The Trip of a Lifetime and the Fright of her Life
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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