This was my 2012 NaNoWriMo. It’s going to be getting a complete overhaul to the point where I’m probably not going to be able to use anything in the current version, so I’ll be posting the best bits once a week as part of Saturday Scenes on Google+ (updated here as well). It’s an Alice in Wonderland pastiche that follows (at least, in this version) a grumpy grad student in mathematics as he stumbles into a new world.
Illustrations are by Laura Toivola.
There are two things, gentle reader, that you must understand about Derek McAllister at the outset of the tale, things he doesn’t quite understand about himself, though his life might be rather the easier if he did.
The first is that he is the particular favorite of a certain well-known clan of faeries who have watched over him since birth. This is not as pleasant an arrangement as it may sound, for the notoriety of this brood derives from their opinion that a mortal life of suffering and misfortune is the highest source of entertainment. (They are not, in actual fact, responsible for reality television, but they are curiously reluctant to correct that misapprehension, and would likely get on quite well with the actual creators.)
The second thing you must understand about Derek McAllister is that he’s kind of an asshole.
He jolted awake at the sound of the alarm. The cell phone by the bed vibrated its way across the nightstand, singing, “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” He fumbled at the snooze button and stared at it blankly for a moment as some important bit of information tried to worm its way into his groggy brain.
It wasn’t his phone.
He looked over to the other side of his bed. Jennifer snored lightly, her mouth gaping open, clutching a pillow that he was pretty sure had started the night beneath his head.
He shook her shoulder gently. She moaned and twitched, but remained deeply, resolutely asleep.
He shook her less gently. “Your alarm,” he said.
“Yeah, okay,” she mumbled incoherently, and immediately resumed snoring.
The phone buzzed in his hand. “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” He let it run, holding it up right next to her ear. “No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” It stopped abruptly, only to start again at the beginning. The alarm ran through two more full loops of the ringtone before sullenly turning itself off. Still, she slumbered on, entirely unfazed.
Derek tossed the phone away with a sigh. “Jen.”
Another snore. From the foot of the bed, a muffled voice from the slightly buried phone chirped, “I’m late! I’m late!”
He’d done his best. He had tried every other means of waking her, but the situation had grown very serious indeed. He had no choice but to deploy the final solution.
He sat on her.
She groaned and batted at him. “Ugh, what the hell?” she said.
“Get up, you’re going to be late for work.” He shifted off her, back onto his own side of the bed.
She moaned, rubbing the heels of her hands into her eyes like she wanted to grind them out of her head. “Nnnnhh, fuck me.”
“I would,” Derek said patiently, “but you have work.”
“Brat.” She finally pushed herself upright, her red hair mussed and tangled, and kissed him absently. “Shouldn’t you be gone already? I thought you had an early class.”
“No, today’s my day off.”
“Oh shit,” she said, “I’m sorry to wake you. You should go back to sleep.”
“No, it’s okay,” he said, even though he was actually quite irritated, because that was the sort of thing you said to your girlfriend if you wanted to avoid having a fight before either of you had woken up properly. “I’ve got stuff to do today anyway.”
“Call of Duty’s not going to play itself, huh?”
“You know it. I might think about grading papers at some point in there, we’ll see.”
She rolled out of bed, shambling like a fluffy blue zombie toward the bathroom, and flipped on the light. Nothing happened. “Christ, not this again,” she said.
He sighed, reached for the flashlight he kept next to the bed — a pocket-sized version of the heavy, solid monsters the police would use to beat people — and trudged his way downstairs.
In the years since Derek’s parents had changed all the locks as a surprise eighteenth birthday present, he’d lived in an astonishing succession of horrible apartments, usually shared with equally horrible roommates. The last one had been all he could take; not only had he lived below what he suspected was either a daycare center for dangerously hyperactive children, a school for interior designers with a heavy emphasis on rearranging furniture, or a popular twenty-four hour soccer field, but he’d shared it with a pair of gorgeous women. This wouldn’t bother most people — indeed, it had been part of the reason he’d been so eager to move in — but it rather burst his bubble to learn that they were both prostitutes with an apparently booming business. Not that he had any real objection to that sort of thing, because he liked to think of himself as an open-minded fellow and they appeared to enjoy their work, but, well, living with someone who runs a business out of the house can get a little complicated under the best of circumstances. It hadn’t taken many awkward encounters with nervous, paranoid men in the living room, and one particular meeting in the bathroom that remained memorable despite his best efforts to the contrary, to prompt him to sigh and pull up the rental listings again.
So when he’d found a house, an entire house all his own, close to campus and in his price range, he’d jumped at the chance, despite the fact that the house, painted on the exterior an unsightly shade of brown specially calibrated to induce stomach cramps, would have required extensive renovations to qualify for the designation, “Jesus, what a dump.” The interior walls were covered in a wild array of cracked and peeling wallpapers, none of which had ever complemented or coordinated with each other by any stretch of the imagination. The floors buckled and warped beneath the cheap synthetic carpeting so that furniture would never sit quite straight and walking in the dark or under any other sort of impairment became a moderately perilous adventure. The appliances, which held together and (mostly) functioned only on the power of desperate hope, were the sort of avocado color that someone somewhere must have found fashionable, although Derek had recently begun to suspect that they’d actually begun life as a less offensive shade of beige. The washing machine didn’t cause too much trouble, but the dryer flatly refused to function with a load any larger than a single pair of pants. Consequently, it ran more or less constantly, and Derek had rigged up several clotheslines throughout the house besides. He didn’t dare set them up in the backyard — indeed, he didn’t dare venture out there at all. When he’d first moved in, he’d gamely attempted to trim back the knee-high grass and unidentifiable tangle of shrubbery, thinking of possibly paving over a small portion of it so he might set up a table, some chairs, perhaps maybe a grill. The shears had tangled so badly in the shrubs that, despite getting his hands sticky with sap and covered in deep scratches, he couldn’t actually pull them out again, and had to leave them dangling awkwardly among the leaves and berries. The borrowed mower hadn’t fared much better, clogging hopelessly after only a few inches. He gave it up as a bad job, and hadn’t so much as opened the back door in months.
He made his way down to the basement and found the fuse box on auto-pilot, not needing input from his groggy brain to perform the familiar ritual. There had been a circuit tripping itself for several months now, which, due to the rather whimsical wiring of the decrepit old house, took down all of the other circuits every time. It even managed this feat in the middle of the night, despite the fact that nothing was running (well, nothing except the dryer, which hardly counted anymore). He reached for the rusty metal box that housed the circuit breakers, thinking about what he’d do for breakfast and if he had to go grocery shopping today or could put it off.
The box wouldn’t open.
He frowned, tucked the flashlight under his chin, and tried with both hands. Nope. It was, upon closer inspection, rusted completely shut. It had been threatening to do this for a few weeks now, despite the fact that the basement, for all of its other numerous faults, wasn’t particularly damp. Frustrated, he thumped the thing with the heavy flashlight. Nothing.