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Story 3

Kelly Rede

Kelly Rede grew up in a house with an average book-to-person ratio of 600:1, and logically enough began writing at a very young age. When not writing, Kelly is a practicing social worker and active member of the Pagan community. She and her family serve as house staff to three felines, all of whom reside in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rabbit Hole began while Kelly was attempting to write a nonfiction essay about the role of young women as archetypical Fools in literature. She's very grateful, as are we, that this story happened instead.



Rabbit Hole


Kelly Rede



We know how much power names have here. That’s one of the things we learned from all the stories we’ve 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 we’re doing here. I’m Dorothy; she’s Alice.

We’ve become sisters here, too, not locker partners at Randall High. It’s not a lie. It’s a truth that isn’t literal. There are bound to be lots of truths that aren’t literal, in a place like this. One that we’ve already figured out is that despite how we have named ourselves, this isn’t a playful Oz or quirky looking-glass land that we find ourselves in. And it sure as hell ain’t Kansas.


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 we’re not from around here. I have a feeling that could be easy to forget.

The problem is, we’re not exactly sure where here is. We’re 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 can’t see the sky above us. There’s no path, which is almost a relief because at least we don’t 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 she’s here, it’s 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 can’t remember what.

I can’t remember a lot of things, to be honest. All my memories of before here are getting hazy. The most disturbing part is that I can’t remember how we got here. I think we’ve been here for a few days, or maybe a week, but I’m not certain. I’m 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 that’s like telling your name, it’s just one of the rules you don’t break, but Alice didn’t listen. She isn’t 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 we’ve been drinking from streams and eating fruits and nuts gathered from the forest just like in any fairy tale. Normally this rabbit food wouldn’t sustain me, but I guess feeling hungry is easily fixed here.

Here?  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 we’re the world’s 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 I’m 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 can’t remember her as well as Alice and the cello. There’s a mother, with manicured nails and carefully dyed hair, but I’m not sure if she’s mine. There’s 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. There’s a little brother who runs around the kitchen like no amount of Ritalin or Adderral will make him slow down; no number of doctor’s visits or mother’s tears will make him sit still or learn. There’s 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 it’s all far away, like pictures in a children’s book.

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 Alice’s 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 doesn’t sound like she’ll be too upset if he doesn’t 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 didn’t know I was looking.

I’m not as comfortable here as she is. I’m not unhappy, not really, but I know I’m forgetting too much. And I know I expected something to be happening, some kind of fairy tale. But we don’t have a white rabbit. We don’t 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 didn’t 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. Maybe we’re not in a story after all. But then, if we’re not, the same question comes up yet again: where are we?


There are still leaves clinging to Alice’s hair. I think it would be rude of me to point them out, but I run my fingers through my own hair to check. Nothing’s there, even though we slept on the same ground.

The berries never leave their color on my fingers, either, and the grass doesn’t stain my leggings. There are times that I think Alice is here, somehow, more than I am. I don’t know whether I feel frightened or left out. Both, I guess.


“What happened,” I ask one day, “to Alice at the end of the story?”

“She woke up,” Alice says succinctly.

“And to Dorothy?”

“She wished herself home again. I guess that’s kind of like waking up, too.”

“Do 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?”

“Maybe.” Alice is unconcerned. “But if it is, and we’re still dreaming, then it stands to reason that it’s not yet time to wake up. Don’t you think?”

It makes sense. Alice is good at figuring out the rules in stories -- at least as good as I am. We’re 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 rules. Don’t ever reveal your true name. Follow your guide, if you’re lucky enough to get one. Take advice and follow instructions to the letter, even if they don’t 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.

But I’m 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. “I just want to know, when the time comes to go home, how we get there. If we just have to wake up, or what.”

“We’ll go back the way we came.”

I stare at her. “The way we came?”


“You remember?”

Alice stops walking, and so do I. We face each other, mirroring each other’s surprise. “You don’t remember?” Alice says. “How can you not? We came through the locker.”

“The locker...?”

“Our very own personal rabbit hole. You said you wanted a story.”

“I said what?”

Now Alice starts to look worried. “Dorothy,” she says, her tone gentle. “Remember? You didn’t 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. Y’know, people watch, make up stories. But you said no, you didn’t 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. “And here we are.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t want to understand,” Alice countered. “What’s to understand? You wanted a story, I made one for you. When you’re ready to go back, we’ll find the locker again. It’s that simple.”

She starts to walk again. Then, when I don’t follow her, she turns back to face me. “What?”

“Why can’t I remember?”

Alice shrugs. She seems impatient. “Don’t know. But don’t worry. I’m forgetting a lot of stuff about that place, but I won’t forget that. Locker number 81, that’s our ticket back.”

“But why... Why was I so unhappy that you had to bring me here?” 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 don’t see me as they go past in the halls. The memories are hard to hold on to. Is that why I’m here?

Alice turns away from me, facing the setting sun. “I don’t remember.”

I wonder if she is telling the truth.


“Maybe the white rabbit will come today.” Alice doesn’t even sound like she cares anymore. There are more leaves than ever in her hair. They don’t look remotely like a crown now. Crowns are for princesses who get lost in the woods, and that’s 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. I’m the one who’s lost, the princess who needs help to get back home. I guess that’s 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.

When we’re ready to start walking, I try something. “Let’s finish the story today,” I say casually, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Had enough?” 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 that we’ve 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 I’ve asked, she’ll take me back through the rabbit hole.

Alice walks briskly now, like she knows where she’s going. I follow her and don’t 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 doesn’t falter, so neither do I. We keep walking straight for it, and as we get closer I see it’s 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 they’re fairies. They’ve 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 didn’t think I was that bad either. But I know we’re both about to look as ugly as toads next to the Queen of the Fairies.

Because that’s who it’s got to be, of course. It’s always a queen, if the hero is a girl, and there’s always a test before you can go home again. Benevolent Glinda the Good or the malicious Queen of Hearts, we’ve called our examiner into being, and I have a feeling the exam’s going to be a doozy.

Alice takes my hand, just as if she can sense how scared I’ve become. She doesn’t 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 doesn’t feel like it anymore.

When we get closer, the fairies stop dancing, though the music continues to play from some invisible source. They don’t 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. It’s a masked ball, then, that we’ve interrupted with our need for an examiner. It’s easy to tell who the Queen is; she’s the only one who doesn’t 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 don’t exactly know how to do it, but you don’t 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. “Well?” she asks dismissively. “What do you want?”

It’s 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 don’t 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 don’t really want to be in. So I stand there, shaking a bit and feeling about as stupid as I’ve 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. That’s it, I remember now. I don’t care about the story anymore. I’m 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, “I want to stay here.”

I stare at her. She doesn’t look at me once; she is looking intently at the Queen. The Queen is no longer smiling. She looks Alice over slowly. “Why?”

Alice falters; her face shows her uncertainty. “I... don’t know.” The Queen doesn’t move, doesn’t react, her face completely impassive. “I feel... I feel like I ought to be here,” Alice stammers. “Everything tells me that I belong here. Even though I only came because of her. I didn’t 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 there’s something else I’ve forgotten. I want to remember it.”

The Queen glances at me, only for a second, and then her gaze is back on Alice. “And did you think that because you made the story for her, it would be about her?”

Alice is silent. So am I. “I will not let you stay unless you can tell me why you should,” the Queen says curtly. “If 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. She’s just summoning the strength to say it. I want to tell her to stop, to be silent, but I can’t find the courage to speak and Alice can. “Because I’m one of you,” Alice says. “I’m like you.”

The Queen nods, once. “If 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 her hair. “I got lost. I don’t 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. “Come to me,” the Queen says to Alice.

Alice goes. I don’t think she even notices when she lets go of my hand; all she sees is the Queen. The Queen puts one hand on Alice’s shoulder and looks at her quietly for a long time. Everyone is absolutely still, watching the Queen look deep into Alice’s eyes and Alice look back without fear. “Yes,” the Queen finally says. “I will allow you to return.” Then, in a much brisker tone, “Your raiment.”

Alice’s clothes don’t change. She’s 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. “And you? What do you want?” She sounds bored.

What can I say? After seeing Alice turned into a member of the queen’s court, right before my eyes, knowing that no matter what I say or do, she’s going to stay here -- what can I say? I was going to ask to go home, but how can I say that now? “Alice,” I stammer. “Aren’t you -- how did you -- aren’t you real?” I burst out.

Alice looks at me sadly. “Real? A real girl. I suppose so, if I don’t tell any lies and keep my nose where it belongs. What is real, Dorothy? How are you defining it? Are you real?”

“Stop it,” I say, the beginnings of tears stinging my eyes.

“This is what I am. It feels real to me.”

The Queen interrupts us. “I 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 I’m not about to break down crying. “I don’t want to choose.”

One eyebrow arches elegantly above the Queen’s mask. “This is all your doing, is it not? Therefore, your choice.”

She’s right. I asked for the story, I asked to be somewhere else. I got everything I asked for. And like always, I didn’t realize what it was I really asked for until I got it.

“You are trying my patience,” the Queen informs me. “Choose, 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, “Isn’t there any other option?”

The Queen glances at Alice. “Tell her.”

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 before. “Do you want to forget?” she asks quietly.

“Forget -- what?” Forget her? Forget this journey? Forget home?

Alice nods. “Yes. Whatever you can imagine.”

I start to tell her that I don’t understand, but Alice lays a finger across her lips and I fall silent. “Just forget,” Alice says. “I’m not allowed to tell you anything other than that. Just forget.”

Alice’s eyes are bright and focused on me; she is pleading with me silently, and when the Queen isn’t looking at her, she nods her head slightly, urging me to say yes.

But I hesitate, because it sounds like such an awful concept. Even if the thing you’re forgetting is terrible itself. Isn’t 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. It’s 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 say yes.

So, “Yes,” I say, because an answer is required of me and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Nobody smiles, but the Queen’s eyes gleam through her mask. It makes me nervous, makes me wonder if I’ve made a mistake. Alice steps forward. “Come to me,” she says, exactly as the Queen said it to her moments ago.

I go. She puts her hands on my shoulders, and looks me in the eyes. Hers are full of tears. “Forgive me,” she says quietly. “I couldn’t remember any of this before I met you, and now -- I’m too selfish. I don’t 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 it’s like a veil has been lifted and I understand a great many things. I understand what it is that I’ve 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 I’ll forget everything, everything, everything that is not my love for Alice. And as long as I’m in her presence, I’ll 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 it’s all a confusing blur of crying mothers and green paint and lockers....

And then her lips leave mine, and I have just enough memory left to know that I’m lost, lost in the story I asked for. And it will never, ever end.


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