The gentle gurgle of a trickling brook filled my ears and the scent of fresh, crisp water wafted into my nose. I blinked tiredly, finding myself lying on my back and looking up into a vibrant blue sky. My nose crinkled as a sudden tickling sensation spread on the tip of it and without warning I let out a loud sneeze and shot forward.
“You alright there?” Jason called as I sniffled and pushed myself to my feet.
“Yeah,” I muttered a reply, glancing around my surroundings.
Jason and I were in what appeared to be a field. The field stretched out, creating a sea of brightly colored grass that was horribly unkempt, growing in long, uneven blades. A few stout and fat mushrooms were scattered across the grass, growing as they pleased with red, blue, and purple patterns of polka-dots. Along the borders of the field, a thin brook with crystal clear water ran from a vibrant forest with twisted oak and bountiful handfuls of colorful flowers and continued to what appeared to be a lively village filled with color and life.
“Where are we?” I asked, walking up to Jason and meeting his grey irises. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not; I couldn’t fathom how I went from a dead world, void of color and breath, to a lively world, where color and life oozed from every atom.
“Where we wanted to be.” Jason shrugged, making a face that portrayed his bewilderment. “I’m not sure what that means, though.”
“But Arthur should be around, right?” I questioned, glancing down to a mushroom that was growing next to my foot. A large, neon blue caterpillar was crawling across the mushroom’s red and white cap, inching along to the ground and into a sea of grass. Curiously, I bent down and observed the oddly hued creature as he slugged along.
“He should be.” Jason responded curtly.
“Which way should we look?” I tilted my head as I noticed a small brown object next to the caterpillar. I leaned in, squinting. It was uncannily in the shape of an old pipe, the kind you would see men in black and white photos smoke. I moved to get a closer look, but Jason gave my thigh a nudge with his boot. I glanced up and he motioned for me to stand up. Seeing his crossed arms, furrowed eyebrows, and his overall irritated stance, I leaped to my feet, deciding to write off the object as a stray twig or clog of dirt.
“I would start with the village.” Jason breathed out tiredly.
“Alright.” I gave a skip forward and looked back, waiting for him to follow. He shook his head, his lips tightly pressed together, before following me.
As we maneuvered through the tall, rich waves of grass, I could tell there was something bothering Jason. He walked with his fists clenched, and he never tried to walk ahead of me. If anything, he was trailing behind, as if he wasn’t looking forward to our destination.
“Are you alright? You didn’t have to come with me.” I commented as I waded through the grass, feeling the pointed blades scratch against my legs.
“I’m fine.” Jason snapped, taking a large step over a puddle, which I clomped through excitedly.
“You don’t sound alright.” I pushed when we reached the bustling town. A large stone archway decorated with multicolored streamers and paint was the only thing separating us from the town. A sign hung from the archway, upon which the word “Trelos” was depicted in artfully written calligraphy the color of teal and gold. I took a step onto the cobblestone road, which was wide and as vivid as a kaleidoscope.
“I’m fine, Diane.” Jason repeated less harshly, but firmly as we walked down the road, glancing around the festive town. People were everywhere, dancing in brightly colored clothes and out of this world fashions. The people here had cheeks as rosy and full as the setting sun, and their eyes were large and filled with wonder. I had a hard time believing what I saw, having just come from a village of corpses.
“Oh, hello my friends! Welcome to the village of Trelos! We are merry to have you!” A boisterous voice called. Jason and I turned to meet the silver eyes of an outrageously dressed man. He wore a large overcoat that would have put Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat to shame. It was a wild array of teal, gold, silver, red, and every color in between. Atop the man’s golden head sat a worn top hat, which was covered in miscellaneous patches of cloths with clashing colors and random patterns.
“Where are we?” I asked, tilting my head.
“My dearest moonbeam, we could be anywhere.” The man cried, stooping down and taking hold of my hand. He brought it to his lips and gently pecked my skin before dropping my hand and doing the same to Jason. He bounced up again, his lanky body swaying as he gestured to the world around him. “As I said, we can be anywhere, even in places different from each other.”
“No, we’re clearly all here.” Jason crossed his arms after rubbing the spot where his hand was kissed.
“How can you be sure?” The man sang with a crooked smile. “Can you not assert that we all perceive this place differently, and so I can be someplace you aren’t?” Jason growled with frustration.
“The town is called Trelos though, correct?” I interjected before Jason could add anything.
“Yes, Trelos! A state of mind, quite ramblaisious, would you not agree?” He grinned, removing his hat and giving a bow.
“Ramblaisious isn’t a word!” Jason exclaimed. The man’s silver irises glittered naughtily.
“Oh, but of course, ramblaisious and fraginal and vorpal, and galump are all words to be perjured from our dictionary! Words are quite fraginal, wouldn’t you say?” The man giggled, bringing his gloved hands to his lips playfully.
“They are marvelous,” I cut in, placing my arm in front of Jason to stop him. “Truly wankadoodle, now, sir, I have a question.”
“Oh, lovely, my dearest,” the man beamed. “The way to get answers is to have questions. I, Maximillion Pilopolis of Trelos, have many questions, but alas, I have not acquired any answers. Dearling, what is the purpose of a snowflake that mirrors another?”
“What are you even asking?” Jason cried, exasperated.
“Now wait, my vilwapple lad, I asked the little lady my question first, and shall collect an answer before you can get yours.” The man sent a chilling look toward Jason, with a smile painted on his lips, but with warning swimming in his darkened silver eyes.”
“Well, I don’t think I know Max. I thought snowflakes weren’t supposed to be the same.” I responded curiously. “But, sir, can I ask a question after this one? I am in dire need of assistance.”
“Of course, lady of violet eyes that match the beauty of the chaste goddess herself, I will be just gillalooped to help a smart thing as yourself.”
“Thank you, Max,” I curtsied with a smile. “I was wondering if you have seen a friend of mine. His name is Arthur, and he has long brown hair and pretty blue eyes.”
“Pretty?” Jason snorted. I glanced over at him with furrowed eyebrows.
“Did I say that? I meant they resemble the ocean, or sky, it really depends on his mood and the light.” I returned my gaze to Max pleadingly. “Have you seen him?”
“Arthur?” Max twirled his fingers in the air. “I have not, but Old Kouneli was talking about a boy with blue eyes. Just follow the road until you come to a tea shop, there you’ll find Kouneli!” Max tipped his hat. “But now, dear moondrop, I must return to my own business. If needed, you can find me in my hat shop! I might even fit you for a dashing cavalier hat, it would look remarkable on you!” And with that, the man disappeared into the crowd, leaving Jason and I alone.
“A tea shop, come on!” I gave Jason a tap before flying down the street, my footsteps adding to the echo of the villagers around. Jason sprinted to catch up with me, and together, we weaved through the thick crowds, following Max’s instructions.
Finally, we came to a shop that produced a lovely scent of earl grey and orange leaves. The sign on the door read “Martios’ Tea Time Needs” in silver print. I motioned for Jason to follow me as I pulled open the door, causing a golden bell to announce our arrival.
Inside the tight shop, a cluster of shelves filled with tea and tea pots created an odd maze. Treading carefully, I led Jason out of the maze and into a cleared space in the shop where a long table sat. A tattered silk cloth covered in tea stains stretched across the table, and at the left end sat a cluster of tea things, including finger sandwiches, scones and cream, chipped tea cups, and an old tea pot with steam rising from its spout. At the end of the table sat a figure, who was hunched over the table, snoring.
“Sir?” I called, ambling over to the hunched figure. As I got closer, I began to see him clearly. The man had puffy cheeks, and a pink nose, but what was really strange was the pair of ratted brown rabbit ears sprouting from his head.
“Oh wow,” my jaw dropped slightly as I stood petrified. Jason let out a distressed noise behind me and I whirled on my heels. “What?” I whispered as he banged his head on the nearest shelf.
“I’m so done with this place, I can’t take it any more, nothing makes sense, I’ll be outside if you need me.” He groaned, heading back into the labyrinth of shelves. I scowled, questioning Jason’s frustration with a rabbit person when it was magical pomegranate seeds that got us there in the first place, but with a sigh I let it go. Jason was upset about something and I felt like it was my fault. I couldn’t really blame him, if we were really close before my amnesia, then he couldn’t be thrilled with the way I was constantly treating him like a stranger. I couldn’t blame him for it, but that didn’t mean I felt bad enough to make things easier, I still didn’t really trust him, nor did I like his attitude.
Once Jason was gone, I turned back to the man, who was gently snoring, with a bubble of snot hanging from his nose, growing and shrinking with each breath he took. I silently slipped to his side and tapped his shoulder. He only let out a yawn and turned his head away from me.
“Sir? Mr. Kouneli?” I whispered. He breathed out a mumble, something about a moon and a wolf fighting darkness, before nuzzling his head back into his elbow. I pursed my lips, leaning forward and tapping his shoulder again.
“Mr. Kouneli?” I repeated, my voice rising, “Mr. Kouneli, I need your help!”
“The dark that swallows the light, it wants the moon.” He muttered, turning his head back toward me, his eyes closed and his words slurred… “The wolf that treasures the moonlight, different worlds… can’t protect with blades…”
“Mr. Kouneli!” I called, giving his shoulder a shake. His head slipped from his arm and banged into the table. I winced as he shot into the air, pushing away from the table and yelping with surprise.
“Oh! Mercy! A customer!” The man cried, his nose twitching as he bounced over to the tea pot. “Sit, come, please be nimble and quick, we have so much to do!” He gestured for me to take a seat as he bounded around the table, his ears flapping and dancing on his head.
“Oh, no, I’m not here for tea,” I lifted my hands, trying to motion for him to put the teapot down. He looked up with wild brown eyes, meeting my gaze frantically.
“Molly? Like my sister? She liked coffee and I liked tea, and that was why we couldn’t ever agree!” He exclaimed as he continued to pour the tea. Though as he was keeping his focus on me, the tea cup had filled and tea was starting to overflow onto the table. I expected him to do something about it, but he only continued to pour the tea.
“Uh, no, I’m not Molly, I don’t want coffee, but I-” I tried to explain, watching him curiously as he suddenly put the teapot down and thrusted the cup into my hands. The hot brew splashed against my skin and the scent of chamomile filled my nostrils.
“Drink up, then, Not Molly,” he chirped out merrily as he poured another cup and brought it to his lips. Once he took a swig he slammed the cup down, causing me to jump as the glass shattered. I stood back with my cup, frowning as he grabbed the plate of sandwiches and held it out to me.
“No, thank you,” I shook my head, taking a step back. “I don’t need anything, I just had a few questions, have you seen anyone who goes by the name Arthur around?” He dropped the plate, sending sandwiches to the floor before bouncing over to the plate of cookies.
“Who hung his hat on the moon?” He asked as he held out the plate of cookies eagerly.
“Ah, I’m looking for Arthur, I don’t want any food.” I objected, setting the teacup down.
“When you have eaten well, fairy stories hear and tell!” He nodded toward the cookies. I frowned, taking a single cookies hesitantly. He watched me intently, smiling excitedly as he waited for me to try it. I stifled back a groan, concerned with the idea of eating strange food that came from a stranger but at the same time knowing that if I didn’t I may never find Arthur again. I forced myself to take a small bite.
The cookie was soft and crumbly, with a gooey cherry center. It wasn’t fantastic, but it was tasty, with a fresh-baked warmth, and a tender texture that was easy to swallow. Kouneli let out a delighted squeal before taking his own cookie and falling back into a chair. I finished my cookie and lowered myself into the nearest chair.
“Now, about Arthur,” I began, trailing off for Kouneli to finish.
“The owl in his bubble balloon, a crafty character, to be sure.” He nodded sagely as he took a bite out of another cookie.
“Arthur?” I frowned, tilting my head.
“No!” Kouneli shouted, throwing the remains of his cookie past me. I jumped, turning around to watch the cookie smash into a shelf and crumble into dust. I turned back to Kouneli with wide eyes.
“Who had the hat? The owl in his bubble balloon,” Kouneli chided, tapping his fingers on the table. “Who does the moon see? I see the moon, she sees me, but she cannot see the somebody she wants to see.”
“I don’t understand.” I frowned, feeling confused. “Where is Arthur? Have you seen him?”
“I have seen the somebody the moon wants to see. God bless the moon, but what is the moon if she cannot see?” He glared at me and I shut my mouth, letting him continue. He turned away and stared at the wall. “The somebody the moon wants to see is off to hear her song, for how can this beast know of the hat the owl had hung without hearing the tale of that dark rat?
“The world is large, and most miss things, so I sent the wolf to the forest to hide in the night, to watch the dark flying rat slip out of sight. They say humpty dumpty had a great fall, but no one asks how he left the wall. No one wonders about the gap in his shell, or if it was really an egg that fell.”
“What?” I asked, my heart starting to pound in my chest. He turned to me and gave me a crooked smile.
“The broken man with a shell that’s cracked? Without the light of the moon he cannot come back. What of the dark rat who hung the hat on the moon? Without care, the light will go out soon.” Kouneli got to his feet and leaped onto the table. I froze, watching him with fear as he walked over to me and jumped down to my side. He pulled out my chair and bowed, gesturing for me to get up.
“You can find who you seek at the hatter’s, his task is done and his stomach, empty.”
“Arthur?” I asked as I got to my feet, slowly inching to the shelves, putting distance between us.
“Yes, the somebody that the moon wishes to see is with the madman and his hat.” Kouneli gestured toward the labyrinth of shelves.
“Ah, thank you..” I forced a smile and gave a weak wave. Before he could say another word, I ran through the maze and out the door. The bell rang as I slammed the door behind me, panting with my heart palpitating as I tried to catch my breath.
“That was horrifying,” I breathed out as I leaned against the shop wall. I glanced over at Jason, who was watching me with a raised eyebrow. He was slouching against the wall, with his black hair rustled and disheveled, as if he had been messing with it too much, and he seemed tired, with dark circles under his eyes.
“Are you alright?” I asked, tilting my head.
“Yeah,” Jason yawned, bringing his hand to his mouth. “Just a bit tired, did you find out where Arthur is?”
“I think he’s at the hatter’s.” I exhaled as I pushed myself from the wall. “Come on, let’s find him and get out of here.”
“Fine,” Jason nodded, following me. “I think the hatter’s is over there,” He pointed down the street. “A lady dressed in red was complaining to her pet rabbit about her new hat and they headed that way.”
“Sounds great,” I nodded, eager to find Arthur and leave the town. Jason matched my pace, and we quickly made our way to the hatter’s.
The hatter’s was a large emporium, with green tinted glass showing off mannequins in the window. The mannequins wore only hats of all shapes and designs. Some had long flowing lace, and others were dark and feathery. Jason and I were about to walk in when a shrill scream came from inside. We jumped back just as the glass doors swung open, revealing a heavily chested woman with crimson red hair pulled back in black ribbons. Her cheeks were beet red and her eyes cold as she huffed past me. The smell of rotten roses filled my nostrils and I coughed as I moved out of her way.
“Unbelievable service!” The woman bellowed as she turned back to the shop. “I say, Max! You’ve lost your head if you tried to feed me a person!”
“A person?” I cried, running up to her with wide eyes. The woman turned to me, leaning in until her hot breath was sliding against my cheeks, and her nose was just inches from mine.
“A person!” Her shrill voice sliced into my ears. “That lunatic tried to pour me a cup of person! I thought it was tea, but instead of liquid coming out it was a solid in the shape of a tiny boy!” She looked back to the shop and waved her fist.
“I won’t forget this Max! You idiot!” with her final shout, she gathered her skirts and briskly scampered away, her crimson hair and black ribbons fluttering behind her. I glanced at Jason, my eyes large and my heart pounding in my chest. He returned my frantic gaze and I knew we were both fearing for the life of the person Max was serving.