By Damon Day
“Tip-top, now, talk the talk! You must be the one they call Red!” The blonde greets her with all the pish and posh of a high-class noblewoman and the twirl of a mad one. “So, set the standard, and let us discuss our deal.”
Words fail her, so Red simply shakes her head. “A hundred gold before we set out, and another hundred when the job is done.”
“Of course, of course!” Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, the girl drops a heavy gold sack in Red’s hand, her violet eyes focusing on Red’s amber ones with disturbing focus. “I trust that we will not tarry?”
“One last thing,” Red continues as she weighs the gold in her hand. “Your name?”
“Alice Liddle!” She replies with a bright smile that came across as a bit forced to Red. But she let it be, whatever troubles this girl carried was of no worry for her. As Red picks up her small ax and stows it in her belt, she finds Alice focusing solely on her face.
“Is something wrong?” Red asks, and Alice points to her own cheek. Red copied the motion and ran her finger across the scars that lined her cheeks.
“From a wolf attack, yes?” She asks, and Red averts her eyes.
“Rule Number one,” Red speaks in a growl. “I’m not a topic for discussion, is that understood?”
“Crystal,” Alice replies with a gentle bow, and Red shakes her head. Ceremony is useless in the woods.
The forest is as cold as ever, and Red was glad that she brought her cloak with her. The patchwork fabric shelters her from the whispering winds of the trees, though, as Red looks back to Alice, she finds that the woman barely even cares for the chilled air as they walk.
“Aren’t you cold?” Red asks, and Alice shakes her head with a ever-present smirk.
“Hardly,” she speaks with a casual tone, despite the fact she wore only a basic blue and white dress while every word that came out of their mouths chilled in front of them. “I am more than used to such harsh climates.”
A strange statement for a noblewoman, but Red keeps her silence. The once blue sky becomes orange with streaks of red cutting through the air. Sunset was going to descend upon them in a matter of minutes, and to travel the forest at night was as foolhardy a task as ever. Finding a spot was not hard, she knew these woods as easily as the back of her hand, but Alice did not, and Red wants to make sure that this noblewoman did not have to sleep near a pile of figs and bodies if she could. It takes her the better part of an hour, but soon, Red manages to find a place near a cliff, and a fire going in even less time.
A fact that makes Alice smirk. “My, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that you were planning to kill me here and now.”
Red, in response, pulls out her ax, and Alice throws up her hands.
“I jest, I jest! Somewhat!” Alice yells with both equal parts fear and amusement in her voice. “Oh, small rose, must you be so violent?”
Red grunts in reply and sits down on the log she had pulled as a makeshift seat. “Yes.”
“…Well then!” Alice forces herself to speak after a distinct pause. “Let us see what is for supper! No rabbits, I hope.”
In response, Red pulls several strips of dried jerky out of her pack and tosses some to Alice. She catches them with one hand, and what piques Red’s curiosity is that Alice has no hesitation in biting down and through on the jerky offered.
But even so, Red does not speak. Alice, however, manages to get out a few sentences between chomps.
“So, tell me small scarlet,” Alice waves her hand as she sits the ground. “How does a young maiden like yourself learn the ways of the wood?”
Red resists the urge to answer gruffly, to cut the conversation short by simply giving her non-answers. But Alice faces at her with a pair of wide, violet eyes that sat across from her and Red finds herself speaking up. “My grandmother taught me,” she says. “She took me out into the forests around our house and showed me how to hunt.”
“You said ‘our house,’” Alice tilts her head. “Did you live with your Grandmother?”
Red had to stop herself from flinching in surprise. Alice was more observant than Red had given her credit for. “Yes,” Red speaks. “My parents died when I was little, I lived with my Grandmother until she passed as well.”
Alice stands, and before Red can stop her, she sits next to Red on the log. “I won’t belittle your pain by giving you half-hearted condolences.” Red nods in thanks, and Alice leans forward, and jolts up like she had been shocked. She curses once and smacks the side of her head. Red cannot see what is going on, but Alice’s hands move to her the side of her face and rub her eye.
Red was unable to stop herself from peering around Alice’s long, golden hair, and raises her eyebrows in alarm as Alice takes her left eye out of its socket. Red had no curses to swear by, and by some grace, manages to keep her silence. But the jolt that runs through her body didn’t escape Alice.
“Ah,” she moves her head away, so Red cannot see her expression. “As you can tell, I bear a few scars of my own.”
“I wasn’t going to ask,” Red faces away, heat rising to her face. “I don’t like to pry into a client’s personal lives.”
“A fair policy,” Alice agreed.
A part of Red does want to ask, to betray her own words and tear into the mystery of the false eye, but Red keeps her silence. Setting herself up to sit on the log, Red has no notions or expectations of Alice’s actions. Which is why it comes as a genuine surprise when Alice lays her hand down gently on Red’s. Red is struck silent, and Alice pretends not to notice.
“Oh, is this your hand?” Alice asks, and Red finds herself unable to pull away. Not because of pressure or strength, but because Red finds Alice’s fingers to be rougher than she would have thought. “It’s softer than I thought,” Alice says.
Red pauses, a wave of heat overtakes her face. “You thought of holding my hand?” She asks with a squeak in her voice.
Alice laughs, it has a haughty, but humorous ring to it. “Of course! They tell us so much about each other, it’s only natural too!”
Red does not know what to make of this, so she pulls her hand away. Alice, of course, takes this in stride and pops her eye back in with such casual ease that came from a lifetime of practice.
“How?” Red asks before she realizes what she says.
“Oh, breaking a policy so easy?” Alice replies, and Red falls silent. Alice shrugs, and hums something Red cannot hear, but it sounds like a song used at a tea party.
“Just, just reflex,” Red finally stammers.
“Oh, is that all?” Alice turns to Red, both of her violet eyes focused solely on Red. It is that moment that Red realizes that, if Alice had not taken her eye out, then Red would have never known.
“Uh, yes,” Red says, and Alice pulls away.
“I see,” Alice says, and Red is not sure if that was a joke or not.
“…We should make it to the other side of the woods by noon’ tomorrow,” Red speaks, averting her gaze away from Alice and towards the forest.
“Oh, good,” Alice lets out a heavy sigh, and Red must keep herself from turning. “So, keep to the path then?” She asks.
“To the path,” Red agrees.
When they reached the end of the path, Red found herself unable to speak as much as she wanted. “Well…This is the place,” She says. The woods parted in front of them, and
“So it is,” Alice agrees, both of her eyes once again lodged in her head. “Thank you for guiding me through this generous green.”
“Ah, sure, don’t mention it,” Red mutters, and the next words did not come as easily as Red wanted them to. “Uh, my pay?”
“Of course!” Alice pulls out another pouch and places it in Red’s hands. This time, Red doesn’t bother to weigh the pouch.
“There’s something I don’t get,” Red looks at Alice with a raised eyebrow. “You’re clearly very rich, why hire a country girl to escort you through the woods alone?”
“Let’s just say I prefer the company of adorable maidens rather than knights,” Alice says, and Red’s face becomes crimson. Alice pauses, and clicks her tongue. “Oh, my, I mean–Oh, so embarrassing.” Alice placed a palm on her forehead before looking back to Red with an embarrassed smile on her face. “That is, were I escorted by a knight, they would have made a fuss and a racket, and once I learned that a young girl such as yourself knew the woods, and kept to herself, why, I had no choice but to hire you.”
“Oh,” was all Red could say in response, and Alice’s cheeks are graced with a faint scarlet.
“I mean no courtship if that is what you inferred,” Alice says, though her wistful gaze betrays her words. “I am betrothed if you must know.”
“Oh,” Red turns to the side, and finds a castle on the far sign. “Is that the place?” She asks.
Alice follows her gaze and nods. “It is.”
“So, uh,” Red looks back to Alice. “Will I be seeing you–I mean, hire my services again?”
“Of course!” Alice claps her hands together. “Though our meeting was brief, I enjoyed every second of it. I hope, perhaps soon, we shall meet again.”
The next time Red see’s Alice, it is a month after their trip through the woods, and it is in the middle of a castle’s courtyard. She only had a moment or two to inspect the red flowers in the garden before a familiar voice reached her ears.
“Red, oh darling in crimson!” Is the first thing Alice says as she particularly runs up to her with such haste in her step that Red thinks her bottom was bitten by a rodent. Before Red can say anything in reply, Alice picks her up by the waist and twirls. Red lets out an involuntary squeak of fright before Alice sets her back down.
“Alice!” Red replies, her voice a pitch higher than she liked. With an awkward cough, Red pauses. She knows little of how to address those in high station, and now, Alice certainly looks the part. Fine sapphires adorning a prim and proper dress, all the while Alice smiling at Red like she was the morning sun. Red looked down at herself, with a dirty grimy cloak, an only recently washed dress that was the best one she owned, and a chipped axe hanging off her waist.
Red turns away, something that causes Alice to laugh. Red’s face betrays her namesake, and she pulls her hood over her head in shame.
“Oh, Red dear,” Alice says, spinning up to Red and pulling at the corners of her hood, filling Red’s vision with that smiling face. “You look just as dashing as any storybook hero.”
It is all Red can do to turn away. “So, why did you call me here?” She asks. “I don’t think I did anything to warrant you calling upon my services once more.”
“True, one lovely stroll through the woods is hardly the basis for a relationship,” Alice hems and haws. “So that is why I wanted to hire you on a more permanent basis.”
“Eh?” Red responds and pulls away from Alice’s grasp. “Permanent?”
“Ah, are you not familiar?” Alice tilts her head. “It means you would be coming to castle more, earn a consistent pay, and–”
“I’m aware of what the word means,” Red retorts. “What I mean to ask is: why would you hire me?”
Alice crosses her arms in thought before answering. “Simple, we need a warrior of the woods.”
“Don’t you have any woodsmen here?” Red asks
“My husband to be doesn’t fancy them,” Alice replies with scorn. “But, you have both scars and skills to prove your worth as a slayer!”
Red frowns, but she has no reason to say no. “I see,” she says. “I…I can do that.”
Alice’s expression rises. “Grea–I mean, that is wonderful! There is a spare room, next to mine, you can use while you’re here. Are you able and available soon?”
Red nods. “Of course,” she looks down at herself, and finds nothing but a dirt-stained dress. “Is there anything I need?”
“No more than your charming eyes and arm—I mean your axe,” Alice smiles, though it is obviously forced. “Yes.”
Red nods her head once again. “I see, so where is your husband to be anway?” She asks with a lean of her head, and Alice frowns.
“Yes, my husband to be…” Alice’s voice becomes low, and she glances at the castle behind her. Red knows naught of why, but the shine in Alice’s false eye bodes ill.
“So, is the food well?“ Alice asks as she twirls a butter knife in her left hand.
“It is fine,” Red glances down at her food, fine steak, better than anything she had before.
“Oh, just fine?” Alice looks away for a moment. “Good, good,” she mutters.
Red has no notion of understanding Alice’s words, so she lets it be. Red turns her eyes away from Alice and onto her food. It was a fine meat, with warm, fluffy bread and clear ale to drink. Suffice to say, it was a better meal than Red had ever seen before.
It makes Red’s mouth water and makes her soul churn.
“Are you not hungry?” Alice asks with a tilt of her head. Before Red’s mouth can move, her stomach answers for her. A growl from her belly causes Alice’s mouth to twist into a smirk, and she waves her hand. “Well, go on, eat!” Alice urges, and Red raises her hand to grab a fork, one of several.
“No, no, not that one,” Alice says, and Red tries another. “That’s a spork.”
Red glares at her forks like they had murdered her mother, then settles for a knife. “Does this work?” she asks with a growl.
Alice nods. “Of course, but–”
Red tears into her meat like a wolf. Forget dignity, forget niceties, she was hungry, and it was time to eat. Her teeth rip into the meat and devour whole pieces. Red gushes them down with the ale like an animal and she stuffs herself with the bread as Alice stares on, her one good eye blinking. It tasted good, incredibly good, but even as Red eats like a beast, Alice makes no motion nor complains. Her gaze fixates solely on Red.
When Red finishes her meal, her skin caking with meat sauce, breadcrumbs, and dripping water, Alice just nods. “Was it good?”
Red wants to answer that it was the best thing she has ever eaten, she also wants to say it was the worst, so she settles on a middle ground. “It was fine,” Red says.
Alice smiles. “Truly? Just fine? Given the way you consumed it, I would say the opposite.”
Red pauses. “What’s the opposite of fine?” She asks. “Not good?”
Alice blinks. “I…hadn’t considered that. Hm.”
Red grabs a tablecloth and wipes her face down. Her vision fills with white, but the second she pulls the cloth down, Alice is at her side. Red lets out a short chort and recoils. Alice, however, scans her cheeks, snatches the cloth from Red’s hand and dabs at her cheek.
“You missed a spot,” Alice says, her tone playful.
“…I don’t understand any of this,” Red says after a pause.
“Dinner etiquette, why am I doing this, or why you are here?” Alice asks.
Red considers her answer for a second. “Yes,” she says finally.
Alice laughs and pulls her hand back. “Good answer,” she says with a smile that makes Red’s stomach flutter. “But, to answer the most important one, is it really that hard to believe that I just enjoy your presence?”
“Yes!” Red says, and that causes Alice to pause.
“Oh,” Alice tilts her head. “Why is that?”
“You’re a noblewoman,” Red points at Alice’s finely made blue dress. “I’m the orphaned daughter of a blacksmith who can barely read. Most of the time, your high and mighty kind doesn’t come to mine unless they want something.”
“But wasn’t there once prince who fell in love with a commoner?” Alice asks. “I’ve heard of tale that–”
“Not the point!” Red snaps, surging up and leaning on the table, her teeth bared like a wolf. No more, she had to know. Damn her first rule, down to the ninth circle! “You want something from me! Just tell me what it is!” Alice stares, and so does Red. Her breath is hot and heavy, and a stone settles in Red’s stomach She averts her eyes from Alice and sits back in her chair. “Please just tell me,” She mutters. “I can’t…I don’t like being lied to.”
Alice is silent for a moment, her hand hanging in the air, cloth suspended in dumbstruck fingers. “I…see,” she sets the fabric down, pulls up another chair to sit in, and places both hands in her lap. She gazes at Red and gives her the saddest smile Red had ever seen. Alice’s hand reaches for her false eye, and before Red can even stand up, Alice plucks it out. She sets it on the table and places it in between the two like a peace offering.
Red stares. “W-what? I don’t….why?”
“Because” Alice says, and smile strikes Red’s soul. “I want you to kill Alice Liddle.”
It was time to go.
A large handbag rests on Red’s shoulder, one that bustles in her grasp. She sets out, and it takes about an hour of walking before the pack begins to shake from the inside. Red paid it no heed as she continued to walk, nor did she bother to keep the pack out of harm’s way as she passed by trees and large rocks.
There came a muffled scream after one such rock, and Red stopped in her tracks as she pulls the pack out in front of her. She opens it, and a hand shoots out to grab the rim of the pack. Alice climbs, or rather, awkwardly shuffles out of the pack before falling onto the ground like a drunk.
“When I suggested that we used the Bottomless Bag, I did not mean like that,” Alice complains. “Must you have struck so many rocks? You almost split a seam in the fabric!”
“You would have been fine,” Red replies dryly.
“Mayhap but…” Alice holds up a finger and places a hand on her head. She is silent for a moment, then she speaks. “Well, in any case, we should hurry if Alice Liddle is to die.”
“Then explain to me why you seem so intent on killing yourself,” Red demands, and Alice shakes her head.
“Because…because would you stand to love someone you could not?” she says. “It is a pact and a promise I must return to.”
Red’s blood freezes solid. “Come to bed, Little Red. Keep your end of the deal.”
She shakes her head to clear out the unwanted memory. “To where?”
“Wonderland,” Alice rubs her false eye. “I have a rabbit to meet, and a bargain to keep.”
“A rabbit?” Red shakes her head. “Then, how far are we from…wherever it is we need to go to?”
“Not far,” Alice replies. “We merely need to find the white rabbit and—there!”
Red pivots, and sure enough, standing opposite of them, with a red waistcoat across its chest, was a white rabbit. It scowls at Alice, and Red blinked in surprise. No rabbit should be able to glare hotly enough to make a bear appear tame.
“Ah, white rabbit, running late yet again?” Alice asks with a tilt of her head. There is no response from the critter, and the rabbit scurries away. Alice glances at Red, and shrugs. “Follow we must, or late we shall be.”
“Where is it going?” Red asks, and Alice waves her hand.
“To Wonderland, of course. To the Path, Dear Red. Follow me as far as you can, but no further.”
Red had not been expecting the hole, nor Alice grabbing her by the arm and leaping down it. Red also had not been expecting to land in a heap and then being rounded up by playing cards and guided to a chessboard. By the time they make it to some kind of courtroom, Red is completely and utterly certain she hit her head and is now deep in some kind of hallucination. But, when a short woman, as in, she barely reached Red’s waist but had a head bigger than Red’s torso strode up to the two, Red went from ‘convinced to ‘certain.’
“Tip-top Alice,” The Red Queen says. “Have you come to fulfill your bargain?”
“I come to end it,” Alice replies. “And I have chosen to bring my own headsmen…or woman in this case.”
Red faces Alice with a furrowed brow, and the Red Queen examines Red herself. “Well, I approve of her color, at any rate.”
“I thought you might,” Alice says with no small amount of venom in her voice.
“Hm,” The Red Queen sneers, and flicks her hand. “Take them.”
Playing Cards all around them spring to life, taller than Alice by a head and wielding spears of clubs.
“Alice, what the hell is going on?” Red growls, and the last thing she can see before the Cards overtake them is Alice’s mournful smile.
“I’m sorry,” Alice says from her side cell, and Red says nothing in response as she sits on the ground opposite of her. Alice shakes her head and removes her false eye. “I didn’t think that she would do that.” She rolls the eye to Red, and she kicks it away. Alice’s good eye tracks it before she returns her gaze to Red herself. “I’m sorry,” she repeats.
“Why?” Red asks.
“Why do you want to die?” Red hisses, and Alice is taken aback. Her gaze is cast to the side, and her voice is quiet.
“Because it is either this, live as a trophy for someone I cannot love, or move back with the people who raised and rate me as insane,” Alice shakes her head. “I cannot expect you to agree.”
“You’re right, I don’t,” Red practically spits. “You’ve had a better life than I ever could, and you’re just throwing it away.”
Alice smiles. “Like I said, I don’t expect you to agree.”
“Then answer me this,” Red returns. “Why did you hire me?”
Alice furrows her brow. “I thought I already explained the first time we met.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Red snaps. “After dragging me here in this…insane Wonderland, you owe me the truth. Why. Did. You. Hire. Me?”
“…Because I knew of a girl who was like a wolf.” Alice rubs her wrist. “That the rumors spoke of a survivor, who could last against both beast and men. I thought…I thought if I hired you, made you think well of me…and made you kill me…”
“Then I could survive, even here,” Red shakes her head. “Not a great plan, princess.”
“No, no it was not,” Alice’s gaze focuses on the single window in their cell. But the outside world offered no safety, no sanctuary, only the faintest of clattering of plates, and the whispering scent of tea.
Alice lets out a heavy sigh, and Red shakes her head.
“When I first met you, I thought you were mad,” Red says.
“And when I first met you, I thought you were angry,” Alice returns.
“I am,” Red says, her tone flat. “All the time.”
“I gathered,” Alice lets out a weak laugh. “But…even so, I thought you were lovely.”
“I am?” Red tilts her head.
“You are!” Alice leans forward. “Your hair, your eyes, the way you walk, and the way you always say what you want!”
Red cannot even ponder Alice’s words before the mad woman is in her personal space. “Alice…”
“For the moment we met, I was transfixed by you,” Alice leans forward, and her breath washes over Red’s face. “I guess…I guess what I mean to say…is that I…Alice Liddle…found a girl worth living for.”
She pulls away and sits back down on her side of the cell.
“And now, she’s worth dying for,” Alice smiles as Red faces away, unable to meet Alice’s gaze any longer.
They stood upon the execution platform, and Red is the one holding the axe. Alice is leaning down, the back of her neck exposed. The Red Queen, and her Army of Cards, stands close by. A hall of white, and a marble of stone.
The Red Queen speaks something, but it fails to reach Red’s ears as she kneels next to Alice.
Alice glances at her. “Survive, no matter what, okay?”
Red says nothing as her eyes narrow.
“Please?” Alice adds. “For the girl who loved you.”
“Tip-top,” The Red Queen shakes a fan. “Hurry this up.”
Anger. It was a constant companion of Red, it never left her side, even in the calmest storms, even in the happiest pits. It burned as hot as a furnace or simmered like a blacksmith’s coals.
But here? It tore into her like a wolf’s teeth.
“…I owe you an explanation, Alice,” Red says, and Alice glances at her. “Once, when I was little, I went to my grandmother’s house to give her a basket of goods. On the way, I met a wolf, and I was offered a deal. In return for power, I just had to give him my basket.”
Alice tilts her head the best she can, her eyebrows raised in concern and confusion.
“And I accepted,” Red lets the axe fall to the ground. “Because I was a fool, who failed to realize that I had made a bargain with a beast, because I thought it was just a hungry wolf who wanted food.” She stands. “Because I was angry at my grandmother for constantly forcing me to walk through a lonely forest, because I was a child who should have known better.”
“Red…” Alice says softly.
Red faces the Red Queen and removes her cloak. It whisks in the wind and is swept away. “Because that wolf honored his deal with the death of my grandmother and gave me what was due.”
Alice blinks her one eye as Red bares her fangs.
“Alice, close your eye, and wait for the screaming to stop.”
Alice does so, and Red throws off her cloak. The Red Queen shrieks an order, and the only thing Alice can hear is the sound of screaming, mixed with the howls of a wolf.
The first thing Alice senses is a cloak being pulled over her, wrapping her in a warm blanket as the scent of blood and roses lingers in the air. Before she can ask what in the world was going on, a familiar pair of strong arms lifts her up.
“Don’t open your eye yet,” Red’s voice says softly. “I’ll tell you when.”
“The Red Queen?” Alice asks.
“Gone,” Red replies.
Red carries her in silence for a while yet.
“…I never meant to fall in love with you,” Alice says. “I mean that, as honest as the sky.”
“I believe you,” Red replies.
“…My family never supported me, or my words, nor deeds. Not by my love of the outdoors, nor by my love of other maidens,” Alice buries herself in what she assumes Red’s shoulder. “It’s why they married me off, that’s why I came to Wonderland to begin with all those years ago.”
“To find somewhere to belong?” Red ventures.
“To find someone I could trust,” Alice returns. “But alas, in the land of madness, the sane one is mad. From hatters to cats, I found no solace, only curious and curiouser failures.”
Red is silent for a moment and sets her down. There is a still plucking, like someone kicking up dirt. And then, Red speaks. “You can open your eye now.”
Alice does so, and finds Red standing in front of her, holding up a single rose for Alice to take. “Red?” She asks breathlessly.
“I-I heard you’re supposed to give roses to your beloved,” Red stammers, and faces away as her cheeks flush. “So-So I thought…”
Alice stares at the rose, and then at Red. Before she can stop herself, she flings herself at Red, planting her lips on Red’s as they fall to the ground. Red’s arms wrap around her waist as Alice kisses her again and again.
“You mean it? Truly, you mean it?” Alice finally asks as she finishes kissing Red.
“I couldn’t love a girl who lied to herself,” Red returns. “But I can love a girl who shares her ugliest secrets with one who has their own. A false eye for hidden claws and teeth.”
“Then…” Alice dares not ask.
“Then yes, Alice Liddle.” Red finally smiles. “I love you. Now, back to the path?”
“To the path.” Alice grins, and lets her true eye cry.
Damon Day has a BA in English, with a Minor in Creative Writing from Washington State University, and a certificate in Story and Narrative Development from Coursera. Day’s short story, An Unwanted Night has appeared on the Finest Example.Org, and his screenplay, The End/Beginning, has been published in the Salmon Creek Journal.
One thought on “To the Path”
I loved this story! Very creative and well written 🙂