Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham, 1907
Empty, breathless, deafening isolation. I was trapped in a single room for as long as I can remember. I was so young but still old enough to know that I shouldn’t have been locked in the attic. I had a mattress on the floor, a toilet, a bathtub, and raggedy stuffed animals that were supposed to provide a sense of comfort.
My days were spent pacing, singing songs I made up to myself, and scratching into the walls. At first, I carved images of myself playing with other children. To imagine how they looked was a challenge, but I was blessed with my own reflection in the glasses of water passed through the slot.
For what purpose my keeper held me was impossible to tell. He spoke to me sometimes, through the small slot only when I was asleep, or so he thought. He would read me stories, tell me about Alice and her tales in Wonderland and though I didn’t know who she was, I began to believe she was my friend too.
When children grow older, they’re supposed to grow wiser. They are supposed to distinguish what’s real and what isn’t. Eventually, their imagination dulls, and they fall into a rhythm of routine, of work and dining and bonding with their loved ones. At least I know that now, but I hadn’t when I was still alive.
As time passed, I held dearly onto the idea of Alice and eventually, she became real. I wish I could tell you Alice was my friend. I truly believed she was. She began to visit me first at night, maybe formulated by the tales of the strange man. She would stand at the edge of my bed, whispering terrible things.
Eventually she grew so real she could touch me. Perhaps I manifested her into my reality, or perhaps, I was far more ill than I realized. Alice joined me in my songs, she was naturally talented. She could match any song without explaining the words and her voice would pair a perfect harmony with mine. She would brush my hair, strands falling out in clumps. Apparently, I looked prettier without hair. So, Alice brushed and brushed. Eventually I could see my scalp in my glasses of water.
When I ran out of hair, she told me the dark spots in my skin were the reason I was locked up. She said that if I scraped them out of my skin then I would be set free. You must understand, as my only friend, I believed every word she said. Friends always told the truth, even if it hurt them, right? So, I did as she suggested because I wanted nothing more than to be free.
And to my amazement, she was right! Though my skin stung, my heart heaved with hope that someday I could escape the four walls that composed my world. When the drops of red fell, for the first time in my waking memory, the door opened.
The strange man was no longer faceless. He stood with a big bushy beard and thick eyebrows. His nose was as unremarkable as his hidden mouth. His belly protruded as if he had eaten enough for us both. He reprimanded me for listening to Alice, he urged me that Alice was not real, but she urged me she very much was.
My wounds healed and Alice explained it wasn’t enough to be set free. I asked what she meant. She told me I wasn’t trapped in the attic at all, no, I was trapped in my body. The hair, the skin, the blood. It was all a cage that kept me from her and from freedom. If I could escape my skin, I would enter the real world, her world, where we could play forever.
I asked her how I could escape my skin when it was all I had ever known. How could I be alive without my body? She told me there were plenty of ways to escape myself. I could bite my tongue in half. I could pry up a sharp piece of floorboard and sink it into my beating heart.
I began to sob because I knew I would never be strong enough to do any of those things. I couldn’t simply strip the suit of skin off and become a ghost like her. The suffering of my misery was a familiar beast, but the thought of biting off my tongue seemed impossible.
But Alice assured me all was well. She said, “I will do it for you.”
I dried my eyes and sniffled. “But how?”
She giggled and replied, “I will switch places with you.”
My mouth hung open in shock. What a good friend she was to suffer the pain I couldn’t. I did not want to face her. The shame that I was sentencing her to the worst fate one could was too much to bear. I was supposed to be her friend. But my suffering was greater than my selflessness.
She nodded. Lifting my chin under her fingertip, I met her gaze. She stuck out her pinky and gestured to me. I wrapped my pinky around hers, instantly we switched places. I became a ghost, and she became the shell that was me. My eyes could not believe what proceeded. Her hair had begun to grow, strands shining and beautiful, where moments ago I had none. Her skin had healed, no scars remained from the many nights my nails dug into them. In a flash I became envious of the person she was, the version of me I should have been.
That night when she went to bed, the stranger came to the door to whisper stories. Alice snuck over the small slot and began to whisper back in a language I have never heard before. The stranger, in a trance, opened the door and set Alice free. She waved goodbye to me as she left, the door wide open for her. I tried to follow her, but the door closed once more. I couldn’t escape. I was left in the attic, a ghost of my old self. I became Alice.
Baylee Marion is a Toronto-based writer with a passion for horror, fantasy, and romance. After earning her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Industries from Toronto Metropolitan University, she has published non-fiction articles in Ottawa Life Magazine, photographs in PhotoVogue, and is now working towards establishing herself as a fiction author.