On the way back horror vacui was even worse. Because I was in a hurry. It sometimes happens, that during journeys like this haste leads one to his own demise. A small mistake in the calculations and suddenly you're in Florence, year 1348, during the Black Plague epidemic. Or in Paris, in the night of twenty third to twenty fourth August 1572.
But luck was on my side, I got exactly where and when I wanted.
* * *
The Hatter was right, and didn't exaggerate when calling the whole hideous group a bunch of show-offs. They made everything to be impressive, and for the impression. And so was the case this time.
A lawn located among acacias attempted to mimic a cricket field, with little success. For the impression half-circular goals were placed on it, in cricket jargon called arches. Les Coeurs, about ten of them, held the game tools in their hands, the little hammers called mallets, and some things supposedly imitating balls, and looking like curled hedgehogs, were rolling all over the lawn. The lead of the bunch was obviously the red-headed Mab, fitted in fancy clothes and packed with jewellery. With a loud commanding tone and powerful swings of her arm she pointed the positions which Les Coeurs were to take. Her other hand was located on Alice Liddell's shoulder. The girl was watching the queen and the preparations with interest and reddened cheeks. Of course, she had no clue that what was coming was no cricket game, but a gory and impressive execution. My appearance on the scene, as usual, caused some commotion among Les Coeurs, which Mab quickly silenced.
- Oh, I'm sorry Chester. - She said coldly while twirling the ruffles on the brim of Alice's dress with her hand, armed in numerous rings. - I'm sorry but we already have a full set of players. Which is one of the reasons why you didn't receive an invitation.
- It's okay. - I yawned, demonstrating my incisors, fangs, carnassials, premolars, and molars, a whole load of tooth enamel and dentine. - It's okay, Your Highness, I would have had to decline such an invitation either way. Cricket is not my game, I prefer other games. And as for the full set of players, I'm also assuming you have some in reserve?
- And what is it to you, - Mab narrowed her eyes. - what we have and what we don't?
- I'm afraid I must take Miss Liddell with me, I'm hoping it won't spoil your fun.
- Oh. - Mab returned my demonstration by showing her teeth while trying to imitate a smile. - Heh. I see. Just tell me one thing, why does our constant bickering for hegemony must always revolve around taking away each other's toys? Do we have to act like children? Can we not, after agreeing upon a place and time, settle what we have to settle? Can you explain that to me, Chester?
- Mab. - I retorted. - If you wish to discuss such things, please do inform me of such a time and place, ahead of time. Today I'm not in the mood for discussion. Besides, the players are waiting. So I'll just be taking Miss Liddell and I'm off, I don't want to be a bother.
- What the hell for – Mab always ended up sounding like an old hag whenever annoyed. - and what damn reason do you need this brat for, cat!? Why do you care? Or maybe it's not about the brat at all? Huh? Tell me, cat!
- I already told you, I'm in no mood for discussion. Which also includes answering questions. Alice, come to me.
- Don't you even dare to move, you snotty brat! - Mab locked her grip on Alice's shoulder, and the girl's face paled in pain. Her dark eyes seemed to show that she began to understand what this game was about.
- Your Highness. - I looked around and noticed that Les Coeurs began surrounding me slowly. - Would you be so kind to remove your gentle hand off of the child's shoulder. Immediately, if you please. Would Your Highness also instruct her minions to back away a safe distance.
- Really? - Mab replied while demonstrating more teeth. - And what if I'd rather not? Could you tell me what then?
- I could. Then, you filthy hag, I will also act improperly. And I'll rip the guts of all your shit-worth bunch.
That's where talking ended. Les Coeurs simply jumped me, not even waiting for Mab's command to sound and her hand to finish her ruling gesture. They jumped at me as a whole, as many as there were, the whole bunch.
But I was ready. Fur came off their game card-decorated clothes. Fur went off them, and me, but mainly them. I flipped on my back, it made me much less mobile but I could attack with the use of all four of my legs. My efforts began to pay off, as several Les Coeurs, marked with my claws and teeth began to retreat, ignoring Mab's yells, who with very graphic and unorthodox words told them what, and out of what, were they to rip from me.
- Who even cares about you! - Alice suddenly yelled, adding some new tunes to the ongoing symphony of chaos. - You're all just a bunch of stupid game cards!
- Oh yeah!? - Mab roared, shaking the girl violently. – You don't say?
One of the Les Coeurs, with long curly hair and a black club sign on his chest, grabbed my tail with both hands. I hate such forceful acquainting so I ripped his head off. But others were already sitting on me, making a use of their fists, heels, and cricket mallets, all while wheezing loudly. Those bastards were damn obstinate. But so was I. After a while it got a bit more loosely around me. I could switch from positional to manoeuvre warfare. The lawn was almost all red by now, and damn slippery to it.
Alice kicked Mab in the ankle with all her strength. Her Majesty cursed horridly and whipped the girl's cheek with her palm. Alice fell down, landing on one of the Les Coeurs, who just tried to get up. Before he threw Alice off himself I scratched one of his eyes out. And the one who tried to stop me got both eyes scratched out. The remaining two bailed, and so I could stand up.
- So, dear Queen of Hearts? Perhaps we'll call it a day? - I Wheezed out, licking blood off my nose and whiskers. - Maybe we can finish it later, agreeing on the time and place beforehand?
Mab gave me a mouthful of words, in which “side-stripped motherfucker” was the least offensive, yet the most repeated term. It appeared she wasn't willing to leave this conflict for another day. Several Les Coeurs managed to cool off after the initial shock and began preparing for another attack. I was already quite tired, and pretty sure one of my ribs was broken. I stood in between her and Alice.
Mab let out a triumphant roar. The bushes of acacia wandered apart all of a sudden, like the Red Sea. And out from the green, cheered to battle by the yells of Les Coeurs, came a Bandersnatch. More accurately it was a big, well-grown specimen of a Bandersnatch. A tough and frumious Bandersnatch.
- I'll make you into a nice hat, Chester! - Mab yelled out while pointing me with her finger to instruct the Bandersnatch who he is to attack first. - If there's enough fur left from you after this, I mean!
I'm a cat. I have nine lives. I believe I forgot to mention, however, that I already used up eight of them.
- Run, Alice! - I yelled. - Run!
- But Alice Liddell didn't move an inch, petrified. I couldn't blame her. The Bandersnatch scratched the lawn with his claws, as if trying to dig up a subway station, or a tunnel under Mont Blanc. The dark-red fur stood up on his back, which made him seem about twice the previous size, even though he was sufficiently big to begin with. Muscles under his skin played the Ninth Symphony, his eyes lit up with fire. He opened his jaw in a way that flattered me greatly, and then he jumped at me.
I fought valiantly, I gave it all I had. But he was bigger, and bastardly strong. By the time I managed to push him off me he'd already given me a beating. I was barely standing.
Blood flew into my eyes and dried up on my sides, and the sharp end of one of the broken ribs was determined to find something in my right lung. Alice was yelling so loudly that my ears were ringing. And the Bandersnatch just swept the grass with his balls, shook what remained of his ears, and looked at me from under his mauled eyelids. His mouth opened again, but then he suddenly closed it. Instead of jumping at me again to finish me off he just stood there like an ass.
I looked behind me on reflex, and I'm telling you, last time I saw something like this was in Griffith's Birth of a Nation. For there, out from the forest Calvary was charging. But that wasn't US Calvary, or the Ku-Klux-Klan. It was my acquaintance, the so-called Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He looked like Saint George straight off Carpaccio's painting, and armed with a vorpal sword, shining in the light with brilliance.
You wouldn't believe it, but the Bandersnatch ran away first with tail tucked between its legs. Les Coeurs saved themselves with retreat as well, at least those who could still walk. And the last to leave the battlefield was Mab, walking away hastily. But I saw all that like through an aquarium filled with borscht. And a moment later...
Promise you won't laugh.
A moment later I saw a pink-eyed rabbit looking at his pocket watch taken out of his vest. After which I fell into a dark endless pit.
I was falling for a long time.
I'm a cat. I always land on all fours. Even if I can't remember any of it.