The Cat and the Caterpillar
Jamal turned to see the speaker but was greeted by only dark shadows. “Who dat?” he said.
“Up here.” came the voice. Slightly above him on a very wide branch was a very strange duo. First, there was a massive caterpillar, almost three feet long, sitting in what appeared to be a hammock made of silky webs, and smoking a long pipe. Next to him floated a smiling cat that was easily the size of a human. Both shared a blue color, but the caterpillar’s was more of a deep dark blue while the cat’s was so light that it was almost teal.
“Might we be able to help you?”
Jamal didn’t know what he thought was weirder, the floating cat, or the talking caterpillar. “Who are you?” he asked in astonishment.
“Ah, the basics. I do love someone with a good sensssse of direction,” the cat purred. “Now, where are my manners? I am the Chessshire cat, master of all magic and slights of hand, head, or whatever else I prefer to use. This is my partner and beloved companion, Absolem, general of the resistance’s army, and as it just so happens, he is your host in this glorious wonderland.”
“Most unfortunate,” said Absolem, taking a deep draught from his pipe.
“Yes, you idiot, unfortunate! If that hare could follow a simple order--”
“Come now, my wormy friend. That is no way to speak to our guessst. And as for the hare, he is a delightful creature despite his absolute insanity. And I am sure that Jamal is very similar to Alice in spirit, if not looks, so I believe that all is not losssst.”
“Shut up, Chess, we’re doomed,” Absolem growled, spouting an astonishing deal of foggy white smoke from his nose.
“Who is this Alice everybody is talkin’ about?” Jamal finally got to ask.
“Ahhh, Alice, the fairest damsel in the land. She was our hero, defender, and a few times our demon, but we won’t get into that.”
Absolem cut the Cheshire cat off. “The point is; whenever wonderland needed a hero or guidance, we called on Alice. She could solve every problem there ever was, and now… now we have you. Tell me, boy, can you swing a sword? Can you shoot a bow? I bet you can’t even put on armor. What could you do for us to solve our problem?” Absolem threw down the pipe he had been smoking in disgust. “We'd be better off with the hare for a hero.”
“I don’t know who Alice is, but if y’all need a hero, you can bet your balls that I’ll make a better hero than some sissy princess. I don’t need a sword when I got a gun, right?” Jamal said. “I can fight with my fists pretty good too.”
Absolem scoffed. “Enough, Jamal. Your speaking proves your ignorance and uselessness further. We do not fight the flesh and blood of this world. Try me no further.” When Jamal didn’t leave he yelled “Begone!” and hurled a glob of wet silk at him. It caught square in the jaw and somehow nearly knocked him flat. He staggered backward, but before he fell he found himself in the supportive arms of the Cheshire cat, who had just been standing on a branch high above him a split second before.
“Don’t take it purrrrrsonally-- er-- personally. He isn’t in the best mood when he knows he doesn’t have much longer to live. You can hardly blame him. It’s better to forgive and forget. Now, we must discuss something of utmost importancsssse. Wonderland needs an Alice. Now, don’t give me that look. I don’t expect you to run around in petticoats and stockings. Of course, only someone with a death wish would have requested the same of Alice. The problem is that I can’t tell you more about Alice. There are only two people who can. One is Absolem, but he doesn’t seem to like you. The other is our only hope. You must find the mad hatter in the discontinuum of time.”
“The mad hatter? So you want me to meet another cray-cray guy? Last time I almost got eaten by badgers and a Hellhound!” Jamal yelled.
The Cheshire cat grinned even wider, though Jamal thought that would be impossible. “Oh, you won’t find what you expect at all. Oh, no, you’re in for a treat.” Ignoring Jamals confusion he continued. “Now, follow my directions closely. It wouldn’t do at all for you to fall into some slithy tove somehow.
“Go through this forest until you reach the road that wraps around it. Follow this until you reach a hill in the shape of a large shoe. Turn towards this and continue over the hills until you find the Picnic table. That is where the mad hatter lives. I wish you best of luck. May we meet again.” The Cheshire cat began to float off towards a dense cloud of mist.
“Hey, Bro, don’t just leave me! What am I supposed to do if i fall into ona’ dem slithy toves, bro?” Jamal started to move after him but Absolem threw another silk ball at him. He just barely managed to dodge, but when he looked back to the Cheshire cat, he was gone. Anger flaring, he rounded on Absolem. “What’s your problem, Bro! Can’t you quit that?”
“I shall do as i intend, and that is the extent of it. Now, if that stupid, grinning cat is right, you only have a few minutes to get there and over a mile to go. I would be off if I were you.” The Caterpillar slunked off his hammock and seemed to almost slide up the tree and out of sight, leaving Jamal all alone in the dark.
He turned to survey his options. He could follow the hare, and hope that he was going to the edge of the forest. He could try and find the cat, which would be almost impossible through this smoke. Or, he could go back the way he came and follow the burned trees to the edge of the forest. He probably wouldn’t be able to catch back up to the hare, he wouldn’t be able to see anything and find the Cheshire Cat, And, as if in response to his final idea, he caught sight of the hellhound lurking between the smoldering trees.
He Finally decided to just continue straight on into the woods, the way he came. At first it seemed to be a mistake, because the blue mist began to get so thick that he could hardly see his own feet, but soon after that, he came out of the cloud and into some soft sunlight. Knowing the road couldn’t be far, he picked up his pace to a slow jog. Just as the Cat had said, there was a long road that circled the forest, and in the distance he could see a large boulder that looked remarkably like a shoe. Turning his gaze away from it and onto the hills he could barely make out what looked like a grove of trees. It was much smaller than the forest, but still dense enough that he couldn’t see the details.
Moving at a faster jog, he realized that he hadn’t had anything to drink for a long time, and he had been running almost constantly. A familiar stitch began to form on his side. By the time he reached the grove he was hardly able to run at all, and his hoodie was drenched with sweat. He fell against one of the trees for support, then his jaw dropped and he almost fell down all the way to the ground.
The most beautiful girl he had ever seen was standing a few feet in front of him with a ridiculously large hat on her head and had a huge and equally ridiculous ruffled coat around her. She had crazily bright Green eyes, Redish hair, and a small splash of freckles across her slightly turned up nose. “My name is Jane Hatter. Welcome to the tea party.”