IT WAS A HOT, HOT SUNNY DAY – all due to the greenhouse effect. Even the flies were shagged out and fast asleep.
Alice and her sister Brian, sat reading Viz and Brain Damage beneath the welcome shade of a huge horse chestnut tree in one of the few precariously preserved parks left, owing to deforestation for mass house-production.
In the almost airless heat, Alice began to feel a little drowsy and the smutty frivolities on the page in front of her were starting to blur, when a flash of something white and bright at one corner of her vision, caught her attention.
”I’m late – I’m late,” a squeaky voice exclaimed.
Startled, Alice looked up in time to see a six-foot White Rabbit dressed in a badly fitting three-piece suit, gaping boss-eyed at a battered old gold pocket-watch held out at arm’s-length in a white-gloved paw. Paw? No! It was a hand – definitely a hand – with four elegant fingers and an equally elegant thumb. All juxtaposed together on one hand, as it were.
With a thudding motion that shook the earth, the Rabbit was running bare-footed on its big flat feet across the sunlit grass towards an enormous beech-tree nearby.
Fascinated and spellbound – captivated, bewitched and mesmerized – Alice watched and listened as the strange creature shook its furry white head, long whiskers a-twitch, twitching twitchily and muttering to itself mutteringly.
“Oh, de-ah! Oh, Gawd!” it lisped, with a delivery that would have warmed the heart of any confirmed Nancy-boy. “Oh, lawuddy, lawuddy, lawd! Whatever will she say?”
Alice had absolutely no idea and wondered, who on Earth the – she – that the rabbit was referring to could possibly be.
Then the Rabbit looked up and saw Alice, elbows propped in the grass where she lay, chin cupped in her hands, breasts nearly tumbling out from the low-cut front of her powder blue dress, watching him dreamily.
“Yikes! An extwemely well-developed female anthwopoid cweature, in early hawmonal adolescence! Must be all the vitamins and pwotein they feed them nowadays! Either that or silly-cone enhancement! Looka da siza doze boobies! Tut tut! How uttawee bwazen!”
Curious, stunned, shocked, bewildered, puzzled, and quite naively oblivious to the effect that her own voluptuous appearance had upon others of a nervous disposition, Alice got up, leaving her smutty Viz magazine open face down in the grass.
With a start, the Rabbit darted towards the huge grey beech – then waving Alice away and shouting out, “shoo – shoo, pwecocious cweature,” promptly melted into the deep shadows between two enormous gnarled roots.
Breasts a-bob bobbing bobbily, Alice skipped over to the tree and stooped between the roots, looking into the shadows. She jumped as two glowing beady points of bloodshot pink gleamed back at her from the darkness and a scratchy voice piped, “Go back! Go back!”
Taken off-guard, Alice stepped back a pace, recovering herself. It was several seconds before her curiosity allowed her to peer inwards again. The glowing pinpoints of pink were gone. Summoning up her courage, she called out tremulously into the darkness.
“No-one!” replied a voice that sounded exactly like her own mellow contralto, echoing seductively back at her from what seemed a surprisingly long distance away. It seemed to Alice as though there was some vast hidden world within the heart of the tree – but how could that possibly be? Things like that only happened in Dr. Who’s police telephone-box!
Heart thumping, she crept cautiously forward between the huge gnarled roots, letting the darkness enfold her. It smelled earthy and damp within and a long, dimly seen tunnel, its circular walls composed of roots and soil, stretched out ahead and seemed to disappear into an unknown distance.
“Well, I’ll be,” she breathed and continued ahead. There was some form of illumination from an unseen source, dimly lighting her way.
Then, between one footstep and the next, the floor disappeared beneath her and Alice found herself falling feet first in an ever-slowing descent – as though gravity decreased proportionately, the further she fell.
Yet – how could this make sense – she was falling down towards the centre of the Earth? Looking down, she could see her powder blue skirt billowing out around her like an umbrella fully unfurled and acting, she presumed, as a parachute.
She saw that she was floating downwards like a feather in some sort of well – but she could only see the walls in front and on each side.
With her skirt in full bloom and in the dimness of the hidden lighting, she had no idea what was below or how far it went.
“It seems tremendously dark dan dare in the depths,” she murmured.
“And what on Earth has Dan Dare got to do with all this,” a chilling burst of her own disembodied voice whispered back from the walls, startling her.
“Who’s th – that – m – mimicking me?” Alice called nervously.
“Not me,” replied a soft muffled voice echoing back from somewhere far below. It was followed briefly by a ghostly sound of whispering chuckles that drifted swiftly away to nothingness.
“Who are you? Demanded Alice tremulously. But this time there was no reply, just a profoundly disturbing silence.
I must find my way out of this damned eerie place she thought, looking at her wristwatch. Twenty-minutes to three. Teatime is at four o’clock. I only hope I’m back in time for it.
“There’ll probably be hot buttered fruit scones,” she said, chatting with herself to keep her spirits up, “or muffins with lots of raspberry jam and Cornish cream and iced fairy cakes with lemonade and a steaming pot of Uncle Jessop’s Lurjeeeling tea – I hope and…”
“Oh, do shut up! You’re making me feel really hungry, you silly surface creature,” whispered another strange voice from the darkness below.
“Oh, shut up yourself, you half-arsed, dopey, disembodied voice,’ Alice hurled back vehemently. ‘I’m utterly sick of you and your impertinent idle chatter, so just pipe down or I’ll throttle you with my fishnet stockings!”
Silence followed again.
After what seemed like several minutes of drifting downwards, Alice studied her wristwatch again. Twenty minutes to three. The minute hand hadn’t moved since she last looked at it.
‘It’s stopped,’ she thought. Then she held it to her ear and heard it ticking – but with a dreadfully slowed down, much longer tick, far lower in pitch.
‘This can’t be!’
‘Time dilation,’ she thought, remembering a conversation she’d overheard between her older sister, Brian and her boyfriend, Agnes, when, in full cross-dress they’d been smoking a joint and giggling together whilst watching a high-foreheaded programme on telly about Scrotum’s cat and Alberg Zweinstein’s theory of Relative Itty.
‘Yes, that’s what it is! My biological clock is out of sync with my surroundings, which are rather – kepuliah? Is that the woyt woyd? Da woyd oim looking for? I’m Not quite shrew, just at this marmalade. It’s all so weird, here – and I’m – sort of floating!’ Alice snapped out of her trance.
“Now how long am I going to be floating around like an aimless feather in this damn well?” she demanded, her voice darting off in all directions around her and disjointedly bouncing back: How! Now! Long! Feather Floating Well! Damn Round! Damn Well! Damn! Damn! Suddenly it stopped, as though a tap had been turned off.
“How very curious.” Curious! How! Very! How Very! Very Very!
Curious! Cure-ee-ous! Cure-eee-ous! eeee-ous! Eeeeee-ous!
“Well, at least I’m going down, instead of just hanging around – Oh, no!”
Well! Well! Well! Well! Going Down! Going Down!
Going down? – Better edit that! – Bleep! Bleep!
Hanging Round! Hanging Round!
Oh! No! Oh No! Oh No! Oh –
“Shut up,” she screamed, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”
Alice flung her hands over her ears, covering them from the hideous echoes of her own voice amplified progressively.
When she took her hands away, there was nothing but utter silence all around.
“Shut up,” she whispered, testing “Shut the -” But all was deathly quiet – and all she heard, was absolutely nothing. “Curious,” she said, a little louder, and still there was no echo. “Curious!” Nothing! “No echo?” Absolutely nothing – no sound at all! “Absolutely curious!”
Alice noticed the walls were getting smoother and more brightly lit.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” she said. ‘And strange. Very strange. Strange, strange, indeed,’ she thought. ‘Indeed, strange.’ “But when am I going to get somewhere? I’m rather tired of just floating down and down and – ”
Boomph! Alice’s feet made contact with something firm, then her buttocks made contact with something solid and she found herself laying on the floor, powder blue skirt and fluffy white petticoats splayed out petal-like around her long, full thighs.
“Well, at last I’ve arrived,” she said, picking herself up from the floor.
“Wherever that is! But at least, time seems to have returned to normal,” she added, holding her watch up to her ear and listening to the familiar ticking sound that she was used to.
She looked around, rubbing her eyelids gently. Although the hidden light was brighter now, it was still much dimmer than the bright sunlight in the hot day outside, and considerably cooler, too.
She was in a long, rectangular corridor, darkening progressively towards each end, which were both out of sight.
There were deeply sunken doorways spaced at intervals along wood-panelled walls – and there was thick, green carpeting beneath her feet.
Alice dug a toe-point of her dark-blue, neatly buttoned, handmade Italian shoes in the thick green pile, watching the fibres part around her toecap and then spring back to stiff attention when she moved her toe away again.
Still wondering about her situation and the balance between its apparent reality and the state of her own sanity, Alice heard a frantic puffing and panting, punctuated with a by-now, familiar scratchy voice.
“I’m late! I’m late! I’m friggin’ well late! Gasp! I’ll miss aw da celebwayshuns! Mustn’t miss my own weebirth! Wheeze! I could do wiv a smoke wight now! And a good stiff dwink! hic! So stwessed out – I could gedda cardiac awwest or wa stwoke enny minnit – What a howwibaw fate – ta be condemn ta limbo wivout weebirth! Now – whichiz da wight pawtal?
Alice spun round. It was the six-foot White Rabbit in the badly fitting three-piece suit, emerging quiveringly from some dark entry point into the corridor and padding breathlessly along its gloomy reaches, looking left and right at various doorways as it passed.
“Well, either I’m completely stark raving bonkers or that thing’s got a lot of explaining to do,” muttered Alice, hurrying along after the White Rabbit in her Italian-made high heels, breasts bobbing like plump puddings beneath the bra-less, low-cut top of her powder blue dress.
“Hey! Rabbit! Stop! Please! Stop!” No answer. The Rabbit didn’t even turn its head. It just kept on jogging. Furious with frustration, Alice stopped and planting her legs wide apart and cupping her hands to her lips, filled her lungs with one almighty great breath, bellowing down the entire length of the corridor with all the strength that she could muster.
“STO – OP! YOO STEW – PID BAAAH – STARD!”
Instantly, the White Rabbit froze in its tracks, ears shooting erect and stood like a statue for several seconds – before it slowly turned to regard Alice with a cautious respect bordering on deeply religious reverence. With an anxious expression, its whiskers twitching and its eyes wide, it beseeched Alice with an earnest query.
“Gee! What’ sup, Doc?”
The Rabbit stood in a cringe, paws held up defensively.
Craning its neck forward, it squinted into the dimness while Alice advanced with great purpose and plonked her buxom five foot two squarely in front of his six foot nil. Planting her hands firmly on her hips, she glowered up at him.
“Now, Mr. Rabbit – I would like some explanations from YOU, right away, if you please!”
“Ooh! Er – well –” The Rabbit humped its shoulders and shifted from foot to foot. It looked down uncomfortably at its white-gloved hands and fidgeted the thumbs and fingertips together.
“I mean now – and I don’t mean maybe,” said Alice, leaning forward aggressively, her voice rising sharply in pitch.
“Okay, Doc! Okay! Just don’t get sho excited about it, will ya? I mean, just tell me what it is ya wanna know, an’ I’ll see what ah kin do fuh yo!”
“Well, for starters, I’d like to know where the chicken-lickin’ hell I AM.”
“Why – yo winna cawwidaw, of course.” The Rabbit flung its arms wide.
“Don’t get smart with me, Bugsy, boy,” said Alice rolling her eyes to heaven and stamping a pointed heel soundlessly into the thickly carpeted floor. “I know I’m in a flaming corridor! What I want to know is, where in flaming hell, the flaming bloody corridor is, Mr Funny Bunny!”
A strange knowing expression entered the Rabbit’s eyes and a look of inscrutable cunning formed across features otherwise rendered goofy and gormless by wide staring eyes and two large protruding front teeth.
“Yaw sum where yew shooden be – dat’s where yo wah, hunny chile! Dare sum peepaw here, win charge – dat might wanna know how yew manage ta geddin dis joint in da foist place!”
A look of confusion crossed Alice’s features. “Why, I’m not really sure just how I got here,” she replied. “I – I – sort of stepped between the roots of a huge old tree and – and – inside was this whole new world!”
“Yo done wander through a twanspawtal, blondie – dat’s what yo bin done, ma liddel chick-a-dee! An jew ain’t authawized tah be here – coz yew ain’t no member of dis here realm.”
“But how was I to know,” said Alice.
The Rabbit shrugged. “I dunno! I jus plain doggone, dunno, Doc!”
Feverishly, it began searching through the pockets of its ill-fitting suit.
“It ain’t yaw fault yew saw howda geddin, ah spose – an dere was no way to stop ya, coz nobody saw to switch off da twanspawtal in time! Bud ah shaw as hell twied to warn ya – when ah sawed yo on de udder side, in yo own world. And I twied to stop ya comin’ in.”
Still rummaging through its pockets, the rabbit produced a crumpled old carton, marked with symbols unrecognizable to Alice.
Opening the carton with trembling fingers, the Rabbit looked inside and frowned with disappointment. “Listen – thissiz vewwy impawtant,” it said. “Have yew godda smoke on ya?”
Alice shook her head. “Sorry – I – er – don’t smoke.”
“What? You don’t shmoke! Why ever not?” said the Rabbit, eyeing Alice sullenly and suddenly beginning to fidget.
“Look, I weally can’t tawwy any longer. I’m vewwy late ya see – an jew oughta be geddin back where ya came from.” Still fidgeting, the Rabbit waved towards the well shaft from which she had descended.
“But how,” asked Alice, “how do I get back up there?”
“Same way’s yew came down, I spose.” Writhing now, the Rabbit was searching through its clothing again and looked like it was chasing fleas.
“What do you think I am, a ruddy bird? I can’t sodding well fly, you know! And I can’t crawl up bloody walls like some creepy crawly bug, either!”
Ignoring her, The Rabbit produced a battered old flask, undid the stopper and lifted it to its lips. A few drops dribbled onto its eagerly waiting tongue. With a groan of dismay, the Rabbit re-stoppered the flask and stowed it away again.
“Are there any stairs or lifts?” said Alice, turning and peering into every dark corner. There seemed to be no visible way up at all – no steps or stairs, no ladders and as far as she could tell, no lifts – unless, behind any of the doorways at each side, there lurked a lift.
When Alice turned back, the Rabbit was scampering off into the gloom of the corridor ahead. Before she had time to react, it had disappeared into the shadows of one of the deep-set doorways along the walls.
“Damn!” she cried, stamping a heel furiously into the carpeted floor and suddenly hearing a thin, wailing cry of pain that seemed to rise up from the whole length of the floor and echo up and down through the gloom of the corridor like a wafting stray scent.
Most odd, she thought. Everything here is odd! And now, here am I, all alone, with no idea how to get back – or anywhere at all.
Certainly there seems no way back to the world I left behind – that rapidly changing but all-too-familiar world – that I’ve come to know so well.
That polluted, interglacial, greenhouse-blighted world – that over-populated, disease-ridden, nuclear-endangered world – so full of chaos, unrest, deforestation and animal-extinction – of mistrust and confusion – fear, paranoia, addiction and lust – of suspicion and superstition – greed, aggression, arrogance, hunger and homelessness.
That odoriferous paradise of noxious fumes and toxic waste – of queasy, greasy, gagging garbage – the Ronald McDonalds and the Colonel Sanders and the fuckle buckled drinks cans – what kind of kung fu dat – maybe he didn’t Nintendo, but he just cut some poor kid’s head open!
That site of garbage – of rubbish, discarded continuously, day by day – of streets filled with junk-food, piling up and rising high and spilling out of the litter-bins – mountains of festering trash – and the ever voracious armies of little rats and bugs, crawling and scampering through it all.
That oh-so enlightened world of transvestites, trans-sexuals – homosexuals and lesbians – paedophiles and multicultural societies and above all – that damn frigging stupid hypocritical political-correctness.
That wonderful, wonderful world – full of muggers and buggers – of psychos and rapists and torturers and terrorists – of video-nasties and lurid magazines – of public shootings, street-knifings and game-shows – of Hollyoaks and East-enders – of anagrams, anoraks and sweaty old trainers – of badly-fitting jeans where the crutch hangs-down-to-the-knees.
That amazingly advanced world, of virtual this and virtual that, of virtual shite and virtual crap – and virtual lunacy at the drop of a hat.
That warren of taxis and taxes, both trying their hardest to run you down – of fascists and fanatics – also trying their darnedest to blow you up.
That beautiful world – set like a marble of swirling blue and white, in the deep velvety blackness of galactic night – sailing on through space – oblivious to the tiny creatures moving like spreading stains across its face.
That long-suffering, mishandled, badly blighted world. That festering world – lit like a bomb and smouldering and – and – all the things that she, Alice, knew so well.
Yes – that world! Where was the way back to that world?
“Does anyone know?” she called. But – there was no answer.
And as she stood there, alone in the gloom – something from somewhere out of sight, stole up and caressed Alice’s left cheek. Startled, she put a hand to her face and turned around.
There was no-one to be seen, and as a cool breath from ahead touched her hair, she realised what it was. It was the gentlest of breezes, soft and cool without being icy – and quite refreshing. But what interested Alice most about the breeze was where it might have come from.
She began to saunter down through the gloom of the corridor, looking in through each doorway, for shafts or cracks of light. One by one, she started reaching in to each doorway, searching for handles and when she found them, turning them. But all the door-handles she tried were locked.
Was she just imagining it, or had it got even gloomier? Obscured in almost total darkness above and behind her now, the entry shaft might just as well have become non-existent – for Alice could no longer see it. The whole corridor seemed gloomier.
The only illumination seemed to be an apparently source-less light centred peculiarly about Alice and shading off to increasing darkness some six feet or so, all around and above her.
Was it the warmth of her body, activating dormant photons in the air?
Liddle Alice Carol Lewis, the human firefly, an enormous saving on energy. Especially in the home, when you consider how much the Electrickery Board charge to supply one home in a single year.
Exceedingly good, Mr. Kipling, a human firefly – install one in your household today – and no more electrickery bills need you pay! It could become some kind of financial Arms Race, between Human Fireflies Ltd. – and the Electrickery Board. But how much would it cost to become a human firefly? Ah! Now there was the nub!
The breezes were stirring again. All sorts of odours and scents were now arriving with them. Fresh oranges and lemons – orchids and roses – hyacinths and jasmines. There was cinnamon and cloves – mint, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Are you going to – strawberries and cream.
There was sweetgum and pine – juniper, peppermint, wintergreen and turpentine – eucalyptus, sandalwood, sawdust and socks – tarmac, petroleum, hairspray and paint – creosote, plutonium, heroin, cocaine, arsenic and lead – car-fumes, diesel oil, sulphur and dung.
But where was it all coming from?
Then Alice noticed the shafts of light – streaming out into the corridor from various doorways – suddenly opened. She ran towards them – in a bid to reach one of the doorways before it closed and shut out the light again.
Sliding to a halt at the last closing door and digging her heels into the thick green pile of the carpet in the braking attempt, Alice collapsed in a heap on the floor, flinching as an unearthly scream rose up from all around her, rending the air in a furious crescendo and suddenly abating.
Gasping for breath, Alice sat there upon the plush carpet wondering what it was that had uttered such an incredible sound.
And it’s all that dummy of a bunnie’s fault that I’m here – stupid creature.
Boss-eyed bunny! Hare-brained hare! Lunatic lagomorph!
She wondered why the word ‘lagomorph’ suddenly popped into her head and lingered there, irritatingly, just like some hopelessly naff pop tune that you really hate but simply can’t forget, till it makes you want to throttle the daft bastard who coined it.
The word lagomorph, though, came to her from some Natural History programme on the telly, Alice realised – in it, there was some intrepid zoologist guy in long shorts and welly-boots, with hairy legs in between – he waded waist high through a bosky dell in what remained of the British countryside.
He stooped bravely at the foot of a tussocky knoll and casually scooped up a handful of dried pellets in his bare hands.
“These droppings,” he’d explained, in a reverent whisper, “are from a species of mammal in the lagomorph genus – and lagomorph means, rabbit-shaped – and that’s just what this creature is, because he’s what all the children call, a bunny rabbit.”
Lagomorph, thought Alice – rabbit-shaped – a bunny rabbit. Hmm – well he’s certainly that all right – a bunny rabbit – a white bunny rabbit – a ruddy great big one – a plodding great big, stupid white bunny rabbit.
Frowning through the gloom of the sunken porch-way, she let her gaze drop, gasping when something gold and shiny flashed in the thick, green carpeting.
Stooping down, she scooped it up and breathed sharply in amazement.
Well, think of the devil! It was the White Rabbit’s battered old gold pocket-watch and chain – and probably brass, too – eyeing the greenish staining at its rim. Verdigris! Cheapskate! That settles it – I’ll take this door.
Stepping into the gloom of the porch-way, Alice studied the door in puzzlement, running her fingertips across its shimmering surface, looking in to its fuzzy green depths. A vague green-tinged reflection of her golden-haired visage peered enigmatically back at her from the velvety darkness within, like a blurry image at twilight.
The huge, obsidian door-handle was locked when she tried it – just like all the others she’d tried earlier.
She pushed gently at the fabric of the door – feeling it give like rubber. The harder she pushed, the more solid and unyielding the door became – as she relaxed her thrust, the door became more flexible.
Letting her fingertips rest almost feather-light upon its strange surface, Alice was surprised to feel the fabric soften and bend until it seemed as though her hands were passing inwards through the door.
Nudging herself up closer, Alice turned sideways – oh, so gently – so that one side of her body began to penetrate the fabric.
Edging gingerly sideways – Alice inched her way inwards. The door tensed and then buckled outward with such force that she was hurled back out into the corridor.
She landed rump first with a muffled thud. In thwarted frustration, she rose and with a speechless cry of fury, stamped one of her Italian heels as hard as she could, digging it deeply into the carpet.
A piercing scream split the air. It seemed to rise swiftly upwards from the floor along the whole length of the corridor, reflecting bizarrely from the ceiling. Within moments, it was a faint echo, fading abruptly and leaving an eerie hush in its wake.
Alice started in shock. She jerked her head all around, trying to see where the sound had come from. She stared down into the gloom, from one end of the corridor to the other. Nothing! She could see nothing that could have caused such a sound.
“Down here, stupid,” said a quiet, fluffy voice.
Alice looked down at the carpet.
“Yes, that’s right – it’s me – the Carpet! It’s high time I spoke up for myself.” The carpet paused, gathering breath. “Now let’s get a few things straight,” it said with measured emphasis.
“I don’t mind you walking or running across me – or standing or sitting on me, that’s the sort of usage I’m made for. I’m even programmed to handle it if you fall on me – that comes under the category of accident. But when it comes to acts of deliberate malicious intent, like digging your sharp pointed heels right in to my precious fibres, repeatedly, because of something bugging you that is absolutely no fault of mine – well – it’s disrespectful to say the least. In fact, it’s a complete lack of regard for others – though I noticed that you treated the door with a lot more respect, and look what it did to you. Yet you treat me like a scapegoat, and I was the one that buffered your fall.”
Alice was goggling down at the carpet incredulously.
“Well – fuh – fuh – for goodness sakes – you are – supposed to be a ruddy – a carpet, aren’t you?”
“Huh! Well, if that’s your friggin’ attitude,” said the carpet huffily, “you can just BOG OFF and do WITHOUT my services!”
And at that, Alice found herself treading air in a very wobbly fashion, several inches above the carpet’s surface.
“Ooh!” She gasped and dodged around from heel to toe, arms flailing like a floundering craft at sea. Then she lost her balance altogether and ended up sprawled with her hands grasping fistfuls of nothing, her face inches from the carpet’s pile on a bed of hard corrugated air.
“Ooh! Ouch! This air is hard and wobbly!”
The carpet laughed – a fluffy, chuckling sound, close to her ears.
“See? If you don’t treat me right – I can banish you from my surface by creating a force-field. Not very smooth or comfortable, is it?”
Alice gaped as she sat up on a bed of knobbly air, hands held behind her.
“Look, I’m really, very sorry, Mr. Carpet,” she said, feeling incredibly foolish. “But I honestly didn’t realise that you were so –“ she paused and then continued with her voice lowered seductively, “sensitive.”
“Huh! That’s just the problem, huffed Mr. Carpet. “No mobile sentient ever considers me – let alone cares. They don’t all deliberately mistreat me, but they sure do take me for granted.
Just because I’m an immobile, programmed mass of pseudo-tissue, self-cleaning and self-regenerating, doesn’t mean that I don’t have awareness and intelligence and feelings and preferences – and that for services very efficiently rendered, I would like to be treated with a goodly measure of regard.”
“I’m sure that you do,” said Alice. “And I can see that you deserve it. It’s obvious that you’re not just a piece of furnishing, that you are so much more. And I really do appreciate you. You’re so luxurious and so soft and – I promise not to mistreat you ever again –“
“You’re bullshitting me,” said Mr. Carpet.
“No, I’m not,” purred Alice, warming to her new role as diplomat under duress, adopting a sensual pout and arching her back so that her breasts and rump protruded.
“Ah, come on,” said Mr. Carpet, whispering bashfully now and beginning to sound half-convinced. “You’re putting me on.”
“Not in the least,” Alice crooned, looking down at Mr. Carpet with a seductive smile, hoping that it had visual reception and was a red-blooded male – after all, it had a husky, masculine-sounding voice. Rather like Mr. Kipling with a mouthful of fluffy cake “And I promise never to treat you with anything but the utmost respect, ever again.”
“Oh.” Mr. Carpet sounded slightly disappointed. “I mean, do you really think I’m luxuriant and soft and –“
“Absolutely,” Alice affirmed, inclining her head so that her long golden hair looped sinuously around one shoulder and dangled snakelike into the depths of her cleavage. “Abso – complete and utter – lutely,” she added.
“I know I was taking you entirely for granted. But I was certainly thankful I’d landed on such a comfortable carpet, noting if only subconsciously, your first-class condition and superior quality.
Where I come from, one would have to be very rich to afford a luxury such as yourself. And that, I assure you, is the gospel truth, Mr. Carpet.”
There was a slight murmuring that sounded like Frankie Howerd at his royal best, running up and down the length and width of the Carpet and Alice was sure that she had completely flabbered its gast.
“Oh, all right. I suppose I’ll have to forgive you,” said Mr. Carpet and Alice found herself gently lowered until she rested once more on the thick pile.
“And don’t forget your promise,” hissed Mr. Carpet.
“Oh, I won’t,” said Alice, wondering exactly what she’d promised as she picked herself up and smoothed down her skirt.
“Well, I – I apologise if I was a bit harsh with you,” said Mr. Carpet. “But my feelings were hurt and I reacted instinctively.”
“Oh, that’s quite alright,” said Alice. “I’m used to that sort of thing. Where I come from, some people are rude and abusive all the time. They just can’t help themselves, I guess.”
“Really?” said Mr. Carpet, sounding quite astonished. “Well I’ll be a doormat’s uncle – and I am, at that. What an odd kind of place it must be where you come from – especially if only the very rich can afford basic essentials, such as myself.”
“Basic essentials? Ha!” Leaning against the arched frame of the doorway and looking down at Mr. Carpet, Alice laughed softly and ironically.
“It might interest you to know,” she said, “that a good deal of the carpets in my world are threadbare, Mr. Carpet. Very few of them are as lush and pristine as yourself – unless they’re on show in Harrods or in the residence of a successful businessman or politician. Furthermore, not one of the carpets can talk or think, let alone erect forcefields around themselves.”
“The more I hear of your world, the less I like it. What a frightful place it sounds and very depressing, too. I do believe I’d prefer a complete change of subject.”
“All right, then,” said Alice, turning and pointing pointedly through the doorway. “Perhaps you can tell me what’s behind this green door.”
“Don’t ask me. I’m only a carpet, programmed to function within this passageway only. What’s outside it – is none of my business. Besides, that door’s not green – its fabric is quite colourless. That, is a reflection of me that you see on its dark surface. But I’ll tell you one thing.”
“Oh! And what’s that?”
“I do by chance, happen to know a song about a green door.”
“Hmm,” said Alice. “Does it go: there’s an old piano and they play it hot behind the green do-or?” She sang softly and tunefully, swinging her shoulders and rotating her hips, so that the skirt of her powder-blue dress spun out like a humming-top above her black stocking-tops.
“That’s right,” affirmed Mr. Carpet, his optic fibres eyeing her performance curiously. “That’s exactly how it goes.”
“Well! You old fraud, you,” said Alice, halting her performance and placing her hands on her hips. “That song is from my world. I thought you said you were programmed to function only in this passageway.”
“And so I am,” replied Mr. Carpet. “Sometimes to entertain, too – if I’m asked. And don’t be too sure that that song is peculiar only to your world. By the way – the key’s under the mat.”
“The key for the door you tried to open – it’s under the mat.”
“What mat?” exclaimed Alice, staring downwards into the gloom at the foot of the door. And sure enough, there was a fluffy green mat in front of it.
“Be careful,” said Mr. Carpet. “That’s my nephew.”
“Hi, Doll. My name’s Matt, short for Matthew – Matthew Rugg, at your service.” An angelic little Kiplingesque voice drifted up saucily from the floor between Alice and the door. “Be my guest,” it said. Then Matt rose vertically for several feet and hovered perfectly still in front of Alice.
Alice stooped forward – and there, where Matt had been, was a thick sliver of translucent plastic, rather like a posh credit card.
It seemed to be stuck to the floor but with a little coaxing, it came free in Alice’s hand, like a paper clip pulled from a magnet.
With the plastic clutched in her hand, Alice straightened up and Matt, the little mat lowered himself smoothly to the floor again at Alice’s feet.
“Okay, babe,” said Matt, the mat. “Look beneath the door-handle.”
Peering closely beneath the gemlike handle, Alice spied a dark slot. The sliver of plastic fitted into it like a floppy disc into a computer.
It was sucked in and swallowed whole and there was a faint whirring sound from within the door. Then the handle became translucent and a grating metallic voice spoke from within.
“Door ready to receive voiceprint of prospective entrant,” it said. “Please speak your name.”
“Alice,” said Alice, to which the door-handle clicked several times.
“I’m sorry. You are not recognized in any of my memory-banks and therefore, not authorized for entry.”
At this, the sliver of plastic slipped halfway out of the slot and remained there. The door-handle opaqued and became dark and silent once more.
“Well! Of all the arrogant, bureaucratic fff…”
“Uh –uh,” said Mr. Carpet. “Language, young lady. Tell you what. Slip the bit of plastic back in the slot – and this time, try imitating Mr. Rabbit’s voice.”
“But who the vikingel shall I say I am?” demanded Alice, losing patience.
“Just say, the White Wabbit, Doc,” said Mr. Carpet.
So, Alice did as Mr. Carpet suggested – but the door-handle said:
“Sorry. Your voiceprint does not match that of the White Rabbit’s.” And once more, the door-handle deactivated.
“So much for that,” sighed Alice, with a deflated shrug. “And it’s all that screwy Rabbit’s fault that I’m even here in the first place, too. Buck-toothed sodding refugee from Loony Toons.”
“Let me try,” said Mr. Carpet. “Shove the bit of plastic in again – and this time, leave the talking up to yours truly. So, when the door-handle asked for a name, Mr. Carpet answered in a perfect imitation of the White Rabbit’s voice. This time, the door-handle said:
“Entrant cleared. Please enter – and have a nice day.”
“Wonderful,” exclaimed Alice joyously. She looked down at Mr. Carpet. “Marvellous! You’re a multi-talented old son of a gun, aren’t you? No doubt about it, you’re definitely a bit of a magical mystical carpet, on the quiet.”
For a moment, Mr. Carpet seemed to glow even greener and Matt, the little mat giggled.
“Well – uh – it’s all in a day’s work, I suppose,” mumbled Mr. Carpet.
“But you sounded just like the White Rabbit,” said Alice. “I’d say that was a lot more than just, all in a day’s work! How did you do it? Are you some kind of textiled Mike Yarwood or Rory Bremner?” Wide eyed, Alice beamed down at Mr. Carpet. Little Matt started giggling again and seemed unable to stop this time.
“Tell her how you do it, Uncle Louie,” tittered Matt between bursts of hysterical mirth, “please – before I split my tender young fibres.”
“Well, actually, Alice – it’s a recording, you see. Um – I record a sample of every one or thing that comes and goes through this passageway – for security purposes. Here – listen!” Alice heard her own voice saying ‘Alice’ in reply to the door-handle’s request for identification.
“I see – you’re an inveterate plagiarist – not a sound-alike. Are you letting me through some sort of security net,” she said gazing thoughtfully at the slightly opened door.
“Well,” said Mr. Carpet. “It’s not so much a question of security in your case, as a matter of unauthorized entry. But it’s a fault of the system’s and, particularly of one of its users – rather than yours.”
He paused to clear his fibres and continued with dust free fluffy emphasis.
“Therefore, it’s the system’s responsibility to rectify the situation. As I am part of the system, I must help in any way I can. Besides, Alice, it’s the only way that you might get back to your own world – wherever in time and space that is.”
“In time and space?” echoed Alice.
“But where the fluck in fluffy hell am I, then?”
“That’s a ferry good question,” replied Mr. Carpet, “and not easy to explain even if I knew the answer. But really – we don’t have the time, right now.
The door won’t stay open for much longer and my sensors tell me that someone or something is coming this way – real fast. I think you’d better make a move now, before – “
Mr. Carpet lowered his voice to a strangled hush and began to sound horribly anxious. “Hurry,” he whispered urgently. ”Hurry!”
Alarmed by Mr. Carpet’s abrupt change of manner, Alice stepped forward and pushed the door open and as she walked through, Mr. Carpet breathed a parting message to her.
“Take care,” he urged, “and when you meet others, tell ‘em Louie, the carpet sent you. Oh – and beware the gibbering – “ But the rest of the message was cut short as the door clicked to behind Alice and she found herself in a beautiful garden, bathed by the light of two suns.
Birds sang and warbled and wheeled, their shadows crossing the sunlit lawn as they swooped hither and thither among the spreading oaks and chestnut trees.
The lawn seemed to stretch on forever, sloping this way and that and up and down. Had she fallen? Alice realized she was laying face up in the grass, staring up through half open eyes.
She was struggling to open them wider. Why had everything gone sort of misty, with all the colours muted to delicate pastel shades? Had she fainted? Voices were calling, as if from a distance.
“Wake up, Alice! Wake up! It’s almost a quarter to four, time to go home for tea or we’ll be late and miss it!”
Alice awoke to find herself surrounded by her elder sisters, Brian, Gertrude and Wilhelmina. She was spread-eagled on the grass beneath a giant horse chestnut tree with her copy of Viz opened out across her breasts and her powder blue dress rumpled upwards and flaring out above her thighs.
“Goodness me, Alice! Pull your skirts down! I can see your stocking tops and panties! Don’t you know there are dirty old men at large, wandering about in this park?
“What? Oh, bugger!”
Alice lifted her rump, and running her hands over her buttocks and thighs, smoothed the skirt of her dress down over her knees.
“Really, Alice. I don’t know where you get such language! Probably those horrid little smutty comics you keep reading. They’ll ruin your mind!”
Wilhelmina turned and wagged a finger at one of her other sisters.
“It’s different for Brian, here. She’s already a bit brain-damaged anyway, thinking she’s a man and going out with a man who thinks he’s a woman, the pair of them as loopy as each other. But to corrupt her own youngest sister with this trash is beyond a joke!”
Oh, do shut up, Willie, for Christ sake, thought Alice gloomily.
“I am a man,” Brian was protesting indignantly. “A man in a woman’s body! And for your information, it was Alice that introduced me to those magazines! Not the other way round! So there! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, sister dear!”
“How boring,” Alice said wearily. “Where am I, Gertrude?”
“Why you’re in the park, silly! Have you been dreaming?”
Looking up, Alice saw that the twin suns she’d seen were just the face of the late afternoon sun, bisected by an outspreading branch far above.
Hmm! I would have liked to explore that garden, she thought.
In fact, I think I’d like to see some more of that strange world, even though it’s absolutely crazy, it most certainly is quite an adventure. And although it can be so damned infuriating at times, it definitely is never boring.
All I’ve got to do is find it in my mind. And I can only do that when I go to sleep. But at least now I know how to get back.
“All I have to do – is wake up.”
“That’s the trick, isn’t it?” The voice was almost whispered and close by.
“Who’s that?” said Alice whirling round.
But no one was there.
Her sisters were all nearly halfway down the grassy slope. Gertrude had turned and was beckoning urgently for Alice to follow.
“Come along, Alice. Do get a move on!” She shook her head and muttered to herself. “Honestly! I just don’t know what’s got into that girl lately!”