She stumbled into the clearing in front of the house, the sounds of laughter and gaiety drawing her along like the fish at the end of the angler’s line. The time she had spent lost in these woods had not only strengthened her fear but sharpened her hunger as well, and her thirst was a living thing that prickled at her dry throat and sapped her strength.
“Oh, thank goodness I heard you as I wandered,” she began, but what she saw before her caused her to draw up short.
A long table sat in the front yard of a small cottage that even now she could barely see, so snugly it nestled into the surrounding trees. The table was set for dinner, china and silver set out for at least a dozen people, though only three were seated. It was the sight of the three that stopped the flow of her words.
To the left was what looked like a man in a bunny suit, much as her father had worn one year for a fancy dress party. If it was a suit, however, it was the most lifelike she had ever seen! The huge brown eyes blinked, the pink nose wrinkled and wiggled, and if that was but a mask then he was currently drinking from a teacup through it in the most lifelike of manners.
In the middle was someone dressed as some sort of mouse, or rodent, but he appeared to be sound asleep, head resting on the table top, right in the middle of his place-setting. His costume, if indeed it was a costume, and she was beginning to doubt that very much, was as lifelike as his rabbit companion’s, even including (she saw as she approached the table) a puddle of sleepy drool that was spreading slowly across his dinner plate.
It was the man to the right, however, who most captured her attention, even though, or perhaps because, he was a man, though he was the most bizarre looking man she had ever seen. Rail thin and spindly, he was dressed for a formal party in waistcoat and tails, though rather than the usual black and white affair he wore a suit of purple and red, bits of white showing at the collar and cuffs. Atop his head was what had to be the world’s largest stovepipe hat, garishly purple with a bright red band. Below the hat and between two beady eyes sat the largest nose she had ever seen, majestic in prominence and panoramic in scope. Supporting the great nose was a smile, white and wide, made up of huge square teeth like foothills below the mountain.
“No room, no room!” the Hare and Hatter cried in unison, before she had the chance to speak herself.
“There’s plenty of room,” she said indignantly, and sat in the large arm-chair at the head of the table, right next to the Hare.
“Have some wine,” said the Hare.
“I don’t see any wine,” she replied, scanning the length of the table.
“There isn’t any,” said the Hare.
“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it!” she said.
“It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down uninvited,” the Hare replied.
“Nonsense,” bellowed the Hatter, his sudden volume making her jump. “The girl looks all done in! Tea, my dear, what you need is some tea!”
He leapt from his chair, teapot in hand, and came around behind the Mouse and Hare toward her chair. She thought it strange how the huge purple hat seemed to float sedately along, almost as if sliding toward her on rails, while beneath it the Hatter danced along, body swaying and limbs flying this way and that in a complex rhythm that seemed to hint that he had more than the usual complement of knees and elbows.
“Please, my girl, drink up,” he smiled with his horsey teeth as he poured the steaming liquid in her cup. “Drink up! You’ll find it quite restorative, and we have plenty. Plenty!”
Beady eyes gleamed as he winked (turning his head to the side to make certain his prodigious proboscis did not block her view of his fluttering eyelid), and turned away from her, dancing and jigging his way back to his seat. As she picked up her cup and began to drink, a whispering and muttering could be heard from the sleeping Mouse.
“He speaks! He speaks! A Mousy word!” cried the Hare.
“But we care not, he won’t be heard!” sang the Hatter, and as his great hat passed smoothly behind the Mouse’s chair one spindly arm thrust out from his capering form and poured tea directly from the pot into the snoozing Mouse’s ear. The hot liquid struck, and the Mouse let out a thin, high cry. It was a sound that seemed to her to be more of despair than pain, and she was shocked by this callous treatment of one who seemed a friend to them.
“He sings!” cried the Hatter. “He sings! We have our chance!”
“He sings!” cried the Hare. “He sings, so we must dance!”
The Hatter dropped his teapot as the Hare bounced out of his chair and the two of them spun across the grass together, their movements disjointed and somehow synchronized at the same time… and somehow blurry to her eyes.
“…Run… you should run…”
She glanced down and found the Mouse whispering, gazing at her with unfocused eyes, and her stomach lurched. With the Hare out of the way she could see the Mouse’s chair… and the blood, pooling beneath his tail.
She tried to stand but her legs were rubber and she sprawled across the table, everything going swimmy. A hand pressed down against her back as her skirt was raised above her hips, fingers fumbling at her panties, two voices singing in bleary unison.
“You drank our special tea, Dear Heart, at last our party can truly start!”