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Allison and the Torrid Tea Party: Chapter 9

The Garden Of Lies And Cowards

Henry George Liddell stands in my doorway with his brown eyes wide, and his dark hair tousled and messy. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days, and his glasses are crooked and sitting on the tip of his pointed nose. Edith and I both look like little Mom clones, while Fred was always a spitting image of dad.

Right now, however, he just looks like a demon risen from the depths of hell.

‘Allison,’ he breathes as I gather up my towel and rise to my feet.

I have to admit, I’m terrified.

There are only three times in my life that I’ve been more scared than I am right now.

The night I was almost raped.

The night Fred was killed.

The day my mother was sentenced in prison.

‘Dad,’ I choke out as he puts his arm against the doorjamb and leans so heavily into it that he looks like he might collapse altogether. His eyes take me in like I’m the second coming of Jesus before he flicks them to Dee, and then Tee, and then back to me again.

‘Allison,’ he repeats, stumbling into the room … and giving me a hug?

I haven’t had a hug from my dad in months. Honestly, I was starting to wonder if he even gave two fucks about me at all anymore.

‘I can’t believe you’re here,’ he whispers, and I feel hot, salty tears falling on my bare shoulder. It’s weird, to hug my dad wearing nothing but a towel, and yet I can’t seem to find it in myself to move away from him.

Edith watches from over his shoulders, arms folded across her chest, eyes watching me and Dad like this scene is as shocking—or even more shocking—than the five of us tumbling out of the Looking-Glass.

Dad pulls back and then levels this look on Tee and Dee that I haven’t seen since the trial against Liam and his friends, the one where they were acquitted of Fred’s murder.

‘What the hell is going on?’ he demands, wrinkling his nose up at the sight of the two nineteen-year olds covered in goo. If he only knew I’d just screwed a twenty-eight year old king against the wall of his castle. Of … what could easily be my castle.

I don’t really feel like a queen though, standing in front of my much taller father dressed only in a pink towel and a cloak of shame. Not for the kissing or the sex or anything like that, but because I already know that in my heart, I’ve abandoned my family.

I want to go back to Underland. And Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I will.

‘Give me a minute to get dressed,’ I start slowly, pitching my voice like I’m talking to a scared and cornered dog. Dad looks like he might either piss himself, or attack. Not really sure which would be worse. ‘I’ll come down and—’

‘Get out,’ he tells Tee and Dee, and I could almost swear there’s smoke leaking from his nose. The boys exchange a look and then check with me. I give the briefest of nods and they remove themselves to the hallway with my father. He, on the other hand, sends Edith into my room. ‘I’ll be waiting,’ Henry tells me, reluctantly closing the door. Well, mostly closing the door.

‘What were you doing in here?’ Edith asks me, looking at the towel and then my face like she’s never seen me before.

But … that’s an excellent question.

I’m sure my dad will have a similar one.

Moving over to my dresser, I pull a drawer out and just … stare. It’s been so long since I’ve worn my favorite jeans that I’m practically salivating. Ignoring Edith’s penetrating stare, I drop my towel, yank on some cotton panties, and then slip into my jeans and a loose tank. I grab the Queenmaker and the Vorpal Blade next—I told Edith they were cosplay props and had her hide them in my nightstand drawer while I showered. But I need to hurry: if I leave my dad out there long enough, he might start shit with the boys.

Even though I know I’m going to catch crap for this, a girl can’t be too careful. I strap the thigh sheath on as well as the gun holster, even as Edith stares at me like I’m a crazy person. Sorry, not sorry for trying to protect myself though. Besides, I have that mushroom flesh tucked in a side pocket that’s strapped next to the Vorpal Blade. It’s so small, and it’s already attached to the thigh holster anyway, that I sometimes forget that it’s there.

I slip my feet into fuzzy kitty slippers and can’t help but think of the Cheshire Cat.

As much as I would hate to explain men popping out of mirrors to my dad, I’d like to see him. All of them. Fuck, I just want to know that Castle Heart is still standing.

‘Come on, Edy,’ I mumble, moving past her and stepping into the most awkward moment of my life.

‘Can we have … coffee downstairs?’ I ask as I flick my gaze from my dad and over to Dee. His features, his smile, his eyes, they somehow seem more familiar to me than my own father’s.

‘Coffee …’ Dad starts, like he’s not even sure what that word means. ‘Right, right, coffee.’ He’s looking at me like he’s about ten seconds away from bursting into tears. And after all this horrid apathy he’s been showering us with since Mom’s sentencing? I don’t even know what to make of it. ‘I should call your mother.’

He turns away from me, shaking his head, and starts down the stairs. As he descends, he keeps casting glances over his shoulder, as if he’s checking to make sure I’m really there.

The Mad Hatter and the March Hare—who must’ve shifted because he’s sans ears—are sitting on the sofa side by side, watching us all descend like they’re taking in their favorite scene from a play. They look bemused, interested, but not off their asses scared shitless like they could be.

They don’t know the wrath of a parent.

Dad moves into the kitchen, but I notice that he scoots the coffee pot over so he can stare at me through the doorway while he makes up our mugs.

‘What do you want us to say or do?’ Tee whispers.

‘Because you know we’re with you, through and through,’ Dee adds, and their stupid rhyming makes me smile.

Edy is watching us from across the room, but I don’t think she can hear us. At least, I hope not.

‘No clue,’ I whisper, because my mind is still churning and trying to figure out a way to explain what just happened to my dad.

‘Let me do the talking,’ Tee says as Dad reappears with three steaming mugs. One’s for me, one’s for Edy, and one’s for himself. No way in shit he’s going to make any coffee for the four weird men I brought home with me.

‘If he’ll let you,’ I mumble as my dad sits in his favorite chair. I can see that his hands are shaking, and I figure he’s probably in shock. Can’t really blame him, now can I? He lost one son to murder already. With a sigh, I take a sip of my coffee and notice the old family portrait of my parents with Fred and … my older sister Rhoda. She only lived for five days outside of the hospital, and passed away years before I was born, so I forget about her sometimes. But my parents lost a child to SIDS. That’s two of their four babies gone.

How the fuck could I have forgotten that?

A cold chill creeps down my spine, but I ignore it. Rhoda has nothing to do with any of this.

‘Allison,’ my dad says, and the way his voice falls so softly, I know he’s more than just angry, he’s happy that I’m home. ‘Where have you been?’

Where have I been?

Well, let’s see.

I fell down the Rabbit-Hole, watched a bandersnatch and a jabberwock fight a jubjub bird, played croquet with a king, learned to wield a sword, and used a mirror to travel between worlds. I’ve been in Underland. But I can’t exactly tell him that.

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,’ I start, and my dad’s hand tightens around the handle on his mug. He lifts his brown eyes to mine, accusation glaring and hot bright, like a spotlight searing my skin and turning my flesh to ash.

‘Allison, don’t do this to me. If you have something to tell me, you can say it.’ He swallows hard and glances away sharply. ‘You’re eighteen years old. You’re an adult now.’ Dad seriously chokes on those words, like he can’t believe he’s even having to say them. ‘If there’s something you’ve done, or somewhere you want to go, I can’t stop you.’ He lifts his head to look at me, an emotional plea hanging on his gaze.

‘I didn’t kill Brandon,’ I say, because I can feel that accusation tainting the air in the living room. It’s making it hard to breathe. ‘But I did follow the murderer; I chased him. And I ended up … somewhere I never could’ve imagined in my wildest dreams.’

My dad opens his mouth to say something, pausing when a knock sounds at the door.

‘Eureka police,’ a voice booms, and I feel my heart plummet to my feet.

‘Police?’ Dee asks, blinking a few times, like he’s trying to put together what that means with reality.

‘Well, damn,’ Raiden says, rising to his feet as my dad moves over to the door to answer it. There’s a bit of mumbled conversation as my heart thunders in my chest and makes it hard to hear anything above the screaming of my rapid pulse.

Dad steps back to let the police enter, and I drop my mug on the carpet that Tee and Dee never got a chance to finish cleaning.

The Mocking Turtle and the Gryphon are standing on my fucking doorstep.

For a moment there, I question myself. They look like M.T. and the Gryphon, but they’re missing all of their, how might you say, idiosyncrasies. The sharp lips, the toothless gums, the wings. But as I watch, they shift right back into place.

They’re wearing uniforms, but their faces are unmistakable now.

‘Allison!’ Tee shouts, grabbing and throwing me out of the way as something explodes from the mirror in a wild, screaming mess.

It’s a giant fucking cat, as big as a lion, with black and white striped fur, and eyes the color of rain clouds.

Chesh.

Dee barely has time to pull me out of the way before he crashes into one of the policemen, knocking Mom’s side table to the floor and cracking both the legs in half. Edith starts to scream, but my dad, ever the cool and calm one in the family, manages to stand up and set his coffee aside. He doesn’t spill a single goddamn drop.

‘Alice, the Vorpal Blade!’ a voice calls from behind me, just seconds before a shot goes off. I swing around to find the March Hare with a pair of twin revolvers pointed up at the ceiling.

At the Anti-Alice.

She drops from the ceiling in a flutter of skirts and comes up swinging, ignoring the blood dribbling down the front of her face from a set of gunshot wounds through her forehead. March’s aim is dead-on. Unfortunately, I think the Anti-Alice might be dead, too.

I leap back and drag the Vorpal Blade from my thigh sheath, throwing it up just in time to counteract the scythe she’s swinging my way.

Her blade hits mine with a horrible fucking crack, and I realize with a burst of white-hot fear that that sound … is my arm breaking. Shock takes over, and I don’t feel a damn thing. I also can’t seem to keep my feet, falling on my ass and using my left hand to push the Vorpal Blade forward and defend myself. My right arm flops uselessly at my side, broken by the impact of the Anti-Alice’s swing.

Holy. Shit.

And I thought I was ready after training with the Duke? I might be ten times stronger than I was when I fell through the Rabbit-Hole into Underland, I might be a hundred times stronger, but it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.

‘You’re the Alice!’ Dee screams at me from across the room, shoving Edy behind himself as he holds up his knife and just barely manages to avoid being cut in half by his opponent. The Gryphon is swinging that same sword I saw him use on the King, but without Dee’s wings, the angel doesn’t have much of a chance of standing up to him. ‘Use your magic.’

The smell of rot and bone taints the air around me, making my nose burn and my throat close up tight. The Anti-Alice has eyes like dark pools, the endless depths of forgotten wells. I feel like I could tumble right down them, and my body would never be found. Besides, I can’t use my magic against her, right? Isn’t that the whole point.

But then I remember how I threw the Vorpal Blade at her. I don’t need to actually touch her with my powers; I just need to manipulate physical objects.

The Anti-Alice presses in hard, draining every ounce of physical energy that I have as I try to hold her back. With a sudden jerk, she pulls away and then swings again. I throw the Vorpal Blade up, but not with the intention of deflecting her blade, but with every ounce of power I have. It vibrates every molecule in my body, turns my soul into a restless mess.

Energy surges up and swirls around me, throwing furniture at the Anti-Alice, knocking her across the room and into my father’s antique record player.

The Mad Hatter is there, helping me to my feet, and offering up his bloodied wrist at the same moment. Even though my dad’s looking, and Edith’s screaming, I take hold of it and drink as deeply as I can, the coppery sweet taste of his blood tainting my lips.

There’s an immediate relief in my arm, but no relief in the battle.

Something else is coming through the Looking-Glass, and it’s not one of my boys.

Two thick arms claw their way through, followed by a bulbous body and a face with horns protruding from the lips. The thing crawls through and shakes its blubbery, brown body out.

Doesn’t take a genius to recognize the Walrus.

He looks like a goddamn ogre, with a massive underbite and tiny, beady little eyes.

And here I was, thinking everyone in Underland was attractive. My bad.

‘Alice, don’t,’ the Mad Hatter says, grabbing and jerking me back before the man finds his feet and grins at me, tipping a tall, vinyl top hat in our direction.

‘So we finally meet the Alice,’ he growls in this guttural Scottish accent. ‘Plucky little thing, ain’t she? I’d like to throw her over my knee and give her a good spanking.’ He smacks his big lips at me as the Mad Hatter curses under his breath. ‘And you,’ he says as the sound of a struggle echoes from just outside the front door. When I glance over my shoulder, I don’t see Tee, March, or the Mocking Turtle, and that scares the shit out of me. My head whips around as the Walrus takes a step toward us, smelling like the rotten crabs my mom bought for Christmas dinner one year and then forgot in the trunk of her car. Death, rot, and crusted sea salt. That’s what the Walrus smells like. ‘You made a bargain with the King of Clubs, and you broke it. You won’t get that chance again.’

The Mad Hatter grabs me and moves me just in time to avoid the slither of a massive head through the Looking-Glass.

It’s a jabberwock, but it isn’t North.

No, and it’s not alone either.

On top of its massive skull sits a man that’s all skin and bones, with sunken cheeks, and a wooden leg. He has a fucking axe cradled in his scrawny arms.

The Carpenter.

“Oh shit,” I whisper as the Mad Hatter inserts himself between me and the jabberwock. It seems to get stuck on the other side of the mirror, one arm in the living room, smashing furniture as it struggles to crawl through.

“Oh shit is right,” Raiden says, his pupils dilating as the Carpenter climbs off the dragon’s head, and it retreats back through Looking-Glass. I’m just standing there staring, and all I can think is I need to get that mirror before something breaks it. Because … because … if I get separated from Underland, I will break. I will shatter into nothing and float away on the wind.

The Anti-Alice is pushing to her feet, pink bow fluttering in the breeze from the open door. It’s then that I see the photo hanging on the wall beside her, of Rhoda cradled in my mother’s arms at the hospital. And … she’s wearing a pink bow on her head.

Bile fills my mouth and I almost throw up.

The Anti-Alice … is my sister?!

I shove the Vorpal Blade inside its sheath at the same time that I dive forward to grab the Looking-Glass, struggling with its weight as I do my best to stand up and beat a hasty retreat.

I’m about ninety-nine percent certain I’d have died right there if the March Hare didn’t lift the Looking-Glass up and over my head, and kick my legs out from under me at the same moment. The Anti-Alice’s bone scythe lands, and buries itself in his chest as he stumbles back, blood spurting from the wound.

I struggle to stand up, slipping and sliding in the hot crimson flood as the Mad Hatter takes the Looking-Glass from March and carefully sets it in my father’s favorite chair. In the same breath, he catches the March Hare as he falls, and thrusts his wrist against the Rabbit’s mouth.

“Well, now, this looks like a whole heap of fun, wouldn’t you say, brother?” the Walrus chortles, his blubber jiggling as he laughs, his whisker-covered cheeks reddening. “There’s nothing I love more than blood, death, and a screaming woman trapped beneath me.”

Swear to fuck, I puke a little. I don’t mean to; it just happens.

I back up next to the Mad Hatter and the March Hare as the latter finally seems to find his feet, standing up and shifting all in one breath. In the span of an instant, I have my hand on the bloody, furred flank of a bandersnatch.

Yet somehow, I’m still worried.

“Focus on the Anti-Alice, no matter what,” Raiden says, his mouth twisted into a severe frown. I don’t like that look. That look says we might not win this. Holy hearts and diamonds, what the fuck?!

“Rhoda?” my dad steps forward, forgotten and standing by the bay window. His expression is rife with pain as he moves toward the undead monster that used to be my sister. Without thinking, I snatch the Vorpal Blade up and move between the two of them.

I don’t see Dee, Edith, or the Cheshire Cat anymore, and I’m starting to panic.

One thing at a time, Allison, I tell myself.

“Free up one of the twins for me,” Raiden growls, and the March Hare goes trotting out the front door. My dad barely looks at the giant, fantastical beast in his living room. He only seems to have eyes for the Anti-Alice.

“You’re going to face off against us alone?” the Walrus asks, glancing over at his brother. “Who knew this would be so bloody easy?” With a roar, the Walrus’ body ripples, his fat ballooning until he’s almost too big to fit inside the house. He has a tail instead of legs, and by some stretch of the imagination, I can see why he’s nicknamed the Walrus. He almost, almost, looks like one

Another scream tears from his throat as he thunders toward the Mad Hatter, at stark contrast with the skinny, creepy little Carpenter who’s still standing there and watching me. He reaches down and strokes the bulge in his pants, making me sick to my stomach.

We are outclassed, outmatched.

Without more help, we are fucked.

And yet, the Looking-Glass is quiet, the walls are spattered in blood, and I have no idea what I’m doing here.

We are so screwed.

Holy fucking hearts, please help me.

To Be Continued …


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