We know how much power names have here. Thats one of
the things we learned from all the stories weve read.
So the first thing we did when we came here, she and I,
was to take our real names off and put them away, fold
them up tight and stick them in our pockets, where no
one would notice them. And we picked out different
names, too, to call each other by. Names like masks that
will tell anybody everything they need to know about who
we are and what were doing here. Im Dorothy; shes
become sisters here, too, not locker partners at Randall
not a lie. Its
a truth that isnt
literal. There are bound to be lots of truths that arent
literal, in a place like this. One that weve
already figured out is that despite how we have named
ourselves, this isnt
a playful Oz or quirky looking-glass land that we find
ourselves in. And it sure as hell aint
Alice is wearing stonewashed jeans. I keep glancing at
her as we walk aimlessly, noticing her jeans and her
oversized red-and-black checked shirt, because they
remind me that were not from around here. I have a
feeling that could be easy to forget.
The problem is, were
not exactly sure where here is. Were
in a forest, a forest with so rich and deep a color that
to call it green is meaningless. A forest of trees so
tall, so ancient, that most of the time I cant
see the sky above us. Theres
no path, which is almost a relief because at least we
have to worry about getting lost. Lost already got us.
There are no people. There are only suggestions of
animals, such as rustling noises in the greenery or the
faint flap of wings overhead. Without Alice it would be
lonesome, but since shes
just sort of peaceful. I have a vague feeling something
is supposed to happen now, something more than us
wandering together in the forest. But I cant
remember a lot of things, to be honest. All my memories
of before here are getting hazy. The most disturbing
part is that I cant
remember how we got here. I think weve
been here for a few days, or maybe a week, but Im
not certain. Im
not certain of much these days.
I do remember that when we got here, we argued about
whether or not to eat anything. I said no. I said thats
like telling your name, its
just one of the rules you dont
break, but Alice didnt
listen. She isnt
worried about getting back. I meant to wait for a while
to see if anything happened to her, but when I saw her
licking the juice off her fingers, smiling at me, and
the red berries staining her lips -- well, I think I
wound up eating more than she did. Since then weve
been drinking from streams and eating fruits and nuts
gathered from the forest just like in any fairy tale.
Normally this rabbit food wouldnt
sustain me, but I guess feeling hungry is easily fixed
I keep coming back to that question. I try to stay
focused on it, try to keep my mind from wandering while
I watch our two pairs of sneakered feet crushing the
emerald grass as we walk. How did we get here?
I can remember where we were before -- a little, at
least. It seems like the more something involved Alice,
the more I can remember it. Like our first period class,
with Mr. Roberts. He wears a bow tie and conducts us
with his eyes closed, waving his fat arms around like were
greatest orchestra. I remember Alice, bent over her
cello with her blond hair falling in a curtain over her
arm, playing with a look of such concentration and
beauty that it makes me want to be a cellist. And me,
missing the notes because Im
staring at her, trying to get my oboe to sound like
anything but a dying duck. What kind of mom picks out an
oboe for her kid to play, anyway? Apparently my kind of
mom. I cant
remember her as well as Alice and the cello. Theres
a mother, with manicured nails and carefully dyed hair,
not sure if shes
an empty space where a father used to be before he
packed his bags one night, an empty space that the
mother sees more clearly than anything else. Theres
a little brother who runs around the kitchen like no
amount of Ritalin or Adderral will make him slow down;
no number of doctors
visits or mothers
tears will make him sit still or learn. Theres
a yard with a swing hanging from a tree, and a room with
faded wallpaper and a ruffled white bedspread suitable
for a girl much younger than me. But its
all far away, like pictures in a childrens
School is more real, in my mind. The puke-green paint in
the basement hallway where the French and Spanish
teachers make their lairs. The little courtyard bare of
life, the grass defeated by hundreds of students cutting
across it hourly to reach their next lesson. The thing
that I can picture most clearly is our locker. Number
81, combination 10-3-22, painted the same puke green as
the basement and endlessly adaptable, expanding itself
in winter to hold both our coats and backpacks with
ease. I think we could fit Alices
cello in there if we asked nicely.
Maybe the white rabbit will come today, Alice says.
She says that every morning when we wake up. She sounds
hopeful, but at the same time she doesnt
sound like shell
be too upset if he doesnt
show. After she says it, she gets up and dances with the
sun. Her hair is tangled and full of dead leaves and
grass. They look like they were meant to be a coronet,
but got distracted from their task. Despite her
stone-washed jeans, she looks like she was born of this
world. Yesterday, I saw her eating flowers when she didnt
know I was looking.
not as comfortable here as she is. Im
not unhappy, not really, but I know Im
forgetting too much. And I know I expected something to
be happening, some kind of fairy tale. But we dont
have a white rabbit. We dont
have any kind of guide. There are still no people.
Yesterday a flock of birds came to rest near us, and we
tried talking to them. They cocked their heads and
listened politely, but they didnt
speak back like they would have in a story.
So we keep wandering without direction, waiting for
there to be clues or tests or puzzles for us to solve.
not in a story after all. But then, if were
not, the same question comes up yet again: where are we?
There are still leaves clinging to Alices hair. I think
it would be rude of me to point them out, but I run my
fingers through my own hair to check. Nothings there,
even though we slept on the same ground.
The berries never leave their color on my fingers,
either, and the grass doesnt
stain my leggings. There are times that I think Alice is
here, somehow, more than I am. I dont
know whether I feel frightened or left out. Both, I
What happened, I ask one day, to Alice at the end of
Alice says succinctly.
wished herself home again. I guess thats
kind of like waking up, too.
you think if we wanted to go home, all we would have to
do would be to wake up? Do you think this is a dream?
Alice is unconcerned.
if it is, and were
still dreaming, then it stands to reason that its
not yet time to wake up. Dont
It makes sense. Alice is good at figuring out the rules
in stories -- at least as good as I am. Were
not in the same English class, which I think is probably
a good thing. If we were in the same class, we would
raise all kinds of hell, arguing with the teacher and
making fun of her behind her back. And maybe we would
write stories together. I bet we could write wonderful
stories, if we tried. Because we do know all the
ever reveal your true name. Follow your guide, if youre
lucky enough to get one. Take advice and follow
instructions to the letter, even if they dont
make sense to you. Be kind to everyone you meet because
you never know who is a fairy in disguise. Know that
nothing happens by chance.
not content with knowing the rules. I want to know how
the story will end. I want to know that it will
end, so I can enjoy it better.
just want to know, when the time comes to go home, how
we get there. If we just have to wake up, or what.
go back the way we came.
I stare at her.
way we came?
Alice stops walking, and so do I. We face each other,
mirroring each others
can you not? We came through the locker.
very own personal rabbit hole. You said you wanted a
Now Alice starts to look worried.
she says, her tone gentle.
want to go to school. You wanted to sluff, so I said we
could walk down to the strip mall and hang out in the
coffee shop. Yknow,
people watch, make up stories. But you said no, you didnt
want to make up stories. You wanted to be in a
story. You looked -- you looked really unhappy. Worse
than usual, I mean. And I thought -- well, you know your
old joke about how that locker could do anything if we
asked nicely? So I asked nicely.
She spread her arms.
here we are.
want to understand,
to understand? You wanted a story, I made one for you.
ready to go back, well
find the locker again. Its
She starts to walk again. Then, when I dont
follow her, she turns back to face me.
Alice shrugs. She seems impatient.
know. But dont
forgetting a lot of stuff about that place, but I wont
forget that. Locker number 81, thats
our ticket back.
why... Why was I so unhappy that you had to bring me
Images swim around in my head, trying to make sense --
the green paint and the swing in the yard and the mother
crying, the brother screaming. Me wishing I could cry or
scream, so someone would notice me. Getting crushed by
people who dont
see me as they go past in the halls. The memories are
hard to hold on to. Is that why Im
Alice turns away from me, facing the setting sun.
I wonder if she is telling the truth.
Maybe the white rabbit will come today. Alice doesnt
even sound like she cares anymore. There are more leaves
than ever in her hair. They dont look remotely like a
crown now. Crowns are for princesses who get lost in the
woods, and thats not Alice. If anything, Alice is
turning into the spirit of the forest. The one who
guides you or tricks you depending on her mood; the
witch in disguise who will bless or curse you according
to your own merit. Im the one whos lost, the princess
who needs help to get back home. I guess thats the role
every little girl casts herself in -- but watching Alice
dance under the sun, I wish with all my heart I could be
like her instead. Which I guess is something else every
little girl does.
ready to start walking, I try something.
finish the story today,
I say casually, as though it were the most natural thing
in the world.
Alice replies, gesturing around us. Her fingertips are
still purple with berries.
And she sets off in a different direction than the one
we were going. As easy as that. It must be weeks by now
been wandering in this enchantment, forgetting more and
more pieces of ourselves, and all this time all I had to
do was ask. No wonder no white rabbit ever came to us.
Alice is the guide. She brought me here, and now that Ive
take me back through the rabbit hole.
Alice walks briskly now, like she knows where shes
going. I follow her and dont say anything. We go deeper
and deeper into the forest. After a while, I start to
hear something -- a faint echo of music. It grows
stronger, and then I see movement and light ahead. Alice
doesnt falter, so neither do I. We keep walking
straight for it, and as we get closer I see its people
dancing. They are tall and slender and beautiful, with
shining hair and clothes like gossamer. Their skin is
suffused with a soft, ephemeral pink and gold kind of
light that makes me think of the center of a rose. Yet
even though their smiles are careless and their
movements easy, there is something clockwork about the
picture they present. They seem too perfect to be real.
Well, of course I know theyre fairies. Theyve got to
be -- all the stories tell me so. I glance at Alice, in
her jeans and oversized shirt, hair messed up and ratted
with leaves. Then I picture myself, in my leggings and
old black dress, hiding behind long hair and too much
beaded jewelry. I never thought Alice was anything but
pretty, even now. And, aside from normal insecurities, I
didnt think I was that bad either. But I know were
both about to look as ugly as toads next to the Queen of
got to be, of course. Its
always a queen, if the hero is a girl, and theres
always a test before you can go home again. Benevolent
Glinda the Good or the malicious Queen of Hearts, weve
called our examiner into being, and I have a feeling the
going to be a doozy.
Alice takes my hand, just as if she can sense how scared
become. She doesnt
seem scared at all; she looks determined. I twine my
fingers with hers and wonder if we are still sisters,
like we decided we would be when we came here and took
our new names. Somehow, holding her hand, it doesnt
feel like it anymore.
When we get closer, the fairies stop dancing, though the
music continues to play from some invisible source. They
speak but part in front of us as we enter their circle
of light, peering at us from behind the kind of masks
you hold up to your face on a stick. Its
a masked ball, then, that weve
interrupted with our need for an examiner. Its
easy to tell who the Queen is; shes
the only one who doesnt
move out of our way as we edge our way through the
assembly. Below her mask, her lips are painted cherry
red. She smiles at us as we come closer, but it is not
necessarily a kind smile.
I curtsy to her. It feels really awkward, and I dont
exactly know how to do it, but you dont
just walk up to the Queen of the Fairies and offer her a
nice firm handshake. I elbow Alice, and she curtsies,
too. She does it much better than I did. The Queen looks
back and forth between the two of us, her bright eyes
sparkling from behind the mask.
she asks dismissively.
do you want?
a simple question that leaves me incapacitated. What do
I want? Why did I come here? Alice says I was sad and I
asked for a story, even though I dont
remember either thing. But I have a feeling that asking
the Queen of the Fairies for a story might get me the
kind of story I dont
really want to be in. So I stand there, shaking a bit
and feeling about as stupid as Ive
ever felt, while all the fairies in their formal dress
and their masks and their rosy light stare at me. I want
to go home. Thats
it, I remember now. I dont
care about the story anymore. Im
frightened and I feel stupid and confused and I just
want to go home.
And just as I open my mouth to say so, Alice, with her
hand still in mine, says,
want to stay here.
I stare at her. She doesnt
look at me once; she is looking intently at the Queen.
The Queen is no longer smiling. She looks Alice over
Alice falters; her face shows her uncertainty.
The Queen doesnt
react, her face completely impassive.
feel... I feel like I ought to be here,
tells me that I belong here. Even though I only came
because of her. I didnt
remember how to get to this place until she asked me to
make a story for her, and suddenly I remembered. Then we
got here, and I started remembering more and more
things. And now, seeing you, I know theres
something else Ive
forgotten. I want to remember it.
The Queen glances at me, only for a second, and then her
gaze is back on Alice.
did you think that because you made the story for her,
it would be about her?
Alice is silent. So am I.
will not let you stay unless you can tell me why you
the Queen says curtly.
you cannot remember that, it is too late.
Alice wets her lips, her skin pale. I can tell from
looking at her that she knows the answer. Shes
just summoning the strength to say it. I want to tell
her to stop, to be silent, but I cant
find the courage to speak and Alice can.
one of you,
The Queen nods, once.
you can remember that, you are not past the point where
you can return to me. But why have you stayed away from
my court for so long?
Alice shakes her head, a bit of leaf falling away from
got lost. I dont
remember. I think I got lost for so long that I forgot
everything and I thought I was one of them, that I
belonged there, until....
The Queen glances at me again, and I feel small and
cold, and guilty of something.
the Queen says to Alice.
Alice goes. I dont
think she even notices when she lets go of my hand; all
she sees is the Queen. The Queen puts one hand on Alices
shoulder and looks at her quietly for a long time.
Everyone is absolutely still, watching the Queen look
deep into Alices
eyes and Alice look back without fear.
the Queen finally says.
will allow you to return.
Then, in a much brisker tone,
still wearing sneakers and jeans and an oversized shirt,
but something about her changes. Her hair starts
to float gently, and the leaves that were a tangled mess
before seem like glittering ornaments. The pink and gold
light, that makes me think of roses, wraps around her --
no, it begins to come from her. A mask appears,
tied to her wrist with ribbons.
The Queen nods once, in satisfaction. Then she turns to
me, dismissing Alice from her attention.
you? What do you want?
She sounds bored.
What can I say? After seeing Alice turned into a member
of the queens
court, right before my eyes, knowing that no matter what
I say or do, shes
going to stay here -- what can I say? I was going to ask
to go home, but how can I say that now?
you -- how did you -- arent
I burst out.
Alice looks at me sadly.
A real girl. I suppose so, if I dont
tell any lies and keep my nose where it belongs. What is
real, Dorothy? How are you defining it? Are you real?
I say, the beginnings of tears stinging my eyes.
is what I am. It feels real to me.
The Queen interrupts us.
have no time for this. Make your request,
she says sternly.
Now the tears are really starting to well up, but I try
to sound like Im
not about to break down crying.
want to choose.
One eyebrow arches elegantly above the Queens
is all your doing, is it not? Therefore, your choice.
right. I asked for the story, I asked to be somewhere
else. I got everything I asked for. And like always, I
realize what it was I really asked for until I got it.
are trying my patience,
the Queen informs me.
or I will make the
choice for you. Will you
stay, or go?
A little awed at myself for stalling the Queen of the
Fairies, I ask, Isnt there any other option?
The Queen glances at Alice.
Alice looks troubled. She looks back and forth between
me and the Queen, biting her lip. Her face is the only
face besides mine not hidden away by a mask. I can see
how the pink and gold light infuses it, making her
different and oh-so-many times more beautiful than ever
you want to forget?
she asks quietly.
Forget her? Forget this journey? Forget home?
Whatever you can imagine.
I start to tell her that I dont
understand, but Alice lays a finger across her lips and
I fall silent.
not allowed to tell you anything other than that. Just
eyes are bright and focused on me; she is pleading with
me silently, and when the Queen isnt
looking at her, she nods her head slightly, urging me to
But I hesitate, because it sounds like such an awful
concept. Even if the thing youre
forgetting is terrible itself. Isnt
that the most insidious danger of coming to this world,
of standing in the presence of this queen? Forgetting?
But Alice wants me to say yes. Its
as if I can hear her voice inside my head, using the
name I cast off when we came here, my true name that has
so much power over me in this place. Yes, her
voice whispers, yes say yes pick yes come with me yes
I say, because an answer is required of me and I dont
know what to do anymore.
Nobody smiles, but the Queens
eyes gleam through her mask. It makes me nervous, makes
me wonder if Ive
made a mistake. Alice steps forward.
she says, exactly as the Queen said it to her moments
I go. She puts her hands on my shoulders, and looks me
in the eyes. Hers are full of tears.
she says quietly.
remember any of this before I met you, and now -- Im
too selfish. I dont
want you to leave. Forgive me.
And then she kisses me. In front of the Queen and all
her court, she kisses my mouth, and in the instant her
lips touch mine its
like a veil has been lifted and I understand a great
many things. I understand what it is that Ive
always wanted from Alice. I understand the choice I have
made. I understand what happens to a mortal when a fairy
kisses them. I understand enough to know that when the
kiss ends Ill
forget everything, everything, everything that is
not my love for Alice. And as long as Im
in her presence, Ill
never feel sad or invisible again, never be unhappy
because how could I? How could I?
In that last moment of awareness, I try for one more
futile time to remember, but its
all a confusing blur of crying mothers and green paint
And then her lips leave mine, and I have just enough
memory left to know that Im
lost, lost in the story I asked for. And it will never,