My brother is lost to me in this Wonderland world, but I mirror his actions because the Red Queen has taken a fancy to him. He is her hostage, and the catalyst of my revenge.
To free him, I must slay her and wake the sleeping King. This dream will end when the sleeper wakes. The world will begin anew, and we will be free.
“Shall we play?” His voice is pleasant, his smile genuine, but I no longer hear him in my mind.
Once the echo of my hopes and reflection of my fears, he is now merely a passing stranger. His clever wit is forever submerged, hidden beneath that rotund face and small porcine features.
The crows are loyal to the Queen. Dark creatures of feather and wing, those monstrous magpies were lured by the promise of silver. The shadow of their horrific passage rattled our senses, and senseless, we were undone.
I can never retrieve what’s been lost. It churns in my stomach like bitter tea, and fuels my thirst for revenge. She’s split us because we know her secret. We alone see the Queen for what she truly is, the key to unlock this reality. We’ve told it before, and might tell it again.
The Queen is too swift to be trapped in the open. I must tempt my brother toward the hazy border of our kingdom if I’m to corner her. My plans are my own, an exotic unshared feeling, as I lace my arm in his and tug him through foliage that weeps as we pass. He resists, but I beg with a gaze. In an earlier time, I wouldn’t have had to ask.
We used to laugh as we watched the solitude of their existence. Poor hatter, poor hare, poor old mother who was never there. Now, the portmanteau of our twoality has been diluted, the totality of our duality extinguished. Finishing the Red Queen will end this nightmare. She has taken this comforting conjoinment from us out of fear, and it’s only fitting I should take something from her.
“A pretend battle, perhaps?”
Beyond the forest lay fertile fields. I maneuver my brother through empty stacks of oyster shells, passed grinning cats, and under insects who should mind their own business. Around us, soldiers stumble. Knights bumble and falter in the halters of their clumsy steeds.
We walk through the rye, shielded from the sun by ominous clouds. The world has been divided into manageable slices, like the pages of a book, or the squares on a chessboard, but she is there, somewhere, plotting to preserve her house of cards.
“Yes, let’s play before Her Majesty.” He glances at me with flat glossy eyes.
My reply is guarded. This feels too easy. In the days before Alice, I’d have known his thoughts. Now, I see only my own restless features. I’m lonely, having never known singularity, having always had my brother’s presence of mind.
“A game for the Queen. Hurrah!” He raises a fist in salute. Hastily, I do the same, frightened to be in difference.
The landscape is malleable. It changes as my brother drags his feet, staring backward expectantly. Perhaps he’s waiting for her. For the first time, I wonder if my brother has lost more than my mind.
Day summer-saults into night, and the Red Queen herself hurtles by, the breeze of her passing laced with dread. Incessant callings ring through the shifting hedges and undulating scenery. “Off with their heads!”
I cringe. My breath chokes in my throat, and my brother freezes. His smile widens. His desire to be near her is plain, and my heart breaks. Doesn’t he remember what she is, or what she’s done? How long before the tyrant tires of his little antics and decides to end us? How long before this Rorschach landscape bends and finally breaks beneath her whim?
She slips beyond us. The hurricane of her headlong rush tumbles my brother into the tall grass. His lip trembles, and he looks as if he’s missed something important.
I shift my head. The knife lies beneath the buffoonery of my tiny hat, and I know I will use it. I glance at my brother. He smiles and nods, and for a brief moment I feel the rush of our conjunction. Then a blank expression washes over him, and I turn so he won’t see my tears.
His mind has been shattered by crows, his thoughts dispersed by attempted murder. Our link has become an illusion, more tenuous than a fractured rattle. Our merged perspective lies strewn like fallen chess pieces. We’ve gone from sharing each other’s thoughts, to fulfilling past confidences with nohows and contrariwise exclamations.
Will he ever grasp what I’m doing for him, for us? I fear his mind no longer travels the same deep gullies of perception now that it’s been unchained from my intellect. Does he even feel the same magnitude of loss? I will never know.
“She waits.” He jostles forward.
“For no one.” I finish.
The Queen has stopped with the yawning bank of a river at her back. Gaily-clothed sycophants hover like hummingbirds, as restless as I myself have become. I edge closer. I raise my hand, seeking my cap. My brother does the same, his innocent actions mimicking my own.
My heart surges with sorrow. I can wait no longer.
The knife leaps into my hand. I run, climbing the scattering crowd to reach her. Fear tints her heart-shaped pupils red, but her gaze travels behind me, to my brother.
He’s followed. His thoughts are identical to mine, his thirst for vengeance as strong.
But his blade is much larger.
D. A. D’Amico spends much of his time trapped within the imaginary worlds flowing through his head. Writing gives his life color and depth, an extra dimension that brings the mundane into perspective and helps him to see beyond the everyday existence.
This story is sponsored by
Jesse Pohlman — author of the Physics Incarnate series, blending sci-fi and suspense as past secrets catch up with physics professor Emmett Eisenberg.