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Wonderland

wonderland


Estimated reading time β€” 31 minutes

Out in The Dives lies a place that does not exist – at least, not all of the time. It is a place with promises of euphoria and hedonistic pleasures, capable of allowing you to live through your wildest dreams and fantasies, free from the mundane and depressing constraints of reality. They call this place the Wonderland. Back in the day, the Wonderland was a popular folktale around The Dives – The Dives being a small little corner of Rose Creek that I used to live in, blink and you’d miss it. At the time of writing this, I am sixty years old, and since my time as an adventurous teenager I have managed to put an ocean between me and Rose Creek, and I plan on living the rest of my life out in peaceful seclusion – I will likely die alone. Things weren’t always like this, I had high aspirations as a young kid and never would have imagined I’d purposefully be living alone until the end of my days, but something happened to me when I was eighteen years old that changed my life forever. In 1973 I visited the Wonderland, and I want to tell my story. Perhaps when I’m gone this story can be viewed as a sort of apology letter to my loved ones, maybe some sort of justification for why I did the things I did; I know it won’t be enough, but it’s the full truth and nothing but the truth.

It began when my grandfather, Gabriel Dubois, passed away aged somewhere in his nineties, he was found alone in his home and I remember much of my family didn’t care. I didn’t know the man that well as my mother would try to spend as little time with him as possible. I’d only really see him at family gatherings and even then, he’d make his visits brief, my mother never being hesitant to show him out the door. I remember often asking my mother why we couldn’t see grandpa more often, to which she always gave me the same answer – he’s not part of the family. As I grew older, I understood more; I realized that he was a pretty bad father to my mother, almost non-existent in her life. I could understand why my mother would’ve held it against him, growing up without a parental figure would be tough. Although at the time all I understood was that he was some old and crazy Frenchman that hid himself inside of his house all day, nothing less, nothing more. When I was fourteen, my mother died giving birth to my brother, Maxwell, and my father was left to take care of the both of us – I remember Dubois didn’t even show up to her funeral.

However when I did spend time with the man, I remember the stories he’d tell me, and no matter how distant and invisible he was in our life, he was so interesting to me. His stories ranged from recollections from his past to outright fantastical stories that he tried passing off as the truth – but there was always one story that he told more than once, one that lied somewhere in between reality and fantasy: the story of the Wonderland. He would tell me of a carnival that was hidden somewhere out deep in the forests of The Dives, a place that only very few people have visited, a place so dangerous only few made it out alive to tell tales of it – he claimed to be one of them. I still remember how he described it to me – a place to fulfill your greatest desires… but indulge too long and risk disappearing forever. I never really knew what he meant, and as I grew older and more distant with Dubois, the memories of the stories he told me faded along with him. The thought of the Wonderland never crossed my mind again until 1973, the year my grandfather died.

When Dubois died, he left very little behind, he didn’t even write a will. He only had one request when he went to the grave, and I remember how surprised I was to find out it involved me – my grandfather wanted to entrust me with his old alarm clock. That was it. It was an ancient alarm clock too, barely even worked – it was scratched and dented to hell and back, and the numbers on the clock were faded and hard to read. My father was convinced Dubois was just confused in his later years, and him entrusting me to his old alarm clock was some side effect of his dementia – but I remember feeling as if it meant more than that, and that entrusting me with this alarm clock was an elaborate and purposeful action made by my grandfather; I would later find out that I was right.

The family was scheduled to meet at his house some weeks after his burial to clean the place out so it could be sold. While the rest of my family members scavenged around the lower floors, stuffing things into their pockets and throwing anything else in the trash, I decided to venture up to the third floor of the house where Dubois’ bedroom was. I think I wanted to get to it before any of my family members ripped it apart to look for valuables. I poked around for a few minutes, slightly underwhelmed by my findings, until I accidentally knocked a painting off of the wall – behind it was a dark hole. Amused by this little secret hidey-hole, I stuck my hand inside and felt the touch of something leathery – I pulled it out to find a book. Upon investigating inside of it, I discovered it was Dubois’ journal, and quickly closed it afterwards as it felt wrong to be snooping into my grandfather’s personal life without his permission. I heard footsteps approaching the bedroom and I quickly slipped the journal into my pocket, just in time to hide it from my father who had walked into the room.

“What’re you doing up here, sport?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I mumbled, “just cleaning the place out like everyone else.”
He seemed to quickly notice the hole in the wall, walking over to it and sticking his hand inside to supress his curiosity, to which he found nothing.
“There’s nothing in there,” I said, “already checked.”
“Doesn’t surprise me, it’s just like that crazy old man to have random holes in his walls. If it were any bigger, I’d assume he hid bodies in there.” He joked.

The truth is, I continued to read the journal after that day, despite feeling guilty about it. Days passed and I often cured my boredom by reading into my grandfather’s life, the journal dated way back to when he was around my age – eighteen. It was so interesting reading about his untold past – seeing how he thought and acted on a day-to-day basis, it was like having a time machine. One thing I noticed was how different he was as a young adult, he seemed so much more sociable, he was nothing like the outcast he seemed to be as an old man. At least, the journal seemed to be pretty standard until I came across an entry called: “Wonderland”; the memories instantly flooded back to me of Dubois talking to me about the fabled place. I kept the journal; I still have it to this day and translating from French, the entries went as follows:

November 8th, 1901:
“I’ve heard those rumours of this ‘Wonderland’ again. They say it appears as a carnival, emerging from seemingly nowhere, somewhere out in The Dives, if the ritual is performed correctly that is. It said to make your fantasies come true – sounds insane, but I’m intrigued. I will follow up on this later if I can find more information.”

Initially scoffing as I read through the entries, I continued to turn the pages of Dubois’ journal with a sort of morbid curiosity as the Wonderland seemed to take up his entire life; it was all he talked about for entry upon entry, never mentioning anything else but his determination to learn more about the rumoured carnival. Some entries would talk about how he found more information out about the Wonderland, some would rant about how he felt stumped – either way, I found his pure determination to chase some fairy tale fascinating. During the entire time I never believed a word of it, but one of his entries stuck out which intrigued me more than the others.

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April 17th, 1902:
“I’ve done it, after months of searching I’ve discovered how to find the Wonderland. Although I feel as if it found me, rather than the contrary. I don’t know how to explain it, but all that matters now is that I am almost certain I’ve uncovered the ritual. I have contacted my two good friends to come with me to the Wonderland tonight – I believe they are just coming along to humour me, but they’ll see.”

Surprisingly, that was Dubois’ last entry about the Wonderland. I turned the page in anticipation, expecting him to be recounting on what he found the next day, or to admit that the entire thing was just a rumour, but he didn’t. His next entry wasn’t even related to the Wonderland – just a recap of his day. I was confused, and I was extremely disappointed as Dubois seemed to forget about the Wonderland altogether, leaving me on some wild cliff-hanger by acting like nothing ever happened, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly annoyed. I continued flipping through the pages, this time at a much faster pace and saw nothing but non-related entries, and as I read on, the entries got weirder. He would talk about how he doesn’t get out much anymore, that he: “prefers the cold”, and other weird phrases like that. Eventually the entries got to a point where they didn’t even make any sense anymore – some pages were full of scribbles, some coloured in with ink entirely, and many were ramblings that barely even followed any grammatical rules anymore. It was like Dubois’ mind had completely melted by the end of the journal, he literally recounted his own mental decline, and it all seemed to stem from that entry on April 17th: the day he claimed to have visited the Wonderland.

Feeling completely cheated out of learning the conclusion of my grandfather’s “Wonderland” tales, I put the journal down for a while, and didn’t return to it for a few months later. Little did I know that if I had only flipped a few more pages to make it to the end, I would have found the ritual instructions earlier. One day I picked the journal back up again for no particular reason and casually flipped through the rest of it. Many of the pages near the end of the journal were blank and I had assumed Dubois just never finished the journal, but on the very last page I found one last entry. I kicked myself for not finding it earlier, and it was that day I found my curiosity in the Wonderland reignited. The final entry read as follows:

“I never wanted to write these instructions down out of fear someone would find this journal someday, but I must confess I’m addicted to the Wonderland. Every time I vow to never return, I always seem to find myself back at its doors: I can’t risk forgetting the ritual, I can’t risk losing it. If you have somehow found my journal, do yourself a favour and close it here.

Out in The Dives lies a place that does not exist. Those foolish enough like myself to chase it need only to follow these instructions. In the forest behind the abandoned gravel pit, waits the Wonderland. Five minutes before midnight approaches, kneel down on the small hill that overlooks the rest of the forest. The next part is quite simple, close your eyes, and imagine three things: something you’re missing, something you desire, and something you wish to rid yourself of. With these fresh in your mind, recite the following phrase:

Bring me home, for I am a wanderer, invisible and lost. Bring me bliss, bring me pleasure, bring me wonder. Wonderland, bring me home.
If the ritual is done perfectly, you will be in Wonderland.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes – Dubois writing about the Wonderland like it was objectively real. Either he was very dedicated to telling this story, or he believed it one-hundred percent, and at that time I had a strong inclination to believe it was the latter. I would be lying if I said upon reading the final entry I wasn’t just the slightest bit intrigued, and that I also wasn’t considering trying the ritual for myself – I was very intrigued, and no matter how much I doubted the story, my grandfather had clearly put so much effort into telling this story, I thought it would’ve been a disservice if I didn’t at least try to find the Wonderland for myself. In the forest behind the abandoned gravel pit, I knew exactly where that was, The Dives wasn’t very big and I practically knew where everything was – there was an abandoned gravel pit not twenty minutes from my grandfather’s house – I was certain this was the one he was talking about. However, before closing the journal and rushing to try out the ritual, I turned the last page over to find one last message, a warning, written in bold at the very end of the book:

The Wonderland appears only for the briefest of moments – if the ritual is done correctly it will appear at exactly midnight, it will stay in our world for only six hours until it closes up and disappears the following morning. Those caught inside the Wonderland past six o’clock will be swallowed up with it – it’s what happened to my friends when I first went. Do not underestimate the Wonderland, it takes control of your mind and you will find it very difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality, and very difficult to keep track of time. If you choose to forgo my warnings and visit the Wonderland, I offer one piece of advice to you: bring a personal item with you, something deeply important to you, and do not let go of it. It must be something important enough that will remind you of the real world when you can no longer trust your own senses… it’s the only reason I’ve been able to make it out alive so many times. Good luck.

That warning marked the end of Dubois’ journal, that was all he wrote, ending off what at first glance appeared to be a normal journal of his past – with a grave warning to anyone who attempted to recreate what he did. I carefully closed the book and put it back into my drawer, and simply lied in my bed to take everything in. I could have easily left that journal in my drawer that day, never returning to it and forgetting about the Wonderland – I truly wish I did, my life would have been a lot different if I had, but my curiosity forced me to do otherwise that day. I made a decision that day that I regard as the biggest mistake of my life. As I glanced over at the alarm clock my grandfather left for me, I finally realized why he had left it. That night, I was going to visit the Wonderland, follow the ritual to a tee, and bring my grandfather’s alarm clock with me as my personal item. I sometimes wonder why I went to all the trouble of attempting the ritual if I didn’t believe in the Wonderland at the time, perhaps I wanted to do it for my grandfather who spent so much time writing about the place, maybe I was just bored – or maybe, just maybe, I was beginning to believe in it myself.

I wasn’t going to attempt contacting the Wonderland myself, however, I had decided I would bring my two best friends with me – Rachel Abigail and Scott Myer. I’d known Rachel since we were in preschool, and I have to admit I always had a soft side for her. To me, Rachel was the most beautiful girl I’d ever known, not just in her looks, but her personality attracted me as well. I had always wanted to ask her out, but never had the confidence as I knew she was leagues above me, and I knew I was cursed to stay in the friend zone forever. Scott on the other hand, was someone I had met just recently back then; he was “the new kid” that moved to Rose Creek in our high school years. He was always a fun guy to hang around, but I always found myself slightly jealous around him, he was an attractive and athletic guy, and Rachel was head over heels for him, she just wouldn’t admit it.

It wouldn’t be any fun to venture out into a forest in the middle of the night on my own, and when I approached the two about my plan later that day, they agreed to come with me. Rachel took a little more convincing than Scott did, to no surprise, but once she found out Scott was coming it wasn’t hard to get her to say yes. She didn’t find walking into a bush in the middle of the night very appealing, nor safe. As for Scott, he jumped at the idea to go – he was a skeptic of the paranormal himself, but whether or not he believed in the Wonderland was besides the point, he just wanted the thrill of it all; he was always out doing something, keeping himself busy with things that often involved getting himself into trouble. You could never really blame the kid though; there’s only so much you can do in The Dives before you turned to the more ‘eccentric’ and not always legal hobbies to amuse yourself – perhaps this was what I was doing myself by trying to find the Wonderland.

We had planned to meet outside of my house at around eleven o’clock, giving us plenty of time to get to the forest – I would drive everyone from there, which should only take half an hour at the latest. I told them to bring a personal item each, but I wasn’t sure how seriously they’d take it. I sat in the driver’s seat and waited for everyone, I had brought a backpack which only contained two things in it: my grandfather’s journal so I wouldn’t forget the ritual steps, and his old alarm clock – my personal item. Scott was the first to show up as he practically sprinted at my car and launched himself into the passenger seat.

“Sup,” he said, out of breath.
“Not much, you bring your personal item?”
“Oh, yeah.” He said, waving some baseball around before tossing it behind him and into the backseat.
“Is it, you know, important to you?”
“I don’t know, it’s just an item that I personally own, that’s what the instructions said, right?”
“Yeah but…”

I stopped myself, shrugged, and dismissed the topic. My grandfather’s instructions had stated to bring something of importance, not just some random item, but at the same time I wasn’t going to let myself take this whole thing too seriously – in my mind at the time, if I had made a big deal about what item Scott brought and the Wonderland ended up being bogus, I’d look pretty dumb. Scott and I waited for a few more minutes, not really talking too much, until Rachel finally showed up a few minutes late. She opened the backseat door and sat behind me.

“Hey Scott!” she squealed with a wide smile, before addressing me in a much more collected tone, “Oh, hey Jacob, how have you been?”

I tried answering her question before Scott cut me off and began to talk about something else with her, like I wasn’t even there. As I groaned to myself and pulled out of my driveway, Scott and Rachel talked about everything under the sun together, easily keeping themselves company during the entire ride without ever bringing me into the conversation. It would be an understatement to say that I wasn’t jealous, I gripped the wheel tighter as my knuckles turned white and grit my teeth as Scott and Rachel fawned over each other. I don’t know how I managed to keep my groans of disgust to myself for the entire drive. They might as well have been making out – it was so apparent that they had things for each other, they probably saw tonight as a date night and I was nothing more than their chaperone. I forced myself to stop thinking about the two of them and to focus on what was important.

After a drive that felt like an eternity, I pulled off of the main road and let the car come to a slow stop along a dirt path that faced the gravel pit. I put the car into park and took a moment to collect myself. Dubois’ journal? Check. Alarm clock? Check. I opened my door and stepped onto the dirt path underneath me, and I remember the instant my foot touched the ground I felt a wave of anxiety pass over me like a cold gust of wind. I hadn’t felt anxious like this in a long time, chills shot up my spine and I shuddered. In retrospect, that anxiety was a very strong gut feeling telling me to get lost, it was telling me to get back into the car and to never return, but I pushed onwards towards the gravel pit as Scott and Rachel followed closely behind me. Getting across the gravel pit was easy, I led on and made sure we didn’t all fall down a hill and to the bottom of the pits, but the forest was an entirely different story. The forest was dense, the branches almost stretched out like they were forming a wall, like they didn’t want anyone going inside.

I pushed through, keeping my arms stretched out in front of me, scratching them to hell as I cleared a path behind me. The darkness of the night didn’t help my navigation either, the moonlight was dim tonight, barely a crescent was visible. The small hill that overlooks the rest of the forest, I repeated in my head while occasionally checking the alarm clock to ensure we were on time – there were fifteen minutes left to find the hill and to get the ritual right.

“Don’t you think it would have been easier to just bring a watch?” Scott snickered behind me; it made my blood boil.
“No, this is my personal item.” I said with clenched teeth and a forced smile.

Before Scott could make another stupid observation, I spotted the hill. It was just as my grandfather had described it – there was a small clearing which had a hill in the middle of it – not too big, but big enough to elevate you above most of the trees. I sped up and made it out of the clusters of branches, stumbling out onto the clearing and climbing up the hill – Scott and Rachel were always close behind. Once we were all atop of the hill, I knelt down and took one last look at my alarm clock; ten minutes until midnight, we were making good time. It was then, while both Scott and Rachel were distracted talking with each other, that I did something that I believe saved my life. I had brought the alarm clock for a reason, and I believe that my grandfather gave me this alarm clock for a very specific reason. I set it to ring at five o’clock, around five around from now, and exactly one hour before the Wonderland was supposed to “close”.

“Alright everyone,” I began, placing down the alarm clock and pulling my grandfather’s journal out of my bag. “These instructions are very strict; we have to do it exactly right or it won’t work.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t want to break the magic spell.” Scott sarcastically waved his hands around as if he were a wizard.
I rolled my eyes, “We only get one chance at this or we have to try again tomorrow, let’s run through the instructions.” I opened my grandfather’s journal and flipped to the page with the ritual. “Okay, everyone kneel down.”

After being the first one to do it, Scott and Rachel hesitantly followed – no point in worrying about looking stupid now, we had already come all this way.

“Alright, now it says here to think of three things – something you’re missing, something you desire, and something you wish to rid yourself of… everyone have that in their heads?”
“I’m certainly missing my dignity…” Scott trailed on as Rachel giggled.
“Shut up.” I snapped, “take this seriously or don’t bother doing it at all. Next step, keep these three things in your mind and recite the phrase – follow after me: Bring me home, for I am a wanderer, invisible and lost. Bring me bliss, bring me pleasure, bring me wonder. Wonderland, bring me home.”
“Then what?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know – that’s all the instructions say. All it says after that is that if we get it right, we’ll know.”
“You’re not actually expecting anything to happen, are you?” Scott asked.

I didn’t answer that, instead avoiding the question and reiterating the instructions, ensuring that everyone knew exactly what they were doing – I didn’t want to mess this up. Once I was sure that Scott and Rachel understood the instructions, we began the ritual for real. My heart was pounding the entire time, I really didn’t want to mess things up, I had built up the Wonderland so much in my head through my grandfather’s stories and I would be preparing myself for a gigantic disappointment if it all turned out to be some stupid tale. I closed my eyes and imagined the three things – something I was missing, something I desired, and something I wished to rid myself of… then I recited the phrase, Scott and Rachel clumsily repeated after me. We kept on repeating the phrase until midnight, I opened my eyes and looked down at the ground to see my alarm clock, the minute hand had passed 12 – that was it. I sighed and stuffed the clock into my backpack, standing up and looking around to no avail.

“Come on Jake, you couldn’t have actually expected it to work.” Scott stood up and brushed the dirt off of his knees.
“Maybe we did it wrong, you probably fooled around too much and broke the ritual.”
“Oh relax, the ritual is a bunch of bullshit made up by your grandpa who had way too much time on his hands.”
“You better watch your mouth.” I said, walking towards Scott until Rachel jumped in between us.
“Would you two stop? You’re fighting over some crazy fairy tale! Let’s just go back home and watch a movie or something.”
“I…” I tried to argue some more but was cut off by a powerful gust of wind from behind us, so cold and forceful that we all stumbled a few steps forward before shivering.

We all abruptly stopped arguing, staying quiet and looking around the forest in confusion. That wind had come out of nowhere and certainly didn’t feel natural. After a few seconds of silence, I began to hear faint sounds of bells jingling in the distance – initially I wasn’t sure if I could trust my own senses but Scott and Rachel had clearly heard it as well as their eyes grew wide with confusion. The jingling seemed to grow louder and louder, the once faint jingles now sounding a hell of a lot closer. Eventually, other noises began to accompany the bells; some music followed along, the type of rhythmic jingling you’d hear in a carousel or a merry-go-round. Sounds of clown horns honking, and finally what sounded an awful lot like children’s laughter echoed into the night sky. At first I was speechless, my mind was trying to process what was happening, I was questioning if what I was hearing was even real – sure I wanted to believe in the Wonderland, but now that the ritual seemed to have done something, I didn’t know how to react.

“You guys hear that, right?” Scott asked. “I’m not going crazy?”
“Yeah, I hear it.” I responded.

We then looked over at Rachel, who had stayed pretty quiet throughout the entire thing. It looked like she hadn’t heard us, or like she wasn’t paying attention at all. She seemed to just stare forward over the tree line, still as a statue.

“Hey Rachel?” Scott asked once again.
“Oh…my God,” she said, speaking to seemingly thin air, “you’re back. How did you find me here?”
“What’re you talking about?” I asked.

Without answering, Rachel started walking forward, never once looking at us and keeping her eyes glued ahead of her. She quickly disappeared into the darkness as she descended down the hill and into the jungle of branches.

“What do we do?” Scott asked.
“Well we have to follow her, we can’t leave her.”

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I don’t think Scott liked the idea of delving further into the forest, but we didn’t have much of a choice. With the sounds of the carnival starting to become overbearing, I knelt down and stuffed my grandfather’s journal into my backpack and slung it around my shoulder. I ran down the hill and chased after Rachel with Scott hesitantly following after me. I was expecting the walk through the forest to be just as bad as it was before, with the overabundance of branches gating me from entry – but this time it was different. The trees almost seemed welcoming this time, the branches had cleared a path as they no longer stuck out in front of me, but instead pointed ahead. After what seemed to be at least a few minutes of walking through the forest, there was still no sign of Rachel, it was so overwhelmingly dark that my own vision seemed useless, and instead I let the forest itself guide me. I didn’t stop to see where Scott was but at some point, I must’ve lost him as I no longer heard his footsteps behind me. I stopped in my tracks and frantically turned around in circles yet to no avail – I had gotten lost in the forest.

“Hello?” I called out as my voice echoed over the trees above me, yet my cries for help seemed to get drowned out by the sounds of the carnival. I must’ve been turning in circles for quite some time until I got dizzy and had to stop, kneeling down, and covering my ears to try blocking out the never-ending bells, horns, and laughter. It was then that I looked up and noticed a faint orange glow in the distance, only about a hundred feet in front of me. I slowly stood up and followed the light, it looked as if it were calling out to me, leading me out of the forest by chance. My face felt warmer as the light got larger and brighter, I felt myself getting anxious, but not how I felt earlier, rather this time the anxiousness felt more like eagerness, excitement, and wonder. As I pushed through the last bits of foliage hanging in front of me, I stumbled out of the forest and found myself standing in a completely different place: a carnival. Speechless, all I could do was take in my surroundings with an awestricken gaze, the sounds of jingles, horns, and laughter was all around me now, and I felt as if it were welcoming me; at that moment, I knew I had found it – I had found the Wonderland, and it was beautiful.

A giant archway stood in front of me with a massive, light up sign above it which simply said: Welcome to Wonderland! I pushed forward through the gate and took in the sights: a carousel to my right, lit up with a bright orange as the horse rides almost appeared lifelike. On my left I saw food stands and the sweet smell of treats carried through the air and surrounded me like a mystical aroma. A mirror maze further down the road, racks of prizes, a stage for performers… this place had everything. Yet as I walked down the path, I noticed something was quite off – despite hearing the sounds of horns honking and children laughing, I never once saw anyone else there. Now that I was inside the Wonderland, the sounds seemed as if they were coming from thin air – no matter where I turned, they always sounded as if they were all around me. I always could’ve sworn I felt like someone was watching me, that feeling you get on the back of your neck when you know someone is glaring at you… that feeling persisted the entire time. As I continued to walk down the path, I watched as the carnival in front of me seemed to morph – shapeshift into something entirely different. Buildings in front of me rose up and turned into walls, the ground beneath me shook as a hardwood floor rose from the dirt below, the sounds of the carnival subsided, and I realized I was now standing in my own home.

At first, I was alone, standing in my kitchen in the middle of the night. The room was dark for a little while until a light down the hallway flicked on, I heard footsteps approaching and watched as my mother… my mother who had been dead for a few years now walked out to greet me. She looked just as she did the last day, I saw her, full of energy and life, there was no way anyone could’ve predicted she would die in childbirth. We seemed to stare at each other for a while, I wasn’t sure how to react at first but when she smiled it made me feel a lot more comfortable, all feelings of uncertainty seemed to gracefully leave my body, that gracefulness continued when she spoke.

“Jake,” she said in a soft tone, “is everything alright? What’re you doing up so late?”

I couldn’t respond, tears filled up in my eyes and all I could do was run towards her and give her a hug, something I’d wanted to do for so long. She held me in her arms and hugged me tightly, her warm embrace felt so real; I didn’t want to let go.

“It’s okay, I’m here now.” She spoke softly.

The warmness of her embrace didn’t last long unfortunately, it got slightly colder and colder until I looked up to see she was no longer there, and I had been hugging the air… for who knows how long. I looked around to see that I had been transported back into the Wonderland, with the vision of my home subsided; the sounds of the carnival grew louder once again and I continued my walk through its grounds in search of whatever was next. That moment with my mother only lasted a moment, and although it wasn’t real it felt so genuine… I think it was that moment the Wonderland had hooked me, it did exactly what it was trying to do, it dug into my mind and found something it knew I was missing – and now I didn’t want to leave, what other beautiful things could I find in here? I remember thinking to myself. I continued walking through the Wonderland, searching for my mother, but instead I found something else.

“Jacob?” I heard someone call out behind me, I turned quickly to see Rachel standing only a few steps behind me – I remember wondering how she got that close without me noticing.
“Rachel?” I said, “I was looking for you, where did you go?”

She came in closer to me, taking several steps and getting almost uncomfortably close as she wrapped her arms around my waist.

“Don’t worry,” she smiled, “I’m just glad we finally got some alone time.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think? I’ve always had a thing for you Jake, couldn’t you tell?”
“N-no,” I stumbled over my words, “I thought you were always soft for Scott.”

She snorted and began laughing, moving in even closer to me until she finally kissed me on the lips. I wasn’t sure if it was real or not, but it felt amazing, it was something I had always wanted. Was Rachel really into me this entire time? She sure was good at hiding it if that was the case. I put my hands around her waist and kissed her back and for the slightest of moments I truly felt like I was in heaven. And just as quickly as she had started, Rachel pulled back from my embrace, taking a few steps back and leaving me confused.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We can’t, we can’t do this.”
“Sure we can, why not?”
“Not with him still around.”
“Who?”
“Scott,” she said, “not with Scott still around. I know he has a crush on me, he’s never going to stand by and allow us to be together. You’ve seen it haven’t you? The way he talks to me, we’ll never be together with him in the picture… not unless you do something about it.”
“Do what?” I asked.

Rachel then stared me directly in the eyes, all emotion leaving her face as she gave me a stone-cold gaze – it didn’t look natural. Then with a demanding tone that didn’t sound like her, she ordered:

“Kill Scott.”

At first, I was taken aback, I took a few steps backwards to distance myself from Rachel. I looked down at my hand to find myself holding a knife, something I swore I didn’t have before… how did it get in my hand? Yet, despite the confusion I couldn’t help but find myself clutching the knife tightly, almost like I didn’t want to get rid of it. I looked down at the knife very carefully, studying it; a wooden handle and a long, serrated blade with a pointed tip; something you would use in the kitchen. Did I bring a knife with me tonight? I didn’t think I did, but at that point my mind was all over the place, I wasn’t sure what to believe. Kill Scott. The phrase repeated in my head, then again, then again, like a thousand voices all inside my head urging me to kill Scott. I looked back up to find that Rachel was gone, there wasn’t a trace of her in sight. Where had she gone so quickly?

I began walking down the path in front of me, I knew what I needed to do in that moment. My mind wanted to tell me to ditch the knife and search for my mother again, but my tight grasp wouldn’t seem to loosen as my legs carried me throughout the Wonderland… I was looking for Scott. It didn’t take long to find him, as I turned the corner of a prize booth, I saw him, his back turned to me as he looked up at the Ferris wheel. I hid my hand behind my back and crept toward him, I didn’t think he could hear me coming until he spoke.

“Thought I lost you back in the forest.” He said, back still turned to me.
I stopped walking and stood as still as a statue, trying to think of how I could act natural. “Yeah,” I replied, “same here, what happened back there?”
“We got separated. Coincidence or by choice?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“Oh come on, who do you take me for? A fool? I know how you look at Rachel.”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, Scott. Are you feeling alright? This doesn’t sound like you.”
“Oh I’m great… never been better actually; this place is beautiful. To be honest I thought you were full of shit when you took us out here, a magical Wonderland?” He scoffed, “I thought you were taking us out into the wilderness to murder us, you do seem the type after all… I guess your weird dead grandpa was right.”

That was the moment I snapped, I wasn’t sure if it was because Rachel told me to do it, or because he insulted me and my grandfather, but I saw red for the briefest of moments. The voices in my head got louder and louder until I couldn’t think of anything else but to kill Scott. I quickly lunged at him, brought my knife out from behind my back and stuck him in the back with it. He collapsed to the ground and I fell down with him as I held onto the knife. He wheezed in pain for a few moments, seeming as if he were trying to gasp for air, his breaths quick and short. Blood soaked the knife and my right hand as I pulled the knife from his back and stabbed him once again, then again, and again until he stopped breathing. I stood up, pulled the knife from his back and took a few steps backwards and looked down at Scott who lied face down on the ground, a pool of blood underneath him. Never once did I see his face when I stabbed him, never once did I look him in the eyes.

What I expected was for overwhelming feelings of grief and dread to hit me like a truck, but instead another feeling came… I was filled with relief and joy. I had done what Rachel asked me to do and I had gotten rid of the only person standing in between our love. I turned around to see her standing close once again, appearing suddenly behind me just as she did last time. I was overjoyed to tell her what I had done. I smiled from cheek to cheek and walked close to her, bloodied knife still in hand and wrapped my arms around her for a hug. Although this time she didn’t hug me back, she just stood there silently, not muttering a word. I slightly pulled away and looked down at her face to see it was painted with white, not an emotion in sight; she seemed to be staring off into a void… detached from reality. I felt angry that she wasn’t showing me the same love she had previously shown just a few minutes ago, I had just killed one of my friends for her and this was the thanks I got? It was then that I began to have my doubts about even her too.

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“Rachel? Don’t you love me?” I asked.
“Yes I do.” She responded, but she sounded ingenuine.

I went in for another hug and once again I felt nothing back, no reciprocation. I started to get worried, thoughts raced through my mind and I hugged her tighter.

“Jake…” she stated, still without emotion, “you’re squeezing, I-I can’t breathe.”

I clutched the knife tighter and didn’t let go of her. The voices in my head began again, they were similar to last time, but now they were telling me to kill someone else.

“Jake…” she wheezed one more time before I plunged the knife into her back.

I held onto her tightly and continued stabbing her in the back, I’m not sure if anything rational at all was going through my head at that point, I felt like a robot – I was given commands and I seemed to follow them effortlessly. In that moment I truly felt like what I was doing was the right thing, if Rachel didn’t want me then I wasn’t going to allow her to have anybody else. I understood her best, I told myself in that moment, this was what needed to happen.

As I let Rachel’s lifeless body fall to the ground, I regained my footing in took in my surroundings and realized in that moment, that I was truly all alone in the Wonderland. Both Rachel and Scott’s bodies lied on each side of me and I held the knife that killed them proudly in my hand, never letting go of it. After coming to the realization of what I had done, I couldn’t help but feel so relieved. I once again smiled from cheek to cheek, admiring what I had always wanted to do – those two had always disgusted me; Scott was nothing more than a fool with the fortunate luck of being born good-looking, Rachel was nothing more than some dipsy bimbo who couldn’t see a good man if it was standing right in front of her – I had done them both a favor. With blood-soaked clothes and a smile that didn’t seem to fade, I wandered off to explore more of the Wonderland, eager to see what other fantasies I would finally be able to fulfill, and it didn’t take long to find it. What would come next would be the final fantasy the Wonderland would fulfill for me, and the one that has stuck with me the longest.

As I turned the corner from around the prize booth and found myself on the main pathway again, I noticed something had changed. At the end of the pathway, at the very back of the Wonderland sat my house once again. The Wonderland around me faded as I found myself back in my neighbourhood, just as it had always looked – the vision was so surreal, it’s impossible to explain. Headlights broke through the darkness of the night and I watched as a car pulled up right beside me and into my driveway – my father stepped out of the drivers seat and Maxwell, my little brother, got out of the back seat. They paid no attention to me; it was like I was a ghost. They laughed and joked with each other and walked toward the house, up the porch steps and through the front door, closing it behind them. The sounds of Maxwell’s laughter persisted from inside the house, seemingly echoing through the neighbourhood, and all it did was make me angry. I can’t explain why such an innocent noise of a little boy laughing angered me so much. Once again, the voices inside my head spoke up and seemed to express exactly how I was feeling in that moment.

How can he be so happy? They hissed, so content and arrogant in the house that he was just born into. Born into this world at the expense of your mother – someone who actually deserved life. That boy is nothing but a plague in your life, he stole the one thing you loved most, and he doesn’t feel a lick of sadness for it. How does your father not hate him too? Did he not even love his own wife?

My lip quivered and my knees shook, I clenched my fist with anger, and I could feel my heartbeat pounding in my beet-red face. I looked down at my right hand to find a single lit match, the fire sputtering weakly in the wind, I was careful not to let it blow out – the knife from before was nowhere to be seen. The voices were right, throughout my entire life I had always felt some sort of resentment towards Maxwell but I could never figure out why – it was so difficult to put it into words, but the Wonderland had just done it so seamlessly, it understood exactly how I was feeling. I then looked down to my feet to see a trail of gasoline that led from the front lawn, up the porch and all the way inside of the house. It was difficult to hold my smile back when I gave into the Wonderland’s demands and dropped the match onto the gasoline trail. The fire travelled from the match to the trail and quickly grew as it chased after the trail of gasoline and made its way inside of the house. I slowly backed away, grinning maniacally as the trail of fire intruded inside of my own home. The windows glowed orange and I heard as Maxwell’s ignorant laughter turn to terrified screams. The house was quickly engulfed in flames, and I just stood and watched. It was at that point that I had begun laughing, the image brought me so much joy, I didn’t try to understand it, I just took it all in joyously. I did it, mother, I told myself in between cackles, I got them back.

Then it happened… as I watched as my house slowly burnt to the ground, I heard a ringing that derailed my focus.

Ring, ring… ring, ring… ring, ring…

The house that was burning in front of my eyes just a moment ago suddenly disappeared, it was like it had completely blinked out of existence, not leaving a single trace behind. The ringing persisted and when I turned around to figure out what it was, I saw a single backpack lying on the pathway just a few feet in front of me – it sounded like it was coming from there. I rushed over and knelt down, unzipping the backpack, and pulling out a single alarm clock – my grandfather’s. It was five o’clock, only one hour until the Wonderland closes. It was at that moment that my mind abruptly exited its euphoric dream-like trance and back to reality. My head felt foggy and I felt confused, similar to how someone would feel after just waking up, I remember how confused I was that time had passed so quickly, it had felt like just a minute ago I was on the hill doing the ritual with Scott and Rachel. I looked around the Wonderland and noticed that it had changed, and something was seriously wrong. The wind had picked up tremendously, prize and food stands shook violently, and the carousel got faster and faster as the jingle grew more distorted and unnatural-sounding. I looked up to see the Ferris wheel, noticing that it was also spinning unnervingly fast like the carousel, and what was originally the sounds of children laughing turned to blood-curdling screams of terror – all around me.

I stopped the alarm clock from ringing and tossed it back into my backpack, slinging it around my shoulder and sprinting towards the exit. All around me I watched as the Wonderland fell apart, buildings seemed to collapse in on themselves and sink into the ground as the pathway in front of me cracked and separated, jack-in-the-boxes randomly begun malfunctioning and sprung out at every prize booth they sat at, and the once sweet smells of the carnival turned to abhorrent and repulsive smells of what I can only describe as rotting meat; all while the tormented screaming of dozens of people grew louder all around me. It was like the Wonderland was collapsing in on me, and it also seemed like it was trying to prevent me from leaving. I made the mistake of looking behind me and I saw the bloodied bodies of Scott and Rachel, and the burned body of Maxwell, all standing at the end of the pathway, waving goodbye to me. I screamed in terror, running faster and making it to the exit, I looked up to see the archway that greeted me before, but on the side facing me it simply read: We’ll See You Soon! I sprinted under the archway as it quickly collapsed behind me. Stumbling back into the forest, I ran through the thickness of the trees and never looked back.

The further I got away from the Wonderland, the less I heard the screaming and the less I smelled the rotted meat. I eventually stopped running when I had made it back onto the hill overlooking the forest. The noises and smells had stopped by that point and I collapsed onto all fours, panting, and struggling for air. I finally found the strength to stand back up and take everything in, I looked around the forest to find myself in a reassuring emptiness, the sun peaking over the horizon and filling the morning sky with that familiar glow – no signs of the carnival in sight, and the forest was dead silent with the exception of birds chirping, I sighed in relief. I also noticed that there was no blood on me, the blood of Scott and Rachel, entirely gone and replaced with dirt and grass stains. Yet despite this, Scott and Rachel disappeared forever that day, never to be seen or heard from again. Authorities found Scott’s baseball weeks later, lying in the middle of the forest with no other trace left of him. Rumour around town was that Scott and Rachel ran off together as lovers, and nobody ever questioned me, I never brought up what happened that night to anybody and allowed myself to become invisible, like I’d always been, and always will be.

That leads to where I am today, distanced from my family and living a life of seclusion, just like my grandfather did. After I had visited the Wonderland, I learned some disturbing things about myself, some things that I do not think I was ever supposed to know. After I had found myself finding joy in the killing of my friends and family, I couldn’t stomach to be around them. Every time I would see Maxwell laughing or my dad smiling it would make me feel awful about myself. I didn’t trust myself to be around them anymore and as a result I left Rose Creek only a few years later, never looking back. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t fantasize about going back to the Wonderland from time to time. I was lucky to have made it out alive that day – if it weren’t for my grandfather’s alarm clock, I think I would have disappeared alongside Scott and Rachel that night. Dubois must’ve known that there was a possibility I would visit the Wonderland some day, I was the only person in the family that ever seemed to pay his stories any attention, and perhaps he thought he would look over me just in case. However, whenever I think of returning to the Wonderland, I always stop and tell myself:

The mind is a very fragile and dark place, it is not meant to be explored completely – we can not and should not ever expect to completely understand our own minds, we should instead fear it. Sometimes there are things about ourselves that we should simply leave alone, things to leave buried deep in our subconsciousness, never to be tapped into.

Although however many times I tell myself this, there will always be that nagging feeling deep inside of me, and while I have gotten better at suppressing it over the years, once in a while it flaps its wings, rears its head, and tells me go and free my mind, one last time.

CREDIT : Riley Vanderlip

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