The rot comes over Wonderland in a wave, a sickness that eats the world and spits back poison. The things crawl out of the ground like flowers, swatting away buttered-toast flies and digging up the gardens with their dirty, molding hands.
The Queen of Hearts from her tower as the roses turn from red to white to black, shaking off their paint shells and falling to the ground. She can feel Wonderland falling apart. Below her, the knaves are killing themselves trying to put things back to rights. The rot eats them, too. Peels off their backs and makes them like the moaning, shifting creatures.
"What will you have us do?" The Cat asks, tail swiping from side to side tensely. His stripes look dirty in the candlelight. Faded like he can't quite keep them in focus. There’s something wrong about his teeth, all points and dull, gleaming bone.
"Off with their heads," the queen says.
She lifts her own and marches to her chambers. She isn't very surprised to see that the things have eaten her poor, simple husband also. He groans as the Cat settles onto his torn shoulder, empty eyes blinking. Everything, she fears, has gone mad.
The smell is the worst part, the hare thinks, tucked up in a tree. All the lovely teas have gone spoiled, all the jam spilled and molded on the table. It's such a shame. Such a shame.
"It's rude to invite yourself to other people's tea parties," he says to the strange, grumbling beasts below him. One of them looks up, rotten eyes and rotten mouth open to take him in. The March hare shivers in his tree, hindlegs thumping against the dry branch holding him up. He can feel it breaking under him."It's also rude to eat your hosts," he chides. The poor Hatter, the hare thinks. The fool never stood a chance against them.
The creatures are multiplying faster than can be counted. The hare can see the armies of the growing in the distance, eating away the trees and clearing the high grasses. Smoke is rising from the caterpillar's patch. A flame in the distance that makes the smell of rotting flesh even worse.
The Hatter rises up, dead eyes and crooked hat, and the hare feels sadness in his belly. Of all the madness in the world, the Hatter had always been the best of them all. Truly a good man who brewed an excellent cup of tea.
“Oh, Hatter,” the Match hare says as his tree branch cracks. “Let us tea again.”
“You ought not bother them,” Tweedledee says, shoving his brother’s chest.
They’d been having their battle when the things came, charging into the field like an army of rotting, mindless soldiers. And stupid Tweedledum had kept on playing at fighting instead of running away like any sensible person.
“You ought not shove,” Tweedledum says, slow and thick. He looks kind of funny, all half head and dangly broken sword. Tweedledee is going to steal his eye off the floor out of spite. It serves the dummy right.
“You ought not backtalk. I’m older.” Tweedledee raises his wooden sword and thumps it against his brother’s shoulder. The poor bloke’s arm sloughs off like a slithery creature’s skin. “Put that back on.”
“You take yours off,” Tweedledum grumbles, barely understandable at all. There’s a great bit of shouting when he swings. Tweedledee, affronted, doesn’t even swing back.
---Alice lands on the floor once again on her second trip to Wonderland. She’s older, maybe wiser, but no more prepared for the madness that awaits her beyond the twisting entrance hall. It’s been years since she’s been, but nothing short of death could make her forget the beauty of the Wonderland of her childhood.
The field of flowers is black as far as she can see, the Daisies and the Roses withered all across the path through the forest. The smell is overpowering- ripe flowers and rotten earth and something acrid that Alice can’t quite put her finger on. They’ve been trampled on, their roots up in the air, petals gone dirty.
“You poor things,” Alice says as she tiptoes delicately around them. “Even you don’t deserve to be plucked.”
Carefully, Alice enters the forest at the end of the field, watching for any beast that may be lurking in the shadows. She aims herself as best she can for the caterpillar’s mushroom. He’s a great bother, but he is very wise. Maybe he can tell her what’s happened.
She finds fire instead.
The caterpillar’s beloved hookah has been overturned, tobacco thrown all the way across the forest. The mushrooms are going up in smoke, growing and shrinking and growing again. Alice runs towards them, hand over her mouth. If she doesn’t have bits in her pockets, she’ll be small forever, and she couldn’t very well live like that.
There is no sign of the caterpillar at all.
Shaken, Alice breaks off halves of a mushroom, stomping out the fire that’s crawling toward her. she nibbles on one charred bit and runs from the flames as soon as she’s stopped growing. She wonders if the whole forest will burn, or if the Queen has some sort of fire department to come take care of it.
The Cheshire cat doesn’t greet her where he did before, but she already knows her way to the Hatter’s tea party. She’s had dreams about tea with the mad since her last adventure, can remember every detail like she’s gone every day.She walks the path, excited to see them again. Perhaps there will be another unbirthday party, or maybe a new poem by the sleepy little mouse. She’d loved him best, after she’d gotten over the fright of the adventure. He’d been sweet and unassuming.
There’s the cacophany of crashing plates and shouts, familiar. Alice smiles, the creeping worry growing in her chest fading away as she runs towards the sound. She can almost taste the tea at the back of her throat, can almost feel the headache coming of from riddles that have yet to be told.
Inside the little fence, the March hare is tucked up inside a tree, moaning and crying as a mess of shuffling, groaning creatures claw at his dangling legs. He whines, terror in his voice, as his branch breaks off.
The creatures pounce.Alice retches in the bushes.
When she looks up again, one of the things is stumbling toward her. It makes her heart sink when she recognizes the tilt of his too large hat. The Hatter flaps his torn mouth at her like he’s trying to say something, but no sound comes out. One by one, the monsters turn to her, watch her with their rotten eyes.
Alice screams against her better judgement, turns and runs toward the Duchess’ house. She can’t hear her footfalls over the shuffling behind her. There’s nothing surprising about the wreckage she finds inside, nothing to give her hope.
The kitchen is covered in pepper, abandoned. Outside, the creatures pound on the door, the walls. Alice closes her eyes and tries to breathe. She’s petrified, living inside of a nightmare instead of the beautiful dream she once had.
“Go away,” she shouts, voice bouncing off the walls. “Go away!”She hears the door crack in the front. There’s a butcher knife on the counter, next to a hunk of rotting meat. Alice snatches it, her fingers going tight around the handle. The door collapses in on itself with a crash, the creatures stumbling in one after another, headed by the Hatter.
Alice grips the knife tighter. She’s going to fight her way out of Wonderland, she thinks, heart sinking as she watches the Hatter shamble toward her. She’s going to fight, and she’s going to win.