The darkness enveloped him. He could not escape. He could not breathe. He had only minutes left.
He awoke, breathing heavy. “Third night in a row,” he thought to himself. “What is going on with me?” He climbed out of bed slowly, still a little fearful from his nightmare.
As he flicked on the light, he thought, “I’m going to have to start leaving the lights on.” The room stayed black. He flicked it back and forth. Still no light.
It seemed that his worst nightmare was coming true. He cautiously headed towards the door. “Perhaps it’s only my room.” Opening the door, he saw that the hallway was also dark.
He continued even more cautiously to the stairs. Keeping his hand on the railing, he stepped methodically down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs was a window. Once he reached the window, he opened the blinds. And things were still dark. “Have I gone blind?” He asked.
He reasoned with himself that he could see his own hands, so he must not be blind. He ignored the lack of explanation for why he could see nothing else and continued on through the house.
His goal: the basement. The basement held the breaker to turn the lights. “The lights went out. That’s all. I just need to turn them on again.”
He reached the basement door and turned the knob. He stepped through the door frame and stopped. The air had gone from the room. Just like his dream. He tried to turn around but could not. He tried to move forward but was unable to.
He awoke. “Fourth night in a row, now.” He proceeded to his light switch again. And again the lights failed to turn on. “Will this ever end?”
As he reached the top of the basement, he remembered the first time he had gotten there.
It had been a complete accident. He had fallen upon reaching the basement the seventh time. He could still feel the scars on his face and leg from the fall. And before he “woke up” he had been able to discover some curiosities about the basement.
Each time down, he had explored each of those curiosities. The first was whatever had scarred him. Sharp on one side, long, and slightly curved, he assumed it was some kind of sword.
As he reached the sixth step, he remembered the second object. It had been quite warm. And furry. At first he had thought it was some creature that would kill him, ending his torturous way of life. But he realized that whatever it was did not breathe, and so unfortunately could not harm him.
As he reached, the eighteenth step, he recalled number three. It was some pit at the edge of the basement. He had discovered that it was deeper than his arms could reach. He had been debating for nights (or days, whatever they were) whether or not to jump in. To just end everything.
But as he reached the final, the fortieth step, he wondered what would happen if he were to survive the jump. As he passed the sword, he carefully reached out (though he had memorized its location many nights ago) and picked it up.
He passed the furry thing, still not knowing what it was, and picked that up too.
He reached the edge of the pit. Though he could not see, he stared down it anyway. He took a deep breath. He closed his eyes. And he jumped.
He awoke again. This time with a less sharp pain then the previous nine nights since his jump.
After he had jumped, time had seemed to slow down. Or perhaps in this strange world, it actually had. He had felt the crack as it slowly worked its way up his left leg. He had felt the blood warm his leg. And then he had fallen asleep again.
On the first day he awoke and immediately he realized that he was not in his bed. He was still in the same spot that he had fallen to. He might still be trapped in this darkness but he had made progress. Or he hoped so anyway.
He tested his leg, as he had done every day, to see if he could move it without having his body explode with pain. It still hurt. But he could drag himself along using the sword as a makeshift cane. It was slow but it worked.
With the furry object wrapped around his leg to soak up any blood, the sword at his side as a cane, and his slow, bedraggled walk, he imagined that he must be quite the sight. If only he could see himself.
Every painstaking hour, or what he believed to be such, he stopped and examined the area immediately around him for any clues as to the right direction or where he was, and for any more curiosities that could help him.
After five hours, he had discovered almost nothing. The ground was cold, hard dirt. There were no plants of any kind that he could feel. Frustrated, he swung the sword at the ground, narrowly missing his own toes.
The sword clanged against the ground. He didn’t even hear an echo in response. And then, off in the distance, he heard something. He waited, and this time, he heard it more clearly. It had gotten closer. It was a growl.
With every passing second, the growling grew louder. He knew it was useless to run when he could barely walk.
So he picked up the sword and started swinging it like a madman. The growling became deafening and he kept swinging.
Soon the sound encompassed his entire being. Every bone and muscle in his body began to shake with the sound’s vibrations. He was no longer able to move of his own free will.
The sword, too, had begun to vibrate. And then suddenly without warning, the sound stopped. The vibrations subsided. His hearing was surprisingly still functional.
He examined the rest of his body as well as he could with his hands. Everything seemed to be fine as he progressed downward.
First he tested the unbroken leg. And then he gingerly moved his hands onto his injured one. As his hands crept downward, he began to notice the difference.
The furry object that he had used as a makeshift bandage had merged with his leg. His leg was now whole and pain free it seemed. Though he could not help but wonder what this new development would mean on his journey or what that sound had been.
With no more pain in his leg, he began to test it. He walked and ran. He jumped and kicked. It was a considerable improvement. As he continued to test it, he began to realize that his leg was not only healed but vastly improved from what it had been. He could run at an incredible speed and jump extraordinarily high.
With a spring in her step, Alice White bounded down the stairs to the breakfast table. Her mother, Carroll, called for her in the sing song way she always did. “Oh, Alice! Breakfast time.”
As she reached the last step, her brother, Mathers, almost ran into her on his way back from the table, having eaten his breakfast at top speed as usual. In an undertone, he said, “Watch it, Wonderland.”
She desperately wished to tell her mother about his annoying nickname. But she knew that would only create more trouble. And Alice hated trouble.
The first bit of trouble she had ever been in was when she was five or six. She couldn’t recall exactly. She had snuck a rabbit into her room because she wanted to save it from the cold. Her mother’s reaction to this was not one she wanted to ever experience again.
Alice finished her cake for breakfast in record time as she was nearly late for the bus to school. She bounded out the door, said goodbye to her mother with a kiss on the cheek, and skipped to the bus stop.
The bus arrived, prompt as it always was, at half past eight, and she got on. She walked to her usual lonely spot in the back and sat down.
As she sat down, she noticed that there was a boy sitting there. He did not speak and neither did she. But something about him and the fact that he was sitting in her usual spot told her that something was about to change.
She wondered what it could be given that the rules of this virtual world were so strict in what could and could not happen.
As she stared out the window at this virtual world that she and everyone else lived in, she yearned to see the wonderland that was the real world.
As the bus slowed to a halt, the bustle of Alice and the other students grabbing their bags commenced.
Except for one, she noticed. The strange boy that had sat in her spot. She said, “Come on. We have class.” He did not respond. She nudged him but again no response.
Not wanting to be late herself, she left him sitting there in his stupor.
As the day marched on, and as Alice went from class to class, she could not stop thinking about the strange boy.
When the bell rang signaling the end of school, Alice ran to the bus and jumped on. She was disappointed to find that the boy was gone.
Once home, she went through her daily routine of cleaning, dinner, homework, television, and reading. However, her usual routine did not have her typical cheery attitude.
After sleeping and going through her morning routine again, Alice got onto the bus and found the boy in her spot again.
She tried to get the boy to move again. And for the next week or so, she continued to follow this new routine.
On the seventh day, she mustered up all her strength and shoved him. And then everything seemed to slow down. The boy was knocked off the seat towards the floor. Her peers and the driver turned their heads. She apologized profusely.
And then time went back to normal. She realized that the boy had fallen but was still not moving. While she was puzzling over this new development, she noticed something else by his leg. Something red.
With his new powerful, yet furry, leg and the fact that he no longer restarted his days whenever he slept, he began to explore the underground area confidently. Confidently as he could while still being blind, that is.
In a short amount of time, he had managed to reach a wall. The wall was smooth with no defects that he could tell. And it merged with the ground seamlessly.
He decided that the underground area was some artificial construction. He wondered about its makers and its purpose. Was it constructed specifically for him? Or were there others down in the pit as well?
Lost in thought, he moved along the wall, keeping his hand on it the entire time. Suddenly the wall vanished from under his palm.
And he could see. Well, not quite. He could see a world obfuscated in red. He blinked to make sure he wasn’t imagining things.
He stepped back a few feet to find himself shrouded in darkness again with the wall under his hand.
Stepping forward again, he found himself in the world of red. Turning around, he saw a clear distinction between the red and the black.
He took the time to look at himself. The sword he had brought along was in fact a sword, now dull at the end from using it as a cane. His body seemed to be without markings or bruises. His leg was covered in thick fur that seemed to move on its own.
However strange his appearance had become, there was no going back now. And so he continued onward, into this new and unknown world.
Alice was worried. The pool of red was growing without any sign of stopping. The boy did not seem to notice. Nor did anyone else.
She tried to tell the driver but he told her to sit back down. And when she told the other students, they either ignored her or said nothing was wrong.
When the bus finally reached the school, Alice ran ahead to tell the bus driver what had happened but he didn’t notice anything either and promptly got off the bus, mumbling under his breath, “Kids are getting crazier and crazier.”
Alice had no time to wonder why no one else seemed to notice what had happened as the strange boy was losing a large amount of blood. She ran to the back of the bus to find that the blood had stopped and the boy was still there.
Using only what she had in her bag, which consisted of her fuzzy sweater and her textbooks, she patched up his wound as best she could. With the sweater wrapped around his leg, it looked to be covered in fur as if he was some sort of animal.
She spent another hour with him trying to get him to wake up but nothing worked. So she decided to use the only other item with her that day. Adrenaline.
She took out the shot and prepared it quickly. She was well versed in using adrenaline as she was allergic to practically everything and so she had self administered it many times.
After injecting the boy with it, she watched carefully for a reaction. She knew that it should only take seconds. Yet still this boy did not move. He did not even twitch.
Red. So much red. It had been three days since he had entered the red world and still no change. It had started to get annoying. Things were far better when he had to imagine everything.
And worse, he was hearing things again. Except this time they were louder. And they would not stop.“Yak ouo ye ra. Es ael pp ue kaw. Gni de elb er uo y.” Over and over again. As far as he could tell anyway.
But he powered on. He did not have much choice, after all. Oddly enough he did not seem to need food or sustenance of any kind.
After another five days of walking, red, and voices, he stopped. He had noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He turned on the spot but saw nothing.
He turned again, much more slowly this time. And there it was. A slightly lighter shade of red. He headed its direction and whatever it was grew bigger.
As he got closer, its shape became more distinguished. It was a house. Somewhat oddly shaped. It looked similar to a mushroom. But still a house with windows and doors in all the right places.
He approached the front door and knocked loudly three times. There was no answer.
He tried again. This time he rapped five times. Still nothing. He tried once more. Seven times in a row. Each time he knocked harder than the time before. By the seventh knock his knuckles were bleeding.
And still no answer. He went to the window and broke it with his sword. After clearing the glass, he stepped through the window. And that… That was when everything changed.
The bus lurched forward causing both Alice and the mysterious boy to fall over into the pool of blood.
Alice got up immediately. But try as she might, she could not bring the boy up more than a few inches before dropping him again.
This boy clearly needed help. Yet there was nothing she could do on her own. And no one in the school believed her. So what was she to do whilst she was stuck on the bus?
And then she had an idea. She might be young but she knew the principals of what she was about to do. So she asked herself, “Really, how hard can it be?”
She walked towards the front of bus and sat down in the driver’s seat. The keys were still in the slot, so she turned them.
The bus rumbled to life instantly. She pulled away from the school slowly. Slower than a snail. She knew though that she had to pick up the pace if she wished to save the strange new boy.
And so with marked determination, she pushed more and more on the gas pedal until it was on the floor.
Fortunately for her, the road to her house was entirely straight. Well, almost anyway.
Unfortunately, she had forgotten about one small turn. As she approached the forgotten corner, her face turned into an expression of terror.
She tried to slow the bus down. But it was far too late. The bus went flying off the road and straight into the nearby barn.
A barn, painted with nearly the color of blood. A difference slight enough to only be noticed out of the corner of your eye.
Getting up from the sudden impact, she turned around. And that… That was when everything changed.
He stepped through the broken window, careful to avoid the shards of glass on the other side. He found himself in a long hallway.
The walls of the hallway were painted strangely as if to resemble seats and windows, some of which were broken. However he could not quite place what they were seats and windows of.
More surprisingly though, at the end of the hallway lay a figure that resembled a girl. As he walked down the hallway on the strange metallic floor, the girl shifted slightly before becoming immobile once more.
Once he reached the girl, he spoke lightly to ask if she was okay. His voice continued to rise in worry when she did not respond. So he tried a different tactic.
He attempted to nudge her awake. He was surprised to find that instead of nudging her shoulder, his hand went seemed to pass right through her. He tried again with the same result.
It seemed that he was incorporeal. But what did this mean? Did this mean he was dead? He couldn’t be dead. He just couldn’t be.
Or maybe it was the mysterious girl who was dead? But he had just seen her move a moment ago.
He couldn’t worry about either possibility now. At the moment, he needed to help this girl if he could. But how could he do so when he couldn’t touch her?
And then it came to him. He might not be able to interact with her, but he could certainly interact with the objects in this world. But as he looked around, he saw that the room they were in seemed to be bare of items.
But then he looked up. And he saw a small box with a plus symbol. He knocked it down which caused the girl to wake up.
Alice woke up with a start. She was groggy and did not quite recall where she was. As she looked around, she remembered how the bus had crashed through the barn. She had flown forward at impact, which had knocked her unconscious.
She surveyed the front of the bus to see what had woken her up. And she realized that the first aid kit had fallen to the floor. And then she noticed something even more startling.
She screamed. A high pitched shriek that would have broken the windows of the bus had the crash not already done so.
The boy. The mysterious boy was right in front of her. He was transparent. And floating. Clearly a ghost.
She tried to get up and run. But she could not. She was pinned to the floor by one of the seats that had come loose on impact.
Fortunately for Alice, the boy did not seem to want to harm her. In fact, he seemed to be trying to help her but could not. He even seemed to be saying something but he made no sound.
Then suddenly the boy stopped and made a quick motion with his arm. The seat seemed to be lighter. When she looked at it, it was as if pieces of the seat had been cut away by some sword.
She pushed the seat away from her. As she stood up, she realized that the boy had helped her. Though how he had done so without any help was a mystery to her.
She knew she had to help this boy. Perhaps she could return him to his body. Or help him move on into the afterlife.
So she held out her hand, merely as a gesture, and led him to his body at the back of the bus.
The mysterious girl had gotten up once he had removed pieces of the object blocking her with his sword.
At first she had screamed. It was a scream that he could not hear but he knew it was a scream nonetheless.
But once she realized he did not mean to hurt her, she stopped. And now she was offering her hand to him.
He could not take it, but he suspected she knew that and that it was a gesture of kindness.
He placed his hand in hers and she led him to the window he had broken. As they got closer, things started to go in and out of focus.
But even with his vision blurring, he could see that there was a body by the window. This body was a boy. Facedown on the ground, he could not see it who was. But he suspected.
And he began to tremble in fear at his suspicion. But it could not be, he thought. It could not be.
They reached the body, and his suspicion was confirmed. He knew the body was his.
In retrospect, he realized that it only made sense. He had relived the same nightmare over and over again and had experienced impossible transformations.
He wondered why though. What was the point of that torturous nightmare. Or his long journey through darkness and the world of red?
As he wondered, the girl began to cry. And then he knew why. All of it was to help her. To save her. If he had not been there., he shuddered at the thought. He felt at peace and was willing to move on.
And suddenly, his vision went black.
After they reached his body, Alice knelt down and began to cry. She now knew what she had suspected all along.
The boy was dead. And this figure with her was his ghost. She could do nothing for him, yet he had saved her. And so she wept.
As she wept, the wind had begun to rise. It had started to howl. She looked up, worried that it might be the boy, vengeful for his death. But instead she was surprised to see that the boy’s ghost was fading. And suddenly, it was gone.
She wept even harder at that. The boy had moved on. And then as she was crying, she felt a hand on hers. It was the boy’s. Somehow he was alive.
“Thank you,” He said. “I’m Cheshire.”
“Thank you.” She responded. “I’m Alice.”
Elsewhere, a man in a lab coat turned to his partner. “They passed the second test, ma’am.”
“Start the third one.” She commanded.
Their vision went black.