ALICE IN SWAMPLAND
By Dakota Orlando
© 2019, 2020
2. Hungry Bill
Opening her eyes, Alice found herself lying on her back with Dinah licking her face. Above, what seemed like a hundred feet up, many tree branches laced in and out amongst themselves. They spread as far as she could see to her right and left.
She sat up and discovered herself on bare ground. Grass surrounded it, but it was the most bizarre grass she had ever seen. When Alice stood, the blades rose nearly to her chin. Looking up and straight ahead, the branches ended with a view of the blue sky filled with puffy, white clouds. She turned around to face the opposite side. The branches thickened and seemed to go on forever.
“My, my,” Alice heard behind her. She spun and looked up at the head of a most amazing creature.
“I’ve heard of little girls before,” it said, “but I’ve never known one to be that little.”
Alice clutched Dinah closer to her chest. “Why, sir, you appear to be a giant snake.”
“I am Bill … Bill the Snake, and I am the slipperiest, slitheriest, slimiest, sneaky snake, bar none … though not a giant one.”
“Hello, Bill. I am Alice. What makes you sneaky? Is it that you can sneak up on people without their knowing?”
“No. I am sneaky in a way that … hmmmmmm … let me put it this way. If you give me a document that says one thing, I’ll make it say the opposite. The Great Kanaima thinks that it is my best skill. That is why he keeps me around.” His head turned one way, then another. A forked tongue shot from his mouth and whipped around before returning inside. “By the way … have you seen him?”
“The Great Kanaima? No, but I have seen Rudy. He went through a hole in some hedges, and when Dinah and I tried to follow, it closed up.”
He moved his head toward the dark interior of the branches. “You mean this hedge?”
She shook her head. “This is not the hedge. It is too tall for one thing. I do not know what happened to it, but when I awoke after eating a mushroom that Rudy left behind, I found only this forest.”
“My dear, dear Alice. That is the hedge. That mushroom must have caused you to shrink.”
Alice shook her head. “But that is impossible. People simply do not shrink upon eating things.”
“And snakes don’t talk.” Bill raised his head higher. “But there you have it.”
Alice scratched her head. “It cannot be. Why, that would be the world turned upside down.”
Bill twisted his head so that it hovered upside down. “There. Is that better?”
Alice flipped a hand at him. “No, that is no help at all.”
Bill straightened himself again. “Then perhaps this will.” He swung his head back and forth, jerked it to a stop, straightened as tall as he could, and recited:
“There once was a man,
branded a fool,
who deceived everyone,
into thinking him cool.
And when he came to town,
he turned everything upside down,
by filthy trick and dirty pool.”
“Heavens,” said Alice. “Whatever does that mean?”
“A swamp filled the land,
drowned all the scene.
The man said, ‘Look what I built.
Is it not quite keen?’
Up is now down,
and down’s turned around.
The rule of law … it’s sight unseen.”
“That is certainly bizarre,” said Alice. “One would think that sane and rational would win the day.”
“Oh, just look at you. You’ve shrunk so small …,” he shot out his tongue again, “that I think you are small enough for me to swallow.”
Alice stepped back. “Now, why would you want to do something so grotesque?”
He lowered his head until it hovered a few feet above her. “Because I can? Because I am the law of the land, and I can twist it however it suits me? Who, in all of Swampland, will stop me?” He darted his head forward.
Alice dodged and ran deeper under the giant hedge. How could this have happened? If only I had known that the mushroom would shrink Dinah and me, I would not have to be running for our lives!
She ran as fast as she could. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Bill slithering closer.
He is gaining on me! Alice looked around. Where can I hide? There is nothing but open ground. Oh, it is a curse to be so small … small enough so creatures can pose a threat to one’s safety. I do not know what kind of snake Bill is, but common garden snakes are supposed to rid humans of vermin, not the humans themselves. This is truly the world turned upside down!
Alice felt a nudge on her back and looked behind her. Bill poked her harder, and she tumbled onto the ground rolling over several times. Lying on her stomach facing away from Bill, Alice lifted her head to discover a hole thrice the diameter of her new, tiny body. She turned over and sat up with Dinah still safe in her arms. Her cat hissed and spat at Bill as the snake’s massive head rose.
“Well … looks like the end of the line, little girl.”
“The name is Alice.”
“Well, Alice, I hate to get your pretty blue dress all messed up, and … oh, did I tell you how much I like your white pinafore?”
“Please, Bill, tell me this is all in jest. You are really not going to swallow me, are you?”
He tilted his head left and right. “Well, that was my intention … and still is. However, if you want to avoid it, you could always jump down that hole behind you.” He reared back and guffawed.
Alice stood and dusted herself off. “Excuse me, Bill, but has the Great Kanaima, or anyone else, made a suggestion that you should be careful about eating people?”
“Uh ….” He swaggered his head to the left. “I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t … uh.”
“Yes or no.”
He swaggered his head to the right. “Can you repeat that question so I may give myself more time to concoct a misleading answer?”
Alice nodded. “I will repeat it. Has the Great Kanaima, or anybody else, made a suggestion that you should be careful about eating people? Yes or no.”
“Uh ….” He rocked his head forward and back. “The Great Kanaima or anybody else ….”
She stamped her foot. “It seems like you would be able to remember something like that … and tell us.”
Bill swayed back and forth. “Yes, but I’m trying to grapple with the word suggest.” He dipped suddenly toward Alice, his lips inches from her face.
I am not going to let him frighten me. Alice nodded.
He rose to twice her height. “I mean … there have been discussions of … of matters out there that … they have not asked me to eat people, but—”
“Perhaps they suggested.”
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suggest.”
Alice stepped closer. “Hinted?”
“I don’t know.”
She propped herself onto her tiptoes. “Inferred?” She waited for Bill to answer. “You do not know?” Alice plopped her heals onto the ground. He wavered a bit, but still did not answer. “Well, then, Bill, I have but one choice.” She turned, clutched Dinah closer to her bosom, and jumped into the hole.
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