The large grandfather clock that stood in the corner of the room glared at Dr. Rockwell showing half past 6, much to his dismay. He impatiently tapped a pencil against his clipboard as he waited for his next patient: Alice. While Alice’s case may not have been anything all that foreign to him, she had definitely proven to be difficult at the most unsavoury of times. Such difficulties placed a strain on his well-being as he glanced at his reflection in the silver china that laid on the table before him. A man who was of the age of 27 stared back at him, but he certainly did not look younger than 40. What was left of his thick, jet-black hair was now heavily sparse on the crown of his head and appeared to be a dusty gray shade. His overall build, much to his wife’s chagrin, became delicate and fragile as his bones began to protrude through his skin. If someone did not know any better, they would have thought that he was a patient at the “Little Peaks Sanatorium”. Sometimes, he felt as though he were one, with what he saw during his first few months working at the sanatorium, his mind became a place of terror.
It was shocking that he had not yet experienced such a traumatic episode that would leave him hollow inside; however, a knock on the door proved that he was nearing one soon enough.
“Come in, Alice,” Dr. Rockwell said as he flipped through his notes slowly.
A small girl shuffled into the office; her nightgown looking as though it were slowly crushing her frame. Her eyes were always downcast, never letting anyone truly know what colour they were. Her ashy blonde hair was matted against her scalp and cascaded down her back in knots. Her fingers were constantly being destroyed by her teeth; they were left bloody and bruised severely contrasting with her sickly, pale skin.
“So, Alice, how are you feeling today?” he asked.
No answer. Of course.
“Would you care to tell me how you slept last night?”
An indiscernible murmur escaped her lips. He sighed and looked back at the clock; he knew this session was going nowhere. All that could be heard was the clock’s soft ticking and Alice’s mind-numbing finger-chewing.
Dr. Rockwell decided to give it one last shot and hoped that food not provided by the cafeteria here would help her open up.
“Would you care for some tea? It’s Earl Grey. I also stopped by a bakery today and bought some cranberry biscuits.” He said and pushed the tray closer to her.
Her eyes sharply glanced at the tray and then towards a spot behind him as her eyes filled with tears.
“No. No. No. No. I-I c-can’t. I-I h-have t-to g-go. I-I’m g-going t-to b-be late. T-Tea p-party a-and M-Mad H-Hatter are w-waiting,” she stammered
“I’m sorry-Mad Hatter? Alice, who is-”
But before Dr. Rockwell asked, she clumsily got up from the sofa and pushed the tea and biscuits onto the floor.
Alice’s mind was reeling; the voices that shook her skull became indiscernible and warped, echoing over each other. She looked at her hand and noticed that it had endured damage from the scalding tea, but that was the least of her worries.
Alice… Alice… Alice…
She shut her eyes tightly and clamped her hands over her ears, hoping that would mask the voices; instead, she felt was the remainder of the tea and blood drip down her face and arms.
“Now, dear, that is no way to treat your guest,” an eerily familiar voice called out.
Alice shook with fear, slowly removing her hands from her ears and opening her eyes, only to find Dr. Rockwell at the end of the room with his back against the wall, breathing heavily. But he was not alone. A small figure with a large purple, velvet top hat covering his curly, red hair was draped across a green chair. He was dressed in a purple and green polka dot overcoat that covered most of his yellow-stripe clad legs. His red shoes matched his tie, which laid crisp over his chest. He reached across the table to grab a biscuit that did not clatter to the ground, but regretted it immediately after popping it in his mouth.
“These biscuits are terrible! Who would be mad enough to enjoy these?” asked the Mad Hatter as he spat them out.
“M-Mad H-Hatter, w-what are you d-doing h-here?” Alice asked, her nerves going haywire.
“I decided to take a small vacation from Wonderlan;, however, this place should not be considered as a ‘luxurious getaway,’”
“B-But y-you aren’t r-real. Y-You were only a-a d-dream…”
“You know, Alice, dreams can also become reality, you just have to be crazy enough to notice their transition”.
She glanced back to where Dr. Rockwell stood but he was nowhere to be found. The Mad Hatter looked indifferent as he perused the selection of books on a nearby bookshelf, quietly humming to himself. Alice listened and wondered where she’d heard the melody last but the echoes of voices in her head clouded her ability to think straight.
“W-What are you h-humming?” Alice asked.
The Mad Hatter jumped in surprise and laughed, “Oh dear! Was I humming again? When your mind is as gone as mine, you never seem to notice anything around you.”
Before she was able to ask again, a group of nurses and doctors barged through the office doors and tackled her to the ground. Alice kicked and screamed, but it was no use ─ the only ones who believed in her sanity were the ones in her head.
The Mad Hatter gingerly skipped behind the nurses and doctors who had a tight grip on Alice as they walked her back to her quarters. The cold, dreary halls of Little Peaks were filled with unconscious, drooling souls whose lives had been forever changed by just one episode which had taken away their ability to function properly. For his part, the Mad Hatter thought that they were anything but soulless; according to him, the only difference between them and ‘normal’, ‘functioning’ people was that they were being confined for challenging common perceptions of the world around them. For him, the madder you were, the more interesting you were ─ and Alice had proven to be anything but boring. He followed her into her confined space before the doctors closed the door behind the both of them. She gathered herself in the corner, rocking back and forth as she mumbled incomprehensible words. The Mad Hatter took in his surroundings and smiled at one of her walls whose cracks were covered with drawings that exploded with colour. The drawings were a window to their past, a past filled with tea parties and otherworldly creatures who contrasted desperately with the bleak, grey world they were currently in.
“Oh my! I absolutely love what you’ve done with the place,” he said and clasped his hands together in awe, “it really compliments the stripes on your bedding.”
Alice refused to meet the Mad Hatter’s eyes; instead, she pressed her frail body up against the wall and wished to melt into it. He rolled his eyes at her uneasiness and plopped himself on her bed with a long sigh.
“You know, everyone misses you back home,” he said, “especially Cheshire Cat and March Hare, they ask about you constantly.”
Alice threw a sharp gaze towards the Mad Hatter as she gritted her teeth in frustration.
“H-How can t-they miss me w-when t-they don’t even e-exist!” she yelled.
The Mad Hatter abruptly sat up and bore his eyes into her dull, grey ones as his mouth twitched in disgust.
“You know, Alice, you’ve changed. You used to be much more...‘muchier.’ You've lost your muchness”
“Y-Your muchness! You’ve lost your curiousity, your imagination, your potential to be so much more than just ‘ordinary,’”
Alice did not know why but she felt her heart ache from his words. She glazed her eyes over her drawings and stopped at one of her and the Mad Hatter in the Garden of Wonderland. Suddenly, her throat tightened and tears quickly formed before sobs escaped her lips. The Mad Hatter dropped down to her aid, took her in his arms, and pressed her against his chest, attempting to shield her from her ordinary world.
“Have I gone mad?” asked Alice
“I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret ─ all the best people are,” said the Mad Hatter and lulled her to sleep with his humming.