Alice hurried through the grimy snow that muddied the sidewalk, towards her family's London townhouse, with a big bag of party favors under her arm. She was anxious to get the new gifts wrapped and under the tree in preparation for her mother's Christmas party at the end of the week, but right now she was even more anxious to be off the dreary street and out of the cold dank weather. Thinking about the festive decorations in the shops where she'd picked up her prizes, she almost didn't see their neighbor's son riding full speed on his bicycle straight towards her.
"Don't be late for dinner again tonight!" the boy's mother called harshly, jerking Alice to attention just in time to jump out of the way
With a startled gasp, she clutched her package tightly and gave herself a quick once over to make sure that her new red Christmas dress and black stockings were not soiled or torn. Then she sighed with relief and quickly continued on her way until the door clicked behind her and she was enveloped in the warmth of home.
The front hall was cozy and beautifully decorated for the season with a fresh pine wreath on the ivory-colored wall and a long strand of garland looping up the mahogany banister. The thick caramel colored carpet glowed warmly under a lighted candelabra as Alice pulled off her shoes, coat, and muff then retreated to her favorite chair in the parlor to enjoy the warmth of the fire for a few minutes before finishing her chores.
Stretching out her toes under her stockings, she softly mimicked her neighbor's admonishment, thinking that the child must be imprudent because she was always reminding him. "Don't be late," she recited in a soft sing-song voice, "Don't be late. Don't ever be late."
Suddenly, the White Rabbit dashed past her, his eyes white-rimmed and bulging as he held his oversize pocket watch in front of his face.
"I'm late, I'm late!" he screamed, hopping so quickly that his big hind feet almost overtook his front, "I'm going to be late! I mustn't be late!"
"Mustn't be late for what?" Alice called, hardly registering the dark cold winter forest around her as she scrambled to catch up, "Please, wait! What is going to happen? Where are you going?"
"The Queen of Hearts' Christmas Tea Party," he paused long enough to tell her, "If you don't attend or you're late, it's off with your head. And I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"
"Wait!" she called, holding up a hand as he took off again, "Please wait! Where is the party?" But he was gone and she had no choice but to give up the chase. "Well, fiddlesticks!" she exclaimed, "Where could it possibly be?" Then she gasped, his words suddenly registering, "Oh no! The Queen of Hearts! Oh, no, oh, no! I simply must get there in time!"
"Are you lost?" a sardonic smile suddenly appeared above her head, offering a cheeky grin.
"Why, yes." Alice answered hesitantly, looking around to see who was speaking before catching sight of the wide toothy grin, "Or, I mean, no. You see, I don't know where I need to go so I don't think I can be lost. On the other hand, if I don't know where I'm supposed to go then I must be lost, don't you think?"
"I don't know." a pair of big yellow eyes appeared, "That's something you'll have to figure out for yourself."
"Well, I suppose I will," she frowned in thought, "But it would be so much easier if someone could just tell me. You see, I simply must get to the Queen of Hearts' Tea Party or it will be off with my head."
"Oh, yes, that would be very uncomfortable," a purple-striped face appeared and Alice finally recognized him.
"Oh!" she cried, her hand going to her mouth, "It's you."
"Yes, it's me." the Cheshire Cat agreed, finishing his appearance.
"Do you know where the Queen's Tea Party is?" she asked hopefully.
"Why, yes I do." he affirmed, as his tail suddenly disappeared, "In fact, I'm going there now."
"Oh, no, no, no, no, no!" Alice gasped, "Don't go! Don't leave me! You just got here! Please, please, take me with you!"
"I don't want to be late…" he purred in response; his wide cheeky grin was all that was left.
"Oh, you hateful thing, you!" she stomped her foot, hands on her hips, "Why can't you behave! Why, my own cat—"
"Oh, don't be mad now," he continued purring as his smile faded out, "Don't go mad."
"Don't go mad!" she answered hotly, staring into the darkness in disbelief, "Don't go mad? Well, what do you expect? That I would be perfectly calm when I'm going to lose my head if I'm late?" She stormed back and forth, pacing through the snow, "Don't go mad, he says!" Then an idea struck her, "Oh, of course! The Mad Hatter and March Hare have a Tea Party. Maybe it's at their house!"
She looked left and right, trying to decide which path to take and suddenly realized that there was something very strange about her surroundings. Though it seemed to be the dead of winter with bare trees and snow on the ground, the flowers were in full bloom.
"Oh, how peculiar," she murmured, stepping closer for a better look. Then, remembering her manners, she sought out the red and white roses, who are the queens in any garden, and made a curtsy to them. Then she held a finger to her lips to remind the chrysanthemums that she could keep a secret.
Suddenly, a little swarm of bread and butterflies flew past her and landed on the tulips; she couldn't help but speak to them, "Don't you silly things know that it's almost Christmas? Shouldn't you be asleep in you cocoons?" But they didn't respond and a few minutes later she realized that she was humming "Golden Afternoon" Then a hissing sound caught her attention and she quickly found the flower where a dog and caterpillar were arguing.
"Oh, you poor little dear," she said, holding a finger out for the caterpillar. Moving it to another plant, she patted its head and scolded lightly, "But if you were being a good caterpillar, you'd be inside your cocoon and then he couldn't bother you. Don't you know it's almost Christmas?"
Then she suddenly remembered herself and thought to ask the queens if they knew where the Mad Hatter and the March Hare lived and how much of a hurry she was in.
"We don't know." the White Rose replied sympathetically, "We don't know anything other than what goes on in the garden."
"But I will call one of my Knight to escort you," she hastened to add, much to the chagrin of her red counterpart, "They have traveled all over the world and know every part of it. He will know the right way to go."
"Oh, thank you, Alice answered gratefully, making a curtsy to both again, "I'm sure I will arrive quite safely now."
The White Knight came quickly, sitting on a magnificent white stallion with a long flowing mane and tail of silvery-white and a beautifully arched neck; after saluting both queens, he received his orders from the White Rose.
"This young lady," she said, "is an old friend of ours and she is great haste to attend the Queen of Heart's tea party. I trust that you will be able to deliver her safely to the Mad Hatter and March Hare?"
"I will do my very best, madam." he bowed low in the saddle, then reached down to offer his hand to Alice, "Hang on to me tightly, miss."
"Your horse is very beautiful," she complimented him, as she settled behind the saddle, "but, oh, he is so tall!"
But she had no time to say anything else for a few minutes as they were suddenly running over the snow dusted trail at top speed. "My name is Alice," she continued, once she'd caught her breath from the shock of the speed and almost constant changing of direction "Thank you very much for your help. What is your name?"
"I am the White Knight." he replied, "I have a twin. He is the White Knight too."
"Oh!" her eyes widened, "Well, that sounds confusing, if I may be so bold."
"It is not," he disagreed hotly, "I am the White Knight and he is the White Knight Two. What is there to be confused about?"
"Oh, I see now." she answered, still very much confused, but wanting to be polite, "Of course."
"What are you doing?" she snapped, after another change of direction, "Didn't you hear the White Rose? I need to get to that tea party by the fastest way possible. Why can't you ride in a straight line?"
"It can't be done," he answered, without turning his head, "It can't be done. It's against the rules."
"What?" she was aghast.
"I can't do it." he insisted, "I can't do it. It isn't allowed."
"But that doesn't make sense!" she cried, tears springing up in her eyes, "And I'm going to lose my head if you don't! Anyone can go straight if they only try!"
"I can't, I can't," he insisted vehemently, "It's against the rules."
She went silent for a few minutes, sensing that she might lose her temper if she spoke again, but as they pulled to stop beside a clear crystal blue lake she could hold her tongue no longer.
"You're stopping here?" she exploded, her has ashen with horror, "Didn't you hear what I said? The Queen of Hearts— You promised the White Rose—"
He pointed to a little house on the shore, "I must leave you here, in the care of this Pawn. He will take you across the lake. It is the shortest route, but I cannot go that way."
"Why not?" she glared at him contemptuously, folding her arms over her chest.
"I cannot," he shook his head, offering her a hand to help her dismount, "It is against the rules."
Seeing that she wasn't getting and hoping to get more help from whoever lived in the little house, she helped herself down and stalked up to the door, knocking furiously.
"Oh, please, not so loud," the Pawn answered, quivering before her frustration.
Seeing that he was so tiny, Alice took him to be the son of the Pawn, and bit back her hot words, thinking that the Pawn might not help her if she was disrespectful to his son, "Please, I was told by the White Knight that the Pawn who lives here would be able to escort me to the Queen of Hearts' tea party at the Mad Hatter and March Hare's house. Oh, please, may I speak to him right away? I'm in an awfully big hurry!"
The Pawn looked confused for a moment, "I am the Pawn who lives here. And, yes, I can take you to the Queen's tea party. Come along. It's just a little way across the lake."
She followed closely at his heels as he headed towards the water and realized with surprise that despite the wintry evergreen forest and snow-covered ground, the lake had little ripples in the water.
"Oh, it isn't frozen!" she gasped. Shaking her head, she mused softly to herself, "Nothing is as it should be in this place—but then how are we to get across? I don't see a boathouse."
Glancing at the Pawn again, she decided that she didn't feel as safe with him as she had with the White Knight, so she questioned him, "I thought the White Knight would take all the way to the party—that's what he told the White Rose he would do. But he didn't and I'd like to know why?"
"Oh, that's easy," the Pawn shrugged, "The Mad Hatter and the March Hare live in a straight line from here. Knights can't move in a straight line. Only Pawns and Rooks can move in a straight line, though Bishops can move in a straight diagonal." Then he blushed, "Rooks can move faster than Pawns, but there was no Rook in this square when the Knight came. I feel very grateful that he would entrust his charge to me."
At that moment, they came to the waterline and the Pawn waded right in, but Alice skidded to a stop.
"But I can't swim in my Christmas dress and stockings!" she protested.
"Oh, but you must," the Pawn insisted, "It is the shortest way; besides I can only move in a straight line so if I'm to escort you—." Without another word, he reached up and yanked her underwater and suddenly she found herself sinking into a swirl of colorful bubbles.
"Oh!" she gasped, "It's is deeper than it looks on the surface. And what beautiful bubbles; why they're every color of the rainbow! And the water is so warm!" Then she gasped again, realizing "I can talk underwater!"
The Pawn nodded, "Certainly you can. You're perfectly safe down here. After all, I wouldn't want to face the White Knight if I didn't take care of someone he entrusted me with."
"Well, no," she blushed, "I suppose you wouldn't."
"Come this way," he led her to the sandy bottom, "We can catch two sea horses to ride across the lake and you'll be to your party in no time. You do know how to ride, don't you?"
"Yes, of course," she answered, finding herself enchanted with the new adventure, "though I'm afraid that I've never ridden a seahorse."
"It is the same as riding on the surface," he assured her, pointing to a wide plain of seaweed where a small herd of multicolored seahorses grazed, "Now, you only need to pick one and I will call it over for you. Though you can't have the white one because he is mine."
"Oh, I'd like the bright green one, please," she answered, "He is the very color of the grass beside our summer home."
"An excellent choice, miss," the Pawn nodded, whistling the horses to him, "He is as quiet as a daydream." Then he helped her to mount and got on his own.
Well, of course," Alice mused to herself, as she watched him get astride, "The White Pawn must ride a white seahorse."
They rode through the clear blue water as if they were on parade, pushed on towards their destination by a gently flowing current, with a school of fish to escort them over the great coral reefs. Alice loved every minute of it and wished that she could do it every day. But all to soon it was over and she was wading ashore with the Pawn on the opposite beach.
"It's such a pity that we couldn't go on a while longer," she said, turning to shake his hand, delighted to find that she was perfectly dry, "I thank you very much for helping me get across and I'm very sorry that I was rude when we first met."
"That's alright," he answered, shrugging his shoulders, "I'm used to it. All Pawns are. We're easy come, easy go, you know." He shrugged again, then pointed ahead through the trees, "The Mad Hatter and March Hare live just up there. It is only a hop, skip and a jump away."
"Well, that sounds very easy!" she sighed, hopeful that her troubles were finally over, she recited the instructions as she did them, "A hop, a skip, and a jump!"
"We're painting the roses red, painting the roses red," she instantly found herself in the midst of the Queen's playing guards, as the cards ran up and down a row of hedges in frantic disarray, "But many a tear will soon be shed because before long the roses will be dead."
"Oh, no," Alice looked dumbfounded, thinking them silly for having made the same mistake again, "Did you paint the roses white again?"
"Yes they have, my dear," the Mad Hatter interrupted, taking her hand and leading her through the fray, "but come, come, leave them be. Come with me and have a spot of tea."
The March Hare scurried up with a chair in one hand and a teapot, cup, and saucer on a tray in the other; Alice barely had time to say merry Christmas before he forced her to sit down then suddenly she was at the table and he was pouring her a cup. But the first thing out of the teapot was the poor Door Mouse, who was half sick from the wild ride he'd been given.
"Oh!" Alice pulled him back just before the steaming tea poured down on his head, "You poor little thing."
"We're about to sing the unbirthday song," the March Hare explained excitedly, failing to notice anything that he was doing, "for everyone who has an unbirthday today. Do you know anyone?"
"Oh, how lovely." she clasped her hands together, "And I suppose this means that I'm not late for the party, after all. So I won't lose my head!"
"Quite right, quite right," he agreed, hustling back to his question, "But, do you know anyone who has an unbirthday today?"
"Well, um," Alice thought a moment, then remembered, "Oh, I know! Jesus Christ has an unbirthday today! His birthday isn't until this weekend."
"Perfect!" the March Hare brought out a small cupcake and the Mad Hatter tuned his fiddle, "Let's sing a very merry unbirthday to Him! To who? To Him- "
Suddenly, trumpets sounded and everyone whipped around to see the Queen of Hearts stepping through the gate. She froze at the sight of Alice, then bellowed, "Off with her head!"
"Wait!" Alice gasped, her face paling in an instant, "But, I'm not late! You can't—" The next instant she clamped her mouth shut and fled for her life though the maze of hedges. "But, I'm not late!" she insisted, turning her head to see that the playing cards guards were gaining on her, "I'm not late! I'm not late!"
Then her eyes flew open and she was once more in her family's cozy townhouse and thoroughly warmed by the fire. "Oh, how silly," she muttered softly to herself, recalling her neighbor's warning to the boy, "How perfectly silly."
Then she stood up and went about her business.
Author's Note: This story is entered in the Fellowship and Fairydust Winter Writing Contest. Judging is ongoing but I will put links to our website and Youtube channel so you read the stories we have posted there.