Read Through the Looking Glass Online
Authors: Autumn Dawn
Tags: #Fantasy, #General Fiction
Through the Looking Glass
© copyright February 2004, Autumn Beadreault
Cover art by Eliza Black, © copyright 2004
New Concepts Publishing
5202 Humphreys Rd.
Lake Park, GA 31636
The glass felt cool and smooth. Ali ran her fingertips over her grandmother’s mirror, remembering the many times she’d seen her grandmother checking her appearance in the old cheval glass. Tomorrow it would be auctioned off, along with all of her grandmother’s things. Back taxes and a lengthy illness had drained Ali’s inheritance to a pittance, leaving her as destitute as the day she’d arrived on her grandmother’s doorstep, an orphan.
It was growing dimmer as the storm clouds closed in, and the girl in the mirror became a blue silvered shadow. Her dark hair and eyes became colorless black, almost like the reflection cast on a dark window. This was her last night in her grandmother’s brownstone. Tomorrow she’d start her new job in a coffee house. At least she wouldn’t be a daycare worker--she’d make a terrible babysitter, especially if the children were brats. Her temper would get her fired for certain. Meanness in others always made her want to strike out.
"That’s enough of that," she told herself sternly, choking off the urge to mope. Straightening her back, she almost turned away from the mirror, then stopped. A glimmer of movement in the corner of her eye made her turn back. There was nothing there.
Frowning, she looked behind her. The window was shut on the storm, and there was no candle to throw shadows. What, then? Hoping to spy the source of movement, she studied the mirror. It was as it always was, except … was that a tree reflected in the glass? How could that be? No windows faced the mirror. Peering closer, she made out details, then color. The tree was moving in a slight breeze, and now there were others, like none she’d ever seen. She chanced a look behind her, saw an ordinary room, then reached out to touch the glass.
It was like flowing through water. One moment she was barefoot in her nightgown, the next she was elsewhere.
Tall trees shaded the wood, but the track she stood on parted them enough to allow golden sunshine to warm her face and touch her hair. Gaping at the warm blue sky, which was nothing like the pewter gray one she’d left, she wondered dazedly if she were dreaming. Dreams didn’t come with strawberry-scented breezes, did they?
"Hey, watch it!"
Ali jerked her eyes down and jumped back, just as a man on a bike swerved, nearly running her down. Staring at the man, whose seated position brought him nearly eye level to her, she tried to figure out where he came from and what the dickens he was riding. Motorcycles she knew, and they didn’t look like his sleek silver beast. Whatever it was, it had a white rabbit painted on the … tank, for lack of a better word.
The man whipped off a pair of dark glasses. His green eyes narrowed as he looked her over. "Get out of the road, lady. I don’t have time for hitchhikers."
She frowned at his tone. His white hair was crew cut, but his face was young, and he wore an odd black, short sleeved shirt, leather pants, and boots. "Excuse me," she said indignantly, moving aside to let him pass. Just her luck. One of the rare times she dreamed about a good looking guy, and he had to be a jerk. Figured.
Instead of taking off, he stared at her. One pass of his quizzical eyes was all it took to make her wonder. She looked down--and stared. "What the--" Her night gown was gone, replaced by black boots, flowing burgundy harem pants, and a clinging black velvet top with red silk sleeves. Stumped, she tried to imagine herself dreaming up such an outfit and failed. Bad fashion sense aside, she’d never worn a shirt that flashed that much cleavage.
The man eyed her heart-shaped neckline, seemingly forgetting about his rush for a moment. Defensively, Ali crossed her arms under her breasts, then realized it made the problem worse.
He looked away and took a deep breath. "I don’t have time for this." Muttering something under his breath, he shifted into gear.
"Fine," Ali said, turning her back on him. Men never looked twice at her, and she’d bet her virtue that he was the first to notice her breasts. Of course, how could he help it? Her top must have had a built in push up bra--either that or they’d learned to defy gravity. Trying to forget it, she looked up, examining the bright red fruit just above eye level. It looked like a red bell pepper and grew from a twisted tree. It seemed to be the source of the wonderful strawberry scent teasing her nose. Curious, she reached for it.
"It’s poison, hot stuff. One taste of that, and you’ll never wake up." The biker had stopped and was watching her.
Ali snatched her hand away and backed up. "It looked like a pepper!"
He grunted. "Whatever that is. Look, princess, just stay on the path and keep your hands to yourself. You’ll get to the city soon enough." His hands flexed on his handlebars, and he started to roll.
She looked around, seeing nothing but woods, wondering what lurked within them. Lions and tigers and bears…. "Er, how far is it to the city?" This "dream" was beginning to seem all too real, and she’d never been one to kid herself. She was a Star Trek girl. She knew about wormholes and alternate universes. Suddenly the biker who’d almost turned her into road kill was starting to look like a white knight.
He growled something unpleasant and looked at her with disgust. "Miles, and you don’t have a babysitter coming along at any moment, do you?" He looked forward and flexed his wrist on the throttle. He didn‘t look back. "Get on, before I change my mind."
Unreasonably grateful, she straddled the back of his bike and gingerly grabbed his waist. "My name is Ali."
"I didn’t ask." With that soothing comment, he took off.
Ali clamped her hands around his trim waist and held on. Oh, this had been bright. Romeo here was going to splatter them against a tree, and she had only herself to blame. When would she learn not to throw herself on the mercy of cute strangers? "What’s your name?" In case she survived the crash and he didn’t, she ought to have something to write on his tombstone.
"Rabbit. Do you mind? I’m driving here."
So much for conversation, though she couldn’t argue with him keeping his eye on the road. Much faster and the machine would take off and fly, and she wasn’t ready for that.
It was difficult to see much of the blurred scenery , but she got a general sense of the odd flora and fauna. Ferns of impossible sizes dotted the forest floor and bright red monkey-like things swung from tree to tree. The dirt road they traveled was impossibly smooth and rock free, and she begun to wonder if it was pavement of some kind.
It seemed like only a few minutes before they pulled up to a cottage with two men seated before it. The cottage was made of brick and shaped like an upside down top hat. Both men reclined on wooden lawn chairs with worn cushions. An upside-down wooden barrel laden with brown bottles, tall sandwiches, and a plate of brownies sat between them, begging to be eaten.
Ali’s stomach growled.
"Rabbit!" the first man called, tilting his bottle to him in greeting. His booted feet were crossed, and he wore brown pants and a vest. Light bounced off his bald black head and the earring in his ear. He grinned, flashing a gold tooth. "Who’s the babe?"
"Have a brownie?" the second man offered, wiggling his shaggy brows as he held out the plate of treats. His Hawaiian print shirt was two sizes two big and matched his baggy khaki shorts. He wore socks with sandals and badly needed a shave and a haircut.
"She’s not hungry," Rabbit cut in, before she could accept.
The hippie rolled his eyes and put the plate back.
"How about a beer, gorgeous?" the black man offered, snagging one from the barrel top. He tossed it to her.
Rabbit caught it and tossed it back. "She doesn’t drink."
She glared at him. "I--"
Casually, Rabbit slid a hand around her waist and anchored it on her hip. Stunned by his move, she listened in silence as he spoke to the pair.
"Our cousin sent me to make sure you were on the road. You know how it ticks him off when you’re late, Hatter."
The black man, Hatter, spread his hands. "I was having lunch first. Bud and I were going to get going right after. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you leave your friend with us? We’ll bring her along after we all eat." He winked at Ali.
Bud wagged his shaggy brows in agreement.
Uneasy, Ali inched closer to Rabbit. His hand stroked her hip reassuringly, then slapped lightly. "We’ll see you later." Ali wasted no time in swinging on behind him.
She waited until they rounded the corner before asking, "Was there something wrong with the brownies?" She could imagine the sardonic grin that curved his lips as he answered.
"If you’d had one of those, hot stuff, you’d loosen up considerably, and my cousin would definitely be late."
She blushed. "You mean it had stuff in it? Narcotics?"
"Magic mushrooms. They don’t call him the Mad Hatter for nothing."
Ali declined to ask about the beer.
Another few miles passed before they saw another building. This one looked like an English cottage and sported some interesting knotty pine animals on its front lawn. The side yard was full of sculpted bushes and bright flowers bounded by low hedges. People came and went, most on foot, some on thick, squat ponies. No one had a bike like Rabbit.
A maid looked up from dumping a pan of dirty water on the flowers by the front steps. "Rabbit!" she squealed. Leaving the pan on the porch, she bounced up, blond ringlets--among other things--bouncing. Those ‘things’ were well displayed in her low-cut peasant dress. "Where’ve you been, honey?" she asked in a throaty murmur. Ali she ignored.
"Little bit of everywhere," Rabbit answered with the hint of a purr. He glanced at Ali and straightened up. "We need a quick lunch, Glenda. I can’t stay long."
Pouting, Glenda cast an unfriendly look at Ali and flounced back to the inn.
"Friend of yours?" Ali asked acidly. Not that it was her business, but she’d rode in with him. The least the wench could do was wait until she was in the ladies room before she hit on her ride.
Rabbit cleared his throat. "Thought you were hungry?"
Ali snorted and put her hand in her pocket as she headed for the door. To her surprise, her fist closed around coins. At least she wouldn’t have to depend on him for her meal.
They sat down and Glenda showed up, carrying a plate and a mug. She set them in front of Rabbit, bending farther forward than was strictly necessary. "I always know what you want, big boy." She winked and looked archly at Ali. "What can I get you, honey?"
Irked, Ali brought the unfamiliar coins out of her pocket and laid them on the table. "I don’t know. What will these buy?"
Rabbit and Glenda stared. Slowly, Glenda blinked. She looked at Rabbit with dawning understanding. "Now I get it. She’s a mercy pickup, right? Poor boy, you’ve got your work cut out for you." Shaking her head, she headed for the kitchen.
Rabbit recovered his tongue. Scooping up the coins, he demanded, "Put those back! Are you out of your mind?" Noticing the interested stares directed their way, he glared back, gaining their privacy. "Never mind. I’ll hold on to these for you." The money disappeared into his pants pocket. "Saints," he grumbled. "I’ll be the target for every mugger from here to the capital."
Unimpressed, Ali said coolly, "I was trying to buy lunch."
"Why don’t you just buy the inn while you’re at it? You got any more of that hidden on you?" Unimpressed by her glare, he swore under his breath and swept his gaze around the room. "What idiot turned you loose on the road? Or are you running away?" The idea seemed to gain merit with him. Carefully, he looked her over, as if cataloging her clothes, considering where she might be returned to. He frowned. "Are you married?"
She blew out a breath. "I’m a free woman, all right? I just woke up one morning and decided it was time to hit the road." Sort of. She could tell he didn’t believe her.
"So were did you come from before I found you?"
She looked at the post and plaster ceiling and declined to answer.
Glenda came back with a plate and mug and accepted Rabbit’s money. Her expression was kinder as she looked at Ali, almost pitying. "Don’t worry, honey. Rabbit will take good care of you. You just listen to him, and he’ll get you back where you belong."
Ali frowned at her back as Glenda left, then shrugged and tore into her sandwich and cider. The minute she stood up, Rabbit was by her side. "I’m just heading to the ladies room."
"Fine." He stayed by her side. He was outside the ladies room when she finished. Just like at Hatter’s, his hand fell lightly on her hip and stayed there, guiding her to the door. This time she couldn’t ignore it, or what it made her feel. "Stop it," she hissed quietly.
"You’ll be safer if they think you’re mine," Rabbit said, sending her a look that made her shiver.
Nice acting. Convinced me, Ali thought breathlessly. "You’re still worried about the money?"
He raised a brow and bent to whisper in her ear, "You’re either a sheltered noblewoman or the most brainless thief I ever saw, and a thief would know the value of their goods." His brows, dark where his hair was white, knit. "Probably raised in a convent."