This is the winning entry in Young Post's 2014 Summer Story competition. Honor wins vouchers from Commercial Press. Congratulations to all the finalists and thanks to everyone who entered the contest
The March Hare hopped frantically about, wringing his paws as his monocle balanced precariously on the tip of his nose. "Oh, I say!"
He danced around his cosy living room, trampling his poor tartan rug with great clomping footsteps. "Oh, oh, I SAY!"
The Mad Hatter stumbled into the little round room, wheezing through his bulbous nose in his hurry. "What is it? My dear March Hare, whatever has worked you into such a fitful passion?"
Observing his companion scurry in circles around the tea table, the Mad Hatter hesitantly slid into his usual seat and eyeballed the panicked figure of the March Hare.
"Terrible news, terrible, terrible, even the dormouse shot awake as if I'd placed firecrackers under his chair!"
The March Hare coughed. "Well, that may have been part of the reason he woke up, but ..."
"My dear Hare!" exclaimed a rather exasperated Hatter. "What is the matter?"
"When is a dormouse not a dormouse? When it's a doorstop," burst forth the March Hare, before he hurriedly slapped a paw over his mouth and turned sheepishly back to the Mad Hatter. Before the Mad Hatter could utter a single word, the March Hare bounded forward and slapped his hairy paw over the Mad Hatter's face.
"Right, yes. Back to the main, main, MAIN point now. Other than the fact the dormouse drinks coffee now ..."
The Mad Hatter snorted in contempt and shook free of the March Hare's sweaty paw.
"Will you humour me, dear friend, and just get to the point - why, are you ...?" The Mad Hatter peered closely over his nose at the March Hare, confused.
"Are you glowing, dear Hare, or should I get my monocle replaced?"
The March Hare gulped. "Well, see, I just might have woken the Cheshire cat. Nothing serious, of course, no firecrackers. None at all. No firecrackers. Yes. None."
There was a pregnant pause.
The March Hare fiddled nervously with the teacup clasped between his paws.
"I might have, I might not - yes, I did."
Then he fell. With a loud groan the floor cracked apart, gaping wide like a monster's maw, and the March Hare was gone.
Eyes as wide as the saucers on the tea table, the Mad Hatter stared at the shrinking hole in the rug. Eventually, he bellowed at the carpet:
"MY TEACUP, YOU DRATTED HARE! THAT WAS MY BEST WILLOW-PATTERNED SET!"
After flailing and shrieking, the March Hare realised he was zipping through the White Rabbit's den. It seemed that he had been falling for ages, with no sense of direction in the black tunnel, no sense of time or place.
The March Hare fell further.
Thump, thump, thump. And back again. Gloved hands clasped tightly behind his back and with the corners of his mouth arched downwards, the Mad Hatter patrolled the room for the hundredth time. He pivoted on his left foot, right leg swinging in an arc to form his 356th step.
"You'll plough a hole into that floor if you continue pacing." A sleazy, familiar voice drifted around the Mad Hatter and he paused, his boot stopping just above the rug. Swivelling around, the Mad Hatter arched his eyebrows to meet glowing blue eyes and shining teeth, bared in a mischievous grin, hanging in the darkness of the cupboard.
"Is that so?"
"It may be, it may not be."
"No time for riddles, dear friend."
"Oh?" The Cheshire cat settled himself on the rug. "But there will be."
The Mad Hatter lowered himself gracefully into a chair, smiling at the comfortably settled cat.
"And when will that be, I wonder?"
"When you go to fetch your companion, of course!" drawled the Cheshire cat, teeth glinting in contrast to his dark tabby fur.
"When I go to fetch him? My dear cat, his disappearance was your doing, not mine."
"But he is your companion, is he not?" A yawn. More glinting teeth.
"He may be in 2014. She may be 14. He could be in Oslo, for all I know. He might be in China, but it'd be a pain to find her." Blue eyes met bright green ones.
"You have all the time to find her. Oh, and him, too. But your time will no longer be suspended in eternity."
Green eyes hardened. The scraping of chair legs, and the Cheshire cat came face to face with a pair of leather boots.
"You have to send me to where he is. Play the game fairly, won't you?"
"Oh, but I will." The Cheshire cat rolled over and flicked his glowing eyes upwards. The grin turned sinister.
"Hold on to your hat, Hatter."
Reaching instinctively for his worn felt hat, the Mad Hatter held the cat's gaze as he hurtled down into the darkness, two glowing eyes staring down at him.
A maze of tunnels swam into the Mad Hatter's vision. Suddenly, his nose was assaulted by a putrid smell. Flapping his hands to disperse the odour of rotting fish, he cursed the Cheshire cat. The damned cat had put him in a sewage canal.
"Oh, what a horrid place to be!" moaned the March Hare. He had been wandering the sewage canal for hours and had accidentally tripped into a septic tank.
"I don't even like fish!" wailed the Hare, who did smell like dead fish.
The Hatter heard the echoing cry of "Fish! Fish! Fish!"
Cocking his head to one side, he called: "I want my teacup!"
Further down, the March Hare heard "Teacup! Teacup! Teacup!"
The March Hare slid through the tunnel. "Ho, Hatter!"
"You smell!" the Mad Hatter exclaimed.
"Never mind that, we must find Alice!"
A frown. "We what?"
"Alice!" cried the March Hare in exasperation.
"Yes, I know who!" interrupted the Mad Hatter impatiently. Why?"
"Didn't that crazy cat tell you? Only she can bring us back to Wonderland!"
The pair was perched at the top of a mouldy ladder.
"OW!" shouted the March Hare, rubbing his sore head.
"What is it?" the Hatter asked.
"It seems to be some ... metal? My poor head, oh ..."
The Mad Hatter sighed. "Shove off, I'll get it - no, not literally!"
Climbing the slimy rungs, the Mad Hatter pushed the slab of metal above him.
"Seems to be screwed in place ... no matter, won't be a tic ... Oof!"
Fourteen-year-old Alice was on her way home from tutoring when she heard the creaking coming from a back alley. A manhole cover near her feet began jolting, followed by muffled, panicked shouting and an explosion.
With smoke drifting lazily from the manhole, Alice gasped as two sooty figures clambered out.
"I had the screws already! There was no need to light those firecrackers!" shouted the figure in the lopsided top hat.
"You didn't tell me you had the screws!" protested the figure with ... long ears?
"Excuse me?" Alice called timidly.
The two figures looked at her.
"Alice?" Long Ears whispered.
"ALICE!" they exclaimed as they dashed down the alley.
"You have to send us back!" exclaimed Top Hat.
"Now would be super!" added Long Ears.
"Who are you?" cried Alice.
Not hearing her question, the pair gazed past Alice into the gleaming streets of Hong Kong.
"Why are you here, Alice? Last we saw you, you were in England."
"My father got a promotion with his company," replied Alice, still rather confused. "Naturally, I moved here with my family."
"Do you not recognise us, Alice?" breathed Long Ears. "Our tea parties in Wonderland?"
"The March Hare and the Mad Hatter! Why are you here, of all places?"
"This rabbit thought it was a brilliant idea to wake the Cheshire cat with his firecrackers. That dratted cat sent him here, then me after him as his revenge. But you can send us back to Wonderland!"
"I am not a rabbit, I am a hare!" cried the March Hare indignantly.
"But how?" asked Alice. "I thought Wonderland was a figment of my imagination, a silly dream ..."
"That's it, Alice! Dream us back into Wonderland. A reflection of Wonderland is hidden in your dreams. Right now, we are trapped in reality, taken from that reflection of the real Wonderland."
"But how will I dream that dream?" cried Alice.
"Keep thinking about us, just for tonight, and hopefully, we will leave a brief imprint in your mind - fresh enough for your thoughts to linger upon."
"You can always find us here tomorrow if you don't dream, Alice," said the Mad Hatter. "We have all the time in the world."
"I'll do my best to help you. But I can't promise anything." A small smile, then she was gone.
That night, Alice thought of the Mad Hatter's worn hat, the March Hare's ears and she daydreamed until her sister said crossly: "Got your head stuck in wonderland?"
Alice woke early. She closed her eyes, falling back into a peaceful slumber ...
Alice shot up. Peaceful! Did she dream? She screwed her eyes shut, trying desperately to remember, but her mind was blank. Alice leapt out of bed and tore around her room like a whirlwind, snatching up her clothes from the floor.
Will be back soon, she wrote, gone out to buy breakfast.
Then she dashed out.
"Mad Hatter? March Hare?" Alice gasped. "I'm truly sorry ... I don't think I dreamed ..."
Apart from traces of soot, there was nothing in the alley except for some writing on the wall. With a sooty finger, someone had written:
Goodbye, Alice, and thank you. Until we meet again.
The March Hare and the Mad Hatter spun through the White Rabbit's den until they landed upon the rug in a tangle of limbs and ears.
"Well, that was fast," drawled a disappointed voice.
"You," growled the Mad Hatter, glaring at the grinning Cheshire cat, who was taking in their sooty figures with a smug glee.
There was a pause.
"Look at our friend's marvellous coat," began the Mad Hatter, elbowing the March Hare. "It would be such a shame if there was say, soot, all over your fur, wouldn't it?"
The Cheshire cat's eyes widened. "You wouldn't."
"I'm willing to bet you used an extra spurt of that vanishing energy to send us to Hong Kong," continued the Mad Hatter, standing up. "Which means you won't be going anywhere for a while. We ought to entertain our guest, yes?" the Mad Hatter turned back to the March Hare, who was clutching pawfuls of soot and had a devious glint in his eye.
The March Hare locked the door.
"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty ..."