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Excerpt from Wonderland
(The Realms Series #1)

Emory R. Frie

          Slippers stuffed with pudgy feet squeaked across the floor, layers of silk mauve skirts sweeping around her legs. The Duchess’ amethyst wisps of hair were piled up atop her head like candy floss. Yellowish eyes scrutinized the prisoners as she passed their cells, her crimson lips pursed with disgust. Though her face was powdered pallid, a single mole perched black beside her hooked nose. It was shocking that her ruffled collar didn’t choke her due to her folds of chins. But the Duchess didn’t show discomfort, only determination and revulsion.

          There was one footman beside her, an overly large frog walking along on floppy feet. His bulbous eyes were dazed, looking up at the ceiling as if the mold there were interesting. It was as if he were sleepwalking. But at least he was conscious enough not to drop the tray of tarts he held with his webbed front flippers. The Duchess was almost scarier than the Queen of Hearts; and no one could afford to drop the Duchess’ tarts.

          Maniac babbling echoed down the passage from the heavily guarded cell in ceaseless garbling. It wasn’t like the special guest wasn’t normally chatty. But ever since he’d come into the Queen’s custody, well, he wasn’t often in the mood. When he did talk, however, it was a good idea to pay attention should he reveal something of value amongst his nonsense.

          When the Duchess reached the cell, she snatched up a tart from her footman and shoved it in her mouth. “What has he been burbling this time?” she smacked, not bothering to swallow before speaking.

          A soldier—a typical one in dark white armor adorned with a blood red heart on the helm and other major pieces—addressed her question, “He’s on a rampage about some great epiphany of his. He’s been talking faster than a rocking-horse fly about complete nonsense, but it’s at least somewhat clear.”

          The prisoner jumped from the shadows and pressed himself against the prison bars, blue eyes flashing with dead madness. “What do you feel?” he hissed between a stretched smile.

          The Duchess raised a thin eyebrow at his messy hair and stubbly jaw. She gave an equally maniac smile, revealing jumbled teeth and tart bits. “Is this another one of your riddles? Ravens and writing desks and all that?” She didn’t wait for his response before she frowned and answered his question, “I am frustrated, Hatter. I feel frustrated with you.”

          The Mad Hatter shook his finger disapprovingly. “Nay, not what you think you feel, not what you want to feel, not what you think you want someone to think you think you feel. But what do you feel?”

          She cocked her head slightly. “Bored.”

          “WRONG!” the Hatter bellowed, pushing himself away with such ferocious force that the door rattled.

          The cards drew their swords instinctively, shocked by the flip in their prisoner’s mood. The Hatter’s face darkened as he paced back and forth, pulling at his filthy hair. All the while, the Duchess watched in scrutiny, mildly amused by such display of anger. She shoved another tart in her mouth. The frog footman stared dreamily off at a shower of dust falling from the rafters.

          “See, we all feel… Yes, we feel everything, everything all at once!” the Hatter rambled, somewhere between frustration and desperation as he paced. “But we only chose one emotion, one face, one hat to put on the outside so it only seems like we feel only one feeling. Yet imagine what it’d be like to show exactly what we’re feeling the moment we feel it, like piling every hat on your head precisely when you have the urge to do so. Wouldn’t then we all be considered mad? When in reality, everyone feels everything at any given moment, so wouldn’t the ones who chose only one feeling to display be just as insane as the ones who express everything instantaneously? And just the same, all with every hat would be as sane as those with one hat so really feelings and expressiveness have nothing at all to do with madness or sanity. It’s about… humanity and tolerance. Whether all those hats could topple over and hurt somebody else. So we go about wearing only one hat but feeling, feeling, FEELING… everything…”

          The Hatter stopped pacing and looked around him, baffled. His hands rummaged around his pockets, patted his thighs and chest—definitely his chest—as if searching.

          “Missing… Something’s missing, and I can’t…” He checked everywhere, grasping at the spot where his heart should’ve been. “… feel…”

          The Duchess leaned forward and grasped the prison bars with her chubby hands. She smiled with wicked madness. “What do you feel?” she leered.

          No one noticed the eyes that watched from the rafters except for the frog footman, who thought that it was merely dust particles glinting in the fire light. But that didn’t explain the shadow of a gleaming smile poised just beneath those watchful eyes.

          The Hatter looked up, dazed, mournful, broken. “… Nothing. I feel nothing.”

Fall, 2016 Issue

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