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The Final Alice
By Alycia Ripley
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Alycia Ripley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI. Revelations:
For many are called but few are chosen. -Matthew 22:1
Riddle me this, riddle me that. Deal the cards and roll the dice.
Had I a choice, I'd begin with the blonde sand, the wooden boardwalk and the cool autumn wind. I'd start with the image of my hands draped along the last of the swaying green fronds and my shiny black shoes, difficult to walk in on the uneven boards. I knew who waited for me on that beach, probably counting the seconds until my arrival. Had I a choice, I'd begin at the very moment I turned the corner but, as they told the first Alice, it's always best to begin at the beginning and make your way from there.
Of course Wonderland was real but there is a huge difference between knowing something exists and believing in it. My great-grandmother had been the first human to visit. Each of her female descendants developed unusual abilities but by thirty years old I'd accepted Wonderland's decision to exclude me because who could blame them? I was a waste. The story of my namesake, great-grandmother Alice had been as real as the rice cakes she ate for lunch and brimmed hat she wore to work but the closest I came to magic was my writing profession. Terrific at designing vivid people, lousy at being myself. How many times had I heard my family proudly tell stories of what so-and-so were doing, how much money they made, and ask for my plan, already knowing it consisted of getting the kind of job I couldn't seem to attain while working a random job just to afford my own car and move out again. After my second novel was published, friends ushered in congratulations and my parents were quiet, seeing little about the achievement as comment-worthy. My tiny amount of personal space proved there was no way out - all roads had led inside the invisible box made of frustration, confusion, condescension, and disgust.
The thing about suicidal people is that once they make peace with their decision, they're quite jovial. Dying was an adventure away from what I felt powerless to change. I always wondered what the term loser meant but when I held a knife to my wrists and a useless red line lingered for days, mocking my attempts to die, I knew the loser was me, a person with nothing left but empty dreams and the realization that no matter how hard a person may try to make a difference, there were no guarantees. Some people win, some are insignificant losers. Great-grandmother Alice may very well have cringed when my mother named me. Of all the kids, she had to think, this one gets my name? Suicide isn't wanting to die- it's ending the torture of being forever stuck.
Three times was not a charm. Hanging from a tree hadn't worked. At the last minute the branch broke. The garage door also failed. A huge piece broke off the apparatus I chose to hang from and I fell to the concrete, stuck inventing a lie to explain the broken door. I tried jumping from my porch but each time I'd land on my feet. The pills were just embarrassing. Swallowing ten and washing them down with wine, I woke up to sluggish reflexes and an unflattering burp. There was no Wonderland for me. Not even a fruitful life on Earth for Alice the almost-was. In the mirror was only an awkward, lumpy thing that stopped rays of light from reflecting. My face and self were in the damn way.
Nature was on the same page. There'd been a huge shift in how it looked, smelled, and felt. Topsy-turvy, back to front, beauty hiding ugliness I could always see. The evening air had the same asphyxiating weight as town cookouts full of eight grills and hundreds of people and kids eating food off the ground, pushing and shoving. People were tense and competitive. News stories described bizarre and horrific crimes I'd thought impossible outside of books and movies. Something was coming. I knew it in my blood but had no option other than to ignore it and carry on, unable to die, impossible to change. Deep in my bones and blood I knew the old days were irrelevant. No college degrees, no internships could help the world now; in the light of day or dark of an alley it was nonsense. Something was in the air and as much as I'd wanted to make a difference, my years of living inside make-believe were the only tools I had. But you don't have to be related to the Wonderland Girl to know that the most fantastic stories, the most dangerous and deadly, exciting and powerful, were never only imaginary. Whether or not the rest of the world understood, these stories are very much real.
My secret is the kind that sticks like bubblegum to your shoe- flat, pink with a spot of brown in the middle, impossible to shake until you push and prod with sticks. The secret being, I have never liked who I was.
Not a day passed where I didn't wish to become someone else. In nursery school, the teacher's aides stared with pained expressions and held breath as I'd walk to the bookshelves. If I ran through the room, a startled voice exploded with an Alice, don't be such a Wild Indian. The other children listened to story time while I burned to fly into the air, smiling when teachers read from the book of Wonderland but crushed at hearing it described as only a dream. Those days were the beginning of feeling disappointment in the girl who talked too much and said too little.
Then there were the family colors.
I loved to wear red, especially my childhood jumper and Mary Janes that reminded me of The Wizard of Oz shoes. Everything to do with Dorothy and her tale, I loved. Ironic, given I was the scion of the Wonderland dynasty but in the spring of my second grade year my class constructed a time capsule. Our names were written on pieces of paper along with future career goals (AUTHOR, mine said in huge letters) and one interesting fact about ourselves. I wrote that I wanted to be dressed as Dorothy and my boyfriend as an Oz character when he proposed. At seven years old I knew the right guy would have the humor and imagination necessary to understand how every page of those books influenced my desire to do something extraordinary.
I mostly loved red because it wasn't blue. Blue and white were decided years earlier to be our family colors because of the remaining photographs of the original Alice in her blue and white school uniform. The family wore cream sundresses with blue accents, sharp navy pantsuits with a cool white pin, and dark jeans with cream sweaters. Possibilities were endless in a sea of blue and white but I felt I resisted they magnified my wrongness, my sandy blonde hair fuzzy at the crown and smooth underneath, my eager facial features and nervous hands. It was exhausting to feel disgust, dread and anger at qualities you couldn't change or forgive. It doesn't matter who calls you lovely if you know the truth is a charade. In the privacy of my own head, I knew Alice L. Pleasance was eager, weak, wrong, too big, too small, simple, un-suave, and regardless of friends, boyfriend, or proximity to a crowd, very much alone. I believed the strong, stunning, fantastic Alice could exist. And so I wrote to myself when I'd shower, scrawling phrases as quickly as the steam allowed, the cursive letters reminding me of how little time I had to do so much. I am indecisive, incorrect, inert, and awkward. I want to change into someone different. If the steam ran out I'd write only the final thought, Somewhere inside is the correct Alice.
One day I'll find her, I thought. Riddles always get solved. Better late than never.
My always-vivid dreams were now a mad cinema. It was impossible to decipher between waking and dreaming because of the colors, the pace, and the feel of breath shifting around my lungs. One dream took me to a hot, dry, foreign land. My clothes and hair glowed while I stood across a road from a man in dark colors, his face obscured by a red mask. I thought at him rather than spoke.
They're coming for you.
And he thought back, I'll still get your head, Alice.
With that he tossed four playing cards onto the dusty path. Lying face up, the Joker of Spades watched the King of Hearts. My bright light exploded and expanded into a protective wall.
Another dream was nothing more than my standing in a forest, the sounds of several people speaking at once, drowning in the static of a drunken, carnival twang. We're waiting for you, Alice. Lock him out ... push him back ... give the infected your medicine ...
I'd cover my ears, shouting that I wasn't the right girl and to just let me jump off the porch or hang from a tree. Nothing in me worked, everything was wrong. But they never once listened.
This kid's going places, my high school teachers once said of me. A writer since nursery school, I concocted stories about evil dog motels or friendly ghosts inhabiting the bodies of antique dolls. Creative writing was the only thing that felt right so I studied it in college, wrote plays, books, put on shows, moved to big cities, networked, and thirty years from the day I was born had produced ... almost nothing but a drowning sensation of waving in the wind, feet buried in sand, breathing in the realization that as time went by, what I'd worked for would culminate in nothing. The End Result of Alice.
The mix of reality and creative surrealism in my novels wasn't surprising when considering my family. As a child I looked forward to what we called 'the Alice loophole'. Like developing breasts or menstrual cycles it came at a different time for each girl. Something about Wonderland had imprinted itself in Great-Grandmother Alice's DNA because she found herself able to engage with magical circumstances while back on Earth. She passed this ability to every female descendant in varying doses. The disruptive magic allowed them to engage with a multi-dimensional world instead of flat reality. They could speak with animals, float through air, travel through time, and walk through cartoons. I dreamt about my initiation, imagining characters and circumstances, and at a college football game I swore I saw a swirling ellipse to the side of a grimy bathroom door but after examination the patchy smoke was clearly from a hot dog vendor. No matter, I was always told. The loophole comes when it should.
This ability was the one thing I believed could re-align my life but after several years, I gave up on the idea of a grand design. The phrase I was meant to meant nothing. It was never a secret that I was a one-trick pony, but at one time I'd been able to convince myself it was a decent trick.
The only thing I did with purpose was shuffling the cards. Every morning I played the deck Great- Grandmother brought back from her travels through the rabbit hole. I knew what each card meant when doubled or tripled with another. Their sequencing and symbols described upcoming events. My endless shuffling made my mother nervous, the way my hands shook and I bit my lip reminded her of a drug addict. I was addicted to the cards. Their sharp and rounded edges convinced me I'd know how to handle each outcome, every sequence if only something would ever happen to me.
Timing is everything was the well-repeated mantra of my boyfriend Gray. Although I missed him while I lived in other cities, he never felt far away. Dealing with my judgmental family was no picnic but nothing rattled him. His sandpaper voice calmed me away from thoughts of the noose, away from the comfort that by the time anyone found me hanging I'd be miles away from failure, from a parent who demanded an explanation if I returned ten minutes late from the grocery store. The trees would change but I'd be there for seasons to come. Gray had his own challenges - going back to school, possibly changing careers, but it was I who was still a child, a deer-eaten plant. Limp, losing color, full of oblong-shaped holes.
It was that spring that the days became quiet and still. Storms threatened to hit and then disappeared. Family and friends didn't notice. Either did people in the supermarket. Maybe they didn't want to admit the gray days were turning charcoal, that light shone brighter and nighttime stranger. There was a constant smell of burning leaves, wood, or grass and my insides burned in direct relation. Each time I'd feel the strangling air and had that burning to punch, grab, and jump into the sky, I'd smile and breathe deeply for there couldn't be such anger inside me, not in this Alice. Wrong girl. There was nothing happening, nothing to see.
The field was silent- no birds chirped or even flew. The endless blue horizon had a hint of yellow sun hidden behind its clouds. There was only a blonde girl sitting on a flat rock, a serene, polished version of myself.
"I know it's been getting harder to be you," the girl said, her eyes staring toward the never-ending skyline. She smiled at me, this girl dressed in blue. "Sit, please," she said and I positioned myself on a rock close to her own. "Alice, you really make us proud."
"Then I'm definitely dreaming."
"I'm sure your readers tell you the effect you have on them."
"I'm not that great of a writer. I don't make much money."
"Money hardly equals talent. Stop cutting yourself off at the knees."
"Who exactly are you?"
She smiled. "You don't recognize me? Funny, I thought you would. I'm from a place called Wonderland."
"Do you know my great-grandmother Alice, then?" I asked.
"In a manner of speaking," she said. "It is important that you do not lose your motivation. Understand these are dangerous times and you will be asked to behave in ways you would not imagine correct. You are different from other people and your life will never follow rules as it goes on and on and on, and it will, Alice. If this story takes the direction we hope for, Alice the Scribe will never have an end."
"What is it you need from me?"
"We cannot tell you too much or too little. Transformations are only complete when accomplished on your own terms. I give you borders and you color them in. I can explain until I'm blue, purple, and idefia in the face and you still would need to understand in your own time."
"A color you do not have here but should, it's delightful. Alice, all I ask is that you open your eyes. Heads will roll, blood will flow. You will be given every tool necessary and if you are supposed to win, you shall. It is that simple. You have the ability to end this story and begin your own."
"Win against whom?"
"You will learn in time. But remember- with every moment you dream him, he is equally dreaming you." With the end of her final sentence the rocks in the field turned red and the sky black and I woke up, gasping and sweating in the back of my parents' car. I hoped they hadn't noticed because I didn't need their questions before I had answers to my own.
Staring through the backseat window, I was happy for the oppressive indigo night. There was nothing I wanted to see. Better to let it pass by in a purple blur. Disappointment is hollow; it erases until you're nothing more than an outline. Without failures, success isn't valued. Failures are necessary. I just didn't expect to be one and wasn't sure if it was worse to be alone in disappointment or surrounded by those aware of how much of one you are.
Since I certainly wasn't busy, my parents invited me along for a weekend trip during the unseasonably warm May. The ride gave me an opportunity to think about my strange dreams and the ominous change in nature. As an only child I was used to being alone in the car but at times I'd imagine a girl next to me. Our eyes met in between her counting of the passing highway poles. This baby girl with the sad smile dangled my hand and I'd struggle to keep her face clear. She never stayed long enough to have a name. As she faded from view I felt too big for the seat and out of breath. We'll meet again, she'd say and I knew I made that up. Anything that made me happy was in some way only a creation.
In my purse was a card from Gray with only one sentence inside it: Timing is everything- things will happen. His words convinced me but if I glanced elsewhere, if not forming the words with my own lips I'd drift terrified, embarrassed, and alone, a thirty-year-old listening to music through headphones in the back of my parents' car. His card reminded me of a church sign I'd passed days earlier. The sign was red and electronic, nothing like church billboards of my youth. Do Not Be Afraid, it read. Worry and Faith Cannot Exist Together. Words meant for everyone but insignificant losers who'd set themselves up to fail. I'd pulled onto a side street to fight the emotion. If I gave in there was a chance I'd never come back.
Excerpted from The Final Alice by Alycia Ripley Copyright © 2010 by Alycia Ripley. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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