When the yellow pocket watch strikes six

When the yellow pocket watch strikes six

A young boy and girl take a strange journey to a different era, where the line between illusion and reality is blurred. This story was written by Larissa Tang, from South Island School

This is the seventh finalist in Young Post's 2014 Summer Story competition in which book vouchers and tickets to Ocean Park are up for grabs. Each week we will publish one of the finalists' stories, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on August 29

What do you want to be, when you grow up?" asks tall tall Teacher in a smart smart suit.

"We want to be," chorused the high high voices: "Teachers. Doctors. Actors. Singers. Football players. Artists."

"Well, well, well," Teacher goes on without the slightest, smallest pause: "Tom, Dolly, Alice, Sam, Fiona and Alex, I'm sure you'll become wonderful teachers, doctors, actors, singers, football players and artists."

Ring-ring-a-ting, the clock strikes one.

Teacher claps his hands together: "Class is done, home time now, goodbye everyone."

Chitter-chatter-pitter-patter. Holding hands, holding hands.

Tug, tug, tug. "What is it?" Tug, tug, tug.

It's Alex in a red and black top tugging at Alice in a blue and white coat.

"Alice, let's go see Bunny."

Across and along the corridor they go. Down the steps, in front of the hall when - Alice and Alex tumble down the steep, dark hole double-quick. 

Ring-ring-a-ting, the clock strikes two,

Trip, turn, tackle, 

"Ouch, that's my foot, Alex," and, "Ow, that's my toe, Alice."

"Where," Alice starts. 

"Are we?" Alex ends.

If a light were switched on, one would see that the room was small and cramped and damp and dirty. A rickety old table dressed in a worn cotton cloth, half of a rotting wooden footstool with a stack of something perched atop (could those be paper fans?).

Without light, the room feels large, spacious, dry and clean.

A sturdy new plate decorated with slight bumps (that was porcelain), a smooth warm ebony chair with a leather-bound book sitting on top.

A candle flickers on. Old stone tiles of a temple come into view, along with the dull sheen of a dusty jade footrest and a pool of dark water, reflecting an unseen crescent moon. 

With pricked ears, fluffed fur, it slowly turned around, "Hello, hello, hello. Welcome one. Welcome all. Welcome down the rabbit hole."

"Bunny!" cried the children, in obvious surprise.

"Hello," the snow-white rabbit hopped left and right. "How was school?"

"It was fun, great and awesome!" chirped the children, in great delight. "Teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up."

"Oh? Now you know what you want to be when you grow up ..." The rabbit bounced up and down. "What do you want to do when you grow up?"

"When I grow up, I want to raise a family," said the little little girl in the blue and white coat.

"When I grow up, I want to raise a family," said the little little boy in the red and black top.

"When you grow up, you want to raise a family?" asked the little little rabbit in a green and grey waistcoat, holding a yellow pocket watch.

"Yes, when I grow up, I want to raise a family," smiled the children with absolute certainty.

"So, when you grow up, how will you raise your family?"

Ring-ring-a-ting, the pocket watch strikes three.

"Oh my." The rabbit flips open the yellow pocket watch, "You must be the one."

It jumps onto the edge of the mysterious pond, landing with a thump at the water's edge. "Come along now, there is little time for us." 

The deep, dark pool ripples once. The vanilla crescent moon vanishes, as though a tempest brought along by the lone ripple had shattered the delicate reflection.

"Bunny," gasps Alice, "Where are you going?"

"Bunny," whines Alex, "Don't leave."

"I'm not going anywhere, you're coming with me." Out comes a mallet, brutal and blunt, cracking the stone flooring as though it were glass. "Down the rabbit hole, down the rabbit hole."

Gathered, in the rotten sunshine and the sweltering heat, is a group of caterpillars on a milkweed leaf. Surrounding the group of caterpillars are multicoloured butterflies fluttering in the breeze.

"Cease this insolence, small caterpillars," shouts a butterfly, with marbled blood red and jet black wings. "Leave now, small caterpillars and we shall still our forces."

"What's this?" whispers Alice, "What are the butterflies and the caterpillars doing?"

"What's this?" Alex points. "Why are there so many ugly butterflies?"

"Hush! And those are not ugly butterflies, they are moths." The rabbit pawed at the earth. "The butterflies and the moths are here to get rid of the caterpillars."

"Why? I thought caterpillars turned into butterflies?" Alice looked shocked.

Alex shrugged. "Because the caterpillars did something bad."

"The butterflies used to be caterpillars, but they no longer remember what that felt like. So they asked the moths to help them get the caterpillars off their milkweed patch." There was an indescribable sadness in the rabbit's wise eyes.

A flapping of heavy wings signalled the charge of the moths.

"Come now, we must make haste. There is so much to do but so little time." Again, the heavy mallet swung from the rabbit's paw and smashed the illusion into splinters.

"Why is there so much red?" Alice wondered as she fell through the void once more. "Why do I hear screams?"

Ring-ring-a-ting, the pocket watch strikes four.

A troop of owl-eyed moths greedily ate a tower of silk, the great structure falling.

"Oh!" Alice flinched when the tower collapsed. "What's happening?"

"Observe. The eagle-eyed moth up there." The rabbit sniffed the air. "Its name is Mad Hatter."

Mad Hatter charged into a field of budding lotuses, scattering pearly petals as it went. The army of moths behind it scattered leaves in their wake.

"Why?" Alice shook her head, "why are the moths doing this?"

"This is a different era. Where the moths reigned more freely than ever before and bent to the will of the butterflies. There was once a time, when the lakes housing the blue lilies and pink lotuses were plentiful and adored. A time when a spider's song was worshipped and the moth's flights were peaceful. A time when honeysuckle blossoms were woven into reed baskets and tadpoles jumped over crystals hidden in river beds." The rabbit inclined its ears towards the ground where the silk tower once stood. "That was once the palace, extravagant and beautiful in its own way. What the moths could not consume was burned in the ever-expanding cemeteries, where the remnants of the past lie to this day."

Alice thought about those statements, head spinning. "But ... why don't I know? Why haven't I heard of this before, Bunny?"

"My dear, there are some pieces of knowledge you must acquire on your own. You must discover that you do not learn everything from your time at school and your time in lessons, as fun as those sessions may be. However, you must remember that you make friends in those institutions, who you may have never met otherwise." 

"But, Bunny, it's not fair! Why should I know something that school hasn't taught me?" Alice stomped off to the trampled flower patch. "Alex, where are you?"

But Alex was nowhere to be seen.

"Sometimes, when light is shed on these incidents, the events contain too much information for a mind to process." The rabbit bowed its head. "Sometimes, a mind is distrustful of facts and wishes to remain ignorant."

"But ... Alex isn't like this ... 'ignorant'! Why am I not 'ignorant'?" the little little girl in the blue and white coat asked. "Why can't I be ignorant? Why do I have to know?"

The little little rabbit in the green and grey waistcoat said nothing, only taking out its mallet and swinging it with force. 

The horrific scene fractured and once again, with the veil uncovered, Alice saw:

Waves of red. They clashed with one another, roaring with rage, passion and vigour. Raised fists. Pumping with anger, sorrow and nostalgia. Photographs, books and works of art torched. Cruel flames savoured the fuel, licking at the priceless memories stored within the items. The flames danced and burned around the treasures, mockingly destroying such high value so suddenly and completely.

Ring-ring-a-ting, the pocket watch strikes five.

A cold floor spread out like an unwanted welcome mat. Spread out on the cold floor was a grinning cat, its twin tails twisting, turning and twirling.

A grinning cat who was always watching.

A light was switched on. Alice could see that she was in a room that was tiny, squished, humid and grubby. She could see a strange four-legged piece of furniture with a thin covering over it, a stool which had been chopped clean in half with black paint splattered all over it, with a collection of paper aeroplanes on top.

The light was switched off. Alice stumbled blindly around in that room, but the wall had disappeared from her fingertips. The floor she stepped on felt plush and springy. The room was big, warm and reminded her of home. She fingered the cold ceramic plate sitting on a flawless wooden table. She brushed against a silky cushion, resting on a familiar chair. She slid her hands across the cool fabric of the curtains.

Then, the comforting glow of candle-flame illuminated her surroundings. She saw the antique slate panels, decorated with odd patterns, lining the area around her. She gazed at the enchanting ceiling, where mysterious figures and diagrams were etched onto the wood. All round her, the granite beams supporting the inviting roof were silent, watching the unmoving pool of water where the crescent moon reflected from where it could not be seen.

Bunny was not there.

"Hello, hello, hello. Welcome one. Welcome all. Welcome back to the rabbit hole," laughs a twin-tailed cat, licking its black paw. "Welcome to a place where we speak of what should be spoken."

Its bright eyes glittered as it arched its back, sleek fur shivering as a breeze rustled past.

"Excuse me, Kitty, do you know where Bunny is?" asked the girl in the blue and white coat.

"My, oh my." The pitch-black cat giggled scornfully. "My dear, you must realise that the snow-white rabbit is forever imprisoned at one time."

Ring-ring-a-ting, a lonely golden pocket watch strikes six.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
When the yellow pocket watch strikes six


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