then, accepting the key, she slipped it into her apron pocket.
“I must be on my way,” said the King.
“Oh, must you leave so soon,” said Alice, upset that her first guest was leaving so abruptly. “I had taken for granted that you would be staying for tea…”
On those words, looking deep into Alice’s eyes, the King smiled. And she then understood the lesson he had invited her into the wardrobe, to learn. “I have been taking far too many things for granted, haven’t I?” she declared. “I can see that, now.” Then opening the door, Alice laughed, saying, “Come on, let’s see how the Queen is getting on with her song…”
Stepping out of the wardrobe, Alice picked up her shoes and walked away from her Travelling Palace without giving it a backward glance.
“Don’t forget to lock it,” said the King, pointing to Alice’s apron pocket, and her key.
Laughing, she replied, “If I lock it, I shall be taking it for granted that someone wants to steal it, so I won’t. And do you know, your majesty, what I am thinking of?”
The King shrugged his shoulders.
“I am thinking that I must surely be on the top of the world, that I must not take my search for the White Rabbit for granted, and after that anything is possible. Oh, King, you are so clever.”
Embarrassed by the unexpected compliment, the King turned redder than he already was.
“Come on,” said Alice, “I think the Queen is nearing the end of her song.” And she was, the Queen of Hearts though still singing contentedly, was beginning the twenty-third and final verse. The song finished thus…
“So don’t take for granted the slightest thing you see,
And your life will run smoother; your life will feel so free.
So listen to my words now as I sing you this song
And we’ll all get by so swimmingly, am I right or am I wrong?”
After the Queen had finished singing, Alice and the King gave her a tremendous round of applause. While she at first appeared quite overcome by the unexpected praise, the Queen all too soon returned to her usual state of mind, and she shouted, “You missed most of my song – Off with your heads!”
“See,” said the King. “We can’t take for granted that she really means that, now, can we?”
“I hope not,” said Alice, “I certainly hope not.”
Having already forgotten the lesson of her song, the Queen shouted, “Off with your heads – Where is that executioner when you have need of him?”
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As the sleigh sped bumpily through the snowy terrain, illuminated by only a pale quarter moon hanging lazily in the rapidly darkening sky, Alice marvelled at the wintry landscape, watching it rush faster and faster toward her. Her eyes, watering from the icy cold blast of wind, saw many strange things in that half-light, like igloos, and beavers, small houses and kittens, babies and hatters and even a walrus reclining next to a coat stand. She saw all these things – and more – in that bitter cold night of the far north.
“Oh, I do hope that’s not Dinah,” she said in concern, when she saw a small feline, alone. “And if it is her, she’ll surely catch her death of cold out there…”
The sleigh sped ever faster, and although Alice was fascinated by these strange and bizarre things she was half seeing, she began to wonder why the magical sleigh was still set firmly upon the ground. For the moment, however, she decided to say nothing, for although Father Christmas was undeniably an amicable old man his attention was set fully on driving his sleigh.
“Rarr, rarr,” he shouted at the top of his voice. “Rarr, rarr,” he shouted again, his eyes fixed firmly upon the terrain ahead.
Following his gaze, Alice became immediately aware of the reason he was getting so worked up. You see, directly in front of the sleigh (they were approaching it at a frighteningly fast speed) was the biggest, darkest forest she had ever seen.
“Rarr, rarr,” the old man shouted, spurring the reindeer to gallop faster and faster. “Rarr, rarr,” he shouted again, wrestling to keep control of the reins.
‘We will surely drive right into those trees, and be smashed to pieces,’ thought Alice, ducking beneath the blanket, in fright.
For a split second Father Christmas looked across to Alice, to see that she was securely seated. Then shouting, roaring at the top of his voice, he said, “RARR, RARR, RARR” And with that, with one huge effort from his loyal reindeer, the speed of his sleigh increased exponentially and it rose from the icy cold ground, missing the trees by mere inches.
It was quiet up there, in the black of the night sky, and although Rudolf and his companions were still galloping at full pelt, not a sound could be heard from their hooves pulling on the cold air for traction.
Looking across to Alice, whose head was still tucked firmly beneath the warm blanket, the old man said, “I’m sorry if I gave you a fright, back there…”
Alice peered out from under her blanket and when she saw how high they had already climbed, she let out a gasp of astonishment. “Are we really flying?” she asked.
“As sure as there is a Father Christmas,” he replied laughing.
Alice liked that; in fact she liked everything about the old man. “It’s so quiet up here,” she said, looking tentatively over the side of the sleigh, into the inky darkness far below. “How high are we?”
“Not yet at our cruising altitude,” he said, “but when we have achieved it, we will be nine hundred feet, give or take a couple.”
“Nine hundred feet,” said Alice, in surprise that anything could be so high. “Is that as high as the moon?”
“No, I’m afraid that it isn’t.” Father Christmas chuckled. Then gazing up, he said, “The moon is over a quarter of a million miles away, not even my magical reindeer can get us that far.”
Alice laughed at the funny old man, and he laughed along with her.
“You can relax now, Alice, we’re at our cruising height, nine hundred feet,” said Father Christmas. “The air up here is as smooth as a hippopotamus’ hide.” And it was, they might well have been on the ground for all the sense of movement Alice felt.
“Where do you think he is?” she asked, feeling down, thinking she might never catch up with the hard-to-find Rabbit.
Stroking his bead, giving Alice’s question some considerable thought, the old man eventually replied, “It all depends…”
“It all depends on what?”
“On where you think he might be…” he replied. Uneasy with this answer, Alice asked him to explain further. “You already know that things behave differently up here, in the north,” he went on, “how left can be right, and up likewise down.”
“Yes,” said Alice, recalling her conversation with King Tut.
“Being here for so much of the year, I tend to forget this, but for someone like you, Alice, on a mission, this is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give…”
The old man said no more after that, nor did Alice, as they crisscrossed far above the icy cold wastes, searching for the Rabbit’s house.
And he was thorough, for hour after hour Father Christmas searched doggedly, trying to find the Rabbit’s abode, until the coming dawn, chipping away at the darkness, heralded a new day…
“I’m afraid that’s about it,” said the old man, finally admitting defeat (and tactfully saying nothing about Alice’s accident with the black cube). Pulling on the reins, Father Christmas said, “Come on, Rudolf, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blixen – we have a home to return to…”
“NO!” Alice shouted, surprising even herself by her forcefulness. “No, I must go on,” she said, her eyes desperately searching the bleak terrain far below. Then she saw something, something moving. Letting out a shout of wild excitement, Alice tugged at his sleeve, saying, “Look, Father Christmas, look, there’s someone down there.” And there was, far below, barely visible in the deep snow, a lone figure was moving silently through it, apparently oblivious of the eyes staring down on him.
“Let me off, please,” said Alice, feeling a newfound confidence in her quest to find the Rabbit.
Looking down at the figure, and with a great deal of uncertainty, Father Christmas asked, “Are you sure that you want to do this? You have no idea who he might be… You are more than welcome to stay in my workshop, especially with Christmas being so near.”
“Christmas so near?” said Alice. “But it’s not yet past October!” Putting the matter, for the time being at least, to the back of her mind, she said, “Yes, I am certain that I want to do it, to meet that person, whoever it might be!” After saying that Alice refused to say anything more on the subject, as she kept her eyes set firmly on the figure below.
“Rarr,” Father Christmas whispered to Rudolf, “Rarr,” he whispered again, guiding the sleigh to soft landing in front of the lonely figure.
It stopped; the figure, which had been making its way silently through the snowy terrain, stopped. Jumping out from the sleigh, Alice thanked the old man and his reindeer for the wonderful ride.
“Take this,” said Father Christmas, handing Alice another black cube (though this one being a great deal smaller than the first). “If you need me, you can use it to call.” Lifting the reins, shouting, “Rarr, rarr,” he guided the sleigh up and away. Alice watched as the nine galloping reindeer whisked the old man high into the early morning sky. He was gone.
After placing the cube safely into her coat pocket, Alice approached the silent figure. Straining to see its face (there were so many layers of torn and tattered clothing surrounding it), Alice said, “Good morning, my name is Alice, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
It said nothing; the figure, its head lowered, remained eerily silent.
Undaunted, Alice repeated, “Good morning, my name is Alice, and I am plea–,” Alice froze in fright, for the creature had raised its head.
Staggering away, coughing, heaving with fright, from the terrible visage that she had seen – a skull and bones, that she had supposed to be human, Alice dove a hand into her coat pocket, trying to find the cube that she been given only minutes earlier. As her trembling fingers caught hold of it, and she withdrew the cube from her coat pocket, Alice began wishing so much for the old man’s speedy return.
She heard nothing; she saw nothing in the rapidly lightening sky, as all the while the brooding figure, slowly lifting its bony arm and even bonier fingers to where its lips should have been, whispered, “Wait…”
“Wait?” Alice whispered, afraid.
Whispering again, it said, “Wait…” Alice watched in horror as it pointed its bony arm and fingers ahead of them, into the heavily falling snow.
“What are you?” she asked, yet afraid to hear its reply.
Barely audible, it said, “I am Death…”
“Death?” Alice whispered, shuffling away, in her growing fear.
“Yes, Death,” it replied, “but also Life…”
Now this confused poor Alice, and she began to wonder whether the terrifying figure might perhaps be only a figment of that overactive imagination her parents were so fond of telling her she had. Having said that, the figure remained stubbornly present, so guessing that it had to be real, she plucked up enough courage to ask, “How can you possibly be both Life and Death, when the two things are such opposites?”
The figure, its breathing laboured, its bony arm outstretched, showing the way forward, said nothing else, it just glided away from her.
“Do you want me to follow you?” Alice asked quizzically. “I thought I was supposed to wait!”
Without answering her, without saying a single word, the figure continued on its way, through near whiteout conditions, and Alice obediently followed.
After the wonderful friendship and warmth of Father Christmas, not to mention his little helpers, Alice felt only an icy coldness from the skeletal being gliding over the ground, ahead of her. However, despite its foreboding demeanour, she so wished it would speak some more. She so wished it would say something – anything friendly – to cast away the fear she harboured that it was pure evil. But it didn’t. It just kept on gliding; its bony arm outstretched before it, pointing the way forward…
The snow continued to fall, but Alice struggled on, doggedly following the frightening figure, picking her steps carefully in the treacherously icy conditions. It
was hard going, with no rest breaks, and only a bony, brooding figure for company, and with the faint hope that the White Rabbit’s little house might be somewhere ahead.
Alice walked. The figure glided. She was tired. It kept on going. She felt as if she had been following it for hours, as it continued moving, gliding over the ground a few yards ahead of her, without saying another word.
A blister began to form on Alice’s foot, and with each new step that she took it grew that little bit more painful, that little bit closer to the point where she feared she would have to say, she would have to shout, ‘NO, I can’t go on another step.’
Despite her acute pain, Alice forced herself on for another mile (or was it two?), until her blister, suddenly bursting, soaked her foot in its clear warm liquid, sending her crashing to the ground, in agony. “I can’t go on another step!” she shouted, “I CAN’T!”
The bony figure stopped; the travelling was over, the journey complete – but had the purging been done?
Finding herself outside a strange building, Alice was at her next destination. With no warning as to the how or the why, the pain in her foot suddenly stopped. She was so surprised by this she tore off her shoe and sock, to inspect the blister in fine detail. As she gazed down at her bare foot, Alice was astonished to see that the blister had gone, that it had healed completely. “To be sure,” she said, “it’s gone. What a curious thing to happen, but then, come to think of it, hasn’t everything up here been curious?”
After donning her sock and shoe, Alice stood up and inspected the building she was outside. It was large, with leaded windows and ornately carved columns, one on either side of a tremendously sturdy front door. And attached to this door
there was a holly wreathe. “Perhaps Christmas really is near,” she said, feeling the prickly leaves with a gloved hand. “I wonder where I can possibly be?” she said, taking hold of the door knocker and giving it a good bang. “If there is anyone inside,” she said confidently, “they will be in no doubts at all that they have a visitor and, hopefully, I will be invited inside, where I can warm myself in front of their fire, away from this awful snow. Alice shivered at the mere mention of the word snow.
The door, creaking slowly open, invited Alice to enter. Seeing no one behind it, she asked, “Hello! Is anyone there?” But she received no reply. The wind began to pick up, sending the falling snowflakes through the open doorway and far into the building. “I will catch my death of cold if I remain out here,” said Alice, stepping into the eerily quiet building.
Making her way down a long corridor, Alice called out again, “Hello! Is anyone there? Is there anyone at home?”But for a second time she received no reply. Undaunted, Alice opened a white painted door at the far end of the corridor, and passing through it she entered a large room devoid of furniture. The only thing within it was a crackling log fire in a grand old fireplace. “Well, at least I’m out of the cold,” she mused, warming her hands in front of the golden flames, “and away from that frightful figure. He had such dreadfully bony fingers, in fact he had such dreadful bony – everything.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Alice thought she saw something moving, a little mouse running. She looked again, and she was right, she had seen a mouse running, and it was still running, scuttling along the white painted skirting board, circumnavigating the room. Having nothing better to do, she decided to follow the little rodent as it disappeared beneath a door at the far side of the room.
Carefully opening the door, Alice tiptoed into the next room. Once inside (it was as sparsely furnished as the previous room), she caught another, fleeting glimpse of the mouse as it scuttled along the skirting board and then under the door at the far side. Again showing no hesitation
or fear, Alice turned the handle, opened the door and passed through into the next room. However, unlike the previous ones, this room was anything but sparsely furnished – there was furniture absolutely everywhere. In fact there was so much furniture Alice had difficulty in finding a free place to stand, without bumping into something or other.
Holding her breath, keeping her tummy in, Alice tried to make her way through the jumble of furniture, squeezing past tall cupboards, presses, wardrobes and tables, until she arrived at an open area, to the rear, where two exquisitely carved chairs were standing.
“My, they are so beautiful,” she said, “I must try them out.” Sitting upon the first and larger one, Alice liked it enormously, but she felt it was perhaps a little too firm. So moving across to the second chair, she sat upon it, trying it out for size and comfort. “I do like this one,” she mused. “It’s so comfortable, I feel like taking a little nap.” Alice yawned and yawned again, and before long she had fallen fast asleep, snuggled up upon the wonderfully comfortable chair.
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A Most Unexpected Encounter
After placing her foot onto the first step of the escalator, and then holding on tightly to the fast-moving banister, Alice began rising from the ground.
“This is indeed a fast escalator,” she said as she tried to admire the countryside that was soon far below. “It’s a pity it’s so fast, though, I might have enjoyed the view immensely if I had risen at a more leisurely pace.”
As the picturesque countryside grew smaller and smaller beneath her, the speed of the escalator increased, forcing Alice to hold on for dear life in the increasingly blustery conditions that she was exposed to. Nevertheless, Alice was enchanted by the many wonderfully coloured birds she saw flying above and below her, and all of them enjoying the weather more than her. “Oh, this wind is just too much, “she complained, trying to stop her hair from flying about as fast as the birds. With her hair flapping wildly in her eyes, Alice never saw the top of the escalator as she approached it. And tumbling ungainly off the top step, she made an ungainly entrance to the top of the world.
On hands and knees, Alice inspected the place she had entered, hoping to see the White Rabbit’s neat house, and thus putting her silly game of catch up at an end. But she didn’t. It wasn’t. All that she saw was snow, snow and yet more snow.
“It’s so cold up here,” she said, shivering, her teeth chattering like mad, “this must surely be the top of the world. I must have wished too hard, and gone all the way to the North Pole itself!”
It began snowing. At first Alice danced around in delight, marvelling at the beautiful particles falling upon her. But in spite of their beautiful appearance, these snowy particles were cold, so cold Alice soon realised that she had to find something warmer to wear, and fast. “A fur coat, a hat and some gloves are what I need,” she said, “lest I catch my death of cold out here. But where will I find such things, when all that I can see is snow?” Slapping her arms around her back, Alice tried her best to keep warm. “And a pair of fur boots, if I do say so myself, will keep my toes snugly warm,” she added.
The snow fell heavier and heavier, and thicker and thicker until poor Alice was almost totally covered by the white stuff. Shaking her head, setting free the white particles that had settled upon it, Alice wished and wished and then wished again, that someone – anyone – might come to save her from being frozen to death.
Bells, Alice heard the sound of bells in the distance. “Where are they?” she said, her eyes searching the frozen landscape, with intent. “Oh, where can they be?” she huffed, trying to see through the heavily falling snow. Then she saw something, Alice saw something coming closer and closer. “I wonder what it might be?” she said, straining her eyes, trying to see the mysterious object.
“Whoa, whoa,” a voice boomed, “whoa.”
Alice blinked; only half believing her eyes.
“Whoa, good, stay, stay,” the voice boomed out again.
“It’s a sleigh, a dog sleigh!” she said in sheer disbelief, watching as the fur-clad man settled his dogs, before making his way across to her.
“Here you are,” he said, offering Alice some fur clothes to put on. “And when you are ready, I will bring you somewhere warmer.”
Even though Alice had no idea who this man happened to be (he might well have been Jack the Ripper for all she knew), she obediently donned the fur clothes – coat, hat, gloves and boots – before jumping onto the sleigh and burrowing deep into the mountain of fur blankets heaped upon it.
“Rarr,” the man shouted, urging his dogs on, “Rarr,” he shouted again as the sleigh, with Alice snuggled warmly inside, disappeared into the blizzard…
When the sleigh had finally come to a halt, the same kindly voice as before said, “There you are, little girl, safe and sound.” Searching their way through the many blankets heaped high upon the sleigh, two large, timeworn old hands tried to locate Alice.
Peeping out from under the mountainous heap of warm, snug blankets, squinting in the bright light, Alice wondered where she had been taken, hoping against hope that it might, just might be the White Rabbit’s little house. “Where are we?” she asked.
The round-faced, bearded old man replied, “You are in Santa’s workshop, of course.”
“Santa’s workshop – are you sure?” she asked, her head turning round and round, inspecting the room, with curious eyes.
“I’m as sure as I can be,” the old man replied, laughing heartily, “considering the fact that I am Santa Claus”
“Santa Claus?” Alice spluttered (you see, she really did believe in him), recalling the wonderful present he had given her, last Christmas, the very same one she had asked for in the letter she had taken so much time to compose. “Are you really Santa Claus?” she asked.
The old man nodded. “Though, I have to admit that I prefer to be called Father Christmas. I’m a bit a traditionalist at heart. Santa Claus sounds so colonial.”
“And I am Alice, “she said, trying to find a way out from under the heavy blankets.
“I am pleased to meet you, Alice,” he replied, with a jovial laugh. “Let me help you,” he said, lifting her out from the sleigh, onto the heavily waxed floorboards.
Still struggling to believe that he really and truly was Father Christmas, Alice asked, “Where is your red and white suit?”
Chuckling, he replied, “That’s only for Christmastime – another import from our colonial friends across the water, I’m sorry to say. For the rest of the year I find these clothes more comfortable.” He pulled at his loose-fitting jumper and jeans.
Up until then Alice had not even noticed what the old man was wearing, but now that he had pointed them out, she laughed at the very thought of Santa – Father Christmas – wearing jeans and a woollen Fair Isle pullover.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked, truly ignorant of the reason.
“Oh, it just seems so funny,” she said, with a mischievous giggle, “you wearing such ordinary clothes.”
“I used to wear a green and white suit for Christmastime, in the old days,” he confessed. “I’ve been playing around with the idea of returning to that colour scheme – what do you think about that, Alice?”
“I think it sounds like a splendid idea,” she replied. “Much more Christmassy than red and white, if you ask me.”
Changing the subject, Father Christmas, clicking his fingers, said, “You must be hungry?” Alice nodded that she was.
Two little men suddenly appeared (Alice assumed they were some of his elves), each carrying a tray, the first piled high with crispy, tasty-looking biscuits, and the other with the largest mug Alice had ever laid eyes on, full to the brim with piping hot chocolate drink. Bowing, they offered her the refreshments.
“Take them,” said the old man. “And there’s more where that came from. Oh, I almost forgot,” he said. “If you want sugar, just wish for it.”
After she had finished the wonderful repast (without having the need to wish for any sugar), Alice felt strong enough to resume her quest to find the Rabbit, but being in Santa’s – Father Christmas’s workshop, a thing that most children would give their eye teeth to see, she held back on saying so. And, anyway, she had so many questions to ask the old man, like what he did during the rest of the year, when the rush of Christmastime was over, and was he really considering returning to the green-and-white theme, she was in no rush to leave.
“I suppose you would like a tour of my workshop?” Father Christmas said, stepping away from the window he had been looking through. “It’s still snowing, out there, so you can’t be in any great hurry to go, can you?”
“I love the snow,” Alice replied. “But I do admit that I was getting a bit too much of it, before you saved me.”
“I found you,” the old man insisted. “You were in no real danger. There are so many of my elves out there, going about their business, I’m surprised that no one spotted you before I did.”
“Why were you out there, anyway?” Alice asked.
“Sport,” Father Christmas replied, “sport and exercise, to be precise.”
“But with dogs?”
“Of course,” he replied, “Now don’t get me wrong, reindeer are top dog up here (he laughed at this comment), but for sheer excitement, on the ground, you can’t beat a dog sleigh.”
“It was rather exciting,” Alice giggled, “even hidden beneath all of those blankets…”
Rubbing his long beard (you know, Alice was sure she saw rainbow colours shimmering within it), the old man asked, “And might I be so bold as to enquire what you were doing out there?”
That question returned Alice’s attention, and with a start, to the matter of the missing Rabbit, and she told Father Christmas her story, from the Rabbit’s sudden appearance, to how she had ended up being lost in the snow (though Alice omitted to say anything about her really being a grownup, with no idea how her adventure had begun).
“My, my,” said Father Christmas, rubbing his beard once again. Alice watched in amazement as some rainbow-coloured particles fall slowly from it. “That is quite a story.”
“It’s the truth!” she said, fearing he did not believe her.
“I am sure that it is,” he chuckled. “And it seems that you could do with a hand in finding this Rabbit of yours?”
“Oh, yes please,” she said clapping her hands with delight.
“I think we can kill two birds with one stone,” he said, clicking his fingers again.
“Kill two birds with a stone?” Alice asked, worried for the birds, wherever they might be (you see, she had never before heard this expression). He laughed; Father Christmas laughed his Merry Christmas laugh.
Three elves, entering the room through a small, green painted door that Alice had up until then not seen, approached the old man and listened to his instructions. Then exiting through the same door, they disappeared from sight.
“Where are they going?” Alice asked, watching the door close behind the last elf.
“I have asked them to ensure that everything is ready for our search,” he replied, standing erect in his jeans and pullover that Alice found so amusing. Then strolling over to a regular-sized green painted door, adjacent to the smaller one, he asked, “Are you ready for your tour?”
Jumping up, Alice clapped her hands again, answering, “I still can’t believe that I am actually here, in Santa’s – sorry – Father Christmas’s workshop.”
“Come on,” he said, opening the door, leading the way through…
Passing through the doorway, Alice found herself transported (as if by magic) to a huge room – a workshop – where a multitude of elves, both male and female, were feverishly working on the toys for Christmas.
“I always wondered what you did during the rest of the year,” she said, marvelling at the piles of toys reaching almost to the ceiling. “It must take the whole year to make this lot!” Picking up a simple black cube, Alice asked, “What sort of a toy is this?”
“I was hoping you’d ask me that,” said Father Christmas, picking up another one of the cubes as he spoke. “It’s new,” he said proudly. “We developed it ourselves…”
“But what does it do?” she asked, confused by its simplicity.
“It’s a wishing cube…”
“A wishing cube?”
“Yes, go on, give it a go,” he insisted. “You never know what you might get…”
“I just wish for something?”
“That’s it – but don’t tell me what you are wishing for, it has to be a secret – go on…”
Alice thought hard and long of all the many things she might wish for, but in the end there was only one thing she felt important enough – the whereabouts of the White Rabbit’s neat little house. So closing her eyes, she wished and wished and wished…
All of a sudden, Alice felt a tingling in her fingers, and this tingling slowly began travelling up her arms and into her body. Opening her eyes, she gazed at the cube; it was now filled with bright shining stars, too many to count. The cube then began fading away, slowly, slowly, until it had all but disappeared, but the stars, the wonderfully coloured stars, now growing in size and intensity, surrounded Alice. They began spinning, round and round they went, and faster and faster until Alice was feeling quite dizzy. Just as she was about to complain, to say how sick she was feeling, they stopped, giving her leave to study their full beauty. And they were so beautiful. Alice might have watched them forever. But this beauty, like all things in life, was transient, blurring and fading almost as fast it had appeared.
At first, Alice thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but as the stars continued to blur, transforming into a foggy whiteness, she started to panic. “How will I ever see the White Rabbit’s house,” she bemoaned, “in this dreadful fog.” Forgetting about the invisible cube that she was still holding, Alice began waving her hands, trying to disperse the troublesome fog. Crash! Falling from her hand, the cube struck the hard floor, shattering into thousand pieces, scattering the fog and with it any hope she had of seeing the Rabbit’s neat little house in the near future.
“Oh no,” Alice sobbed when she realised what she had done. “How will I ever find the Rabbit’s house, now?”
Two elves running across to Alice, one holding a brush and the other a dustpan swept up the broken pieces. Watching them sweep away the last pieces of cube, Alice felt hopeful again, and she said, “It was a cube – that’s
it! There are loads more! Oh, dear Father Christmas, can I please try another one?” she asked him hopefully.
Although he was a kind, caring man, Father Christmas replied, “I’m sorry, but afraid that you can’t…”
“I can’t?” Alice whispered, gazing across to the rest of the cubes on the table.
“I’m sorry,” Father Christmas continued, “but their magic will only work on each person, the once.”
Alice was devastated, to be so close to finding the whereabouts of the Rabbit, but to lose it for so foolish a reason was unforgivable.
Trying to take her mind away from the broken cube, to cheer her up, Father Christmas, putting his arm around Alice, resumed the tour of his workshop. As he took Alice around his workshop, showing her so many wonderful, fantastical toys she had never imagined it possible to make, let alone wish for, she forgot about the unfortunate accident.
As the tour drew to a close, Father Christmas called for his elves to come closer. “I am sure Alice would love to hear one of your songs,” he said.
“I would, I would,” she replied in all honesty. The elves drew closely around them. “I know it’s not Christmas yet,” she said, “but might you sing me a Christmassy song, anyhow?”
After discussing it amongst themselves, the smallest elf, raising his hand, said, “Especially for you, we are going to sing ‘Oh, why wait for Christmas?’” After coughing discreetly, to clear their throats, they sang:
“Oh, why wait for Christmas when you can have it every day,
Be it June or September, March, April or May.
The thing to remember is not the date or day,
But the feeling that goes behind it, so share it right away.
Enjoy your time for living; enjoy your time on earth,
A time for celebration, a chance to spend in mirth,
Each day will go brightly as you strike out forth,
And all of this made possible because of the virgin birth.
Oh, why wait for Christmas when you can have it every day,
Be it June or September, March, April or May.
The thing to remember is not the date or day,
But the feeling that goes behind it, so share it right away.”
Alice clapped; she clapped so much for the beautiful song the elves had performed – and especially for her. “Thank you,” she said, still clapping “Thank you so much, each and every one of you,” she added in true appreciation for their wonderful, impromptu performance.
“I think it’s about time we were off,” said Father Christmas, exiting the room, to the loading bay outside, where he approached his sleigh.
Following the old man, Alice asked, “Where did that come from?” Stroking his beard, he just smiled, releasing some rainbow coloured in the process.
Understanding that it was by magic, Alice said, “Can I say hello to the reindeer?”
“Of course you can,” he laughed, “And where better to begin than at the front?” Leading the way, he brought Alice to the head of the line of waiting animals, to the liveliest one, Rudolf.
“He’s a bit frisky,” she remarked as Rudolf reared up on his hind legs.
“He had some oats this morning – they all had some,” Father Christmas chuckled. “It always does that to them,” he said, chuckling again.
After Rudolf had settled down, Alice asked, “Can I pat him?”
As if he understood her every word, Rudolf lowered his huge antlered head, allowing Alice to pat him as much as she liked.
“He seems to have taken a shine to you, Alice. That one was always a good judge of character…”
“He’s lovely, just like I always imagined,” she replied.
“Come on, Alice, you still have to meet the rest of them,” said the old man, leading the way down the line of reindeer. “This one is Dasher and next to him Dancer. He can also be a handful, that one.”
Alice offered a hand to Dasher. He also lowered his head, ready for a pat. Not wanting to miss out on the attention, Dancer also lowered his.
“I told you he can be a handful,” said Father Christmas laughing.
“They’re funny,” Alice giggled, sharing her hands between the two friendly reindeer.
“Come on, we still have the rest of them to see,” said the old man making his way further down the line of reindeer. “Next we have Prancer and Vixen, then Comet and Cupid, and last but certainly not least we have Donner and Blixen.”
“I love them all,” said Alice, giving Blixen an extra special pat before following Father Christmas to his sleigh.
“Now up with you,” he said beckoning for Alice to step up.
Poor Alice did try to get up, into the sleigh, but the step was simply too high for her child-sized legs. Laughing, Father Christmas clicked his fingers. Two elves, carrying a small set of steps between them, ran over to the sleigh and placed them against it. Thanking them, Alice stepped up and boarded the sky vehicle.
As Alice settled into the comfortable bench seat, one of the elves climbed up and tucked her in snugly with a warm, thick blanket. Waving a goodbye, the little man jumped down from the sleigh. Before she was able to say Jack Robinson, Father Christmas was shouting, “Rarr, rarr,” and the galloping reindeer whisked them up and away into the cold of the night.
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