I was falling.
My descent was so slow that if felt like I was merely floating on a down gust of air. The hole seemed to be never-ending—a well of gigantic proportions. At first, I couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but after a few minutes of weightlessness, my surroundings became lit by what I was startled to recognize as lamps. Along with various knickknacks and antique objects, they were nestled between bookcases lining the circular wall of the chasm. It appeared as though someone paid very close attention to the decoration of the hole; of course, the ambiance one feels when one is falling through the earth is of the highest importance.
“This makes no sense,” I said, my voice creating an echo.
I extended my arm out to try and grab a book from one of the shelves, but I could not reach any of them. My eyes scanned through the titles: A History of Wonderland, The Art of Painting Roses, A Study on the Architecture of the Hearts Castle. Each volume seemed odder than the next, some having been written on places and people I’ve never heard of and others dealing with absurd concepts like shrinking and the eternal stopping of time. It was ironic to me that when I had been with my sister just a short time ago, I had scoffed at the thought of reading and now I was dying to get a glimpse at the pages held together by these intriguingly labeled spines.
“What’s the point of having all these books when you can’t read them?” I complained to no one other than myself.
I wondered how much longer it would take for me to finally hit the ground. The fright that had seized me once I had jumped in was long gone, and now it was being replaced by an agonizing boredom. I let my mind wander; I contemplated on where this hole led to and what would happen to me. I wondered who the old man was and why he was so nervous about being late. I hoped everything would be okay at home and Alexandra wouldn’t panic once she realized I was gone. For a second, I wished she was here with me—“She would go crazy with all these books”—but then I modified my wish and applied it to my cat, Diane, instead. She was a much more peaceful and much less judgmental creature.
Suddenly, I felt myself being forced into a sitting position, and I realized that I had fallen onto a chair that had appeared from under me. It was a rocking chair, which made things quite disconcerting, for when I leaned back, the chair did so as well, and I knew that if I went too far, I could go tumbling head-first through midair. I took a peek down below; I could now see a tiled floor and an old rug patterned with flowers. My chair sank to the ground at a turtle’s pace and landed as lightly as a feather.
I was in a circular room, facing a brick fireplace with a row of small silhouette portraits arranged on the mantle. They appeared to all be of the same woman, with a delicate profile and a slightly upturned nose. From her likenesses, she seemed to be beautiful and confident; her head was held regally high, and her chin jutted out boldly. Between the portraits was a large clock—though it wasn’t a normal clock by any means. When I took a closer look at it, I discovered that it ran counter-clockwise, the seconds being counted backwards and the minutes ticking by in reverse.
“This place just keeps getting weirder and weirder,” I said.
I rose from the rocking chair and noticed a large wooden door near the exit of the room. The door was locked, and there was no keyhole. I ventured into the narrow hallway that led out of the room and saw more doors like this one, all neatly arranged in a line on both walls. “How strange,” I said. “I bet each of these doors opens to someplace incredible, yet I’ll never know where.”
Scurrying ahead of me was the old man, his feet pattering against the floor so frantically that I knew he had not noticed I was behind him. He turned a corner, and I followed suit a few moments later. I found myself to be in a small room furnished only with a round, glass table and a ceiling lamp. The old man was out of sight—though how he had managed to disappear baffled me.
On the table was a tiny glass bottle with a note attached. Drink me. I held the vial against the light so that I could inspect the liquid inside. It was a clear, colorless substance—“Like water,” I muttered. “Or vodka.”
Next to the bottle was a heavy-looking gold key. I looked around the room, wondering what it opened. My eyes fell upon a door that I had not noticed before; this door, unlike the others I had seen until now, had a keyhole. The key on the table, however, was not the same shape as the keyhole, and in any case, it was much too large to open the door, which was so little that I would not even be able to crawl through it. Nevertheless, I picked up the key and put it in my pocket, for, as I determined, “It must lead to somewhere.”
The small door was the only exit in sight. I wondered if I would be trapped here forever—here in this odd, sparsely decorated room. My gaze seemed to gravitate towards the bottle, and the words “Drink me”, written in scrawling print, flashed like lights in my mind.
“Maybe it can get me out,” I said. “But how?”
I took up the bottle once again, considering the mysterious liquid inside. “Oh, but what if it is poison? Then I really would be stuck here for eternity—I would die and no one would find me. Except the old man, perhaps.”
I undid the stopper and sniffed the contents of the bottle. There was no smell that I could perceive. Deciding that poison must have its own distinctive scent, I raised the vial to my lips and drank the liquid in one gulp. It tasted wonderful—like dessert and a fine dinner all in one.
Suddenly, I felt a tingling sensation in my throat. It spread as quickly as a wildfire to all other parts of my body, and for a second I feared that I had drunk poison all along. Before I could scold myself for my foolishness, however, I underwent the strangest experience in my life.
I was shrinking.
It was as though my entire body was becoming compact—like a foldable umbrella becoming closed or a telescope shutting itself up. Once it stopped, I estimated I was about a foot tall. From my new height, my surroundings were gigantic; the glass table looked as tall as a building, and I had to crane my head up to gawk at the faraway ceiling lamp. I feared my size would begin to diminish again at any moment; if I became any smaller, I would surely go out like a candle.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I whipped my head around and caught sight of the old man. He was as tall—or rather, as short—as I, and he was running toward the now average-sized door with his pocket watch swinging from his hand like a pendulum. I followed him as quickly as I could while trying to keep out of his range of sight. My tiny legs could only cover so much distance, and the room was now as vast as a field. The old man hurried with more coordination than I did; he seemed to be used to being so little. Nevertheless, he was slower, and I managed to keep pace behind him.
Once he reached the door, he paused and bent over to rest his hands on his knees. “Oh dear,” he said, panting, “I cannot be late.”
He withdrew a silver key and slid it into the keyhole. The door opened with a click, swinging out wide enough that I could see the forest beyond. It was a mixture of shadow and glittering green—of tree trunks fat and tree trunks towering—of leaves that spread out like fans and of branches so winding that they seemed to create a labyrinth. There were flowers I had never seen and those that I had—fields of daisies even more never-ending than that in the churchyard at home. The butterflies were all the colors of the rainbow, and the ladybugs were so large that only one would be able to fit in the palm of my hand. It was a place to be marveled at—a place of curiosities and things that could not be found anywhere else. It was a place you could wander for years and never truly understand.
All this I understood with one glance.
“Wonderland,” the old man muttered before he rushed toward the woods.
I stepped through the doorway and saw that was exactly where I was.