WIP: Alistair in Wonderland

Yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday was one of my favourites so far. I absolutely love fairytale retellings (and fairytales in general, I suppose), so I had way too much fun going through other people’s lists and adding books to my TBR.

While I was brainstorming titles for my list, I remembered my own attempt at re-writing a favourite story. I wrote it for a contest and made plans to expand it into a full-length novel (or at least novella), but to be honest, I haven’t touched it in over a year.

So here it is. If you take the time to read this – thank you! And please let me know what you think! I hope it’s not too terrible.

Featuring the cover I made for it in my production class which isn’t the best because Photoshop/InDesign are not my friends and my instructor didn’t love the colour scheme (I told him that the black and white covers worked for Twilight and he couldn’t really argue).

alistair

“The White Rabbit waits for no one. Hurry up.”

Alistair’s phone buzzed at the arrival of Charlie’s latest text. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that he was only a couple of blocks away.

He shot back a quick text – “Almost there” – and propped his black rimmed glasses on top of his short blond hair, pressing his fingers to his temples. He had a headache again. These headaches were the only things that had worse timing than Alistair himself.

Tonight, The Hares – a band composed of the three March brothers, Charlie, Alistair, and Matt – were supposed to be performing at the newest club in town, The White Rabbit. It had been months since they had had a gig and now they were scheduled to go onstage at ten thirty for opening night.

The clock on his phone flipped over. Ten twenty.

If his boss at The Court Country Club – a horrible screeching pig of a woman – hadn’t made him stay late to clean up after a wedding, he would have made it with plenty of time to spare.

Alistair’s cab stopped at the lights around the corner from The White Rabbit and he glanced out the window. It was a warm night and the sidewalks were crowded. In between high-end restaurants and seedy bars, there were indistinct corners, shadowy alleys that led to darkened doorways that opened onto seedy nightclubs so underground they didn’t even have names.

As he drummed his fingers impatiently on his knee, he watched a small figure dash haphazardly across the intersection, and slide into his cab through the other door.

“Excuse me, this cab is occupi- Oh, hey Mags. How did you know it was me?”

“I didn’t. I just hoped it was.”

“You look fantastic.” Mags was wearing a short yellow dress, sheer blue tights, and clunky black shoes. A small green top hat, attached to a sparkly black headband, was perched on top of her chin-length red curls. It looked like something a normal girl would wear to a St. Patrick’s Day party – except it was the middle of June, and Mags was definitely not a normal girl.

“Thanks,” she grinned. Alistair smiled back, but it quickly turned into a wince. A sharp pain radiated from his eye into his skull. The cab jolted forward when the light changed and he swallowed hard against his rising nausea.

“Headache?” Mags laid a sympathetic hand on his forehead.

“Yeah. I gotta shake this before I have to get on stage.” Alistair leaned his aching head against the seat.

Mags reached into her silver purse and produced a small medicine bottle labelled “TAKE ONE” in her spiky handwriting. “One of these should do the trick. My dealer gave me sixteen and I’ve only taken two so far, but for something so small, they pack quite a punch.”

Alistair frowned. “Mags, we’ve talked about this. I really think you should cut back on the random drugs until you know for sure…”

Mags made a face and snapped the lid off the bottle, shaking out a tiny purple pill. “And remember what I said? YOLO.”

Alistair opened his mouth to argue, and Mags tossed the pill into his open mouth. He swallowed automatically, gagging when it left a cloyingly sweet taste on his tongue.

“Mags! What the…” But then the pill – a miraculous little thing, black market, illegal in twenty five countries – kicked in, and Alistair forgot what he was going to say. He forgot that he had a headache. He barely registered that they were pulling up outside The White Rabbit. And he didn’t even grumble when Mags leaned forward to give the cabbie new directions.

He blinked at her blearily and mumbled, “Where we going?”

“You’ll see.”

***

Within minutes, Mags was dragging him out of the cab, down a sketchy alley, and propelling him through a mirrored doorway, forcing his head down to avoid smashing into the frame.

The tiny room was full of people sprawling on the soft green couches or cuddling on plushy chairs. In front of each group was a wooden table, holding a tall glass pipe with one or two hoses, a pitcher of water, a small brass box, and a stack of coal. Every so often, someone would pick up a hose and inhale deeply, blowing out smoke rings, while their companions sipped out of mismatched tea cups and nibbled on snacks. Nearly every table had a couple of medicine bottles filled with multicoloured pills, some of them purple, like Mags’, others yellow or red or blue.

Candles covered every available surface and a flickering green sign on the opposite wall read “Wonderland Hookah Lounge”. In the two and a half years that they had known each other, Mags had never mentioned a fondness for shisha.

“Look, there are the twins!” Mags pointed to her friends who were sitting at one of the tables in the centre of the room.

Squinting around the room, Alistair caught sight of a leggy blonde with a vaguely familiar face. She caught his eye and grinned, her pearly white teeth shining throwing the hookah-produced smoke.

He blinked and the girl appeared in front of him.

“Hey,” she said, smiling again. “I’m Jackie.” She reached out a hand, and Alistair saw a full-coloured Jack of Hearts playing card tattoo on the inside of her arm. Despite his drug-induced haze, Alistair recognized her. Jackie Knight. A singer who had gained notoriety last year after her highly publicized escape from rehab.

“Al-Alistair.” His voice cracked.

“Come with me, Al.”

He turned to tell Mags, and found her at the centre table with the twins, pouring herself a large cup of tea and chattering.

Jackie looped her arm through his and led him back to an empty red velvet booth on the far side of the club. Alistair sat down and Jackie leaned in close. She smelled like roses and underneath that, something stronger, more organic.

Jackie pulled the hookah pipe closer to them. Alistair watched in a daze as she poured water in the base, and shook out some tobacco from one of the little brass boxes into the bowl, covering it with a perforated foil sheet. She placed the coals on top of the foil, lit them with a heavy silver lighter she pulled out of her purse, and expertly assembled the pipe. She took a few breaths on the hose until the coals caught and began burning. Then she pushed the pipe closer to Alistair and tilted her head expectantly.

Alistair, mesmerized, took the hose and he inhaled deeply. A little too deeply – the smoke shot straight to his head and he choked, squeezing his eyes shut, vaguely disappointed that the tobacco tasted exactly like the cheap cigarettes he used to smoke.

When he opened them again, Jackie was gone – all that was left of her presence was the silver lighter she has used on the coals. He picked it up, weighing it in his palm, and traced his finger over the “J.K.” engraved on the surface.

The doors of the club burst open and Alistair peeked around his plushy seat. The crowd gasped and whispered. Joseph King – known in the rap world as Jo-K – and his model girlfriend, Bianca Hart, swaggered inside. A “power couple” whose hard partying ways and drug use were so frequent and well documented, tabloids had nicknamed them the “King and Queen of Clubs”.

Jo-K and Bianca approached the centre table, stopping right in front of Mags. Alistair was surprised to see Jo-K approach Mags, angrily gesturing at the bottle of pills she was holding. The twins had disappeared. Bianca was apparently ignoring her boyfriend, instead smouldering and pouting for the other club patrons who had pulled out their smart phones as soon as the couple had walked in.

As he watched, Mags stood up and started to walk away, but Jo-K reached out, gripping her thin arm with his meaty hand. Alistair slid out of the booth, tipping sideways and lurching unsteadily toward them.

Alistair, stumbling forward, saw Mags lift a hand and slap it hard across Jo-K’s face. Jo-K let go of her arm, his face contorting in anger. He raised his own hand, and Alistair launched himself in between them. “Whoa, whoa, hold on,” he slurred.

The rapper, his eyes bloodshot, glared at Alistair. “Get out of the way,” he growled. He started to push Alistair away, but stopped abruptly. “Where did you get that?” he demanded, pointing at the silver lighter in Alistair’s hand, the “J.K.” clearly visible.

“This? From a girl. Jackie.” It was the first lucid thing Alistair had said since getting out of the cab with Mags.

“That’s mine.” Jo-K reached out to take it but Bianca, finally interested, grabbed it first. She whirled on her boyfriend. “That little tart had it, didn’t she?” she accused, her breath reeking of vodka and tobacco.

Jo-K pushed her away. “Babe, it wasn’t her. This guy stole it!”

“Liar!”

Alistair looked back at Mags who was rubbing the red finger marks on her pale arm.

“You okay?” he asked, reaching out for her. Behind them, Jo-K and Bianca continued to argue.

“I’ll be fi – Oh my God!” Mags gasped and Alistair turned. Just in time to see Jo-K lash out with his hand. Without thinking, he thrust Bianca out of the way. Jo-K shoved him hard.

The force of the blow coupled with the fuzzy feeling the shisha had left behind sent Alistair sprawling. He hit the ground, his head cracking against the filthy cement floor, his glasses knocked off his face. Mags knelt beside him, her cold hands fluttering over him.

“Stay awake,” she instructed. A crowd gathered, momentarily forgetting about Jo-K and Bianca. Tiny pinpoints of light dancing across Alistair’s misty vision. He thought he heard sirens in the background. There was a sharp stinging on his cheek: Mags had slapped him.

“Alistair, don’t you dare fall asleep. Alistair? Alistair!”

***

“Alistair? Alistair!”

The next time he opened his eyes, Alistair found himself lying on a stained couch in an unfamiliar room, staring at a broken light fixture and exposed pipes.

“Good, you’re awake. Matt, go see if Mom and Dr. Lewis are here yet.” Charlie leaned over his brother, his blond hair haloed by the single light bulb. “Hey, buddy.”

“What’s going on?” Alistair asked his older brother, struggling to sit up.

“You don’t remember?”

Alistair shook his pounding head and immediately regretted it.

“We’re at The White Rabbit. I don’t know when you got here, but about ten minutes ago, the bartender found you outside, passed out against the side door.”

“Oh.” Alistair remembered getting into a cab to get to The White Rabbit, but hadn’t that been hours ago? He glanced at the digital clock above the door. Ten thirty. How was that possible? “Where’s Mags?”

“Hell if I know. Probably drinking herself under a table somewhere,” said Charlie, disapprovingly. “I haven’t seen her recently.” Charlie had considered Mags a bad influence ever since she and Alistair had met at the chemo centre. Especially after she had taken advantage of her doctor’s prescription for medicinal marijuana and had convinced Alistair to do the same.

“But didn’t I…?” But then Mrs. March and Dr. Lewis ran into the room, and Alistair was forced to set his questions aside.

A few hours later, after Dr. Lewis pronounced him relatively healthy and made him a follow-up appointment with his oncologist, Alistair stood in his bedroom looking in wonder at the small pill bottle Matt had handed him. The small pill bottle with the handwritten label: “TAKE ONE”.

“Mags dropped these off for you but she couldn’t stay. She told me to tell you that she hasn’t taken any more. And she said you’d know what that meant.” Matt looked curiously at his brother. He didn’t hate Mags the way Charlie did, but he didn’t fully trust her either. Alistair, just as perplexed, could offer no explanation.

As soon as Matt left, Alistair dumped the bottle onto his bedside table, counting the skittering pills.

He gave me sixteen and I’ve only taken two so far… If Mags had taken two and Alistair had (as he suspected) popped one that meant….

There were thirteen pills left.

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