I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The cat was real, but the man was not. At least that’s how it appeared at first glance. The man seemed normal enough, yet incredibly strange in the way he was dressed. He had an onyx top hat perched on his head, an ace of diamonds playing card tucked within the small charcoal band that bordered the brim. His pants were full and puffy, colored like rust, and tucked into his shoes. Those were a women’s lace up boot with white bibbing from the Victorian era. His hair was the color of smoke and so unruly a thorough combing couldn’t fix it. His plum suit coat, held together by a single gold button at his waist, covered a pirate’s shirt that ruffled elegantly to the lapels and ended just above the button. He lay in the bed stiff as a nutcracker with the cat, a plump carrot colored tabby with brown sugar stripes, curled up on his lap. The cat looked anything but ordinary with a wide tooth-filled grin permanently etched on its face. I rubbed my eyes with my fists but they were both still there when I stopped.
“Good day, James.” The man’s lips never moved. I looked at the cat that was licking a paw nonchalantly. “I say it is about time you awakened.”
Not only was the cat talking, but it was using proper language! My jaw gaped in amazement.
“How…how do you do that?” I asked as one eyebrow arched.
“I beg pardon? Do animals not talk in this world?”
“Um, no, they don’t.”
“Hmph. How sad. How very sad indeed.” The cat said. He stopped licking his paw and stood, stretching his legs and arching his back. I noticed movement from the man for the first time. His eyes blinked. The man raised slowly, his hat moving perfectly to the top of his head as he rose like a well-practiced maneuver.
“I say, is it tea time, yet?” The man said, glancing at an oversized watch on his left wrist. “I do declare morning is not morning until a spot of tea has been had. Tea, kind sir?” With that, the man took his hat off and produced a small porcelain cup filled with steaming tea from within it. When I shook my head, he shrugged his shoulders and took a sip. His eyes closed again and his lips pressed together. “Mmmm. That hit the spot.”
The cat looked on with disinterest.
“Oh, heavens me. Apologies, Chessie. You are due for a spot of milk, eh?” He pulled a small porcelain bowl filled with milk from his hat this time. I looked on in wonder that he didn’t spill a drop. “Now kind sir, tell me, please, where have that hare and dormouse gone?” His eyebrows lifted inquisitively as he stared at me with eyes so blue a ship could sail on them. I stared at him blankly, not comprehending what he was asking.
“The dormouse and March Hare?” he asked again, his eyes clouding over. It was like watching a storm roll in over the sea. It all sounded like something out of a literary novel to me.
“No, I’ve only seen you and the cat.” I answered, disbelief peppering my voice. “How did you get here?”
“The hat, of course,” he said, matter factly. As if he could read my mind, he took his hat off and spun it clockwise on the bed. The cat disappeared, bowl and all. A counterclockwise spin brought the cat back without the bowl. “It is the only way to travel, I must say. You should try it.”
He put a hand on my nightshirt and pulled, but I resisted. I stopped him with a raise of my hands. “No. I don’t travel with strangers.”
“Pshaw. Why, we just spent the night together, and we just had tea together. I do not take tea with strangers.” He pulled on my nightshirt again. I pulled back again, hesitating. A creepy smile broke his countenance. “Hello, my name is Hatta Maddigan. Hatter by trade, tea drinker and riddle maker by nature.”
I took his proffered hand leerily and shook it once. “James Conrad.”
Instead of releasing me, he pulled me hard and we disappeared into the hat.
“Do not let go!” he shouted, as if I intended to relinquish my hold on him.
I fully expected to fall, but we didn’t. Instead, we landed smoothly in mismatched chairs scattered around a long dining table placed perfectly in the center of a field, just as if we had been sitting there the whole time. Various small teacups and saucers were stacked haphazardly on the tattered tabletop. Eight tidily set place mats decorated the tablecloth. A large yellow cake with white icing and big pink roses sat on a large oval carnival glass at the center of the table. Hatta licked his lips excitedly, then stopped. Horror crept over his face.
“Wait! Do not eat anything!” He shouted. My eyebrows furrowed as I had no intention of eating anything anyway, though my stomach growled from hunger.
“Dormouse!” He shouted again.
A small voice squeaked from within a dirty cup. A wheat colored pointed face with long white whiskers and rounded ears peered over the edge. “What?” He snapped. “Can’t you see I’m eating?!”
“Where is the March Hare? I cannot enjoy this tea without him.”
The dormouse emptied the cup and kicked it into the high grass surrounding the table. I noticed other dishes littered the ground. “He is stuck in March, where you left him, Hatta!”
A sound of anguish left Hatta’s throat at such a pitch it caused the dishes to crack. They clattered to the table and rolled to the ground, none of them intact.
“No, no, no. This will never do!” Hatta rose and began pacing, his hands flapping at every turn. “No! No! No! Never do, never do.” He stopped suddenly and plopped himself down in the chair across from me. With devastation edging his voice, he looked at me and asked, “What shall we do?”
I stiffened as I felt tiny, sharp claws climb up my left arm. The dormouse stopped at the top of my shoulder. He leaned in and squeaked, “Why, we will go fetch him, of course!”
The cat suddenly appeared, smile first, resting comfortably on Hatta’s hat. “Yes, we will go fetch him, of course!”
Hatta sat up straight and grinned. “Yes, of course. We will fetch him straight away. Quick! Grab a teacup and a saucer! Pour from the pot that says ‘Drink me!’ and off we go.”
This is my response to the Master Class assignment this week. We were given this prompt by Eric Storch:
As always I welcome and appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts in a comment.
Also, this is a teaser of what the new series that will be going up beginning May 10 is like. The rest of the series will be co-written by me and another author, a new author for each tale. If you are interested in writing with me, please use the Contact Me link above.
Thanks for stopping in!