I was falling
Or at least I thought I was falling. It didn’t feel like gravity pulling me down and down, but more like something decided it wanted to sweep me off my feet and I sort of was floating and not going in any particular direction. It was like in ballet when one of the guys would pick me up real fast—sometimes for the routine, sometimes because they wanted to scare the crap out of me. I hated when they did that. I couldn’t decide if it was going to make me hurl, or if my stomach was in fact in my throat.
The problem was, it wasn’t stopping. At all. Not only that, but there were spiraling colors shooting out every which way in the abyss I currently found myself in. At least they were pretty though, mainly soft colors versus the neon colors that a main character would expect in such a situation. Yes, I watched a lot of anime and sci-fi. Don’t judge me. Anyway, I made a mental note to paint them later. That is, if I survived.
Oh, I should probably introduce myself. I’m Alice Hughes, or at least that was the name I went by. My real name was Meredith, but I always went by my middle name. Can you blame me? Regardless, I’m a freshman at East Salem High School. Go Hunting Owls! At first I thought an owl was stupid for a mascot, but an owl actually attacked a bunch of people in the park in downtown Salem, Oregon. I now appreciated, and feared, owls.
You may be wondering how I got into this mess, how I was falling (and falling and falling), and why I couldn’t stop. Honestly, I had no idea and was wondering the same thing. All I could remember was running out of the school, excited as it was a pleasant autumn day as I needed to bike to ballet and practice my splits. Then Kate, my best friend since grade school, asked me if I remembered my ballet shoes from my locker (wasn’t the first time I had forgotten them). I slammed my palm to my face and hurried back into the school…
Oh, that’s right. I had seen a group of boys open a locker and step inside—ones that just transferred to the district this year. Why the heck anyone would want to move to this school was beyond me, unless they were transferring from McKay. Perhaps it was the same kinds of people who disappear into lockers, which defied the laws of physics. Or, at least, I think it did (science wasn’t my best subject). Either way, it led me to believe I had eaten some bad mushrooms or something, not that I did such a thing. Then, of course, curiosity got the better of me and I went to see what was up with the locker and now I found myself falling… And falling… and… falling.
The feeling didn’t seem to want to stop either, and when I looked down, there didn’t seem to be an end to the abyss. I supposed that’s why they called it an abyss. I glanced around every which way and honestly I had no idea which way was up or which way was down. It left me feeling a bit disoriented, and I prayed that my lunch wouldn’t come back for a visit. That would make this situation so much worse.
As I fell, or maybe floated? I decided that was a better description of the situation. So as I floated, I wondered if this was what the people in space felt like while experiencing zero-gravity. I always marveled at what it would be like in space, though I probably would never find out. That is, unless NASA started hiring artists to man their spacecraft. That would be the day.
The swirls of color had left, and there was nothing but darkness. I felt a slight tug and came out of whatever inter-dimensional plane I had been in. I figured that’s what it had to have been, especially after watching so much sci-fi series and anime over the years. I had become something of an expert on all matters pertaining to fictional worlds, and if I didn’t know better, I was in some kind of strange alternative world. That, or I had hit my head somewhere at school and was knocked out cold and this was all a dream, which really was much more likely. But I wouldn’t be careless, just in case. If I saw a pink-haired girl like in an anime, I would run away from her as fast as I could. Pink-haired girls always brought disaster.
Whatever I landed on was soft. I touched it, trying to figure out what exactly it was since I was still surrounded by darkness. I felt around me, curious as to what I had landed on. It felt short, almost like grass. It was not light enough to tell, but I was pretty sure it was grass–I did live in Oregon after all. I took a breath. Yes, it was grass all right. It gave off that aroma of summer.
Well, that was one question answered, but I still had no idea where I was. Blackness surrounded me and I felt lost, even more lost than that time I took a wrong turn in Portland, leading me away from my 7th grade field trip group. Thank goodness for cell phones. Speaking of which, I decided to pull mine out and turned on the flashlight function. I hated the dark. It felt like solitude. It felt like nothing could help you escape from the dangers that lurked around. It absorbed everything and made me want to cry. I didn’t, but I sure yearned to.
Examining my surroundings a bit closer now that my slight anxiety attack had subsided, I found that it was indeed grass I was standing on. How weird, as this seemed to be some random room like a closet. Why would there be grass inside? The walls were plain and white and there was nothing else in the room. I focused the light up to see where I could have fallen from, but all I found was a white ceiling. How was that even possible? This had to be a dream.
Shining my flashlight around, I noticed a doorknob on one of the walls. The door was so flush to the wall that I couldn’t even make it out. I prayed that it was indeed a door and not a shower handle like in the movie Clue. The things I worried about, I swore.
I headed towards the door and as I moved forward, I felt something hit me right in the forehead, knocking me back a step.
“Ouch!” I placed my hand over my right eyebrow where it had hit. There was going to be a giant lump there, I just knew it. I shone the flashlight up at it. Sure enough, I missed the only thing in this room: a giant pipe that spanned across the room right in front of the door. Rubbing the slight bruise, I just hoped my luck would get a little better, which seemed unlikely at this point.
I grabbed the door knob. It was cool and smooth, just like a door knob should be, so hopefully this was indeed a door. Saying a slight prayer, I twisted and pulled inward. It didn’t budge. I sighed. It swung out, not in. I always found myself doing that, even if there’s a sign. I took another deep breath and pushed outwards.
It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the bright light. It stung, just as it always did when the sun came out on a rare autumn morning. And, for some reason, my left eye adjusted faster than my right. I never did figure out why that was. Once both eyes no longer burned, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The scenery that lay before me was a city, but definitely not the city of Salem that I was familiar with. No, this was something much more magical, like something out of a fairytale. Or an anime.
Had my dream came true at last? Was I now a 2D character?
Giant buildings made of glass and steel towered overhead, disappearing up into the sky, so high it seemed like they wouldn’t be able to. They weren’t the typical straight, rectangular buildings like that of my hometown, but spiraled and bulged out each and every way. If an engineer were here, they would be scratching their head. Even my sister who was majoring in physics would have no explanation. I had seen nothing like it. It kind of reminded me of the stacks in Ready Player One, although these looked a lot nice.
The buildings closest to me appeared transparent, and I could see everyone who was in the building, but much of the unglazed parts of the buildings were covered in vegetation. Ferns, honeysuckles, ivy, roses; name it and it was here. I gasped at the fact that all this could exist, and it was spectacular. I wished that more cities throughout the world looked like this. It felt so refreshing compared to the normal concrete and brick. The aura relaxed my mind and soul, and I almost forgot I was in another world.
I stepped out onto the street to find that the roads themselves were also covered with grass, just like the room I had left. It was the most beautiful grass that I had ever seen. It was something you would only expect from turf, except it wasn’t that disgusting fake stuff. No weeds, no dry spots; perfection. Along with the grass, flowers of all types lined the streets; blue star creeper, cranesbill, primrose, and those were just the ones I recognized.
Looking forward, I found something even stranger. The people here dressed as if they stepped straight out of Pride and Prejudice. The women wore frilly skirts and dresses of all types and colors, both bold and neutral. The men wore suits with large top hats and chains looped from their coat button to their pocket, indicating they were carrying pocket watches. None of this was the typical scenery of little old Salem. It’d be pretty cool though, but very doubtful.
I took a few more steps. The grass felt soft under my shoes and I was afraid I was going to step on some blooming flower. As I glanced to see how others dealt with this problem, I noticed they weren’t wearing any shoes. How peculiar.
This place also didn’t smell like a city. It smelt like the forest, or a meadow, no fumes or smog or pollution. My lungs, for once, felt clean and the fresh air felt so great that I wished my home was the same. I could even smell the roses that were across the street.
The street was busy, people conversing and walking towards their destination. Laughter and voices echoed through the area. I tried to see if I could get a glimpse of the edge of the city but didn’t see an end to this madness. I knew I needed to find my way out of here, or at least find out where I was. Then I could find my way back home, that is if this wasn’t some silly dream.
Deciding it was best to simply ask a person where I was, I approached a woman in a pink ruffled skirt. Her buttoned-up blouse was a matching pink with white threaded designs of cherry blossoms. Her blonde hair was done in tight curls and she had a headpiece with cherry blossoms weaved into it. She even smelled like cherries.
“Excuse me, miss, can you help me? I think I’m lost.”
She turned to face me and I froze. Her face was shrouded in darkness, like a mask. I couldn’t see her eyes, or nose, not even her mouth. It was as if light didn’t hit it and all I could see were the shadows that had consumed her features.
She hurried off, ignoring my question completely. Was it was because I stared at her in horror or because she simply didn’t want to talk? Or was it obvious that I didn’t belong here? Especially since I wasn’t wearing anything close to what those around me wore…
Curious, I took another look around. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before, but I couldn’t see the faces of anyone around me. Had I gone face-blind? Or was this some kind of custom of the people here? All I knew was that a cloud of darkness covered their faces and I couldn’t tell any of them apart. Fear, confusion, you name it, I was feeling it all and all of it told me I should run.
I started running through the crowd. I didn’t know why, it just seemed like the thing to do. I shoved past all the faceless people, trying to find an escape. It didn’t help that I didn’t know where I was nor where I needed to go. All I knew was that I wanted to get away from here. Maybe I could find the way to the outside of the city if I traveled in one direction long enough.
The citizens of the city all stared at me as I pushed my way through their groups, at least I think they stared at me. Their heads were turned towards my direction, so if they did have eyes I would presume I was at the center of their attention. It made me shiver that so many eyes were on me, yet I couldn’t see any of them. Could they even see me or was I in complete darkness to them?
It was probably a stupid idea to run and I should have just calmly tried to figure out what was happening, but all the confusion hit me at once. What if I couldn’t find a way home? What if I was stuck here forever? What if something happened to me, and my family never found out the truth? Even if my dream was to wake up in a fantasy world, that didn’t mean I wanted my family and friends to worry. My heart was beating faster now and all I could do was try to run away from my worried thoughts.
And that’s when I heard someone yelling after me.
“Stop! Stop her! She’s an outsider!”
I debated stopping for a moment, especially since I had no idea what I was doing, but then I remembered all the fictional stories with outsiders getting captured and being thrown into prison. That’s what always happened, right? I mean, that’s what happened to Satan in The Devil is a Part-Timer!. Besides, they didn’t sound like they wanted me to stop and have a spot of tea with them or something. They sounded like I was a criminal and they needed to apprehend me. I didn’t want that, so I kept moving forward and didn’t let anything stop me, or at least tried and not let anything stop me.
As if fate heard my thoughts the moment I projected them into the universe, I felt something grab me and pull me into an alleyway far from the major pathway. I tried to scream, but whoever it was put their hand over my mouth.
“Shhh, it’s all right,” a familiar voice said. It took a second to register, but I realized who had me wrapped up in his arms. It was Chase, a boy from school that was in a couple of my classes. He was definitely a troublemaker, and it had been his locker that I had seen everyone step through to enter this world. Was he the reason I was here? Or was this a dream? I kept telling myself it was the latter, but treated dangers as if they were real. I couldn’t be too careful.
“Now, I’m going to let go of your mouth, just promise me you won’t scream,” he said.
I nodded, feeling better now I had found someone I knew. I had completely forgotten that I had followed them down into the abyss. Everything was so new and surprising that the main reason I had fallen into this world had completely slipped my mind. Chase removed his hand from my mouth but didn’t remove the arm that was wrapped around my stomach, holding me against him. I still couldn’t see his face as he was behind me. I wondered why he didn’t let go and I began to get a little nervous again, although I could feel my cheeks getting warmer.
“What’s going— “
He placed a finger to my mouth. “Wait for them to pass.”
Chase kept us in the shadows of the trees that had grown with the buildings. It was very narrow down the alleyway, almost like some of the passageways in the old Fort Worden naval batteries near Port Townsend, Washington that my family liked to camp at. I couldn’t even see the sky from where I was since the foliage was so thick.
We stayed silent as the men ran passed us, not even taking a glance down this way, which made me wonder what was down here that they didn’t think I would go this way. Maybe it was haunted, which would be awesome. I had always wanted to see a ghost. It would be a lie to say I had never binge-watched Ghost Hunters at sleepovers with Kate. She didn’t see the appeal, but nevertheless she sat next to me for hours during my marathons.
After we were in the clear, Chase let go of me.
“What are you doing here Alice?” He questioned as he leaned against the wall. He had that sly smile that he always seemed to wear at school. He wore a pure black suit, tailed jacket and all, with the black tie loose around his neck. Bizarre, but not surprising compared to everything else. Maybe he was just trying to fit in. Other than his attire, something else seemed off. Then I realized what it was.
“Your eyes.” I stepped closer to him to examine them. They were yellow with black slivers, like the contacts I had seen at Kumoricon, the nearest anime convention. “They are like a cat’s! Are you wearing contacts?”
He rolled his eyes, which looked weird with cat’s eyes. “Yes, yes, I know, and no I am not. These are what my eyes look like in my true form. Now answer my question.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I went back into the school and I saw you guys. You entered your locker. I got curious, so I opened the locker.”
“Curiosity killed the cat, Alice,” Chase sighed.
“But satisfaction brought it back,” I responded. Not many knew the second half of the quote, so I made it my duty to finish it every time I heard someone say it in the typical anticlimactic fashion.
Chase appeared semi-impressed. “Well, well, you have quite a mouth on you for being so quiet at school.”
I gave him a look and then shook my head. “Still wasn’t my fault I fell in. I wasn’t going to go inside, I swear! Something pushed me!”
He raised an eyebrow. “Do you know who it was?”
“No. I didn’t see who or what it was. Next thing I knew, I was here.” I peered around. It was all a lot to take in. I had found myself in a strange new place—one that I had never seen pictures of before or heard anyone talk about. So I asked the obvious question that had been on my mind ever since coming here. “Where are we?”
“Alice, you are in Wonderland,” I heard a voice say behind me.
I turned to find Malcolm standing there along with Davis and Melvin. All of them were also in some of my classes. These were the four boys that I had seen jump in the locker. They each wore some Victorian gear like Chase, but Malcolm’s was a little more extravagant. His was dark green with light green lining and ivy embroidery. He had a burnt orange top hat with deep violet flowers pinned to one side of it covering his raven black hair. His light blue eyes stared at me, making my heart beat a little faster. Kate, my BFF, noticed I had the hugest crush on him but I never admitted it out loud because, well, let’s face it—he was completely out of my league.
“You mean the arcade? Is this some new attraction they added in the back?” I asked, referring to the arcade called “Wunderland” off Market street. I looked at Davis and Melvin. They didn’t say a word but just glanced at each other. He must have meant that. Maybe they got a virtual reality game. I heard they were making great progress with VR in Utah or Idaho or something. As I looked at Melvin and Davis, I noticed Melvin had bunny ears matching his orange hair. I was just about to point them out when Malcolm shook his head and answered my question.
“No, not the arcade. This is the real deal. This is Wonderland.”
“I don’t understand. You can’t possibly be talking about the children’s tale, can you?”
“Yes.” He peered around, as if making sure no one else was around. “But you shouldn’t be here. It is too dangerous and you aren’t ready.”
“Aren’t ready for… what? “I began when Melvin and Davis grabbed me and Malcolm pressed a vial of liquid to my lips. I tried to struggle, not quite sure what the heck he was trying to give me.
“Drink this, Alice. You must go home now and forget everything you saw.”
Forcing the drink down my throat, I felt the sweet liquid start to make my body tingle. My vision was getting blurry, and I had no idea why the world felt like it was spinning around. How could he do this to me, I wondered. Why couldn’t he have just asked?
I shoved him back, but it was too late as the vial was empty. “What the hell did you just give me?”
Before answering, I felt Chase wrap his arms around me and pull me back into the doorway that Malcolm had appeared out of. I let out a slight girly yelp, which I of course immediately regretted.
“Come on Alice, we’re going for a ride!” Chase laughed as we started to travel down and down and down.
Great, the floating feeling all over again. It wasn’t like my head wasn’t already spinning.