The Wonderland Run

Part II : The Mansion

Shana was only screaming because she was falling down a dark, bottomless hole, and that sort of scenario could frighten anybody, right?

It turned out that there was a bottom to this black well - Shay found out when she hit it on her left side, finally rolling to a stop a few moments later. Groaning as pain stabbed at her ribs and thigh, she nonetheless pushed herself up onto her knees and checked for any bruises or cuts. Relieved when she could find none - none that were visible, at least - she staggered to her feet and dusted herself off before slowly swiveling around on one foot to view her surroundings.

Not that there was really anything to see, the hole being rather dark and all. She sighed, her shoulders slumping. "Now how the heck am I gonna get out of this place?" she murmured.

Well, you certainly can't go back the same way you came, a mild voice remarked.

Shay froze, her eyes darting about. "Who said that?"

Over here.

She turned and found a golden-eyed feline watching her several feet away. Its tail idly waved like a charmed snake in the air as it met her bewildered gaze with a placid look of its own.

Shay stared at it for a long moment and decided that "it" was actually a "he," judging from the deep tones of the mental voice that had rang through her mind a second before. But waitaminnit . . .

"You - were the one talking to me before?"

The cat's head bowed low once in a feline nod. Feeling more confused than ever, Shay went to him and crouched next to the slender creature. You can call me Glory, he offered in a still very mild voice.

"How is it possible that you can talk?" she demanded.

Shay, you aren't in reality anymore. A lot of "strange" things could happen here. Me having the ability to speak is nothing compared to the other "oddities" you'll encounter in this realm.

She eyed him suspiciously. "Are you reading my mind?"

Glory's mouth opened, but he only mewed; in her head, though, he was laughing loudly. Of course not. If I could, I would still be answering all of your unasked questions and we'd never get out of this hole. Follow me.

Without waiting to see if she was, he was off like a shot, straight into the surrounding darkness. "Wait!" Shay protested, peering vainly with mortal eyes into the blackness as she tried to catch up with him. "Where am I? And where are we going?"

She skidded to a halt as he rubbed his sleek body against her ankles, nearly tripping her in the process. Welcome to Wonderland, Shana.

"You mean, Alice's Wonderland? This is it?"

No, not Alice's, he returned. This is her Wonderland as much as it is yours - perhaps even more so for you, however. Perhaps not. We shall see. Come along, we mustn't dawdle. The other girls are waiting for us.

"What other girls? Where are you taking me, Glory?"

Why, to the Mansion, of course!

"You're confusing me," Shay grumbled, trotting along beside him.

Only because you still refuse to believe that I am as real as you are, my dear. It was a wonder he hadn't lost his patience with her yet, but Glory was a mild-mannered cat. Or at least that's what he allowed her to believe. Relax, Shay, and enjoy the mystery.

"Well, pardon my naivete, but I still don't know why I'm here."

You will know that in time. All things are usually revealed at their proper time, and that time hasn't come just yet. You might not understand everything before then, but it will make sense for you soon.

"Do you usually talk nonsense like this all the time?"

Glory stopped and turned his little body around to regard her with keen golden eyes. He looked like an ordinary cat, his fur a coal gray and black tabby, with white mittens and boots to complete the picture. But there was something else about this feline that made her feel both uncomfortable and yet, strangely, alive at the same time. Perhaps it was the air of dignity that made him seem almost human. Or perhaps it was the tranquil - or should that be dispassionate? - sense of being that his presence seemed to offer. Without realizing it, Shay began to relax. Looking satisfied, Glory continued on his way, and she had no choice but to follow him.




"Hey, lover boy. Wake up and smell the roses!"

Garry groaned and turned his head away as a soft hand gently slapped his cheeks. The female voice did not belong to Shana.

"If you don't get up, we'll douse you with ice-cold water," the same voice threatened.

The teenage boy forced his eyes to open. That had certainly not sounded like a joke! "I'm up," he muttered, raising first his head and then the rest of his upper body off the too solid ground beneath him. Where was a bed when you needed one?

He glanced up and froze. Four Asian girls in chic denim outfits smiled at him. The one closest to him held out a sun-browned hand, and he knew then that she hadn't been joking about the water when he saw the full yellow bucket in her other hand.

"Where'm I? And who're you guys?"

"That's 'gals' to you, chum," the first girl drawled.

Garry saw his grammar mistake too late. "No, wait "

Icy water struck him hard across the chest and neck, reaching easily through the thin t-shirt he wore and trickling down through his pants. With a yelp he was on his feet, holding out both arms and shaking off the excess droplets with the frenzy of a monkey whose tail was on fire. "Hey! Why the hell did you do that for?"

"Relax, buddy," one of the other girls told him coolly. "You'll dry fast. Just sit in the sun for a little while. It's not like you have anywhere to go right now, anyway."

Which was true enough, though Garry wouldn't admit it out loud.

Sunlight poured into the large expanse of space on which he stood, and his mouth dropped in awe. High above him, perhaps a couple hundred feet away, was a ceiling made of clear window panes, the kind one would see in a new house. In each corner of the huge room was a square stucco block three stories high - from what he could tell, it was part of a much larger building that was built into the wall. The floor beneath his feet was tiled in a soft, creamy white, and directly in the middle of the room was an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

"Where'm I?"

"This is the Mansion," the third girl said cheerfully, holding out a hand. "I'm Tiffany."

"Uh, hi." Taken aback, he was slow to shake her hand. "I'm Garry."

She smiled. "We know."

He stared at her guardedly. "How?"

"That's for us to know, and you to find out." The mysterious twinkle in her dark eyes did not make him feel any better.

He knew he was staring at her, but he couldn't help himself. Tiffany was drop-dead gorgeous, and so were her three friends. The dimples, the smooth olive skin, the silky brown-streaked hair . . . Uh, hey, buddy, a dry voice suddenly chimed to life in his head, don't forget that you wanna confess your undying love to Shay whenever you get out of this freakshow.

SHAY!

"Um, excuse me," he said in his most polite voice. "Have you by chance seen a friend of mine? Her name's Shay. Well, actually, Shana Barrow."

Tiffany was staring at him blankly. "What's a Shay?"

"Not 'what' - who. Shana's a person."

"Is she a mermaid?"

"Pardon?"

Now Tiffany regarded him with something akin to scorn. "Don't you know what a mermaid is?"

"Of course! But what does that have to do with my friend?"

"Is she a mermaid?" one of the other girls repeated, listening into the conversation with interest.

"Uh, no."

"Oh. Human, huh?"

"As human as I am," he shot back, hearing the distaste behind the innocently curious tone.

The girl smiled coyly. "I bet she's not as beautiful as we are."

"She's twice as beautiful as all of you put together!"

That was the wrong thing to say, as evidenced by the way the atmosphere suddenly chilled. The girl who had doused him suddenly laughed and flicked dismissive fingers. "You've obviously never met a mermaid before. We are more beautiful than any human, boy."

Garry frowned and folded his arms. "You have legs," he pointed out. "You aren't a mermaid. None of you are."

The girls moved faster than he could possibly imagine and were in the pool before he blink. He turned just in time to get hit by a small swell of water that rose from the pool to drench him completely.

They laughed in delight and suddenly held out their arms to him. "Come join us," they urged.

But Garry could only stare in shock. Ripples of color separate from the soft blue of the water reflected off the nearest wall : shades of lavender, sapphire, topaz and emerald that intermingled and twined together. Each color came from the graceful fins and tail that now made up the lower portion of the girls' bodies.

"You are mermaids," he said, unable to keep the awe from his voice.

Tiffany brushed a wet strand of hair from her face. "We told you!"

He knelt down, wet clothes and all, and watched them in fascination. "But you all had legs just a minute ago!"

"You mean eighty-six point forty-three seconds ago," Miss Douser corrected him. "We can walk on land whenever we want, but most of the time we prefer to stay in here."

Garry nodded slowly. "What are the rest of your names?"

The douser girl smiled. "I am Lass."

"I am Rory."

"I am Jenna."

"And you're Garry," the four girls chorused before bursting into laughter.


06.07.01



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(c) S.M.N.