The shantytown waterfront was thick with sucking mud. Bloated bodies floated past in the river; some bumped the shoreline, some snagged in debris. The scent was horrible. But those living in the shantytown had long grown accustomed to it. One was the Hatter. Another was Alice Antipathy. They had an infrequent association. Were on terms. Tenuous at best. As far as Alice was concerned.
They passed time together on occasion. Like this gray morning on the shantytown waterfront, playing cards. Hearts. Over tea. Three stacked truck tires and a small sheet of plywood afforded a table. They faced one another, fronted two teacups, a tea kettle, and a deck of cards. The Hatter’s coat tails rested in the mud.
Alice sipped her tea and drew a card. “Where you been keeping yourself?” she said. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Here and there,” the Hatter replied with a wink; she wasn’t looking. “Been busy.”
“Well, that tells me a lot,” she said, and discarded. “Forever a man of mystery.”
The Hatter chuckled and drew a card. “Ha!” he exclaimed, delighted. Laid out three aces. “I love mysteries,” he added as he discarded. “And adventures too!”
Alice paused, and looked up. He was being evasive and she knew it. She scowled at the Hatter. “You know, Oleander, I really don’t like you all that much.”
“But I like you.”
“I can’t begin to understand why.”
He pulled a book from a jacket pocket and handed it to her. The book was old, the cover tattered, the binding barely holding it together. “This is why,” he said with a grin.
She took the book and stared at the cover. An artist’s rendition of a young girl. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” she read the cover. She shook her head and handed it back. “You are quite mad,” she said, and played a card.
“So they say,” the Hatter said with a chuckle.
“I could use a glass of wine,” she said softly.
“There isn’t any,” the Hatter replied with a smile.
“Tell me, Oleander, I’ve heard some strange tales…,” Alice began.
The Hatter interrupted her, pulled his pocket watch, shook it, held to his ear, and grunted. “Hmph,” he said. “Six o’clock. I’m going to be late.” He quickly rose from the makeshift table.
“Late for what?”
“A very important date, my dear,” he said with a grin. “A very important date.”
And he was gone. Alice shook her head, sighed, and threw her teacup into the polluted river. The dead bodies took no notice.
It was a message from an old friend. A college buddy from a couple of years back. Rabbit Chuck hadn’t heard from her in ages. About a year and a half he guessed. Lost contact after the crazies took over. She was a real looker, a real sweet eye-popping bitch. And a real target for the crazies, scavengers, street thugs, vamps, and any other garbage out there looking for a real honest to goodness hot babe to stretch and slam at their leisure. Rabbit Chuck had guessed that she had gotten out while she still could. Before the city really went to shit. Before the slime came out of the grass and infected most of the people in Darktowne.
But apparently she hadn’t. She was holed up somewhere over by the Oak Hill Cemetery. How the Hell she had tracked Rabbit Chuck down was a mystery for the gods. She had sent word for him to come and get her. Come alone, she’d said in her message. No red flag to Rabbit Chuck. Come alone, he mused. Still no red flag. So Rabbit Chuck went.
The gray sky was turning dark. Evening was fading, night crawling in. Wasn’t a good time to be crossing the city, no matter how close Oak Hill Cemetery. Sure, it was close, just a few blocks to the east. But still far enough away from the shantytown that it would be dark by the time they started back. With a looker babe in tow, no doubt half the crazies in this shit hole of a city would be on their tail with tail on their minds.
“Shit,” Rabbit Chuck muttered as he climbed over the wall and followed it through the shadows of the cemetery.
He had come in off High Street. She would be waiting at the mausoleum closest to the wall along the street. So said the message. The message was wrong. She wasn’t there. No sign of her. Only shadows and dark. The night had come fast. Then a sound. Soft laughter. Rabbit Chuck turned and found the man standing there. He had crept up unheard and unseen. Some kinda freak? Rabbit Chuck wondered. Then he realized. The coat and hat and walking stick. This was that loonie…
“How far are you willing to go?” the Hatter suddenly said with a wide grin. Rabbit Chuck had no time to respond. “Ah, doesn’t matter,” the Hatter added.
The Hatter reached up and touched Rabbit Chuck on the forehead. His body suddenly went heavy. He couldn’t move and couldn’t speak. A sudden terror gripped him.
“Come, this way,” the Hatter said.
At the Hatter’s command, Rabbit Chuck was able to move, his steps rigid, slow, mechanical. Going where the Hatter said to go. They moved to the side of the mausoleum where a fresh grave had been dug. Alongside the grave was a wooden beveled coffin, the lid lying in the grass beside it. There was a tombstone with a cloth draped over it.
“Rabbits live in holes,” the Hatter cackled, a wide grin. “So should you.” He pulled away the cloth that covered the tombstone. Inscribed were –
Rabbit Chuck’s eyes went wide. The only movement he could make himself. A tap of wood, the Hatter’s walking stick on the coffin.
“In you go,” he laughed.
Rabbit Chuck obeyed the command. He climbed into the coffin and laid back. The Hatter placed the lid atop the coffin and levitated the box into the grave. Then came the dirt.
The Hatter started back to the shantytown. Walking stick tucked under an arm, he was joyfully whistling a song – Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat. The sound receded. There was silence in Oak Hill Cemetery.
And a new grave.